Audiophile, Terminal Communications

Ten LPs That Changed My Life


By Robert Maisey. In biographical order…

afa7b61787f4ae5ea245b927aa301ab3a1f263c7Queen – A Night At The Opera

Queen were the first band I ever loved. At about age 13 (around 2002) they ignited my joy in music. My parents bought me the Platinum Collection after I came home singing the Bicycle song after hearing it at school. A Night At The Opera was the first album I tracked down and bought for myself and it was my best friend for years. I listened to this album the way only a teenager can listen to an album, lovingly pouring over every detail – which in the case of this monumental rock epic is rather a lot of detail! I’d probably cite the harder rocking Queen I and  Queen II as my favourite Queen albums now, but A Night At The Opera gets the spot for how throughly it rocked my world when I first heard it. I also loved to listen to A Day at the Races alongside it, which had obvious aesthetic and musical similarities, but also felt like a more mature piece to enjoy after one had been thoroughly inducted to A Night at the Opera. I was very lucky to have an older friend named Luke, who kept a big brotherly eye over me and would lend me CDs whenever I showed curiosity (including the entire Queen back catalogue). He lives in Plymouth and has a family these days and I don’t see him as much as I’d like too, but I still consider him a great friend and a very formative influence.




The Darkness – Permission To Land

This record followed pretty hot on the heels of my discovering Queen. Coming out in July 2003 it seemed like manna from heaven for a kid with a new found mania for screachingly camp hard rock. In hindsight, Permission To Land is naff as hell and utterly derivative – but lacking the context of any wider musical knowledge at the time, I loved it. I still love it to be honest and regularly return to it, guilt free.

Honourable mentions at this point go to Meatloaf – Bat Out of Hell – which I pilfered from my Mum’s record collection – and to my new (at the time) friend Shelley, who was already an expert in all forms of music ever made in my eyes. Spotting a burgeoning rock fan, Shelley introduced me to loads of albums that would be on constant rotation for me in my early teens, including  Nightwish – Once and Mortiis – The Smell of Rain, the last of which I still listen to all the time and maintain is one of the best electro-goth albums ever made. I didn’t have very many friends at school to be honest and Shelley was the first friend I ever made based on shared interests. I was in awe of him then – and very grateful to him for sharing his musical knowledge with me – and I’m in awe of him still. He’s grown up to be a very refined, complicated and good humoured man who I still learn from all the time.



first-and-last-and-always_1426323527_crop_560x550.0The Sisters of Mercy – First and Last and Always

This was probably the first album I got into that Shelley hadn’t vetted first, and really set the tone of my own personal musical self identity. The older I got, the deeper my appreciation of this very fine record became. What started out as theatrical gothic soundtrack evolved into druggy invitation into subculture, which become a complex criticism of rock music and then finally morphed again into just a solid pop record, as I started to level out as a human being. Honourable mentions at this point go to The March Violets – Natural History which I never found as emotive, but did find more fascinating, The Mission – God’s Own Medicine, which probably pushed the same buttons in me as The Darkness, Fields of the Nephilim – The Nephilim, which I found extremely immersive with its rich production and occult obsessions, Ghost Dance – Gathering Dust which, like First and Last and Always, hides a heart of pure pop brilliance under fuzzy post punk pretence and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry – Talk About the Weather, which still feels intimidatingly strung out at the end of its tether. Another honourable mention here goes to one Robert Cowlin, who I first met in 2006 in the queue to see The Sisters at the London Astoria and who has been one of my closest musical allies and respected friends ever since. He and I are in the habit of jumping into Hussey and Eldritch personas when we’re together – which is occasionally tortuous for us both, but mostly good fun and artistically fruitful.



1f60f2e8458d86411d7810fd50daf12d.jpgVNV Nation – Empires

My gang of collage friends was about as much like Breakfast Club gang as you could possibly wish for in the mid ’00s. There was my first love, Hazel Kenway, who was avant-garde as fuck for a 16 year old, there was Cyber Chris, who was the most thrilling person I had ever met (not only was cybergoth  – a brand new idea at that point – but he was also the first out-of-the-closet homosexual I’d ever been friends with) and there was Tara Allen, the ultra cool girl who dated older boys, was already tired of “the scene” and knew literally everything about sex and drugs that it was possible to know. I shared my love of 80s goth bands with them, Hazel taught us all about Kraftwerk (I lost my virginity to Minimum/Maximum!) and Chris and Tara introduced us all to pounding pounding EBM music and nightclubbing, by way of the infamous Slimelight.  Of all the stuff I listened to in this period, Apoptygma Berzerk‘s first two albums, Soli Deo Gloria and Seven still get regular rotation and pretty much everything VNV Nation did up to 2005’s Matter+Form I still regard as essential, although Empires is by far my favourite.



R-27704-1284252029.jpegThe Human League – Reproduction

By this point (I guess around age 17) I was starting to develop a pretty inflated sense of self regard, in the way of all young people who have had their first taste of serious drinking, consumption of illegal drugs, a small variety of sexual partners and have stayed up all night on more than one occasion. I was ready for music as clever as I was, and The Human League was definitely it. I’d started buying music on vinyl, in accordance with how clever and refined I was definitely becoming – and the proprietor of 101 Records in Farnham had my number straight away. He recommended I purchase this weird and wonderful album – which I believe is the the original and best British synth pop record ever made. Honourable mention also goes to The Human League – Travelogue, their second and equally bizarre album, and final LP before they disbanded; Phil Oakey carrying the name forward to make a breakthrough alongside Martin Rushent with DARE. This period of ego inflation also saw me getting wildly into Depeche Mode – Violator, which was the most sophisticated thing I’d ever heard.



Rosetta_Stone-An_Eye_For_The_Main_Chance-FrontalRosetta Stone – An Eye For The Main Chance

My deep, deep obsession with Rosetta Stone started around the time I started my first band. It was the distillation of all the things I’d grown to love over the previous 5 years or so and it consumed me for a very long time. I would listen to Rosetta Stone every single day, and did my best to track down live recordings and demo versions so that I could listen to every possible iteration of every track. An Eye For The Main Chance is the greatest purposefully recorded Goth Rock album ever made. Every single note is sculpted to absolute perfection. Choosing to create music within a genre often draws critical scorn (“have they no ideas of their own?!”) but the results are immensely satisfying to enthusiasts. The love and dedication that plainly went into every single aspect of this LP is bolstered by the awesome technical ability of the musicians. This record doesn’t do much, but what it does do, it does better than anyone else. This marks the beginning of several years of committed goth rocking on my part, which lasted my entire period studying at university. Other records I was into during this time that still receive near constant rotation include Children On Stun – Tourniquets of Love’s Desire and Dream Disciples – Asphyxia. A very special mention goes to Pretentious, Moi?, who’s self titled album inspired my first tattoo and who’s mastermind, Tim Chandler, produced the first Terminal Gods 7″: Electric Eyes/God Child.



thestooges-rawpowerIggy and the Stooges – Raw Power

Towards the end of university, around the time I moved to London and formed Terminal Gods I had something of a revelation. I discovered, for the first time since I was a school kid, ROCK MUSIC. I’d gone along with the post-punk view that all-out rock and roll was passé nonsense, but Iggy Pop changed all that. This album reset everything and sent me spinning back to first principles. This revelatory moment goes a long way to explaining the persona of Terminal Gods as a struggle between a snobbish goth band and an extremely obnoxious rock band. Around this time I also got heavily into Motörhead and The Ramones, the latter introduced to me by Jake Griffiths, the bartender at the restaurant in which I worked for my first full time job after graduating. He couldn’t believe I’d got to something resembling adulthood and had never even listened to The Ramones, so he leant me their first 4 albums there and then. Needless to say, Jake is now one of my most trusted friends. My favourite Stooges album is actually Funhouse, and my favourite Iggy Pop album is Blah, Blah Blah, but Raw Power was the record that blew the world open for me, yet again.



a1487697532_10Ulterior – Wild In Wildlife

I discovered Ulterior in 2009, around the time they released the 10″ single Sister Speed. Up till then, my music taste had been entirely retro – I’d come to terms with being an anachronism and that modern music just didn’t do it for me (although looking back, there’s loads of stuff that came out around those years that I overlooked because of this retromania). Ulterior were the first band in the here and now that I became really obsessed with. They had such awesome power and attitude and were just everything I wanted to be. They screamed into my life like a great leather and chrome juggernaut and their delirious machismo informed nearly all my tastes over the next few years. They turned me on to all sorts of amazing electro rock n roll, especially Suicide and A.R.E. Weapons. I also developed a serious hard-on for Big Black and James Rays Gangwar around this period, both of whom embodied a particular brand of techno and amphetamine infused guitar noise that I have loved like an addiction for the entire subsequent decade.



R-483725-1124699640.jpgLeonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate

My infatuation with Leonard Cohen began in earnest only a few years ago, and represents something of a coming down from the extended high that filled the 10 years between my Rosetta Stone and Ulterior obsessions. Cohen’s songs were the first that didn’t have to have a solid backbeat going at 110mph for me to get sucked into them. I also simultaneously started getting seriously involved with Nick Cave and David Bowie around the same time. Although this period represents a serious mellowing out in my tastes and lifestyle in general, it also represents the introduction of complexity into my artistic horizon and self doubt into my self perception. Everything before this point had, more or less, been simple. I was into bold colours, high contrast, metal and monochrome. I was into self satisfaction, self realisation and ignoring the opinions of others. Although I sometimes miss being that guy,  I’ll happily sacrifice a bit of lunatic self assurance for a bit of dignified introspection if that’s what it takes to be an adult.



R-101831-1445625302-3074.jpegLaibach – Nova Akropola

You’re not going to like this album at first, its really unmusical, but I want you to persist with it“.

Forewarned is forearmed! I’ve listened to this album several times a week, and some weeks daily, since it was bought for me as a Christmas present by Stacy Picard in 2016. It’s not only opened my mind to how much enjoyment can be got out of seriously abrasive music, but how perfectly a band can be grafted onto a much larger artistic and political message. Over the last few years, I’ve begun to have a serious crisis of faith in rock music as an answer to complicated questions posed by society and politics. Having invested a lot of my personal identity in my artistic choices, I find myself wanting and at a loss to explain the world. Consuming niche cultural products in an attempt to accumulate social capital is hardly a heroic achievement in the great scheme of things. I’ve been finding both Laibach and Einstürzende Neubauten incredibly soothing in this context, as I feel like their struggle to make sense of the late Cold War world mirrors something of my own confusion at the late capitalist one. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Public Enemy, who’s assaults on the racial and class fault lines in American society are equally compelling. My top recommendation for an album which suits the mood of our current moment is Alex Cameron – False Witness (which I talk about in depth here), which captures the ironic self awareness and earnest radicalism of the social media generation.



Audiophile, Cassette Archive

Mixtape – Good Sound


It’s hard to overstate the severity of the damage done to recorded music during in the first decade of the twenty first century. In times to come, the strata of fatally damaged recordings will be viewed much like a fine layer of radiation blasted ash, such as marks out an apocalyptic meteorite strike in the geological record.

A perfect storm of new technologies, changing consumption habits and rapaceous profiteering in an era of sharp decline saw a race to the bottom in the quality of recorded music. Not simply in terms of the information being stored (the MP3 etc) but the artisanship that went into preparing the music for release.

Buy a cult record from the UK in the post-punk era and you’re likely to see “A Porky’s Prime Cut” scratched into the run out groove. This was the signiture of record cutting engineer George Peckham, who’s diligence and skill in producing top quality master discs for vinyl  production meant that even the most DIY 7″s of the 1980s have more depth and longevity than much of the expensive trash churned out in the last few decades.

Good sound is a combination of ingenuity, excellent equipment and technical skill, although the first can often compensate for a lack of the second.

Different genres require different treatment. In classical or jazz, you might want to capture the breadth and scope between the virtuoso’s lightest touch and the full band’s thundering crescendo. In rock and roll, the producer might seek to evoke the intensity and saturation experienced when facing off against a band in a jam packed concert hall. Both require entirely difference approaches and skill sets, neither requires a one size fits all deformation of the master wave form into one uniformly loud sausage.

This tape was made for me by Terminal Gods singer and close friend, Robert Cowlin. He put it together a few years ago at the height of his crusade against badly mastered and remastered recordings. I felt at the time that his obsession with the shape of the wave form was distorting his ability to hear the shape of the song. Although he was somewhat overzealous, in hindsight I’ve come to agree with him. Once you can identify this vandalism for what it is, its hard to un-hear it. The idea that, for all our advancement, we seem incapable of making anything that sounds even remotely as good nearly anything from the mid 20th century is almost offensive – a metaphor for late capitalist decline.

