Friday, October 23, 2009

Michael Fremer Review

I am very proud to continue our feature (look for this every Friday), music reviews that are written by the senior contributing editor of Stereophile magazine- Michael Fremer. It has been a pleasure to speak with Michael and learn more about audio sound and equipment. In fact, his new DVD, "It's A Vinyl World, After All" has hit the shelves and is selling out very quickly. This is a must have for anybody who loves vinyl, it is a true masterpiece.

Additionally, make sure to stop by his site, and bookmark it for further exploration. I certainly want to thank Michael for the exclusive rights to reprint his fantastic material.

Jimi Hendrix (reissue)
Voodoo Child

Classic Records/Experience Hendrix 4 200g Quiex SV-P LPs

Produced by: Janie Hendrix and John McDermott
Engineered by: Eddie Kramer
Mixed by: Eddie Kramer
Mastered by: Bernie Grundman (LP cutting)

Review by: Michael Fremer

Compilations are an ugly concept on vinyl. Either analog copy tapes have been strung together to create a cutting master or digital copies of masters are electronically assembled to produce the same cutting master. Once in a black and blue moon, original masters are removed from their reels and strung together to produce cutting masters made from original master tapes, but those are few and few between and almost impossible to make. They’re rare because few companies allow precious masters to be cut up and because unless the tunes were recorded in the same studio on the same impeccably maintained recorder, it’s very difficult if not impossible to cut a lacquer where the record/playback head’s azimuth changes from track to track.

If an original master tape is used to make first generation copies to create an analog cutting master, the results can be outstanding because most of the great LPs from the “golden age” were cut using production, not original master tapes. So they’re a generation down to begin with. Therefore, a compilation assembled from orignal master tape copies is, for all intents and purposes, identical to a cutting master of a whole album. One reason why “greatest hits” albums on LP can sound particularly distant and foul is because the cutting master is assembled from a copy of the original cutting master, not the original tape, and is therefore third generation.

This Hendrix compilation was originally issued as a double CD set in 2001 on Experience Hendrix/MCA (088112603-2) and mastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound. The booklet accompanying this four LP set from Classic still lists Marino as mastering engineer but with “BG” in the lead-out grooves, clearly the cutting was done by Bernie Grundman.

From what? Given that Marino apparently didn’t have a preview head on his R2R deck back in 2001 and transferred analog to digital before cutting the original “Experience Hendrix” series of LPs and CDs of the original individual albums, and of First Rays of the New Rising Sun the album Hendrix wanted to release instead of what came to be known as The Cry of Love, what are the chances that there was an analog tape of this compilation here for Bernie Grundman to work from? Not good!

Generating one would have required digging out the original tracks, transferring them and assembling them onto a reel for each of the eight sides. What are the odds that was done? Not great, even though it sounds that way when you compare the original CDs with the superbly smooth, rich, transparent and detailed sound of this four LP set.

Whatever was used for the transfer, this set of popular originals from the studio albums on one disc and live performances on the other, sounds much better than the already find sounding two CD set.

The compilation includes original studio classics like “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Fire,” and “Crosstown Traffic,” alternate takes of some familiar tunes, like “Spanish Castle Magic,” and “Stone Free,” and a second disc of live recordings culled from the enormous catalog.

Of course the LP packaging beats the double CD set, but the vinyl does likewise. Assuming you have a decent analog rig, the differences between the CD and analog sets will be immediately evident: the record sounds far more real, more transparent and far less “crunchy” than the CD, yet the EQ sounds very similar, if not identical.

Instrumental separation and physicality are far superior on LP, something that’s immediately noticeable if you pay attention to drums and cymbals. The LP sounds real, the CD does not. While I prefer LPs to be cut from analog master tapes, if possible, in the end I prefer which edition sounds better and in this case, the LPs sound more three dimensional, more detailed and more real. Whatever the source, it does not sound “digital,” as the terms has come to be used over the years.

Therefore, to readers who’ve asked me what I think of this set, all I can say is, I understand why the first pressing sold out: in many ways the tracks sound better than original UK Track and American Reprise editions.

It’s easy to recommend this box set to anyone needing a way into the Hendrix legacy. Personally, I’d go for the original LPs, since there were so few of them to begin with, but this compilation, containing many alternate takes not found on the originals (but found, in many cases, on the Jimi Hendrix box set of a few years ago, presents a fine introduction to the Henrix legacy.

If you buy this, you won’t be disappointed by the outstanding sonics, and you surely will appreciate the packaging, and of course the music.

SOURCE: Reprinted By Permission

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