Capitol Records 2-track Reel-to-Reel Tapes, 1957-1958

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by MLutthans, Apr 28, 2012.

  1. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff Thread Starter

    (This thread is an offshoot of a slightly-off-topic discussion in a Nat "King" Cole Thread, here.)

    Capitol Records briefly sold excellent-quality, 2-track, 7.5 ips stereo tapes from July of 1957 to about October of 1958, with a catalog of under 100 titles, mostly from Capitol, but at least one Angel Records title, as well. These are not to be confused with the later 4-track ("quarter-track") tapes that play at 7.5 ips in each direction, i.e., tapes that you turn over, with a "side one" and a "side two." These played in one direction only, and were not only "audiophile" products, but very much "boutique" or esoteric items. Consider that this was prior to the advent of the 45/45 stereo LP, and that each tape title ran for a maximum of 30 minutes, and that most titles were in the $12.96-$16.95 range in 1957. Adjusted for inflation, that would equate to $105.89-$138.59 today! (Makes those SACDs seem cheap by comparison, no?) Consider, too, that by the end of the 1960s, Ampex was duping quarter-track reels at 24x speed from multi-generation-down "masters," while many two-track tapes (such as Capitol's '57/'58 product) were duped from genuine mixdown masters at 4x speed on high-quality 3M tape. I am fortunate to have a handful of these tapes and an Ampex 351-2 on which to play them, and I can tell you that the sound quality on some titles is truly, stunningly good, with unique stereo mixes, not the typical stereo LP mixes that came later.

    Below is a scan I did of the 1957 Capitol stereo tape brochure that is in the box for my copy of #ZD-10, "Kenton in Hi-Fi."
    CapitolStereo57-1.jpg CapitolStereo57-2.jpg CapitolStereo57-3.jpg CapitolStereo57-4.jpg
  2. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff Thread Starter

    ...and here is the 1958 brochure that was included with my copy of Jackie Gleason's "The Torch with the Blue Flame," #ZD-57:
    CapitolStereo58-1.jpg CapitolStereo58-2.jpg CapitolStereo58-3b.jpg CapitolStereo58-4.jpg
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  3. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    There is one on there ZD-21 "Stars In Stereo" that saved my butt when working on VELVET BRASS CD. Pete Welding found it for me, the missing song. It was hidden on the ZD-21 reel instead of the VELVET BRASS reel. Bless you, Pete!

    As you can see from the catalog, not everything was to be issued on reel. Even after April 1958, they didn't issue everything, just what they thought would sell to the audiophile market. Nothing has changed.
  4. ShockControl

    ShockControl Bon Vivant and Raconteur!

    Lotus Land
    Ports of Pleasure on reel to reel sounds AMAZING!
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  5. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    That's nothing to what the stereo master sounds like, bub. Too bad only 6 of us would buy the thing if reissued today. Another one that sounds amazing is SPACE ESCAPADE by Les Baxter. The whole thing is totally out of phase though, doesn't bother me, adds to the stereo "effect".

    Try and find that "Stars In Stereo" reel. It is a nice sampler of what Capitol could do in those days. Even Frank is on it! No one at EMI today even knows where to find the stereo versions of the songs missing from the actual albums. I tell them "Think Stars In Stereo". There are like five volumes of it in the can but only the first was issued.
  6. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff Thread Starter

    Stars in Stereo is a fascinating reel. I've got three copies of it! (Still looking for one in truly mint condition.) It was basically a "leftovers" reel, i.e., a bunch of songs that came from other titles in the series, but -- let's say an album ran 34 minutes, but only 30 minutes could fit on the reel for, say, Nat Cole's JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS. They would lop a track off that Nat Cole title, then put the missing song on STARS IN STEREO, a "compilation" album that was all these great, missing tracks! I have it because of the Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra tracks that are missing from the corresponding Cole/Sinatra tapes.

  7. paulmock

    paulmock Forum Resident

    Hollywood, CA
    THIS IS FRIGGIN' AMAZING STUFF!!!!:cool::righton:
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  8. Jayson Wall

    Jayson Wall Forum Resident

    Los Angeles, CA
    I have a copy of SPACE ESCAPADE 2-track, and yep, it's an amazing sounding tape!!!:righton:
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  9. bferr1

    bferr1 Forum Resident

    Odd that Sinatra's "Where Are You?" is listed in the sidebar and not given a more prominent placement with album artwork. I wonder why? Was that album a soft-seller?
    Mr. Explorer likes this.
  10. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff Thread Starter

    As a Sinatra fan, I cannot fully relate to you how blown away I was by ZD-17, "Where Are You." It's a unique mix, vastly superior to the stereo LP mix, and it makes every other stereo mix sound like some sort of joke by comparison. It's clean and warm and "full range" with wide, sweeping stereo spread and fantastically pure vocal tone. I listen to the other mixes and think.....if only! Sadly, it only has 9 of the 12 songs, due to time limitations on the 7" reel. (A 10th title appears on STARS IN STEREO.)

