David Bowie's "The Prettiest Star" Three Ways And Box Set Finale

There's something deeply offensive to me about picking apart the sound on the David Bowie [Five Years 1969-1973] box set. The guy is gone, the sadness lingers and maybe it's time to just enjoy and celebrate the music.

On the other hand, what better time than now to obtain the best possible versions of these albums, especially since some of the box set albums have recently become individually available?

Bowie's first Philips album (with "Space Oddity") is a 2015 remaster and whatever the source, it is among the best sounding records in the box, though I don't have an original UK pressing with which to compare it.

Musically, it's an odd but fascinating mix of folky tunes, with an Anthony Newley-influenced feeling backed up with some fanciful Incredible String Band-like imagery. Tony Visconti produced at Trident Studios with Ken Scott, Malcolm Toft, and Barry Sheffield engineering. "Memory of a Free Festival" ends the album with the memorable melodic refrain "The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party". It's not "prime Bowie" but it's all "prime Bowie" now, and the artist's evolution is worth considering in context.

The "unboxing" video I produced a while back which has had incredible traffic on my YouTube channel failed to mention that the box set's producers were kind enough to not put bar codes on the jackets and they did use high quality, accurate jacket material for each release.

Analogplanet posted audio of various versions of The Man Who Sold the World, which is definitely a "must have" Bowie album. Mick Ronson's guitar work and the heavy metal sound dominate but ethereal gems like "After All" and "The Man Who Sold the World"steal the show. The box edition's sonics are not as good as other AAA editions in my opinion, but the sound is still acceptable.

Hunky Dory is also listed as a 2015 remaster and it was a major disappointment sonically compared to a 1980's era Japanese pressing and especially compared to the 1997 EMI Centennial edition. It sounds "blah". Too bad.

The box set's ....Ziggy Stardust.... is not a remaster and shares inner groove forensics with the 40th anniversary issue (DBZSX 40), which was either cut from tape or from 96/24 files. All I care about is the sound. I don't care if it's analog, digital, or chocolate. This is a very good "....Ziggy..." but if you can find a UK original or even the Mobile Fidelity, which is a bit "hopped up" on top, you might be happier. Still, this is a good "...Ziggy...".

The 40th anniversary version included a bonus DVD containing a 96/24 version of the original mix, a 2003 Ken Scott stereo remix at 48k/24 bit, as well as 5.1 channel 48/24 mixes in DTS and Dolby Digital plus bonus tracks. The DVD was not included here.

However, the 2003 stereo re-mix is here in the box as a separate LP and it sounds very similar to the original, though Bowie's voice is subtly clarified while the mix generally is more refined yet smoother and more detailed. It's not available as a separate LP.

Now here's the "star" of this post: while Aladdin Sane is not listed as a 2015 remaster, it must have been cut from a digital file sourced from the original tape. So what I've done here is produce a "mash-up" of one song: "The Prettiest Star" that seamlessly integrates the original UK pressing, the 1997 EMI Centennial edition cut from the original analog tape and the box set version. You will not be able to hear the edits, but you should be able to hear the differences among the three versions. This is not a "science quiz" so I'll tell you it starts with the original, then switches to the 1997 reissue and concludes with the box set version. Please post in the comments section both the times when you think the switches occur and your impressions of the sonic differences. Guess correctly and win absolutely nothing!

You can listen to the 96/24 file here and you can watch and listen to the embedded YouTube video but of course the sound will be far better from the analogplanet stream.

I thought the new remaster of Pinups was pretty good, though it's a slight album, and the Live Santa Monica '72 similar sounding to the original separate release, which was sourced, I believe, from a radio station live broadcast recording.

I never did own the Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture Soundtrack double LP set. It's not sonically spectacular but what a great selection of Bowie tunes dramatically played by The Spiders From Mars. It includes Jacques Brel's "My Death" (with a translation many found lacking in authenticity), which at the time was aimed at Bowie's "killing" of his Ziggy character, but today takes on a far more disturbing aura.