Never one to admit defeat on a technicality, he can take some satisfaction in knowing that this wonderfully compiled (and indeed, good sounding) tape made his point neatly.

Cowlin now works as an audio archivist for the British Library. Never was a person so well suited for such a role.


1. Miles Davis – So What
2. Tom Waits – Waltzing Matilida
3. David Bowie – Aladdin Sane
4. John Foxx – Europe After The Rain
5. Morrissey – November Spawned A Monster
6. Bob Dylan – Tangled Up In Blue
7. Al Green – Let’s Stay Together
8. The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
9. Talking Heads – Psycho Killer (Live)
10. The Sisters of Mercy – Neverland (A Fragment)
11. The Fixx – One Thing Leads To Another
12. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – A Woman In Love
13. Iron Maiden – Can I Play With Madness?
14. The Beatles – Flying
15. The Beatles – Blue Jay Way
16. Dave Brubeck – Take Five
17. Lou Reed – Andy’s Chest
18. War On Drugs – Under The Pressure

Audiophile, Reviews

All I Know For Sure: The Making of First And Last And Always

by Robert Cowlin

Black Planet lyrics

The date is Saturday 2 June 1984. By invitation of WEA Records, a young Dave Allen stands amongst the throng at Amsterdam’s Melkweg concert venue. Presiding over the audience are three guitarists, two in cowboy hats and the other a rampaging hulk who careers around the stage whilst abusing his instrument; and a velvet-draped shadowy figure mated to a microphone stand as if it were a morphine drip. The PA stacks throb under the pounding weight of a Roland drum-machine, spitting forth a constant melee of machine-beat Armageddon. The band Allen has come to see is The Sisters Of Mercy, and their new distributor – WEA – wants him to produce the band’s debut LP. Allen was fast becoming well known for his audio engineering and production work on records suited to night-time listening. Having just finished producing The Cure’s top ten hit record The Top (Fiction Records, 1984), and previously honing his talents on The Human League’s Dare (Virgin, 1981), Allen was high on WEA’s list and – it would seem – Andrew Eldritch’s, who would swiftly send a telegram to Allen stating: “The Sisters say ‘yes’ to David Allen”[1].

Two days after the Amsterdam gig (which has been extensively bootlegged thanks to a superb soundboard recording of the event), The Sisters’ first set of recordings for WEA were released in the form of Body And Soul. A twelve inch EP, consisting of four tracks, and a seven inch single backed with “Train”. Written and produced by Eldritch, the twelve inch boasted “a re-recorded version of ‘Body Electric’ (this time recorded on 24-track rather than the original version on 8-track) and the superb ‘Afterhours’, a song worthy of inclusion on a film soundtrack. ‘A pure amphetamine song’, was how Eldritch described it in an hour long Canadian radio special also broadcast around this time”[2]. The single reached number 46 in the UK charts, with little thanks to its lamentable promotional video that was only ever shown “on Dutch and German cable TV, the Dutch giving it some heavy rotation”[3]. The video depicts an ancient city in ruins, its columns aflame, to which the band appear to have been transported in a puff of smoke. A dismantled drum kit lies in their wake before which Eldritch shakes as he passionately mimes along. Meanwhile, a wind machine is set to eleven and pointed straight at the band for maximum post-apocalyptic effect. Eldritch and guitarist, Gary Marx, appear to be taking the video very seriously indeed, with Marx displaying some of his trademark stage moves. This exercise in keeping a straight-face even extends to some rather stadium-esque guitar strums from Eldritch. Elsewhere, recently appointed second guitarist, Wayne Hussey, and bassist, Craig Adams, are failing miserably to keep to the moody agenda, with Hussey pulling some comically oafish shapes whenever the camera gets too close.

b&s eldritch tape

Body And Soul, WEA promotional cassette. Photo by LG.


Following a month long spring tour of the UK and Europe, that included a peerless performance on 5 June in Nijmegen, “it was High Time… to crawl out of the tour bus and get … into the studio. [The band] warmed up with a Peel session, which Auntie broadcast three times during the summer, before driving up to sunny Stockport to record the Album”[4]. Over June and July 1984, the band spent six weeks at Strawberry Studios with producer Allen and in-house engineer, Chris Nagle, recording the album which was slated for an October release and had the working title, Black October. At Strawberry, the band recorded all of the instrumentation and some preliminary guide vocals on select tracks, and Allen leant his programming talents to their newly acquired Oberheim DMX drum-machine.

Eldritch has admitted to taking “up to half a year”[5] to pen lyrics for finished songs. Consequently, Hussey and Marx found time to write and record guide vocals at Strawberry for a handful of tracks, notably: “Black Planet”, “First And Last And Always”, and “Nine While Nine”. Hussey’s lyrics for what later became “Black Planet” were entitled “Dance On Glass” and would eventually appear on The Mission’s debut album, God’s Own Medicine (Mercury, 1986). Marx’s guide vocal recording for “First And Last And Always” contains lyrical elements that would later spawn “Marian”:

I’d drafted a lyric and hastily recorded a guide vocal largely out of frustration that the previous [recording of “First And Last And Always” from the Body And Soul sessions] hadn’t built on the potential of the musical idea. Several positives came from it: the album’s title track, [and] the new and spellbinding “Marian”[6].

Marx’s guide vocal for “Nine While Nine” had the working title “Child Of Light” and contains the lyric “the children of the dust”. Marx recalled: “When we were deciding on a title for First And Last And Always, I pitched that one in even though it didn’t seem likely the lyric would surface on the finished version”[7]. In addition to the guide vocals recorded by Hussey and Marx, Eldritch would also record his own guide tracks for “No Time To Cry” and “Walk Away”. In its early form, “No Time To Cry” features a skeletal account of the final lyrics, lacking verse conclusions and the main chorus hook, whilst “Walk Away” utilises the finished lyrics and backing vocals by Hussey. “No Time To Cry” can be heard in draft form on the band’s 19 June 1984 session for BBC Radio One.

After the preliminary album sessions had wrapped at Strawberry, the band “staged a brief escape to New York”[8] before returning to Genetic Studios where they spent August with Allen completing the Walk Away single and album track “Marian”. The intention was to complete the entire album during the sessions at Genetic, however “Andrew fell ill as the recording was in its final stages, and collapsed during the struggle to meet the original autumn release date”[9]. Marx expanded upon this in a Q&A email exchange with me:

It is no secret that the sessions at Strawberry and Genetic were difficult and that the band ceased to be in real terms somewhere in that period. I made the call to pull the sessions at Genetic before completing the vocals and mixing, causing a delay in the album’s scheduled release and all the problems that creates for a major record label promoting a band they’ve invested heavily in. I did it because Andrew was in a mess at that time – he didn’t thank me (I wouldn’t expect it of him). Instead, he got himself back in shape and headed off to do the remaining work. Through choice, I took virtually no part in anything from that point on. The dynamic of the band at that stage was a presage of what played out a few months later. Namely, I was already halfway out the door, Craig was somewhere nearby, and Wayne was still weighing up what kind of life he’d have being Andrew’s hired-hand[10].

Having recovered, Eldritch spent 23 November – 9 December 1984 at Livingston Studios in London with Allen, in-house engineer Tony Harris, and tape operator Barry Clempson where they recorded vocal tracks and prepared the first set of finished mixes. Knowledge of the Livingston team’s involvement has only recently come to light (it has forever been documented that the band went back to Genetic Studios after the Black October tour, this is not correct). In 2010, when Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab was preparing the album’s vinyl remaster, a photograph of the master tape used was released that revealed the following information:

  • Livingston Studios, Brook Road, off Mayes Road, Wood Green, London, N22
  • Date: Nov-Dec 1984
  • Studio: Strawberry, Genetic, and Livingston
  • Tracks: Stereo
  • Producer: Dave Allen
  • Client: WEA Records
  • Artist: The Sisters Of Mercy
  • Engineer: Tony Harris at Livingston
  • 2nd Engineer: Barry Clempson
FALAA Master 1

First And Last And Always master tape. Livingston Studios.

I spoke with veteran engineer, Tony Harris (whose credits include technical work for REM, 10000 Maniacs, and The Jesus And Mary Chain), who recalled fond memories of the winter spent with Eldritch and Allen recording and mixing at Livingston Studios:

As you can tell from the box labels, we worked on this album in November/December 1984. The tapes had been recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport; I believe Chris Nagle had been the engineer there. “Marian” had been done at Genetic studios, presumably engineered by Dave Allen who was also the producer. The tapes were pretty much finished instrumentally when they arrived at Livingston. We did all the vocals and the first set of mixes there. The vocals were recorded with an AKG C414 microphone. We worked in Studio 1 which, at the time, had a 42 channel MCI JH500 mixing desk, Otari MTR90 tape machines, and an Urei 1176 compressor.

It was an interesting session; I think Dave and Andy both had fairly different views about how they wanted the album to turn out. If you’d seen the band at this time you’d know that a great part of the live sound was the power of the drum machine through the PA. I think Dave’s idea for the mix was to try to recreate this effect (sensibly in my opinion) so we hired in a PA rig and had it set up in the live end at Livingston with a view to using it as an effect whilst mixing. Andy, on the other hand, had been listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac (I kid you not) and wanted a really clean hi-fi sort of sound. Dave, being a good producer, went along with the artist’s vision and we spent weeks mixing with the PA standing idle! It was a great British compromise.

I don’t remember having to do a lot of compiling of vocal takes. Eldritch was like Joe Strummer, he did the takes quickly and there weren’t many retakes.

I remember Dave had an infatuation with a thing called Zoids. These were self-assembly robot dinosaurs that were around at the time, many types that you collected. I remember that we had a piece of plywood across the meter bridge to have Zoid battles on whilst we were mixing! I also remember “Bud”, one of the studio cats, battling with ‘Tyrannozoid’ one time!

The tape boxes in that picture are definitely the ones from those sessions, it’s clearly my handwriting and I remember writing them. I’ve always been lead to believe that the album was subsequently mixed at least a couple more times so I’ve never known which, if any, of the mixes we did ended up on the album. If Mobile Fidelity used our masters for a re-issue, it suggests that they are on the album.

There was a studio version of “Emma” on the Strawberry tapes, I think we did a vocal on it but never mixed it, I think Andy thought it was “too obvious”, even though everyone loved it at gigs. I had a rough mix of that but unfortunately it disappeared from the Livingston tape store years ago.

You can see the studio pretty much as it was when we mixed First And Last And Always in this picture of me “hamming it up” in Studio 1, although the tape machine in that pic is a Lyrec TR532 which I’m pretty sure had been replaced by the Otari by the time The Sisters were in.


Livingston Studios.

This is funny, I’ve just checked out Wikipedia and the Livingston sessions aren’t even mentioned! Story of my life, one “classic” album I work on and there are no credits on the sleeves and even Wikipedia omits me![11]

After the sessions at Livingston, WEA asked seasoned engineer Reinhold Mack to try his hand at mixing the album in December. I spoke with Reinhold, who told me that his mixes were engineered at Giorgio Moroder’s Musicland Studios in Munich, but he did not get on with Eldritch so the job was abandoned. Eldritch would later tell Harris that he’d been “remixing in Germany but [didn’t] like the results”[12]. Marx’s assessment was less sympathetic: “[Mack] was given a go at remixing at least one tune but nothing was used on the album. ‘A Rock And A Hard Place’ was the only finished mix I remember hearing from him and it was awful”[13]. In fact, Mack mixed at least four tracks and his work was circulated internally at WEA on cassettes dated 11 January 1985. In addition, his mix of “Walk Away” was inadvertently included on the album’s American LP promo (1985, ST-E-60405-1). Those who have heard Mack’s mixes will note the similarity of “First And Last And Always” and “No Time To Cry” to their officially released Livingston-mixed counterparts. Harris explained:

There is no reason why the Mack mixes wouldn’t sound similar, Dave’s a well organised producer and what we recorded would be pretty much how we wanted it. I remember Andy farting about EQ’ing drums and bouncing them to other tracks. I remember recording to tape various guitar effects, such as the panning effect on ‘Possession’, so all these would be available to Mack for his mix. Generally, the difference would be subtle differences in reverbs and compression, but the ‘shape’ of the song wouldn’t change much[14].

