Saturday, April 14, 2012

Super-Expensive Japanese CDs: Taking A Closer Look

Like many other old-timers who have lived to rue the day they pitched ye olde record collection, I have eyed the expensive Japanese reformatted and remastered CDs and wondered if they were worth the bucks. Product description for these items assures the shopper that the CD packaging is faithful to the original album layout — basically you'll get your old record cover, as run through Poindexter's “Shrink-O-Matic.” But are the sound-files any different from what music companies are producing on our shores?

This month I finally swallowed the lure, and added Led Zeppelin's ZOSO to my amazon cart. The packaging is indeed a faithful miniaturization of the original half-acre of cardboard released in '71 (curious how shrinking it down to a scant few inches also reduces the vague sense of menace that attended the once-notorious album).

"The power of the commodity fetish," indeed.

As for the sound-files, here are the visuals of “Rock And Roll” as it exists in three different releases.

This is from the original boxed set, released in 1990. The remastering for this release was, ostensibly, a painstaking labour of love that Jimmy Page spent years fussing over (click for close-up):

This next is from 2007's Mothership. It is huge, and heavily compressed. The lows and highs are brought forward, while the mid-range sits somewhat to the rear — essentially, the sound that people have come to expect from their earbuds (Page, predictably enough, is rather reticent about the quality):

And this last is from a Japanese import, released in 2008:

How does it sound? I have to admit it is the best of them all. When he tweaked the knobs for the original CD release, Page embraced the newly-discovered high end a bit too readily — which the Japanese remastering corrects, without swinging to the other (American?) extreme of super-boosting the lows.

Is it worth the money? It depends. In this case, the item was only $20 (it seems to have climbed in price since then), an amount I have no qualms paying. $108 for Billion Dollar Babies, on the other hand, would be more difficult to justify — even if the sound quality of the American CD is so astonishingly shoddy it makes its $5 price-tag look like highway robbery.


DarkoV said...

Great piece, Darrell. Ah the vinyl.... Did you catch this article re. Record Day from the Guardian. You have a favorite place from the distant past? When I tell my kiddies re. a long ago place where vinyl was purchased they look @ me as I must have looked at my Dad when he spoke of his POW days in WW II....not truly believing that time existed. (Probably a bad analogy, but he always made his POW days seem like a long weekend in seclusion with his buddies)

Whisky Prajer said...

Re: favorite record place, I have several. But there was no better than Sam The Record Man, with its weird little nooks and crannies, half-floors and even quarter-floors. "'Bagels & Bongos'? Oh, sure: that's in the 'Ethnic Metropolitan Jazz' section. Take these stairs to the alcove, turn right, you'll see three stairs that lead to another room. Your record should be at the far left. If you can't find it, Randy should be there. He'll help."

There was usually a hired pair of ears on staff, as well: someone you could hum a bar or two to, who would tell you the artist, song and album. A friend once tried that stunt on the girl at cash, and the customer beside him came up with the goods.

The Winnipeg record store scene had its delights as well, but was chiefly a boutique environment -- Peppers, Pyramid, Records on Wheels were great places to frequent. But coming to Toronto and mustering up the courage to explore the nooks and crannies of STRM was a revelation.