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Krakow Sonic Society | Meeting № 130



Record label: Premonition/IMPEX RECORDS IMP-6035-1
Premiere/reissue: 1994/2020
Format: IMPEX S1TEP, 2 x 180 g LP, 45 RPM


Submitted for review by: IMPEX RECORDS


Translation: Ewa Muszczynko
Images: Abey Fonn/Impex | Jim Anderson | Wojciech Pacuła

No 206

July 1, 2021

KRAKOW SONIC SOCIETY is an informal group of music lovers, audiophiles and friends who meet to learn something new about audio products, records, music, etc. The idea for the Society was conceived in 2005. This is already its 130th meeting.

t took BOTH IMPEX RECORDS and “High Fidelity” a while… And it started as usual:

It’s been a crazy year... Impex has been quite busy but we have had many production delays. I am very happy to announce that after 11 months of negotiation, this Tuesday, Patricia Barber and Impex Records signed an arrangement. We will be the exclusive home for her audiophile recording. Café Blue 1Step is expected to finally ship mid November. The 1Step truly sounds amazing and I welcome you to compare to the other re-issue version.

⸜ ABEY FONN, the founder of Impex Records, email to the editors

Let me explain – ABEY FONN is the founder of the IMPEX RECORDS record label, and a music producer responsible for the latest version of PATRICIA BARBER’s album entitled Café Blue. It took the record label a long time to convince the artist to release the new version in 1Step technology. As for “High Fidelity”, before we got the record, we had conducted interviews and collected materials before we were able to compare it with the previous versions.

The issue in question has been pressed using the One-step (1Step) process originally developed by Japanese record labels and used in the West for the first time by the American RECORD TECHNOLOGY, Inc. (RTI) pressing plant. The first album released in this way was Santana’s Abraxas album prepared by the MOBILE FIDELITY SOUND LAB record label in 2016 . I have just visited and I can see that this issue is now being sold for 2200 – 2800 American dollars plus 200 dollars more for shipment and the customs duty.


ONE-STEP TECHNOLOGY was developed together by the Japanese NEOTECH company and the American RTI pressing plant. It aims to improve the quality of vinyl disc pressings. In the classic pressing process, there are three intermediate steps between the lacquer and the final record. One-step is a one-stage pressing process which eliminates the negative used to make positives. The lacquer is immediately used to make a stamper that is then used to press vinyl discs. The disadvantage of the process is that a given lacquer is enough to make only one stamper that can then be used to press only 500 to 1000 discs (the classic process makes it possible to make even 10,000 units). If the record label plans to make more copies, a new stamper is needed for each thousand of them, which results in high additional costs.

Although the ONE-STEP process was developed by the Neotech and RTI companies, a few different record labels are using it now. Some time after MoFi, ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS made its first album using this technology, i.e. Axis: Bold as Love by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (priced between 485 and 750 American dollars on, while the next record label to do it was CRAFT RECORDINGS that made the album Lush Life by John Coltrane (priced from 500 to 700 USD). As you can see, One-step issues instantly become collector’s items and their price instantly goes up.

Although the process is the same and the pressing plant is also the same in each of the cases, each company has designed its own logo and come up with a different name for the technology, while they use the services of mastering specialists who are related to one another. So, Mobile Fidelity uses the name ULTRADISC ONE-STEP (UD1S), Analogue Productions offers UHQR (Ultra High Quality Record), while Craft Recordings features ONE STEP CRAFT SMALL BATCH. However, Impex Records has the nicest logo and the most interesting name – Patricia Barber’s album is the first of its pressings of this type that will be labeled as 1STEP, styled as S1EP.


| A few simple words with…


⸜ RICK HASHIMOTO (photo credit RTI)

WOJCIECH PACUŁA Could you tell our readers what is so exceptional about RTI that your pressings are so fantastic?
RICK HASHIMOTO Our team at Record Tech is essential. We have press operators that are much more than machine operators and other production people that are key. Besides many years of experience, they understand what makes a good record and many have a passion for vinyl (all font effects in the text have been introduced by the editors). I believe that sets us apart from a lot of pressing plants.

