ARE YOU EXPERIENCED - SACD hybrid - Stereo/monoWe have already seen Bernie Grundman's remasters of Axis Bold of Love, Electric Ladyland, Cry Of Love and Rainbow Bridge
and following on from Analogue Productions' SACD hybrid of Axis Bold As Love comes this long awaited remaster of the U.S. version of Are You Experienced. A pity it wasn't the UK version but there you go.
A big thank you to Gord for this in-depth review of the disc:
ARE YOU EXPERIENCED Hybrid SACD - Experience Hendrix / Sony Legacy / Sony Music / Analogue Productions 19075819782.
Purple Haze, Manic Depression, Hey Joe (Roberts), Love or Confusion, May This Be Love, l Don't Live Today, The Wind Cries Mary, Fire, 3rd Stone From The Sun, Foxy Lady, Are You Experienced
SACD layer: original Stereo and Mono mixes
CD layer: original Stereo mix only
This release is presented with the Karl Ferris fisheye cover shot so that is enough to inform us of the version we are getting. Those who have little understanding of the history of the recording, well this is the compiled album presented to the U.S. market in 1967. This has less to do with the original album as crafted by Hendrix and Chandler for the U.K. Unfortunately, the booklet brings little by way of informing of the real history of these recordings or the variations to the recordings and nothing of the many questions that abound regard the tapes themselves.
So here at long last, is the stereo and mono mixes of the US Reprise Records Are You Experienced brought together on a hybrid SACD. It’s good to see some first’s here: Mono to a digital platform, HiRez file, Grundman mastering [to the stereo mix] are all first’s to be found on this release.
Despite the numerous stereo CD releases of this title none have really appealed to me, be it early transfer issues or a lack of consideration in the mastering, they have always fallen short of an enjoyable listen in this format. It’s easy to live with the obvious faults of the recordings and even the questionable tape transfer issues than it is these previous digital outings, well for me at least. And here we have all those recording issues laid bare, with nowhere to hide and no one trying to hide them. Well, almost all!
The cost of recordings for the original album was, for the most part covered by Polydor Records. While some material contained on the US iteration that we have here was recorded prior to that financial deal with Polydor it still does not deflect from this album being produced for Polydor.
The mixes of course were delivered differently to two different labels. Track got the mono mix while Reprise got both the stereo and mono mixes. In the U.S.A. they were subsequently chopped and changed to “suit” a market. No doubt part of the deal with Reprise was the stereo mix probably on the back of promises of a greater revenue stream for a re-sequenced record.
The 1971 French re-release (Barclay 0820.143) of the original album.
Track listing identical to the UK version.
Before I go further, a note...
Of course, I cannot vouch for how others set their preference here as we all have different ears and systems so please be aware this is not about which is the “best” and I never travel the route of, “this is the one and only one you must own and listen to”! How dare I, how dare you? I mention this in light of the constant push from some quarters that the French mono 2nd (above) press is the “best” pressing of this mix as it simply comes from the actual mixed master tape and not a copy, that copy tape with its inherent faults. Personally, I find a number of the tracks on this 2nd press Barclay present the cutting volume choice as a major issue. I don’t like overly loud mastered music and the older I get the more I appear to dislike that point too, regardless of the platform it is presented to me on.
Jump over to the Backtrack series from Track records where you will find a number of the mono mixes also presented from the actual mono mix master tape. Not much in it but enough to demonstrate that a quieter cut has more of an advantage to the listener, if nothing else it allows greater freedom to push volume through a recording and from experience, mono deserves volume.
You may have the preference for the 2nd press Barclay, great but my ears and my current set up tell me to go elsewhere and if that means embracing the obvious issues found on the Track Records pressing from 1967 that’s fine by my ears.
Used here are the stereo and mono tapes as were supplied to Reprise in 1967 and presented to us after the chopping and changing of the content to include the three single releases, well the A sides of three single releases.
Reprise Records were clearly focused on a stereo release of the LP with the mono an afterthought for what was considered a dying market. So did they care that the mono tape they had received had issues? Mastering was a way of hiding some of these faults so was it really worth the time and trouble to chase up the actual mono master mix tape? Anyway, who was playing mono records on anything past a cheap and cheerful Dansette style player to even notice the issues!