There is some uncertainty surrounding the recording of the two No Time To Cry b-sides, “Blood Money” and “Bury Me Deep”, which were not part of the original album sessions. Harris affirms they were not recorded at Livingston, and Marx had no involvement with the tracks, so they were certainly recorded after August 1984:

Wayne played some great stuff on those tracks, and “Blood Money” is a tune I really love. I had always assumed they were both recorded and mixed at Livingston but, to be honest, without your prompt I wouldn’t have been able to name the studio. I only remember turning up once at the request of Craig who was trying to act as bridge-builder. Both tracks were already finished as I recall. Andrew and Wayne were playing out some weird bromance and understandably I didn’t take any great interest in who was or had been mixing what. You would probably have had more luck if you’d asked me to name the contents of the fridge there. I don’t remember Dave Allen being around then either – he had a much rougher ride than he deserved[15].

Long-term Merciful Release office manager, Boyd Steemson, speculated to me that they might have been recorded at Good Earth on Dean Street; unfortunately my enquiries with the studio’s ex-employees were fruitless. However, thanks to Harris’ diligent record keeping, it is documented that on 10-11 January 1985, Eldritch returned to Livingston to mix “Bury Me Deep” with Harris. Harris’ recording diary notes that the sessions took place between 12 pm – 8 am, and 6 pm – 11 am; a phenomenal amount of time for one vocal/guitar mix! With the album sessions having wrapped on 9 December 1984, that leaves a gap of one month for “Bury Me Deep” to be recorded. Harris had never heard of “Blood Money”, and it seems logical that, had it been recorded by the time of the January mixing session, Eldritch would have brought it to Livingston along with “Bury Me Deep”. Thus there are potentially two recording sessions, pre and post the January mixing session at Livingston and prior to the single’s release on 8 March 1985, unaccounted for, with Good Earth being a potential location. Conversely, Harris proposed that the tracks were most likely recorded at Strawberry Studios after the album sessions had wrapped at Livingston, and it is highly unlikely that the band went back to Genetic as Allen had moved on to new projects by that time. Steemson asserted that the “No Time To Cry” single version was mixed at Eel Pie Studios: “The only studio session I can remember going to was for the mix of the single version of ‘No Time To Cry’ at Eel Pie … It would have been January (or possibly February). Andrew was in charge of the session so the engineering would have been done by the in-house engineer. Fairly sure that the mixing was just for the single, so no other tracks worked on at Eel Pie”[16].

Tony Harris recording diary

Tony Harris’ recording diary. 10-11 January 1985.


1984 March Strawberry Studios Recording: Body And Soul sessions.
1984 June 4 Release: Body And Soul EP.
1984 June 19 Maida Vale Studios Recording: BBC Radio One session.
1984 June-July Strawberry Studios Recording: Album (instruments, guide vocals).
1984 August Genetic Studios Recording: Walk Away single, “Marian”.
Mixing: Walk Away single, “Marian”.
Master: Walk Away single, completed.
1984 October 8 Release: Walk Away single.
1984 Nov-Dec 23-9 Livingston Studios Recording: Album (vocals).
Mixing: Album.
Master: Album, completed.
1984 December Musicland Studios Aborted album mixing with Reinhold Mack.
1985 January 10-11 Livingston Studios Mixing: “Bury Me Deep”.
1985 Jan/Feb Eel Pie Studios Mixing: “No Time To Cry” single version.
1985 March 8 Release: No Time To Cry single.
1985 March 11 Release: First And Last And Always LP.


One of the most oft-discussed aspects of this album’s intricate history is the record label’s use of different track mixes for different territories. The album was released in one mix variant in March 1985 on LP and cassette in Europe, the United States, and Australia; and an ‘alternate’ mix variant by the Warner-Pioneer Corporation in Japan. The original European (MR 337L), USA (ST-E-60405-1), and Australian (240616-1) vinyl releases (amongst others) feature four tracks subsequently remixed by Eldritch after the Livingston sessions. When and where these were remixed is unknown, but Marx ventured that: “The only other person I could imagine Andrew trusting to oversee any finished mixes would have been Chris Nagle back at Strawberry, but even that seems unlikely”[17] (I attempted to contact Nagle to no avail). The original Japanese vinyl release (P-13162) was the first to contain the complete set of Livingston mixes as they appeared on the December 1984 master tape assembled by Harris. As it is known that Mobile Fidelity used the Livingston master for its 2011 reissue, it is possible to deduce which releases stem from the correct Livingston masters and which ones come from Eldritch’s altered master (detailed later). For the purposes of this article, I am going to use the terms “Eldritch master” and “Eldritch mixes” to refer to the altered non-Livingston tape used to cut the original European gatefold LP and its related off-shoots.

Four tracks exhibit mix variations between the Livingston and Eldritch masters: “A Rock And A Hard Place”, “Black Planet”, “First And Last And Always”, and “No Time To Cry”. The difference between the mixes of these tracks is notable, considering Eldritch’s desire to make a ‘hi-fi’ record (see discussion below). Essentially, Eldritch’s mix alterations frame the album as a post-punk disco record, with its snapping snare and taut bass, whilst the original Livingston configuration is far more mature (and hi-fi sounding) in nature. The cheesy-yet-awesome synthesised bass on “A Rock And A Hard Place”, and relentless Doktor Avalanche supreme programming on the title track, are absent from the Livingston mixes. Instead they feature additional instrumentation and more advanced production flourishes. Nonetheless, Eldritch has admitted that releasing the album in its Livingston configuration was a mistake:

The content of First And Last And Always should be the same wherever you buy it. Unfortunately when we had it released on CD (in the days before you got a CD ‘test’ copy in advance of release) there was a cock-up with the tapes and some of the tracks were pressed with the wrong mix. We are planning to put this right as soon as possible[18].

This presents something of a conundrum for fans, who traditionally view the European vinyl as containing the ‘original mixes’, whilst the mixes found on the Japanese vinyl are imaginatively known as the ‘Japanese mixes’ and generally considered to be alternate to the original. Thanks to Harris’ input above, we now know this is not the case. In fact, the ‘Japanese mixes’ are the original complete set of Livingston mixes, whilst the original European vinyl utilises alterations authorised by Eldritch without the input of the album’s primary sound engineers. Upon hearing Eldritch’s four remixes, Harris was shocked at how they sounded. He remembered Eldritch forever tinkering with the mixes: “Dave and I kept out of it. Eldritch would spend hours equalising the drums in particular, listening at a very quiet level. Then we would reappear and correct everything. The four alternate mixes definitely weren’t made at Livingston. No weird mixes came out of Livingston!”[19] Likewise, Mack confirmed that Eldritch “did not run any mixes by himself”[20] at Musicland.

One can trace the beginnings of the album’s mix variations to the end of July 1984 where, at Strawberry Studios, the band and Allen had completed seventeen tracks on ten reels:

  • Reel 1: Tones / “No Time to Cry”
  • Reel 2: “Emma” / “Walkaway” [sic]
  • Reel 3: “Poison Door” / “A Rock And A Hard Place”
  • Reel 4: “Scottish One A” / “Scottish One B”
  • Reel 5: “Possession” / “Spit On Your Grave” / “Evil Come Evil Go”
  • Reel 6: “Marianne” [sic] / “Wide Receiver”
  • Reel 7: “Nine While 9” [sic]
  • Reel 8: “Little Wing”
  • Reel 9: “Andy’s Little Wing”
  • Reel 10: “Down To E…” / “On The Wire”
Strawberry track split 1 (adjusted)

Strawberry Studios track split.

Tones refers to test signals at the beginning of the first reel; “Scottish One” is the working title of “First And Last And Always”, here seen in two variants; “Little Wing” is the working title of “Some Kind Of Stranger”, again seen in two variants. Harris affirms that he used every song he was given to work with from the Strawberry reels and he did not recognise “Wide Receiver”, thus confirming the widely held assumption that it was scrapped early on. “Spit On Your Grave”, “Evil Come Evil Go”, and “Down To E…” remain unknown, though Allen implied during a 2010 seminar[21] that they are familiar songs. Given Harris’ comments, it would seem reasonable to presume that two are working titles for “Black Planet” and “Amphetamine Logic”. The most likely candidate for the remaining unknown song is “Down To E…”. Allen could not remember what it became, and Harris surmised it might have been a jam track though it is unlikely he would have heard it given that “On The Wire” (the other track on Reel 10) was completed prior to his involvement. Therefore, in this configuration of events, it is feasible that Reel 10 did not go to Livingston.

Marx had the following to say about the Strawberry reels:

Okay Rob, you really believe in testing a man. Thirty plus years have passed since the events you’re concerned with. The specifics weren’t necessarily deemed to be of significance at the time to us or anyone else so trying to respond accurately through a filter of mythology isn’t going to be easy. Given the depth you’ve already managed to dig down to I would be surprised if much of what follows isn’t already documented elsewhere, but you asked so I’ll answer.

  1. What did the songs “Spit On Your Grave”, “Evil Come Evil Go”, and “Down To E…” become?

I really don’t recognise these working titles sorry.

  1. How complete is the Strawberry Studios recording of “Wide Receiver”?

Although I don’t ever remember it being thought of as a track for inclusion on the album, I believe it went through a similar process to the other main tunes. As such it would have existed for a while as a well recorded, complete backing track awaiting Andrew’s vocal and any further touches after it was clear if there were any ‘holes to fill in’. This could mean a few changes to the drum programming to add dynamics, or instrumental decoration from guitar or keyboards. Quite often the actual tape would be spliced to take out sections which had ceased to be part of the structure. I didn’t play on the track and I suspect it was layered up by Andrew on his own. This wasn’t an unusual thing, with both Wayne and Andrew often preferring to get the bulk of a backing track in shape before inviting further input. With some of their material from that period it was necessary because it was more about a soundscape and an atmosphere than the single killer riff. Any fans from the pre-Warner’s era would doubtless say that, for all its strengths, there isn’t a guitar line to match “Alice” anywhere on those finished tunes. I may be wrong but I think Andrew wrote some lyrics and recorded a fairly lengthy section of vocal for it. In much the same way as “Some Kind Of Stranger”, it had an end section with vocal but no earlier verses for weeks on end. I never heard a finished vocal for the whole of “Wide Receiver”.

  1. The Strawberry track split notes “Scottish One A” and “B”. I’m aware this is the working title for “First And Last And Always”, why the A and B though?

Here I can only say that the tune which became the album’s title track had a longer history than the likes of “Marian” and “Black Planet”, and had already been recorded at Strawberry around the time of “Body and Soul”. Of all the tunes we were working on at the time of signing with Warner’s, the “Scottish One” was considered the main contender for first single and we went in to record it with that in mind. Within the sessions Andrew struggled to come up with a workable lyric and melody and, in what became the frustrating pattern of later sessions, he spent time working through the night adding unnecessary extra layers to the arrangement. I think he had also suggested we slow the tempo considerably. The tipping point arrived when we came in one morning and heard a sort of harmony guitar line he had added to the main riff. It brought to mind some awful soft rock 1970’s Celtic band like Horslips. At that stage we agreed we were in danger of killing the tune and decided to move on to something else to clear our collective heads. It could be that the tune “Body And Soul” was already kicking about, I don’t remember. Sadly that is pretty much how I feel about it now – it is not a memorable tune. Lots of nice touches but nothing at the centre of it. I think the lyric had large chunks that were re-worked from what was shaping up as the lyric for the “Scottish One”. Certainly the “ever and always” was not a million miles from what Andrew reverted to on the album track’s chorus. I can only assume the labelling came about because Andrew still fancied the possibility of returning to the slower version of the backing track if he couldn’t find a vocal to gel with the album sessions version[22].

Strawberry track split 2 (adjusted)

“Wide Receiver” track split.

A selection of potential mixes from various sessions was dubbed on to three WEA in-house cassettes for the label’s consideration. The album tracks missing from the below evaluation cassettes (“Amphetamine Logic”, “Nine While Nine”, “Possession”, and “Some Kind Of Stranger”) share identical mixes across all releases of First And Last And Always. Of the tracks featured on the WEA in-house cassettes, “A Rock And A Hard Place”, “Black Planet”, “First And Last And Always”, “No Time To Cry”, and “Walk Away” have each had at least two mixes released officially (details below).

