Today, I’m bringing you the first Source Showdown! In this series, I’ll compare different mixes and masterings of the same album against each other. In the end, a winner shall be picked. I shall be using a few different programs for listening and analysis.
Listening is obviously the most important step and it shall be done in two different applications on my computer. First listens shall be done in JRiver Media Center. It’s basically a fancy iTunes that’s compatible with my large library of FLAC files. Comparative listens of particular songs shall be done in Audacity, a recording and editing application that allows me to do sighted A/B listening.
Analysis will be done using multiple applications. Waveforms will be compared in Audacity. Spectrograms will be compared using Audacity or Spek, a spectrum analyzer. Dynamic range analysis will be done using MAAT DROffline.
Source 1: Freak Out! – 2012 Zappa Records CD – Source: 1987 1630 Digital Master
Source 2: The MOFO Project/Object (Fazedooh) – 2006 Zappa Records CD – Source: Original 1966 Vinyl Stereo Mix
With these Zappa albums, we have the benefit of being told by the materials included with the album the exact source for both versions. Also, thanks the many great Zappa fan resources, including http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/index.html and http://lukpac.org/~handmade/patio/, we know what elements differ between the two sources.
Source 1 is a partial remix of the album. In 1987, Frank Zappa remixed a few of the songs while the rest were subject to re-equalization, digital reverb, and a narrowing of the stereo imaging.
Source 2 is the original 1966 vinyl stereo mix transferred to digital by Zappa “Vaultmeister” Joe Travers in 2005-2006.
Source 1: DR11
Source 2: DR10
Dynamic range is good for both although both have tracks with peaks above 0 dB.
Source 1 has a clean sound. The reverb combined with the stereo image narrowing gives it a much different presence than source 2. Instruments and vocals sound more clearly separated and have a depth like they are further away from the listener. The recording sounds well-preserved for something that was originally recorded in 1966.
Source 2 is direct and in your face compared to source 1 due to the lack of reverb. Instruments tend to be hard panned to either left or right while vocals sit in the center of the stereo image. Overall, the songs have a softer and warmer tinge to them due to degradation of the analog tape that the music was stored on. The spectrograms reflect my observation that the high frequencies are reduced on source 2.
While the MOFO Project/Object serves as a fantastic historical document that includes the 1966 original vinyl stereo mix, the mix shows it age due to tape degradation. The winner is clear here. source 1, the 1987 partial remix, is my winner for its clear sound, instrument separation, and deeper depth. Its presentation is simply superior for its cleanness.
Winner: Freak Out! – 2012 Zappa Records CD