What Reprise Records used for the basis of their mono Are You Experienced release was simply the tape utilised by Track Records for that U.K mono issued record. Not a copy of the copy [as Barclay Records most likely had to make do with for their first pressing of this mono record] but the very same copy but now with a re-sequencing: Yet the same azimuth issues, same fidelity issues, same “drop out” on “Fire” can be clearly heard across both U.K. and U.S. iterations of the album.
Yet even the stereo recording is far from an audiophile recording and has obvious faults throughout. At least these are not compounded by those tape transfer issues we have to contend with on the mono. The generational issues found on the bulk of the stereo mixed album are part of the making of the album; it is what it is to have the recordings as we hear them with plenty of added layers being applied on a four track tape.
It’s pleasing that these “boutique” style platforms do not exclude non audiophile recordings and at $35 it’s not overly priced. Though be aware, outside of the US there is shipping to factor in for this U.S. licenced release that is manufactured in the E.U.
The booklet leaves a lot to be desired. It’s an expanded version from that found with earlier releases. With both a Brad Tolinski and John McDermott added essay which in truth while entertaining either don’t bring enough to this release for my liking. The fresh approach of the SACD deserves a fresh booklet rather than something revised and presented as a bit of a mish-mash. Don’t be looking for anything really insightful here. For me, this approach also let the Axis. Bold As Love SACD release down too.
The audio, generally speaking
While few appear to lament the loss of “Remember” [it does hold its place on the album far better than “The Wind Cries Mary” can ever do despite being a more simplistic lyric and musically somewhat more pre experience] it seems a little rash to have replaced three original Hendrix penned songs for just two plus a cover! I wouldn’t expect anything else from Jimi’s management at that time to not disagree with a re-sequenced and edited album if it got, a) a deal over the line with Reprise and b) held the promise of a greater revenue stream.
Sure, "Purple Haze" especially appears to have given the albums a stronger appeal to the American target audience. It’s difficult not to agree with those call’s to change the album in such a radical manner given its obvious success in North America at that time; yet it does remain what it is, something like but not quite the original debut album. Despite my love for this album even re-sequenced as it is here I never have quite gotten used to “3rd Stone From The Sun” ending and “Remember” not following! “Foxy Lady”, really?
As already touched upon, the following should be considered against the fact that the title is in no way what could be thought of as an audiophile recording. Given the recording methods introduced at Olympic by way of reduction [to bounce down recorded tracks to a second tape so as to allow space for more recorded parts on a limited four track tape]. The overall recording also lacks in consistency of studio, highlighted on the pre-Olympic studio recordings that have not been subject to those generational issues.
Lately things don’t seem the same, Redbook and Super stereo.
Bernie Grundman, do I need to say any more? This is exactly what you would expect from him, open and honest. What we have here is greater detail without any loss of any coherence for the most part. If we hear any coherence issues then that simply sits with the original recording rather than the mastering. Once again Grundman simply presents the recording as honestly as possible.
The Redbook has been played to death since I got this disc [on loan], copied to the phone if has repeat plays in the car and on the second system and I’m far from tired of listening to it and more often than not at excessive volume! Speakers or ‘phones are fine with me, nothing is as good as it is here from previous issued CD. Given that I hardly ever play this title on CD, usually only when I have no option, this is some turnaround from me! The transfer from the analogue domain is faultless to my ears. I’m hearing what was recorded without any over emphasis to anything specific on the tape. Of course other may want to hear it differently or have become so accustom to previous digital outings they may struggle with this Grundman master.
If so, then maybe the struggle will not only continue but be emphasized when listening to the super layer stereo? Again not me, it certainly becomes more “real” in the higher resolution format. By real I mean it becomes part of the listening experience rather than simply playing a disc, getting close to vinyl playing, almost! Highlights for me at HiRez sit with “The Wind Cries Mary”, while it may have taken a couple of plays but “3rd Stone From The Sun” is incredibly detailed in a way I never heard or in fact experienced before in this domain. Yes, at this sort of file size detail points like reduction become more obvious but not to the point of distraction. Again, it is what it is and I for one welcome the opportunity to hear it like this. The obvious recording issues no longer sit on the fringe of hearing they now become a little more obvious while presenting themselves as simply a part of the recording as they always have been. The last thing I want is a mastering engineer over polishing this recording and trying to shoehorn the listening experience into what is going to be simply a more acceptable listen to the masses.
