The best pressings of this album convey the immediacy of a live show, one which just happens to be fronted by one of the greatest performers in the history of popular music, Paul McCartney.
On the best copies, the sound is warmer, richer, and sweeter, or in a word, more ANALOG sounding. You get more extension up top, more weight down low, and more transparency in the midrange.
It’s surprising just how veiled and two-dimensional so many copies sound, considering this is a live recording with not a lot of processing after the fact.
As a digital recording, some of that processing is baked into the tape. Unplugged will never sound as good as this McCartney album, but that’s to be expected. The bulk of the recordings from 1991 are simply not competitive with those from 1970, not by a long shot. There were hundreds of great records recorded or released in 1970. There are 39 Hot Stamper pressings of them on the site as I write this. I would have a hard time finding even a dozen from 1991.
Stick with the Early Pressings
This isn’t your typical rock record that sounds like crap on eight out of ten copies. Most early pressings of Unplugged sound pretty good. The later reissues are terrible, which should come as no surprise. Rarely are late reissues of rock and pop albums any good.
We did hear quite a few copies that had a somewhat brittle quality to the top end, with no real extension to speak of. It wasn’t ever a dealbreaker, but the copies with a silky openness up there are much more enjoyable — and, unfortunately, not all that common.
There are copies that lack warmth, copies that never fully come to life, and copies that are a bit dark.
Some that we auditioned didn’t seem to get the breath in the vocals, and others lacked weight to the piano.
Again — not one of the early pressings we played sounded BAD, but many of them definitely sounded dry, boring and lifeless.
It’s nice when the copy in hand has all the transparency, space, layered depth and three-dimensionality that makes listening to records such a fundamentally different experience than listening to CD playback, but it’s not nearly as important as having a richer, more relaxed tonal balance.
A little smear and a lack of resolution are not the end of the world on this album.
Brightness, along with too much grain and grit, can be.
- More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain
- More Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Presence
- More Records that Are Good for Testing Top End Extension
- More Records that Are Good for Testing Transparency