I have way too many albums in my “To Listen To” pile. In fact there’s so much that it is no longer one pile but instead has spread into multiple places like an infestation. A few dozen in the Flipbin dedicated to new arrivals, another 40 or so on various Ikea shelves, and two stacks of CDs and cassettes on the dining room table. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and quite frankly it stresses me out. I don’t plan on writing about everything, but it’s still a lot to get through!
A few weeks back I got three big boxes of stuff from someone at work who was going to give them to Goodwill. There turned out to be some fun stuff in there. I’d never gotten into The Who, but now I have a half dozen of their albums to play. Everything from Black Sabbath to Nancy Sinatra, Flock of Seagulls to Sherlock Holmes mystery box sets. But perhaps the most intriguing gem was this 1980 half-speed mastered version of Pink Floyd’s 1975 classic Wish You Were Here. I’ve heard this album a hundred times or more over the years, though always on CD. I’m very familiar with it, including its minutiae, so I’m wondering how this version will sound. The half-speed mastering process is supposed to render a more accurate recording and CBS also invested in higher end vinyl for these pressings. The question is, will I be able to tell the difference? Will it live up to the hype? I have a great starting point, because this copy is pristine and fresh from a cleaning on the Okki Nokki.
Wish You Were Here is a perfect choice for this kind of high-end treatment. Lots of quiet parts, slow builds, and isolated instruments and vocals. And I have to say, this thing sounds tremendous. (♠) The sonics are bright, especially the vocals on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, and the saxophone section on that same track is out of this world. The most noticeable parts are the quietest – the sound is coming at you from a truly quiet background with no hiss or residual noise. The intro to “Welcome To The Machine” captures this perfectly, as does the transition from “Have A Cigar” to “Wish You Were Here”. If anything sells me on how much of an effect this is having on me it’s that I’m not singing along, something I always do when I listen to Wish You Were Here. I’m not staying quiet because my singing sucks (although it does, massively), but because I want to hear the vocals as clearly as possible. There’s a subtlety to the harmonizing that frankly I’ve missed over all these years, a hint of low end that provides a base for the parts that soar. You also hear a rawness to the vocals on “Wish You Were Here” that make you feel like you’re in the room with the musicians. And the synths… well I’m sure you can guess that the synths are like having the instrument output plugged directly into your brain, like you’re actually living inside Blade Runner.
It looks like this 1980 version typically sells in the $70-100 range, with recorded sales as high as $150. Is it worth it? Well… dammit, it might be. It’s definitely one of the very best sounding records I have on my shelves. If you’re a major fan of Wish You Were Here I have a hard time believing that there’s a better sounding version than this one, and if you have a stereo that’s good enough to take advantage of the fidelity, you’ll love the listening experience.
(♠) I’m playing it on a Rega P6 turntable, through a Rega Brio amp and using Rega bookshelf speakers.