The double LP Re:Call 1 containing mono mixes, foreign language versions, the Arnold Corns "Mooncrest" singles of "Moorage Daydream" and "Hang on to Yourself" is certainly something Bowie completists will want (not available as a separate album at this time) as is the really nicely done hard covered full-sized book.

As a physical entity the David Bowie [Five Years 1969-1973] box set is superb. Sonically it's somewhat of a disappointment. On the other hand, if the price is right, it's a great set for many reasons and you can always add the better sounding originals of the ones you must have—but now be prepared to pay as much for a single album of some, as the cost of this entire box.

Enjoy the "mash-up".

Kirby's picture

:53 & 2:21 I believe. I think I like the org the best, the EMI sounded a little darker on my system, while the new edition was the brightest of them. How ever they all sounded pretty good to me. You're right though, people are asking as much for one 1997 EMI 100 as this whole box set.

Michael Fremer's picture
51.5 seconds

And 151 seconds

Bernd's picture

Hi, I also believe that the first change occurs after 52 or so seconds. To me, the snare drum sound as well as the bass become a bit thinner, whereas the high-hat on the right side becomes more prominent later. Details have somewhat improved, e.g. separation of drum sound and clapping (compare start of song with 2:27ff), though. The guitar sounds more aggressive in the original version. So overall, I would prefer the original.
I am afraid I am not sure about the second switch in source, which suggests that, to my ears and given the shoddy laptop/earphone equipment I am currently using, differences are not so big.

J. Carter's picture

My understanding is the Ziggy 40th and this cut are straight AAA just like what they did for the Station to Station box set.

Also I prefer the Ryko Space Oddity over this copy of David Bowie and the original RCA pressing of Space Oddity personally. There are a couple of annoying drop outs on a couple of songs that ruin this one for me a little bit.

Jumping Bean's picture

Yes I too was under the impression the 40th anniversary Ziggy was AAA, in fact didn't Michael say so himself in his review of it?

GeorgesCrochet's picture

I'm not sure if Ryko put out all the albums in vinyl versions, but I do have a ChangesBowie double record set that sounds pretty damn good, though I suspect it's sourced digitally. But considering that the CDs also sound good (especially the gold pressings), I think I'd let it pass. Ryko did a fantastic job on the Bowie reissues, with excellent bonus cuts that the later EMI CD versions dropped. I would have liked to have heard what Michael thinks of the Ryko series.

Michael Fremer's picture
They did release on vinyl in gatefold packaging plus a Sound&Vision box set that I believe won a Grammy for best packaging that year. I wasn't a big fan of the sound though...
J. Carter's picture

Not all albums were released on vinyl. Only the ones up to and including David Live. The weird thing is they all have SPARS codes on them and the first few albums have AAA on them yet the obi says they were digitally mastered. The ones I own sound great to me, maybe a little thin in the midrange and boosted a little in the high end but my Space Oddity specifically sounds better than the original RCA pressing I have of the album. it has a better, more 3D soundstage to it and the clarity seems to be better. My guess is its an earlier generation of the master since it isn't missing Don't Sit Down. I love the bonus disc of extra tracks on all the vinyl also.

my new username's picture

I heard it get airier right at the bridge and then become closed-down at 1:52. It may have even been too bright on the EMI. But the vocal on the EMI was he's-right-there clarity!

More interesting to me, and this may not even be a valid comparison, was comparing the opening and closing sequences in the song, because the music is similar. Going from the EMI to the latest was a letdown, but comparing the latest to the early LP I wasn't as certain. In fact I preferred the overall cleaner presentation of the later LP to the original when looked at it from that perspective.

What I suspect is happening is that the original and latest swap advantages for tonal or frequency superiority. If I had them both to spin I'm sure I could share an informed opinion, but I don't consider the original to be freer from distortion for example. Sometimes mastering chains, even ones that employ a digital stage, are just cleaner as time goes on.

Anyone care to share cat# for the EMI LPs? Searching for "bowie Centennial" or whatever doesn't find my much online.

