The Austrian-based Horch House has a well-earned reputation for producing very high quality copy-master tapes directly from legendary analogue recordings. These recordings include classical works, jazz, blues and easy listening.
Following meetings between Horch’s Volker Lange and Doris Kaempfert, the daughter of the well-known jazz and easy listening orchestra leader and composer Bert Kaempfert, Horch now has several Bert Kaempfert albums available on tape copies made directly from the originals. One of the latest additions to the Horch catalogue is Bert Kaempfert’s ‘Bye Bye Blues’ album, which was originally released in 1965.
Horch House is committed to preserving the original mix of a recording, rather than performing any kind of ‘remastering’ which usually results in changes to the original sound. Horch does not want to try to ‘improve’ the recording in any way (which, in my experience, often results in disaster!), but rather keep it as close as possible to its original beauty.
Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra
Bert Kaempfert was born in 1923 in Hamburg, Germany, and studied at the local school of music. He went on to form his own orchestra and his first hit with his orchestra was ‘Wonderland by Night’, which was recorded in 1959 and released in the U.S. the following year. This single topped the American pop charts and resulted in Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra becoming international stars during the sixties and seventies. Bert Kaempfert sadly died following a stroke at his home in Majorca in 1980 at the age of 56.
A distinctive feature of Kaempfert’s music was a ‘crackling bass’ sound that was produced on a Fender Telecaster bass guitar by Kaempfert’s guitarist/bassist Ladislav Geisler. The music also featured renowned trumpeters such as Charles Tabor, Fred Moch, Werner Gutterer and Ack van Rooyen. In fact, Kaempfert used many musicians who were available in Germany and other parts of Europe, including many of the same players who played for James Last and Roberto Delgado.
I lived in California with my parents in the sixties and it was there that I developed a love of Kaempfert’s music. On returning to the UK in 1969, I started collecting many of his LPs, including this ‘Bye Bye Blues’ album. This album is classic Kaempfert and showcases his then modern interpretation of old favourites that really make them timeless tunes that still have a wonderful freshness today.
You can discover more about the man and his music at https://kaempfert.de/en/
The first track, ‘Bye Bye Blues’, is the album’s title track. It starts off with the Kaempfert trademark bass and snare drum played with brushes to set the beat of the track. It then progresses into the gently hummed melody until the muted brass takes over. As with his other albums, Kaempfert’s musical genius certainly breathes new life into this old standard.
Next up is ‘Remember When’, which is composed by Kaempfert and his colleagues. A fresh composition from the maestro that gently swings along with the melodic brass playing the melody. This is followed by ‘When You’re Smiling’, and Kaempfert’s gently joyful interpretation of this swinging old standard.
‘Tahitian Sunset’ is another tune from the quill of Kaempfert and associates. This certainly paints a picture of life on a tropical island and is beautifully melodic. The reflective slow swing of ‘Once In A While’ contrasts with Kaempfert’s ‘Steady Does It’ that has some growling brass segments as the piece progresses. This is followed by a classic Kaempfert swinging piece called ‘It Makes No Difference’ and then Kaempfert’s rendition of ‘You Stepped Out Of A Dream’.
Another composition by the man himself, ‘Wiederseh’n’, was another hit and features the melody played on an acoustic guitar. The classic ‘I’m Beginning To See The Light’ is played by the brass and jilts along with Kaempfert’s customary cheerfulness. Kaempfert’s ‘Melina’ starts with an introduction played on the trumpet and brass backing, and really grabs your attention. The album finishes off with Kaempfert’s version of ‘Out Of Nowhere’, which swings beautifully through to the end of the tape. This album is another classic collection of Kaempfert masterpieces that is a must-have addition to any fan of light orchestral music.
The recording quality
As anticipated, the album quality is superb! From all the photographic inserts in the box, to the correct use of colour-coded leader tape (red and white striped header tape denoting 15ips stereo, and yellow between Side 1 and Side 2). The original analogue master tape is copied from a Studer A807 or A80R (depending on the original tape format) to a bank of eight finely-tuned Studer A80R master recorders.
As for the sound quality when played on my upgraded Studer A810, the dynamic range is much more realistic than from the LP of course, as commercially produced LPs have some compression and tweaking of the equalisation in order to avoid overloading the cutting stylus. The bass response is tight and well-controlled and the top end is bright without being harsh and edgy. As was typical of recordings from the sixties, it is a multi-microphone configuration with mixing to stereo and a slight touch of added reverberation, which is evident during the trumpet solos. However, that is not in any way a criticism of the recording and the tape copy, which is true to the original mix. Overall, the music from the tape has far better realism in my listening room than the LP.
There is no discernible tape hiss on the recording, which is partly down to the quality of the copy-mastering process by Horch House, and partly to the high quality tape that Horch use for their recordings. RTM SM468 is a reference master-quality magnetic tape that was originally produced by AGFA under the name PEM 468. The SM 468 is now manufactured by Recording The Masters in France based on original AGFA and BASF specifications. It is back-coated to minimise print-through and wind smoothly, and can be recorded at higher levels of fluxivity (higher levels of magnetisation on the tape) than tapes from the 1960s era. The Horch House tape is mastered at 510nWb/m fluxivity, rather than 250nWb/m that would probably have been used for the original recording, and this translates into a much improved signal-to-noise ratio for the copy master. Equalisation is CCIR, which is the standard for European recordings.
Overall, the tape offers an astounding quality that takes the listener as close as their audio system will allow to the original mastering and performance. Top marks to Horch House!
The tape costs 290 Euros plus shipping, VAT and any other import duties. It is available as standard on a 10.5 inch metal spool and RTM SM468 ¼ inch tape, recorded at 15ips, 2-track with CCIR equalisation and 510nWb/m fluxivity. It is also available recorded at 7.5ips, 2-track with NAB equalisation and 250nWb/m fluxivity at a slightly lower cost.
Full details at www.horchhouse.com/bye-bye-blues
Other Bert Kaempfert titles available
I was about to add that Horch House now has four Bert Kaempfert tapes in its catalogue: A Swingin’ Safari, Blue Midnight, Bye Bye Blues and A Man Could Get Killed. But then – stop press – I just noticed a fifth new addition, Live in London. Happy days for Bert fans!
Neville Roberts is a man of many interests and talents. As well as being a regular contributor to Hi-Fi Choice magazine, he’s a retired UK National Health Service (NHS) director, electronics engineer and physicist. He’s also a lifelong audio enthusiast with a particular interest in valve/tube audio design, vinyl and tape. Neville enjoys an eclectic range of music including classical, especially baroque, light orchestral and jazz. He lives with his wife near Bournemouth in Dorset, UK, where he grows orchids and is a keen photographer.