Helpfully, the three WEA cassettes circulate on bootlegs so it is possible to figure out which of these mixes became officially released versions. Thus:

WEA Records
No Time To Cry Mack Mix  
First And Last And Always Mack Mix  
Walk Away Mack Mix Officially released on Elektra LP promo
A Rock And A Hard Place Mack Mix  
Walk Away Eldritch Mix  
A Rock And A Hard Place “A” Eldritch Mix  
A Rock And A Hard Place “B” Eldritch Mix LP Eldritch mix
WEA Records
First And Last And Always Mack Mix As above
No Time To Cry Mack Mix As above
A Rock And A Hard Place Mack Mix As above
Marian Genetic Mix LP Genetic mix
WEA Records
No Time To Cry Edited 7” Eldritch (Eel Pie) mix
No Time To Cry Unedited 12” Eldritch (Eel Pie) mix
Black Planet Second Mix Eldritch mix with louder bass guitar
First And Last And Always LP Eldritch mix
Black Planet Third Mix Eldritch mix without piano
Black Planet Fourth Mix LP Eldritch mix

The absent “first mix” of “Black Planet” must be the Livingston album mix. On the Livingston master, it is known as the “Holy Roman Empire Mix”: “A whim of Andrew or Dave. There are notes on the [master reel] box that it was an EQ’d copy of the original mix. The listed settings suggest a general brightening up on a Klark Teknik DN360 graphic equaliser”[24]. Note the curious lack of any finished Livingston mixes on the three WEA in-house cassettes. Perhaps the purpose of these cassettes – circulated one to two months after the Livingston sessions had wrapped – was to showcase the potential alternate mixes prepared separately by Mack and Eldritch for the suits at WEA (excepting “Marian”).

For years, Eldritch’s four altered mixes were only available on non-Japanese LPs, whilst all CD variants featured the complete Livingston mixes. More recently, the Eldritch mixes were released on CD, through Rhino Records’ botched 2006 remaster (details below), and high-resolution download, through Rhino’s more successful 2015 remaster, which also saw the release of a deluxe 4LP box-set. In addition, the Livingston mixes got a new lease of life in the form of a vinyl remaster by the American audiophile label, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, in 2011.

The Livingston and Eldritch mixes can be found on the following common releases:

Livingston Mixes
YYYY, Country, Format, Cat. No.
Eldritch Mixes
YYYY, Country, Format, Cat. No.
1985, JPN, LP, P-13162
1988, EU, CD, 240 616-2
1988, USA, CD, 9 60405-2
1990, JPN, CD, WMC5-255
1992, EU, LP, 9031-77379-1
1992, EU, CD, 9031-77379-2
2002, HK, CD, 8122736032
2008, RUS, CD, 4607173158390
2009, EU, CD, 0825646839476
2011, JPN, SHM CD, WQCP 1103
2011, USA, LP, MOFI 1-006
1985, AUS, LP, 240616-1
1985, CAN, LP, 24 06161
1985, EU, LP, MR 337L
1985, USA, LP, ST-E-60405-1
1986, BRA, LP, 38054
2006, EU, CD, 5101-17579-2
2007, EU, CD, 5101-19186-2
2012, EU, CD, 2564656827
2015, EU, LP, 0825646284047


The original Livingston, Eldritch, and Mack mixes; Strawberry track sheet; bootlegged outtakes; and WEA in-house variations result in the following known mix variants:

“A Rock And A Hard Place”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 3
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix, officially released Eldritch mix “B”, Eldritch mix “A”, Mack mix, Livingston vocal outtake.

The Eldritch mix has a flanging synthesiser coupled to the bass guitar that plays throughout the track, the introduction’s twelve-string guitar is in the centre channel, the vocal is thicker throughout, and at the 02:20 breakdown there is a twelve-string guitar playing and wild tom-drum reverb. The Livingston mix loses the synthesiser, the introduction gains an additional guitar in the left channel whilst the twelve-string guitar moves to the right, the verse gains even more guitars, and at the 02:20 breakdown there is a six-string guitar playing instead of the Eldritch mix’s twelve-string. Generally, from 02:20 until the end, the guitar mix differs greatly for both versions. Listening to the mixes back-to-back, one gets a sense of the Eldritch mix being closer to what you might expect to hear in a nightclub, whilst the Livingston mix is more restrained. The Livingston mix has more in common with the song’s live arrangement, with its additional guitars and lack of synth. Eldritch mix “A” is almost identical to its officially released counterpart (“B”), except for one instance of an altered snare effect and some minor additional vocal delay, and the closing vocal round is not mixed as smoothly. The Mack mix is something of a deconstructed Eldritch mix, featuring a stark synth line and guitar parts that take their individual turns in the spotlight. Mack’s mix lacks the drive of Eldritch’s and reveals that, in 1984, the band were wise to stick with the guitars and not let the synths take too much of the attention. A version very similar to the Livingston mix but with a more off the cuff vocal take is available on bootlegs. Upon hearing this version, Harris commented that the vocal outtake was “probably recorded at Livingston”[25].

“Amphetamine Logic”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: ?
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix.

“Black Planet”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: ?
Known variants: Officially released Livingston (“Holy Roman Empire”) mix, officially released Eldritch (“fourth”) mix, Eldritch second mix, Eldritch third mix, Strawberry outtake with Hussey guide vocal (aka “Dance On Glass”).

The Eldritch mix has a clear vocal throughout, the “run around in the radiation” lyric is panned to both channels, there is an overall toppy production quality, and the fade-out is truncated. The Livingston mix has a murky effect on the vocal throughout (the recording of which Harris recalled with great enthusiasm), more prominent bass guitar, faint synthesiser flourishes, and a full-length fade-out. In my opinion, neither mix is completely perfect. The vocal production on the Eldritch mix is easier on the ear, but this mix is let down overall by its sonic texture and the truncated fade-out is sloppy. By contrast, the Livingston mix is warmer with a clearer bass guitar, but the excessively effected vocal bogs the song down somewhat. Eldritch’s second and third mixes are subtle variations on his officially released version, with the second mix being the most balanced of the set thanks to its more prominent bass guitar.

“Blood Money”
Recorded: ?
Reel: ?
Known variants: Officially released Eldritch mix.

“Bury Me Deep”
Recorded: ?
Reel: ?
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix.

Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 2
Known variants: Strawberry “faders up” mix, Livingston rough mix.

I played a couple of bootlegged studio recordings to Harris to gauge his reaction: “Emma”, and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”. Harris confirmed that Emma was recorded at Strawberry Studios (including vocals), and an additional set of vocals were recorded at Livingston. Allen and Harris were both keen on “Emma” (enough for Harris to commit a wild “rough mix” to tape one night, drenched in delay and various guitar effects) and implored the band to release it but Eldritch vetoed it. Upon hearing the widely available “Emma” bootleg recording, Harris remarked that it sounded like a typical “faders-up” mix from Strawberry. Harris had never heard the “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” recording, which means that it was not brought to the album’s mixing session at Livingston (in fact it was not even recorded until June 1985).

“First And Last And Always”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 4
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix, officially released Eldritch mix, Mack mix, Strawberry outtake with Marx guide vocal (aka “Marianne”/“Red Skies Disappear”).

The Eldritch mix opens with a reverse snare hit, the drum-machine plays throughout the introduction, and there is a stereo guitar sweep at 00:32. Throughout the Eldritch mix the drums are snappier with the snare being particularly dynamic, this is most apparent around the 02:27 mark. Overall there is a greater utilisation of macro-dynamics, especially during the chorus. At the 01:40 breakdown, the piano and synthesiser are buried and an additional guitar is overlaid. Verse 2 exhibits sparser instrumentation, and the mix closes with a slightly longer fade-out. The Livingston mix has a longer introduction by about ten seconds, during which the drums fade in and out and are generally mixed differently (Harris is very proud of the tom-drum delay he engineered). At the 01:50 breakdown (ten seconds later than previously mentioned due to the longer introduction), the piano and synthesiser are more prominent with the synthesised harp panned to the left channel, the bass guitar is also more prominent during this section. At 02:36, there is an additional guitar accompanying the “my calling” lyric, and the main guitar riff plays throughout the second verse. My sonic impression of the two mixes is similar to “A Rock And A Hard Place”, whereby the Eldritch mix sounds more club/single oriented and the Livingston mix more album focussed, with its sophisticated introduction and synthesiser flourishes. The Eldritch mix has a triumphant quality thanks to its dynamics whereas the Livingston mix is more laidback. The Mack mix is a combination of the two. The intro shares sonic qualities from both, though it is truncated and features a more prominently picked guitar part in the left channel that recurs throughout the mix. The most interesting aspect of the Mack mix is the appearance of a brief bass solo at 02:08 and the fact that this version is heavily edited in parts, with a running time of 03:30, perhaps implying that it was once intended to be an edit for radio or single release.

Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 6
Known variants: Officially released Genetic mix.

“Nine While Nine”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 7
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix, Strawberry outtake (aka “Child Of Light”).

“No Time To Cry”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 1
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix, officially released Eldritch/Eel Pie mix, officially released 7″ edit of Eldritch/Eel Pie mix, Mack mix, Strawberry outtake with Eldritch guide vocal.

The Eldritch mix’s introduction has a flange effect on the snare drum, and the outro is longer with additional sound effects marking the song’s ominous conclusion. The 7″ edit utilises the Eldritch mix but truncates the introduction. This edit can also be heard in the music video. The Livingston mix has a longer introduction with delightfully panned reverberating tom-drums, these stereo drums are reprised during the song’s breakdown at 02:27, and its outro is curtailed with a quick fade-out. From a listening perspective, I prefer the Livingston mix for its stereo drum presentation; the Eldritch mix sounds distinctly one-dimensional by comparison. On the other hand, the conclusion of the Livingston mix is regretfully rapid, whilst the Eldritch mix’s end suits the song perfectly. The Mack mix uses the Livingston as its template but the drums and vocals are drier, adding more presence. This results in a somewhat clunky rendering of the chorus, which works better when covered in reverb. One advantage of Mack’s mix is the added definition on the bass guitar, and the tom drums are particularly thunderous during the breakdown.

“On The Wire”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 10
Known variants: Officially released Genetic mix.

“Poison Door”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 3
Known variants: Officially released Genetic mix.

Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 5
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix.

“Some Kind Of Stranger”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 8, 9
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix, officially released Strawberry outtake with Eldritch guide vocal (aka “early” version), Strawberry instrumental.

The “early” version (featured on Rhino’s 2006 CD remaster, 5101-17579-2) share’s similar sonic qualities to the “faders up” mix of Emma, and the vocal performance is reminiscent of Eldritch’s other guide tracks that have leaked from the Strawberry recording sessions.

“Walk Away”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 2
Known variants: Officially released Genetic mix, officially released Mack mix, Eldritch mix, Strawberry outtake with Eldritch guide vocal.

Early live performances of this song reveal that the instrumentation was written by the time of Hussey’s live debut on 7 April 1984. The lyrics however are far more nebulous, with the debut performance including the significant line “don’t walk away”. They languished in a barely finished state throughout the USA Spring Tour (10 April-16 April) and even into June 1984, before being finalised in time for the band’s Peel session on 19 June. Hearing Mack’s mix of “Walk Away” properly mastered reveals a tantalising insight into how different the album could have sounded with his production fully realised. Mack’s robust style is more rock oriented and strips away a lot of the song’s pop leanings to bring out the guitars and present a more honest vocal mix. The Eldritch mix is the same as the Genetic mix but features thicker drum EQ and a brief but prominent flanging guitar part at 01:30.

“Wide Receiver”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 6
Known variants: N/A


The only surviving example of Tony Harris’ rough mix of “Emma”.


Harris recalled that Eldritch’s next subject of obsession – after fixating on the mixing of the album – would be the album’s mastering: “I need to find someone who’ll add back all the midrange I’ve EQ’d out”[26], Eldritch would say. Harris recommended Ray Staff, the cutting engineer at Trident Studios in Soho, who would end up cutting the British lacquers for all of The Sisters Of Mercy’s albums (and later go on to remaster them for Rhino’s 2015-2016 box set campaign). Mastering is the final stage of record production, the process by which music is transferred from the master tape to the analogue lacquer or digital glass master for mass production. Mastering can often make or break a recording, representing the last chance for a professional engineer to add a finishing touch to the overall tone of a piece. It is often compared to lighting artwork in a gallery: easy enough to do but difficult to get absolutely spot on.

The UK promotional LP (lacquers cut at Trident Studios, promo pressed at PRS Ltd.) appears to be the first instance of First And Last And Always on vinyl. The promo’s production parts are the source for the German white label test-pressing and are therefore the likely source of subsequent Germany-for-Europe pressings with A3 and A6 matrices (all pressed at Record Service GmbH). This mastering has a panning error at the start of “A Rock And A Hard Place”, whereby the opening note is silent in the right channel. This error also appears on the USA promo, Canadian LP, and early cassette pressings. When this panning error is present, the opening guitar strum of “Marian” is heard in both channels. The re-mastered A7 matrix fixes the panning error on “A Rock And A Hard Place” and instead pans the opening guitar strum of “Marian” to the left channel. All Record Service GmbH pressings used the same side-two stamper (R/S Alsdorf 240616-1 B2) throughout the album’s production run. My favourite R/S cut is the A7/B2 matrix variety for the corrected “A Rock And A Hard Place” and generally quieter vinyl it’s pressed on compared to earlier attempts.

