Rock Remaster Reviews

Greg Smith (gsmith@westnet.com)

Version 1.0 01/02/96
Version 1.1 06/25/96 Added Boston Third Stage, Eagles Their Greatest Hits, Heart Dreamboat Annie, Indigo Girls, Rocket version of Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Journey Infinity.

Also available are reviews of the remastered hits collections from Zounds

Sorry, but all these links in the Table of Contents don't work yet. I'll fix 'em as soon as I get time.

Introduction

I'm in a somewhat unusual position. I spend lots of my time listening to, tweaking, and upgrading the stereo equipment that I listen to in order to get the best sound quality I can. To that end, I read a variety of the audiophile press magazines to learn about what the better products on the market might be (just to clarify in case you don't know, magazines like Stereophile and The Absolute Sound are the biggies in that market, while ones like Stereo Review and Audio are aimed more at the mainstream buyer). What makes me a bit of a heretic in those circles, however, is that the reason I work on improving the sound of my systems is to listen to rock music on them. Since most of the audiophile fanatics think that the music I like is crappy pop music, it never gets fair coverage. Here's my attempt to correct that.

All you'll find here are albums that I listened to extensively to the original record company release of, then purchased the supposedly better version of later. That's my basis for comparison here. Everything represented is music that I liked enough to buy twice, so you can be assured that anything you read is coming from someone who is a fan of that album. And as I remain (unfortunately) totally unassociated with anyone who might offer me fantastic bribes to say good things about their releases you'll get my unconstrained opinion as well.

And why, you may ask, would anyone be foolish enough to get scammed into paying $25+ for a CD they could get for half that price? For me, it's simple economics. I've got somewhere around $5000 invested in the system that I spend most of my time listening to. Listening to setups that easily cost over twice as much as the one I have revealed only marginally better sound then what I've got; the usual diminishing marginal returns on expensive equipment very much applies in audio equipment. But, when available for my favorite albums, I often find that I can spend $25 and get sound that is dramatically better on my system, enjoying those albums even more. One of the audio schools of thought constantly emphasizes "start at the source"; the rest of your system can, at best, only play as well as the original material you are using.

Besides, all my old CDs get donated post-remastering to poor college students who might otherwise be tempted toward the dark side and listen to some of that junk college students normally listen to nowadays. That way they too can be bitter about how all the new music that comes out sucks compared to the older stuff way before their time, just like I am.

Remastering

I buy lots of CDs, and lately have been rebuying many of my old favorites. You see, the whole process of going from original source to a CD-usable form is referred to as mastering, and the mechanisms that were used to master CDs when the medium was first introduced have improved tremendously since then. Many of the original CD releases of albums were made off of crummy, n-th generation copies of the master tape without much concern for preserving the sound quality. A number of companies, many of which had been doing this sort of thing for years already with LPs, introduced CDs that went back to the best quality master tape available and produced a new CD with the optimal mastering job possible. These are often referred to as gold CDs, because some of these companies use gold instead the standard aluminum as the inner material in the CD, supposedly to improve the readability and longevity of the disk. Based on what I know of how a CD works and what I've noticed listening to remasters of both types, I don't believe that it's the gold that makes the difference in sound quality--it's the extra care that's taken in the remastering. And I don't expect to live long enough to have the longevity difference become a distinguishing factor.

Remastering sources

It used to be that you only got remastered releases from small companies independent of the record label. Usually these releases have been offered on gold CDs at a premium price, usually in the $25 range. Apparently the record companies (especially Sony with its Columbia and Epic divisions and Atlantic) have noticed lately that people want top quality music on their CDs and are even willing to pay a premium for it, because they've gotten in the act as well; many artists have had their entire catalog re-released in remastered versions to take advantage of this (the paranoid will claim that they are only doing it now because they're trying to suck more money out of people who have already bought the CD once already, in the same way they bad mouth boxed sets). I consider this a good trend, because the record companies are generally only charging the same amount as a regular CD, phasing out production of the old CD entirely. I haven't had a chance yet to do a record company remaster vs. independent company remaster test yet (I'd like to find, for example, someone who bought the gold CD release of Yes Fragile to compare with the record company rerelease I've got). If you've got an album and aren't sure which version you have, careful checking of the liner notes will usually have some notice that the album was remastered.

