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A review of this set written by Luke Pacholski at lukpac.org
on April 13, 2003
As most people know, one of the main selling points of Who's Next: Deluxe Edition is that the original album comes from the original stereo master tapes "for the first time on CD". The story is that only copy tapes have been used all of these years. On the other hand, Steve Hoffman, former MCA engineer, has claimed for a long time that he found the master tapes in a file cabinet at the Mastering Lab in LA in the mid-80s and used them for his CD version, one variation of which is still available in Canada today.
Well, between listening to the two side by side and running the tape box pictures past Steve, it would indeed seem the Deluxe Edition is the *second* time (at the very least) the true masters have been used for CD. There's little doubt in my mind that Hoffman's version also used the tapes. Both forms of the album sound quite good, although there are some differences between the two.
The Hoffman CD has an EQ that favors the vocals, with the side effect of causing the cymbals to sound a bit "midrangy". The Deluxe Edition, on the other hand, goes for a slightly more "smooth" cymbal sound, at the expense of the vocals, causing them to be submerged slightly, if you will. The DE is a bit less "open", IMO.
There are also some minor differences beyond EQ. For his CD, Hoffman essentially played the tapes back "straight", without fading the hiss out between tracks. [side note: the Canadian version has the hiss "blacked" between some tracks. The original US and Japanese pressings don't.] The Deluxe Edition takes a different approach. As the songs come to a close, the entire track is faded out, causing the hiss to fade as well. The side effect of this is that in some cases the very last moments of some songs are lost.
Interesting note: the between song gaps for most of the album seem to be just about identical between the Hoffman CD and the DE. However, while some previous versions of the original mix (including the Hoffman) have essentially no pause between Behind Blue Eyes and Won't Get Fooled Again, the Deluxe Edition has a few seconds of silence between the two. Very strange. On the other hand, the old US MCA CD (a version not mastered by Hoffman) does have a small gap as well.
A big question on many peoples minds has been noise reduction (NR). Jon Astley (who mastered the Deluxe Edition) is notorious for using NR on just about everything. This has the effect of sucking the life out of the music and causing nasty digital artifacts. Kind of a "swirling" sound if you will. Just listen to some of Live At Leeds: Deluxe Edition for a good (or bad, I guess) example of this. Well, I've got good and bad news. The good news is that *most* of the album is NR-free. Hiss levels are usually about the same as the Hoffman CD, and in a few cases they actually seem to be every so slightly higher. That said, several intros, quiet sections, and fade-outs do have noise reduction. One key place is Won't Get Fooled Again - the intro, synth break, and fade-out all have NR. There's very little hiss during the break, and then as soon as the drums come in, the hiss level goes *way* up. Fortunately the NR isn't quite as intrusive as it was on some other Astley-mastered CDs, but it is still annoying, and there's simply no reason for it.
As far as the rest of the (bonus) cuts go, I haven't really gotten that far yet. I would note that while Baby Don't You Do It is longer than on the 1995 CD, it is still edited in a few places. What's the point?
On the other hand, some (but not all) of the backing vocals mixed out of Pure & Easy on the 1995 CD are present here. The song also comes to a formal close, rather than a fade-out.
Behind Blue Eyes still only has a single guitar solo, unlike the dual solos on the bootleg mix.
I briefly skimmed through disc 2. Rich "White Fang" Weiner has said he thought the mastering was significantly worse on this disc, but honestly, I don't hear (m)any negative effects of noise reduction. It's certainly better than I was expecting. That said, I haven't heard the mixes prior to mastering, and I believe he has. Whatever the case, the sound is *far* better than some of Jon Astley's prior work.
How would I rate this set? Well, it was certainly better than expected. A key selling point is use of the "original tape" for the original album. While I'd say it does sound *very* good, bits of noise reduction aside, I'm hesitant to say it sounds "better" than the Hoffman CD. Both versions have their own strengths and weaknesses. Casual fans will probably do fine with the DE, although I'd still suggest the Hoffman CD to those who really care about sound quality. You might still prefer the DE, but then again, you might not.
Even ignoring the original album, I'd say the set is well worth picking up. The mixes of the Record Plant material are interesting, and the Young Vic show is great from both a performance and sound standpoint.
Despite its flaws, in my opinion this is the best Who reissue to come out in a long time.