Several years ago I was very excited when a new reissue of the 1992 album by England’s XTC — Nonsuch — was released as a deluxe and expanded edition. The CD-plus-Blu-ray package was (and still is!) phenomenal, including new high resolution Stereo and Surround Sound remixes by Steven Wilson, instrumental-only mixes and high-quality transfers of the original mix as well as scores of out-takes, alternates and demos (click here for that review).
As great as that was, some of us were still a bit sad because the album was not yet reissued on vinyl. Not many of us have actually gotten our hands on one of the elusive UK vinyl pressings of Nonsuch which came out in limited quantities back when it was first released. It has become a very pricey collectors item.
Fast forward to the present, the album has finally been reissued on long playing vinyl records! I just received my pre-ordered copy of the brand new two-disc 200-gram version of Nonsuch and the results so far are excellent. Housed in a high-quality, thick cardboard double-disc gatefold package — as opposed to the single-pocked design of the 1992 edition — it features original cover artwork (it had been modified over the years in different CD editions around the world) and custom inner sleeves. The black vinyl discs are indeed thick, dark, dead quiet and perfectly centered so there are no complaints on that front. Arguably, this reissue is designed to be superior in every way to the 1992 original. I have no complaints at all really on this set!
Sonics-wise, it is curious as I am wondering if I am hearing more detail than even on the high resolution Blu-ray Disc version.
It has been interesting comparing this new vinyl pressing to the corresponding Stereo mix on the 2013 Blu-ray Disc version. Beyond that they are different playback formats with different processing, the new LP boasts new mastering separate from what went into making the 2013 versions on the Blu-ray.
This new vinyl version of Nonsuch indeed seems to have this other thing (if you will) going on which the Blu-ray doesn’t quite have… It is a bit odd to consider this conceptually as the album is a full digital recording to begin with… So “common sense” might make you think they would sound near identical. But as many of you know by now, there is nothing common about the processes of mixing and mastering an album for the digital universe as well as for vinyl release. There are so many variables.
A distinct difference I’m noticing is that there seems to be a greater depth perception and detailing on this lovely LP version.
For example I’m more clearly hearing different details I’d never really noticed before such as the teensy little birdy tweets on “My Bird Performs.” The trumpet playing in the background through much of that song sounds positioned quite distinctly in the right corner of an imagined stage — I say “imagined” as this is a studio recording, so it was probably an overdub, not made with the band at the same time as the basic tracks on an actual performance stage. Curiously, the producer pans the trumpet more toward the left-center for its solo, reminding the listener that this is a studio creation and not necessarily representative of an actual live performance (which I’m perfectly fine with, mind you, but I know its an issue for some audiophiles).
The decay on the shimmering splash cymbal in the initial measures of “Peter Pumpkinhead” is much larger and distinct than on the Blu-ray.
Whatever is delivering this imaging, it’s impressive….
Of course some of you will ask if this release is “better” than the Blu-ray Disc version? I can’t say that because of the aforementioned variables. They are Oranges and Lemons, if you will.
In this instance, I’m noticing these differences comparing my vinyl played on a Music Hall MMF 7.1 turntable (fitted with a Goldring cartridge and played through a Bellari tube pre-amp into a 2004 era Denon AVR) to a Blu-ray Disc played on an older Oppo BD-83 Universal Disc Player. Both are solid playback devices. Both are very different in how they process sound.
My primary reason for owning the Blu-ray Disc is the wonderful 5.1 surround sound mix (which I listen to in my living room “home theater” area, on a separate playback system) and all the bonus goodies (and there are many there!). My primary reason for wanting the vinyl is to be able to enjoy exactly that special inexplicable something extra which comes from that playback medium’s experience.
Scientists and fans of “hard data” might look at it on paper and dismiss the vinyl format as inferior. But in this case I will side with the wizards of sonic alchemy, the mixdown and disc mastering engineers who possess seemingly secret magical powers most of us can’t comprehend to make the music contained on these flat black discs magically soar into the sonic cosmos. Click here if you want to read more thoughts about that concept…
Whatever it is, it works and even with its all-digital ’90s sheen, Nonsuch is ultimately a grand listening experience on the new vinyl reissue.
And isn’t that all that matters?