ELECTRIC LADYLAND 50th ANNIVERSARY VINYL BOX SET
Maybe a little about the set up and what was brought to the listen sessions is my best starting point here. While the speakers may not be everyone’s preference for review purpose I personally find them my go to, I’d be lost without them! Harbeth 30.1s and driven in this instance by the LFD Mkv integrated amp’ through LFD spiroflex speaker cable.
This, from the Michell Gyro SE, never connected power supply, SME 309 / Lyra Delos. An older model Dino Trichord phonostage into LFD silver reference interconnects cables.
A precursor to this piece.
I sourced the vinyl set from the USA as opposed to picking up an EU copy. The latter would have been much quicker to obtain as I’m based in the UK and of course slightly cheaper. But that route was never an option to me as the EU pressing presents too many questions about the actual records linage. Would it be an analogue master, a [direct] Grundman master? For sure, it would not be a QRP pressing. For me, the big deal lay with the, “who and from what”, when it came to the mastering.
Would the EU pressing, retain the all analogue and direct Bernie Grundman master status? Given past experiences and having the same titles from Sony Legacy / Music of other Hendrix releases at hand to reference, the doubts are more than real. I have little doubt that the EU pressing in this instance is not All Analogue for the main album.
To be clear, this piece deals with the US pressing only.
So, after a VERY long wait [sourced from ebay to help keep costs down, that didn’t work out as well as expected either as it took five weeks from issue to actually sit on the TT!] the set finally arrived and not without a hiccup to the content!
A nice looking box that utilises an overly dark cover shot, the one Jimi had requested for the front cover back in 1968. Plenty of related studio shots from Eddie Kramer plus as we have a live set included here, some wonderful Hollywood Bowl shots with credits to Cal Bernstein and Chuck Boyd for those Bowl photographs.
I was surprised to find that some shots in the vinyl set booklet had been cropped a little more than those self-same shots contained in the CD set. Only one page suffers for it to any degree, page 28. Overall, nicely presented but I do wonder about the inclusion of a shot from the Municipal Auditorium, Shreveport. The only association I can fathom would be the year, 1968, as it has no relation to the studio album or the live set outside of that year date.
There are some similarities to the booklet that is presented here to the one that we got back in the 1990’s from Experience Hendrix, with a similar approach being applied. There are some key differences, as in replacing the essay from Derek Taylor for an updated over view from David Fricke, plus added comments on the included Making Of documentary and 5.1 surround mix. I am though at odds with some detail contained in the new essay. A minor point as the overall presentation is very good.
We also get information contained within the gatefold sleeves of the live and demo LP sets. John McDermott presents the individual track detailing, thought invaluable it barely covers the detail behind a lot of this material. In defence to that, it would take a book or at least a detailed magazine article to do so!
The live set included here, well I’m simply at a loss as to why it was included in this set in the first instance. The options of course, leave this out and reduce the set size and price point or utilise the vinyl for more appropriate and related material while maintaining the price point.
More comment on the live set points later of course.
The first of the three double albums presented in this Electric Ladyland 50th Anniversary set is of course the album itself. So against that I was able to pull out the following records. Note, none of the pre 2010 pressings had full plays, simply one track as a “reminder” to me. I used the Newbury Comics Ladyland pressing as the main counter listen, for the following reasons.
The Newbury Comics [blue] vinyl is the closest to this 50th set as both this set and the Newbury are from pre EQ’d master and both are QRP pressings. Originally the 2010 pre EQ’d release was pressed at RTI. I have noted in previous reviews just how good a move, from RTI to QRP was back in 2011, was and has proven to be for Experience Hendrix. It’s just a shame this isn’t rolled out globally given that would not be overly difficult I fail to understand why it hasn’t as yet!
So, along with this Newbury Comics pressing I also pulled my Track Records double, both Track single releases of Electric Ladyland, a Reprise Records, a Barclay and some UK Polydor pressings. Again in the case of the latter I was able to pull both the double and single issues of the album. There are more Polydor’s available to me but there was little reason to stretch this out even further with the pre EQ’s.
The condensed single track listen on all of these was “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”. All of these pre 2010 All Analogue pressings are fundamentally the same in that they suffer the limitations of the applied EQ. None of them really match what is presented from 2010 onwards. The Reprise, an early pressing, is about as poor as you can imagine. No wonder Hendrix struggled with this and as documented by John McDermott, sought out a mastering engineer shortly after this release! Track Records fares a little better with at least some degree of character to the vocal, while Barclay appear to have simply boosted the treble to gain some detail, though that still remained a struggle.
