The very best sound: Direct to Disc

Since I got a new cartridge (Clear Audio Virtuoso) i’ve rediscovered the Sheffield and RR Direct Disc albums in my collection.  
Wow! they put everything else to shame.  I picked up about twenty Sheffield D2D’s when Tower Records went out of business for a song (no pun intended.) I’m just now listening to them and find there’s nothing that sonically compares.  They’re just more real sounding than anything else.  Not spectacular but realistic.   
Dear @mijostyn : I understand that that was the first D2D ever. I can be wrong about but I remember it that way.


A couple weeks back I proselytized, in the thread entitled "Why no interest in reel-to-reel if you’re looking for the ultimate sound?", that Doug Sax had proven in the early-1970’s that a direct-to-disc LP afforded higher sound quality than any tape recording ever made. I suggested buying every direct-to-disc LP you can get your hands on.

The first d-2-d LP I heard of (thanks to JGH), and subsequently heard in 1972, was the second Sheffield (S-10): The Missing Linc by Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Collegues (the cream of L.A. studio musicians, including bassist Jerry Scheff---renown for his work with Elvis, Roy Orbison, T Bone Burnett, Richard Thompson, the doors, lots of others---and drummer Jim Keltner---Ry Cooder, Bill Frisell, Randy Newman, Dylan, George Harrison, John Lennon, Brian Wilson, Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, J.J. Cale, many others). The music on the album is imo pretty corny, but the sound is incredible!

The sound of a d-2-d LP is startling "alive": very "immediate", with incredible transient "snap" (as JGH put it) and punch. In comparison, all but the best tape recordings sound veiled, out-of-focus soft, distant, pale, lifeless. The only thing that came close to the shock of hearing a d-2-d LP was hearing an ESL loudspeaker for the first time. And then hearing my first Decca cartridge, whose sound characteristic was uncannily similar to a d-2-d LP.

As I said above, Sheffield S-10 was the label’s second d-2-d LP, and by the time I heard of it the first---S-9---was out of print. It took me years to find a copy, but find one I did. I now have 13 Sheffields, Pop and Classical. Some actually have musical worth ;-) . One thing to be aware of is that Sax sometimes ran more than one lathe at a time (some LP jackets contain cutter info), and some titles were done with more than one complete side take. So different LP pressings can and do contain different takes!

Another point to make is that Doug Sax didn’t invent direct-to-disc recording, he rediscovered it. Prior to the invention of the tape recorder (by German engineers, for the Nazi war effort. The Allies discovered the recorders in the underground bunkers, and brought them back to the U.S.A.), ALL recordings were made direct-to-disc. Remember the scene in O Brother Where Art Thou, when the hillbillies are singing into the "can" in the radio station? Remember the shot of a lacquer being cut in another room as they did? Direct-to-disc.

Other direct-to-disc record companies sprang up in the wake of Sheffield, the most prolific being Crystal Clear. I have 7 CC’s, including those by The Dillards (you’ve seen them as The Darlings on The Andy Griffith Show), Carlos Montoya, Arthur Fiedler, and Virgil Fox (playing a pipe organ, producing a 16Hz tone on the bottom pedal!). Other labels include M & K (L.A. retailer Miller & Kreisel, where Steve McCormack started his hi-fi career), whose title For Duke (loved by HP) once commanded hundreds of dollars (though I got a copy from Brooks Berdan for $75), and even Cardas (The Gregg Smith Singers, pressed at 45RPM).

I wouldn't overestimate the superiority of Direct to Disc records, for example some nice from Shefield Lab is Dave Grusin LP (1976), but his earlier Soundtrack "3 Days of the Condor" on Capitol records (1975) is even better (sonically) and wasn't Direct to Disc. I don't want you to compare youtube videos, compare records instead. 
Just chiming in on a topic that drives us all bonkers for the right reason: the music!