This commentary was written in 2006 or thereabouts.
I must tell you about a Blue shootout I tried to do at a friend’s house. The system he owns has some nice equipment in it (the EAR 864, a $4200 tube preamp, for one) and can sound very good — if not wonderful — on certain program material.
But it’s the kind of audiophile system that is easily overwhelmed by difficult to reproduce material. On my copy of Blue his stereo was a complete disaster: grainy, shrill, thin, flat, harsh, compressed, unmusical, no real extension at either end; in short, no magic, tubey or otherwise.
My copy of Blue, which had earlier in the day sounded so good at my house, now sounded so bad at his that I could hardly recognize it as the same LP.
Pieces of the Puzzle
Of course it was the same LP, and by the time I got home the pieces of the puzzle had all fallen into place. It takes a very special stereo to overcome the shortcomings of even the best domestic pressings of Blue in order to reveal the beauty of this music.
The new one isn’t better. It’s just easier to play on the average audiophile system.
Do you have one of those? Most audiophiles do; that’s what being average means. If you’ve been in this hobby for less than five years it’s almost certain you do. I would say a decade of serious dedication to home audio would be the minimum needed to acquire the knowledge and skill to build a truly hi-fidelity system.
Figure twenty grand minimum as a budget.
It can be done for less but only if you have the skills to make it work, and those skills are hard to come by. They can’t be bought, which is why so many megabuck systems sound so unbelievably bad.
And if you’ve only budgeted a modest amount of money toward your system, it stands to reason that you’ve probably only budgeted a modest amount of time and effort into improving the quality of its playback.
In 2005 We Gave Up
Hey, I’m living proof of how hard it is. In 2005 I gave up on Blue, remember? You can read about it here.
I didn’t have the equipment or the room I would have needed to crack that nut. That was in 2005, but it was before we had our EAR 324P (acquired in 2007), before we had discovered the Walker Record Cleaning System (2007, again), before we had all of our room treatments, and before we had made about fifty other changes to the system.
Here I was playing records all day every day, tweaking my stereo like crazy, trying all kinds of new equipment all the time, and even I found it hard to make much headway with Blue.
So don’t feel bad if your copy of Blue on domestic vinyl sounds terrible at your house. It sounds terrible almost everywhere. It used to sound terrible here. Most copies aren’t any good to begin with, and most stereos aren’t up to playing the few copies that are any good. Our stereo can play Blue beautifully now, but it took a lot of effort and a fair amount of money.
And now the new version sound positively sick in comparison.
So-Called Great Stereos
Audiophiles generally think they have great sounding stereos. I haven’t met too many that didn’t.
But most of these so-called great sounding stereos utterly fall apart when confronted with Difficult to Reproduce material played at anything above a whisper. Those are precisely the kind of albums we love to crank up good and loud here at Better Records, albums like Ambrosia, Fragile, Sticky Fingers, and on and on.
Got a Tough Nut like Blue? We say bring it on.
If your stereo is up to it, a good domestic copy of Blue will kill the new 180 gram reissue.