WP How do RTI machines differ from other ones?
RH We have 9 SMT "Accumold" machines. I believe they have the ability to mold the best records available. Many audiophiles agree. It is our job to get the most out of them. Once the records are pressed, it is just as important to handle and package them with care.

WP What do you think about the “sound” of colored vinyl? Does it differ from black vinyl? If yes, why?
RH Colored vinyl can be just as quiet as black vinyl. Sometimes it can have a much quieter surface. Or, it can have lots of low level noise – usually due to the type of pigments, stabilizers and lubricants used. Our VR900 formulation (used in the One-step process – Editor’s note) was specifically designed for our machines with a minimal amount of ingredients that may introduce noise. Due to that, it is not the easiest vinyl to run. It does, however, give excellent surfaces. 

WP Tell us about 1STEP pressings from your point of view and especially about Patricia Barber's album, please. 
RH 1STEP pressings take most of the variables of plating out of the replication process. With One-Step, what the mastering engineer cuts onto the lacquer is the closest you can get in a vinyl record. The downfall is that you need a new lacquer for every stamper. With normal 3-Step plating, the number of stampers is theoretically unlimited.

I would like to add that the one step process is very unforgiving and approval of the stamper is a pass or fail. This process does not allow me to do any kind of repair work on the stamper. The great quality of Café Blue was the team work between RTI and Impex. I have worked with the same team for more than two decades, so our work style and voice is unison. Impex does not have many new releases each year, but we take great care of and pride ourselves on each new release.



THE ALBUM DISCUSSED WAS RECORDED onto a digital 32-track Mitsubishi X-850 tape recorder, in the PCM 16 bit 48 kHz format. The mixing stage, however, was carried out in the analog domain using the SSL G console, while the stereophonic master was recorded onto the ANALOG Studer S-80 tape recorder, on ½” tape. The recording was made within four days, between July 28th and 30th, and on August 1st 1994, mostly at one take, at Studio 6 of the Chicago Recording Company, while the tracks were mixed at Studio 5. Mastering was carried out by Greg Calbi at the Masterdisc studio in New York. The material was originally released on LPs and CDs.

⸜ The digital tape recorder that was used to record the reviewed album

That was PATRICIA BARBER’s third album (the second one released by a large record label). She was born on November 8th 1955 and is a vocalist, pianist and jazz/blues music writer. She was raised in a musical family – her father (Floyd) was a jazz saxophonist who performed with Bud Freeman’s and Glenn Miller’s bands, as well as played the piano; she started her career in 1984 by performing in Chicago jazz clubs.

The artist’s first album entitled Split was released in a very limited number of copies and it is the album A Distortion of Love from the year 1992 that is considered to be her real debut. However, Café Blue, released two year later, was a breakthrough in her career. The artist won many awards for it, as well as was considered to be the most talented young vocalist by the influential “Down Beat” magazine. Since the album was released, i.e. 1994, she has been regularly performing at the famous Green Mill Club.


MICHAEL FREMER, a JOURNALIST working for the “Stereophile” magazine and the author of the blog, started his review of Café Blue with the provocative question: “Do we really need yet another version of Patricia Barber’s Café Blue?”; more HERE; date of access: 29.04.2021). Although the controversy of the question is superficial, as the article was actually entitled: We Do Need Yet Another café blue After All!, it refers to an issue that has been present in the music industry since its very beginning.

Why are reissues made in the first place? From a historical perspective, it was first about releasing previously recorded music in a new format, e.g. when the shift from 78 rpm shellac discs to microgroove LP records took place in 1948. We witnessed similar changes, yet on a larger scale, after the Compact Disc format was presented in 1982, while now music is being streamed in the form of files into the Internet. Such actions combine two objectives: a musical one, i.e. making a new generation of listeners familiar with music or making it possible for those who already know it to listen to it on new devices, with a marketing target, i.e. selling the same material once again. Both aims can be equally important and both can be justified.