Mobile Fidelity (MF)

This is the name most people associate with gold CDs and the entire remastering business. They've been doing this sort of thing for a long time; I first heard the MF ultra high quality LP release of Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon long enough ago that at the time my uncle's speakers he was playing it on were taller then myself (oops, think I just dated myself).

I wasn't all that impressed with the earlier MF CD releases, but recently they ramped up their internal equipment and have dubbed their process Ultradisc II with GAIN. Everything I've heard remastered with this process has been fantastic. Some of the MF back catalog that has stayed in print has been re-re-mastered with this new system but I haven't had a chance to sample them yet.

Digital Compact Classics (DCC)

DCC has been around a while themselves, but they don't exclusively release remasters like MF does. Details on their technical processes are sparse compared with the claims of their competitors, but what DCC really has going for it is a guy named Steve Hoffman. Everything I've ever heard him work on has nearly perfect sound quality. If you see Steve's name on a CD, you can be assured it's as faithful to the master tape as is possible. I used to be sure I liked DCC's stuff better then MF's, but since I started getting Mf Ultradisc II material it's a toss up, and to my knowledge there's no common material available for comparison.

Sony SBM (SBM)

Sony was the first of the big record companies to get into the remaster game. Their Super Bit Mapped process attempts to cram 20 bits worth of digital resolution onto a 16 bit CD by altering how the noise is distributed around. To promote this process they have released a bunch of their big sellers in a special deluxe format with a gold CD and full size album art. The earlier releases pissed me off by not including a regular jewel box size copy of the liner notes to keep with the CD, but they appear to have corrected that in the latest ones. The early SBM releases I have all sound fairly good but a bit too harsh and bright for my taste (the later ones are much better), especially compared with the especially smooth releases I'm fondest of from DCC. Then again, that also describes most of the Sony equipment I hear, so maybe it's me that's screwy; after all, who am I to argue with the mighty Sony?

Reviews

AC/DC

Back in Black (Atlantic)

This is one of those amazing albums that you can never understand any of the words on until you've had it for a couple of years; I noticed once day that suddenly I could understand every word Brian Johnson was singing, and that scared me a bit. Well, the vocals aren't any easier to make out on the remastered version, although they are a touch less distorted (just enough is gone to make you realize that anything left is intentional). Everything is slightly cleaned up, top to bottom, but there's not a huge difference anywhere; I didn't really notice anything new here, just slight improvement all around. If you haven't bought this yet make sure you get a new copy and not one of the old, pre-remaster copies, but current owners shouldn't rush out to get this one. After all, if you're like me most of the replays of this album are loud enough that you really don't give a damn if the sound is slightly more detailed on the new release. Just wait until your old copy gets trashed at a party one night before you bother to spring for a new one (that's always how I lose my Floyd albums, too).

Actually, since I originally wrote the comments above, someone has walked off with my new remastered Back in Black, so I've gotta go buy it again. I told you they were tough to keep intact.

Bad Company

Bad Company (Atlantic)

This album always sounded dead to me, like the band was filled with excellent musicians who had crummy equipment. It's good to know, now that the remastered version is out, that Paul Rogers and company (oops, let a pun slip there) really did have good instruments. Most improved are the bottom end drums, which used to just let out indistinct thumps. Noise is lowered and dynamic range greatly increased. If you're at all a fan of this album who also cares about sound quality I'd recommend this new release, especially considering that it's cheap (my copy was under the magic $10 mark).

Blood Sweat & Tears

Child is Father to the Man (SBM)

This one's a no brainer for BST fans; you get a higher quality copy of this classic first album and seven extra tracks, even including one that was never released in any form before. It was all downhill for these guys after the personnel changes between this and their second album (quick: name three other groups who named something other then their first album after the band) , this is the place to start at. Getting a bigger copy of the cover art was a bonus as well, as this is one of my all time favorite album covers.

