Roundabout Vs. South Side of the Sky

yes__fragiAnother in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Fragile.

This shootout taught us that track one is not as well recorded as the rest of side one. On copy after copy, and there were well over a dozen, it was the other big track on side one, South Side of the Sky, that had consistently better sound. You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first.

You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first. We play both songs, but we play them in reverse order, knowing that the mind-boggling sound is really going to be on South Side, not so much Roundabout.

This record should give any record you own a run for its money. It’s as BIG and as BOLD a statement about raising the bar for rock recordings as any I know. Without a doubt one of the Best Rock Recordings of all time.

More Fragile

A well-known audiophile record reviewer opined on his website that Fragile “was never a very good recording to begin with… cardboardy, compressed and somewhat cloudy and distant.”

Perhaps his old copy sounded like that — our Hot Stampers sure don’t. The typical pressing of Fragile can be painful — smeary and dull with plenty of distortion. If you know the magic stamper numbers and you spend the time to clean and play enough copies, you’re bound to hear some serious magic. Of course, that’s a lot of work, and some people are probably too busy typing out lists of their pricey equipment to be bothered with such things.

Fragile: The Checklist

Here are some of the qualities we were listening for:

1. Dynamics – The best copies have amazing dynamics which are most easily recognized in the cymbal crashes, the pounding of the piano, and in the door that slams shut on the track We Have Heaven, just to pick a few obvious examples.When these sounds aren’t startling in their power, the copy is missing some of its dynamics. There is a fair amount of compression on this recording in places; don’t get me wrong, we hear it as well as anyone. But passages of this music have TREMENDOUS life and energy on the best Hot Stamper pressings. That life and energy is what we mean by dynamic. They really get up and go.

2. Smoothness – This album can be very harsh and unpleasant if the upper midrange is boosted at all, or lacks enough lower midrange to balance out the upper mids. The last thing in the world that you want to listen to is a bright, harsh Yes record. Take it from us; we’ve played scores of them.

3. Bass – Bass definition and weight are CRUCIAL to the sound of this record. Those copies that lack bass and consequently sound thin are simply not enjoyable. (Hello, Acoustic Sounds?)

4. Distortion – Almost all copies have distortion on the piano in South Side of the Sky. Any copy that has been played has no doubt been damaged to some degree by the bad arms and cartridges of the day. It is the rare copy that doesn’t have noticeable inner groove distortion and breakup on the piano. (Some of that breakup can be heard on the CD, so it’s not all the LP’s fault.)

 

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