There is another reason. We can read in Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of The World, vol. 1 subtitled Media, Industry and Society, that: “Put crudely, the music industry knows that music sells, but it does not know, with any great certainty, which music will sell” (chapter: Management and Marketing). A solution to this problem was to reissue popular titles that would most likely be effectively sold. This is how the reissue market was born, with its absolute bestsellers such as The Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd, Hotel California by The Eagles, or Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.

However, there is still another reason to reissue music. It is connected with the first one, but the aim is different – i.e. to improve sound quality. Such actions have been known since the music industry came into existence, but the most spectacular example has been releasing music previously recorded by the Columbia record label on LPs, since the early 1940s, on 16-inch 33 1/3 rpm discs, aka “transcription discs”. They were made with the thought of a shellac 78 rpm medium in mind and constituted a kind of an insurance policy in case a better medium was invented.

Also in contemporary times, in the 1970s and 80s, special LP issues pressed using a better method than “mass” issues were released, e.g. as part of the “Original Master Recording” series by the American Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab record label (1977), or the “Supercut” series by the British Nimbus record label (early 1980s). However, attention needs to be paid to the fact that only small or simply very small specialist companies would undertake this task, as large record labels were not interested in it.

The invention of the CD format brought about a real flood of reissues and a change in the attitude of record labels to the problem of sound quality. Initially, individual albums were reissued to enable music lovers to listen to the music on new devices, so it was like in the 1940s. However, after some time, digital technology was examined more closely and, while the quality of A/C converters was improving, the same material was remastered and, as a consequence, reissues with improved and often really better sound quality were released.

It is no different in the case of the reviewed album, though there are two versions of it – one with the original mix and another with a new mix made in 2011.


| A few simple words with…

Music producer, sound engineer

WOJCIECH PACUŁA Could you tell us about the recording session – what the studio looked like and what microphones you used? I know it was a digital session (Mitsubishi DigiPro – HERE and HERE).

⸜ JIM ANDERSON, (photo credit: Jim Anderson)

JIM ANDERSON The original 32-track recording of Café Blue was made on a Mitsubishi X-850 at the Chicago Recording Company's Studio 6. The recording console was an SSL Series G and I used a combination of John Hardy M-1 and Millennia microphone preamplifiers. I used the same microphone for Patricia's vocal as I had on A Distortion of Love, a Sanken CU-41, and B&K (now called DPA) 4007 microphones on the percussion and piano. Sankens were also used on the bass and guitar.

Thanks for including your articles on digital recording (I had sent Jim links to articles regarding DigiPro – Editor’s note). I lived and worked through most of this history. BTW, one reason that the Mitsubishi/Otari system didn't take off in New York studios was the expense of 1" digital tape. I think the tape was only for 32 minutes. The machines didn't necessarily breakdown any more than any other piece of studio equipment, but producers didn't want to pay the extra money for only 8 more tracks. Sony offered 24 extra tracks for less money, so many producers and engineers gravitated to the less expensive system (this was my experience based on reading your article). The system did have a longer life in Nashville Studios, however.

WP What is it like to work with artists such as PATRICIA BARBER? I mean, who is the “driving force” and what are the main directions to head off in during such session?
JA At the time of recording Café Blue, Patricia's band had existed for many years, but this was the first time they were to be recorded as a cohesive group. In 1994, Café Blue was my second recording project with Patricia (A Distortion of Love was prior) and it was to be the first of many that we were to record in her hometown studio, Chicago Recording Company (CRC, as it's referred to in recording circles).

While setting up to record, someone suggested that we find a copy of the popular 1993 release by Cassandra Wilson, Blue Light 'till Dawn and perhaps it could potentially be used as a reference disc for us. An assistant was dispatched and a CD was procured. The assistant returned and placed the album at the side of the console. We were soon ready to start recording and the recording sessions were over before we knew it.