The sound on this album is terrific on the original release, I had always assumed that the limitations on sound quality were just a product of the late 60's recording. Wrong! The top-notch remastering job on this copy really shows how great this band was at the beginning. I could give bunches of details on specifically how things are improved, but every time I try to take notes on what's different I just enjoy the album too much to bother. If you're a fan, drop the money for the new deluxe version. If you're not, spend the extra money for the expensive version and you'll probably be one soon enough.

Oh, and as far as my trivia quiz goes, the first four that popped into my mind were Heart, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, and Metallica (Now I'll take obscure rock music questions for $400, Alex).

Boston

Boston (SBM)

This huge selling album was one of the original select few that Sony picked for their first SBM releases. I was very much looking forward to it; the sound quality on the original CD release was not especially good. Listening to this remaster, there are lots of improvements. The bass goes lower, the noise is lowered, everything is cleaner. I was disappointed at the vocals, however; there's a level of harshness in Delp's voice compared with the regular release that I'm not fond of. Overall, this is a big improvement over the original release, but I think there's still some distance left to go in getting the ultimate quality out of this album.

Third Stage (MF)

I don't expect much improvement in a 1986 release, and wasn't surprised here. Compared with the MF release, the original has much of the upper treble attenuated. This means MF's version has much more details on high frequencies (it's most noticable in the cymbal shots), but there's correspondingly more noise as well. If you don't mind the extra noise, this one is certainly better, but it's not a big difference.

Cars

The Cars (DCC)

Every now and then, you'll do something with an audio system that lets you hear something totally new that has been in the music all along. You play a song and say to yourself, "hey, I never heard that before". Ideally, you should have the same thing happen when you get a remastered CD. This first (and best) release from the Cars definitely delivers that. The entire time I listened to this impeccable DCC release I was amazed at how much was buried below the obvious surface on the original release. There's some of it that, having noticed it on the DCC version, I can just pick up going back to the original, but some of the details are just plain gone. My favorite improvement is how the bass/synthesizer line sounds in Moving in Stereo. This album is filled with classic tracks, and if you're a fan you really should be listening to this version. Lowering the amount of background noise a bit is the only way I could think of that this could be any better.

Crosby Stills & Nash

Crosby Stills & Nash (Atlantic)

I've always been favorably impressed with the sound quality on this first CSN album, especially for a late 60's recording. Well, the original CD must have captured it intact, because I didn't notice any obvious differences between this newer release and the original one (makes me glad that I hadn't bought the album myself yet--all my previous listens had been with a borrowed copy). If you've already got this album, don't bother spending any more money.

Def Leppard

Pyromania (MF)

I laugh every time I slide this CD out of that special Mobile Fidelity jewel box. It seems so strange to have a special, "audiophile" version of a Def Leppard album. It doesn't bother me too much, though; as soon as I start listening to the music I feel justified, because this album sounds far better in Mobile Fidelity's hands. The noise is lowered, the bass incredibly improved (you just thought it kicked ass before). This is definitely a winner. I've been told this just went out of print, so if you're interested grab one now.

Hysteria (MF)

After being so happy with the MF Pyromania, I picked up this album as well. Yeah, it's better, but not by a lot. There's some more impact on the kick drums, and some things sound a bit cleaner, but apparently the original release was pretty faithful to this 1987 release. Big fans of the band who want top notch sound (which I imagine are not a large group) will find it here, but I can't recommend this CD for most.

Eagles

Their Greatest Hits (DCC)

The Eagles are almost all midrange on these earlier songs, and that's usually resistant to crummy mastering. The original version of this album sounded pretty good, DCC's serves to be even better in some areas, but not all. The guitars are cleaner, the bass goes a bit deeper, and the treble doesn't suffer from the slight roll-off on the regular version. Generally, everything sounds a bit better while the bass and treble are considerably better. This remaster doesn't show quite the same miraculous improvement DCC's Hotel California does, but it's still an excellent piece of work. Now, if I can only get them to do the entire Desperado album, I'll be happy...