Of all of these early pressings, the UK Polydor fared the best, for me at least. That said, all appear behind a veil, with Polydor managing to bring the best balance to the overall sound. So in essence, there was little that any changes in the mastering would ever likely improve upon from this source master. Dull would be an apt blanket description I can apply here to the pre 2010’s.
Of course, what we prefer is very much a personal thing and having “that” sound in your head for forty years is going to be difficult to get past for many. We saw this with the 2010’s and subsequent re-issues. With some listeners sticking with the “muddy” sounding early pressings and steering clear of what was initially termed a “bright” sounding cut, I’ll go as far as saying; on that basis, those same listeners will struggle with the 50th release.
I like the fact that taking the step back to a pre EQ’d tape source and allowing the mastering engineers a much fairer crack at this album was nothing other than a positive. I’d advocate patients and a few listens with any of the 2010’s and re-issues regardless of the mastering engineer, be it George Marino or Bernie Grundman.
The Bernie Grundman cut is quite radical in its presentation even against that of the George Marino master. Marino appears to have been a little more conservative with his mastering, attempting to present the same “flow” and overall feel to the album as to what preceded it down the years.
My first listens to the 50th cut confirmed my preference for the Marino master while further listening presents me an interesting change of perspective. Now I have the “problem” of which I’m going to sit with for pleasure. That said, each listen moves me into a more “comfortable” appreciation in a listening sense to this box set press.
The highlights for me from the Grundman mastered set are “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”, “Gypsy Eyes”, “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” / “Moon, turn the tides … gently gently away” and “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp”. The counter to that and what makes me think I have a “problem” in what to pull from the rack for a play are “Voodoo Chile” and “Little Miss Strange”. Both are a struggle to listen to, at least for me at this moment in time. Also, there is a flow and balance that I’m used to on the previous cuts that I don’t, as yet, find here.
Grundman has this knack of getting inside the tape, to draw out the detail. At times that can detract from the recording in ways that only repeated listens will get past. Also, that appearance of some disruption to the flow of the album gives it a more disjointed feel, something that really will take a little time getting used to for those of us who have been brought up on this album.
I find I had to adjust volume between sides for this set; overall it is cut quieter than the Marino pressing.
When some Hendrix music is as “dry” as this it can detract from the essence of the music. “Voodoo Chile” or at least the beginning of the track misses the dirty bluesy feel present on the Marino master. I did hear some level changes in Marino’s work not present on the later pressing from Grundman. Regardless, the earlier mastering works a lot better [for me] on this track as it draws the listener in immediately, not so with the 50th! Given the weight of this title it may be a deal breaker for some.
“Little Miss Strange”, Noel’s addition that works so well on this album, lacks some energy here. It is presented in a narrower and shallower sound stage and with these points combined it feels washed out to me in comparison to what I hear on the Newbury.
It’ll be interesting as to how I feel about these tracks when I finally sit and listen for the final run through of the double LP.
The overall differences across these albums are both simple and noticeable from first listen. Bernie Grundman has narrowed the stereo field, by default rather than anything else as he tightened and focused the bass. In achieving this we lose a little of the “creeping around the sides” at certain points of the album. We also have some slight movement in placement of instruments and vocal. The vocal movement is very noticeable on “Gypsy Eyes”, which caught me by surprise. None of this is a bad thing of course, as set against the earlier George Marino cut, we have moved away from a wetter bass with a loser feel across everything. Here focus reigns and we have a deeper insight into this tape.
Those couple of negatives aside, the rest, for me at least improves on the Marino cut. The improvement is how we get instruments sounding more like how they sounded at the recording, the separation between instruments and again from vocal without the music losing any cohesion. Marino was able to bring up detail in his mastering, no doubt due to the availability of the pre EQ’d tapes, Grundman goes even further and deeper.
Simple and small detail that still sat on the fringe of hearing with the Marino outing are now more noticeable and it is important that they have not become obtrusive and distracting, they haven’t. With the added focus of the individual instruments we now get to hear some playing like never before. The bass line in “Gypsy Eyes”, Jimi’s bass playing no less, is picked out at one point and Grundman dances it across the rest of and in front of the track. Visually, it’s a little unreal while aurally beautiful, that’s the entry fee right there!
The nylon string bass Jimi uses on “1983” / “Moon” has the most glorious detail and sound. This whole piece is Grundman’s tour de force on this album. Here and elsewhere on the album, Grundman appears to have added a little delicate feel to this aspect of imaging. Panning comes across a lot more relaxed, clearly that comes from the detailing. It is this small detailing that go a long way to make this a must listen.
