This weekend I found the LP pressing of Stevie Wonder's Innervisions I've been seeking for years -- an original edition in nearly perfect condition on thick vinyl, not the flimsy, noisy platters that typified early/mid 1970s releases Motown. This copy has the original flat matte finish cover art (as opposed to the glossy later editions) and is still in the original shrink wrap with a promotional sticker for then hit single "Higher Ground." The pressing is well centered, near-perfect on side one.
I found this at a used record store in San Jose, California, on sale for $5; Big Al's Record Barn, which is slowly shutting its doors (Al is getting up in years), is clearing out literally tons of stock at extremely reasonable prices.
Innervisions is a landmark recording and it always sounded wonderful but this pressing sounds remarkable, particularly moments like the gorgeous round acoustic nylon string guitar on "Visions." Stevie's kick drum on "Living for the City" punches you hard in the gut. The then-groundbreaking early synthesizers on the album are lush and analog-warm sounding (these are pre-digital synths, after all). This pressing plays perfectly without even a hint of distortion at the end of "Golden Lady, a tell-tale artifact of many copies of this popular LP which were played on less than well aligned equipment.
This is all pretty groovy and wonderful for me. But what about you?
I admit, I've spent far too much time beyond even the reasonable collector, going through at least 6 or 7 copies in the past several years alone as I've upgraded along the way. Most people won't go through this process and will opt for a reissue.
These days, that isn't such a bad thing because the good folks at HDTracks.com offer a high resolution download of Innervisions running at 96 kHz, 24-bit that sounds pretty much just like the original LP! In fact, it sounds, perhaps, a bit better in some instances as there is no noise floor. I A/B'd the two and was hard pressed to find significant differences. The LP is a hair warmer sounding but that may well be due to the soothing nature of the Bellari tube pre-amp powering my Music Hall 7.1 turntable (and Goldring cartridge).
It sounds real close and that concurs with a quote on the page for Innervisions on the HDTracks website from Kevin Reeves, Senior Mastering Engineer at Sterling Sound NYC: "Unlike many of the existing "EQ" tape copies, I was able to work from the original analog production masters that Stevie Wonder delivered directly to the label."
Really, this is a no brainer: if you love Innervisions but have a less than perfect condition original copy, go for the HDTracks download and hold onto your old LP for the gorgeous cover art.
While you are at it, you might as well get the HDTracks download of Fullfillingness First Finale since that too is a tough one to find well pressed on original LPs.
I will eventually review the high res version of Stevie's next classic, Songs in the Key of Life once I get a decent comparison-worthy LP pressing. That said, having listened to the HDTracks version I am quite sure you won't be disappointed by the sound on this high resolution download.