Best Digital Release Ever? Analogue Productions Reissues “Axis: Bold As Love” on SACD

“Why another Axis: Bold As Love?” That’s what I asked myself before buying this SACD. After all, mono and stereo AAA LPs have been in print for several years, and were obviously made for audiophiles. For digital listeners, the most recent CD edition mastered by the late George Marino at Sterling Sound isn’t bad. How much better can this album sound?

Released in the UK in December 1967 (a month later in the U.S.), rock audiences on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean eagerly awaited The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold As Love. The anticipation was warranted: the album contains some of the best material Hendrix recorded and ended up being the best of his core releases. Showing musical growth over its predecessor, Are You Experienced? yet avoiding the occasional self-indulgence that succeeded it on Electric Ladyland, Axis: Bold As Love stands the test of time even with its few filler tracks.

The dismissible skit “EXP” opens the album with oscillating guitar effects and faux-radio show dialogue relating to the existence of UFO’s and “space people.” Axis… quickly accelerates into high gear with some of Hendrix’s best songs: the wah-wah-infused jazz of “Up From The Skies” followed by the surreal lyrics and pounding instrumentation of “Spanish Castle Magic.”

The turbulent first side ends with two lasting classics: “Little Wing,” the psychedelic blues ballad featuring an excellent chord progression that’s become a blues rock standard covered by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Derek & the Dominoes among others, and “If 6 Was 9,” Hendrix’s declaration of independence (“‘Cos I got my own world to live through/And I ain’t gonna copy you”).

Though nearly as strong, the album’s second side has a couple notable failures, especially Noel Redding’s “She’s So Fine,” a throwaway pop ditty that doesn’t deserve to walk in the shadows of its preceding songs, especially “Castles Made Of Sand”, which features some of Hendrix’s best lyrics (“You can hear her scream ‘you’re a disgrace’/As she slams the door in his drunken face”/“He cries ‘Oh girl, you must be mad, what happened to the sweet love you and me had’”/“His tears fall and burn the garden green/And so castles made of sand fall in the sea eventually”).

“Bold As Love,” a two-part song featuring lyrics about conflicting emotions ends the album. The ending modulation, kicked off by sped-up drums and a wailing guitar solo drenched in flanger effects remains fascinating. Once the magical ending is over, you feel like you’ve been rudely jolted back to the reality of your listening chair. The song is like a black hole - it’s too easy to get sucked in!

If you want to truly experience this album, Analogue Productions’ new SACD, mastered to DSD by Bernie Grundman and including both the stereo and mono mixes (mono for the first time in the digital domain), is the only way to do it.

(Full disclaimer: I’m only listening to the Redbook layer of this SACD.) When comparing the stereo part of this new SACD to Marino’s AAA stereo LP from 2010 (his mastering choices on the 2010 CD appear to be the same), the SACD wins. While some songs such as “Up From The Skies” benefit from the record’s warm and present bass, most of the record has an exaggerated and compressed top end that on my setup quickly becomes fatiguing.

Grundman’s mastering has less bass than Marino’s, as well as somewhat attenuated highs. There’s much more air on songs like “Spanish Castle Magic,” and the soundstage is also extremely wide. The ride cymbal in the intro of “One Rainy Wish” sounds majestic, Jimi’s guitar tone on “Castles Made Of Sand” sounds as natural as can be, and Mitch Mitchell’s drums sound full throughout the album. “If 6 Was 9” is an amazing sonic experience (no pun intended) considering that it was sourced from a rough mix on a flaking 7.5IPS reel in Noel Redding’s possession. (Hendrix left the first side’s stereo master in a taxi and had to remix those songs. The remix of “If 6 Was 9” was not satisfactory, so the rough mix was used on the final album.) Overall, the stereo part of this release rocks, yet with its dynamics and outstanding EQ balance is a demo disc for your system.

The mono SACD mastering is just as good as the stereo. Grundman’s mono LP cut from tape and released in 2013 is excellent, but the transparency of the new SACD mastering reveals master tape issues (mostly from the recording and mixing). The reverb during the drum breaks on “Little Wing” has a strength that the vinyl lacks, and “Bold As Love” sounds crystal clear and energized. Mastering choices are more or less the same between both formats and transfers, but, at least on my system, the SACD has a transparency that the LP doesn’t.

