The sound of Hendrix CDs
Experience Hendrix claimed that their 1997 MCA released CDs represented the first time that “Axis”, “Electric Ladyland” and “Band Of Gypsys” had been remastered from the original tapes. This whole thing is very confusing and has opened a big debate about which versions have “the best sound”. Some collectors rate these latest releases highly others consider them the worst ever, prefering earlier Japanese or German versions.
Here is the order of the various releases (a BIG thank you to John Buchanan for this analysis!):
1. Initial Reprise CDs 1989 (without RE-1*)
AYE used master tape. It is unsure what tape Alan Douglas used for Axis and ELL . No compression or noise reduction.
2. Reprise remasters 1990 ( with RE-1)
Douglas put out noise reduced versions of above. No compression.
3. MCA 1st remasters 1993
These editions by Douglas with new front covers used first generation tape according to Joe Gastwirt, (second generation says Eddie Kramer). ELL is certainly NOT from the master tape. Less noise reduction. No compression.
4. Capitol Band Of Gypsys 1995
This Alan Douglas supervised edition used second generation tape with some noise reduction and no compression.
5. Experience Hendrix/MCA 1997 – 2nd remasters
Eddie Kramer is incharge from here on. These were sourced from the master tapes but they had compression.
6. Experience Hendrix/Capitol – Band Of Gypsys 1997 – 2nd remaster
This used master tapes but with compression.
7. Experience Hendrix/Sony 2010 3rd remasters
These used master tapes (but with compression?). Axis is slightly different from the 1997 version, otherwise it’s the 1997 versions reissued.
8. Analogue Productions – Axis Bold As Love 2018
Sourced from the master tape, with no noise reduction and no compression!
9. Experience/Sony Legacy – Electric Ladyland 2018 remaster
Bernie Grundman sourced from the master tape, with no noise reduction and no compression! Opinions are divided about the sound of this latest remaster. Perhaps too raw? The box (a book) also includes a new 5.1 surround sound mix by Eddie Kramer and the original stereo mixes in uncompressed 24 bit/96 kz high resolution audio. John feels that the CD of the original mix is even worse than the 1997/2010, despite being mastered br Bernie Grundman.
10. Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy – Songs For Groovy Children – the near totality of the Band Of Gypsys Fillmore East performances. The tapes were remixed from the multitracks and the sound is superb.
* RE1 was the “no noise” sound processing (tape hiss is eliminated at the expense of the fine detail of the recordings)
Note that the second Polydor CD (I believe released 1990/1991) had the same artwork as the original UK LP/CD but the CD was a copy of the second Reprise CD remaster (it had the American tracklist).
Personnally, I have never been a hi-fi buff and have simply been captivated by the music. The original Reprise vinyls are my reference though I have never been shocked by the CD versions (Douglas or Kramer) that I have bought. Yes, they sounded a little different but what the hell.
Here are some very interesting links to discussions by collectors about the different masterings ;
Hats off to those who make the effort to compare the different versions.
The first CDs (Thanks to Jane for this information)
The very first CD pressing of ARE YOU EXPERIENCED that I am aware of is the West German Polydor which came out in early 1984.
“Red House” and “Remember” on this CD appear to be (very clean) needledrops (listen through good headphones and you’ll hear the crackles, more evident on the former). This would suggest the bulk of the UK CD tracklist was taken from the American LP tapes, which lacked those songs. If that assumption is correct one then has to wonder why “Can You See Me” appears to use a tape source? Maybe they lifted it from the UK Smash Hits tape???
Worth taking note of too, “Red House” and “Remember” on this CD are the Mono mixes. This leaves the CD as a combination of mono and stereo mixes, unlike the original LP.
Warner Brothers in America released the original American vinyl version of ARE YOU EXPERIENCED on CD in late 1984, this would be the now very collectible CINRAM CD edition. The DIDX CD which came out in 1985 was very slightly different in the actual running times of some songs, but the DIDX and the CINRAM are basically the same mixes, just different fade outs.
The Japanese Polydor editions
Here is some interesting information I found about these highly regarded editions:
“About the Japanese Polydor P33P series of Hendrix CDs, these discs of Hendrix titles are quite nice sounding, the sonics are phenomenal and there is no use of any digital limiters. It happens that back in the old days, like the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Polydor had the original master tapes of the Hendrix catalog, and these tapes were preserved in the vaults of Polydor in England.
