This commentary was the first I wrote criticizing the sound of DCC vinyl, probably around 2008 or so. During our shootout for Bonnie’s first Capitol album, we found that the DCC pressing was lacking in so many ways that I felt compelled to spell out for our customers what its shortcomings were. I had enthusiastically recommended the album in 1996 when it came out, but our first big shootout had shown me how wrong that judgment had turned out to be. Our complete commentary from 2008 is reproduced below.
The no-longer-surprising thing about our Hot Stamper pressings of Nick Of Time is how completely they MURDER the DCC LP. Folks, it’s really no contest.
Yes, the DCC is tonally balanced and can sound very good, but it can’t compete with the best original pressings. It’s missing too much of the presence, intimacy, immediacy and transparency that we’ve discovered on the better original pressings.
As is the case with practically every record pressed on Heavy Vinyl over the last twenty years, there is a suffocating loss of ambience throughout, a pronounced sterility to the sound. Modern remastered records just do not BREATHE like the real thing.
Good EQ or Bad EQ, they all suffer to one degree or another from a bad case of audio enervation. Where is the life of the music? You can try turning up the volume on these remastered LPs all you want; they simply refuse to come to life.
We play albums like this VERY LOUD. I’ve seen Bonnie Raitt live a number of times and although I can’t begin to get her to play as loud in my listening room as she did on stage, I can try. To do less is to do her a disservice.
The DCC Approach
The DCC is too damn smooth. It’s an understandable approach for DCC to take, since this recording is more hyped-up than any of Bonnie’s earlier work, but this album actually has loads of personality and nuance. Just because an album sounds polished and maybe a bit too “clean,” it’s foolish to think that it lacks intensity or passion.
You listen to a track like “Thing Called Love” on the DCC, and it sounds good — the tambourine sounds like a tambourine, the bass sounds like a bass. The problem is you don’t hear the jingles of the tambourine hitting each other; the bass doesn’t smack you in the chest. When these elements are veiled, the life and, for lack of a better term, the point of the music go with them.
When I’m listening to Bonnie perform on a Hot Stamper pressing, I’m not merely hearing her singing the songs and nodding along with the beat, I’m being enveloped by her voice and transported to another place, as though she were in my living room, or I in her studio (something to do with Newton’s third law I believe). Although the DCC is very good, it doesn’t give us enough of what we’re looking for from an album like Nick of Time. It feels compromised, and you should never compromise the life of the music on an album that you love. (This is why I rail against panels and screens for speakers. Where is the life? The energy? The sound they produce bores me to tears.)
Nick of Time
Thing Called Love
Cry on My Shoulder
Have a Heart
Too Soon to Tell
I Will Not Be Denied
I Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again
The Road’s My Middle Name
Producer Don Was used Raitt’s classic early-’70s records as a blueprint, choosing to update the sound with a smooth, professional production and a batch of excellent contemporary songs. In this context, Raitt flourishes; she never rocks too hard, but there is grit to her singing and playing, even when the surfaces are clean and inviting. And while she only has two original songs here, Nick of Time plays like autobiography, which is a testament to the power of the songs, performances, and productions.
It was a great comeback album that made for a great story, but the record never would have been a blockbuster success if it wasn’t for the music, which is among the finest Raitt ever made. She must have realized this, since Nick of Time served as the blueprint for the majority of her ’90s albums.