If you are hunting for a USA pressing with the Mack mix of “Walk Away”, look for the following side-one matrix number: STE 60405-A-1 MASTERDISK. Non-A1 pressings use the standard Genetic mix. The side-two stamper is the same across all USA pressings.

First And Last And Always has been reissued many times and, consequently, mastered many times. Each mastering engineer brings a different sonic approach, allowing us to hear the album in subtly different ways. Below are my subjective opinions on the various pressings. Whilst I have tried to stress the importance of the complete Livingston mixes in this article, it is Eldritch’s variation that was released first, so I will start there.

Eldritch Mixes:

Quite simply, my current favourite sounding release of the Eldritch mixes is the USA LP (1985, ST-E-60405-1), mastered by Howie Weinberg at Masterdisk. The sound is crisp, taut, and dynamic, with a smooth control of sibilants. “Possession” is a surprising sonic standout. Weinberg’s mastering really complements the mixes, particularly “First And Last And Always” which is important here as it is one of the altered four. The original European LPs – pressed at Record Service GmbH – I find are often pressed on low quality vinyl, resulting in excessive surface noise and crackle. This issue is further exacerbated by the European inner sleeve which is made from coarse paper, thus scuffing the record’s playing surface over the years. By comparison, the USA LP was packaged in a black poly-lined inner-sleeve which is much more adept at protecting vinyl records. Rhino’s 2015 4LP box-set was cut from original production masters by Ray Staff at Air Studios, and pressed at Optimal Media GmbH on dead quiet vinyl. It sounds great. Any new collector could save themselves a lot of hassle by simply buying the box set and enjoying it. The box set is complemented by a high-resolution digital download at 24-bits / 96 kHz, presumably sourced from the same production masters used to press the Rhino LPs. Streamers will be frustrated to note that the Eldritch mixes are still not available online owing to a record label mix up. If you want to hear them in their best digital form you must purchase the high resolution download from HD Tracks.

The Eldritch mixes made their CD debut in 2006 courtesy of Rhino. The packaging is excellent, with a detailed booklet and many interesting archival photographs. Unfortunately, the sound quality is a disappointment thanks to some unforgiveable mastering errors. Most notable of these is that the volume of the tracks fluctuates across the CD, as if the songs have been prepared in isolation rather than as one coherent album. This makes for quite a jarring listening experience. In addition, four of the tracks are frustratingly brickwalled, whilst the main bulk of tracks are pleasantly dynamic. Thankfully these errors are all undone by the 2015 remaster, and the only track of any remaining significance on the 2006 CD – the unique early version of “Some Kind Of Stranger” – is mastered correctly with dynamics intact.

elektra tp

USA test pressing. Photo by LG.

Livingston Mixes:

In a similar fashion to Rhino’s 2015 box set, any collector wishing to obtain the full Livingston mixes in superb sound quality should look no further than Mobile Fidelity’s 2011 vinyl remaster. Cut all-analogue from the Livingston master tapes supplied by WEA London’s archive, the sound is rich with the widest stereo spread I have ever heard for this album. The current market value of the original Japanese LP makes obtaining it somewhat prohibitive, and I was not particularly impressed by a needledrop I heard of it, a spectrogram of which revealed the presence of a digital delay line in the cutting path. When the album was remastered in 1992 it was released on vinyl and features the Livingston mixes. I heard a needledrop of this pressing and was quite impressed by the sound, but a spectrogram revealed digital processing in the signal path that is absent from the Mobile Fidelity pressing. Certainly, the Mobile Fidelity remaster is the purest in terms of its signal path and provenance. In my opinion, the Mobile Fidelity remaster sonically frames the complete Livingston mixes correctly for the first time. There is none of the imbalance that plagues previous releases, instead the sound is spacious and one gets a real sense of the hi-fi sound that the band and engineers working at Livingston were trying to achieve.

The commonly available European and American CDs from 1988, on WEA and Elektra respectively, contain the Livingston mixes and are cheap and plentiful on the second-hand market. These CDs were pressed at the same plants as their earlier LP counterparts – Record Service GmbH and Specialty Records Corporation – though the mastering engineer is unknown in both cases. What is known is that the CDs received unique digital masters for their respective territories. The German pressing sounds a little darker overall and rolled off on the top-end, whilst the American pressing sounds boosted in the midrange and a bit brighter on the top-end. The discs do not offer a particularly rich or enjoyable listening experience, and it is my opinion that they are primarily responsible for some of the band’s fans’ mistaken contempt for the Livingston mixes (an unfortunate situation that I hope this article will put right). Of the two, the German pressing sounds closer to the Mobile Fidelity remaster (though not nearly as resolving or detailed), with the American disc seeming to me like the odd one out. If you favour a brighter presentation, or your hi-fi is particularly warm sounding, you might consider trying the American CD as it certainly clears up some of the German CD’s potential muddiness. From a technical standpoint, the American CD is inferior because “Walk Away” exhibits clipping, which could cause some older CD players to distort. The German CD (1988, 240 616-2) is digitally identical to the Japanese CD (1990, WMC5-255), and the American CD (1988, 9 60405-2) contains an identical EQ curve to the 1992 “remaster” (1992, 9031-77379-2) but the 1992 disc is on average -0.4 dB quieter than the American CD across all tracks (so, technically speaking, it is re-mastered but the sound is exactly the same as the American CD from 1988). The slight reduction in level resolves the aforementioned peak issue found on the American disc. Rhino’s Original Album Series box-set (2009, 0825646839476) contains the 1992 mastering.

Two peculiar releases came out in Hong Kong (2002, 8122736032) and Russia (2008, 4607173158390). Both are officially released digital clones of the 1992 CD. The 2002 Hong Kong disc claims to be an HDCD, but it contains no decipherable HDCD data (such as peak extension). The 2008 Russian disc is coloured gold. Obviously, neither offers any additional sonic insight over the 1992 CD.

The table below lists the peak data values for each track in dBFS. Comparing peak analyses of CDs allows collectors to examine the digital data contained on different discs to see which ones are identical or unique. In the 1988 EU and 1990 JPN columns, the peak value is identical for every track – thus the discs are digitally identical.

TRACK PEAKS (dBFS): 1998 EU 1990 JPN 1988 USA 1992 EU
Black Planet -0.05 -0.05 -0.90 -0.50
Walk Away 0.00 0.00 Over 0.00
No Time To Cry -0.06 -0.06 -0.15 0.00
A Rock And A Hard Place -0.27 -0.27 -1.73 -1.33
Marian (Version) 0.00 0.00 -0.36 0.00
First And Last And Always -0.49 -0.49 -0.70 -0.30
Possession 0.00 0.00 -2.01 -1.61
Nine While Nine -0.07 -0.07 -0.74 -0.34
Amphetamine Logic 0.00 0.00 -0.65 -0.25
Some Kind Of Stranger -0.46 -0.46 -0.36 0.00

The peak data for the 1988 USA and 1992 EU columns is different, but the 1992 peaks are simply shifted down by around -0.4 dB. Proof of this can be found by comparing the tracks’ RMS volume levels:

TRACK RMS (dB): 1988 USA 1992 EU Delta
Black Planet -14.24 -13.82 -0.42
Walk Away -13.81 -14.35 0.54
No Time To Cry -15.04 -14.64 -0.4
A Rock And A Hard Place -16.06 -15.66 -0.4
Marian (Version) -14.29 -13.89 -0.4
First And Last And Always -15.17 -14.77 -0.4
Possession -16.71 -16.31 -0.4
Nine While Nine -15.09 -14.69 -0.4
Amphetamine Logic -14.98 -14.58 -0.4
Some Kind Of Stranger -14.88 -14.48 -0.4

The following frequency analysis graph plots the frequency curve of “Black Planet” from the German CD (red) and the American CD (blue). The German CD exhibits a bass boost in the 100-200 Hz region and a dip in the mid-range, whilst the USA CD is slightly more even throughout. These differences are responsible for the sonic impressions between the two CD masters, as outlined above.

BP EQ - Red DE - Blue USA

“Black Planet” frequency comparison of 1988 CDs (Germany / USA)


This article started life as a simple attempt to describe mix variations and wax lyrical about mastering. Thanks to a chance discovery however, it morphed into a far greater project. I would like to thank Tony Harris in particular for his help piecing the puzzle together, Gary Marx for peering back into the black, Boyd Steemson for his tantalising recollections, Dave Allen for his comments in 2010, Reinhold Mack for responding to my incessant enquiries, Phil Verne for photographic assistance, and LG for audio delights. Albums only work if the songs are great. The songs on First And Last And Always are great, they have stood the test of time, and they are worth obsessing over. Alas, the full picture remains incomplete, and until someone can interview Eldritch on the missing pieces the dots may never be completely joined. Attempts were made by your humble researcher but the call went unheeded. Until then, you have just read all I know for sure about the recording, mixing, and mastering of The Sisters Of Mercy’s First And Last And Always.


Tony Harris’ cassette back-up of the Livingston master tape.


[1] David M Allen, 29 August 2010: Sound Seminar. The Woodmill, London.

[2] “Serpents Kiss!”, Spiral Scratch, January 1989, 37.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] “Working Forward By Looking Back”, Merciful Release communication (1985): 1.

[5] Markus Hartmann, “…And the Wind Blows Wild Again…”. Zillo, November 1990.

[6] “Nine While Nine demo”, MyHeartland, accessed 8 August 2016,

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Working Forward By Looking Back”, 2.

[9] Ibid., 2.

[10] Gary Marx, e-mail message to author, 30 August 2016.

[11] Tony Harris, e-mail message to author, 23 July 2016.

[12] Tony Harris, Recording Diary, 10 January 1985.

[13] Gary Marx, e-mail message to author, 30 August 2016.

[14] Tony Harris, e-mail message to author, 24 July 2016.

[15] Gary Marx, e-mail message to author, 30 August 2016.

[16] Boyd Steemson, e-mail message to author, 22 August 2016.

[17] Gary Marx, e-mail message to author, 30 August 2016.

[18] “Speculation”, Underneath The Rock (2: 1992): 3.

[19] Tony Harris, minuted conversation with author, 27 July 2016.

[20] Reinhold Mack, Facebook message to author, 1 August 2016.

[21] David M Allen, 29 August 2010: Sound Seminar. The Woodmill, London.

[22] Gary Marx, e-mail message to author, 30 August 2016.

[23] Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5 feature on the Palazzograssi bootleg, The Last Magician Of Rational Thought (PG 04    , 1989).

[24] Tony Harris, e-mail message to author, 24 July 2016.

[25] Tony Harris, minuted conversation with author, 27 July 2016.

[26] Ibid.

Audiophile, Reviews

Review: Sound & Vision – The Bristol Show 2017

by Robert Cowlin

The Sound & Vision show takes place annually in Bristol and is the UK’s largest and longest running gathering of Hi-Fi manufacturers and enthusiasts. I had hoped to go last year but band commitments got in the way so my wife organised for us to go this year for my birthday. It was our first time visiting a Hi-Fi show and presented an exciting opportunity to hear many brands that we had read about but never had the chance to audition, we were also able to experience some indulgent cost-no-object configurations. The show was hosted at Bristol’s Marriott Hotel, with the ground floor conference suites being dedicated to larger demonstrations for twenty to thirty people per slot, and the hotel’s guestrooms being taken over by the smaller brands that convert the rooms into mock listening areas and living spaces in order to demonstrate their products to about six persons at a time. We went for two days, which was enough time to comfortably visit all the large demonstration rooms as well as all four additional floors worth of smaller demos. We could probably have done the whole thing in one day but it was nice not having to rush and being able to revisit some of our favourite rooms. The building was consistently packed for the entire time that we were there.

