Recording of April 1967: An Audio Obstacle Course

An Audio Obstacle Course: The Shure Trackability Test Record
Shure Bros. TTR-101.

Shure's new "Supertrack" V-15 Type II pickup was designed as an answer to all those high-powered discs whose excessive modulations make them shatter all over the place on lesser pickups, But just in case anyone didn't happen to own any of these difficult discs, Shure decided to issue one of these, too. The result is a collection of some of the meanest modulations ever gathered together in one place.

Each "test" is a series of four short musical excerpts, recorded at progressively higher levels but otherwise identical. Among the nastier items(from a pickup's viewpoint) are orchestral bells, piano, accordion, and harpsichord, but everything on here is likely to give every pickup something to struggle with.

Also included are some silent grooves to evaluate hum, rumble, and surface noise, and an area of blank, ungrooved surface for checking bias compensation. The latter is the only thing we are really dubious about, because it doesn't work the way it should.

Shure advises us to adjust the bias compensation until the stylus stays where it's placed on the blank area, skidding neither toward nor away from the center spindle. The resulting bias adjustment, however, yields what appears to be over-correction, for the pickup then breaks up on left-channel modulations before the recorded level is high enough to cause right-channel distortion. We still prefer to use this left–right comparison method for checking bias compensation, and the left–right bands on Shure's disc are an ideal way of doing this. With bias properly set (and assuming both channels of the system to be matched in volume and in component lineup), both channels will be equally clean, or equally distorted, on both the right- and left-channel tests.

How effective are the other tests? We found them to be at least as valid for comparison purposes as our own stock of horribles—the pile of discs we've accumulated for checking tracking ability. We found one section—the loudest accordian passage—to be a bit too much even for the Type II V-15. But we also found that our previously determined ranking for the relative trackability of the pickups we've tested was verified right down the line when using the TTR-101. And although you may be shocked by what you find when you try it on your own system, remember that there are pickups that can track it almost perfectly cleanly. (Incidentally, loudspeaker peaks and very small amounts of amplifier distortion can exaggerate tracking distortion out of all proportion to its actual severity, so don't be in too much of a hurry to blame your pickup if it makes a very poor showing.)

This is one of the few listening-type (as opposed to metered) test records we've found that really does what it's intended to do. And what more could we ask? Shure's TTR-101 costs $3.95 and is well worth it. But it may persuade you to buy a new pickup.—J. Gordon Holt

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

"The 59th street bridge song (Feelin' groovy)" ..........By Simon & Garfunkel :-) ........

brw's picture

I purchased the Shure test record (at the tender age of 14, with hard-earned newspaper delivery dollars) to check my V-15 Type II Improved cartridge and Garrard Zero 100 turntable. Although the latter are long gone (and front end 'gone' digital), I still have the record and cherish the associated memories. Thank you, Stereophile team.

dalethorn's picture

I'd like to get this on a high-res download. It might not make sense to some, but there's almost always something unique on these test discs that isn't available elsewhere.

PAR's picture

This test disc consists of brief recordings of various instruments each of which has been cut on the vinyl at increasing modulation levels so that you can find out at what point your cartridge ceases to track adequately. Plus some silent grooves. So all you would basically get from a hi-rez download would be some silence and 4 increasingly loud samples of:

1. Orchestral Bells
2.Drum and Cymbal
3.A Blank band ( digital silence on a download)
4.Bass Drum
5. Silent grooves ( digital silence again)
6.Voice identifying channel balance and phasing
7.Electric Organ
8.Piano
9.Accordion
10. Harpsichord

There is also a spoken introduction.

As what you would get is some samples of digital silence plus 4 samples per instrument, each at -xdB below 0dBfs, I don't think you would find that very useful. The channel balance and phasing is basic stuff and I am sure that, being an experienced 'phile, you don't need a test disc for that.

I can't think of anything on this disc having much use outside of the physical replay of vinyl. Unless, say, you are desperate to own 4 increasingly loud but otherwise identical samples of an accordion :-)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Acadian Driftwood" ......... By The Band :-) .........

dalethorn's picture

Currently I use 25-40 tracks to test headphones, and of those, very few are good for evaluating tonal accuracy. Harpsichord, wooden blocks (or whatever makes that sound), tambourine, and piano are the sounds I use now, but a few more if well-recorded would help. I've collected test CDs from Stereophile, HDTracks, and several other sites, but the really good stuff is rare. I don't know if this album's sounds would be useful to me, but if I could get them, who knows?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Do you have any Decca recordings in your collection? ......... Decca was using the 3 microphone (some times as many as 5) for their orchestral recordings (Decca Tree) as early as the 50s and 60s ......... Those recordings are considered some of the best .......... I have some of those recordings ......... If you don't have those recordings, they are worth exploring and collecting .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

To add to the above "Rock me Amadeus" :-) ............

dalethorn's picture

Google search - two hours - hundreds of sites about "Decca Tree" recording technique, no listings of actual recordings. The only find that was remotely promising was a box set of Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Did you search all the Hi-Rez sites? ........... They have lots of recordings on iTunes Store ........ You may or may not be interested ........

