Back in 2016 we had this to say about a copy of the album we had just played:
This copy will put you front and center for the single greatest acoustic Paul McCartney concert of all time.
In the final round of shootouts on both sides, this copy showed itself as clearly superior in terms of transparency and three-dimensionality, as well as having the most rock solid bottom end. To sum it up, my notes read “so real,” which is exactly what makes this copy THE one to have. This is Paul and his mates LIVE in your listening room like you have never heard them before.
This copy gave us the feeling that we were right there in the audience for the taping of this amazing performance. It made other copies sound like records — good records, but records nonetheless. This one has the IMMEDIACY of a live show, one which just happened to be fronted by one of the greatest performers in the history of popular music, Sir Paul McCartney.
We shootout this album about once a year, which means that many changes will have occurred to the stereo in the meantime. One of the qualities that we noticed this time around was how much like live music this album can be when the pressings have one specific quality — tons of bass.
Live music, especially live music heard in a club, tends to have plenty of bass. It’s the sonic quality that’s by far the most difficult to recreate in the home.
When a record manages to capture that kind of “live” low end energy, it really helps make the connection between the sound of live music and the sound coming out of your speakers. As we have labored so often to make clear on the site, big speakers with plenty of dynamic woofers can put you in front of live musicians in a way that nothing else (in our experience) can.
This very copy makes the case for that proposition better than any we’ve played in a long time.
I Lost My Girl
Here There And Everywhere
Blue Moon of Kentucky
We Can Work It Out
San Francisco Bay Blues
I’ve Just Seen A Face
She’s A Woman
And I Love Her
That Would Be Something
Before this song starts, Paul banters with the audience for a minute or two. He spots a woman in the crowd and jokes with her. If your system is capable of resolving it, you can hear their conversation clearly. The sense of actually being in the room with the audience and the performers is uncanny. All the “messing around” on stage stuff gives the listener plenty of nice ambience cues to listen for.
Also, Paul moves the microphone, scraping it along the floor, which causes a huge wave of bass to envelop the room. I was over at one of my customer’s houses one time, doing a shootout with various electronics and tweaks, and I remember distinctly that the microphone stand was shrunken and lean sounding in a way I had never heard before. Now this customer, whose system was in the $100K range, had no idea what that microphone stand could really do. I did, because I’ve been hearing it do it for years.
Some speakers can’t move enough air down there to reproduce that sound. And some speakers shrink the size of images. These are two things I listen for in a system: if it doesn’t have the bottom end and it doesn’t have correctly sized images for the instruments, that’s a system that is failing in fundamental ways. If you close your eyes, you’re not in the presence of the musicians. That’s the goal, and all the equipment in a system must work to serve that purpose.
That’s why this is a good test disc. The band is RIGHT THERE. To the extent that you can make them sound live in your living room, you are getting the job done. The last tiny bit of resolution is not the point. Full-sized live musicians in your living room is the point. Either Paul and his band are in front of you, or they’re not. When they’re not, it’s time to get to work and find out what part of the system is not doing its job.
Ain’t No Sunshine
Good Rockin’ Tonight
Singing The Blues
… it remains one of the most enjoyable records in McCartney’s catalog. Running through a selection of oldies — not only his own, but Beatles and rock & roll chestnuts — McCartney is carefree and charming, making songs like “Be-Bop-a-Lula” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” (which finds Paul melding Bill Monroe with Elvis) sound fresh. But the real revelations of the record are the songs McCartney hauls out from his debut — “That Would Be Something,” “Every Night,” and “Junk” — which sound lovely and timeless, restoring them to their proper place in his canon. They help make Unplugged into a thoroughly enjoyable minor gem.