First All-Original Rolling Stones Studio LP in 18 Years, Hackney Diamonds, Delivers the Goods Musically, But How Good Does It Sound on Vinyl?

Now, don’t laugh here, folks, with what I’m about to tell you, but when I went to buy a copy of The Rolling Stones’ new studio LP Hackney Diamonds at Amoeba Music here in San Francisco this past weekend, even they were surprised the album had already sold out on vinyl! They assured me more LP copies were already on order, but I couldn’t wait for that, as I had an MM-imposed deadline to meet here at AP that I had to attend to, post-haste. Calling around to other local shops, I found most of them had either not yet received their Hackney Diamonds shipments, or hadn’t even ordered it yet!

So, what was a frustrated Stones-loving reviewer to do? Well, after some additional searching around, I headed down to a nearby Target (!) and got one of the last two copies they had on the shelves. Yes, I am reviewing one of the exclusive color-variant 1LP pressings made by UMe’s Polydor imprint that’s on 180g translucent purple vinyl. Manufactured in the Czech Republic (likely at GZ), this particular LP is happily fairly quiet — though there was some very low-level between-track whooshing audible when I had my amp cranked up — and it was also well-centered. For the record, the SRP for the standard black vinyl edition of Hackney Diamonds is $32.99, and most of the variants, including this one as seen below, run $38.


Because there are so many variant options for Hackney Diamonds, you’re going to see a good amount of them on display all throughout this review. The multitude of these pressing variants seem to have been crafted to entice hardcore Stones collectors from all walks of life (and, probably, a fair amount of eBay/Discogs flippers as well). Amongst the myriad of LP choices are versions customized for baseball teams and soccer clubs, plus picture discs. Exclusive color and cover variants have been earmarked for different outlets ranging from the Stones’ own official site to Amazon, Target, HMV, and indie record stores. Clearly, the Stones were not going to be upstaged by Taylor Swift for the most LP variant versions!

All kidding aside — and with all good respect to Swift’s brilliant music marketing mastery! — for those who are just here for listening to the music like we are, I’m quite comfortable in saying that Hackney Diamonds contains the best Stones work I’ve heard in decades. It is the most consistent album from them in ages, track to track. Keith Richards’ latest guitar riffs are in the classic realm. In fact — and not entirely shocking for me — this may be the most Stones-y album since the Stones-album-that-should-have been was released by Richards himself, the brilliant October 1988 LP, Talk Is Cheap. In my book, that album was the last great album of original Stones-like music. Plus, there is a connection between the new album, that album, and a good amount of Keith’s other solo work — namely, drummer Steve Jordan.


Now an official part of The Rolling Stones family, Jordan stepped up to the plate and is now filling in for their late, great original drummer Charlie Watts with honor and respect (plus, Jordan was pre-approved by Watts himself). In fact, Hackney Diamonds is dedicated to Charlie (RIP).

Kudos must also go out to the album’s Grammy Award-winning producer Andrew Watt, whom I assume helped ensure that the underlying “rawk” factor was just right for this release. I may not love all the production choices made on Hackney Diamonds, but I appreciate that someone paid attention to details that make for a compelling end-to-end album listen. For those of you not in the know, Watt has produced albums for the likes of Iggy Pop, Ozzy Osbourne, and Pearl Jam, among many others. Watt has also co-written a few of the songs here, and plays bass on many of its tracks.


On Hackney Diamonds, Mick Jagger’s voice sounds generally remarkable, despite the unnecessary trendy processing effects. Now down to two original members — Mick and Keith — plus member-since-1975 Ronnie Wood (all three of whom are pictured above in a photo by Mark Seliger), the Stones-approved support musicians here deliver that trademark Stones sound in fine form. Also, the new album’s A-list guest performers include Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, and Elton John.

So, is Hackney Diamonds ultimately going to be a classic Stones album? I don’t know for sure yet, but it’s been growing on me fairly quickly. All the benchmarks of a classic Stones recording are present and accounted for here — a punky rocker (“Bite My Head Off”), a hooky lead single (“Angry”), a bluesy acoustic piece with slide guitar (“Dreamy Skies”), a funky/dance-y tune (“Mess It Up”), and a song featuring a soaring female vocalist (“Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” with the aforementioned Lady Gaga).

It’s really quite curious how I’m reacting to this new collection. I’ll admit that I kind of lost the Stones buzz post-1981’s Tattoo You. Every album after that had a few good tracks, but — for me — as an album-listening experience, those ensuing Stones records seemed to wander and lose focus in short order. Maybe it was the push to fill out a 70-minute CD back in the day when CDs were the format du jour. Perhaps it was bandmember turmoil (though Talk Is Cheap certainly indicated there was still good stuff to be heard from them as composers). Or maybe it was just my changing tastes and focus going into the 1990s and onward into the 21st century.


