When will I learn? I have fallen into this trap a few times already, especially when it comes to an artist like Jeff Buckley. I was a big fan of Jeff's work and given that he only put out one album in his lifetime -- the amazing, Grace, which I've written about here across several incarnations --- the numerous archival posthumous releases have proven to be tempting purchases.
So when I found the new In Transition album, issued on black vinyl for Record Store Day earlier this year, I grabbed a copy impulsively. I did not really consider what it contained, only knowing that it was culled from his first studio recording sessions for Columbia Records.
I should have known better, especially after getting the earlier album of demos called You And I (click here for the review) which turned out to be sourced from DAT. "What's DAT?," you ask? It was an early Digital Audio Tape format (thus the D.A. and T.) which was embraced by many an audio professional early on for its small size, long recording length and then-pristine fidelity.
The latter is where the rub happens given that most DATs, at best, are recorded at 48 kHz at 16 bits. This is fine and there ARE some good sounding DAT recordings out there... But the question does arise at times like these: do I need to own a DAT-sourced album on vinyl when a CD or DVD might deliver the goods equally or better without any noise floor.
It is this latter point that where this release fails: the vinyl pressing is far from transparent and is quite noisy at times. So, I am stuck with a crisp but -- arguably -- frequency limited recording presented on a pressing that is less than supportive of the music. Don't get me wrong, I love hearing good, clean, high quality recordings on vinyl. But with a recording like this which includes often hushed vocal and guitar demos, the pressing needs to be perfect.
My copy is not perfect.
So that is a big drag. Looking at the notes section to the entry for this album on Discogs, it seems that I am not alone in this issue (click here and scroll down to read the sad comments)
In the future, it would be smarter if Columbia issued archival recordings like In Transition on a more appropriate digital platform such as Blu-ray Disc, where the full fidelity of the original DAT tape could be presented in a more sonically transparent manner. Or... if they want to put out the music on vinyl, spend the extra bucks and invest in a really great record pressing plant like RTI, Pallas. Recordings like this need to be handled with care so finding a pressing facility that could deliver a consistently stellar vinyl experience for the listener is essential.
I would like to say that I could get by with a streaming version of In Transition but I have not found this album on Tidal or Qobuz thus far. Its also not on CD yet, as far as I can tell.
Another big drag...
The saving grace of course is Jeff and his music. As always for Jeff Buckley, the performances on In Transition are sublime even in this early vocal-and-guitar demo stage of his career. Until the next archival release comes out this will no doubt satiate me.
Next time, however, I may well wait on buying a vinyl pressing until I know for sure that it is not sourced from DAT or that its at least pressed with greater audiophile care.