It’s the time of year for saving money!
So, you all know by now that I’m a big fan of vinyl and all things analog. But I also recognize that in some instances modern technologies outside of that realm can benefit the sound on certain recordings.
Some of you also know by now that I am a big fan of David Crosby’s music. Most recently I reviewed the quite stunning new Plangent Processes-restored and remastered version of Crosby’s solo debut, If I Could Only Remember My Name. In case you missed my review, please click here to read it as there were quite a number of insights I found in writing this up, particularly comparing the new high resolution Plangent Processes version of the album to an earlier conventional transfer at CD quality as well as to the earlier high resolution Stereo mix on the 2006 DVD Audio edition (which still remains essential as it contains the fantastic 5.0 surround mix…)
As much as I liked the stream, I wasn’t yet 100-percent resolved toward it as I knew there was a new vinyl edition coming out mastered off the original analog master tapes — no digital stages. So, I was curious to hear how they would compare before making a decision. I bought a stock copy of the album as soon as my favorite local store got it in so I could hear how it stacked up.
In general, the new vinyl edition sounds very good, at least as good as my original “white label” promo copy of the album and in many ways much better. But I have to admit my listening experiences with this album have been “spoiled” (if you will) by that fantastic aforementioned 2006 DVD Audio Disc which I love for its 5.0 surround sound remix — it is one of my all time favorite demo discs!
And now having spent quite a bit of time with the 192 kHz, 24-bit Plangent-restored version streaming on Tidal and Qobuz, it is probably going to be hard for me to go back to a plain vinyl version for a definitive listening experience (more on that in a bit). The Plangent version feels more true to the performances that were recorded.
Plangent’s technology has been used by no less than Bruce Springsteen and The Grateful Dead. It is renown for its impact in not only correcting for tape speed and other mechanical recording anomalies which can create playback irregularities — such as physical tape edits, of which there are often many in the analog realm. These sorts of challenges, especially inherent in early analog recordings, ultimately can change the flavor of a recording, sometimes dramatically, outside of the artist’s original intention. To learn more about Plangent, please click here.
For this listening report I admit that in some ways I have effectively been comparing apples to oranges, so please keep that in mind — as I have — while writing this up. My turntable is a very respectable Music Hall MMF 7.1 fitted with a Goldring cartridge running through a Bellari tube pre-amp. For my wireless streaming I use a MacBook Pro fed into a Mytek Brooklyn DAC. Both systems have their pluses and minuses, I acknowledge, but generally sound excellent depending on the recording.
That said, the big difference I’m noticing between the two versions is that the vinyl feels reined in relative to what I have been hearing when playing the high resolution 192 kHz, 24-bit streams (“MQA” format on Tidal, “Hi Res” on Qobuz).
Taken on its own, the new vinyl sounds really nice, great even.
The Plangent-restored streaming version — newly mastered by Dave Collins — sounds especially fine, as if a layer of distance between the music and my ears has been removed. When I’m listening to it I’m hearing more dynamics, a greater sense of the recording studio and the space surrounding the instruments and singers.
The definition on the instruments especially feels generally tighter and more realistic on the Plangent stream. This is saying something given that I generally consider If I Could Only Remember My Name to be one of the most beautifully recorded albums in music history.
Some perspectives from my listening comparison follow which will hopefully paint a picture of the difference in the experience, mostly reflecting on the quality of the streaming version vs. the vinyl. On “Music Is Love,” the congas are especially huge and Phil Lesh’s bass omnipresent. A times you can almost feel the woody presence of the guitars and the distinctive slap of fleshy human hand claps.
The intro to “Cowboy Movie” feels tight and punchy on the streams, yet it it appears somewhat less powerful on the vinyl (both on my original pressing and new version). The handclaps feel super natural on the stream, so one can almost make out how many people are in the room clapping, it is that much more distinct. The staging is good on the vinyl but isn’t quite as dramatic as it could be — the room depth isn’t as apparent. Ultimately, the the music doesn’t feel quite as present, feels restrained. The kick drum is strong enough on the vinyl but feels a bit subdued compared to the definition on the stream.
That kick drum on “Tamalpais High” sounds super full and round. Overall, the drum kit comes across as more realistic and the playing seems to be swinging very naturally. On the stream you can feel how tightly connected the drum and bass parts are on this session which isn’t quite as apparent in the vinyl versions. Jerry Garcia’s guitar / amplifier tone is gorgeous here.
The tempo (and perhaps the intonation) of the music at times feels more consistent on the streaming version. This is hard to write about of course, but for one example that jumps out at me, listen at the end of “Tamalpais High” around the 3:15 mark where Phil’s bass comes in with those final notes. On the vinyl they seem to veer a bit off the mark somehow and it isn’t quite that way on the stream (I suspect this might be due to tape speed variances which were rectified via Plangent).
“Traction In The Rain” is an acoustic guitar showcase. Close your eyes and it sounds like Croz is vocalizing right in front of you. Take note of the moment of extended acoustic guitar resonance on the right channel on the chorus/bridge sections, which almost sounds like low level feedback. It is a really cool detail that I’d not noticed on the other versions. The impact of the picks on the guitar strings come through super clear now. Its easy to miss that sort of detailing on the vinyl version.
“Laughing” is a particularly good test track. Listen for those those long held notes when there are musical breaks in the song, it really put the vinyl to a test and frankly the high resolution streaming version sounds more definitive. Joni Mitchell’s vocals are also more vivid at the end there …
Flipping between these two versions is a bit idyllic, I admit. It is kind of the difference between a listening experience that is simply beautiful vs. another that is utterly drop-dead gorgeous.
So what comes next for David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name? Well, I’m no soothsayer but I can tell you what I would like to hear.
I think it would be smart for Rhino Records to issue a comprehensive Blu-ray Disc edition of the album including the new 192 kHz, 24-bit Plangent Processes-restored version of the album as well as the 2006 5.0 surround sound remix (96 kHz, 24-Bit). In a perfect world there would be a new Plangent-restored 192 kHz, 24-bit surround sound remix from the multi-tracks, particularly in the new Dolby Atmos format — don’t worry, I’m not holding my breath for that!
I would like to see them also include the original analog tape version in a so-called “flat transfer” also at 192 kHz, 24-bit. Steven Wilson has done this on many of his fantastic remix projects for King Crimson, Yes and many other great audiophile-friendly bands/artists. Having all these different versions on one disc is very handy as it lets you switch back and forth between versions of the album in as close to an apples-to-apples scenario as possible.
It would be great if they included all the bonus tracks from the new CD version in high resolution (as they are on the Qobuz and Tidal streams).
The other thing that would make sense is to include a vinyl pressing made off the Plangent-restored version of the album — this would give vinyl fans a best of all possible worlds scenario I’d suspect (akin to Springsteen and some of The Grateful Dead’s vinyl reissues).
I would also want them to include Steve Silberman’s fine new liner notes (which are oddly absent from the new vinyl edition).
Combining all those elements would make for a mighty fine super deluxe edition boxed set, don’t you think?