I wrote down our thoughts on some of the demonstrations and will outline them below, but first a couple of general observations. I was impressed by the number of manufacturers that had made a concerted effort to bring acoustic treatments to their demonstration rooms. Hotel rooms are hardly great for listening to music in, especially when every other room on the floor is pumping out tunes as well. A lot of manufacturers had brought bass traps and acoustic panels with them to treat the rooms, and the home cinema manufacturers were using digital room correction in their demos to improve the acoustics. I would estimate that around half of the manufacturers at the show were using some form of physical or digital acoustic treatments to improve the sound and those rooms unquestionably sounded the best. It is important to keep this in mind when reading my sonic observations below as not all the rooms were treated, but there really is no excuse when so many brands had brought something with them. Unfortunately, a lot of the manufacturers relied on either extremely bright or dynamically compressed digital music to demonstrate their products. In my opinion, this proved detrimental as it was countered by other manufacturers using excellent sounding vinyl set-ups to show off their products. I am very much a digital music enthusiast over vinyl, but the limitations of the vinyl format proved advantageous when compared to manufacturers that were playing hyped-up bright sounding productions in an attempt to entice attendees into their rooms. Generally, the rooms playing records sounded better because the lack of brightness or over compression allowed us to get a better impression of the products that were being exhibited without getting ear fatigue. Finally, the constant harping on by the brand representatives about ‘CD quality’ and ‘high-resolution’ got very tiring. We were regularly reminded that the demonstration tracks were only CD quality, and just think how much better this would sound with high-resolution audio being played. I am pretty sceptical about high-resolution for playback purposes and have never seen any evidence that a high-resolution master and its CD counterpart can be reliably identified in a blind test. Most of the attendees appeared to lap up the high-res voodoo talk however.

I have created a Spotify playlist of track highlights from the demonstrations reviewed below. Listen along and see if you can hear what I am talking about.

Brand Reviews:

Situated in one of the larger conference suites, ARCAM was demonstrating its AV860 Dolby Atmos & DTS:X 7.1.4 AV processor, with KEF providing the surround speakers and four Atmos ceiling speakers plus two bespoke sub-woofers with Celestion drivers. The amps were set up in a bridged mono-block configuration, with one amp per speaker providing 1,000 watts per channel of power. The overall cost of all the amps, speakers, 4K projector, and screen was around £100,000. The brand rep jokingly described the set up as their “lifestyle range”. The rep informed us that the demo was using Dirac digital room correction and played some rain sound effects with Dirac on and off to great effect. He then played the opening scene from Mad Max: Fury Road. The sound was immense and the picture quality was perfect, the demonstration immediately put every cinema I had ever attended to shame. The demonstration finished with a clip from a Paul Simon concert filmed in HD. I almost clapped at the end of the song, it was that convincing!

I had not heard of this brand before but AT was launching its AT2-210 integrated amplifier, using a Planalogue ‘Prelude’ turntable with ‘Sibelius SG’ floor-standing speakers by Pearl Acoustics. We were the only people in the room so I chose “Vicious” by Lou Reed as the demo track. There is a repeating cowbell on this track and on this set up it was all we could hear. Reed’s vocal was lost somewhere down the hall but that damned cowbell just kept clobbering us over the head every second. Very tiring indeed. The ‘Prelude’ turntable looked an impressive piece of kit however.

The room was set up like an office as Audioengine was demonstrating its tiny HD3 Wireless active speakers, placed either side of a computer monitor. I connected to them via bluetooth and streamed Bullion’s “It’s No Spirit” from Spotify. I was not particularly impressed. The speakers failed to control the song’s pulsating and potentially flabby sub-bass, instead just spluttering out a choked boom throughout the track. The brand rep started talking over the sonic mess, probably for the best.


HD3 Wireless speakers

I have read a lot about this brand, it appears to have a bit of a cult following particularly on US Hi-Fi forums. Audio Note had a CD transport and DAC combo feeding one of its amplifiers (didn’t get the names) with the ‘AN-J’ speaker at the end of the chain. Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Daddy” started playing as we entered the room. This is a track we are quite familiar with so it was a good opportunity to make some brief evaluations. The sound was very polite and pleasant, quite a lot of mid-range detail. I did however notice that the track’s snare drum seemed to have a bit more added punch than normal, so perhaps the speakers have some reinforcement somewhere in the mid-range. This characteristic carried over to the next song, a female vocal track. Each time the singer held a particular note the sound became unpleasant.


AN-J speaker

Another mega-bucks surround sound demonstration, this time by B&W. We heard the flagship ‘800 D3’ in a 5.2 configuration with the new ‘DB1D’ sub-woofer. First, the rep passed around some of the driver elements that go into building the 800 Series speakers. The metal structures were incredibly hefty and made no echo if you tapped on them. Impressive engineering on display. The rep then played Lou Reed’s “Vanishing Act” in stereo to great effect. The speakers had a vice-like grip over every speck of sound, the scale was of course massive. The rep demonstrated how well isolated the sub-woofer is by placing a glass of water on top of it and playing a bass heavy drum track. He called it the Jurassic Park test, the water remained still throughout the whole track! The demonstration concluded with the opening scene from Unbroken. The whole experience was incredibly tense and dramatic, with the various surround effects rendered to perfection. I wonder if you might feel a bit locked in by it all in the long-term, the sound was that commanding. The cost of the system was £60,000.


This room was pretty cool. Cyrus was demonstrating its new ‘ONE’ integrated amplifier, a reboot of the original Cyrus One from the 1980s. Cyrus had a selection of its milestone products on display from the last thirty years and was demonstrating the new ‘ONE’ amplifier with three different speakers and Audioquest Nighthawk headphones (the new amp includes a very capable headphone amplifier). I was not familiar with the speakers or the song selection, and the brand rep kept taking forever to introduce the tracks and then only played them for thirty seconds! Nevertheless, one quality that I noticed across all the tracks and speakers was that the sound was incredibly clear and lucid without a hint of brightness or fatigue. I really enjoyed listening to the amplifier and found the half-width case aesthetically appealing.

The self-proclaimed “best sound in the World”, Devialet makes a curious range of curved wireless speakers with mouthwatering specs. At the Bristol Show, Devialet was demonstrating its new ‘Gold Phantom’ loudspeaker. It (perhaps unfairly) struck me as a sort of Hi-Fi lifestyle product, retailing at ~£2,000. The sound was very good and benefited from the speakers being set up in a tight rule of thirds configuration with only two chairs for listening. Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” was playing and the Gold Phantoms conveyed the song’s rhythmic elements and crunch with ease with excellent stereo separation to boot. Looks wise, the Phantoms are very much a marmite product that no doubt will compete with KEF’s new LS50 Wireless speakers (discussed below).


Gold Phantom speaker

Celebrating its 40th anniversary and exhibiting the What Hi-Fi 2016 Product of the Year ‘Emit M20’ stand-mount speaker (among other models), the sound in the Dynaudio room was very impressive. The M20’s imaged with pinpoint precision, emphasising the importance of space between one’s speakers, and had a pleasant airy quality that would certainly suit warmer sounding electronics. They retail at £600, I expected them to be twice that price.

Demo track: Stevie Ray Vaughan – “Tin Pan Alley”.


Emit M20 speakers

Quite possibly my favourite room of the show that has left me coveting a pair of Harbeth loudspeakers! Harbeth was also celebrating its 40th anniversary and demonstrating the limited edition ‘SHL5plus’ large stand-mount speaker. Unlike many other rooms, designer Alan Shaw was playing a selection of classical and jazz recordings with the idea being to convey a subtle and nuanced sound rather than the whizz-bangs going off elsewhere. The speakers framed everything perfectly and had an addictive and comforting sound that you could listen to for hours. Highlighting the fact that speakers are probably the most important part of a Hi-Fi set-up, Alan was simply playing tracks from his portable digital player to superb effect. No high-res gimmicks, no exotic cabling, very little in the way of isolation. Just great speakers. Quality clean amplification was provided by Norwegian manufacturer, Hegel. If you ever get a chance to hear a pair of these speakers do not hesitate! Dynamic range, realism, and perfect sound await!

Demo track: Art Blakey – Moanin’.


SHL5plus speakers

A room full of modern valve amplifiers, valve phono stages, valve CD players(!), and valve headphone amplifiers from award winning valve Hi-Fi manufacturer Icon Audio. Far too many things to list but Icon was demonstrating its massive 15″ horn speakers which did not sound as impressive as they looked.


Icon Audio display

I own a pair of KEF’s award winning LS50 speakers so I had to hear what it had come up with for the new LS50 Wireless active version on demonstration at Bristol. One issue that people have reported with the passive LS50 is that it is a bit fussy about what amplifier it is paired with. I have not experienced any issues with it connected to my Rega Elex-R, but I think – given the speaker’s relatively affordable £800 price tag – many owners try to mate it with entry-level amplifiers that do not have enough power to properly drive the KEFs. It appears that one really needs an amp in the same price range as the LS50 (or higher) to get the best out of the speaker. With this in mind, KEF has decided to create an active version of the LS50 with purpose built dual amplifiers inside (one for the mid/bass driver, one for the tweeter), thus solving the potential amplifier pairing problem. The new LS50 Wireless is a complete Hi-Fi solution, with everything happening inside the speaker boxes. You just add stands and cables, then control everything via your phone or tablet. Design wise, it is the same as the original LS50 but with the amplifier and DAC added to the back, so they are pretty deep! Three tracks were used to demonstrate the speaker’s most noteworthy qualities: scale, sound-stage width, and pinpoint imaging. We were sat at the back and still the spatial cues were faultless despite us not actually being able to see the speakers. The speakers come with a phone app that lets you dial in DSP room correction, compensating for room dimensions and speaker placement. If I did not already own a pair of passive LS50s the new active version would definitely be on my audition list.

Demo track: Malia – Celestial Echo.

The only real attempt at budget Hi-Fi in the whole building, Mission was showing off its What Hi-Fi award winning LX-2 stand-mount speaker (£160). We were the only ones in the room at the time so we picked “Kooks” from the 2015 remaster of Hunky Dory. The LX-2s did an admirable job of rendering Bowie’s vocal, but not much else. The song’s tuneful yet subtle bass was non-existent and there was very little realism on the piano. Overall, a somewhat unbalanced presentation. Bizarrely, the speakers were being fed by hundreds of pounds worth of quality Audiolab electronics so the source certainly was not at fault. The speakers were quite far out in the room given their size, and perhaps would have performed better in a smaller environment where reinforcement from the main wall would have improved the bass. Nonetheless, I have heard better budget speaker performance from the likes of Wharfedale and Cambridge Audio in the past.


LX-2 speakers

MQA is a new file format, developed by Meridian, that aims to bring high-resolution audio streaming into the home. It is able to compress 24-bit high-resolution audio master files into sizes that are similar to 16-bit FLAC/ALAC files. It can do this because MQA uses lossy data compression to achieve its small file size, whereas FLAC and ALAC utilises lossless compression. Consequently, a high-resolution audio master file converted to FLAC/ALAC will retain all of its audio information, whereas the same master file converted to MQA will be much smaller in size but lose some of its audio information forever. MQA is currently being used by Tidal to stream high-res audio to subscribers. MQA was being demonstrated by Bluesound, who makes a selection of sleek network streamers and amps, and Audioquest, who brought its newly MQA-enabled Dragonfly USB soundcard to the show. The companies were demonstrating with MQA off and then on. Can YOU hear the difference? etc. Bluesound was using a more realistic pair of B&W floor-standing speakers than what we had heard in the B&W room earlier, the sonic characteristics of the earlier B&W demo remained the same though, which was interesting to note. Audioquest had its Dragonfly soundcard connected to a splendid Rega Elicit-R amplifier and speakers that I do not recall the name of. Both demos used a pre-digital era jazz vocal recording and Adele’s “Hello” to demonstrate the apparent difference between CD quality and the supposedly superior MQA. We were the only people in the Audioquest room so took the opportunity to test the rep on his knowledge. The jazz vocal track had an excruciatingly high analogue tape noise floor and I mentioned that any benefit between 16-bit CD quality and 24-bit high-res MQA would be redundant on this track because its high noise floor was obscuring any audible differences happening below -96 dBFS. I told the rep I could not hear any difference and he went: “Right! Let’s try Adele!” The track, “Hello”, is mastered so loud that it has just 4 dB of usable dynamic range. We blissfully sat there, switching back and forth between a CD file capable of containing 96 dB of dynamic range, and the high-res counterpart capable of 144 dB of dynamic range. Both of these ‘buckets’ are capable of rendering “Hello” in all its DR4 glory without hindrance or any audible difference. I tried to explain this but Audioquest was having none of it! By now a few more people had come in and I was loudly proclaimed to be the only person throughout the entire weekend that could not hear a difference between CD and MQA, much to my delight and pleasure! Shortly afterwards I returned to the Harbeth room to hear properly mastered songs being played off a smartphone with incredible sound, go figure.