⸜ PATRICIA BARBER at Studio 6 of the Chicago Recording Company, in front of an SSL mixing console (1994, photo credit: Jim Anderson)

Soon afterwards we began to mix the material. Rather than taking the elevator up to Studio 5 from the ground floor (the recording was made at Studio 6, but the material was mixed at Studio 5 – Editor’s note), I would take the stairs. During the ascent, I was struck by the acoustics of the stairwell and asked the assistant to set up speakers and microphones on the stairs, so we could use it as a live echo chamber. This occupied the assistant and his helpers for a couple of hours and the resulting reverberation from the stairwell became a sonic signature of many of Patricia's recordings from then on.

As the production proceeded, the CD copy of Blue Light 'till Dawn sat unopened, unplayed and relatively ignored. Who knows, it may still be there sitting by the Studio 5 console at CRC. I am proud to say that we ended up not needing a reference recording to listen to at all, but ultimately created a new one on our own.

WP Was it “work in progress”, or were all the compositions ready before the recording sessions?
JA Recording sessions, generally, aren't experimental explorations of a band or a leader's hunch, but an efficient rendering of demonstrating of what a band or an artist is capable of, at the time. Since Patricia’s band had been working as a group for quite a while, they had a good repertoire of tunes that they felt would be comfortable committing to the album. At that point, it's a matter of efficiency (I keep using the word efficiency, because it takes a great deal of concentration on everyone's part to record an album's worth of material in 2 or 3 days, keeping the artistic and technical level high) regarding our ability to use the studio time and keep things moving. Sometimes a tune doesn't work and one has to move on, and later, perhaps, come back and give the difficult tune one more try before calling it a night.

⸜ PATRICIA BARBER at Studio 6 of the Chicago Recording Company during a break in a recording session (1994, photo credit: Jim Anderson)

The tracks from Café Blue are all single takes, since there was no editing with the Otari system. Of course, we could punch in or overdub, but there wasn't a great deal of that, overall, anyway. (Wood is a piece that Patricia obviously overdubbed many times, honoring the work and influence of Toby Twining in this way). Sometimes, the arrangement might change in the course of the session after listening to a playback. Things that work in a club might not necessarily translate into a recording. There was one tune where we decided to drop Mark Walker playing the drum kit for a stripped down accompaniment of the percussion and that decision ended up making the performance special.

WP How about mastering Café Blue – what was the goal?
JA With a recording as amazingly detailed and emotive as Café Blue, the goal is to bring as much of the magic I capture in the studio into the user's listening room. We want great live music to retain its liveliness and connectedness on the playback medium.

WP What did you want to change with 1STEP remastering – improve something, perhaps? What is the reference you use while remastering a recording?
JA We certainly didn't feel the need to "fix" the source masters which were breath-taking, but modern analog mastering electronics, cutting heads and cabling mean we can bring out more of the subtlest nuances and deepen a listener's connection to the music. Patricia's work really draws you in and we sought to bring that out in a profound way, to preserve the intent and ambition of the artist. It's that illusive quality that separates a good LP from a great one. For reference, we used copies from Premonition and Mofi.

WP Are there any unpublished songs from the session? Alternative takes?
JA There's nothing from the original session(s) that is in any shape to be released. No extra tunes were recorded and dropped from the final sequence, and any alternate takes that weren't used aren't worth releasing. We released the best material from the session and there's nothing else to be had.



