Last weekend, some younger friends, both very involved in music and starting to collect vinyl, brought over a “pile.” One record they were interested in playing was an old lime green Capitol of The Band’s “brown” album. I cleaned it for them; though they believed it was mastered by Bob Ludwig (“RL”), I found no such inscription in the deadwax. We fired it up- nice sounding. I pulled out my copy- an “RL” which I hadn’t heard in a while. The difference between the two records was immediate and obvious, from the depth and impact of the bass to the overall “presence” of the instruments in the room.
Sometimes, the differences are not as pronounced. Among the many records in a box of goodies that arrived from New Orleans the other day, courtesy of Max, were two copies of Boston’s first album.
One was the famous “Wally,” which had been mastered by Wally Traugott, long-time mastering engineer for Capitol;
the other was done by Allen Zentz, who had an equally distinguished career, recording and mastering a long list of huge selling- -and great sounding –pop records. Both engineers have extensive discographies.
Just so you have a little context for this evaluation:
I’m not even a Boston fan; I never went out and bought their albums at the time, though I heard some of the tracks—it was unavoidable—on the radio back in the day. Over the years, I had the few odd copies of this album that came with batches of other used records. But I never really focused on the sound of the record. I knew the “Wally” was supposed to be fantastic, but was curious to hear it against the Zentz (in part because I like some of the latter’s other work).
Boston was a really good rock band; this first album was a huge “break-out” debut for them and they sold a lot of records. If you like Boston, this is the way to listen to them. Even if you don’t like Boston, buy one of these pressings. They should be easy and cheap enough to find in the bins.
Here are my listening notes:
“More than a Feeling”-
Zentz- less edgy, more pleasant high frequencies; the Wally is just so robust and ballsy, though.
“Peace of Mind”-
Both good, but the Zentz did not diminish the brightness in parts of this track, so its virtues on “More than Feeling” were less evident here, and the Wally had more punch.
The Zentz was far less vibrant on the opening interlude and on the kick when “Long Time” comes in; by comparison, “Foreplay” à la Wally is more of a main event; upper bass, organ, percussion all have more weight and oomph; when the song transitions into “Long Time” I was expecting more of a dynamic difference, but I guess they were already pushing everything close to the limit; acoustic guitar strings had more texture, and the drums more kick on the Wally.
That’s side one. I’ll let you, the reader, go buy copies and make your own decisions on side two. Both are good masterings, by top mastering engineers. My vote, on balance, goes to the Wally, if you hadn’t figured that out. But, buy both and compare them for yourselves. There are probably later pressings that have one side Wally/one side Zentz, but that would be cheating….