The studio effects applied on Electric Ladyland were more considered and a lot more restrained than what had been applied on Axis. Bold As Love. Now I find them presented in a way that brings a whole new experience to the listen, a freshness even.
What Grundman also manages to bring out with the deeper insight into the tape is a tonality that is not present on any other pressing I have heard. The full richness of Jimi’s vocal is present throughout the album; check out the resonance, the timbre of the guitar strings in part of “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” just before the second vocal verse. I’m feeling that I’m at that point in time and space, sitting in the control booth at the Record Plant [alongside Kramer and Chandler], not only hearing it as it undoubtedly sounded at the recording that very day but also seemingly like the first time I’ve heard this song. Pretty hard to achieve given I have been listening to the album from close to release back in 1968.
As for the physical pressing it’s not quite flat over the two disc's, it is centred and overall very quiet. The first noise of any real note is a pair of minor pops on “Voodoo Chile” a couple of crackles running out of the end of “Moon turn the tides gently, gently away”, followed by the pop on the tail of “House Burning Down”, that’s about it. A lot has been said regard the pop on side four so it’s important to not gloss over it here. For me it is not in any way an issue or impacts playback. The more I play the album the less noticeable it has become, a single pop on a record is not really a big deal, in fact not a deal at all. Of course the reason, the over reaction towards this pop is down to the fact the fault can be seen, maybe [clearly!] why it drew as much attention as it did. Can’t say it makes for any difference to me when the records on the platter, though QRP may well be concerned as it seemingly would have an impacted on them through all of that social media comment.
Along with that social media / music forum comment there has also been remark regard some reported “distortion” on “House Burning Down”, heard from the 3:40 mark! Not on my copy or set up, this could simply be due to a dirty or worn stylus rather than anything else. This part of the album maybe is maybe a little difficult to track so something as simple and small as this may be the reason why some have heard this! Or even simply that the vinyl is not cleaned before playing rather than the likelihood of any misalignment of the set up.
Regardless, nothing here is of any real concern especially when put up against that issue found on the 2007 Monterey [Experience Hendrix / UMe] pressing. That gave us a click and a pop from the run in through to and including the first vocal verse of “Killing Floor”. Audible and visual on every EU pressing due to a damaged lacquer.
Once I removed myself from the switching of the A/B listen, this album is a joy to behold with its “new” found nuances, through the multitude of differing musical shades on offer for the first time. There has been nothing like this before in relation to this pressing, it now has me wondering what I’m going to experience with the stereo and mono re-mastering’s from Bernie Grundman with the upcoming UHQR Axis. Bold As Love.
Electric Ladyland; The demos and outtakes.
Quite a mixed bag of material presented across these two LP’s, with all of it fitting the box set vibe perfectly.
Not all of the material on this double LP is new to us, a number of these tracks have seen release previously. Both on CD, pre Experience Hendrix and on release from Experience Hendrix compilations! We do though have some new material along with that more familiar material and of that familiar material we get a huge upgrade in quality. For finer detail and an understanding of the history behind the “hotel” tape sources, that can be found in Jimpress* #114, which I referenced here for a couple of points.
Side A, along with the opening two tracks on side B are from late March 1968, Drake Hotel. All of this material can be found elsewhere [“Jimi By Himself. The Home Recordings” which came with the book “The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix”], though here it is presented “dry”, as no reverb has been added. I find that this makes for an improvement and, simply put stunningly presented on these QRP pressings. This is the first time to vinyl, official vinyl for this material and the pressings are extremely quiet
Despite best efforts and as found with the main album set, this pressing is not quite flat. Personally I struggle with the option to go to 180 or even 200 gram pressings. This option brings very little benefit to an album [as a stand-alone “audiophile” option / upgrade] but will, I’m sure, add to the pressing plants work when attempting to meet deadlines.
“Angel”, from the first source apartment tape has seen release on the West Coast Seattle Boy set and Lifelines. The apartment takes make up sides A and B on this set.
The second tape sourced here is from circa early to mid-1968 with the Drake Hotel again being credited as the recording location. Starting with the tenuously titled “Somewhere” on side B Jimi takes the draft lyrics down a different route. Again an insight into how Jimi was thinking and how he was crafting his music, despite this track not making the album it is invaluable here.
All of these demo’s demand repeat listening, even though a number of these demos never made the album it is such an insight into how Jimi was working at the point of recording the album they can’t be overlooked, invaluable as well as entertaining.