Hotel California (DCC)

This is the CD that got me hooked on getting remastered CDs of my favorites. The differences are not at all subtle. As soon as you hear the bass guitar that opens the title track, you'll hear great of a job DCC has done remastering this release. Everything is better, and not just a little bit. I told all the Eagles fans I know that if they were going to drop big bucks for tickets on the last tour, they should shell out for this as well while they're at it.

Electric Light Orchestra

Face the Music (SBM)

Just about everybody knows Evil Woman and Strange Magic off this album, but where you really get your money's worth on this remaster is the stunning rendition of Fire on High (one person I saw do a review of this album on the ELO newsgroup said he had never been able to tell before this version that the background singers at the end are singing "fire on high"). There's so much going on in these songs, getting that last bit of clarity out of the recording makes the whole thing more enjoyable. This is the best of the SBM releases I've heard so far. You'll get everything you were looking for with this one.

Heart

Dreamboat Annie (DCC)

I've listened to this album sooo many times, it often gets pulled off the shelf when I'm doing equipment evaluations (Ann and Nancy's voices cover territory not much else I listen to does); that should give you a hint that the quality is quite good on the plain old aluminum version. What I have always noticed is that there is some funny stuff going on while playing it; there's bits of noise scattered about and out of place distortion. Well, none of that was apparently supposed to be there, because the remastered version has been buffed clean. There's still small hints of recording anomolies (listen to Crazy on You for the biggest before/after change, but it's still not quite perfect). You also get a typical remastering improvement in bass quality (nothing special though, just a bit better). For a band that's never seemed like it was particularly adept in the recording studio, Dreamboat Annie sounds very good indeed by the time DCC is done with it.

Heart (MF)

Okay, so I've got some mid-80's stuff that I still like; so what? This eponymous release from the Wilsons and crew put them back on the charts (and on MTV) in a big way. I've always been fond of this album; sure, it's not Dreamboat Annie or Little Queen, but it has its moments. I first got a copy of this right after it came out when my cousin dubbed me tape off the one he bought (this was back when I was ignorant enough to believe that dubbing cassettes at double speed doesn't hurt the fidelity, but my stereo was crap anyway, so who cared). When I bought this on CD, I was in for a horrible surprise--it still sounded horrible. I mean it, the regular record company release of this album is really, really bad. If the record company release was good, I would have bothered putting out the extra cash for a remastered version (I like it, but this certainly isn't one of my favorites). Well, MF has rendered the album listenable again. Yeah, it's still a little harsh and rough in spots, but the recording quality doesn't suck any more. I still think this Ron Nevison guy doing the production and engineering needs to have his hearing aid checked out, but I can live with it now.

Indigo Girls

Indigo Girls (SBM)

This album always sounded good overall, but I found it a bit compressed in dynamic range. Because of that, it was more dull that I though it should be. The new version from Sony restores the vitality to the sound quality that was missing. If you're happy with your existing copy, there's not a compelling reason to get this one. But if you think your original is missing out on impact you'll get an (admittely minor) improvement here.

Elton John

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (MF)

This was the first MF release I ever bought. It was an easy choice. The record company released it on 2 CDs, MF squeezed it onto one, so they cost about the same amount. Well, nowadays the record company has wised up and put it on one as well. I can tell you that even this early, first series Ultradisc really sounds phenomenal. The sound is so much cleaner and dynamic then the original CD release, it makes you want to beat up somebody for robbing people with that older version.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Rocket)

It's been years, but the big record company has finally wised up and done this album right. Sort of. See, this one fits all the material on one CD (at a considerably reduced price), and the sound quality is excellent. The problem is that I can't directly compare them, because they aren't the same! Rather then the unobtrusive "restore the master tape" philosophy followed by MF on their version, producer Gus Dudgeon got involved with this remastering job and used a variety of digital processing equipment to fix the "softening up" of the master tape and "'enhance' rather then 'colour' the sound". The results are impressive, but different (compared with the MF version, this one has the vocals moved considerably forward; there are other minor differences as well). Completists should have both to get two differents spins on the album. The liner notes are quite beefed up as well, with several informative pages talking about the work that went into the music (the booklet is so long with these additions you can barely slide it into the jewel box).

