My MTV Screen Test Circa 1990

At a garage sale over the summer I found a copy of Dennis Wilson's chronically under appreciated Pacific Ocean Blue (PZ 34354) album originally released on the CBS distributed Caribou label. I reviewed the Sundazed reissue on

I thought the sound pretty good but of course at the time I didn't have the original. The reissue mastering credit went to Vic Anesini at Sony Music Studios and Battery Music Studios where Vic still works. Wes Garland cut the lacquers at Nashville Record Productions (WG/NRP) and now that I have the original I'm fairly certain the record was cut from a CD resolution file if not from a physical CD. Mr. Garland, like many mastering engineers doesn't divulge client source material. In this case he does not have to.

Last night I played the Sundazed reissue and it sounds pretty good. I also happened to play the Music On Vinyl reissue of Gene Clark's masterpiece No Other and it too sounded pretty good.

But then I played the original albums—the Wilson for the first time—and that reminded me of the impromptu anti-CD (really anti-digital) rant I did as part of an MTV 'screen test' audition I did for a new MTV show—a reality show way ahead of its time—based on "opinionating".

The premise as I recall it, was that the producers would throw at you different versions of things—could be food, could be clothing, could be whatever—and the host(s) would have to make snap judgements and opine off the top of his/her head. The screen test subject matter was to be "peanut butter: chunky or smooth".

I told the producers I'd be happy to do that but could I please rant about something else just then taking over the record business and they said "yes". So here's my "screen test". When you watch it you'll understand why I've posted it here but before you watch: when I went from the Sundazed reissue to the original it was like going from something fake to something that had the pulse of life coursing through its vinyl veins.

The reissue was "interesting", but the original unexpectedly produced an adrenaline rush as space opened up and the voices in the heavily produced opening tune established a three-dimensional physical presence on a magnificent soundstage. When Dennis Wilson sang, he was there in three-dimensions within the three-dimensional space. The same was true of the Clark album comparison but to a somewhat lesser degree.

Everything I charged in the video I hope you'll watch is still true today about CDs and about digitally remastered analog recordings, though the final results do vary caused by a variety of factors, but nothing—beats an all analog rendering of an analog source. It was true when I said what I said in 1990 and based on what I experienced last night—more as a surprising emotional reaction than as a sonic difference—it is still true today.

AnalogJ's picture

That's really good for
extemperanious. But what I really want to say is because garbage in, garbage out, I need smooth peanut butter. Because at my age, I need smooth, not crunchy.

optoman's picture

Spread some crunchy peanut butter, cold or warm, on a CD and you have a perfect snack

Jim Tavegia's picture

Is MTV on anymore? Michael, it is clear that you could make any subject fun to talk about.

Htobin5051's picture

One answer, Nutella.

PaulK's picture

Could we compile a list?

That would serve as a great help. I am confused as to exactly which ones were cut from digital sources.

Michael Fremer's picture
I believe Sundazed's mono Dylan reissues, which have the Sterling stamp were cut from analog sources. Otherwise perhaps the Byrds reissues, but even then not sure. I'm beginning to suspect they are mostly cut from digital sources.
PaulK's picture

I suspected the Dylans were...the Byrds I didn't know.
Not certain about the Love LP's...

It's such a shame that a company with such great taste and obvious love for the format seems to forego the technicality of why we love it being analog.
Thank you for answering this Michael. I hope we can continue to investigate this stuff and I am thankful you are in our corner demanding the answers to source questions!

sunderwood's picture

Just to speculate, I'm thinking that in many cases with the older music that the analog tapes are no longer available or are not in good enough shape to use and the company has no other choice but to use a digital source.

SimonH's picture

You might like to check the Sundazed for notes - certainly when the Dylan's were issued they made claims about the analogue source and there was an article about the Blonde on Blonde tapes (i have a print out of it somewhere). Mine don't look as though they were cut at Sterling but the later US Columbia Mono Box was. Also some Sundazed were recut by Kevin Gray and pressed at QRP - some S&G and I think a couple of Dylan but there is no way to know until you open them which version you getwere while 2 new Jefferson Airplane releases were QRP'd - check QRP web site. And then you wonder what tapes KG was given. Alas I found later notes from Sundazed were not as clear as I would have liked and open to interpretation. I was really appreciative the Sundazed when things were fallow -and they were somewhat cheaper than Classic/Music Matters/AP like 50% cheaper here in the UK - but I always had the feeling that they could sound a teeny bit better.