When CDs came into the picture, these original master tapes were sent to Japan, to JVC, to create digital masters because England did not have any digital transcription equipment at that time. These digital masters were created to be sent around the world, i.e. the Polydor pressing plants in Argentina, Australia, West Germany and England. While the tapes were at JVC in Japan, the tapes were sent across town to Polydor headquarters in Japan and transferred straight from the original master tapes to an analog umatic safety tape, and it was these original analog safety tapes that are the source of the very early Japanese Polydor P20P series and the P33P series CDs. It must be remembered that only these CDs are sourced from these original analog umatic safety tapes, even the very early West German Polydor CDs and the English Polydor CDs were sourced from a digital master tape (although these digital masters were sourced from the original master tapes themselves).
Both the P20P series and the P33P series of Hendrix CDs were manufactured from about 1984 through about 1988, and because of this relatively short manufacturing period, are all highly collectible. There are significant differences between the 2 series of CDs; the P33P series of CDs generally have the same mixes as the West German Polydors and the Warner Brothers, and the P20P series often contained mixes that were unique to that series only. Two titles come to mind for this type of variation between the 2 different series.
– The P20P series were released in 1989.
– The P33P series were released from 1985 – 1987.
– Most of P20P releases have a P33P matrix.
The exceptions are Loose Ends,War Heroes,Electric Ladyland,Are You Experienced,Smash Hits and Kiss the Sky.
Loose Ends and War Heroes didn’t geta P33P release.
Are You Experienced,Smash Hits,and Kiss the Sky didn’t get a real P33P release.They were released with the first West German Polydor catalog numbers instead.
Electric Ladyland (P36P) is the same as the P58P release.(P33P series)
The P20P releases with a P33P matrix are identical to the P33P releases.
If you look at the scans of the discs for Crash Landing, Midnight Lightning, Monterey,and The Jimi Hendrix Concerts,the P33P catalog numbers are on the discs. They have been compared, the wav files with EAC, they are the same.
According to some audio forums, the P20P series are superior in sound compared to the P33P series.
The only P33P series title that was not issued with the P20P series was The Singles Album.”
INDIVIDUAL ALBUMS ON CD
Here is some essential information about the various CD editions that fellow enthusiast John Buchanan was kind enough to send me.
Take it away John:
Axis Bold As Love
1. The first Jimi Hendrix CDs were released over 25 years ago on Reprise, the original record company of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Are You Experienced album was apparently mastered from the original stereo UK master tapes (according to Steve Hoffman – one of the very few who has heard both the master tapes and the CDs produced over the years). The original CDs had the advantage of being mastered prior to both computerised noise reduction and digital compression. What does this leave us with? Rather nice sounding albums that were relatively unfutzed with and mastered by Lee Herschberg – these CDs have nice dynamics and lack exaggerated equalisation of frequency extremes. Some hiss is apparent however, but without being in any way obtrusive. Contrary to populist opinion, these CDs appear to have been rather nicely done, with a minimalist and archival approach. The CD booklets were a little sparse, but at least they stayed true to the album’s original design.
2. When Alan Douglas took over control of the Hendrix Estate, these CDs, still with the same Reprise label and catalogue number, were remastered with relatively unsubtle noise reduction being applied. No hiss remained, and a fair chunk of the high end (and any studio ambience) was also excised neatly. Although the CDs still looked the same on superficial inspection, closer inspection revealed 2 differences. The first was the presence of RE-1 following the catalogue number in the “deadwax” of the CD. Secondly, the booklets vividly touted the usage of Sonic Solutions Noise Reduction System during re-mastering by George Marino.
3. In 1993, Alan Douglas revamped the booklets for The Experience’s new label, MCA (see above) and had the albums re-remastered. Soundwise, the mastering engineer peeled back a layer of noise reduction (possibly due to feedback from purchasers of version 2), limiting the noise reduction to intros and fades and leaving the body of the songs alone (as tape hiss should be less audible in more heavily modulated parts of a tune). There was, as yet, still no usage of the compression introduced in the EH remasterings However, tapes further removed from the original master tapes than either version 1 and 4 significantly hampers these versions soundwise. These MCA “ersatz covers” versions still sound better than the Reprise RE-1 CDs – however it’s not close to the quality of the earlier Reprise non-RE-1 or later EH versions, due to noise reduction and incorrect tape usage issues.