The liner notes states Bernie Grundman as mastering engineer though that is not supported in the dead wax run out as his initials are missing. Unlike the original album here, these along with the studio out takes that are included, are not all analogue. I sought clarity on who mastered this pair of records and have been assured that it would have been Bernie Grundman. If for some reason the album required a “recut” [after Bernie had cut this pair of records initially] it would have been recut utilising Bernie’s notes. Possibly why we do not see BG in the dead wax?
Before moving onto the studio out takes I feel the need to return to the opening track on this out takes album. “1983 … (A Merman I should turn to be)” shows just how complete this piece had been crafted pre studio recording by Jimi, later simply utilising Mitch and Chris Woods [and a bass guitar] along with the studio facilities to embellish the song. Complimenting all of this are Kramer’s extra hands at the mixing of the track of course.
“1983” is used to bookend this apartment / studio demos set, an approach we previously saw with :Blues, as on that release utilising an acoustic and electric rendition of “Hear My Train A Comin’” as the intro’ / outro’ to the album. It works just as well here with “1983”.
Ever since the beginning of commercial digital media in the form of CD, I have wondered about the designation of track indexing points on this piece of music. Not just simply where those index points should sit but even if indeed these two titles are separate tracks at all and should be as such designated individual tracks in the digital domain. It never was the case with vinyl! A point Frank Moriarty brought back to my focus while he was writing his Modern Listener Guide: Jimi Hendrix.*
Back in 1997 Experience Hendrix designated “Moon, Turn the Tides … gently, gently away” to a solitary one minute on their CD issues, that from 5 minutes plus on the digital issues from previous “custodians” of the Hendrix catalogue. That one minute “Moon” would subsequently appear on the re-issued cloned CD’s from Experience Hendrix.
It’s tough to find detail for the recording of “Moon…..” and I find that odd, especially as it has indeed been designated as a separate piece in the digital domain. As heard on the vinyl, there are no fades or cross fades between these titles. It simply is a single entity despite having those two titles originally presented to us by Jimi. A close study of this material suggests [albeit arguably] that the piece is structured and presented as four sections, “1983” moving into “Moon”, returning to the main theme and lyric of “1983”, so becoming “1983 …. Reprise” and then back to “Moon …. Reprise”, for that final minute.
Placing any index mark on a CD is a tough call to make, given Hendrix never envisioned CD let alone index points! Attempting to second guess Jimi is never a good move but the music speaks for itself. When playing a CD on random selection or through a machine that tracks the index points then it is very disconcerting to either have “1983” disembodied from “Moon” or worse still a single minute of meaningless audio or even a stuttered playback. Two titles for sure but unarguably and without a doubt a single piece of music. Thankfully this is not an issue on good old fashioned vinyl!
The studio out takes that are included here are few and far between, disappointingly so in fact. From side C to the end of side D all the material is studio, either recorded at the Record Plant or Sound Centre studios. Here’s where it gets exciting on this set as most of this is new to us, presented either more complete [There is always an exception!] and / or in superior quality.
Right from the off, with the alternate take of “And The Gods Made Love”, you get to “see” the inside of the music! As with the Ladyland set, the alt’ studio material is as revealing but not as “deep” revealing as the previous set from this box.
Quite a lot of focus has been placed on “Long Hot Summer Night” in this 50th set, with apartment takes and now with two studio outtakes. I’d have liked more of this type of focus on “Voodoo Chile” and / or “Voodoo Chile (slight Return)”, “Watchtower” and “House Burning Down”, just some solid candidates for a “deeper” look into this body of work. An option that would have made the set a lot stronger and supported the releases claim from the title!
The stripped back rhythm guitar and piano take of “Summer Night” is sublime. Al Kooper’s piano sounds wonderful and I get that feel of being privy to a private run through of the song right here at home. Both this and the following run through of the track, now with Mitch on drums are from the same date as the basic track that appears on the Ladyland album, demonstrating the rapid progress this song took.
From the first play onwards of side D from this set I keep returning to a single word question, why? Here’s our notable and noticeable exception cropping up here. Why is Rainy Day Shuffle presented in such a truncated manner? Clipped of the start and robbed of the ending two minutes or so. It is not that there is something to hide here, poor or out of tune playing for example as we get great organ and guitar running right through to the end were the track does fall apart. Here it runs to a dead stop! The abrupt end feels as out of place as it actually is.
I can only think it was cut short to make space for the final studio demo of the run through of “1983” on the vinyl. If that is the case it is another reason as to why adding a live set to this box over two albums is misguided.
