When I heard that Brian Eno’s 1970s pop records had been remastered and were set for a new, fancy, audiophile release, I got excited. Half-speed masters, freshly pressed at 45rpm? I wasn’t sure what any of that meant, but how could I not? After all, Here Come the Warm Jets is perhaps my favorite record of all time; Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) has its moments; and Another Green World is one of those seminal records that just can’t be missed.*
I jumped on them.
From a little wrap-around thing on the record jacket:
This record was cut using a specialist technique known as half-speed mastering.
This artisan process results in cuts that have superior high frequency response (treble) and solid and stable stereo images.
In short, a very high quality master that helps to create a very high quality record.
In addition to this, we have released this album as a double 45 RPM half-speed mastered edition. This is the ultimate for high quality reproduction as the faster the replay speed of the record, the higher the potential quality. Also, the shorter side times allow the level recorded to the master lacquer discs to be increased thereby improving the signal to noise ratio.
Is my audio-technics AT-LP120 turntable, ONKYO TX-8020, and mid-1980s Bose AM-5 system hi-fi enough to do this fancy vinyl justice?**
Well, from the limited bit of listening I did (“On Some Faraway Beach”, part of the video, above, and “Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy)”) they sound pretty good to me, with more dynamic range and a fuller sound than I’m used to from the versions I usually listen to. (I have all four on CD, the Original Masters releases from the mid 2000s, ripped with iTunes as Apple Lossless files just a few years ago.) Given the limited amount of time I spend in my home office/man cave, I doubt I’ll listen to them much: I haven’t listened to Sgt. Pepper‘s at all yet, for example.
The records came with download cards, and I jumped on the downloads almost immediately. If you’re curious, the downloads are WAV files. I’ve done extensive A/B analysis of different tracks from all three albums, and I find absolutely no difference between my Apple Lossless-encoded rips from the Original Masters versions of the CDs. I was hoping for something, I don’t know, different: maybe not as wildly different as the Sgt. Pepper remixes, but something fuller, or broader, or something.
To be honest, I misunderstood what these were… I thought these were newly re-mastered, but they’re not: they’re half-speed masters, probably taken from the DSD masters made in the mid 2000s—the same source of my CD copies—cut into vinyl at double speed. At 45rpm, there should be increased quality vs. a 33 1/3 cut, as the needle will cover more territory for the same amount of song, and with the half-speed mastering, perhaps there’s more information to cut into those grooves.
But there’s not more information to cram into the wav files, because they’re already (nearly) as uncompressed as any digital version is likely to get, unless they pull the original tapes out and create a new master with some future technology.
I’m still thrilled to have them. Record jackets are great things: they’re tactile in ways that are impossible for digital downloads to recreate, and have the information on all the musicians and studio engineers that is usually stripped out of digital files. The cover art is human-sized, much larger than the CD’s (and not cropped like my CD versions). And then there’s the act of actually playing a record.
And here’s where my big disappointment comes in.
Here Come The Warm Jets concludes with three songs that flow together beautifully, with discernible gap or break: “Dead Finks Don’t Talk,” “Some of Them Are Old,” and “Here Come the Warm Jets.” On the 45rpm vinyl, “Dead Finks…” is on side 3 with “One Some Faraway Beach” and “Blank Frank,” and I’ll have to get up and flip the record to continue on to “Some of Them Are Old,” thereby breaking the continuity and flow that I’m so used to (and that Eno probably intended).
Had I thought about this a bit before insta-ordering them, I might have hesitated some. This seems to be the big sticking point for people on various message boards, and there’s something to it.
I really hope 1) I make the time to really listen to these, 2) that my meager system is up to the task, and 3) that I get something more out of them than I’ve gotten out of the excellent CD reissues.
*I hesitated ordering Before and After Science, but pulled the trigger on it a week or so after pre-ordering these. I look forward to that one showing up soon.
** I’d like to one day construct a better hi-fi system, but if I do, it’ll have to be in a more common area, where my darling, adorable wife and I can relax and enjoy it together.