We’re currently staging a new-account drive at our website, www.archeophone.com –trying to get old and new customers alike to visit our new site and sign up for accounts. To sweeten the deal, we’ve got a killer deal on the newly remastered edition of our very first CD, Real Ragtime: Disc Recordings from Its Heyday. It’s like we’re starting all over again, but this is so, so much better.
Running your own shop is a blessing and a curse, as we all know. When it comes to putting out a product like our CDs, the blessing is that you have full control over the production and can exact your own creative vision. That’s the curse too: you just can’t stop trying to make it better. Real Ragtime has been out in four different audio versions. The first came in 1998 and was on CD-R, as we were just getting started. The second was a professionally manufactured CD, done over in 1999. In 2001, David Wondrich wrote about that CD in The New York Times and brought it a good deal of attention. Then in 2005, we totally revamped the CD, subbing in one track for another and adding a bonus track. The catalog number morphed from ARCH 1001 to ARCH 1001A, the “A” representing the altered playlist from the previous editions and newly designed and expanded notes.
Now, after more than 10 years since the last edition, we have pressed yet another and revisited the sound. And here’s why: We’re committed to REFRESHING the product, not simply REPRESSING it. It’s not that we want to make customers buy the same title over and over again; rather, it’s that we want to keep it in print, and if we are making that commitment, we want it to be the best it can possibly be. Given the technical advances of the last 15 years, as well as our improved skills, this often means starting from scratch.
This is our M.O. going forward, and that’s why we try to provide upgrade pricing for loyal customers. Whenever you feel grumpy about a record label continually issuing “anniversary editions” of one of your old favorites, remember that they face the same question: either give a catalog item a facelift and a new life or delete it from the catalog. While it’s easy to assume that an album will just always “be available,” it isn’t always feasible to keep it in print.
So how is Real Ragtime better, sonically speaking?
The biggest struggle, as far as we can tell, in doing quality restorations of old recordings is to overcome crackle. Getting rid of pops and clicks is not such a big deal, but crackle is a beast. When we started, there were only a couple of digital applications that could handle it, they cost tens of thousands of dollars, and their precision was still only modest. So back then, most engineers would employ an aggressive equalization roll-off in order to take down the crackle, resulting in a muffled sound. Today, the software programs are much better and are accessible to big and small studios alike. What this means is that, with crackle under control, rather than completely burying the top end, we can open it up and give an “airy” space for the recordings to shine and sparkle in. You get depth of field, separation, and presence—even on an acoustic recording.
The ability to work accurately on bass response is much better now too. The whole audio picture is more pleasing, fuller, more lifelike.
So, now, for your review—and in a crazy act of honesty that will be sure to get tomatoes thrown at us—we submit samples of four different versions of the great concluding song from Real Ragtime, “Ruff Johnson’s Harmony Band,” a 1917 recording by the Ragtime King, Gene Greene. Here is the intro, first verse and first chorus for you to compare from the 1998, 1999, 2005, and 2016 editions. You’ll notice first off that the pitch was wrong in the first two and has been corrected in the later versions.
Hopefully you feel the final version is the best. We do.
Another thing that couldn’t be fixed back in the day by automation but can now, to some degree: pitch drift. For instance, in 1900, let’s say the band was going kind of long and the recording engineer knew this. He might slow down the speed of the recording to make it all fit. But that means on playback, it goes fast when we hit that spot. Or maybe the humidity in the studio that day made the lathe go haywire, and the pitch fluctuates between fast and slow. Much of this can be fixed now. Our regular collaborator, David Giovannoni, has used the Capstan software program to correct a number of the discs on Real Ragtime with this problem. Listen to this pitch shift on “Creole Belles.” You can hear it take an especially steep turn upward in the last few seconds.
Here it is, now corrected, stable all the way through.
We hope this whets your appetite for one of our all-time favorite releases. The new version is on sale for $7.99 through Saturday March 12, so stop by our website and grab a copy.