I bought this hoping for the much discussed "Hoffman/Gray" mastering, and it turned out to be the "other" cut that people seem to be dismissing for no apparent reason other than assuming it won't be any good if Hoffman didn't master it.
Instead of just returning it, I decided to take it for a spin ...
I found it to be simply astonishing. Fantastic, warm sound. Superb bass. Nice, balanced top end. As a comparison, I used the German Warner CD (which lacks the top end boost of the so-called "secret remaster" done in the US) and found this vinyl to be absolutely superior in every way. I know there are apparently other CD masterings, but compared to the one I have (which is supposedly pretty good), this reissue set makes it sound like tin.
I attempted to post positive comments about this reissue at the Hoffman site, and mentioned that I look forward to comparing it to the US issue, but they were deleted. Why it would be necessary to delete comments about this cut is something which eludes me. Whatever the reasoning, I suggest that you not *assume* just because Hoffman touches something it renders any and all other versions irrelevant. If you get this pressing, take it for a spin and judge for yourself.
I have seen some speculation as to the source of this reissue, but nothing concrete. I will update when I have had a chance to compare it to the Hoffman/Gray reissue, but I think this will be tough to beat. No matter what the source, this sounds like somebody either knew what they were doing or left well enough alone, as it is a very impressive reissue.
UPDATE: I have just received the Hoffman/Gray version. To my ears, it is inferior to the "EU" release and has too much EQ. Via his website, Hoffman has covered the EQ moves he made on his version, so perhaps it should come as no surprise, but to my ears the "EU" pressing sounds much more natural and balanced. There is an added "air" on the Hoffman version that seems unnecessary. When I listen to the "EU" version, I far prefer the overall balance to the top end. Despite the quality of equipment Hoffman uses and the fact that his analog EQ gets a really sweet sound, I just can't hear how it was necessary to use as much EQ as he did on this. If the "EU" mastering is anything to judge the master tapes by, I don't hear that they needed it.
If you tend to be a listener that complains of wanting "detail" or often needs a "blanket lifted from your speakers," then the Hoffman version will probably be a gem for you. After all, this stuff is all down to taste. For me, it just doesn't sound as warm and some elements of the mix really end up sounding a bit tweaked. It has a "sparkle" to it that is attractive, but right from the harmonic fills on acoustic guitar that Buckingham throws in on "Second Hand News," it really seems to suffer from a little "mastering engineer and his EQ" saturation. The acoustic guitar borders on "tinny."
The Hoffman/Gray version is nice and certainly admirable work, but the "EU" pressing makes me feel like I am hearing a sound that is closer to the master tape. And based on the "EU" vinyl, I am just not hearing why all the EQ that Hoffman has discussed using was necessary.
Whether the "EU" version was cut "flat" with no mastering or just done by somebody with a different ear for this album, I don't know ... but I prefer it to the Hoffman/Gray cut. I'm inclined tho think that if one simply reversed the EQ moves that Hoffman noted he used on this album, you'd probably end up with a sound that was at least a bit closer to tonality of the "EU" pressing, though I recognize that the sources may have differed as well as the masterings.
While I admire much of the work I have heard from Hoffman through the years and find most of his beliefs as regards music mastering to be aligned with my own, the only "agenda" at play here is to provide a fair review of this reissue. Many will surely love the work Hoffman has done on the US version and I can certainly appreciate that viewpoint. I have followed the entire saga of this reissue that traces back several years and I absolutely think he and Kevin Gray did their best to provide a quality product. Where we appear to differ is in the viewpoint that one has an "agenda" if he feels it fair to simply review and compare. And in a situation such as this, where there is a concurrent mastering and the US 2LP 45RPM set appears to have sold out its limited run anyhow, one would think that the music should come first. Hence, I can assure all that my comments on this reissue are offered with the utmost fairness, convey only my own opinion and relate only to my own system. I don't even know *who* to credit with the mastering of the "EU" pressing. What I do know is that for my taste, it sounds more relaxed in the highs and offers an excellent sonic picture of an album I love dearly. Personally, I see no reason not to own both versions, but reviews of the "EU" pressing have their place, too. I have tried to provide that. Certainly there will be many who hear it differently. I've been a member of the Hoffman forum for nearly a decade, and have always prided myself on specific comparisons and actual descriptions of tonalities, dynamics and so forth.
What bothers me in this situation is the level to which some people are willing to assume that Hoffman and only Hoffman can master something correctly. It's as if his ears are their ears. That is simply groupthink stuff on a level to which I cannot subscribe. People returning albums unopened, presuming things about the sound, making assumptions about the source, my positive comments being deleted from Hoffman's site ...
Why can't there be room for two great reissues? Why can't people simply choose their preferred listening option? Or at least be able to read about the differences ...
I hope that for some, I've provided a description of the differences. If you like Hoffman's work, you'll surely find much to like in his version, but slamming the "EU" reissue solely because it was mastered by someone other than Hoffman is logic I cannot follow.