This week, we're calling in audio wizard, Doug Pomeroy, to give us the scoop on the Savory sound.
Over the course of six-plus years, Doug meticulously restored the Savory Collection, making it possible for all of us to enjoy this great listening. So he has a lot to say on the matter! Joe B., thanks for your terrific question. And keep 'em coming!
Doug Pomeroy: "The answer is quite simple. Bill Savory worked in a transcription studio which had state-of-the-art disc recording equipment, and he was very particular about making the best possible disc recordings, whether embossed aluminum or cut lacquers (acetates). In general, we have learned that he would use a new cutting stylus for every recording he made, which was very expensive and was not an approved practice in the studio where he worked.
By the late 1930s, recording equipment had gotten quite good. Electrical recording was by then a decade old, and the studio where he worked got its’ broadcasts directly from the broadcasting studios via dedicated wires!
Savory was an adventurous kid, and he took it upon himself to make copies of the music he liked using the professional equipment. He was not a "bootlegger" in the accepted meaning of that term. He simply did what a lot of professional engineers did: he saved a copy of music which he liked, not to sell, but just to collect. (Although years later, in the 1950s, he did release some of his discs of Benny Goodman broadcasts to Columbia Records and MGM Records for LP "reissues".)
I have a lot of experience transferring old disc recordings, work I started at Columbia Records in the early 1970s. So, I learned techniques to improve the final product, such as making "flat" transfers at high resolution, and using the best audio restoration software available.
Broadcast recordings, like those that comprise the Savory Collection, are often far from perfect in terms of musical balance, since recording in nightclubs involved a limited number of microphones and other such problems, like out of tune pianos! Many small improvements can be made by rebalancing a broadcast recording, bringing up sections which were recorded too low, and lowering those which are obviously too loud. Such errors occurred because in a "live" broadcast the engineers often had no idea what was coming from one moment to the next - everything was "take one," so balance problems were unavoidable.
Often, and for a multitude of reasons, the broadcast might sound unnatural, either bass heavy and muddy, or too bright and shrill. These problems can and should, be fixed and this requires an engineer who knows what real live music sounds like. And this is, unavoidably, somewhat subjective.
That said, despite all of Savory's good intentions and our intensive restoration efforts, Volume Three still has some tracks with noise which simply could not be removed. People find it hard to believe that some noises cannot be removed without seriously degrading the quality of the recorded sound, but it's true. The lacquer-costed discs do not last forever. The lacquer eventually cracks and flakes off of the aluminum disc, and there is no known way to stop this. The surface noise in the Fats Waller tracks of Volume Three is from lacquer which has started to detach from the aluminum disc. What you hear, is the best we could possibly render from the original discs. "