Whatever the reason, with Hackney Diamonds, The Rolling Stones seem to have traversed that fragile tightrope balance, creating a hook- and riff-rich album that is both commercially viable and worthy of their loose-but-tight musical legacy. Hackney Diamonds is a solid, mature, memorable, and rocking Stones record.

But, as I somewhat alluded to near the beginning of my review, the sound here is far from ideal. This isn’t 1968 Stones, or even 1978 Stones. Heck, it’s not even 1990s Stones. No, this is 21st century Stones as optimized for streaming services, earbuds, and portable stereos. Hackney Diamonds isn’t necessarily an album designed to be played on a $100K sound system or a $20K turntable — and it may not even sound especially great on a $3K system, for that matter. So, set your expectations accordingly, as Hackney Diamonds just isn’t going to sound like vintage, classic Stones albums like Sticky Fingers or Beggars Banquet.

That said, Hackney Diamonds will probably sound relatively wonderful on a moderately priced stereo, and even played through Bluetooth speakers (not that many of us would go the latter route, that is). Sonics-wise, Hackney Diamonds is not sounding all that different from the Stones’ last new-material studio LP, September 2005’s A Bigger Bang (which I spot-checked streaming via Qobuz).


Despite all this, I was surprised that, when I turned up the new album loudly, it didn’t fall apart completely, nor did it hurt my ears. At least someone in the mastering department went to some effort to make sure this LP release didn’t become a complete vinyl disaster. For one thing, the bass is at least pretty fat, and there is overall a fair clarity of the instrumentation — but there is not a lot of mids and highs, for the most part. Is that a nice way of saying Hackney Diamonds sounds muddy? No, I’m not sure if that is exactly the right word for it, as it’s too crunchy for that. Whatever the case, I think you get the idea that this album isn’t a sonic masterpiece — certainly not on vinyl.

That aside, the underlying music on Hackney Diamonds is indeed worthy of our focused attention. Lady Gaga’s soaring vocal on “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” (Side B, Track 5) gives the song an inevitable vintage feel, recalling Jagger’s epic duet with the great Merry Clayton on “Gimme Shelter” (from November 1969’s Let It Bleed). Probably my favorite track so far is “Depending on You” (Side A, Track 3), which feels like classic Stones without being a retread. The song has a great hook, and the band synergy feels palpable.

Paul McCartney’s ripping fuzz bass solo lines on “Bite My Head Off” (Side A, Track 4) is a fun ripper — even if it might be a bit of nod to the Sex Pistols’ “Liar” (from October 1977’s Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols — Side 1, Track 2 on the UK edition; Side 1, Track 4 on the U.S. edition). I love the rough-sliced edit from that tune into the next one, “Whole Wide World” (Side A, Track 5), which also has a fantastic chorus and gets my vote for being the next single!


Incidentally, to circle back to something I briefly noted earlier, I did compare the vinyl of Hackney Diamonds to the 24-bit/96kHz version streaming on Qobuz, and it sounds about the same — which leads me to think the vinyl was cut from a similar digital source. This modern production choice, alas. is what it is. Let’s just hope that, someday, there will be a cleaner-sounding Hackney Diamonds remix that strips away some of those vocal effects to offer a purer version of what was recorded in the studio. (The Stones do have a habit of doing such things with their catalog, after all.)

Summing up, The Rolling Stones’ Hackney Diamonds LP is a great album that doesn’t sound so great from a pure high-end listening perspective. So, what’s an audiophile-leaning Stones fan to do? Well, if you like the vinyl experience, you should get this new album on vinyl and/or any variant(s) of choice, and just accept it for what it is — a literal diamond in the rough, and an unexpected gift from veteran musicians whom few expected anything from at this point in their long and storied career.

(Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.)

Music Direct Buy It Now



180g 1LP (Rolling Stones Records/Geffen/Polydor)

Side A
1. Angry
2. Get Close
3. Depending On You
4. Bite My Head Off
5. Whole Wide World
6. Dreamy Skies


Side B
1. Mess It Up
2. Live By The Sword
3. Driving Me Too Hard
4. Tell Me Straight
5. Sweet Sounds of Heaven
6. Rolling Stone Blues


vinyl listener's picture

Interesting you sampled the Qobuz 96-24.
I found that to be awful.
Flat, dynamically squashed, hard to listen to.
Sound quality of the first single Angry was better off Youtube !

Martin's picture

The LP, the vinyl is a lot better. I would rate it an 8.
It's actually Ok.
The digital hi rez. download and the CD are awful. Compressed and squashed. Unplayable. And I tried.
The digital, CD and 96/24 files have average DR of 5.
The vinyl LP has average DR of 10.