That the biggest downside to this set is that lack of studio out take content, some of which mentioned here already; as such we have a substandard recording of a tenuously connected live double LP from the Hollywood Bowl. Even if this were a multi-track soundboard recording I’d argue against it being included here. Here, it fails to achieve minimum sound quality for a main stream release as it also fails in regards to association of the “celebration” of “Electric Ladyland”.
With a wealth of outtake material to draw upon this has to be considered an odd route to take. Foisting the purchase of such a live set, of dubious sound quality on the customer is a strange way to treat such a release as Electric Ladyland I must say, but we have it and so a few lines about it.
Tenuously linked? For sure it is, with simply a 1968 date close to the release date of the album, a mention of its release during the performance and one track performed from the then upcoming release. Yes, very tenuously linked and far from able to justify being a part of this set regardless of SQ.
I had the second disc duplicated in my set. I contacted QRP and not only was the reply swift; they also corrected the problem with supplying me with the missing sides A/B as promptly as was possible. I do know this set was the last to be pressed up and it was close to the release deadline date set. Not ideal for anyone to pack up a set so it is an understandable error.
Again these albums are not perfectly flat but they are centred and all four sides being dead quiet. Nothing, not even a static tick to be heard, ironically these four sides that make up the live set are the best pressed. Nothing other than silence even in the run in and out, dead quiet!
Given the limitations here, Grundman works a small wonder. Keeping the imaging central presents what we have as best possible return for the listener. The deterioration of sound quality from the recording is noticeable as the recording progressed, none the less an easy listenable show as long as you have tuned your “bootleg ears” in for the ride! And there you have it in a nutshell as to why this set is so misplaced, mainstream releases should not require “bootleg ears”, ever!
In essence, a must hear mastering for the “main” event. I do advise a few listens for those who have the older pressing so well ingrained from over those many years of playing this record. The more I play this, even from a critical perspective, the more I seem to be enjoying it as a whole. Yes, the first few listens did take some getting used to, that’s how radically different this sounds but I certainly wouldn’t be without it now.
The other positive to this box are the outtakes and demo set, unarguably presented here in superior quality. The mastering again is quite significant in respect to the studio material while the home demos are as they were recorded with no added reverb. That alone allows for the improvement we hear.
Both QRP and the mastering engineer have worked wonders to present this live recording as well as they have. The limitations of choice of content aside, as a vinyl release this is more than a welcome edition. It’s exciting and pleasing to have a fresh insight into such a very familiar mix.
So, removing my listening from all comparisons and sitting with Electric Ladyland double LP [start to finish] just how does it really shape up?
It becomes a more coherent listen for a start but I did find myself getting out of my seat to notch the volume up 30 seconds into “Voodoo Chile”, looking for that immersive feel I guess! I’m thinking that it will be difficult to return to the other pressings after this. On this last run through, “(Slight Return)” presented some weird [in a good way] feel in the imaging; it almost felt that the panning at one point came across as rotation, an arc of 180 degree. Something I’d not heard in the comparisons or on any other mastering.
As a stand-alone listen, lost were the slightly narrower soundstage and the dryer sound, just a momentous album playing out before me. This QRP is a must, whether it goes on to float your boat is another question, for me it does and improves with each listen. It’s really got me for sure.
**Modern Listener Guide: Jimi Hendrix https://www.modernlistenerpublishing.com/?fbclid=IwAR3dkXTRdnrA2fExi2zZ_csF1b18O2jVQvWSAT_CY6tjeYFXzj60B4kV9zk
Having had both of these records since issue back in April / May 2019 I have had plenty of opportunity to play them and that opportunity has been grasped with both hands! It’s not often I feel we get so much from such a familiar record as we have done with this pair of pressings, from both mixes.
I have been floored by just how good they both sound and impressed at just how much the most recent Bernie Grundman mono cut sounds on this Clarity vinyl. Unfortunately [if you missed them] both records are sold out, with the mono having achieved that status within months of the initial announcement of these pressings. Oddly, it is the mono cut that has received the most critical comments of these issues since release. Most of that critical comment is based on a simple consideration of the mastering by Bernie Grundman across this and the Classic Records cut! And that is something I find very odd indeed, to reduce consideration to the single reasoning of mastering preferences!!
At home I utilise the following for playback for the most part, Michell Gyro, never connected power supply, SME 309 / Lyra Delos, Trichord Dino. LFD Silver Reference interconnect cable, LFD MkV integrated amp’, LFD Spiroflex speaker cable and the Harbeth 30’1s. With the same set up for the mono except I utilise Michell’s Techno Arm coupled with the Ortofon 2M mono cartridge.
