Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Jellyfish
I spent quite a few hours tuning up the stereo with side two of the album, specifically the song Now She Knows She’s Wrong, with its glockenspiel, loudly clanging tubular bells and yelling chorus at the end.
It’s exceedingly hard to get everything right at the same time: the energy, the deepest bass, the extension at the very top of the top end, the greatest transparency, just to mention a few of the main ones. There are always trade-offs, and being able to balance the trade-offs against the gains in these areas and others is a real test of your critical listening skills.
It’s not a perfect recording, and those are usually the ones that can teach you the most about your system’s strengths and weaknesses.
The problem with the typical copy of this record is gritty, grainy, grungy sound — not the kind that’s on the master tape, the kind that’s added during the mastering and pressing of the record. When that crap goes away, as it so clearly does on side one of the copy we played recently, it lets you see just how good sounding this record can be. And that means REALLY good sounding.
While during the shootout I had completely forgotten that all the domestic pressings of Bellybutton are direct metal mastered. (The import pressings are clearly made from copy tapes and are to be avoided.) It was only afterwards, when looking for stamper variations, that I noticed the DMM in the dead wax .
On most copies the CD-like opacity and grunge would naturally be attributed to the Direct Metal Mastering process; that’s the conventional wisdom, so those with a small data sample (in most cases the size of that data sample will be no more than one) could be forgiven for reaching such a conclusion. Based on our findings, it turns out to be completely erroneous.
The bad pressings do indeed sound more like CDs. The better pressings do not. All are DMM, so the conventional wisdom, a term of disparagement here at Better Records to start with, again shows how little probative value it actually brings to the discussion.
We would love to hear a version of the album that was not Direct Metal Mastered, just for comparisons sake. That unfortunately is an experiment that cannot be run. What we can do is play the CDs — I have several, the earliest ones being the best — and note that they are clearly grungier and grittier sounding than the better LP pressings. Some of that sound is on the Master Tape, how much we will probably never know.