Rashers's picture

Although an enjoyable album, you are better off listening in the car rather than on a turntable at home. There is literally no dynamic range - it is just loud - and this level of loudness is 10 years out of date. The recent classic Stones reissues were ruined by compression, and I don’t understand it (the last Exile remaster (not the half speed one which was ok) sounded significantly worse than the 1994 CD (which want a patch on the original pressing). This is not Oasis circa 1996: the loudness war is over.

Lemon Curry's picture

The CD of the album, and at least one download version, has been measured and posted at the DR Database as being a shocking DR5. Terrible, awful.
There is apparently an atmos version that has a DR12 rating, which is fantastic. Any advice on where that can be found?
I had hoped against hope that we would be spared the limiting on vinyl, but my heart stopped when I saw a pic of how at least one side has virtually no dead wax, with content running right to the label. Loud mastering = more room needed for grooves. Ugh...UGH!!Your review and comments so far seem to cement that sad fact.
Audiophiles need to know where that DR12 version is - that's the only one worth listening to.

PeterPani's picture

I listened to the vinyl at a friends hi-fi. The sound is so flat/loud that no warmth remained in the songs. The songs might be better, if the sound quality would be better.
I would rate ist Music 5, Sound 5. Maybe, better sound would lift the Music note. But, as it is now, no interest in buying the record in any format at all.

Lemon Curry's picture

Sadly, this is one of the loudest vinyl LPs I own. Honestly, who do they think is buying vinyl these days?

Analogue+Fan's picture

Why is the review on Analog Planet?

If in the end the CD sounds better.

Anton D's picture

He reviewed the LP and commented in comparison with the digital version he accessed.

What did you want him to say?

“I did compare the vinyl of Hackney Diamonds to the 24-bit/96kHz version streaming on Qobuz, and it sounds about the same — which leads me to think the vinyl was cut from a similar digital source.”

Analogue+Fan's picture

Ok, it's clear, 24-bit is better than 16-bit.
But, why digital (24-bit streaming/Blu-ray/SACD) is the Reference.
Wouldn't it be better to admit that the producer made the wrong decision, since it is possible to record Analogue, and also broadcast through digital remasters, for industrial streamers.
But, using a digital source for the Vinyl was a mistake, because this is a Band that can make High Fidelity Recordings, instead of recording in a mediocre digital studio.

delleceste's picture

I agree with all of You. All the hype and praise for the production really collide with the actual result, which is far worse than expected, far worse than 2005 Bigger Bang, way too much your ears and brain can tolerate. The album would be nice. If only the big guests could be given their share: who can appreciate Elton's piano amidst all that mess? Who can enjoy the sax when it's soaked in noise and distortion? And Paul's distorted bass?
We miss the long awaited date with this Stones album. Good ideas. Wrong engineering. A totally wasted opportunity for stones *and* music lovers.
We can safely give a 1 to the sound quality.
Hard to find worse out there.

@Analog Planet: specialized reviews are the only hope to change things, or at least make artists aware of their choices: Your review is really too generous...

PeterPani's picture

that the many reviews of this album in all magazines (apart from the audiophile ones) do not say a word about the sound quality. Everybody gets nervous listen to the compressed music. All of my non-audiophile friends and colleagues, too. The Stones must miss a fortune by killing their own songs.

Mike Mettler's picture
Imo, the reason is that many mainstream music reviewers just don't listen for SQ like we do, and it's something that may not even be in their wheelhouse.

While we, of course, love the Stones to no end, it's quite obvious to our audiophile-centric ears that their new LP in particular could greatly benefit from another mix by, well, almost anyone -- but who? Don Was? Chris Kimsey? Steve Jordan? Rob Fraboni? Other suggestions are very much welcome...

PeterPani's picture

the live youtube video of the Stones with Lady Gaga sounds so much better than the vinyl track. Crazy times, when a live youtube video gives better sound than a millions sold record.

I am pretty sure, that every music lover enjoys good sound. He/she might not be able to talk about it and thinks it is just "better" music, but in the end it is part of the decision to buy or not buy a certain piece of music.

James Kelly's picture

This (Vinyl) seems to back ordered everywhere in the US. What gives????

Mike Mettler's picture
I've seen that comment a lot, James -- which makes me wonder if a) record shops/sites underestimated the LP demand, b) if the initial pressing was too low to meet said demand, or c) both a and b.

Me, I ordered my copy of the LP directly from the official Stones site (in addition to the "Angry" 45 and 12-inch, and the CD/BD package), and I happened to see four physical copes of the new LP in-store at one of the three Revolver Records locales in Buffalo on Friday, so it is out there...