Unbiased reviews of new vinyl releases, audiophile reissues, and more

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Rolling Stones: 1964-1969 Vinyl Box Set

The Rolling Stones have just released two vinyl boxes, covering the span of their recording career from 1964 to 2005. The first box, reviewed today, covers 1964-1969, and was sourced from hi-resolution DSD files and pressed at the GZ Facility in the Czech Republic.  I do not plan to review the 1971-2005 box, which was reportedly sourced from lower-resolution digital files and mastered by Stephen Marcussen, who also mastered the disappointing and over-compressed 2010 vinyl remaster of Exile On Main St

The Music
This 1964-1969 vinyl box set contains the first nine UK Decca albums, two EPs, and two hits packages, Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) and Through the Past Darkly. Metamorphisis consists mainly of unreleased material from the Decca era, rather than being a true album effort. The two EPs and the first three albums are in mono; the rest are in stereo. This is undoubtedly some of the most infuential music of the 1960s. 

( Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, Keith Richards, Brian Jones)

The Packaging
The thirteen discs are housed in a sturdy box, which includes a slipcase protecting the whole package--a nice touch, and conspicuously absent from the otherwise-stellar Dylan vinyl box released late last year. The covers are made of regular weight cardstock and contain scans that are more or less faithful to the originals--there isn't a 3D cover on Satanic Majesties, but the original toilet cover of Beggar's has been used. The labels, while not quite faithful reproductions of the originals, have a vintage look that evokes the era. The 180 gram vinyl was pressed at the GZ facility in the Czech Republic, and the vinyl arrived clean, flat, and more or less flawless. GZ did a really stellar pressing job with this box--with nary a pop or tic to be heard throughout the entire set.

The Sound
Sound quality on the entire set is almost universally oustanding, with perhaps the first few releases not sounding quite as good as the rest--and this can be attributed to the original recording quality, rather than any mastering issues. The source for this box set was the same as what was used for the 2003 vinyl releases--DSD files prepared by Robert Ludwig. In 2003, the files were mastered by Don Grossinger for vinyl release and pressed both in the E.U. and the U.S.A. onto 180 gram lacquer cut vinyl.

This time, the same DSD files were sent to the GZ facility in the Czech Republic for Direct Metal Mastering (DMM) and pressing onto 180 gram vinyl. According to GZ, they performed no additional processing to the files prior to mastering. As this box set was released several months ago, I've been able to spend a good bit of time with it. And I must say, I'm really impressed. I have several of the 2003 DSD Stones vinyl releases, as well as a copy of the later Universal Japanese 200 gram DSD mastering of Let it Bleed. Although I didn't perform a lot of direct comparisons between these earlier DSD masterings and those in this new box, I can say without hesitation that they sound better than both the 2003 DSD vinyl and Universal Japan 200 gram DSD versions I've heard. 

(Rolling Stones 1969 Tour:  Mick Taylor,  left; Mick Jagger, center )

These new pressings from GZ are more dynamic, have greater extension in the highs and lows, and simply have more of that "magic" often heard on analog masterings and recordings that draws so many of us to vinyl. While the sound is universally excellent, I did perform some comparisons with original UK Decca pressings--namely Aftermath, Beggar's Banquet, and Let it Bleed.  And while I wouldn't give up my originals, there's definitely something to be gained in the new pressings over the originals. For all of these titles, the 2010 vinyl is more dynamic--and with the exception of Let it Bleed, a bit warmer.  

Compared to the original of Aftermath, the 2010 vinyl is a bit warmer tonally, contains less echo, and sounds as if it has loss a touch of compression found on the original. The 2010 vinyl of Beggar's Banquet, not only contains the speed-corrected version, it is also more tonally balanced that the original, which despite mostly sounding very good, can veer close to ear-bleeding territory at times. Nonetheless, I'd want the original for the acoustic gem, No Expectations, which sounds just that little bit more realistic and present on the original than on the reissue.   

Let it Bleed, which I definitely know better than any other record in this set, presents the greatest contrast between the original Decca and the 2010 version. Quiet original Deccas are notoriously difficult to find--and with acoustic numbers, such as You Got the Silver and Love in Vain--it really helps to have a quiet copy. The original Decca has that sound of tube compression, that depending upon your system and personal preferences, you might either really like--or find insufferably muddy. 

If you're one who finds it muddy, you'll love the 2010 vinyl. More dynamic, more extension in the bass and treble, and ninety-five percent of the ambience and realism found on the original Decca--is what you'll hear on the 2010 vinyl. The original Decca has a bit more of that midrange thickness that really elevates the sound of the harmonica on Midnight Rambler and the slide guitar on You Got the Silver, transporting the listener to nirvana. And I'd never want to give that up. On the other hand, the magic is definitely still there with these 2010s--and there's something to be said for a quiet Love in Vain.

This is simply a stellar-sounding set of vinyl from Abkco. If you're a fan of this music and don't have original Decca pressings, this set is a must-buy.  Even if you have Decca originals, the quiet surfaces, increased dynamics and expanded bass and treble extension make for an enjoyable alternative listening experience. Let's hope the much-anticipated Beatles vinyl reissues sound this good.



Anonymous said...

Great review, thanks.

I have the 2003 DSD Stones vinyl, would you recommend replacing them with the new editions? Or is that kind of money better spend on other new releases?

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