  11. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host


    People don't understand (including the people who actually work at Capitol) that the Z series were UNIQUE ONE OF A KIND STEREO MIXES. Every one of those reels are unique and all were remixed for LP just a year or so later. The only place we can now hear these mixes is on these open reel tapes.

    The Z reel of LOVE IS THE THING is tremendous.

    The problem? The Z mixes were done at 7 1/2 ips two track reduced from the 15 ips three track original tapes. None was ever done at 15 ips! And of course, almost all were incomplete..
  12. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    That's amazing that this stuff came out. I have some back issues of High Fidelity and Stereo Review in my collection that had ads for these early tapes; I seem to recall other manufacturers had staggered-head stereo reel decks even before this. Things were messy and disorganized in the early days of stereo, especially when it came to consumer releases.

    I wanna hear the hit stereo recordings this guy was working on...


    They must have been big hits, given the big reels.
  13. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff Thread Starter

    Bel Canto used to run a lot of ads, IIRC, and they leased titles from some of the smaller companies, and their 2-track tapes were pretty poor by comparison.

    Here's a link to an old page of mine that has a sample of a Bel Canto release of "Julie is Her Name, Volume 2," by Julie London. (Remember, this is NOT one of the Capitol releases!)

    Compare that to this bit of oozing audio butter from Jackie Gleason on Capitol:

    In terms of sound quality, these Capitol titles....they're winners!

    (Quicktime required.)

  14. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff Thread Starter

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  15. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    Sad thing is, one could make a nice mix again for Frank. After all, the three-track is there. The operator just needs to know how to make a nice sounding stereo mix out of it.

    I based my Nat King Cole JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS and LOVE IS THE THING remixes on the ZD open reel tape versions.

    If I can do it, an EMI engineer guy could do it for Frank and the rest..
  16. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff Thread Starter

    Yeah, but sensitivity to subtleties is a largely lost concept today. (I'm not really kidding.)

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  17. paulmock

    paulmock Forum Resident

    Hollywood, CA
  18. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    The mixing console to mix those three track tapes to 7 1/2 ips open reel duping masters in 1957-58 was so simple it's not funny.

    A simple three in, left, center, right. Three separate echo feeds out/in, a ganged tube compressor. Two out. 6 tubes. Ampex 300-3/console/Ampex 350-2.

    That's it. Not even an EQ.
  19. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff Thread Starter

  20. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    Thanks for the compliment!

    That Sinatra clip shows what the Capitol engineers thought good stereo sound should be. Amazingly good stereo mix.

    They went so far North just a short time later I can't figure it out at all. What happened? Were the rigors of 45/45 stereo Westrex cutting so difficult that they had to completely dumb down their sound for the stereo LP mixes? I mean, they sound OK but not like THAT.

    Really, I just can't figure it out. That Frank is mixed just like I would if I had to do it today. It's perfect.
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  21. wcarroll

    wcarroll Forum Resident

    Baton Rouge, LA
    Steve, You say above that the only way to hear these unique mixes is on the original open reel tapes. Were the masters discarded when Capitol realized the market for 2-track stereo tapes was over? Or, do the masters exist, but there is no hope of release ever again? I guess new masters were made for the 4-track releases (of those titles that were available in both 2-track and 4-track)?

  22. stereoguy

    stereoguy Its Gotta Be True Stereo!

    Steve...would a reissue label be able to license those 7 1/2 ips tapes and issue them on Blu-Ray? I can see a nice audiophile market for them.
  23. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    That's right, the only way to hear these unique mixes. Remember, these are basically incomplete versions of the albums, therefore useless for any modern use by Capitol. The LP stereo version mixes came later and the four-track open reel tapes were dubs of the LP stereo mixes but sometimes the order was changed around to even the sides out.

    The masters of these old Z open reel two track tapes are still at Capitol, sure. I pulled some for the Nat project just to hear 'em. We thought they had all been dumped but after a little Iron Mountain digging, found them all. Wonderful sound but as I said, not complete.

    A talented operator could easily duplicate that sound using the work parts and do complete versions of the albums, just like I did for JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, LOVE IS THE THING, etc.
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  24. wcarroll

    wcarroll Forum Resident

    Baton Rouge, LA
    Thanks Steve. Good to know that the masters for these at least still exist. I'll have to see if I can find one of these to try.... Perhaps one of the less-collectible titles. "Love is the Thing" usually fetches a pretty good price!

    Didn't Ampex also license and release some 2-track reels early on?

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  25. Hamhead

    Hamhead The Bear From Delaware

    I have it too, it's great. I'm searching for Space Escapade.
    Kenton's Back To Balboa is nice also.

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