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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

High-Resolution Highlight:
Phil Collins — Face Value
24/192 PCM Download


Phil Collins - Face Value High Resolution Review Image
©Everything Audio Network

Original release - 1981 (analog), reissued 2013
Reissue format - 24/192 PCM download
Where to buy - HDTracks ($24.99 FLAC/WAV)
Versus original - more open, increased detail,
Standout tracks - “If Leaving Me Was Easy”


by John Gatski
  High-Resolution Highlight is a new review commentary on EAN. It focuses on recent high-resolution audio releases available by download, or physical media, either recorded in 24-bit PCM or DSD. The reviews will discuss not only the artistic merits of the recording but a heavy dose of opinion on its overall sonic quality, as well its “worth buying quotient: compared to the original. Reviewed releases will include new digital hi-res recordings, remasters of original analog and digital recordings, as well as older high quality recordings worth digging into.
  In this installment I took a listen to the recent Phil Collins - Face Value, a 24/192 PCM remaster that was originally recorded in analog in 1980 and released in 1981. Best known as Genesis drummer turned front man vocalist, Face Value was Phil Collins’ first solo album. The break-out recording focused on songs that reflected his state of mind as his marriage was falling apart, as well as high-energy R and B influenced cuts. The LP was well received. It included the title track “In The Air Tonight” with its effect-laden vocal and iconic drum blast crescendo in the second half of the song. Other standouts included the hit “I Missed Again,” the evocative “Roof is Leaking” and the Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows. Collins produced the album, and it was engineered by Hugh Padgham and mastered at Sterling Sound.

Measuring up to the original
  The remaster has a lot to live up to. The original LP and the CD were full, rich, detailed recordings with ample dynamic range and crisp mid and upper-frequency detail on the percussion and keyboard transients. The instruments and vocals were recorded, mixed and mastered analog giving the album an audiophile Rock aura for its day. I remembered buying the LP while I was working at the local hi-fi shop in college. It sounded great on my Thorens turntable. I bought the CD in the early 1990s. There also have been other remasters for CD, Mobile Fidelity SACD, etc., but I did not have those to compare to the new 24-bit version from HDTracks.
 In my opinion, Face Value in 24-bit is worth the $24, especially if you only have the old vinyl. If you have the CD, the upgrade depends on how much you like the recording. Its wider sense of space around the instruments, its less-harsh transient character and tighter bass were audible on my rigs.

  Artistically, I think it is Collins’ best album, and still ranks high in its sound quality. I compared the original CD, released in 1990, to the 24/192 HDTracks download through my reference audiophile system: MartinLogan Montis speakers, Pass XA350.5 amp, Coda preamp, Oppo BDP-105 playing the 24/192 version, feeding a Benchmark DAC2 D. The CD version was played from a BDP-95, which was connected to a DAC2-HGC via TOSLink.
   I first listened to the original CD numerous times over five days, and then listened to the remaster for several days. I made notes of my perceived sonic differences for each listening session, and then spent a day doing direct A-B comparisons using the Coda as the switch box. The Benchmark DACs were level matched to within .25 dB. Besides the ML electrostatics, I also A-B'd via Benchmark H-1 headphone amp, which took the output of either DAC as switched by the Coda. All interconnects were provided by WireWorld.
  First of all, the CD is pretty damn good, which shows us that the original analog recording process and subsequent digital transfer to 16-bit CD was deftly handled back in the late 1980s; good dynamic range, vocals and instruments were mixed and well placed, considering the number of tracks used.

A bit more air
  I then listened to the 24/192 version for a few days, making notes where I thought I had heard differences. I then went back and did A/B comparisons. Though initial comparisons revealed subtle differences, the more I listened the more I appreciated the 24/192's increased presentation detail and dynamics over the 16-bit version. From my sonic observations, the remaster has a noticeably improved sense of width and depth that lets instruments, such as strum cymbals and vocal echo to come to the forefront a bit more prominently. The solo piano also has a more round tone; Mr. Collins vocal also seems a bit fuller, and I could hear the vocal reverb out on the edge of the voice.
  Another sonic plus for the remaster is the tightening of electric bass; more precise than the original CD. Also, transient-rich instruments, such as drum cymbals, rim shots and keyboards, also have more separation in the mix, and as important, the cymbals splash is more natural and a bit less harsh. I think the drum machine's overall fidelity does not improve that much in the new version, but it works.
  The real drum embellishments, especially on the track " In The Air Tonight," have an increase in dynamic reach than the CD. For kicks, I played the vinyl version, which was in decent shape. The record's kick drum ferocious attack is not even, remotely, as clean as the 24/192. 
You need a pretty good high-res playback system to squeeze out all the extra space, and dynamics of Face Value, but even on a portable AK-100, I could hear the improved smooth factor of the remaster and the extra detail.

  The standout cuts, sonically, are “In The Air Tonight,” with its droning vocal and the iconic drum assault, “This Must Be Love,” with that exquisite bass line, "The Roof Is Leaking" with its country blue vibe of banjo and slide guitar, "Hand in Hand," with its sweeping children’s chorus and Collins’ signature thundering rhythm, “Thunder and Lightning,” a R and B-tinged tune with Earth Wind and Fire’s horn section.
  Last, but not least is the beautiful “If Leaving Me Is Easy,” which features Eric Clapton on guitar, Arif Mardin’s string arrangements and flugel horns among its instruments. This beautifully recorded ballad benefits from the extended openness of high-res transfer and mastering. The latter track’s snare drum rim shot rhythm showcases the analog tape machine’s and mic’s synergy. Also, there is an audibly apparent increase in the cymbals prominence and its accuracy via the 24-bit master than the original 16-bit. Ditto for the sax solo.
  You need a pretty good high-res playback system to squeeze out all the extra space, and dynamics of Face Value, but even on a portable AK-100, I could hear the improved smooth factor of the remaster and the extra detail. 

24-bits for 24 dollars 
  In my opinion, Face Value in 24-bit is worth the $24, especially if you only have the old vinyl. If you have the CD, the upgrade depends on how much you like the recording. Its wider sense of space around the instruments, its less-harsh transient character and tighter bass were audible on my rigs. Is it the difference between AM radio and a CD, no, but I have no problem recommending the 24-bit remaster. At this juncture, it is the highest quality version of Face Value out there. 
  John Gatski is publisher/owner of the Everything Audio NetworkArticles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio NetworkAny unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.

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