Both of the records give what I can only describe as a stunningly good base as they are exceptionally quiet vinyl pressings, even on my modest set up the physical pressing quality is exceptional. With just a single pop between tracks on the mono pressing and a couple of barely noticeable tic’s on the stereo, well that amounts to well pressed vinyl.
The choice of Clarity Vinyl works well, bringing an absolute “black” to the records. An impressive start, yet coupled with the flat profile and we really do start to get, well something else for a base to hear these recordings. Analogue Productions and Experience Hendrix appear to have made all the right calls here and have avoided over cooking were needs be. Not cutting at 45rpm has worked. So we get to hear the records as they originally appeared rather than over four sides of vinyl.
Are we missing anything from not having a 45rpm cut, I don’t feel we are. Clearly the detail, resolution and even the [apparent] space we get with 45rpm vinyl all still appears here at 33.
Retrieval of detail: It is what it is per set up and what the investment [and matching] is of course but the question, for me at least is do any of these calls by Analogue Productions and Experience Hendrix make for improved/ greater retrieval? Yes and no, in short. The limits are set by what you play the record on and with, yet the flat profile does give an improved return across the whole record and the Clarity vinyl does give you more opportunity for that improvement to be heard, both in terms of accuracy and detail.
But limitations are still apparent, or at least would still be apparent if the mastering was not as good as it is. That is something clearly highlighted when we get to the mono cut.
I’ve enjoyed the mono since I first heard this record [1960’s] and finally when I heard this specific stereo mix years later have sat and enjoyed that too. Of course I have a preference and that is for the mono. Sure I get to “miss” out on some applied studio effects but I’m more interested in the music more often than not. Unlike Electric Ladyland which is certainly, unquestionably a stereo listen only [for the most part!] as it has its base, its very ideal in fact, rooted in the concept of stereo and of course with that in mind, was “written” for stereo. Here with Axis. Bold As Love the stereo effects are much more for decoration. I often liken Kramer, Hendrix and Co. as simply being “kid’s in a sweet shop” when they mixed this album. There has always been a slight distraction for me in that stereo mix in the way effects were applied. That distraction is away from the very music it presented.
I do enjoy the “newness” in the stereo cut, that feeling of musical ideas being pushed further. Yet that highlights the feeling of most of the console trickery being an afterthought to this album, to the composed pieces, something that does not enter into the concept of Electric Ladyland.
That Grundman came along and managed to “tame” that stereo presentation without removing any of the magic was somewhat of a surprise to me and I love this stereo mix like never before! There I said it! Yet I remain a firm lover of that mono mix, I don’t see that changing any time soon now we have this UHQR to satisfy my listening desires, as I don’t see any reason as to why I cannot enjoy both, much to some peoples chagrin!
The stereo mix is a sheer joy played back on the monitors; the way Grundman presents the panning on “Up From The Skies” is sublime as it gently rotates in front of my feet, floating just above floor level. Never do the effects appear disjointed or harsh as I found previously on all other pressings I own and have listened to. What we get from Grundman here is throughout the entire stereo LP.
Hendrix’s vocal is a joy here and I love the way his backing vocal lines are clearly defined as that, recorded and added as overdub’s. Grundman refuses to force a square peg into a round hole here. Both recorded mixes are presented in an honest manner and I love it! Yet the magic for me is how he does all of this and still leaves the recording a whole piece, in no way disjointed or distracting.
In part that is why we get the room and the tape presented so clearly, Grundman magic coupled with the profile and vinyl formula! This is the only stereo ABAL record I have ever been able to fully engage in and that is not me saying I never enjoyed the stereo mix prior to this issue record!!
Apply all of this to say Electric Ladyland and I’ll be a happy man. Let’s hope that is not left too late as none of us are getting any younger and I’d truly enjoy the opportunity to sit with Ladyland as a Grundman master on an Ultra High Quality Record.
While the mono does remain a different beast of course, it seems it is considered a little like marmite in that it divides opinion so widely and readily. Which, while that is fine I struggle with the endless “this was made for stereo” comment that appears to be trotted out by those who fail to either deliberately or subconsciously understand the mono mix or fail to acknowledge that others may well have their own and just as valid opinion!
I wasn’t disappointed with this mono pressing at all. It delivered all that the stereo pressing delivered by way of vinyl formula and profile, in short the best possible base for any record playback with again no need to look for a 45rpm cut.