4. When the Hendrix family finally wrested control of the catalogue from Alan Douglas, the Experience Hendrix version of the catalogue was issued. Now eschewing noise reduction totally, the original master tapes and original cover art were used, with decent and accurate liner notes added. Digital compression, unfortunately, was used to a greater or lesser extent, according to the title. Axis: Bold As Love literally sounds turbocharged in this edition – there is a HUGE bottom end (both extension and level) that is not present in the original Reprise edition, and the top end is far smoother than the Reprise also. Again, I suspect that the Reprise was not mastered from the original master tape here, as the sound is so different from the EH version – the latter is literally a case of strapping yourself in and blasting off. If ever Experience Hendrix decides to remaster the Hendrix albums, hopefully they will leave the full dynamics of the original tape intact as well as staying well away from noise reduction. They have showed they can make nice sounding versions at low to medium volumes. Now is the time to re-release these without any compression.
1. The first Electric Ladyland CD was released in 1987 on Reprise, the original record company of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, as 2 separate CDs, rather than in a single fat-boy jewel case. The Reprise 2 CD set had the advantage of being mastered prior to both computerised noise reduction and digital compression. What does this leave us with? Rather nice sounding albums that were relatively unfutzed with by Lee Herschberg with nice dynamics and without any exaggerated frequency re-equalisation. Some hiss is apparent however, but without being in any way obtrusive. Contrary to populist opinion, these CDs were rather nicely done. The CD booklets were a little sparse, but at least they stayed true to the album’s original intent. However, I’m not so sure that Electric Ladyland was mastered from the original master tapes (unlike Are You Experienced, which was), because there is a rather extended loss of high frequencies in the left channel during part of Voodoo Chile that is not present in a later EH edition (starting with the lyric “I’ll make love to you……and Lord knows you’ll feel no pain”). The organ is a little peaky also, which is different from the later EH edition, where the organ doesn’t jump out at you on certain notes. Also, the staticky hum of Jimi’s amps in the right channel of Voodoo Chile is far clearer in the EH version than the Reprise version, where it is harder to differentiate from tape hiss.
2. When Alan Douglas took over control of the Hendrix Estate, this album was remastered in 1989 (still on Reprise) with relatively unsubtle noise reduction being applied. No hiss remained, and a fair chunk of the high end (and any studio ambience) was also excised neatly. Although the Hendrix CDs generally looked the same on superficial inspection, closer inspection revealed 2 differences. The first was the presence of RE-1 after the catalogue number in the “deadwax” of the CD. Secondly, the booklets touted the usage of Sonic Solutions Noise Reduction System by the remastering engineer George Marino. Finally, in the case of “Electric Ladyland, the RE-1 version is easy to recognise, as the 2CDs were condensed onto a single disc, whereas the prior non-RE-1 edition (with far better sound) was on two separate CDs – not combined in a fat-boy jewel case.
3. In 1993, when the catalogue was changed to MCA, it was decided to revamp the text and artwork of the booklets of the then catalogue to appeal to new listeners. This included altering the album cover artwork using photos taken by Gered Mankowitz and adding extensive cosmic notes (with liberal usage of phrases such as “flaps dragon wings”), which detracted from the importance of this work. Sound-wise, the mastering engineer peeled back a layer of noise reduction (possibly due to howling feedback about the degraded sound from purchasers of version 2) and limited the usage of noise reduction to intros and fades, leaving the body of the songs alone (as tape hiss should be less audible in more heavily modulated parts of a tune). These MCA “ersatz covers” versions should have sounded quite good, as digital compression wasn’t quite as ubiquitous in those days and wasn’t used here. Certainly, they are a slightly better bet sonically than version 2. The booklets do rankle, however – they scream “cheap” to me, rather than classy. Where did poor Noel and Mitch disappear to in the Alan Douglas rewriting of history? There was a lengthy running argument in the press at the time that the original master tapes weren’t used for this version, where they were for the prior original US Reprise non RE-1 and the later EH copies. It turns out that this appears to be correct. There is severe vocal distortion in “C’mon – Let The Good Times Roll” that doesn’t appear in either of the aforementioned copies. Avoid this one – wrong tapes.
