David Bowie’s new album The
Next Day is a good record. I like it.
I’m not fully buying the so-called “comeback” hoopla
however since his prior three albums (Hours,
Heathen and Reality) were pretty great rock records. I particularly like
the surround mix on Heathen — it and
Reality were put out as 5.1 SACD
special editions back in the day. Those were some good records there, but it is
possible they got lost in the sauce amidst the turmoil here in the states with
our challenging presidential situation, 9/11 and other things going on around
the world; perhaps David Bowie’s music wasn’t necessarily top of everyone’s to
do list at that point in time. Or maybe he just has a better marketing and PR
team in place this time around. 😉
Anyhow, here we are in the years and the Thin White Duke is
back with a new collection of fine songs and the world is again a finer place.
As Kurt Vonnegut might have written at this point: ‘hooray!’
Of the three versions of The
Next Day available to us consumers, HDTracks.com gets the nod for best
overall sound. They sell a 48 kHz/24-bit download, albeit with a bunch of
curious caveats listed there on the site, which I will leave to you, dear
reader, to interpret for yourself:
at 48/24, mixed analog to 96/24.
Tracks 9 and 12
are recorded at 44/24 mixed analog to 96/24.
Tracks 5 and 14
are recorded/mixed at 48/24.”
The HDTracks download sounds just better enough than the CD to
make it worthwhile. The jump between 44.1 kHz / 16-bit compression on the CD
and the 48/24 download is enough to make a sonic difference, particularly on
sharp edges around Bowie’s voice and fine instrumental details where harshness
can crop up.
Take the opening kick drum beats on “Valentines Day”
for example: on the HDTracks download you hear more of the round warmth of the
drum beater hitting the drum head while on the CD it sounds a bit more angular
and harsh, the latter being less appealing to the ear in a musical sort of way.
On “Love Is Lost,” you feel the pipe organ more and
the bass pulses are very in your face; on the CD the drum effects at the
beginning of the song leap out of the mix a bit more and the bass seems less
full. I could go through this track by track but I think you get the idea —
there are many little details which give the music a somewhat different sound
and presence, likely (my guess here, folks) due to the compression that happens
when taking a track from 48k/24-bit down to 44.1/16
If all this matters to you — as it should if you are reading
this column — then by all means get the HDTracks download. The artwork on the
album isn’t that spectacular so you aren’t missing much from not buying the
physical disc in that regard.
Now, lets talk about the vinyl for a moment: it sounded pretty
good too, with nice fat bass and mid range jumping out of the mix in
particular, especially when you turned up the amplifier.
However, the one big problem I had with the LP — and the
reason I ended up returning my copy — is that the vinyl was sloppily pressed,
with two of the four sides being just off center enough to distort the music.
This was especially true on tracks like “Love is Lost,” with its long
held organ lines that wavered annoyingly in and out of tune as my tone arm
swung back and forth. The recording does NOT sound that way on the digital
I love vinyl, but off center and warped discs are inexcusible
in my book, especially if a consumer is paying $30 plus taxes and shipping to
get a so called audiophile release. A company the size of Columbia/Sony should
be able to afford quality controls to avoid this, especially for a major talent
like David Bowie.
‘Nuff said. Back to the music and onto the next day…
Mark Smotroff is a
freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in
marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video
games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T
and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine,
Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who’s songs
have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films
and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written.