Tango Music in Japan Part 6 – Comparison

Now we can move on to something more serious. Besides the fact that we can find more rare stuff in the Japanese tango CDs, what make them special? My DJ fellow Louis asked me a very good question, “What is the quality of the transfer (of CTA) compared to something like 78RPM series?” The best way to answer the question is to listen and make a comparison. Before you listen to the sample below, please note the following:

  • The comparison is made between samples from Japanese CDs (CTA or Epoca de Oro) and samples from Coleccion 78 RPM or BMG Homenaje a Juan D’Arienzo “El Rey del Compás”, because one is known to have the best transfer and the other is the biggest D’Arienzo collection on the commercial CD market.
  • All the samples are transformed from CD to mp3 at 160kbps, 44.100KHz. Unfortunately while I used editing software to shorten some of the clips, the sound quality suffered a little, but it should affect the matter of discussion.
  • The order of samples does not represent my preferences. Feel free to listen to them at your preferred order.
  • CTA discs are reproduction from SPs without sound restoration. Background noise (needle noise) is expected.
  • Please use headphone while listening.
  • All of us listen to music yet our sensitivity to music is different from person to person. Some people can detect small differences while some cannot. While I chose the samples, I listened to them as the way they are presented here (as mp3 files). With my ears I can hear the differences between them (some are very obvious, some are not), if you can’t hear the differences, I can’t help.

Speed and Pitch

An important achievement of the Japanese labels is transforming music from SP to CD with correct speed. This issue has been discussed long time ago by Keith, so I won’t go into detail here. Put it simply, the faster the SP turns, the higher the pitch goes; when the disc is played faster than its original recording speed, the music is distorted. An experienced sound engineer could probably tell right away if the tempo and pitch is correct. While ordinary people like me could also tell if one has an experience of listening to original SPs and change of playing speed. For those who are not among these 2 types of people, then what you can do is to rely on the recording companies (trust their way of handling the music), or your own listening experience and sensitivity. The speed and pitch of a transfer are not subjective matter, they are objective. If the disc turns too fast, the music is faster than it is supposed to be. We might be used to a speed-up version for long time or some might even prefer a speed-up version, but one cannot say the speed-up version is the correct version of an SP transfer, and definitely a speed-up version is not the original intent of the musician.

Here are some examples:

- No Mientas (1938) Singer: Alberto Echagüe
Juan D’Arienzo Epoca de Oro Vol. 2
Homage A El Rey del Compás: El Esquinazo – 1937 / 38

Chique (1942)
CTA 310 – Juan D’Arienzo Vol. 10 (1942-1943)
Coleccion 78 RPM – Juan D’Arienzo 1941/1944
Juan D’Arienzo Epoca de Oro Vol. 4
- 78RPM overall does a very good job, I must say this track is pretty exceptional and surprised me.

Francia (1935)
CTA 301 – Juan D’Arienzo Vol. 1 (1935-1936)
Homage A El Rey del Compás: De Pura Cepa 1935-1936

Don Pacifico (1954)
Juan D’Arienzo Epoca de Oro Vol. 9
Homage A El Rey del Compás: Viento Sur 1954-1955

- Pensalo Bien (1938) Singer: Alberto Echagüe
El Bandoneon – El Rey Del Compas
Juan D’Arienzo Epoca de Oro Vol. 1
Originally I’m not intended to use El Bandoneon to compare, but I think it’s important show how fast a piece of music can be speeded up

What I’m trying to show here is speed-up problem exists in the labels/series mentioned above. But one should note that not all the tracks from these labels/series have this problem.

Clean or Clear

After transfer the music from its original source, be it SP or LP, many record companies do some clean-up before they put the music into a CD. Usually what is removed or filtered is the noise of crackles and the continues background noise (the sound of the needle playing on the SP). Depends on the condition of the original source (SP or LP), sometimes the file needs a big clean-up before it reaches an acceptable condition to the CD consumer. But there’s also drawback of this clean-up process, the subtle sound of the music is removed together with the noise or crackles, as a result the complexity of the sound is reduced. Thus the restoration is an art – if this process has to be carried out, it has to be done with great care. Overdoing it will destroy the flavour and texture of the music.

I picked samples which have the same speed and pitch, then you can focus on listening to the quality of the sound. I will suggest downloading the files and listening to them one by one carefully. If you can’t hear much differences from the first listening, then focus on a particular part and make your comparison, that would be easier. While listening, first pay attention to the bass, without too much clean-up, the bass sounds powerful and full of energy. Then the vocal and piano also show the differences – piano sounds crystal clear and the vocal part has a strong presence from original SP. Generally speaking, the cleaner version sounds like being filtered, though there’s no noise, but the instruments sound a little blur.