As for the other, we discuss releases of both the living and of the dead all the time around here for sound quality or production value. And I don't think there's any artist who really cares, you know? Preferring an original or mid-career reissue over the latest has negative financial implications for the family estate or trust since they get no income from our Discogs purchases, but that's never going to be our priority. It can't be.

In other words, the only way I can think any of this might be "disrespectful" or some other uncouth activity is if we attribute too much to the artist's intentions with the product. Maybe I'm cynical, but in most cases they hire others to do that, or even if directly involved, won't often make the "pure" production decisions we armchair enthusiasts might. Really, I'm OK with that. They owe me nothing.

SamS's picture

The Aladdin Sane is from what was called the Millennium Collection and on Discogs has the following info:

Aladdin Sane
Label: EMI ‎– 7243 4 99463 1 6
Series:The Millennium Vinyl Collection
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissue, Stereo, 180g
Country: UK
Released: 22 Mar 1999

Hunky Dory was part of the EMI 100 series and again according to Discogs:

Hunky Dory
Label: EMI ‎– 7243 8 21449 1 5
Series: EMI 100 – LPCENT 21
Format: Vinyl, LP, Limited Edition, Reissue, 180g
Country: UK
Released: 1997

my new username's picture

I appreciate it.

Bob Levin's picture

The Virgin CD of "Ziggy" was one of the biggest sonic disappointments in my life.
I ripped a couple tracks to the 'puter and put it back in the box.
My 1st pressing U.S. RCA (Dynaflex!) is still the go-to.
I just wish these were available as single L.P.s.

J. Carter's picture

All the studio albums are now available separately.

J. Carter's picture

I just wanted to clarify

PeterPani's picture

I own a couple of Dynaflex (Hunky Dory, also Dynaflex with classical music, Mancini etc.). All of them sound fantastic and better than the originals on thicker vinyl. I really prefer Dynaflex with a good fine MC-cartridge.

GeorgesCrochet's picture

Interesting: all I've read over the years is critics slagging off anything Dynaflex. I'll wager Michael is one of them.

Michael Fremer's picture
I have some good sounding Dynaflex records. They were put into production because of the oil shortage not for any technical advantage and of course that was a bad time for vinyl quality so it's hit and miss.
GeorgesCrochet's picture

Wow, really? Most audiophiles hate anything having to do with Dynaflex.

Michael Fremer's picture
Is what we rightfully hate!
Andy Slusar's picture

My guess is the cuts were at 1:09 and 2:07, I preferred the centennial edition

apuldram's picture

I've found these play better, much better, when I place a "felt" mat under them. (This also applies to the Digital Stereo Beatles albums). Think more to do with the angle of the stylus rather than any sonic properties of the mat. On other records the effect is negative, but before I did this on these Bowie releases found the sound "mushy".

Michael Fremer's picture
Raise or lower the back of a 9" arm 4mm to change SRA/VTA by 1 degree so I really don't think the height difference accounts for whatever it is you are hearing.
Zardoz's picture

of Hunky Dory. It's one of my favorite Bowie albums and my old "original" copy is a re-release and/or late pressing so the sonics aren't that great. Compared to it, the new one is worlds better even if it gives up some upper end air and is a bit flat in presentation.
I have the Ryko of Pin Ups, and think it sounds pretty good, but I have never had an original to compare it.
I was ready to buy the box set when it came out just to get the Hunky Dory, but Michael's review saved me from spending $200. Glad I waited for the individual copy to come out (and glad they did that).

J. Carter's picture

It's too bad it has some tape issues especially on Changes or I would have liked it more. The original early pressings definitely sound better and so do the Rykos if you want to spend the money.

vinylbuff's picture

I'm just glad that none of this was "impeccably mastered" by Joe Reagoso. It would have been a throwaway.

ViciAudio's picture

Ziggy is 100% analog. It's the same cut from the 40th anniversary edition, all analog as confirmed by Ken Scott himself. It sounds amazing :)

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

"All I care about is the sound. I don't care if it's analog, digital, or chocolate."
Joke of the century!