PATRICIA BARBER’S ALBUM HAS BEEN FORTUNATE ENOUGH to have been released not only in the form of subsequent issues by the original record label, i.e. PREMONITION RECORDS, but also by, in turn, three most important record labels specializing in reissues: FIRST IMPRESSION MUSIC (FIM), MOBILE FIDELITY SOUND LAB (MoFi) and IMPEX RECORDS. What is more, it is available in a whole range of formats, from classic LPs and CDs, through High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD) records and Super Audio CDs (SACDs), to professional analog tape recordings and 1STEP vinyl pressing.

| The most important issues and reissues:


• 1994 | LP: Premonition Records | Music Direct MD-LP-001, 737, US
• 1994 | CD: Premonition Records PREM-737-2, US


• 1997 | HDCD: First Impression Music FIM CD 010, US ( gives us a wrong year of release – 1994)
• 1999 | CD: Premonition Records 6691790760 2 7, USA
• 2002 | SACD/CD: Premonition Records/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2002, USA
• 2004 | 3 x LP: Premonition Records/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 3-45002, USA ‎(2x12" + 12" single sided, box, numbered)
• 2010 | HDCD: Premonition Records 90760-G, USA


• 2011 | 2 x LP: Premonition Records 90760-1, USA ( HQ-180, RTI)
• 2016 | SACD: Premonition Records 90760-5, USA, „Un-Mastered Version”
• 2014 | 2 x LP: Premonition Records 90760-1, USA ( repress, 180 g, QRP)
• 2020 | 1STEP LP: Premonition Records/Impex Records, US (numbered, RTI), USA

THE MOST IMPORTANT REMASTERED VERSIONS of the original mix came from two specialist record labels. In 1997, a gold HDCD was released by FIRST IMPRESSION MUSIC, while a SACD/CD version was issued by Mobile Fidelity in 2002. Two years later, the latter prepared a 3 x LP 45 rpm box, with two double sided LPs and a third LP with one side containing music and one with an image. The FIM version was prepared at the Rocket Lab (San Francisco) on August 23rd 1997 by the trio: Michael Friedman (producer of the original issue), Paul Stubblebine and Mr. Winston Ma, the owner of the record label.

The original issue from the year 2011

However, in 2011 something that now occurs more frequently, but still constitutes a rarity, happened – the original multi-track material was remixed and a new (also analog) master was made. The person responsible for the remix was Jim Anderson again, who prepared it at COLUMBIA studios, using the legendary reverberation chambers owned by the record label.

It is not clear if the material was played from a Mitsubishi tape recorder, or rather from files recorded from an X-850 in one of the companies specializing in the field. I would bet the latter was the case (a pity!). Anyway, the new master is analog on ½” stereo tape. The remix was used as a basis for the Premonition issue on two 33 1/3 rpm discs and the 1Step Impex Records version as well. IMPEX S1TEP (1 Step) is limited to 5,000 numbered copies and KEVIN GRAY was responsible for mastering the material.

Finally, a curiosity needs to mentioned – i.e. an Un-Mastered version, the basis for which was the stereophonic digital (24/192) master from the year 2011 that was dealt with by GUS SKINAS, the director of the Super Audio Center, a studio specializing in mastering and authoring SACDs. As he said, he wanted to reduce the impact of compression and show the original dynamics of the recording. A SACD was released in 2016.


⸜ THE WAY WE LISTENED Meeting No. 130 of the Krakow Sonic Society took place at the beginning of June, so already after some restrictions connected with the COVID-19 pandemic had been cancelled. However, some of the Society’s members had not been fully vaccinated at the time and thus not ready for a “large” meeting. So, we decided to have a very limited number of attendees, even fewer than at the listening session devoted to the new version of Santana’s debut album, namely: JULIAN SOJA (KTS, Soyaton) and the author of the article, WOJCIECH PACUŁA (more about the Santana album HERE). Perhaps it was the last such meeting and the following ones will be attended by more people.

For comparison, we chose the mix from the year 2011 (Capitol) released on two Premonition Records LPs. Our point of reference was the digital version on the First Impression Music HDCD, with a mix from the year 1994 (the original one). In order to become more familiar with the sound of Impex Records, we listened to its few records during part 1 of the listening session and compared their sound to the original issues and other reissues. In part 2, we only listened to Café Blue.