For me, the recording and the recording engineers are as much a part of this record as the band themselves.
As per usual again with Grundman, Jimi’s vocal is detailed and rich in tone and so real. Probably why I like Grundman’s mastering on the Harbeth speakers so much as I know just how close to being real they reproduce vocal. If it is on the recording it will be delivered and is, regardless of if it is to one’s own taste, the mastering of this album has to heard, especially at the “super” level.
Hendrix in mono seems to be a contentious issue for some as it is; here with Are You Experienced that basis of contention is compounded with other issues.
We are well aware of just how good Grundman’s work with Hendrix in mono can be, regardless of our personal preference of mastering for the Axis album; from the 2000 mastering that liken that of a 60’s mastering set of choices to the later more audiophile approach that can be found on the 2013 reissue vinyl or better still, the UHQR’s #2 2019 release.
Grundman was the engineer steering the audio across some choppy water’s when it came to the Are You Experienced 2013 vinyl cuts. I guess the storm went off the Beaufort scale when it came to the U.K pressed record. Odd when the two albums shared the bulk of the audio from the same source!
So what do we have here? Over all it is disappointing as there are the same issues I find elsewhere with a muffled presentation and a lack of top end. Yet by no means a poor presentation and easily listened to without too much judgment. One of the problems I had initially was I was moving straight into mono from stereo, not a good idea and something I never do with the vinyl so why here?
Despite(!) being mono the audio throughout is placed quite expansively in front of the listener [on a two channel system] so at least there is space for good separation. Again, that highlighting of detail has some drawback, judge for yourself.
At times the audio feels lifeless and fails to really deliver that honest, big mono sound especially highlighted when I was moving from the stereo source to mono.
Some tracks clearly present themselves more veiled than others; again the title track displays that quite evidently. “Foxy Lady” is another track that has a little life sucked from it. This demonstrates just how much the tracks need to be considered individually as well as collectively.
“Fire” does not present any issues beginning at the 2.10 mark of the track. With a muffled presentation coupled with a missing high-end this is suggesting that this is from the copy tape, or at least the first 2.10 is from that source. It does sound like the final 0.23 seconds have been edited from elsewhere. Has the stereo end section been collapsed to mono and added with an appropriate fade? Regardless, the same track presented on Backtrack 2 [Track records 2407 002] is by far superior in every way.
There are the obvious limitations here but it remains a great listen for the most part. The biggest disappointment is the title track, “Are You Experienced” as it misses so much of the bottom end that carries this song. Again, I wrote that after combined stereo and mono listening and maybe it is a tad harsh once we isolate the mono listening. Yet even when isolated away from the stereo it remains noticeable.
I do engage with my Track Record’s mono more so than the SACD presentation [my preference from the old pressings as the Barclay is too loud a master for my taste] but you can only work with what you have. It is about time we had this mono mix in the digital domain from an official source, maybe it is not quite up to everyone’s exacting standards though!
All said and done, once I move away from listening for the issues I find this an acceptable listen. It is obvious as to why this has to date yet to make a redbook appearance.
Nice to have both stereo outings removed from the loudness jungle. To that end this stereo mix and mastering does sound good enough to warrant the Ultra High Quality treatment on vinyl in my opinion. If your listening QRP! The mono, unfortunately does not come up to scratch for such an outing.
And for all of that I’ll finish by saying; the whole disc that feels a little flawed at times due to the recording is The Jimi Hendrix Experience and when have any of Jimi’s recordings from his lifetime not come without some issues?! Sure critical listening will always find fault especially with this recording, I’m just so pleased that those issues were not enough to prevent this Super Audio Compact Disc release. Now that critical analysis is out of the way it’s time for some enjoyment while I still have the disc. $35 for this set is a bargain and I cannot find any reason not to have this available to play for anyone interested in this record.
Maintenant si tu veux bien m'excuser, je dois être sur mon chemin.
Thanks to Jim for the loan of the disc, merci Jim.
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