A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.
This WONDERFUL original Island Chrysalis Brit LP has AMAZING SOUND! This is the BEST sounding copy we’ve ever heard, better than any of the other Island imports! A Triple Plus AGAIG sound on side one and nearly as good on side two. Quiet too!
Both sides were the winners in this shootout, and the vinyl was some of the quietest we played. This is THE ONE! There are many sonic problems with this recording, but most of them disappear when you get a truly Hot Stamper copy like this one.
The sound is amazingly dynamic and powerful, yet overflowing with tubey magic. We played almost ten different copies of this record this week (April 2008), every domestic label variation and close to a half dozen British and German imports. This copy was CLEARLY the best of the batch.
Biggest problems? Smeary, veiled vocals and guitars. Lack of extension on both ends. It is the rare copy of Benefit that succeeds in overcoming these chronic problems. That is of course the main reason why this is our first shootout for the album. Old Brit (and domestic) rock records like these are noisy and usually don’t sound good. To find a copy like this takes WORK.
Much of the following commentary is “borrowed” and paraphrased from our discussion of Stand Up. The two albums (Tull’s second and third) understandably have much in common.
Tough Sledding with Benefit
It’s very common for pressings of Benefit to lack bass or highs, and more often than not they lack both. The bass-shy ones tend to be more transparent and open sounding — of course, that’s the sound you get when you take out the bass. (90 plus percent of all the audiophile stereos I’ve ever heard were bass shy, no doubt for precisely that reason: less bass equals more detail, more openness and more transparency. Go to any stereo store or audiophile show and notice how lean and bright the sound is. Ugh.)
Just what good is a British Classic Rock Record that lacks bass? It won’t rock, and if it don’t rock, who needs it? You might as well be playing the CD.
The copies that lack extreme highs are often dull and thick, and usually have a smeary, blurry quality to their sound. When you can’t hear into the music, the music itself quickly becomes boring.
If I had to choose, I would take a copy that’s a little dull on top as long as it still had a meaty, powerful, full-bodied sound over something that’s thin and leaned out. There are many audiophiles who can put up with that sound — I might go so far as to say the vast majority can — but I am not one of them. Small box speakers and screens are not for me. Those systems don’t do a very good job with albums like Benefit, and a stereo that can’t play Benefit is not one I would be very likely to own.
Warning: Commentary Coming
One of these days I’m going to write a commentary about the evolution of the sound of my stereo over the years and decades, the short version of which goes like this: We have recordings that we love, and we build and tweak and guide our stereo in the direction of getting more out of those recordings. With crappy audiophile bullshit pressings of crappy audiophile bullshit music, you end up with one kind of stereo. With an album like this you end up with an entirely different one. My stereo has evolved to play records like this, not the junk on the TAS List or some awful Diana Krall LP. (See some of the commentaries on the left for more on this topic.)
Of course one of the key elements to any Jethro Tull record is the sonic quality of the flute. You want it to be airy and breathy — like a real flute — and some copies will give you that, but keep in mind there are always trade-offs at work on old rock records like this. It’s a full-bodied, rich sounding recording. Make sure your system is playing it that way before you start to focus on the flute, otherwise you are very likely to be led astray. We have quite a bit of commentary to that effect on the site, some of which can be seen on the left.
A Big Speaker Record
Let’s face it, this is a Big Speaker Record. It demands to be played loud. It requires a pair of speakers that can move lots of air below 250 cycles. If you don’t own a speaker that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should. It will certainly never come to life the way it should.
I’m not saying don’t buy it. Maybe one day you’ll get hold of a pair of big speakers and be able to play this record like a pro. (Considering the price of big speakers today, that’s not very likely unless you win the lottery, but we can always hope.)