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Music Matters: SRX Vinyl

Greg Simmons By

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Music Matters, the vinyl reissue house known for it's long string of high-quality all-analog pressings of classic Blue Note records, has released a dozen additional titles just a year or so after completing what was supposed to have been their final offerings. The new records include some that Music Matters had released in earlier series, as well as new titles. All of them are being pressed on a new vinyl formula that purports quieter surfaces and improved resolution. The material, which only recently became available, is called SRX Vinyl.

Music Matters has always adhered to high quality standards for all its records, extending beyond the first-rate pressings themselves to the heavyweight gatefold covers and extra session photos. The result was a collection of over one hundred titles that sounded great, with big, rich sound, and a positive, tactile experience just reading the liner notes. A true premium product, the Music Matters reissues were among the best out there.

Unfortunately, in the recent, frenzied years of reissuing LP albums, there have been a lot of dubious records of questionable quality hitting the street. Some of these—the sort found in big-box stores or the less savory corners of the Internet—are truly awful, with some even being mastered from CDs. Maybe you've seen them. Relatively inexpensive, often with a generic "180 Gram Audiophile Recording" sticker on the front, as if weight of the record is some sort of Good Housekeeping seal of approval for wax.

The other hallmark of this recent vinyl boom has been repetitive repressing. Even labels that are making good quality records seem to be rehashing popular offerings over and over. You can't blame these labels for pressing records that sell well, after all it is a business, but most of these pressings—even ones that are well done—don't add anything new to the understanding of the music.

Occasionally though, someone does come up with something new to hear, and then it's worth discussing. The raw vinyl for the earlier Music Matters series was the same vinyl that everyone else uses, albeit with higher than average quality control. This new, dark, translucent brown SRX Vinyl has the potential to enhance the music in ways the old stuff never could and was the impetus to pull Music Matters back into the fray. Advertising hyperbole aside, it's being marketed as having higher resolution with the ability to wrench more detail from these old tapes, especially with the all-analog re-mastering process that is Music Matters' raison d'etre. Owner Ron Rambach felt that SRX's advantages made it worth the effort to press a few more records.

The new series is a cross section of Blue Note's heyday, from early titles like Sonny Rollins Vol. 1 and Kenny Dorham's Afro-Cuban, to dates released in the later half of the 1960s like Wayne Shorter's Adam's Apple. They're all true classics every jazz fan should know regardless of the format.

After listening to half a dozen of the SRX records, it's clear that there definitely is something to this stuff. Playing surfaces are significantly quieter, and the omission of carbon from the raw material enhances the small details in the recordings. There's a liquid quality to the interface between needle and groove that makes horns eerily realistic, revealing small nuances in cymbal taps or the air around the musicians. These are subtle differences, but they're audible ones. The original Music Matter pressings were excellent. These are better.

Afro-Cuban is instructive. A septet (or octet, depending on the track), all of the massed horns are clearly defined within the mix. There's no sonic mush, leaving them well articulated and individually identifiable. Dorham's trumpet is smooth and burnished with clear vibrato at the bell. It's a striking presentation. The intervening sixty-two years since this album was recorded can seem like a barrier between the original musical event and the modern listener. The SRX vinyl breaks down that barrier and with the right setup can put the listener right in the room where it happened. All off these records offered a similar experience.

It's also worth pointing out that even at the premium price of $60 there's an argument to be made that the Music Matters records are still a bargain. Three listings on Discogs for original pressings of Afro-Cuban start at $2,200 each! That's obviously a stratospheric realm for serious collectors, but in that context $60 for a superior quality modern pressing doesn't seem nearly so onerous.

Realizing the improvements offered by the new SRX vinyl probably requires some pretty high-quality playback gear. An inexpensive cartridge probably wouldn't reveal the differences between—for example—the old Music Matters pressings and the new ones of the same titles, something that's worth considering before dropping a lot of money. Not everyone is invested in, or cares about the audiophile experience, in which case there are plenty of less budget-damaging ways to hear this wonderful music. But for those who are interested in that ultimate sound quality and have access to a good, properly setup cartridge and higher-end signal chain, these records will offer new insights on these musicians and their art.

It's nice to know that, in a moment when everyone seems to be jumping on the vinyl bandwagon —often eying profits at the expense of the listening experience—some producers, like Music Matters, are still focused on the quality of their product. This new SRX vinyl is difficult to work with and expensive to manufacture, but it yields really great sounding records. Music Matters took the risk to put these albums on the street and the results are truly worthwhile. If you're in the market for a record that'll get you right into the musical event, these might be your ticket!
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