To Be Continued (MCA)

This outstanding 4 CD box set came out for a while, seemed to do pretty well, then disappeared off the face of the Earth. And it's a shame--there's a ton of stuff here from albums I would never buy from Elton and Bernie, because there's only one or two songs I really want on them. The sound is excellent all around on these discs. I spent the most time comparing the tracks off of Madman Across the Water, it was no contest--the versions here were far better in every way. And the older albums? Forget it, this blows them away (I can't even bear to listen to the original CDs of Elton John or Honky Chateau after hearing the copies on this collection). Well, you can't buy this collection any more, but all of Elton's material has been remastered and more stuff put on them. I wish I had another copy of this myself, I'm afraid to play it sometimes for fear I might damage and never be able to replace it.

Journey

Infinity (SBM)

I bought this again because I was sincerely hoping that the extremely bad sound of the original release would be fixed. The original has huge tape hiss, occasional crackling, and just overall crummy sound. Well, even after Sony got done with it, it's still rough. The tape hiss is the same, the crackling is gone, and there's a hair more extention on the treble and impact to the bass. Except for the crackling, I had to A/B very carefully to even notice the difference. This remaster is certainly not very impressive.

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin (Atlantic)

Being a bit of a Zeppelin heretic, I think this was by far their best album (I also think Kashmir sucks, so listen to my opinions accordingly to how you agree with that). It was also an extremely bad CD release in original form. Atlantic did an excellent job cleaning everything up. Considering you're only paying regular record company prices, I'd recommend this version for just about anybody (unless you never noticed that the original recording didn't sound very good, in which case you should just turn it up louder, deafen yourself a bit more, and not worry about it).

Meat Loaf

Bat Out of Hell (SBM)

I was never very happy the recording on this hugely successful album from Jim Steinman's front man Meat Loaf, and was really looking forward to the new version. Too bad, because it's not all that much better. Sure, the vocals are easier to make out, and the instruments are rendered better, but it's not a night and day difference. There's still more background noise then I consider acceptable given the dynamic range of the recording. This is another remaster with a real limited audience, those willing to pay twice as much for a recording of only marginally improved quality.

Alan Parsons Project

Tales of Mystery and Imagination (MF)

This isn't your usual remaster job, then again the APP isn't your usual band. Originally released in 1976, this theme album setting music to the works of Poe is really excellent, going from straightforward rock tracks to a lengthy orchestral piece. Well, when Parsons and company were releasing the album on CD in 1986, there were some things that didn't get recorded in time to put on the album release, like narration by Orson Welles. Parsons went back in the studio, digitized the existing album, added some new material, and released the CD with this new material all mixed in. The Tales release from MF, however, is the original version of the '76 album. The MF version is cleaner, more dynamic, and sounds better recorded; their straightforward recording equipment results in a better recorded album. The version Parsons reworked has additional layers of processing, mixing, and such, and doesn't sound quite as clean. Then again, the regular CD release has all the new material. Those who have never heard the album should probably just get the regular, cheaper version. If you love it, get the MF one as well, because it is noticeably different (not better, just different).

Pink Floyd

Shine on (Columbia)

Shine on is a stunning box set, including seven of their greatest albums complete along with some early material. The quality of these recordings is very impressive, there's no contest comparing them with the older releases. The remastering job is so good that I feel no need to buy any of the other remastered versions of these albums. I've done some comparisons myself and talked with others who agree with my opinions and offer their own as well; the conclusion we've all come to is that the version you get in this box set are about as good as you're going to get on the current CD format. I've compared Dark Side and Wish You Were here to releases of the albums from MF and SBM, and although there are subtle differences to be found, it's hard to pick any as being "better" in the same way that all are big improvement over the original record company release. Others I've talked to tell me that this is also true for the MF Wall. So, if you're a Floyd fan looking for top notch sound, you should just drop the bucks, get Shine On, and not worry that the other gold CD versions that are around make yours obsolete. I highly recommend it based on sound quality alone, and it's an extra bonus to get the book that comes with the set and read so much about the band's history.