I previously owned Musical Fidelity’s excellent entry-level V90 DAC and often regret selling it. However, I have had the opportunity to hear MF amplifiers at dealers and now at the Bristol Show and have always come away with the impression that they exhibit a false sense of air or top-end extension. MF was showcasing its ‘Encore Connect’ all in one music player (files, streaming, CD, etc) and ‘NuVista 600’ integrated amplifier. Speakers were KEF ‘Reference I’ stand-mounts. Lots of brands were using various KEF speakers throughout the show, and this was the only time when we both felt they sounded brash and false in the top-end. I can only assume this impression was down to the Musical Fidelity electronics. In addition to the unpleasant sound, the huge components were finished in a hideous mid-nineties computer off-white colour, the kind you might associate with an old CRT monitor or keyboard. Next!


Musical Fidelity display

Naim had taken over the executive lounge to demonstrate its new ‘Uniti’ range of products. It is another all in one solution that includes streaming, bluetooth, radio, network sharing, and apps that basically means you never need to move ever again. To my delight, the new range also promotes file-based playback specifically from CD rips and Naim has built a device that rips, stores, backs up, and serves your music to the network (‘Uniti Core’, £1,800). With more audiophiles collecting older CDs to get a specific mastering or out of print recording, or simply buying CDs because they are currently so cheap, it is now more important than ever to back up one’s CD collection to a lossless archive. Older discs can contain errors that ordinary disc-based playback would struggle with, but if you rip the disc you are more likely to get files that play perfectly because, when ripping a disc, error correction is not time-domain limited, i.e. the software can spend as long as it likes ripping a problematic track whereas a CD player only has a couple of seconds before having to come up with a fix or it skips. Using software such as dBpoweramp with AccurateRip enabled, one can ensure that a ripped CD is in fact a perfect copy of the disc by automatically comparing the CRC codes from the rip with a user-generated database of codes. If the rip’s CRC codes match someone else then it is an accurate rip as the likelihood of errors being identical across rips is almost impossible. Frustratingly, when the Naim rep promoted lossless CD ripping, he simplified it dramatically by saying: “CD players lie to us because they use error correction, whereas ripped files do not need error correction”. Well, that is sort of true, but the act of ripping a CD might still require the use of error correction in order to accurately rip the disc. I assume/hope Naim’s ripping system includes error correction! The rep did not say whether the ‘Core’ uses AccurateRip or indeed whether it has any method of informing the user that it has achieved a secure/insecure rip. I would not like to be on the receiving end of an irate Naim customer whose wonderful collection of ripped discs all contain audible errors and skips! The Naim rep played five tracks (jazz, classical, rock, female vocal, electronic) through the ‘Uniti’ kit and Focal ‘Sopra No. 3’ floor-standing speakers (£15,000). I have long wanted to hear the ‘Naim sound’ so I was looking forward to this demo but I was quite unimpressed. There was lots of attack, you knew precisely when a note was struck, but the amount of detail was so dizzying that I wondered how much processing was going on inside those boxes. The whole sonic picture was ruthlessly forward and off-putting. How could one listen to that for extended periods? As we went round the show we noticed a few other manufacturers using Naim components in their demonstrations, including some headphones, and that sonic characteristic remained apparent.


Uniti Nova

Swedish electronics manufacturer, Primare, teamed up with US speaker manufacturer, Revel, to present one of the best sounding rooms of the weekend. The minimalist set-up consisted of Primare’s EISA award winning ‘I32’ integrated amplifier (£2,000) and ‘NP30’ network player (£2,000), feeding Revel’s Concerta2 M16 stand-mount speakers (£950). The sound produced by this set up was clean and open. As with Harbeth earlier, the rep took a more relaxed approach to song selection and mixed older more dynamic recordings in with modern productions. I do not have much more to say other than it sounded excellent with no single element causing any offence or annoyance.


Rega was showcasing its new ‘Planar 3’ turntable and the 2017 iteration of its award winning ‘Brio’ amplifier. It also launched an MC phono stage, modified TT PSU with variable speed control, and digital stylus gauge for accurately setting VTF to two decimal points at the show. The system was playing through Rega’s ‘RX-5’ floor-standing loudspeakers. The new turntable is extremely light and good at dispelling airborne vibrations. I previously demoed Rega’s RX-1 stand-mounts to go with my Rega Elex-R and DAC-R but thought they sounded too dull. At Bristol, the RX-5 certainly sounded better than I remember the RX-1 sounding, not dull at all, but perhaps a bit too open on the top end.

We found out that Sennheiser would be exhibiting its £50,000 ‘HE 1’ headphone and amplifier combo at the Bristol show so booked a slot in advance to hear it. We fed the amp with lossless CD rips from my iPod via a FiiO line-out dock to essentially mimic the output of a CD player. The sound was just incredible. As expected, it was the best sounding headphone rig I had ever experienced, digging up newfound detail in performances and unveiling instrumental characteristics that I had not heard before, as well as lifelike vocal realism and exquisite separation. Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” sounded incredible through it, with the drumming in particular gaining an additional sense of realism, particularly during the mid-track rim-shots.

I was itching to see and hear the just announced ‘SL-1200GR’ turntable, which made its UK debut at Bristol alongside last year’s ‘SL-1200G’ reference turntable. The new GR iteration is almost identical to the classic SL-1200 MK2 and will retail at £1,299, whereas the reference G version is ~6 kg heavier, has a magnesium finished tonearm and brass platter, and retails at £2,999. The cartridge was Ortofon’s 2M Black PnP (~£500) and this was all feeding Technics’ ‘SU-C700’ amplifier (£1,250) and ‘SB-G90’ floor-standing speakers (RRP TBA). With the exception of the added weight, both turntables felt identical to use. Everything was supremely machined to perfection and felt even more sturdy than my trusty SL-1210 MK2 at home. On the whole, the sound of the full Technics system was a bit restrained, with vocals being slightly recessed, however resolution of very low level detail on David Bowie’s “Lazarus” was excellent and I definitely noticed quiet effects that I had not heard before. Perhaps the set up just needed something to wake the mid-range up a bit, maybe a change of cartridge?

That’s it for the 2017 round-up. Roll on 2018!


Collecting: Vintage CDs

by Robert Cowlin

Poor old CD takes a regular bashing from so called audiophiles and even the mainstream media, which is a shame because it remains the cheapest and most convenient way to get high quality sound, printed artwork, and transportable lossless audio data. Despite this, a significant number of people have decided that CD is not for them and are ditching their collections in favour of vinyl (under the assumption that it always sounds better) or streaming. Contrary to popular opinion, CDs manufactured in the 1980s generally have very good sound quality. Ironically, we have the laziness of the record labels to thank for all of the wonderful sounding vintage CDs that are now swamping the secondhand market. In their haste to take advantage of the fledgling digital format in the 1980s, great swathes of EQ’d cutting masters from the vinyl years were pulled from the shelves and hurriedly transferred to digital with minimal additional processing. Added to this are the then-contemporary releases that were mostly treated very well (up to c.1994) and often came with bonus tracks to promote the new format. The result is that there is now a great wealth of catalogue titles just waiting to fill gaps in every music fan’s collection for very little outlay. One need only add the simplest of playback devices (such as an iPhone and a good pair of headphones, or an old DVD player outputting digitally to a low-cost DAC like the Musical Fidelity V90) and good sound is ready and waiting. Much like in the 1990s when vinyl was a buyers’ market, so too in the 2010s is CD a buyers’ market. As anyone who has read these pages will know, buying music isn’t as simple as getting something on one’s preferred format (if only!), not if one wants to hear a recording in the best possible sound. Unfortunately the purchasing of music on CD is just as problematic as it is with vinyl. With this short post, I’d like to draw your attention to some particular types and series of vintage CDs that pretty much guarantee good sound quality. Next time you’re shopping for used CDs, keep these in mind!

Target CDs:


So called because the label design resembles a crosshair, Target CDs were released by WEA in the early to mid 1980s. They are collectable from a historical standpoint because they are the original issues and thus represent the first time these albums were released on compact disc, they are also generally “flat transfers” of the tapes used. They were predominantly pressed in West Germany and Japan and are most likely sourced from EQ’d production masters originally intended for vinyl with no additional processing, compression, or noise reduction applied during mastering. Target CDs (and their associated “Target masters”) were later reissued as standard silver-faced CDs and some of them (like Rumours) are still in production today which means one can still purchase Target masters without paying the collectable price.

Toshiba EMI “Black Triangle” CDs:


“Black Triangles” are first generation CDs manufactured by Toshiba EMI Ltd in Japan during the initial launch of the CD format in 1983. Most stayed in print for less than a couple of years (some, like Abbey Road, much less), and are highly sought after because they are reasonably faithful transfers of the Japanese master tapes used for each title. These discs have a very natural unprocessed sound, particularly when compared to the officially sanctioned versions that British EMI released after 1986.

Original Jazz Classics (OJCCD):

original-jazz-classicsNow for something a little cheaper and easier to find. Original Jazz Classics is a reissue label created in 1982 by Fantasy Records to present classic jazz albums from the Fantasy-owned labels (Prestige, Riverside Records, Milestone Records, Contemporary Records) with their original artwork and liner notes. Over 1,000 titles to date have been reissued as part of this series. Initial OJC releases were on vinyl and cassette, but they started pressing CDs in the mid-1980s which resulted in a huge array of previously rare titles being reintroduced to mainstream jazz fans and critics to much acclaim. In general, OJC CDs are very faithful to the original master tapes and can be purchased for less than £3. They’ve gotten some negative press in recent years because they sound a little soft and quiet next to overly processed remasters, this isn’t helped by the fact that OJC themselves reissued some of their catalogue as 20-bit remasters in digipaks in the late 1990s with an OJC20 catalogue number prefix – these are to be avoided. An original OJC master can be identified from its packaging, which uses traditional black CD trays and often has a late-1980s “digital remastering” credit on the back, and OJCCD catalogue number prefix. They are almost universally a safe buy, plentiful, and cheap. Many incredible jazz recordings are available through OJC, of particular note are Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus (OJCCD-291-2) and the Bill Evans Trio’s Waltz for Debby (OJCCD-210-2). Some of the OJC catalogue is available for streaming on Tidal and continues to use the original CD masters created in the 1980s.



In 1986 MCA Records revived the 1960’s jazz label Impulse! for a brief series of reissues. The mastering engineers involved with this project went uncredited, but it is known that veteran audiophile engineer, Steve Hoffman, worked on twelve of these titles in the early days of his career, with other respected engineers working on the rest. “All sourced from the original tapes with the exception of A Love Supreme, which was from the original Bell Sound cutting tape“. A list of releases in this series can be found here.

Island Masters (IMCD):


This series was initiated by PolyGram in 1989 and focused on reissuing good selling records from the Island catalogue at “mid-price” level. Sound quality is generally very good and faithful to the original recordings with the Cat Stevens and Free catalogues getting praise from fans and audiophiles to this day.

The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs:


Also known as The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music and The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and DVDs, this indispensable tome is a must buy for all classical music fans. The annual publication ranks and reviews currently available recordings of classical music, awarding points for both performance and recording quality. It makes the purchasing of classical music – which can be a minefield – much easier for novices and experienced collectors alike, which brings me on to…

Holst – The Planets (OSM/Dutoit), Decca ‎417 553-2, 1987:


Every music fan should own a copy of The Planets, and the OSM/Dutoit recording from 1987 is the way to hear it. Generally regarded as the greatest performance of Holst’s most popular work, this award-winning recording represents the pinnacle of late-1980s digital engineering with out-of-this-world dynamics and realism. If you only ever buy one piece of classical music, it should be The Planets.

Albums recorded and released in the 1980s and early-1990s:

Original CD issues of ’80s and early ’90s recordings are generally considered the best sounding for a given album. Of course, these should be considered on a case-by-case basis, but the proliferation of extremely harsh sounding modern remasters, especially of ’80s rock and pop, often makes the purchasing decision pretty easy. It is also worth remembering that, by the mid-1980s, most major studios had moved over to digital recording and the CD masters were given preference over analogue ones (frequently analogue masters were simply D/A transfers), with vinyl being pressed in increasingly poorer quality in an attempt to persuade consumers to buy the CD. The quality of vinyl records got even worse in the 1990s as CD became the dominant format.

