In 1973 I purchased Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album. On the first play I quickly realized two things. One - I loved every song on the album, and two - it had an annoying little "bump" for about the first minute on side one. Because it was only audible during the beginning of "Funeral For A Friend" I ignored it.
In the early 1980's when the CD was hailed as the last and final frontier for recorded music, I purchased Goodbye Yellow Brick Road at one of the many CD stores available at the time. Best of all, I finally got rid of that annoying "bump...bump...bump" as the LP spun around.
Recently I received an email from a popular online merchant of albums, CD's and equipment. I could hardly contain my surprise to see advertised a Mobile Fidelity (MoFi) LP version of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. According to the ad, this album was also released in 1973, was an audiophile grade, half speed mastered from the original studio master, was specially plated and pressed in Japan by JVC and was a numbered, limited edition release. I found myself very intrigued. But at a cost of $159.00 I quickly dismissed any notion of such a foolhardy purchase...and the next day I went back online and bought it.
When it arrived a few days later I had an idea. Why not download the high definition re-master of YBR from HD Tracks and do a four way comparison? Not a music review per se. I already love every song on the album, it's hardly new and it is widely considered one of Elton's best recordings. I think it's the best he's ever done.
No, my four way shootout would be to compare the sonics between my original 1973 bump, bump, bump version, the 1980's CD, the MoFi version and the 96/24 HD download. So, I went online to HD Tracks and downloaded the $17.95 HD version.
To call this a four way shootout is not really fair. I fully expected the MoFi LP and the HD download to be vastly superior, sonically, to the other two versions. Being dutiful however, I played my original album first, then the CD, which was copied to my Aurender server.
For convenience, I next played the HD download and true enough, it was substantially better than the first two. Honestly, I expected the HD version to be the best. I saw this as mostly a no brainer. HD digital would be the clear winner - I could not have been more mistaken.
When the MoFi version of "Funeral For A Friend" started I anticipated the joy of finally hearing the album with no unwanted sounds. As playback got further along I was absolutely spellbound. In fact, I was so into the music that for a brief second I didn't even realize side one had ended - I just sat there.
The dynamics were huge. The soundstage was the absolute best of the four versions. And the album's impact and presence were mesmerizing. The clarity was also excellent. In fact, at the end of the song "Roy Rogers," you can hear a horse riding off into the presumed sunset. That was nothing new as I'd heard it many times. What I also heard were some birds and cattle in the background, very briefly and not too pronounced. But there nonetheless. In forty one years of hearing this song on both LP and CD, I've never heard cows and birds at the end of "Roy Rogers." That was a revelation. I went back and played the HD download version and heard both on it as well, but not as clearly and the volume had to be turned up by a few notches to do so.
It seems obvious that most people's music libraries can't be built on selections that cost as much as this LP did. The effort would be far too costly and the availability limited. So having this type of experience will be rare. I also would prefer not to begin revamping my system's analog section. But I think I got a glimpse of what the owners of six-figure turntables must experience. If their rigs sound this good all the time, well, one can dream.
My four way shootout was a predictable surprise. Predictable in that I was correct that my older versions of YBR would come in third and fourth. A surprise in that the MoFi version won. I certainly didn't expect that.
So did I prove anything noteworthy? Ah, perhaps not. Maybe I proved that there are surprises still to be found - albeit at a cost. Maybe I proved, if only to myself, that my system's analog section is better than I thought. At the end of it all it was a fun way to spend an afternoon playing music and enjoying the audiophile hobby. Maybe that's the best result of all.