Wrensilva Sound: Listening Sessions with
Joe Harley

When Blue Note Records Producer Joe Harley met us at our San Diego workshop, he was carrying a stack of his favorite jazz records, including a few from the label’s audiophile re-issues that bear his nickname - Tone Poet Series. Between wood cuttings and workstations, Wrensilva Co-Founder and head of audio Scott Salyer sat down with Joe for a final tuning session of the next generation Wrensilva Record Console Collection.

Blue Note Records Producer Joe Harley listens to a jazz record at our San Diego workshop.

The pursuit of the Wrensilva Sound is a constant endeavor for us. It began with our founders’ deep roots in music, sound engineering, and design. The first step was to handcraft every console with proprietary electronics and elite audio components. Another crucial step, however, is our collaboration with revered music creators to finetune the Wrensilva sound experience. Join the listening session as Scott and Joe discuss audiophile records, HiFi sound insights, and the experience of the Wrensilva sound.

About Joe Harley

Blue Note Records Producer Joe Harley, nicknamed the Tone Poet, understands the art of creating audiophile records like few others. That rare perceptiveness now guides the Wrensilva Sound towards a delivery that is faithful to the original recording.

Joe Harley holds up a Tone Poet Series audiophile reissue during our listening session.

Inside The Final Listening Session

Joe Harley and Wrensilva Co-Found Scott Salyer discuss the album Curtain Call
By Hank Mobley.

Hank Mobley’s Curtain Call (feat. Sonny Clark) had been on repeat at the shop since Joe brought it for a previous listening session, making it a great record to start with. Nicknamed the Middleweight Champ for his distinct style that sits between extroverted and mellow, Mobley’s sax playing is hypnotic and mesmerizing. That sound combined with the deft piano playing of Sonny Clark (known as a quintessential hard-pop pianist), showcased Wrensilva's dynamic range.

As Mobley introduced soothing melodic phrases on the sax, Art Taylor followed with sudden snare rim-shots — clack! clack! clack! clack! — the song later giving way to pianist Sonny Clarks’ flurry of blues-informed notes, before turning it over to Dorham’s warm trumpet articulations.

“For me, the piano was always a test of Wrensilva’s full range,” Scott said. “I think the piano is the perfect instrument. It’s so amazing. And the bass . . . I'm stuck on that bassline every single time. It blows my mind.”

“In a similar way,” Joe added, “this was all recorded down in Hackensack, Jersey. It was basically Rudy Van Gelder’s parents’ living room. So no baffles, no headphones, and a mic on everybody. There may have been two mics on the drums, but I bet you it was one. The can lid was open, everything bleeding into everything, but it's so tight that you can get away with it. There's a directness to it. Then Rudy is back there mixing as they’re playing. This was way before you could fix it in the mix.”

“Even when I'm designing speakers,” Scott said, “I always put myself in the control room. I put myself behind those speakers. The musicians are doing their jobs. They're performing. Then the records really come down to how they got mixed.”

A Blue Note record spins on the next-generation M1 record console during
our listening session.

“If you don’t have the tonal balance right, nothing's right,” Joe said. “And based on what we've heard, the bass sounds right, piano sounds right, trumpet and drums sound right — tonal bounce is right. It's not an easy thing to get. If you screw that up, forget about it. It's not going to be very good, but you got that right on here for sure. Kenny Dorham, the trumpet player, is not super brassy-sounding. He's got a warmer sound. And that's what I'm hearing:
tonal balance.”

“The tonal balance of the speaker,” Scott said, “is where we create the warmth that is part of our Signature Sound. I'm glad to hear you point out that you feel like that's coming through. Was there anything else that jumped out in particular?”

“Kenny sounded like Kenny, right away,” Joe said. “Because, if he sounded bright and blabby, (and some trumpet players do have a brassy sound) — that's cool. But, you know, the first thing I thought was, that sounds like Kenny. The console also sounds very analog, like analog should be.”

“I can also sense a lack of compression on these pressings,” Scott said. “When the drummer did start to build, you felt it everywhere. Normally that would just get smashed down. That's what I love about these recordings. The Tone Poet stuff is like that, too. It just blows my mind.”

“We've never applied any compression at all,” Joe said. “Basically, what you're hearing on the Tone Poets, the whole idea from the beginning was to give you the sound of the master tapes and not try to recreate the sound of the old record pressing. In fact, when you eliminate mixing, you're eliminating a whole chain of electronics, so it's a much more direct path to the music. You know, what's cool is, you can hear it on the console. Everything comes through on
this console.”

“Actually, when you were here back in the fall, did you say something like you could tell it was going to sound good as soon as you heard the needle drop?” Scott asked.

“Yeah, the first transient of the stylus hitting the vinyl tells you a lot about overhang and tonality,” Joe said. “It sounds weird to say it, but you get used to that being a telltale sign. The whole spectrum is in that initial transient.”

“What makes the Tone Poet pressing of that record so different?” Scott asked.

Joe and Scott talk about Wrensilva’s proprietary speaker drivers and crossover circuitry.

“If your turntable isn't very good — which in the ’50s the truth is a lot of people were playing records on kiddie players. They didn't have these kinds of record players. And where did Blue Note records sell? It was very much an urban market. So you had all kinds of record players, oftentimes not very good ones. So Rudy kept the records sold by rolling off the low-end, putting a little bump in the upper mid-range to make it seem livelier because the HiFi systems of that era tended to be a little droopy on top, and so he'd liven it up. And he would add compression so you could limit the peaks. And that helps.”

“You're describing an original pressing?” Scott asked.

“Yeah. The Tone Poet records, however, are like the master tapes,” Joe said. “I assume you have a good record player. So this is what you're hearing. This is what they actually did that day. I love collecting the originals. That's a piece of history. But if your goal is to hear: what did those cats sound like in the studio, and what would they sound like if they came to my room to play? That's what I'm interested in. It’s that approach. It's not like one is right and one is wrong. It's just the aesthetic I'm going for.”

“Having a great record console like this,” Joe added, “gives us the freedom to not use any compromises. I know that Wrensilva has VPI turntables in their rig, so I can go wide open. We don't have to use any compromise. We make the assumption that you've got a functioning, properly set-up turntable, and we're not about to go for the lowest common denominator.”

Faithful To The Original Recording

Joe’s expert input, along with that of our entire Wrensilva Creator Team, is a crucial step in achieving the our sound — as heard from the new Wrensilva Record Console Collection. For us, it’s really about celebrating music in its purest form. That means crystal clear imaging combined with warm tones. You know the quality is good when it sounds like you’re in the recording studio as the band recorded their original performance.

“I think you got the tonal balance spot on,” Joe said. “I really do. I noticed, and I'm sure you noticed, that everyone sounds like themselves. Guys that have a softer tone, have a softer tone. Guys that have a harder tone, have a harder tone. Where HiFi gets boring is when it sounds all the same to you. You might like chocolate, but you don't want chocolate on your steak, right? Then it gets not so good. You don't have one coloration poured over everything — which is how it should be.”

Joe Harley listens as a Blue Note record spins on the next-generation M1 record console
Joe Harley listens as a Blue Note record spins on the next-generation M1 record console