Even though tape hiss is more of an annoyance on the SACD than on either of the aforementioned records, this release is a home run for Analogue Productions. If this is any indication, AP’s upcoming stereo UHQR edition of this title (to be reviewed upon release by AnalogPlanet editor Michael Fremer) will be a sonic force to be reckoned with. This is the best sounding digital release at any resolution I have ever heard of anything, and sets a new high standard for the digits.

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COMMENTS
Elubow's picture

Though I know next to nothing about Jimmy Hendrix and cannot validate or give my opinion on the ratings here, I will say this “kid” can really write. This review is beautifully written, coherent, substantive and every bit up to the standards of any audio reviewer I have read, including Michael Fremer. And this from a teenager! I predict a great future! I hope he’s compensated in some way for writing these reviews.

Michael Fremer's picture
And he's paid the "going rate" for all of his work.
Roy Martin's picture

Malachi: Fine review. I understand what you mean about Noel Redding's song but there is a certain tradition in rock in which a major group allows one quirky instrumentalist with a non-singer's voice to do one song per album. I always find this charming. Think of Ringo ("Act Naturally," "Yellow Submarine"), Keith ("Happy"), John Entwhistle ("Boris the Spider," "Heaven and Hell"), Pigpen ("Good Morning Little School Girl"), and even Buffalo Springfield's drummer Dewey Martin ("Good Time Boy").

I was in college when the first three Hendrix albums came out. I agree that "Axis" is his best studio album but at the time we had all seen him live. We were dying for a Hendrix album that wasn't just short songs but had him playing the long jams we heard in concert. "Electric Ladyland" was just what the doctor ordered. I'm not sure it stands the test of time but it made a big impact at Harpur College.

fetuso's picture

I have the AP sacd and agree it sounds great. I've never heard any of the vinyl releases discussed here, so I can't offer any comparisons. I've also only listened to the mono so far. The stereo is gonna have to wait til tomorrow.

Slammintone's picture

But I need to give another listen anyhow. Like Mike I noticed the bass isn't as strong as the last CD version but I hadn't paid attention to the new discs strengths. So far my Grundman mono LP and the 2014 stereo lp are the winners in my system. But the purpose of this new disc is to be played on an SACD player so I will absolutely purchase one soon since this is my favorite Hendrix recording. Also, I'm a huge fan of Reddings She's So Fine on this album and Little Miss Strange on Electric Ladyland. Sure the lyrics are strange and the singing delivery stranger but the tunes rock!
Thanks for the wonderful review Mike!!

Elubow's picture

“Mike” did not write this review!

Slammintone's picture

But I didn’t notice an edit capability after I posted so there’s that. Would like to read MFs thoughts on the SACD tho if he has a mind to.

imbetterthenu's picture

don't worry MF ... we know the kid's reviews are heavily edited. I did find it funny that people thought it was a review from you. but as you know, you are getting older ...

Michael Fremer's picture
Malachi’s reviews are not “heavily edited”! In this case I switched the lead paragraph, changed some passive tense construction to active and that’s all. He’s a very good writer and his voice is his own. When I published The Tracking Angle I had some far older writers who were not nearly as accomplished!
imbetterthenu's picture

actually MF, all articles are heavily edited. quit bs-ing the readership with protective rhetoric.

alucas's picture

I collect the older mono lps and there is a real difference, but when hendrix came out, his music was paned left to right and back , sometimes fast and it was his sound. so what do hendrix lovers like more..the mono mix or the stereo? I would like to know.
thanks!

Slammintone's picture

I adore both as concerns Hendrix. Axis is an amazing mix in mono with great fidelity and punch. Are You Experienced is different. The only mono version of AYE I've heard is the British release. The track listings are different from the US, but it's the sound of the mono that adds a completely different feel to the songs and how I relate to them. Most of AYE was recorded by different engineers IIRC than Eddie Kramer although he probably polished the tracks and re-recorded certain parts and entire songs before it was released. The mono version of AYE captures the raw early freakish power of Jimi and the Experience very well and is probably my favorite Hendrix release.

Steve Edwards's picture

Though the sonics on the 2013 mono vinyl reissue are good, I much prefer the stereo version. The panning right and left, as well as the image and separation are such a big part of Jimi's sound. I found the mono leaving me unengaged; akin to a chili & cheese omelet without the chili.

Jack Gilvey's picture

The 2010 180g LP is one of the best-sounding records I own (shockingly so, upon first listen) but I'd consider this just so I can skip EXP.

audiof001's picture

Great review.

Slammintone's picture

Keep the awesome reviews coming Malachi.

Shawn's picture

Curious how the stereo section of the SACD compares to the first USA CD issue (the disc without NR).

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