Police

Message in a Box (A&M)

This box set has all the original studio albums by the band along with lots of other material. The position I was in as a fan was that I already had every album they had produced and had to decide whether to get this one anyway. I still think it's worth buying them again in this collection for the huge improvement in sound quality (and I sold all my old copies to somebody, so it was no great loss anyway). The early albums are so much better sounding you almost think they got the band back together to rerecord some parts. Even later work like Syncronicity sounds far better then the original release (the bass guitar lines hit so hard on the remastered version of this album that they get you in the gut all the way through). The liner notes are also outstanding. My only complaint about this whole collection is that you don't get any jewel boxes for the CDs, resulting in a small underground press making box labels that match the art on the cover. Police fans will not be disappointed.

Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson (MF)

I really enjoy this solo album from the ex-Band veteran, with its amazing collection of guest stars (everything from Peter Gabriel backup vocals to U2 as his band). And the recording is really great; enough so that I wondered if there was any more quality to be extracted from the master tapes. Well, MF came through for me. Although not drastic, there are definitely noticeable improvements in the sounds of the instruments and in the reproduction of soundstage. It's easier to pick out which of the studios the recordings were made in (weeding out the stuff from the U2 mobile shack was always easy even before). Big fans of the albums who care enough about top notch sound you should consider this one, the improvements from the MF release put it right up with the best rock recordings I own.

Todd Rundgren

Something/Anything (MF)

This one is rough to decide on. Even though I'm enough of a Rundgren fan to own every one of his albums, even I had a tough time deciding if I was really going to pay the $35+ for this double CD album to get the MF version when I picked up my original CD set for a measly $12. In a sudden spending fit I finally went for it, and I am very pleased. The sound on this album shows that Todd is no newbie to the studio, and MF extracts that extra bit of quality that makes the album all the more enjoyable. It's obvious from the first few notes of the opening that this remaster moves you a few steps closer to being in the studio where it was recorded. Improvements in the bass make the entire album sound less tinny, the only fault I really was ever bothered by on the original. And it's hilarious to listen to Sound of the Studio on this release if you were familiar with it before, because the background hiss is almost gone on that track now, except for where it's intentional--this release of the album isn't nearly as easy to play that game on. I don't think you could ask for better quality on this album then what MF delivers here, but I'm still not sure if that justifies the cost for anyone but the biggest Todd fans who are also sound quality fans as well.

Rush

2112 (MF)

Are you a Rush fan? Do you have the MF version of this CD? No? Well, just go buy it. It's that simple. This was the Rush album that I always loved in spite of the recording; now, it's the album I love even more because of the recording. It's so monstrously better it's difficult to even put into words. It's like they bought Neil Peart a new drum set and had him redo all the percussion work in a modern studio, the drums sound so much better. There was all this nasty distortion in Geddy's vocals before that I just assume was intentional--nope, it's all gone, it was just crummy mastering, he sounds just as good and powerful, just better. I can't rave about this enough. It's enough to make me want to gather a guerrilla force, take over the MF studios, and force them to redo Hemispheres and A Farewell to Kings.

Moving Pictures (MF)

This most popular of albums from everybody's favorite Canadian trio has always had an ultra-slick production sound to it. This MF remaster just enhances that effect. Differences are small, subtle, but noticeable if you're real familiar with the sound of the original CD. This isn't a remaster worth buying for everybody, but it delivers that incremental improvement in sound that makes a classic album like this one all the more enjoyable.

Signals (MF)

This has the distinction of being the CD that prompted my first complaint to MF. Not about the sound quality; it's excellent. The original CD always sounded great, this one adds minor improvements in most areas, especially noticeable in the drums and low synthesizer bass notes. No, everything was as expected as far as the sound quality goes, your typical incremental improvements from an album that was already an excellent sounding CD. You see, in the middle of my original copy of the The Weapon are the following lines:

He's a little bit afraid of dying
But he's a lot more afraid of your lying
And the things that he fears
Are a weapon to be held against him...