⸜ The audio system that we used during the listening session

We listened to the music using the HIGH FIDELITY reference system:

⸜ Transrotor ALTO TMD turntable
⸜ SME M2 turntable arm
⸜ Shelter HARMONY cartridge (custom-made for HF)
⸜ RCM Audio SENSOR PRELUDE IC phono stage

⸜ Ayon Audio CD-35 HF EDITION SACD player

⸜ Albums used in the listening session

⸜ FRANK SINATRA, Sing And Dance With Frank Sinatra, Columbia CL 6143/IMPEX RECORDS IMP6036, Limited Edition, 180 g LP (1950/2020)

⸜ FRANK SINATRA, The Voice, Columbia/Classic Records CL 743, Quiex SV-P, „50th Anniversary”, 180 g LP (1955/2005)

⸜ AL DI MEOLA, JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, PACO DELUCIA, Friday Night in San Francisco, Philips/Hi-Q Records | Pro-Ject Audio Systems 6302137, „Hi-Q Supercuts”, 180 g LP (1981/?)

⸜ AL DI MEOLA, JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, PACO DELUCIA, Friday Night in San Francisco, Philips/Impex Records IMP 6031-45, 2 x 45 rpm, 180 g LP (1981/2020)

The Famous Sound Of Three Blind Mice Vol. 1, Three Blind Mice/Impex Records ‎IMP6027, 2 x 180 g LP (2018)

⸜ ISAO SUZUKI QUARTET, Blow Up, Three Blind Mice TBM-2515, LP (1973/1977)
⸜ ISAO SUZUKI QUARTET, Blow Up, Three Blind Mice/Impex Records IMP8307, Gold HDCD (1973/2004)

The Famous Sound Of Three Blind Mice Vol. 1, Three Blind Mice/Impex Records ‎IMP6027, 2 x 180 g LP (2018)

⸜ TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO, Misty, Three Blind Mice TBM-2530, LP (1974/1977)
⸜ TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO, Misty, Three Blind Mice/Cisco Music TBM-30-45, „Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Limited Edition | No. 0080/1000”, 45 RPM, 2 x 180 g LP (1974/2004)


⸜ PART 1. Impex Records vs. the rest of the world

JULIAN SOJA The Impex version of Sinatra’s album sounds really nice. It absolutely does not sound like the recording from the year 1950! The Classic Records issue is not that good sonically, as it is so wide and spatial that I realized it was a monophonic recording only after some time. And, well, I liked the Classic Records version more, as it showed enormous space that featured the recorded instruments, those echoes and reverberations. The Impex issue showed the vocal more at the front – it was closer to me and more intimate. However, it did not „stick to” the musical background – most probably because it was added during another session. However, the piece sounded great from a 16” transcription record, it was simply excellent!

The Impex issue of Friday Night in San Francisco was ingenious, much better than the very good Hi-Q Records version. Apparently, it is a completely different league.

WOJCIECH PACUŁA The Hi-Q Records version of Friday Night in San Francisco sounds quite bright, doesn’t it?
JS It does. Compared to the Impex issue, it sounds bright and ethereal.

WP The Hi-Q version is very impressive, as it fits the music with its long reverberations and a large venue. The Impex Records issue makes the sound close in the sense that the incredible back room of reverberations is no longer there. High reverberations are not “endless” anymore. However, Impex captured the sound of the instruments themselves much better. They are not immersed in echo, but tangible and meatier. That is why this is better sound for me – not only better, but much better.

JS Better, better – as for the Hi-Q version, the guitar strings are a little mat, as if not as sharp and clear as in the Impex issue. Both sound cool, but the American one sounds much better.


JS So, which version sounds better?

WP I thought it would be easier to decide, but it isn’t. The original TBM reissue is incredibly effective, as there is a lot of everything, here and now, within the reach of our hand. The instruments sound almost as if we were sitting inside them, or at least had our ear next to them. It is the type of a recording that surprises us with how much information that is so dynamic can be recorded onto an LP. We cannot even obtain such sound during a live performance.

