Yes – Fragile – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

MASTER TAPE SOUND! We doubt you’ve heard too many rock records that sound as AMAZING as this one. It’s dynamic, punchy and powerful, with the kind of super-low distortion sound that lets you really crank the levels, the louder the BETTER! How many Yes records will let you do that? THIS ONE WILL! That’s what you get for your $750 — the kind of sound that will blow your mind.

Side one here has ALL the qualities we look for in a Hot Stamper Fragile. It’s smooth and sweet with virtually no smearing up top or distortion on the piano. There’s lots of meaty, punchy bass that really propels the music far beyond the typical pressing. The overall sound is airy, open, spacious, and super transparent.

As hard as it is to find a Fragile with two WHITE hot sides, we’ve done it. This side two is AS AMAZING as the stunning side one. The bass is deep, rich, and well-defined. The highs are silky and delicate, and the bottom end has lots of WHOMP — check out that punchy kick drum! It’s a super transparent side two — just listen to all that echo and ambience around the vocals.

This Is The Master Tape

I don’t think it gets any better than this! I would guess that not many audiophiles have a rock record that sounds this good in their collections (excluding those of you who have managed to acquire some of our best Hot Stampers; those audiophiles own the real thing and the real thing just can’t be beat.)

There is NO WAY this record is not cut from the master tape. Dubs just don’t sound like this. 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.

A well-known audiophile record reviewer slash personal savior recently 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 far from enjoyable.

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.)

The Recent Reissue? Not So Much

The new 180g reissue is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey, two guys I have the utmost respect for, but the results of their latest collaboration leave much to be desired. The overall sound is lean. This is especially noticeable on the too thin-sounding guitars and vocals. Believe me, it’s no fun to play a Yes album with thin guitars and vocals. Also, there’s a noticeable lack of ambience throughout the record. The word that comes to mind when I hear a record that sounds like this is: reissue. I find it hard to believe they had the actual two-track original master tape to work with. The sound is just too anemic to have come from the real tape.

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