This is followed immediately by a long instrumental portion in the middle of the song. Well, on the MF CD, the lines are listed in exactly the same way in the liner notes, but the second pair of lines above are missing! The instrumental part of the music is the same, the lyrics are missing. MF informed me that what you hear on their release is what is on the original master tape that was delivered to them by Rush; apparently (and this is speculation on my part) those two lines were added as some sort of overdub that only appears on some other 2nd generation master tape copy (I keep flashing back whenever I think about this to discussions of similar oddities around the lyrics of Freewill). Very strange indeed, but both versions sound totally natural, and it would be easy to not notice a bit of difference between the two versions. In any case, I don't feel this rules out a recommendation of the MF CD, and for Rush completists, this gives another reason to pick it up.

Bob Seger

Night Moves (DCC)

I've got a lot of friends who I know laugh at my CD purchasing habits. They I've got some heavy wool being pulled over my eyes to fall for this "gold CD crap", as it's usually referred to as. There was one person, though, who had made comments to the effect to me who asked me one day about Night Moves. It seems he had picked the CD up, loved the songs, and hated the sound. Next thing I knew he went out and get a gold version of it from MF and was much happier. Well, when I went to get my own copy, I got the release from DCC. Getting to compare the three versions, the regular release was the clear loser. Way too much hiss, too little dynamic range, both extremes of frequency response dropping off. I'd give a slight nod to the DCC version of the CD to the MF one (this was back before the days of the superior Ultradisc II/GAIN system that MF uses now, it might be different if I get a MF version now). Yeah, both gold CDs still have more hiss then I'd like, but what you are going to do if that's what's on the master tape. DCC's release sounds like it's about as faithful to the original as it's going to get in today's CD format, and I'd recommend it to those who aren't happy with their current copies. My friend was made a believer, but he still thinks I pay too much for CDs.

Simon and Garfunkel

Collected Works (Columbia)

This nifty collection puts all five of Simon and Garfunkel's albums onto a mere three CDs, along with liner notes giving all the song lyrics, information, and reproductions of all the covers; overall, very nicely done. The only original I had for comparison of sound quality was with Bookends. Compared with that, the remastered version had quite a bit more treble extension and corresponding detail. Not a huge difference, but a welcome one on what previously was a very dull sounding recording. I can't vouch for the other four albums, but if the well-recorded Bookends was improved I can't imagine the others aren't. They all sound quite good on this collection.

Steely Dan

Citizen Steely Dan

When I go into the local store that I buy most of my stereo equipment from nowadays, there's a rack of CDs available for people to pick demo material from if they didn't bring any (which is a silly thing to forget if you're going stereo shopping). Looking through it, there's a bunch of "pop" recordings, but not many "rock" recordings. But what you will find is Steely Dan. For lots of people, this is a band that they associate with high quality recording. I've always been a bit disappointed with how their CDs sound, however. Even revered classics like Aja have less then stunning vocals as far as I'm concerned. The record company knows it; there was a big push (one of the first I remember of its type) a few years back where all off the band's albums were rereleased with a spiffy new "digitally remastered" sticker on them. My own collection of Dan albums is a mix of pre and post remaster (the only way I know of to tell them apart is to look at how long the CD is, there's a minor difference on all the albums--I used to have a chart showing it all but it got lost in my mostly irrelevant pile that I periodically throw away). What I did to avoid obsessing about which version I had was to get this new box set which contains all the official studio work the band ever did. And I certainly don't regret that; all of the versions on this box set are at least quite a bit better, with some (like the material from their first album) being incredibly improved, then the versions I had. Fagen's vocals are all straightened out, and there's a level of detail to a number of the recordings that I had never picked up on before. Find some 19 year old who's never heard of Steely Dan or Aretha Franklin to give your old recordings to and pick up this box set, it's an excellent piece of work and a bargain considering what you get as well.

Sting

Dream of the Blue Turtles (MF)

I buy lots of albums from MF. Most are great, some are only a little better then what I started with. This first solo album from Sting stands out as the only time I've ever been really disappointed with one of their releases. I listened to it, didn't notice a difference. Swapped back to the original, swapped to it again, went back and forth a number of times and couldn't find anything that was consistently better (or even different) on this CD. I give this my highest lack of recommendation; save your money, buy the aluminum instead. One person on the internet who was reading a earlier commentary I had written about this CD told me that since the original recording was digital, the MF version has exactly the same bits as the regular release. I've got no way to verify that, but I have no evidence that would cause me to argue against it.

