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Remastered versus remixed
on 17 May 2008
This is a more technical comment on this re-release - obviously this is a full five star album, genius at its very height, etc.
However having listened closely to the "Deluxe" (2-CD) version of Who's Next against the earlier 1995 "Remixed and Digitally Remastered" (1-CD) version - they ain't the same (if you use iTunes, use Apple Lossless - you'll never go back to MP3, BTW - or FLAC with other players). The track lengths give this away, but on a good system, and particularly with good headphones, you will be able to tell the difference easily. Essentially the Deluxe sounds like a remaster only - i.e. taken from the original stereo master tapes, and a harsh one at that - whereas the 1995 version is clearly a remix from the original multitrack master.
OK, so what? Well, in almost every case (every case in my own view) the remixed versions - while sticking closely to the original mixes and overall production quality (and quite rightly so, this recording was also Glyn Johns' own masterpiece) have a clearer and more transparent quality that makes the vinyl/Deluxe versions sound sonically limited. Subtle details in the mix, tambourines, vocal inflections, even creaking studio chairs and background whispers become clear on the 1995 remix versions - it's uncanny, and for music/Who fans who really care about this album the effect is much like the (also remixed/remastered) 2-CD Tommy - which is frankly breathtaking and sounds like it might have been recorded last week. Studio technology was quite advanced from the sixties onwards, only the need to adjust things for vinyl messed up the sound quality. Revisting the master tapes allows modern listeners to hear what Glyn Johns would have heard in the studio. That is a precious thing for an album as important as this one and John Astley did an impressive job on the 1995 remix version - to my mind the Deluxe version lacks this added magic. So, my recommendation is buy both versions and check out the differences (and enjoy the additional live tracks on the Deluxe version, some of which are on the 1995 CD as well) - but if you only buy one, and for the original album, then get the 1995 1-CD version. It's subtle, but it takes this beautiful recording to another level.
Addendum: I recently got and compared the infamous Steve Hoffman-mastered MCA Canada CD version for comparison (available on Amazon.ca) - all of the above still stands true and the 1995 Remix/Remaster is still the best overall, however the MCA remaster is way better than the Deluxe CD1 version, more true to the original LP sound (and much clearer) but very organic, and is probably the best way to hear the original mix of the album in all its glory. It's certainly a great companion to the 1995 remix. Personally I can't listen to what they've done on the Deluxe version any more - most of it sounds hard compared to either of the other versions. Thank God for choice, eh?
Thanks for reading.