In June, I reviewed the Deluxe Edition of “Bleach” and indicated that while I appreciated the TIDAL Masters/MQA version, I was still interested in owning the vinyl pressing. Well, the wait is over, thanks to Matau Records, as the vinyl has arrived at Subjective Sounds HQ and it is time to put it on the platter and share my thoughts. Please note, as I have already reviewed the album, this review will only consist of my opinions regarding the vinyl release, not the music and album as a piece of work.
Housed in a thick cardboard gatefold, reminiscent of the numerous Original Recordings Group (ORG) pressings I have in my collection, the overall packaging and artwork are beyond reproach. This is certainly not your standard CD upscaled vinyl release that is becoming more and more prevalent. However, this shouldn’t be confused with the Nirvana ORG pressings as this release was pressed at RTI (another world-renowned pressing plant). The album was remastered by the late George Marino at Sterling Sound in 2009, from the original master tapes, and Jack Endino, the album’s producer, oversaw the project.
The records themselves are pressed on 180gram vinyl and are free of blemishes and warping. From a merely observational standpoint, they are perfect!
An MP3 download code is also included for the album. Interestingly, when I redeemed the code, I not only received the MP3 edition, but I was also able to download the CD-quality 16/44.1 kHz ALAC and FLAC files, along with a 40-page digital booklet in the universal PDF format. I’m so impressed by this inclusion, thank you S>U>B P<O<P.
The included 16-page printed booklet offers some exceptional photographs from the era that are enjoyable to peruse while toe-tapping to the beat (this aging rocker is starting to get headaches with excessive headbanging these days). While the booklet also includes production details, it is a shame that a short essay, perhaps penned by Nirvana co-founder Chris Novoselic, was not included. That said, they did include the original recording contract with S>U>B P<O<P; that’s just cool!
Upon dropping the needle, the first thing I noticed was a reduction in the reverberation that could be heard in Novoselic's bass lines; especially on the song Blew. When listening to the TIDAL Masters/MQA 24/96 kHz edition, this aspect is rather prominent and you can visualise Noveselic’s strumming style. While it is still present on the vinyl edition, it is just a little more concealed. Of course, there could be various reasons why this could be the case. While I consider my Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, with the Ortofon OM20 needle, to be a good example of audiophile quality and an affordable price point, I also must acknowledge that my analogue setup may simply not be as revealing as the TIDAL Masters/MQA format allows by comparison.
That said, I’m conflicted as my Dire Straits Brothers In Arms Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) vinyl edition is superior to any other recording in my collection; nothing compares. All the high-res albums in the world can’t outperform that vinyl record, in my system, from a sonic standpoint. I even have the 20th Anniversary SACD version that contains the HDCD, Stereo DSD, and 5.1 DSD Surround Sound mix. Trust me, the difference is immense and I feel my Oppo BDP-103 is on par with my turntable with regards to matching quality. Interestingly, MFSL did release a SACD alongside the vinyl pressing of Brothers In Arms. As it is from the same mastering session, I should probably get myself a copy so that I can accurately compare the capabilities of my analogue and digital setups. Obviously, differences would remain, but as I much prefer the MFSL mastering, that aspect alone is of greater importance than the differences between analogue and digital.
I also find that when comparing the two “Bleach” editions, the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition has more emphasis in the mid and low end. Whereas, there is definitely more treble to be heard in the vinyl edition. That increased treble isn’t bad and doesn’t take away from the album at all, especially considering the expanded dynamic range it offers, but it does make me wonder what MQA trickery is going on as TIDAL indicates the Masters/MQA edition is also from the 2009 remastering sessions. However, one of the key points of contention is that TIDAL also lists the date of release as being 2013.
Through the use of deduction, thanks in part to the Dynamic Range Database, the HDTracks.com 2013 24/96 kHz edition has an average dynamic range of 7 out of 20, whereas the vinyl edition averages a 13 out of 20. Sure, dynamic range isn’t everything, but if the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition is the same as the HDTracks release, then that explains the boost in the mid and low end, along with the increased treble region on the vinyl pressing. Unfortunately, like all streaming services, the production notes are not of paramount importance and therefore while I’ve no doubt the TIDAL Masters/MQA edition is sourced from a master (the little blue light confirms it), is it the master undertaken in 2009 by George Marino, or a later and louder (compressed) master?
So, I guess the real question is which version do I like best.
I do enjoy a boost to the mids and low end, but not to the detriment of dynamic range and overall soundstage presentation. While I praised the sonic presentation of the TIDAL Master/MQA release in July, and stand by that assessment, after listening extensively to the vinyl release, I find myself captivated by the greater dynamic range of the vinyl pressing. I guess what I am trying to say is that while MQA touts authentication of the studio master, we don’t exactly know which mastering the studio or artist is going to use. Subsequently, the search for the best mastering will continue and while MQA is a great asset for streaming music, there needs to be more than a little blue light to confirm the end user is receiving the very best, studio master, copy of the album.
The Deluxe Edition of "Bleach" is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered For iTunes). If you prefer streaming, it is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify and Apple Music.
The catalogue number for the vinyl edition used in this review is: SP 834.