The UHQR was able to open up the texture of the sound. How much that was vinyl and profile choices from Analogue Productions and Experience Hendrix and/or Bernie Grundman’s mastering I’ll leave the listener to conclude. We do have the two previous shots from Grundman at the mono mix for consideration, Classic Records in 2000 along with the 2013 Experience Hendrix / Sony issue. This is the base of all contention regard this mono record from Analogue Productions it would seem, in that it divides personal preference between these cuts.
It is difficult to move past our own preferred listen of any given record, something quite understandable once we have “that” sound embedded, yet this bias has to be parked up if we enter into a listening shoot out of any sort. I never felt this was a fair or reasonable shoot out in the first instance, given the differences in vinyl and profile between the UHQR and the other two pressings. So condensing the mastering differences into a shootout only tells part of the tale! A tale with a pre disposed bias for some, maybe?
Based solely on mastering, any consideration between pressings is always going to result in a misleading outcome, straight down to a personal preference. I fail to see how that helps understand any of the records in question!
In a conversation with Chad Kassem, he questioned my choice of Harbeth speaker’s for review. A question I fully understood yet as I said at the time, I just wouldn’t be without them. They suit my listening and just as importantly, my room. But his questioning did play at the back of my mind so I decided to act on that and throw my mercy on Doug Brady, HiFi dealer’s extraordinaire! Having been a customer of theirs for two or three decades and knowing just how accommodating they are I approached them for a listening session with “some sort of floor standing speaker please”! Booked and ready to go [I had no idea of what the set up would be outside of seeing what was in the listening room, big opportunity for a mix and match] I returned a week or two later to sit with the following records: Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On” MoFi one step, the pair of AP’s UHQR’s ABAL’s and I included in the bundle a George Marino stereo cut and both of Bernie Grundman’s previous mono cuts of Axis. Bold As Love.
At Doug Brady HiFi I turned up to find they had set the following up:
Michell Orb, FunkFirm FX3 / Ortofon Cadenza Blue, Luxman E250, Audio Mica interconnect cable, Luxman L-509X, Audio Mica speaker cable and a pair of ProAc K3’s. Before I forget, this set up also took the benefit of some power conditioners by way of IsoTec’s Titan and Sigmas and cableing.
I was to go on to find the pairing of the Luxman and ProAc speakers was simply a marriage made in heaven, different of course but similarly comparable with the LFD / Harbeth pairing in that they work together like a dream.
Before I get to this dealer session I have to say that the outcome in this listening room simply supported what I had been hearing at home in respect to the mastering differences for the mono cut, just presented differently of course. Those presentation differences not simply from the ProAc floor standing speakers and that typical presence of a floor standing speaker but also those power conditioners from IsoTec.
The combination of the 120 wpc Luxman L-509X and ProAc K3’s handles the stereo mix very nicely indeed yet I felt there was something missing from the imagery here, or at least the presentation of the stereo panning. Not quite how the monitors do things and I felt a little disappointed in not finding that imagery played out before me quite how I’d recently come to enjoy at home.
Despite that, the set up was delivering elsewhere and the contribution of the power conditioners was certainly noticeable. Seemingly heightening the “black” and engaging the listener to even a more involving level.
The mono was though what I had personally come to hear, on floor standing speakers but here we only had the stereo cartridge [Ortofon’s Cadenza Blue] to handle this cut. I have played this mono on my own stereo cartridge, the Lyra Delos and I know it sounds good on that as it tracks very well. Similarly, expectations are about the same with the Ortofon tracking this mono album, I wasn’t disappointed.
I didn’t miss the mono cartridge as much as anticipated, here the floor standing speakers brought enough to offset that for me. Or was it the combination of speaker and amplifier? Probably the latter as I was left with a feeling, that this combination is something very special.
Here at Doug Brady’s I was able to relax and enjoy the session and importantly was able to think about pushing the volume into the mono recording in a way I cannot really do at home, for the most part. Never one for volume for volume sake, I do enjoy a good mono recording at higher volume levels than I would normally sit with.
So I knew from experience of 19 years with the Classic Records cut that it does struggle with volume. It is a little harsh at volume and for me unlistenable at serious volume. That appears to be the mastering choices and added compression to give it a 1960’s feel, which was certainly achieved when I compared this Classic Record to say a Reprise and especially a Track Records pressing.
Here on the dealer’s set up through the excellent pairing of amp’ / speakers I was finding myself pushing the volume higher and higher throughout the listening of the mono UHQR. Handled with consummate ease this speaker was rising to the challenge and delivering what was an absolute joy of a return, now I wish I had arranged for a mono cartridge to be trialled here too!
