Smaller, Heavier, Better?

Apologies for the solipsism seconds above. For those of you with no nostalgia jones whatsoever, we've included (free of charge) these fussy anal-retentive comparisons with the original CDs and LPs -- the kind you've come to expect from pricey audiophile magazines. After a quick Q-tip swab of the lobes with rubbing alcohol, we compared several of these titles under ideal testing conditions: No beer.

The 1999Band on the Run 180-gram vinyl
vs.
The 1987Band on the Run CD

Although it was initially intimidating putting this 180-gram vinyl on the test turntable (the thing is as heavy as a film can), it didn't shred the needle cartridge and is fairly silent as it tracks through. While the 1987 CD had pretty good sound quality, this 1999 remastering quickly bests it. Check the mounted tom-toms and kick drum on the title track for best in-your-face placement. Also, you can easily differentiate which voices are McCartney's in the early "stuck inside these four walls" part -- they're all his, a hard conclusion to draw from the earlier CD version. The powerful, droning synth chord that runs throughout "Jet" is almost unobtrusive on the earlier CD, but is positively head-splitting to listen through on headphones on the vinyl remaster. It's almost as if you're sitting in a plane's fuselage.

In our book, anything that makes Paul sound less wimpy is always a good thing. As with the special anniversary edition CD released this year, the vinyl edition contains a disc of interviews, demos and outtakes that make for fascinating listening. Compared to the original poster on the 1973 LP version, however, the reissue poster's color reproduction is flat and way too dark, making it impossible to see the faces of the assembled Nigerians except for their smiles.

The 1999We're an American Band CD
vs.
The 1991 Grand FunkCollector's SeriesCD

Earlier CDs like this 1991 "Best of" bear the "AAD" symbol, meaning they were direct transfers from the two-track stereo masters. In a 1997 interview, Funk front man Mark Farner expressed displeasure in adding keyboardist Craig Frost because it softened the overall guitar attack. This earlier CD bears out that bitter assessment, while the remastered version puts the keys in their rightful place, way back in the mix underneath the hard crunching guitars and that loud echoey cowbell. Did we stress just how damn loud that echoey cowbell is? It's a grand and dare we say "funky" (we never get to say funky) improvement.

The 1999Dreamboat Annie 180-gram vinyl & CD
vs.
The 1976Dreamboat Annie LP

Deep rich bass tones are a vast improvement over the scratched-up vinyl version we rescued from the Salvation Army. Comparing both the 1999 vinyl and CD versions, the only difference we could find was that the Capitol logo on the CD was actually an inch larger than the one on the significantly bigger 12-inch vinyl. Spooky, eh?

The 1999Fly Like an Eagle180-gram vinyl
vs.
The 1991Fly Like an Eagle CD

Time keeps on slippin' . . . slippin'... slippin'... into the future . . . but the scratched-up CD of this album we picked up at the Maricopa library didn't get to play one second into the future, which negates those claims made in 1985 that them newfangled CDs were indestructible. As for the cover art, it's definitely the original packaging. The dull photo of Steve Miller looking like he's being sucked in by an intergalactic vacuum cleaner is recreated at great expense, as is the plain white sleeve that was also generously included on the 1976 album! Can you believe it?

The 1994 Rolling Stones CD reissues on Virgin
vs.
The 1987 The Rolling Stones CDs on Columbia

Because anything by the Stones is widely sought after by collectors, there have been some vocal opponents of the Virgin Stones reissues who swear the Columbia versions, mastered by the respected Greg Calbi, are warmer-sounding than those Bob Ludwig reworked in the '90s. Exile on Main Street and Some Girls both sounded pretty similar and pretty good to us, with the Virgin Exile offering slightly better-sounding bottom end than the Columbia version. The Virgin Sticky Fingers was indeed hotter and therefore more hissier in places, hiss being one of those things that early CD buyers shrieked at as a sign of sloppy transferring. A Compact Disc Monthly reviewer was equally horrified at the fact that the first acoustic guitar strum of "Wild Horses" was clipped. That's been fixed, too. One suspects that restoring the "fully functional zipper" to Sticky Fingers came at the expense of a decent reproduction of Andy Warhol's original classic cover. It's pitch black! Try telling which pant leg the model's significant member is hiding in on the reissue and you can't even be sure if it's a man's or a woman's crotch. Maybe obscuring the bulge was done at Wal-Mart's Puritanical Majesties Request.

The 1999 Roxy MusicAvalon CD
vs.
The 1982 Roxy MusicAvalonLP

The only real big disappointment in the series: The original LP version actually had a better sound than this 1999 CD, which bears no mention of being remastered in 1999 anywhere on its packaging. The bass drum is way up front on the old album with the rest of the track meandering behind it, which really sets off songs like "More Than This" nicely. In contrast, everything sounds clustered together and up-front on the CD, sounding less state-of-the-art than the album and more like just some record from the '80s.

 
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