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Impressions: HDTT’s Brilliant Quad DSD release of Cootie Williams in Stereo

07-09-2015 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 80

If you love DSD downloads as much as I do, but haven't yet heard of High Definition Tape Transfers, then brother, let me do you a big favor. Some of the best DSD downloads now available in classical music and jazz are coming from Bob Witrak and his operation over at HDTT. Possessed of a Merging Technologies HAPI ADDA and a Pyramix 9.1.x digital audio workstation, as well as a pipeline to a trove of analog tapes of lesser-known recordings from major artists, groups, and orchestras, Bob has been offering unique treasures in both DSD (Single, Double, and Quad) as well as in various flavors of PCM. You can find world-class names here:  Reiner, Stokowski, Bernstein, Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Fiedler, Harnoncourt, Ormandy, Munch, von Karajan, Ansermet, Leinsdorf…well, you get the picture. No lack of heavy hitters here.

I've been singing the praises of Bob's very fine transfers for a while now. All are excellent…with some variability due to the condition of the source tape…but some are really exceptional.

Which brings me to the subject of this quick review:  The HDTT Quad DSD transfer of Cootie Williams in Stereo.


Title: Cootie Williams in Stereo
Artist(s): Cootie Williams on Trumpet and his Orchestra
Recording Info: Transferred from a RCA 2-Track Tape 
Producer: Fred Reynolds / Engineer:  John Norman
Date of Recording: March 1958 
Venue: Webster Hall, New York

I have to admit that I wasn't familiar with Cootie Williams when I saw this title on the HDTT site. Since it was a new Quad DSD title, however, and since I knew that Bob had used the HAPI and Pyramix to do the transfer, I gave it a shot. Bob had labeled this title as a transfer from analog tape done in "pure DSD," by which he signals that the tape was of high enough quality to allow a "straight-wire" transfer…no extra processing and correction in the digital domain required. (At this point, such digital corrections mandate a shift to DXD on the Pyramix system. Not the end of the world, but not as fine a result as a clean transfer to Quad DSD.)

I was optimistic when I downloaded this title, which was recorded in 1958, but I have to say that my best hopes were exceeded by the quality of Cootie Williams in Stereo. Cootie Williams was a very fine trumpeter, with a band that turned out to be big-band jazz style…nice!

Note that this download does not include all twelve of the tracks that were reissued by RCA in the Cootie Williams in High Fi LP. Just six tracks here…I don't know why Witrak limited this title to half the number of tracks in the larger work, unless it has to do with the availability of stereo tracks, as opposed to mono.

Listening to the six tracks of this download, I could hear echoes of Benny Goodman and…back there someplace, somewhen…Glenn Miller, still alive in Williams' music long after that D-Day period plane crash. He spent time with Goodman, I found out later…ditto Duke Ellington's band, which is no surprise, I reckon.


Cootie Williams in action

Cootie was widely respected as a trumpeter's trumpeter, and was a linchpin with Duke Ellington's band for years. That mastery is all over these stereo tracks. In the space of six tracks, Williams shows off an effortless ability to get a broad array of tones and wails out of his brass. His orchestra (for member notes, HERE) was a strong ensemble, clearly well-experienced in providing Williams with powerful support. That's essential for the best in all big-band jazz, and they do it with practiced vigor throughout.

No reason to mess around here. The results are really spectacular…in fact, breathtaking! In fact, I was so taken by this Quad DSD transfer that I took it with me to THE Show Newport Beach 2015, and played it a number of times in the Positive Feedback hospitality room. Via the Merging Technologies NADAC 8-channel DSD DAC, darTZeel NHB 208 integrated with DSD DAC, Kubala-Sosna XPander power distribution unit, Stillpoints ESS rack, Wave Kinetics cables, and Evolution Acoustics MMMicro One loudspeakers, this Quad DSD recording knocked out everyone in our room, day after day. I had dozens of visitors to our room comment on the killer sound of the Cootie Williams. This includes some very well-known names in high-end audio…they know really great when they hear it, believe me.

There are incredible dynamics here. When Williams and the band cut loose, the range between "just before" and "full tilt boogie" will have you running for your volume control. Brass glows at you…timbres and textures are shocking great…percussives will cut your eardrums. The harmonic structures are right, and there's an incredible sense of space. The transparency of the Quad DSD format revealed the underlying analog tape with undeniable power. Quad DSD actually does allow us to approach the holy grail of fine audio: The master tape (or the microphone feed, in the case of recordings done directly to Quad DSD) itself. In fact, with transfers like this, we really can begin to employ that much misused audiophile term with real meaning: accuracy.

Most ‘philes use this word without a real clue of what it really means. "Accuracy" simply denotes the degree of congruence between a playback format and its original source. Few playback formats have even a prayer of getting within a country mile of the original source.

Properly done, Quad DSD really provides it.

Don't believe it? Then get off your ass and do some listening, amigo. There's a whole amazing new world waiting to convince you.

If you want to put big-band jazz into your listening room, and see what your system is really capable of, then you simply must buy a copy of the Quad DSD of Cootie Williams in Stereo from HDTT. Kudos to Bob Witrak for a superb transfer of a recording that was a revelation and a joy to me.

This one has my very highest recommendation. It's a true reference-standard recording for jazz lovers and audiophiles everywhere…and real reference standards are a lot rarer than you might think.


David W. Robinson, indulging in some noble pipe weed of an afternoon….

Cootie Williams in Stereo, price:  USD $28.00

High Definition Tape Transfers

[Album cover photograph courtesy of High Definition Tape Transfers; portrait of Cootie Williams by William P. Gottlieb, photograph in the public domain. Portrait of David W. Robinson by John W. Robinson, copyright © 2015, all rights reserved.]