Pobre Mascaritas (1942) Singer: Juan Carlos Lamas
CTA 310 – Juan D’Arienzo Vol. 10 (1942-1943)
Coleccion 78 RPM – Juan D’Arienzo 1941/1944
Juan D’Arienzo Epoca de Oro Vol. 4

Pregonera (1945) Singer: Armando Laborde
CTA 313 – Juan D’Arienzo Vol. 13 (1944-1945)
Coleccion 78 RPM – Juan D’Arienzo 1944/1949
Juan D’Arienzo Epoca de Oro Vol. 5

Mandria (1939) Singer: Alberto Echagüe
CTA 306 – Juan D’Arienzo (1939-1940)
Juan D’Arienzo Epoca de Oro Vol. 2
Homage A El Rey Del Compás: Meta Fierro – Yunta Brava 1939/1940

La Cumparsita (1951)
CTA 319 – Juan D’Arienzo Vol. 19 (1950-1951)
Juan D’Arienzo Epoca de Oro Vol. 8
Homage A El Rey del Compás: Bien Pulenta 1950-1952

The first time I listened to a SP of D’Arienzo, I was moved and I had a drop of tear in my eyes. But I never had the same experience when I listen to my usual D’Arienzo CDs. With my Japanese D’Arienzo CDs, my listening experience gets very close to listening to SP. Yet, I am only touched, but not moved by the music. Few friends who have experienced that would understand what I said. :)

8 Responses to “Tango Music in Japan Part 6 – Comparison”

  1. Simba Says:

    Very interesting! Thanks for putting it all together.

    I was under the impression the 78RPM transfers were generally good, and the Homage a D’Arienzo are good, but maybe a little too processed, and generally I think I will prefer a little noise rather than too much filtering.

    Two comments on how to compare recordings: it is useful to do levels matching when comparing, as it is well known that people tend to prefer a ‘louder’ version, this can be achieved by e.g. applying ReplayGain.

    Also, the ABX comparison tool of foobar2000 can be very useful, although it is mostly used to compare different codecs, it allows you to change back and forth between two songs while playing (both).

  2. Royce Says:

    Hi Simba,

    Thanks for your comments on how to compare recordings. Too bad I can’t try out foobar2000 as I’m a mac user. It would be interesting to compare songs in the way you mentioned. Just a thought, or maybe I should try it out myself, is to use similar software to compare same song of different versions, like D’Arienzo’s 6 La Cumparsita. I think that would be an effective way to track the change of arrangement/style, the result must be interesting!

    Generally I found 78RPM transfers are good and reliable (for the tempo and pitch). I think Chique is really an exception. Their transfers are a little blur when compared to the Japanese ones, but for DJ purposes, they are good enough.

    Actually the transfers of Homage a D’Arienzo disappointed me more. I can’t put too many clips here, but generally the tracks in this series are a little faster than it should be. Here I’m talking about 1 or 2 sec differences. In terms of tempo, one can hardly notice; but the differences show at the pitch level, the higher pitch is at the edge of being too sharp. I found it quite unpleasant to listen to them.

    Royce

  3. Simba Says:

    Royce,

    did you try correcting the Homage tracks? I assumed the sharpness was due to aggressive filtering/processing, would be interesting to know if it could be fixed that easily. I have been reluctant to stretch songs myself, as I generally don’t know the correct length of songs.

    Simba

  4. Royce Says:

    Simba,

    No, I didn’t try to correct them. First I’m not good on sound editing, and second I’m lazy. :) But when I listen to them, I always adjust the sound with equalizer in itunes (treble reducer). For most cases, that’s good enough for DJ or listening.

    Royce

  5. Peter Says:

    Dear Royce,

    Thank you for sharing this. It explains why sometimes I feel many D’arienzo songs are ‘similar’ but in fact they are the results from over filtering. The ones closer to the ‘original’ have colors and are like pictures in 3D… the over filtering ones are like pictures in black and white and they are in 2D. Now I am very eager to get my hands on those Japanese CD’s!

  6. Jason Jiang Says:

    Dear Royce,

    Thanks for sharing! After reading your blog, I’ve managed to get 10 CDs of Epoca de Oro (unfortunately Vol.11 is not available) and some A.M.P. collections through Yamano Music. They are pure gems! As for CTA, Mr. Baba says he only has 14 titles in his inventory. Wonder if you know of some specialty stores in Tokyo that still carry CTA CDs, being new or used.

    Love to read your tango thoughts, inspirational and knowledgeable.

    All the best,

    Jason Jiang
    Toronto

  7. Royce Says:

    Dear Jason,

    I’m glad you managed to get these gems and enjoy them! Regarding your questions, please check your email.

    cheers,
    Royce

  8. Christopher Everett Says:

    I think the ’51 La Cumparsita was the most obviously processed sound. There was a bit of tubbiness in the Homenage track, which means that the 150-200 Hz range isn’t quite strong enough to be in balance with the rest.

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