SimonH's picture

includind add "web site" after Sundered ......... well it is New Years Day and I have dislexic fingers

Michael Fremer's picture
With everything you've written here..
Daniel Emerson's picture

...the most important question here is which company would you choose to release the 180g 12-disc audiophile reissue of 'I can take a Joke' (Immersion Edition)?

Michael Fremer's picture
I may stream it online.... on iTunes! An expanded version..
Daniel Emerson's picture

...I am a big fan of comedy albums, having all three woody Allen LPs, the complete 'Lenin of the Rovers', Radio Active, Mitch Hedberg, ISIRTA, an almost compete Goon Show collection and hundreds more, so I would love to hear you in performance.

SimonH's picture

Just wanted to say I completely recognise the issue you found with Pacific Ocean Blue - (btw some of those Beach Boy recordings are wonderful). Recently bought the BacktoBlack, Coltrane, Afro Blue Impressions US re-issue and the Allmans Fillmore East 4lp EU vinyl issue (unknown mastering, not QRP Pressed) - both bored me to tears - the essence of the music was removed - clear but brain dead. Bought secondhand Pablo AB and what a positive difference! also picked up a Clarity Fillmore pressing and again wow. So bottom line is that with the vinyl revival in full-swing people will cut corners - just hope they don't kill the golden goose!

RubenH's picture

which explains this video - good, funny stuff !

jlstrat's picture

You've generally like Sundazed, although on occasion--Forever Changes is an example--you've preferred other pressings. I think the Dylans, Byrds, and many other pressings are very good. And who else is going to press Bubble Puppy or the Blues Magoos? Still a worthwhile label, especially since QRP started doing their pressings. The Donovan pressings are really very good.

Michael Fremer's picture
In terms of musical taste, yes, they are reissuing great things no one else touches and I'm sure Bob Irwin gets the masters when possible. But what is being supplied for lacquer cutting is the issue....still now that they are pressing at QRP and holding the line on prices...
bmilwee's picture

A truly eloquent rant, and with just a hint of Mr. Yunioshi!..... "Miss Gorightry!!!!"

timothy's picture

I own 3 cd players and they all sound flat sterile. they do not sound like music. the problem with cd they have no ambiance. the cd long box said they could reveal limitation of the analog source tape because their higher resolution. if this were true why did sony invent the super audio cd? i have a dsd player and it does sound warmer than pcm. i listen to 24 bit but i was not impressed. it too was sterile. the fact is analog cassettes sound better than any high resolution digital format. so do my old vintage 8 track players i collected on ebay. analog formats have much more dynamic range than high resolution digital. the spec sheets might not say so but my ears do. it is not true that a record player must be expensive to sound better than a cd player. a low priced analog player will sound much more musical than a cd player costing thousands of dollars. cd sound is overated.

andyo5's picture

I do not contest your vinyl vs digital premise, other to say that crap music has been released in both formats (as has great sounding music). But I have backed away from collecting previously unreleased 'masterpieces' based on experiences with records like No Other. I found it a real snooze fest. The alternate takes (I have the CD) on the other hand were much more interesting. Maybe those were the versions that should have been released. I think Gene Clarks music was best presented when filtered through an organization like the Byrds.

jh901's picture

"Everything I charged in the video I hope you'll watch is still true today about CDs and about digitally remastered analog recordings, though the final results do vary caused by a variety of factors, but nothing—beats an all analog rendering of an analog source."

Sure, Mr. Fremer, analog will deliver when the vinyl record is cut by one of the best using an optimal source and when played on your world class rig. How will an SACD sound when equally well mastered (Kevin Gray, for example) when played on a dCS Vivaldi? Different, certainly. Little or no emotional reaction in contrast though?