In Praise of Tiny LP's!

Posted by Mark Beaver, September 2, 2010 09:00am | Post a Comment

Not long ago Amoeba brought in an original 1964 Japanese pressing of the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night LP. Typically, we have found that we are able to fetch upwards of $250 for that record in Near Mint condition (which this copy was). However, the LP we purchased also had that strip of paper, printed primarily in Japanese, that it was originally purchased with back in 1964. "Big deal!," one might think, but, is.
The "obi," a t
erm borrowed from the sash worn as a belt around the midsection of a kimono, is a piece of ephemera that many people throw away when they first crack open their Japanese vinyl. A word of advice: Don't do that! Because the Beatles album had that slim belt of paper, 45 years old and in almost all other cases, discarded, it was worth closer to $2,000!

Obi fans and collectors will nod their heads, "of course!" So much is the appeal of the fine attention to detail and the often beautiful "extra something" lent by the obi that, fairly early in the history of the CD, Japanese CD manufacturers began making LP replica CD's, complete with scale versions of their accompanying obis...and another voracious collectors'
market was born.

Amoeba Music has recently
purchased a collection of over 6,000 Japanese LP replica CDs, the vast majority with accompanying obis. What's more, there are many that include additional obis: not only the obi that came with the LP replica CD release, but another scale replica of the obi that came with the original Japanese vinyl release. To make matters even stranger, some of these issues come with an additional obi indicating that the item was a promotional copy intended for reviewers, broadcasters and industry people.

What first struck me in digging through this massive collection was how many of the mini LP's I had not only never seen in CD form, but had never seen even on their original LP equivalent. I have worked 24 years now in some of the busiest record stores in the US, and as I flipped through the collection I saw example after example of albums by known (and many unknown) artists that I had NEVER laid eyes on!

Sure, there are many examples of CD reissues for bands that we have never heard of -- obscure vanity projects that in the ensuing years had gathered enough of a cult following to warrant a CD issue, but dedicating the resources to producing an LP replica CD, often complete with two or more obis, is a whole other level of homage.

Many Japanese LP replica CDs are the only versions available on CD, and most of them have been remastered using cutting-edge technology. Not only are there the Gold discs and 20 and 24-bit masterings that have become more commonplace in the last decade, but there is also SBM Master Sound, DSD, Blue-Spec, SHM-CD, HQCD, DTS and K-2/K-2HD processes (see below for a breakdown of remastering differences), as well, each of them with their different advantages and zealous collectors' markets.

I think the first time that I was really struck by the coolness of the mini LP replica CD was when I bought a replica version of Neil Young's On The Beach. I had owned the vinyl for years and had always admired that the inside of the sleeve was printed with what looked like a 70's wallpaper pattern. When I got my purchase home and opened it I was amazed to find that they had reproduced the pattern of the inner sleeve in perfect scale. Granted, it may be one of those little delights that only a true music geek really indulges in, but, yeah, I loved it.

Regarding the same pure delight in replicated design, while digging through the collection I came across something that I had no reason to believe existed. Many of our readers are likely to remember the Talking Heads album from 1987, Speaking In Tongues. There was a limited edition of that album commissioned from the artist Robert Rauschenburg that was a lucite clamshell style sleeve around a clear LP.

The outer case had three wheels of printed images, one in yellow, one in cyan and the other in magenta, the three primary colors from which printed color is mixed. As the wheels were turned to align the different printed images over the top of each other, a full color image came into view. I never imagined that I would see a CD replica of that album cover, but here it is in all its glory.

As if all that detail wasn't enough, many of the mini LP replicas were also reissued with facsimiles of the original extra 7"s that came with them, or the original posters, stickers, and, in some cases, extra mini LP covers that replicate alternate album covers that appeared in other countries.

For example, both the Jam's Snap and Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers' L.A.M.F. come with 3" mini CD-ep's, packaged to replicate their original bonus 7"s.

The mini LP replica of Giles, Giles & Fripp's Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp was issued with both the Deram and Deram/London labels' original covers.

                                                    Tiny LP's are cool!

If you would like to see more of these amazing Japanese replicas and buy any of them from our site, check out this page!
If you are in the area, there are also items available at the Hollywood store, and they are different from what is available on our website.

Here's the breakdown of some of the remastering techniques used on the Japanese mini LP replica CD's:

Master Sound
20bit Super Bit Mapping “SBM” system developed by Sony using unique quantizing in the analog-to-digital conversion to give the appearance of 20bit sound from a 16bit CD.

SACD (Super Audio Compact Disc)
SACD is designed to provide high-resolution audio in both stereo and surround sound modes, and requires a special player to access the SACD layer on the disc. SACDs use an audio format called DSD, and most “hybrid” CDs contain a CD-compatible layer using traditional PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) digital technology.

DSD (Direct Stream Digital)
SACD audio is stored in a format called Direct Stream Digital (DSD), which differs from the conventional Pulse-Code Modulation (PCM) used by the compact disc. DSD uses a very high sampling rate while using low bit rates, reducing noise and “aliasing” in the final sound quality.

Instead of a traditional laser, a blue laser is used for recording the pits on the CD master that is needed for disc replication. The blue laser creates more precise pits, causing less distortion in the optical read-out process. Equipment causing vibration in the process is also eliminated. Blu-spec CDs can be played on all CD players and do not require a blue laser to be read.

SHM-CD (Super High Material)
SHM CDs feature enhanced audio quality through the use of a special polycarbonate plastic. They also have improved transparency on the data side of the disc, allowing for more accurate reading of CD data by the CD player laser head.

HQCD (HiQuality CD)
This format achieves high quality audio through the use of a polycarbonate plastic with improved transparency derived from LCD display manufacturing technologies enabling more accurate reading of the CD data. In addition, a special alloy is used as the material of the reflective layer instead of the standard aluminum.

20 bit- Final master “tape” bit-resolution.

24 bit- Final master “tape” master bit-resolution.

A system developed by JVC that prevents the degradation and loss of sound quality during the manufacturing of a compact disc glass master, providing better ambience and resolution in the sound.

An audio Compact Disc format that contains music in surround sound. It is a predecessor of 
DVD Audio and can be played on a standard CD player, but requires a decoder to play in the surround format.

Gold Disc
Uses 24 karat gold in the making of the data layer of the CD. Unlike the common aluminum material, 24k gold does not tarnish or oxidize, nor does it contain Aluminum’s irregularities on its surface, providing a lifetime’s worth of audiophile-quality listening.

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