As it is for many, Soundgarden’s Superunknown is a big favorite of mine. I listened to the CD non-stop upon it’s release in 1994. At that time, the only vinyl I was still buying were 7 inches with exclusive tracks. After getting back into vinyl a couple of years ago, Superunknown was high on my want list. The double-LP was originally released in ’94 on A&M records with separate catalog numbers for the U.S. (31454 0198 1) and European (540 215-1) pressings. I do not know if there are mastering differences between the two. In both territories, it was pressed on translucent vinyl in four color variations: clear, slightly green, orange, and royal blue. There are usually a few original copies on eBay at any given time for around $50. That’s where I got my U.S. copy a while ago. The quality of the packaging on my original is excellent. The gatefold jacket is thick and sturdy. The standard weight vinyl is a beautiful, translucent blue with some faint black streaking. I’m not sure who mastered this pressing. The insert says David Collins, but the same credit is given in the CD booklet. The initials “KP” are etched in the deadwax of all four sides. Does anyone know of a “KP” mastering vinyl for A&M in the early-mid nineties? Also etched in the dead wax is a large ‘S’. Within the upper curve of the S is an ‘R’, and within the lower curve is a ‘C’. I think this is just a depiction of the registered trademark and copyright symbols, but I suppose it could be someone’s initials. Here are the handwritten deadwax etchings on my original: Side 1: (S R C) 31454-0198 1A SP1 1-1 KP Side 2: (S R C) 31454-0198-1B-SP1 1-1 KP Side 3: (S R C) 31454-0198-1C-SP1 1-2 KP Side 4: (S R C) 31454 0198 1D SP2 1-1 KP Superunknown was reissued on double vinyl in 2004 for the “Universal Vinyl Reissue Series”. This is the series from which the highly regarded “320” Nirvana pressings come. According to this article by Michael Fremer: Part 1: http://www.musicangle.com/feat.php?id=45 Part 2: http://www.musicangle.com/feat.php?id=46 this series was mastered by Willem Makkee at the Universal facility in Hanover, Germany and the titles were pressed at Pallas in Diepolz, Germany. I believe Superunknown was pressed in a smaller quantity than the Nirvana titles. I say this because the Nirvana titles were widely available until the end of 2008 at online retailers. However, for the better part of the last two years, I haven’t seen a vinyl copy of Superunknown on any retail site. In that time, I have seen only two copies of the “320” Superunknown on eBay (and I’ve been watching intently). I was outbid last year on a copy in Sweden. I recently won a copy from the UK. The spine of my “320” reissue lists the same catalog number as the European original, 540 215-1. However, you’ll see below that each of the LPs in this reissued set has a unique catalog number stamped in the deadwax. The reissue is also packaged in a gatefold sleeve, but of much thinner paper stock than the original. The LPs are standard weight again, but this time pressed on black vinyl. Here are the matrix stampings on my “320” reissue: Side 1: A33 540 220-1 S1 320 Side 2: A33 540 220-1 S2 320 Side 3: A33 540 221-1 S1 320 Side 4: A33 540 221-1 S2 320 For comparison, I listened to full sides of each pressing, occasionally A>B’ing against the CD version as a baseline. I listened to all versions with flat EQ, using ‘Analog Direct’ mode on my integrated amp for vinyl and ‘PCM Direct’ for CD (which applies no extraneous digital signal processing, such as phase control). One limitation of this amp is that it doesn’t preserve volume settings for different inputs, so I had to keep adjusting up for LP and down for CD. I also did some headphone listening to full sides of the vinyl back to back. For this, I used the phones jack on my secondary integrated amp in Analog mode (my profile explains why I don’t use the phones jack on my main amp for vinyl). All the vinyl records compared here are in near mint condition, centered and with no significant warping. They were cleaned first, and each played with very little surface noise. Okay, so how do they sound? Well, on my system and to my ears … The first thing I noticed when listening to the original vinyl (OV) was a slight harshness at the highest frequencies. I heard some fuzziness on the cymbal crashes, some extra guitar crunch, and occasional edginess on the vocals. Listening to the OV through my headphones (which have a brighter character) became a little fatiguing after an extended period. I didn’t notice any harshness on the CD, which I thought sounded clear and detailed without being edgy. I thought the “320” vinyl reissue (320) had the most natural sounding high end (e.g., longer and smoother cymbal decay). In direct comparison, the 320 didn’t have quite the clarity found on the CD. However, listening to the 320 for an extended period was never fatiguing, nor did I feel as if I was missing anything. As for midrange frequencies, I didn’t notice them as being emphasized on one version more than another. None stood out as more “full” sounding. The mix on Superunknown seems to alternate between a “wall of sound” and then passages where instruments are given more separation in the mix. I could best appreciate the imaging on the CD version. Neither vinyl version was quite as distinct as the CD in this regard, though the difference here was subtle. In regard to the lower frequencies, which are important to the character of this album, I thought the CD and OV sounded similar. Matt’s kick drum was especially tight and punchy on the CD. The low end on the 320 sounded the most pleasing to me. It was nicely balanced; sounding both smooth and well organized. In addition, the 320 resolved the lowest frequency extension of the three. I noticed this on “heavier” songs (e.g., ‘4th of July’) where, on the low tuned guitars and bass, it seemed like my subwoofer was contributing. (I checked. It wasn’t). There are some very “dirge-ey” passages on this album that I think are best presented on the 320. Superunknown was recorded and mixed in analog. The CD notes give “aad” as the lineage. After some extended listening, my overall impression is that the character of the OV is similar to the CD, with the exception being it’s edgier highs. I have no definitive knowledge as to the mastering of the OV, but I can say that the 320 sounded warmer and more analog to me. The article linked above states that Willem Makkee worked from analog tapes for the “Universal Vinyl Reissue Series”. In it, he says that his practice is to request a replacement if he suspects a tape sent to him for mastering was digitally sourced. It’s doubtful that he was given an original master for these reissues. The German vinyl product manager at Universal admits as much. However, regardless of what he had to work from, Makkee’s “320” cut of this album sounds wonderful. One thing that impressed me during these comparisons was how well-mastered the CD is. Thankfully, this CD has not yet been given a modern remastering. The version currently being sold sounds the same as the one offered in 1994. By today’s standards, this would be considered an audiophile mastering. There’s also a lot to like about the OV. After my formal comparisons, I did some listening to the OV with the treble reduced, which made for a more pleasing session. I would describe my system as neutral. The OV might sound really sweet in a warmer system. For me, though, it’s the 320 that offers a compelling alternative to the CD. The 320 is a smooth, organic-sounding companion to the tight and detailed CD. It’s a shame that Universal didn’t include Superunknown in their recent “Back To Black” reissue series. The “Back To Black” Nirvana titles have the same “320” stampings as those in the earlier “Universal Vinyl Reissue Series”. As it currently stands, it’s difficult to acquire a “320” Superunknown reissue. If you should come across one, I highly recommend picking it up. I’m the first to admit that this stuff is subjective and system dependent. You may want to give the original vinyl a try. There’s one on eBay right now. Of course, then you have the CD, which is readily available, inexpensive, and sounds excellent. I hope someone here who has the original European vinyl can offer their comments. Again, that pressing may have a different mastering than the U.S. version. If you were actually able to read this far, THANKS! I know this was totally unsolicited, but I hope it was worthwhile.