4. After the Hendrix family finally wrested control of the catalogue from Alan Douglas, the Experience Hendrix version of the catalogue was issued in 1997. Now eschewing noise reduction totally, the original master tapes and original cover art were used, with decent and accurate liner notes added. Digital compression, unfortunately, was used to a greater or lesser extent, according to the title.
The digital compression is audible during louder passages, but at lower modulations, the sound is great – there is an authoritative nature to the sound that is lacking a little in the earlier copies.
There have been 2 EH versions issued – the first was a single CD only in a jewel case and the second was a multi-fold digipak containing the CD and a DVD (about the making of the album). Discs pressed for this issue were of wretched standard (indeed, multiple attempts to get a playable brand new copy were futile – the disc simply refused to play in any player I put them into, having huge block error rates) The third and current version was released when the catalogue was taken over by Sony – the signal levels were reduced from the higher levels of the MCA issues, but the same compression was present, albeit now peaking at less than 100% modulation.
My pick of the various US versions breaks down to firstly eliminating versions 2 and 3 – they don’t sound good. The Reprise Non-RE-1 copies sound rather nice, if a little rolled off at the bass end. There’s no noise reduction and no compression. Tone controls may be used to restore what is deficient. The EH does that for you, but compresses the sound a little. If you are tone control free, the EH may be preferable. Those original Reprise CDs are excellent – Lee Herschberg really knew what he was doing.
In 2018 came a new remaster by Bernie Grundman (for the 50th anniversary of the album), direct from the master tape with no noise reduction and little or no compression. Too raw?
Band Of Gypsys
Band of Gypsys was released in the US in 2 different CD masterings:
1. The first appeared in 1995 as the 25th anniversary CD (Capitol 96414 is the standard jewel case version, while the individually numbered mini-vinyl card variation of this same CD is Capitol DPRO 79534). This was the first time the album had officially been released on CD in the USA, under Alan Douglas’ control of the Hendrix Estate.
2. In 1997, after the Hendrix family took control of the estate, Experience Hendrix released the Experience Hendrix/Capitol CD release (72434 -93446). The mixes used are the same but they appear to have been mastered from different stereo tapes.
The original 25th Anniversary CD issue was sourced from a safety copy of the master tape, not the original Eddie Kramer-mixed stereo master tape. The original master tape had been marked “Do Not Use” by EMI-Capitol Records (possibly because it had incurred some damage, while the copy was in good condition), so the copy-master was used for any versions on vinyl after the initial green label Capitol vinyl album. These releases sound like they are sourced from a copy tape – obvious bass and vocal distortion abounds (especially in Who Knows), along with very slight treble phase shift.
The version remastered by EH/Eddie Kramer used the “Do Not Use” tape* (the original stereo master) and sounded much better than the Douglas version. The bass is excellent now and the treble and vocals are much clearer. The uneven fade up of the original Bill Graham introduction has been changed to a drop-in, and Eddie Kramer mentioned (in an interview with Michael Fremer in Stereophile) that some tape splices were re-trimmed. A minor caveat is the appearance of occasional soft crackling noises on the new release (e.g. at about 5 and 11 secs into Machine Gun in the left channel). I seem to remember these on the original 1970 Capitol (green label) vinyl (STAO 472 – released in April 1970), and bought several copies thinking – wrongly as it turns out – that they were pressing faults. These noises weren’t present on the Australian vinyl release (Polydor 2406-002), nor later U.S. Capitol (red or purple label) pressings, nor any prior CD I have heard (which includes 2 different Polydor CDs and the 1995 Capitol 25th). The copy-master, therefore, appears to have been used for most versions of Band of Gypsys beyond the original US vinyl issue, despite its generally inferior sound. I guess the crackling noises on the original Capitol vinyl release and the EH/Capitol release are sounds caused by some damage incurred to the original master tape, as these sounds appear to have already been present in 1970 on first release vinyl.
*1998 Experience Hendrix/Capitol (USA) and Experience Hendrix/MCA (rest of the world) CDs and the later 2010 EH/Sony CDs all use the same tape.
I’ll just add that the 2014 Bernie Grundman remasters of Cry Of Love and Rainbow Bridge are to prefer over the compressed First Rays Of The Rising Sun.
War Heroes has not been remastered, so look out for the old CD (Polydor 813 – not the 847 which has no-noise filtering).