The first thing I noticed when I put on the new reissue of The Who's landmark album Who's Next was that it pretty much sounded like the album I knew and loved and have listened to a gazillion times since it came out. I was about 10 years old when my brother first brought it home.
This is a cool thing, right? A classic album that everyone knows and loves, sounding pretty much like its supposed to sound...
But then I thought a second and wondered why it wasn't sounding SO much better in a knock-my-socks-off kind of way than my old original domestic US Decca pressing. Don't get me wrong, it sounds nice and clear, on dead quiet perfectly pressed well centered thick (probably) 180-gram vinyl.
I went back and put back on my clean original US Decca pressing (DL 79182) to see if I was missing something.
Nope, they sound fairly similar.
The volume levels are pretty much the same comparing the two discs. Stereo separation may be a bit better on the new ones than the original and the high end ever so slightly brighter on the new one. This makes some sense given that they might have pressed the original a bit more conservatively given the limitations of the average record player back in the day -- last thing they would want would be a whole bunch of returns for records that were too hot to track.
I am hearing some different details on this version leading me wonder about the source tape used... Is this a remix? Is the same US slave copy used back in 1971 for the Decca pressing? Well, actually, maybe... but I don't know for sure.
How's that for a definitive non-answer?
Probing around on the Interwebs I ultimately got pointed to The Who's own site which reported that the 180-gram reissues are sourced from a new remastering done in 24-bit, 96 kHz "format."
So there in lies the basic sonic difference. I notice it mostly on the high end which bears some of the digital artifacts that I have come to recognize fairly easily over the years -- its got a certain angularity to the music.
I'll admit, the difference in this instance is pretty subtle for the most part.
Which would I choose to listen to at the end of the day?
Well, this new one is a bit cleaner than my old Decca copy so for now this will become my go-to copy until I find a nice original UK Track Records version. But if you don't have a clean copy -- and many people don't since this record got played to death by most people back in the day -- there is certainly nothing awful about this pressing, especially if you are not one of those people that cares about analog vs. digital. Then, certainly go for the new ones.
But, as we saw with the Beatles' in Mono box set, that extra attention to detail in making an all analog food chain in remastering those records can make a huge difference in creating a reissue series that is truer to the original master recording and in some instances even better than the original LP pressings from the 60s and 70s. For that, however, the powers that be will have to definitely go back and dig out the definitive original-original master mix down tape, which is probably (hopefully!) locked safely away in a vault somewhere in merry olde London town and not here in the U.S. of A.
If you are an audiophile Who fan you probably already have a pristine original copy of Who's Next that you like fairly well, so this reissue probably isn't for you. I mean.... its not like this album hasn't been reissued numerous times over the past 40 years by various and sundry audiophile type reissue entities.
And its not like there aren't a load of used copies out there if you don't mind that sort of thing and want to save a few bucks.
But, until that time when we do get THAT definitive version "made directly off Pete Townsend's original analog UK master tape," this Who's Next is a fine and serviceable option for the everyman.
And at least it puts a classic album back into the mainstream marketplace in a larger scale manner where more people have access to it. I mean, I just checked on the Internet and now Who's Next can be found on vinyl in retail outlets where much of America shops: places like Walmart and Target. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them end up in the actual "brick and mortar" stores.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss...