When last we left off in vinyl land, Micah Sheveloff and I were quite enthralled with the joys of wax and less so with those of the shiny digital disc. (Bone up here before you read any further.) After hearing things sound anew on The Dark Side of the Moon, we decided to tackle Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, the massive 1985 album that was widely heralded as the first mainstream CD that truly realized the promise of the digital age.
Instead of going for the more obvious cuts, I chose "Ride Across the River," the track that commences Side 2, for this part of the session. "Ride" (the song the Straits opened their farewell '92 tour with) contains a number of different dynamic elements that I felt would be better served in this head-to-head.
We had six "pieces" to play with, all told. Two on wax: the original issue and the recently released 180-gram version. CD-wise, we had four items: 1) the original redbook CD, 2) the 1996 remaster, 3) the SACD, and 4) the DVD-Audio. On the original vinyl, the introductory swamp noises and buzzes set the stage. The bass was nice and thumpy and the horns were brisk. A right-left cymbal effect was duly noted for comparison's sake.
As soon as the needle hit the 180-gram virgin vinyl (ever so gently, mind you), we noticed a clear difference in dynamics right after the introductory bits, as Mark Knopfler's opening guitar-riff gambit was majestic and panoramic. The R-L cymbal pan crackled. Nice brass too! It was akin to removing cheesecloth from your ears.
Then we went to the CDs because, well, we had to. An A-B with each disc and the 180g vinyl was no contest. We zeroed in on a telltale shaker. "Best sound ever?" queried Micah with a sneer, referring to one of the CD's selling point during its initial rollout all those years ago. Not bloody likely... On the '96 remaster, the shaker was about 3 dB louder — can you really call THAT remastering? And on both the SACD and DVD-A, said shaker was, well, HOT in the mix. The SACD stereo mix was a shade better than that of the DVD-A, but it's a hollow victory at best.
Micah's scholarly take on Brothers, with vinyl once again the victor: "The soaring guitar ornaments and subtle layering each had their place rather than being all clustered together in a murky mess."
Now, I still love the 5.1 mix of Brothers, but that's a different animal... And so ends Part 2, whilst we contemplate the wonders of the mist-covered mountains...
Next up: In Part 3, our audio heroes head out to the Midwest (figuratively, that is) to travel down Freedom's Road via acetates given to yours truly at John Mellencamp's behest because that's how he wanted us to hear this greatly underrated album. (Much obliged, sir!) —Mike Mettler
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