Care, back-up, playback:

If properly cared for, a CD should last for a very long time and exhibit no playback degradation. Collectors of used CDs are advised to keep a micro-fibre cloth handy to wipe clean any soiled discs, more heavily damaged discs can sometimes be returned to full playing order with an ultrasonic cleaning machine that one would use to clean jewellery with. The best way to ensure accurate playback of all discs is actually to rip them to a lossless file format and play the resulting rip, this method offers an error-free form of playback and CD rips can be backed up for peace of mind. Most importantly, CD rips can be made with error-correction that isn’t time-limited and therefore malfunctioning discs can be rescued. I recommend using dBpoweramp CD Ripper to back-up a CD collection with AccurateRip enabled for ensuring that the rip is an exact 1:1 copy of what’s on the disc. AccurateRip works by comparing binary data from your rip with a user-generated database. If your data matches another user’s (or, as is often the case, many other users’) it is highly likely that your rip is accurate. It is also important to use a CD drive with a high level of accuracy to make CD ripping easy and fast. Using AccurateRip data, it is possible to ascertain which drive is the most accurate. As of 2016, it is the LiteOn IHAS124, which can be purchased for less than £20 (CD/DVD Drive Accuracy List 2016).

Modern digital playback is source-transparent and reveals the excellent sound of many vintage CDs. A perfect sounding budget-conscious setup might consist of the highly regarded Marantz CD5005 CD player, vintage NAD 3020 amplifier, and Wharfedale Diamond speakers for less than £500. Alternatively, the Audioquest Dragonfly is a USB powered digital-to-analogue converter and headphone amplifier, capable of driving many high quality headphones from your laptop, phone, or tablet. This device paired with an award-winning headphone, like the AKG K550, can cost as little as £200 and offers brilliant sound quality. It’s never been easier to get good sound on a budget, so hunt down a bunch of vintage CDs, get yourself a good quality digital player, and enjoy pure perfect sound forever!


Ode to Streaming

by Robert Cowlin

Today my Tidal subscription renewed for the first time, marking one month since I joined the CD quality streaming service. In that month I’ve come to understand how streaming can work for the audiophile who might be sceptical of such services, what with them contributing to the redundancy of physical music and lack of provenance regarding mastering of catalogue titles. By approaching streaming from a learning perspective – not necessarily of ‘try before you buy’ but more a position of open musical exploration – it becomes very easy for streaming to complement one’s curation of an owned music collection as the connected audiophile uses the latest developments in content access to expand their musical outlook.

I first discovered streaming when Spotify was launched in the UK in late 2008/early 2009. I was a university student living in halls, and it seemed like a useful way to access music that I didn’t have with me in my small accommodation. Unfortunately, what with it being very much a fledgling service at the time and not yet having found its feet in the musical landscape, I quickly became frustrated with its patchy availability of albums I was interested in and, when they introduced the subscription fees, couldn’t justify the expense of streaming music that I already owned in higher quality (i.e. on CD). The constant adverts didn’t help either. Consequently, whilst the rest of my peers kept up with streaming, it became useless to me as I slowly started ripping my CD collection to Apple Lossless and then of course got into vinyl and latterly hi-fi. Thankfully my time in the small student accommodation didn’t last for too long!

Fast-forward eight years and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) is reporting that “streaming has emerged as the digital sector’s main driver of growth. As download revenues have declined (down 10.5 per cent in 2015), streaming – helped by the spread of smartphones, increased availability of high-quality subscription services and connected fans migrating into licensed music – has grown to 19 per cent of global industry revenues, up from 14 per cent in 2014” [Global Music Report: State of the Industry Overview 2016, IFPI]. The IFPI’s 2016 overview reveals that digital music sales represent 45% of global revenues, with streaming revenues accounting for 43% of digital sales (N.B. in this use of the word, digital does not include sales of physical music that contain digital audio, such as CD). In a section of the report titled, “Music Streaming Goes Mainstream”,  Michael Nash, UMG’s executive president of digital strategy, makes a crucial assertion that reflects my newfound experience with Tidal: “With the initial move to digital [music files], people took their physical collections and transferred them to digital, adding a few bespoke digital purchases so a lot of product concepts remained unchanged … But the move from downloading to streaming means consumers have access to millions of tracks. This means everything we are doing now around establishing artist brands, driving preference and marketing, is different”. This notion of “product concepts” is very relevant to the way in which I’ve been interacting with my streaming subscription this past month. Rather than using streaming to play all the albums I already love, I’ve been using it as a means of musical discovery. Now that streaming is so mainstream, any album worth its salt is released on streaming platforms either on release day or sometimes earlier. With great new music being released every week, one can easily use a streaming service as a means of hearing the latest releases that one is interested in and, perhaps more importantly, the latest developments in music that one might not otherwise have known about or been able to hear with the traditional pay-per-album model.

If you ask the average audiophile (…stay with me) what they think of streaming, they will invariably say something like: “The Beatles/Neil Young/The Rolling Stones/etc isn’t on streaming”. The idea, to them, is that streaming would constitute a music fan’s entire experience of recorded music, past present and future. Now, I’m aware that, for the average Millennial, streaming probably does constitute their entire experience of recorded music and to them the waffle that is this article will seem terribly outdated and its conclusions patently obvious, but we’re in the audiophile section so I’m going to continue writing with my audiophile hat on (it’s perfectly adapted to the curvature of my head to allow for a pinpoint sound-stage), and that means we’re talking about people that consider themselves music fans (and therefore engage with physical music products, go to concerts, and possibly have a hi-fi) and those who go beyond that into the realm of audiophilia. What I’ve come to appreciate, as a music fan, is that streaming isn’t really about replacing one’s whole music collection with a subscription, it’s about augmenting the collection and – most importantly – expanding one’s musical education through the thing it does better than anything else: instant musical access.

This is where Tidal steps in. Tidal’s “Hi-Fi” subscription service differentiates itself from the other major streaming platforms by offering lossless CD quality (FLAC, 16-bit/44.1 kHz) streams to its subscribers for £19.99/€19.99/$19.99 per month. By moving away from the free ad-supported streaming services and upgrading to an ad-less higher quality experience in the form of Tidal Hi-Fi (Spotify Premium is the more popular example but doesn’t offer lossless quality), it becomes very easy to see how one could implement the aforementioned “product concept” idea and incorporate a streaming service into one’s musical life. With a lossless streaming subscription, the tech-savvy connected audiophile can integrate it seamlessly with their physical music collection and change at will between CD quality streams, real CDs, and whichever other formats constitute their collection. This is how one can utilise streaming to its fullest potential: want to hear the 2016 shortlist for the Mercury Prize, it’s all there; enjoying the bass playing on that jazz record but don’t own any records by the bassist, stream that musician and discover new gems; want to hear The Gouster but can’t afford the box-set it’s limited to, it’s right there on the streaming services as well.

As mentioned earlier, this method of interacting with music is widespread amongst millions of people and as usual we audiophiles are lagging behind (or perhaps the audio companies and magazines are simply resistant to promoting real advances in our hobby), but it’s something that I’ve only just come to appreciate through my first month as a paid up member of Tidal. Of course, this approach requires one to actually want to seek out new music. It also requires a level of computer-based understanding if one wants to integrate the service with the rest of one’s hi-fi (I stream Tidal lossless across my home network to my DAC via my Android devices using the BubbleUPnP app), but the hour or so spent getting it set-up correctly (i.e. ensuring that it is actually sending a lossless stream) is more than worth it simply for the expanse that it has added to my music collection. I’m now in a position whereby, for catalogue titles, I can determine the best version available and buy it on any format that I desire; whilst, for new titles, I can stream them in CD quality and then decide if it’s something I want to buy (say, if the mastering is excellent). Readers will be aware of my opposition to loud styles of audio mastering, this is all well and good but it poses the risk of easily ignoring great swathes of modern recordings simply because they aren’t finished to a high standard. This approach isn’t acceptable to someone who considers themselves a music fan. Consequently, a premium streaming subscription enables me to hear as much music as I want (and not feel too guilty about royalties), but still vote with my wallet on titles that deserve a place in my physical music collection. With space at an all time premium, this seems like a sensible approach.


Vinyl Revival: Do Record Labels Actually Care about Quality?

by Robert Cowlin

You were promised a review of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ new record, Skeleton Tree. It’s a great record, I rated it 4/5 on All Music. I really like all the bubbling meandering synth work and Cave’s vocal is bang on. One could perhaps draw obvious lines of comparison with Blackstar based on the timing of surrounding events. The CD sounds like garbage but the YouTube videos (taken from the accompanying film) sound great. When it comes out on blu-ray I’ll rip the audio but until that time it shall remain in my Tidal streaming library.

Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to turn to what could quite possibly be my favourite topic: moaning about vinyl. If you are one of the poor victims, unfortunate enough to have paid £20 for Skeleton Tree on vinyl, chances are high you’ll know what this article is going to be about. Pictures speak louder than words though, so if this recent scandal in the annals of audiophilia has somehow managed to pass you by, feast your eyes on these:

It seems that Kobalt Music, the company tasked with producing physical copies of Skeleton Tree, failed to perform any quality control checks on their monstrosity of a product and the result is a record with a murky surface, covered in scuffs, and there are even reports of glue being lodged in the playing surface. Complaints about quality control and the vinyl revival are not new. Many modern pressings are riddled with defects, and there is even a twenty-one page thread specifically devoted to issues arising from one particular pressing plant! To make matters worse, in the case of Skeleton Tree, the record comes in this ridiculous oversized sleeve making it impossible to store properly, especially if bought by the kind of vinylphile who likes to keep their records in protective polythene sleeves. I couldn’t tell you what it sounds like because I haven’t bought it (would you?). Needless to say, for a recording that is pretty sparse, you really do need to have it pressed on pristine vinyl if you want to enjoy it on that format. The combination of the unplayable record and stupid sleeve is the perfect embodiment of what the vinyl revival is truly about: conning music fans out of their money (duh, I hear you say). It didn’t have to be this way, and perhaps there was an innocent point over the revival’s now ten year history when vinyl was good, but greed has taken over and the labels are predictably putting just as much effort into their vinyl releases as they are their digital ones (hint: zero).

Think about it, here is a product that 48% of buyers probably won’t use, 7% of which can’t use, and for the remaining 52% it is highly likely they’re playing the record on this. Why on earth would anyone who is seriously concerned with audio reproduction entertain the notion that the labels actually care about their vinyl output when, statistically, that market is a niche within a niche? The biggest con of all is that vinyl is an objectively inferior technology to CD when it comes to sound reproduction, but it’s being marketed as a superior product! A cursory glance at Amazon’s Best Sellers in Vinyl reveals that consumers are spending on average £20 for a top 10 vinyl record that half of them aren’t going to listen to. With this in mind, it seems blindingly obvious that something like Skeleton Tree would happen sooner or later, as the labels realise they’re basically selling big pictures. I’m surprised Blackstar didn’t run into similar problems, being that it is a record that came packaged in a razor sharp plastic sleeve. Of course, these points won’t stop the kind of deluded vinylphiles that populate hi-fi forums and magazines from believing that anything pressed on Glorious Vinyl sounds like it has been produced by the ghost of George Martin, mastered by Orpheus on an all-tube lathe, and individually hand pressed by Japanese artisans…


It isn’t difficult to press a high quality record. All you need to do is make sure it’s mastered specifically for vinyl with dynamics intact, instruct the pressing facility not to apply any additional processing to the sound, and pay the extra fee to have the record packaged in a poly-lined inner sleeve. At the time of writing, a run of 500 LPs will cost a DIY label with no major label discount around £2,000 (including mastering and VAT). You can see that selling such a product for £20 would result in a huge profit for the label and many happy listeners. I don’t even know how it would be possible for a label to spend so little to end up with a record that looks as bad as Skeleton Tree but apparently Kobalt Music has found a way.

In addition to all that, I’ve even heard of labels that let their individual bands organise the mastering of their records. How stupid can you get? Imagine the hodge podge of varying sonic signatures such a label would be putting out, rather than releasing a string of products with an element of sonic consistency. Clearly, a label that does this (I’m naming no names here) has absolutely no clue about maintaining quality control or presenting some semblance of a coherent catalogue of albums. We are at such a low point for sound quality compared to the relative high point of current recording technology that it seems hard to imagine how we could sink any lower. Compare this to the movie industry and the successful implementation of the blu-ray format amongst videophiles and it’s not difficult to see why the home music industry is trailing behind home video (evidenced by the way in which What Hi-Fi has increasingly turned its attention to home cinema, and the popularity of home theatre forums over hi-fi ones).

For a brief moment it was possible for the modern music fan with a penchant for sound quality to “get it on vinyl” and not have to concern themselves with the loudness war or streaming distractions. This patently is no longer the case. In the seventies, when audio production quality was high, music consumers might have concerned themselves over whether a label was using recycled vinyl to press the latest record. Now the music consumer must simply ask: does the label care about quality at all?