Regular readers of Subjective Sounds would be aware of my inclination towards collecting a physical library of music. Adding TIDAL Hi-Fi to the mix offers a perfect solution for both the audiophile and music lover within as I acknowledged a couple of years ago that it would be financially and physically impossible to own all the albums I truly adored. As my music interests continue to evolve, so has my reliance on TIDAL. Now that TIDAL has implemented Masters (MQA), that proposition is even more compelling. I can sample music, up to studio-master quality, prior to making a physical purchase. The result is that my TIDAL Hi-Fi subscription has saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by eliminating the blind-buy process. While I will always collect some form of physical media, the physical product has to provide additional value that exceeds TIDAL’s sonic benefits. This is where artwork, packaging, and additional media elements become paramount as there is no use buying a standard edition CD, or basic vinyl pressing, when I can stream the same music at an astonishing level of quality.
This conundrum is one that I have faced with the recent re-issues of the Crowded House catalogue. As a fan of the band, since their Temple Of Low Men album, I was in seventh heaven while floating on cloud number nine when I heard these beloved albums were being reissued on vinyl. Despite these initial heavenly viewpoints, I have my reservations with both the vinyl and CD re-issues.
Universal Music has been doing an excellent job of re-issuing vinyl in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that all releases have been perfect. While I can not attest to the sonic quality of these new Crowded House pressings, I can say that I was disappointed with the packaging. They simply appeared like any other budget, run-of-the-mill, release that has been rushed to market to capitalise on the vinyl revival. Given the packaging quality of the CD reissue, I don’t feel that it is unreasonable to suggest that Universal could have done more for the vinyl reissues.
Given the entire catalogue was reissued, there really is no reason as to why a vinyl box set, with a hard-covered book, could not have been released for this reissue project; subsequently offering fans significant value.
Part of the problem is these vinyl releases are priced at AU$37.99. They simply aren’t worth that asking price, especially when you consider the expanded CD reissues are priced at $29.99. Yes, I acknowledge the vinyl reissues are said to have been cut from the analogue masters, at Abbey Road Studios, but that alone is no guarantee of sonic perfection. Although, it is an aspect that can’t be ignored.
The only additional value presented by the vinyl reissue, versus my existing CD collection and the CD reissues, is the increased size of the artwork. While I would prefer to own the Crowded House catalogue on vinyl, there just isn’t enough value in these re-issues to justify the cost.
We also need to remember that these reissues are remastered (a marketing term that simply means we unnaturally turned up the volume). While digital masters, pressed to vinyl, can sound amazing, the vinyl mastering and pressing process can’t eliminate the brick-walling that has occurred through the mastering of an album.
While I have yet to see the dynamic range scores for the vinyl reissues, the CD reissue of Temple Of Low Men has a dynamic range of 9, compared to 14 out of 20 on my original 1988 CD release. That is a considerable difference and shouldn’t be overlooked, especially considering I love the sonic reproduction of the original release. Interestingly, the original release is still available for streaming on TIDAL, along with the 2016 remastering. Using TIDAL I was able to quickly switch between the versions of Better Be Home Soon. While my subjective testing is far from an ABX-style test, there is significantly more volume in the remaster and the smoothness between musical elements is harsher when compared to the original. As a result, I’m confident in saying that I prefer the original 1988 mastering as it is more subtitle and subjectively represents how Crowded House should sound.
It is disappointing when the re-issuing, and expansion, of a great album can’t merely be done with the original mastering left intact. Even when I look at their debut self-titled album, the original 1986 vinyl release is an impressive 13 out of 20, while the 2016 remastered CD has reduced that to a mere 7 out of 20. That is simply unconscionable!
I, along with many other audiophiles, will often lament the effects that compressed lossy formats such as MP3, AAC, and Ogg Vorbis have had on the music we love. However, the truth is the loudness wars and subsequent reduced dynamic range has had a more significant impact on musicality than the artefacts present in the before-mentioned lossy file formats.
I’m more than happy at this juncture to go on record and say that a well-mastered album can sound incredible when compressed into a lossy transport format.
The same can’t be said for a brick-walled master.
Seriously, if I have to turn my amplifier down by 10-20%, to listen to and attempt to enjoy a remastered release, they’re doing it wrong!
As a result, it looks as though I have talked myself out of buying any of the Crowded House re-issues. While it is a shame, I refuse to spend my hard-earned dollar on a product that is substandard.
Yes, the packing for the CD-reissue is glorious, but it seems superfluous when the associated sound quality is dynamically compromised; even with the additional second CD of demos, out-takes, and live performances. Similarly, while the vinyl reissues may sonically be derived from a superior master, the packaging is lacklustre and while I believe the additional tracks are available with the included MP3 download code, it just doesn’t feel complete and worthy of the cost.
If you’ve picked up any of the Crowded House vinyl re-issues, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below. Are they worth the purchase? Am I being overly harsh? Your subjective thoughts are welcome!