dalethorn's picture

Search by what? Decca Tree recording? You are aware that many Decca recordings during that period did NOT use the Decca Tree system, yes? So tell me how to search and find Decca Tree recordings only.

dalethorn's picture

And then if you purchase Dutoit's records, look what you're getting:

https://www.psaudio.com/article/au-revoir-dutoit/#comment-86748

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I don't have the answers ......... From what I understand, Decca was using the Decca Tree technique pretty routinely for their orchestral recordings ......... A while back JA mentioned in one of the articles that he got a box set from either Decca or Deutsche Grammophon, which he was transferring the music to the computer ......... You can ask JA about that ..........

dalethorn's picture

Two more hours and all I see that might be a possibility is the Saint-Saens Sym. 3 with Dutoit and Montreal. So there are three(!) Decca "editions" of this recording. And it may be different recordings, since the playing times are different, but I can't find recording dates - just release dates, which are useless.

1) Originals. 2) Ovation. 3) Virtuoso. I bought the Originals edition.

Now, if you have specific information on any Decca Tree recordings that you're personally familiar with, feel free to share them here.

When Decca company and their online sellers of CDs and downloads aren't willing to say what the recording dates are for each recording, or some other information that would help in identifying the differences, it's a waste of time.

I quit going to Tower, Amoeba, and other stores many years ago because they rarely had anyone who could help finding things. Sam the Record Man in Toronto was good, but that was a long drive and a rare visit.

People who are involved in this stuff have gotten lazy, and half the time you see on HDTracks they don't even include liner notes in a PDF. If hi-fi or classical music or any of the related things are dying, it's a well-deserved death from apathy.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Amen for your last sentence ............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Apathy + arrogance ............ Not a good combination .............

dalethorn's picture

Creativity and humility are a difficult mix for most people.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You can try to get that "Duet" album (if it is still available) which JA mentions ......... As JA said, it was recorded using Decca Tree technique ........ I think I still have that CD somewhere. I have to look for it ...........

dalethorn's picture

The Dutoit/Montreal recording ("Originals" edition) is certainly listenable, but as an example of Decca Tree technique, it doesn't justify seeking out other "Decca tree" recordings. For example, in the second movement at 7:00 or a few seconds thereafter, the massed violins have a hardness or glassy effect, and while I tested this on several different headphones (some of which weren't bad and others were), I realize that this effect is probably not fixable in remastering.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

There are several Dutoit/Decca recordings ............ It is hard to decide which one(s) to get ...........

dalethorn's picture

Not hard for me - I'll wait for the definitive remaster that gets at least 4-1/2 stars for sonics from Stereophile. Until then, these Decca recordings are meh...

OTOH, if you can find a Japanese XRCD or something similar, it could be a slightly better sound, or at least to impress your friends with. When I throw a party, I make sure to have a stack of Japanese pressings sitting around amidst my numerous black and white photography journals, with a few bottles of Perrier Jouët to wet everyone's tonsils.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

There are several CDs available on Amazon, including some box sets of Dutoit/Decca recordings ....... if you are interested ............

dalethorn's picture

New Stereophile print edition, August 2018, page 107: Vivaldi - Gloria. Decca label!!
The lead voice seems to be Franco Fagioli - quite a treat, great sound.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Lous Armstrong are available on Decca recordings catalog ..........

dalethorn's picture

In that case, old news isn't necessarily good news.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Also, Bernstein/Decca recordings .........

dalethorn's picture

I got the Bernstein Mahler Wunderhorn recording reviewed here. It's decent enough. My recommendation for anyone who's not strongly attached to the old historical classical recordings is to check the Stereophile reviews, mainly for new recordings of good quality, and old remasters if carefully chosen. We are audiophiles after all, so sound quality is paramount.

dalethorn's picture

I don't have any Louis Armstrong, but while I have many trumpet players in my list, one who isn't as high profile as the bigger names is Clark Terry. HDTracks has some of his excellent records.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be some reviewer(s) at Stereophile auditions some of these old Decca recordings and tell us all which ones are the best ......... (I wouldn't be holding by breath waiting for that to happen, though) :-) .........

dalethorn's picture

Since I have such a full plate of activities every week (diplomatic relations, border disputes, trade negotiations etc.), I have a limited amount of time available for in-depth music listening. The Stereophile site and a couple of others give me as many suggestions as I can handle, and my personal library has grown into a very healthy collection of high-resolution music.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Aha ...... I found the answer .......... MQA may rescue the whole situation :-) ..........

dalethorn's picture

If Apple's iTunes were to post more "MQA"** albums like they did with the Radka Toneff, I'd buy them, because they'd be at least 500 kbps bitrate, which is very close to what I get with lossless FLAC's of the CD rips I do. And even if 500 kbps is slightly less than CD/FLAC bitrates, for those older recordings it makes no difference.

**The iTunes MQA files did not contain the MQA signature according to my DACs, but given the obvious high sound quality of the new masters, they're good enough. And it's not like genuine MQA would be any better.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Also, I wouldn't be holding my breath waiting for all those old Decca recordings to get re-mastered either :-) ...............

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