Readers were last week invited to download and listen to a pair of 24bit/96kHz needledrops (created by yours truly) and then vote for their preference.
The results were as follows:
Time to identify the source material.
Both needledrops were created with a Rega Planar 2 turntable factory-fitted with a Rega Carbon cartridge – its tracking force checked and double-checked – to typify the out-of-box experience with the Rega as experienced by the majority of buyers. Phono pre-amplification and digital encoding were executed by a PS Audio NuWave Phono converter.
The source differences lay not in hardware changes but in two different vinyl copies of David Bowie’s Low: 1) a 1981 Italian YL 12856 ‘Best Buy’ pressing and 2) the 2018 EU/US DB 77821 edition from the New Career in a New Town box set.
Per the above graph, listener preference fell roughly 2:1 in favour of the 2017 remaster.
This tells us three things:
- That encoding vinyl playback to digital with an ADC and then returning it to analogue with a DAC does not obliterate source differences.
- That not all records pressed in the 80s (or 70s) sound subjectively better than all modern records; even when, like this Bowie release, the 2017 version was cut from a hi-res digital master.
- That mastering quality transcends both playback and studio (source) formats.
That said, despite the 2017 remaster sounding fuller in the bass, wetter and richer, it’s the drier, brighter ‘original’, with its more emphasized midrange, that is closer to the sound of Low that I grew up with.