This review is only for those interested in sound quality. For reviews regarding content, please see other posts in this forum, or go to All Music Guide (dot com). Also, due to Amazon's unfortunate programming policy of cross-pollinating reviews across different versions of the same CD title, this review may appear elsewhere.
The primary Yes catalog has been through at least five different sonic revisions since the debut of those horrid-sounding domestic Atlantic CD's in the late 1980's. Domestically, in 2003, Rhino released a full set of new remasters with added bonus tracks. In 2009, Japan issued a complete set of fifteen new SHM-CD's, non-HDCD-encoded titles with exactly the same bonus material as their U.S. Rhino counterparts, but audio-wise, they are all now slightly better than the Rhino's, due to new `09 remastering.
In my personal preference, the 1998 HDCD-encoded Japan mini-sleeves are my favorites. The HDCD editions had a superior clarity to the mid and high range that no other standard-CD remaster, including the 2003 Rhinos, came close to. However, the HDCD's had no bonus material. The same mid-upper clarity is also resident on these new `09 remasters, and when A/B'd against the HDCD's, there is virtually no difference in the mid to high frequencies. There are other subtle, audible differences between the two editions, but nothing being a showstopper in either, and neither series has any loudness compression or insidious remixing, like the recent, terrible, bastardized Genesis "remasters".
The major difference between the two Japan releases is the HDCD's very distinctly heightened bass. So from a audiophile-purist standpoint, the SHM's are probably the more sonically acceptable of the two releases. However, I find the HDCD's more enjoyable for that very dichotomy. Yes is renowned for it's fabulously inventive and adventurous rhythm section, and the HDCD's are literally thunderous in the lower frequencies, while still remaining faithful to the dynamic range of the original recordings. You can, of course, try pushing the SHM's by attenuating the bass on your pre-amp, but it's just not exactly the same. You also notice a little extra oomph in harmonics when the HDCD's are fed thru an HDCD-capable DAC (mine is a Camelot Uther). No doubt, a Horde Of Hoffman denizen will take issue with my preference, but you have to actually listen to both versions to understand why I lean to the HDCD's; to me, they're just more fun to listen to. I should also mention I have never been able to discern any sonic benefit on ANY SHM release from the incorporation of the supposedly magical LCD-material substrate.
So, if you're lucky enough to own the HDCD's, acquisition of the 2009 SHM's should still be considered, to obtain the best audio versions of the bonus material. I certainly would never divest either set for the other.
Then there's mini-sleeves themselves. As glorious as the audio is on these releases, the immaculately detailed replication of each miniature LP album jacket, especially of the Roger Dean-art titles, are just downright fabulous... THIS is why Japan `sleeves are so great.
The 1998 `sleeves were based on the U.S. LP designs, but the `09 SHM's are reproductions of the U.K. albums, and there are stark differences between the two series in several of the titles. Examples: The HDCD Yessongs had the U.S. accordian-jacket design, while the SHM has the U.K.'s booklet-type package (I prefer the SHM), and Close To The Edge has the U.K.'s cool textured finish to the exterior cover, which is much nicer than the photo matte-finish of the original Atlantic LP and the HDCD `sleeve.
It should also be noted the expanded booklets from the Rhino releases are included in each SHM title. Unfortunately, while many non-Yes SHM-CD mini-sleeve releases have contained neat one-page replications of the original LP's A&B-side labels, Warner Japan has chosen not to participate in those.
These new SHM-Yes mini-sleeves sold out when they streeted in Japan in July 2009, but were re-issued in 2010. That wasn't entirely a surprise, as the older Yes HDCD's, in addition to the 1999 Genesis and 2001 Pink Floyd 'sleeve catalogs, were among the most highly prized and sought-after collectable mini-sleeves ever produced by Japan. Indeed, when the SHM's were announced for pre-order, I had reservations about making the additional investment. However, swayed by the 2009 remastering, the bonus material, the U.K. jackets, and being a long time ardent Yes fanatic, the acquisition proved to be an albeit expensive but perfect complement to the HDCD versions. If you are a true Yes fan, these are the benchmark of any standard CD versions available worldwide, and short of also owning the HDCD's, this is the Yes catalog you need to acquire.
WHAT IS A JAPAN "MINI-LP-SLEEVE" CD?
Have you ever lamented the loss of one of the 20th Century's great art forms, the 12" vinyl LP jacket? Then "mini-LP-sleeve" CD's may be for you.
Mini-sleeve CDs are manufactured in Japan under license. The disc is packaged inside a 135MM X 135MM cardboard precision-miniature replica of the original classic vinyl-LP album. Also, everything included in the original LP, such as gatefolds, booklets, lyric sheets, posters, printed LP sleeves, stickers, embosses, special LP cover paper/inks/textures and die cuts, are is precisely replicated and included, An English-language lyric sheet is always included, even if the original LP did not have printed lyrics.
Then, there's the sonic quality: Often (but not always), mini-sleeves have dedicated remastering (20-Bit, 24-Bit, DSD, K2/K2HD, and/or HDCD), and can often (but not always) be superior to the audio on the same title anywhere else in the world. There also may be bonus tracks unavailable elsewhere.
Each Japan mini-sleeve has an "obi" ("oh-bee"), a removable Japan-language promotional strip. The obi lists the Japan street date of that particular release, the catalog number, the mastering info, and often the original album's release date. Bonus tracks are only listed on the obi, maintaining the integrity of the original LP artwork. The obi's are collectable, and should not be discarded.
All mini-sleeve releases are limited edition, but re-pressings/re-issues are becoming more common (again, not always). The enthusiasm of mini-sleeve collecting must be tempered, however, with avoiding fake mini-sleeves manufactured in Russia and distributed throughout the world, primarily on eBay. They are inferior in quality, worthless in collectable value, a total waste of money, and should be avoided at all costs.