However, in my opinion, everything has the same emotional temperature here – towards the front. The sound features no nuances, nor changes in dynamics and “presence”. It is about constantly maintaining the same f***ing high level.

And that is why the Impex version, though not so effective anymore, seemed very interesting to me – perhaps not in the audiophile context, as the TBM issue is much better in this respect, but from the musical perspective. The sound dynamics was clearer here: stronger – weaker, quieter – louder, “to the front” and a little muffled. As for the TBM version, everything is always at the highest performance level. That makes a colossal impression, but is also a bit tiring. So, the TBM issue sounds a bit more transistor-like in the sense that there is more attack, strike, dynamics, a little without maintenance.

The CD sounded really good, though I liked this piece more from the Impex LP.

JS Well, I have a different opinion – but you could have expected that, as I have been listening to the original issue for years, also on tape. First of all, it is one of my absolutely favorite albums and I get the impression that I know each of its notes in turn. That is why I think the original is unrivalled thanks to its precision and space. I agree, the attack is strong, but when we pay attention to the percussion, we will see that absolutely everything is audible: each shift of the plate, every movement, simply everything…

WP But is music about being able to hear every detail? Not really, I think… I get the impression this has been achieved by applying more compression to the original material during the pressing process – or perhaps I am wrong? It seems that the Impex issue is not that compressed – the record sounds quieter, all the flavors come to the surface and we are no longer sitting “inside” an instrument.

JS I don’t like it. It is not good, in my opinion. I am a fan of the original version and, from my perspective, the Impex issue simply sounds worse. The original one features incredible holographic effects – the sounds are suspended in the air and it would seem one needs a multi-channel system to achieve this effect. As for the Impex issue, everything is more shallow and not that spatial anymore. That is why this constitutes a disadvantage for the record. To be frank, this is why I liked the HDCD version, as it was great and closer to the original.

WP So, the important, or perhaps the most important thing is what we look for in music, as both versions sounded really good.

JS Well, yes – if I had not known the original issue before and listened to the Impex version, I would say it is a phenomenal, excellently sounding record. However, I do know the original and I am not going to change my mind.


WP There was a lot of noise in each of the recording versions…

JS That’s right, in all the three. That would suggest the noise was produced by the tape.

WP However, it is also important that this comparison was totally different than in the case of Blow Up.

JS Yeah, completely different – I must admit that I usually dislike Cisco Records versions, but here this particular issue sounded incredibly good. I am amazed by the differences. The TBM version sounds very cool and I like it, but the Cisco one was simply better. The piano sounded really beautiful – it was sonorous and rounded, just like the percussion plates and double bass.

WP The Impex issue sounded yet different.

JS Totally different! The whole tonal balance has become lower – there is more bass and clearly less treble. It sounds as if everything has been softened, a little muffled – I have no idea where this comes from. I would even wonder if this is not a different version. It sounds more intimate.

WP If I were to summarize these comparisons, I would say that the Impex versions sound warmer and more tangible. They are not that scattered around, but feature better focus and density. TBM, in turn, made its master in a way that hits you in the face.

JS I would summarize this in a different way…

PART 2. Café Blue

⸜ Albums used in the listening session

• 2011 | 2 x LP: Premonition Records 90760-1, US ( HQ-180, RTI)
• 2020 | 1STEP LP: Premonition Records/Impex Records, US (numerowany, RTI), USA

• 1997 | HDCD: First Impression Music FIM CD 010, USA


WOJCIECH PACUŁA An interesting comparison, isn’t it?

JULIAN SOJA A very, very interesting one. I am surprised with such progress in sound – the 1STEP version is “more” in every respect. There is more treble, bass, space and air in it – it is simply spectacular and sounds incredible. However, I must admit that the original version (i.e. the 2011 remix – Editor’s note) is also very good – more intimate, “cozier” and easier to take in.

