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Aqualung, Jethro Tull
Aqualung is one of the all time great rock albums. Like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, there is not a bad track on the album. The album has been reissued numerous times, with the latest reissue coming from Classic Records. This is the third time Aqualung has been reissued on vinyl by an audiophile label. Obviously, it must have something going for it.
Being an audiophile, and a big fan of Aqualung, I just had to get the Classic Records reissue as soon as it came out. And as soon as I had played it all the way through I just had to hear how it sounded compared to my other copies of Aqualung. Already in my collection was an original US Reprise that I purchased when the album first came out. I later acquired a UK Chrysalis reissue on very thin vinyl. When DCC released the Steve Hoffman mastered reissue I just had to have it. I had also acquired a used Mobile Fidelity reissue somewhere along the way. Thus, I now had an original US and four reissues. As the first part of this comparison I played all five albums on my Nakamichi TX-1000 with Schroeder Reference arm and Van den Hul Condor XGM cartridge. Hearing all five albums straight through gave me an overall impression of how the five albums stacked up against one another. For the next step I switched to my Garrard 401, with Moerch DP-6 tonearm and Empire 750LTD cartridge.
The Nak setup is great for classical music or for extracting the last iota of detail from an LP. However, if my friends and I want to blow out the walls playing rock, the Garrard setup is the way to go. With the Garrard the background is not as silent and there is a slight loss of detail, soundstage, and focus. However, these loses are made up by the increased drive and musicality of the Garrard setup. Using the Garrard I did A-B comparisons between pairs of albums listening to 30-60 second portions of certain tracks. Early on it was apparent the UK Chrysalis and the Mobile Fidelity LPs were not up to the same sonic standards as the other three LPs. Since I usually like Mobile Fidelity reissues, I was surprised that it didn't compare well with the others. To my ears, the MoFi LP was not as dynamic and it was obvious that it had been EQed. There does not appear to be much bass on the original Aqualung master tape as none of the five LPs had very much. The MoFi had the most, but it was not natural.
Removing the UK Chrysalis and MoFi from the competition, A-B comparisons continued between the three remaining LPs. The results of the comparisons were pretty consistent between the tracks. To my ears the original US Reprise was the best sounding album. Now I may be partial to the sound of the Reprise because it is the LP I listened to over the years. However, I heard more subtle details with the Reprise than with the DCC or Classic Records reissues. For instance, on the acoustic guitar solo at the beginning of "My God" on the Reprise I heard the sound of the fingers plucking the guitar strings, not just the sound of the strings. Further into the cut, on the Reprise, there was a slightly raspy texture to the voice that made it sound more natural. Continuing further into the track, the piano on the Reprise had overtones that seemed to be lacking on the two reissues. The Reprise piano just sounded more like a real piano. The mastering engineers for both DCC and Classic Records are masters in their field. If there was information on the master tape, I am sure that they would have gotten the detail off of the master tape and onto the LP. I suspect that time has caused some deterioration to the master tape which was made in 1973, and that some of the subtle details on the original LP no longer exist on the master tape.
So if the original Reprise sounds better than the DCC and Classic Records reissues, what is the difference between the two reissues? The two albums do sound different. The DCC was mastered on an all tube system and it sounds like it in that the sound is warmer and smoother than the Classic Records. The Classic Records reissue to my ears has less bottom end than the DCC. However, what the Classic Records lacks at the bottom end it makes up for by additional clarity in the midrange. To my ears, there is more detail on the Classic Records LP than on the DCC. However, the Classic Records LP sounds like it has had the tone control shifted slightly to increase the midrange. I am not saying that the midrange is EQed. However, the slightly softer bottom end could cause the midrange to appear to be slightly emphasized. I have a hard time choosing between the DCC and the Classic Records. I love the detail the Classic Records provides, but I prefer the warmth of the DCC (which is natural as I am an all tube kind of guy).
If you don't have a copy of Aqualung in your collection, buying the Classic Records reissue is a no-brainer. It is a fine sounding reissue of one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded. If you have the DCC reissue, the choice is not so clear cut. If you are into detail, you will get more of that from the Classic Records reissue. If you are into listening to the DCC with a beer in your hand and just enjoying the music, you probably don't need the Classic Records reissue. If you have an original Reprise in good condition hang on to it. You still might want to buy the Classic Records reissue to have as a safety or to save wear and tear on your original.
Whichever Aqualung you have in your collection, get it out and play it. This is great music.
Classic Records www.classicrecs.com