HE 2002: Rolling Stones on SACD

HE 2002: The entire Rolling Stones catalog, from the beginning of their career through to their departure from Decca/London records, will be released along with all the remaining ABKCO Records titles as hybrid SACD discs (not standard CDs), that was the big announcement by Sony on the first day of this year’s Home Entertainment show in New York.

Jody Klein of ABKCO stated that “…over the years, we have had many requests to re-issue these titles using the latest digital re-mastering techniques. Improvements in technology had only been incremental since then so we didn’t feel there was a compelling reason to go back to the market with these classic albums until now.” Klein stated that he felt that SACD sounded more like the original analog versions than any CD.

The most interesting thing about Klein’s presentation was that he actually addressed what is for me the fundamental question regarding high-resolution audio formats; one that the music industry hasn’t really confronted: the question of whether it isn’t spitting into the wind to be pushing a format that is both higher resolution and more expensive than CD when the public seems to be voting with their feet (ok, their mice) for formats that are lower resolution and cheaper (i.e., MP3). Klein essentially stated that CDs don’t have sufficient perceived value to make people want to own them (hence they download ripped MP3s) while the SACD Stones re-masters would be of such high quality as to be worth owning (and also be encrypted so that if you wanted them you’d have to buy them).

I think that he’s right, the only answer for the music business to combat the mentality of those who subsist on free pirated music is the carrot and stick approach of producing very attractive protected content at a reasonable price. The Stones SACDs will have a list price of $18.99 which, while not cheap, is roughly the same as that of a new CD by a front-line pop act. (For example the current number one album in the US, ‘The Eminem Show’ has a $19.99 list price.)

At a demonstration session after the press conference, Sony and ABKCO played three cuts from the Stones re-masters, ‘Its All Over Now’ (from ‘12 Ч 5’) which sounded pretty good but seemed to have had a lot of noise reduction applied, ‘Factory Girl’ (from ‘Beggars Banquet’), which sounded a bit ratty (though this is a pretty ratty record, so maybe it was right after all) and the single ‘Honky Tonk Women’ which sounded fabulous with great air and imaging.

One big question went unanswered at this conference; which masters were these SACDs produced from. When the Stones’ catalog was released on CD in 1986, those releases were highly controversial because many of the older tracks had been remixed and were significantly different than the original vinyl versions (some even using entirely different takes). Moreover, many of the new mixes were mono even where there had been true stereo versions released on vinyl (and I don’t mean ersatz stereo versions like the early stereo Beatles records with the vocals in one speaker and the drums in another, but true stereo). The UK releases of ‘Hot Rocks’ and ‘More Hot Rocks’ were once hot commodities because they were the only source of true stereo mixes of many of the Stones’ songs on CD. I asked Klein whether the SACDs would use the original masters or the 1986 masters, and he implied that they would be the original masters. Of course, back in 1986, ABKCO denied that they’d even done remixes, so we’ll see.

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