This is mono playback at its best, huge sound delivered with a sort of ease only a matched set up can offer, none fatiguing even when the volume knob passed the halfway point! Everything remained tight and focused, clear and balanced regardless as to volume. A natural recorded sound, rather, THE natural recorded sound remained at what I’d normally term excessive volume. So good was it, it just didn’t sound (overly) loud at any point, clearly good sign of set up and recording / mastering.
I swapped out the UHQR for the 2013 mono and dropped the volume before pushing it back up to the higher levels; here too is a mastering that will happily take volume. But the record was not comparable; the standard cut 2013 could not match what was brought to and delivered on the UHQR of improved quality control, choice of vinyl formula and very noticeable profile difference.
That said I played side B through fully and possibly enjoyed this 2013 record for its mastering choices like I never did before. Back to side B on the UHQR and back to pushing volume just a little more than before! This record, as with the stereo pressing is seriously unreal as a pressing, it was getting addictive to just want to play these Analogue Productions cuts.
Ending on the title track with the UHQR I left everything as is on the set up and switched to the Classic Records pressing from 2000, knowing that the record had been cut [a little] louder I fully expected to have to drop the volume just a little in any case for a rough match with the UHQR. Straight to Bold As Love as that was as fresh in my mind as possible.
All comparison went out the window as I swiftly had to drop the volume by quite a bit and then a lot more! From about 1:00 on the dial to about 9:00 and then tweak it down a little more, that’s simply how harsh this record is at volume. Unlistenable (for me at least) at those higher volume levels, it was a lot like an overly loud CD mastering, AC/DC’s Black Ice, which I never can play, came to mind!
Both of the Classic and 2013 pressings suffered (in comparison) noticeably with both feeling dirty, in that they didn’t deliver the black backdrop. With the 2013 certainly highlighting the fractional distortion that occurs with a standard record against the flat profile. More reason for me to sway toward these UHQR’s being on the turntable more often than any other copies I own.
At least with the Classic cut I get to drop the volume and can enjoy the record for what it is, that edginess that seemed to fit the record. Despite never being able to deliver a loud return the Classic Records issue was always a favourite on my set up at home, pre the UHQR it was my preference for this mono in fact. It’ll only make it out of the sleeve as and when I want to listen to this record at very low volume as of now.
That low volume listening is another reason these Harbeth’s suit me, they have the real ability to deliver all the fine detail of a recording for those quiet moments when you neither want headphones or to disturb the rest of the house.
Now I have a new mono favourite in the UHQR and the stereo, one of the limited 5000 issued. That latter mix with Grundman’s mastering is easily my go to. I didn’t even once feel the need to play the Marino mastered stereo at any point during the four hour listening at Doug Brady HiFi. That being the only record I took that didn’t make it to the turntable at least once. Not a slight on Marino’s work in anyway as I felt his was the benchmark for this stereo before I got to hear the Grundman / UHQR.
So despite the big pricing of these records and the overly priced shipping, tax and import charges I’m left feeling they are worth every penny and all the hassle it took to get these into my record collection. Not for everybody of course, hence the limited numbers. Though the mono would have benefited by another 500 to the limit of the 1500 total, they would have sold.
Well I’m more than happy for others to disagree with my opinion on preference as to what gets played on their set up and what floats the favourite side of listening, yet I’ll caution against unsupportive counter comment as to my findings regard the volume issues with the Classic Records pressing. It is something that can be trialled on any set up if you happen to own both a Classic 2000 and a UHQR 2019, you have full control of the volume! I do “care for my ears”.
The feeling of satisfaction after playing these records is immense; it really is a good experience. Just left with some questions, as in: When are we getting Electric Ladyland as an UHQR, will we be getting a standard issue Grundman mastered ABAL any time soon, how would a Lyra Delos sound on this Funk arm? And just when can we expect to be able to pre-order the next in line of the Ultra High Quality Record pressings from Analogue Production?
Doug Brady HiFi can be found in Warrington, the North West of the U.K. https://dougbradyhifi.com/
Did I mention just how well the Luxman and the ProAc’s did as a pairing? http://www.luxman.com/
Not one to have ventured into the realm of power conditioner’s I could not fail notice just how they operated in the dealers session, to the point I may well dip my toe in to this with some simple power cords. https://www.isoteksystems.com/
Lastly Acoustic Sounds, or if you prefer Analogue Productions, call it what you will it remains a place that should be book marked and visited regularly. While bank managers and wallets may not thank you for it, your ears will! https://store.acousticsounds.com/s/448/Analogue_Productions