WP As for 1STEP, when the guitar comes in, it is large and there is a lot of it. When the percussion is played, it is powerful, etc., and has great reverberation. I do not know if you got the same impression, but the vocal on the Impex version was a bit brighter, while its attack on the original issue was a bit blunt. Impex sounds clearer, but also better everywhere.

JS On some of the records, Barber sounds a little dimmed, but 1STEP sounds SO good that I would sometimes wonder whether it is not exaggerated somewhere. However, when I listen again, I know this is IT and that it should sound THIS way. I liked it very much.

WP It is an extremely spectacular version – you sit and do not know what you could improve about it. There is beautiful tone color balance, incredible dynamics, the sound is open, but also incredibly silky. These elements are usually attributed to tape. However, the most important thing is that you do not get any impression that this is a digital recording.

JS Exactly! To tell you the truth, until you told me about it, I had thought Café Blue was recorded onto a multi-track analog tape recorder. This does not sound digital at all, no trace of the digital coating whatsoever – and I am sensitive to it, as my basic music sources are a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a turntable. I am greatly impressed by this version of the album and I would like to buy it for myself.

WP You’d better hurry up, as the prices of all 1STEP issues instantly go up. Have you seen the price of the MoFi version of Santana’s Abraxas album? Anyway, it would be interesting to compare the same 1STEP pressing from a few different stampers, as there are only 1,000 vinyl discs per each, if I understand it correctly, and then you need to make another one.

JS Well, yes, but, here and now, the Impex 1STEP version is so great and sounds so good that I would not be able to point out an area for improvement.

WP Everything sounds good, there is nothing to improve.

JS We listen to the music and the record sounds so good that we have nothing else to worry about. It is jazz, but the second piece with its trance rhythmicity reminds me of the Santana’s album that we once listened to. And it does sound hypnotizing in the 1STEP version you sit, listen and forget about the world. That was a fantastic experience.

The original issue from the year 2011, the Impex Records S1EP version and its Test Press (C7/D7)

WP And what do you think about the digital FIM version? Not only is it a different medium, but most of all a different mix, and thus also a different master.

JS That was completely different sound, but it has got the right to be different. Definitely more was going here in bass and the sound was also not as clear and less spatial, while the vocal sounded a little as if it came from a tight throat. The guitar made no impression at all – it entered and left, and that was it.

WP The digital version sounded as if it lacked some information – toned down and a little weathered.

JS This evidently shows how successful the new mix and the 1STEP issue are – your SACD is fantastic and the previous comparisons with the digital versions were surprisingly beneficial for them. As far as I know your digital source, it shows absolutely every bit of a record and even in such a comparison the FIM HDCD issue sounded one degree worse than an “ordinary” Premonition version with the new remix, and much worse than the 1STEP issue. That means there is no such information there.


JS I wish we had the vinyl version of the original mix, especially in the case of the Mobile Fidelity issue. Then we would be sure.

⸜ Julek with the winner – the S1EP version

WP Sure, sure. However, we would also have a completely different story to tell. Now we compared two different pressing TECHNIQUES – the classic one and 1STEP, but the picture was a little biased because each of the records had been cut by a different person at a different studio (though using the same master tape). If we compared any of the original issues with the 2011 remix, we would actually be comparing two different versions of the ALBUM.

If we wanted that to work out, we would first have to compare all the original pressings, choose the winner from among them, then choose the best pressing with the 2011 mix (which we have just done) and only then compare two best versions of the records – with the mix from the year 1994 and 2011. Some day in the future, perhaps… Now let me just repeat that the Impex Records 1STEP pressing is incredibly good!

JS So, one must buy it. Without any doubt to me, 1STEP technique makes a difference. It is neither a marketing trick, nor another label on the record, but a real colossal difference. It is also the first technique related to vinyl that has given us something clearly better since a long time ago. It rocks – and that’s it.