From Hi-Fi World - December 2010 issue


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Dead Can Dance:

Black Box 2010





Despite the fact that they featured a band of temporary members, Dead Can Dance are basically Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, a duo who found fame on the respected 4AD label for their music that touched on electronic ambience, folk and world music. The group has always had a certain cache as a slightly off-the-wall, leftfield outfit that have always made interesting music with intriguing and attractive constructions and arrangements.

To celebrate the fact, within the analogue domain, the specialist audiophile UK-based record label Vinyl 180 has released a suite of individual albums by the band. Now, the label has released a new box set featuring the debut self-titled album, the ‘Garden Of The Arcane Delights’ EP, the band’s second album ‘Spleen & Ideal’ and their first John Peel Session from 1983; the first time that this session has appeared on vinyl. Known as the ‘Black Box’, this release will be followed up by a second box set called, not unreasonably, the ‘White Box’, which should be out some time in Easter. The ‘Black Box’ will be available for a few pence short of £65 but, if you are a fan and you already have one or two of the albums, then you will be able to buy a Deluxe version of the box with just the EP and the Peel Sessions within for £35. Then, it’s up to you if you want to add the additional records to the box...

This is an admirable attitude for any record label to adopt, but isn’t typical that a vinyl-only label would actually implement it. How many times have we heard accusations of record labels ripping off the fans by ‘forcing’ them to re-buy music they already own? Not here – Vinyl 180 should be applauded for the fact. The Deluxe option will only be available from the label’s own shop outlet at:

Audiophiles may be a little concerned to hear that the vinyl has all been mastered via CD quality digital files. Shock, horror, eh? Well, the reality is not quite that bad. The first album was originally mastered onto analogue tape but was seen to include too many problems. Hence, a remix was supplied by the original engineer, John Rivers, who added corrections, producing a CD master that was used in the recent CD reissues. All of the music after that was originally recorded, in the studio, as a 16bit digital file. The reason? Because Dead Can Dance were a forward thinking band back in the eighties and they, like many others around them, thought that CD was audio nirvana and so committed to the format in a wholesale fashion and recorded their works, after that debut album, on a Sony 1630 professional CD recording system!

So, do not be afraid – you are not being short-changed, on the contrary. The vinyl reissues might utilise the original digital files but some special attention, supplied by John Dent, mastering engineer at Loud Mastering, has extracted a whole heap of extra magic.

“In the eighties every CD production created was very basic and, as time has gone on, A/D convertors have got considerably better,” said Dent. “Studio output would have been very crude and poor. You can hear it on the original records, the fidelity is shaky, there’s blurred sound with a lack of detail. Now, for vinyl transfer, we have a custom modified vinyl cutting system. Our 2010 chain is carefully looked after. Hence, even though there is a question mark over the resolution of these sources, this is why the Vinyl 180 stuff still sounds a lot better than the original releases.”

The only aspect of the master that was altered was some slight de-essing to subtly minimise sibilance that enables even average turntables to play the records without a problem. Dent also took a view on how to play digital files back. “If you take a digital source,” said Dent, “there’s a number of ways that you can improve the quality of playback. So I use a high class digital clock and the right D/A convertors, built by Manley, with valve outputs: very high quality.”

The result is the best sounding, commercially available source on these Dead Can Dance releases that is currently available on the market. Impressively, these vinyl editions also blow the Mobile Fidelity SACD editions (which were also sourced from CD digital files) right out of the water. Highly recommended. PR



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