Supertramp

Breakfast in America (MF)

This has always been one of my favorite albums, but I've always been happy with the recording. Except for a bit too much noise obscuring the notes coming in out of the silence on Gone Hollywood and Take the Long Way Home, it's excellent. One of my remastering binges where I had become convinced that MF was going to lead me to audio Nirvana, I picked this up as well. I wasn't expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised at the improvement. Not only is the noise lowered appreciably, there's a big improvement in the bass quality as well. Higher frequency sounds are clearer as well, but the cymbals are still in little too "in your face" as far as I'm concerned. Hey, nobody ever said getting a remastered recording was going to fix that. I'd recommend this as a good step up from the original recordings, but not a major revision.

Who

Tommy (MF)

The Who's albums all have one thing in common: the sound quality stinks. Quite a bit, in fact. I always just assumed that they didn't have good help in the recording studio, or maybe they wanted all that crap in the way as part of their sound. After getting this MF CD because it cost only fractionally more then the regular release because it crams the entire album onto one CD, I found I was wrong on both counts. This sounds totally smooth and as distortion free as any recording from that era. Tommy went from being an album you could barely hear the music above the garbage on to a reference quality recording. I'd be interested to hear if there are even further improvements made in the current production version of this album (my copy is an older original Ultradisc model). This remaster is one of the ones that makes you feel really smart for buying the more expensive version of the recording.

Who's Next (MCA)

Having already raved about how much I dislike the quality of Who recordings above, I'll say that Who's Next is the least offensive of those I've heard. The entire Who back catalog has been getting remastered lately, and as this is by far my favorite album by the band, I was really looking forward to it. I was not disappointed. The drums sound so good now that I'd easily believe MCA had a seance, summoned Keith Moon from the grave, and had him play everything over again to get a fresh copy. I used to not be able to stand listening to My Wife on my old copy, but there's enough energy imparted to the vocals on the remaster that I find I'm becoming more fond of it. You get a bunch of bonus tracks and history involving Townsend's Lifehouse project as well on this new release, making it (oh no, here comes the pun) even more of a Bargain at the regular record company price you pay. Somebody else came out with a premium gold CD version of this album recently; I can't imagine that it could sound much better then the remastered MCA version.

Yes

The Yes Album (Atlantic)

When I got old enough to drive, one of the tapes I had in my car was a copy of this album that my father had bought when it came out, which made the tape almost exactly the same age as myself. Even on a 16 year old prerecorded cassette you couldn't miss what a great album this was. The CD release was always of excellent quality for the period, this budget priced remaster (mine was under the magic $10 mark) gives the recording that extra bit of punch. The differences are not subtle, they're quite noticeable and pleasant. It's even easier now to hear Howe tapping along with the guitar playing on Clap. The best way I can think of to describe it is that everything is more precise on this version; the rest of the tracks sound even more like perfect studio tracks.

Fragile (Atlantic)

Fragile has always been on my top ten list of albums I wished they would remaster already. The vocals sounded crummy, the drum set sounded like a toy one, the guitars were all less then ideal--and I didn't think it was the original recording, because stuff from the same period like The Yes Album sounded far better. Atlantic has made it all up to me with this remaster. The sound is fantastic, top to bottom. All the stuff that used to bother me is gone, and there's a bunch of things I never even picked up enough before to know they were screwed up as well. This one is a must buy.

Close to the Edge (Atlantic)

Being happy with the other Yes albums from this period, I decided to get this one as well, even though it was the one I was the happiest with the existing quality of. That proved to not be a wise move; although differences are there in small amounts, I'd be hard pressed to accurately pick which version of this album I was hearing if you played them both. Keep your old CD copy of this one.


All the reviews here are mine and I pretty much want to keep them that way. You know, copyright 1996 Greg Smith and that sort of thing. If you should happen to want to reprint or copy something I said here, contact me (gsmith@westnet.com) and ask permission nicely first (and if you're going to cut my text up show me what you want to do before I'll approve it). Links to this page are invited and quite welcome.


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