Another Classic Records LP debunked.
By the time the guitars at the end of the title track fade out you will be ready to take your heavy vinyl Classic and ceremoniously drop it in a trashcan. (Actually, the best use for it is to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends that no heavy vinyl pressing can begin to compete with a Hot Stamper from Better Records. Not in a million years.)
Over the course of the last 25 years we was wrong three ways from Sunday about our down-and-out friend Aqualung here. We originally liked the MoFi. When the DCC 180g came along we liked that one better, and a few years back I was somewhat enamored with some original British imports. Wrong on all counts. After playing more than two dozen pressings, it’s pretty clear that the right domestic pressings KILL any and all contenders.
More Classic bashing? Of course! We take them to task at every turn when the opportunity presents itself — but not out of spite or vindictiveness (moi?!). We do it for the purest of reasons: as a service to you, dear customer. Where else can you turn for the straight scoop?
And unlike the reviewers, the forum posters and the audiophile man in the street, we offer more than just opinion. We offer the record that proves our case. If your pockets are deep enough, we will happily show you the difference between The Real Thing and The New Wannabe.
The Classic — 200 Grams Aren’t Enough to Hold the Whomp?
Is the New Classic really all that bad? Not at all; it’s actually pretty good for a Heavy Vinyl reissue, considering how dreadful most of them are. It’s tonally correct from top to bottom, with almost none of the boosted upper midrange vocal presence we have come to expect from Classic Records — the bad EQ that ruins so many great Zep albums for example.
But it suffers from two problems endemic to these modern remasterings from practically any label you can name: Lack of Ambience, and Lack of Whomp Factor.
The lack of ambience is of course the most obvious. So many fine instrumental details simply go missing on most of these new pressings. The subtle harmonics of the gently strummed acoustic guitar at the opening of My God. The air in Anderson’s flute throughout the album. The snap to Dammond’s snare. And how about all the fuzz on Barre’s fuzzed out guitar on the song Aqualung? Sure, there’s guitar fuzz on the Classic, but there’s SO MUCH MORE on the real thing. When you hear it right, the sound of that guitar makes you really sit up and take notice of how amazing Barre’s solos are. (The guy is criminally underrated as both an innovator and technically accomplished guitarist.) The distortion is perfection and so is the playing. This is what a Hot Stamper is all about: more life, more energy, more character to the music, all brought about by better sound.
That Aqualung Feeling
The Classic is not a bad record. But it can’t ROCK. It lacks whomp. It’s clean and clear; it’s made from the real tape, of that I have no doubt.
Without real weight from about a hundred cycles down, the kind found only on the real thing (domestic, by the way; no import had it, a somewhat shocking finding), no matter how loud you play the new one, you can’t get that Aqualung feeling, the one you had when you first heard this music blasting out of your car radio or from your old JBLs. The music has no POWER on the new Classic.
I have to admit I liked it at first. I didn’t hear anything wrong with it. It was only when I started pulling out the good originals that it became clear what was missing. Most audiophiles will find the Classic acceptable for this very reason: they have nothing better to compare it to. The MOFI is a disaster, with the murky bloated DCC not far ahead of it. The original Brits we played were pretty hopeless too: tubey magical but midrangy, bass-shy and compressed. A tough nut to crack? Not for Better Records!
The American Pressing Is Still King (or should that be President?)
Like we’ve noted so many times before, this British band, like many of their brethren, had their master tapes sent to America to make our much-maligned domestic pressings. I maligned them myself, wrongly I now realize. It takes an amazing stereo and a top quality Hot Stamper pressing to get this music to work its magic. If you are lucky enough to have those two things, you will not believe how good this album sounds, so much better than you ever thought possible. It’s not perfect, but with the right pressing you can hear why Anderson, his bandmates, the engineer and producer all thought they had put a real winner down on tape. They had, but it took us a long time to find a good LP and be able to play it right.
Big speakers? De Rigeur. (But you knew that I was going to say that.)