Sunday, January 22, 2006

VINYL VS. CD

A rather interesting debate has turned up on the Showdown list about the vinyl LP.  In the end, we're talking about sound quality on vinyl versus CD.  With the ELO remastered and expanded editions (maybe or maybe not) trickling out beginning in March, some people are not convinced they'll sound better than their original vinyl albums.  More on that later.

Others, of course, don't see the point of remasters at all.  Then, there's the camp I'm in: busting at the seams to get them in my hands.

Remastered ELO albums will do several things...

1. ...restore the sound of their catalog, period.  The un-remastered ELO CDs were made in 1987.  Technology-wise, that's a lifetime ago.   For some people, though, just having it on CD is fine.  But frankly, the EMI First Light editions sold me hook, line & sinker on remasters.  10538 Overture on that disc sounds like it's being recorded right in front of me.  OK, ELO's hit singles have that treatment now on Flashback, Essential ELO, All Over The World, etc etc.  But this our chance to have the other tracks along with the hits back in their original context. 

2. Maybe it's just me, but the remasters we have so far gave me a better understanding of how Jeff and the band recorded.  The production behind the songs always fascinates me.  In many cases, when the tracks are this clear, it hints to me that Jeff didn't use as many cheap electronic shortcuts for sound effects as some people think.  For example, (although I heard it on an interview, not a remaster) the segue between So Fine & Livin' Thing on A New World Record is a keyboard part on tape... then the tape machine is switched off making the keyboard part slow down, then when the tone matches the opening note of Livin' Thing, Jeff spliced the song in.  This stuff becomes more apparent and you hear so much more detail in CDs made today.  ELO music was about the sound.  In that respect, the band's remasters are way, way overdue.

3. Bonus tracks.  I can't imagine how some fans don't get excited by these.  Many of the bonus tracks on the upcoming remasters could be previous takes of what actually got released.  Jeff, as we all know, is a perfectionist.  Nine times out of ten, the original released versions are indeed the best, but it's always nice to hear the other ideas Jeff had for his songs.  Look at how many versions of Showdown are released.  The original LP version is the best, but how cool is it to listen to the many different things going on before the final version.  Some if works, some of it doesn't.  But it's all fascinating to hear.  These remasters may have unmixed backing tracks of songs we know and other songs that didn't make the cut.  These possibilities alone are a huge thrill if you're a fan of any group.

But back to the LP debate, I've been torn on this issue for years.  I know people who can't imagine listening to Janis Joplin on anything other than an old vinyl.  But the CD has been winning out in recent years.  Look, I can appreciate the warmth of LP sound, it beats early CDs and most certainly cassettes, 8-tracks, etc.  Now, I'm not going to pretend that I know everything there is to know about digital vs. analog technology, but CD audio has clearly come a long way.  I don't believe digital "compression" for today's CDs is that detrimental to the sound quality.  MP3's, on the other hand, different story.  That's my main concerning with having music go completely digital.  MP3 all the time would be a step back for music quality.  DVD would probably deliver the least amount of compression, but that's a whole other topic.  I know LP sound isn't "compressed" but analog has its issues as well.  Don't ask me to list them, my brain's too fried.

Even with upscale LP equipment, I need heavy convincing that these forthcoming remastered CDs will be worse than the original LPs as I believe some people suggest.  Today's CDs have the warmth of original vinyl, and when it comes to clarity, they win hands down.

1 comment:

jamesgaussen said...

Hi flat33,

Fascinating post.  I had not previously seen anything about further ELO remasters being imminent - the Face the Music site has not mentioned this - and I am absolutely thrilled if this is the case - I say "if" purely because of your comment "(maybe or maybe not)".

I cannot believe that any ELO fan would not welcome these remasters.  A NEW WORLD RECORD in particular would benefit enormously from remastering.  I always put my existing CD of this on to maximum treble because a lot of the detail (especially percussion) is buried in the mix at present.  I remember Kenny Everett playing what he claimed were original masters of both this and OUT OF THE BLUE on Capital Radio back in the 1970s, and can confirm that these indeed sounded vastly superior to the current CD versions, let alone the vinyl album versions.

And as you say, it's great to get bonus tracks.  Some of these are, in my humble opinion, superior to some of the original album tracks.  For instance, "Hello My Old Friend" is in my opinion a vastly better song than "Letter From Spain", and believe that SECRET MESSAGES would have been a much more successful album, both creatively and commercially, had the former been released as a single (and included on the album) instead of the rather naff "Rock and Roll is King".

Anyway, I greatly look forward to hearing for these remasters, although I'm not getting my hopes up too much that they will indeed be released - we've been let down by Sony too many times in the past.