Grateful Dead on Vinyl: Comparing Pressings

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Wingtip, Dec 20, 2020.

  1. Wingtip

    Wingtip Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Greenwich, CT
    This is a thread dedicated to discussing different vinyl pressings of Grateful Dead and Dead-related albums. These discussions are currently scattered throughout various other threads dedicated to specific releases, because everyone always want to know how the latest Mobile Fidelity, Vinyl Me Please, or 50th Anniversary pressings compares to prior releases. I offer my impressions and opinions about vinyl pressings that I know and love and welcome the informed opinions of anyone else who loves dropping a needle on the Dead.

    I’ve been collecting the Dead on vinyl for over a decade, and have slowly acquired a decent set of well-preserved original pressings and audiophile reissues. I’ve also gradually upgraded my stereo system, and with each incremental improvement in the analog playback chain, my regard for original pressings has risen.
  2. Wingtip

    Wingtip Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Greenwich, CT
    Wake of the Flood

    1973 Original Pressing - Grateful Dead Records
    A: GD-01-A-M33 [TLC] MS3
    B: GD-01-B-M32 [TLC] MS2

    This is an excellent pressing. Here Comes Sunshine has bouncy vibe, a plump, juicy low end, and a three-dimensional soundstage. The sound is also thrilling on Eyes - Jerry’s guitar tone is beautiful, the drums have a dry but very palpable quality. and the stereo image is very wide. It’s the acoustic guitar intro on Weather Report that really puts this pressing over the top. The sound is so realistic, so convincing, that it really seems like the instrument is being played in the room. The clarity and separation, stereo spaciousness, and overall “wow” factor make this original pressing sound more like a stereotypical audiophile pressing.

    2011 Mobile Fidelity Pressing, Krieg Wunderlich remaster

    This remaster was really difficult for me to listen to. The EQ choices don’t work for my ears; the juiced-up high frequencies make the vocals sound shrill, sibilant, and very unnatural. I sold it on Discogs about a year ago for $60 but current pricing suggests I should have asked twice as much. Some folks love it, but I don’t regret letting it go.

    2020 Vinyl Me, Please Pressing - Chris Bellman remaster

    Translucent coke-bottle green vinyl for The Story of the Grateful Dead box set. This is a smoother presentation than the original. The vocals on Here Comes Sunshine are moved a bit back in the mix, and the overall presentation is arguably more coherent than the original. Eyes sounds excellent as well, with none of the shrillness that plagued the MFSL pressing. I like it this pressing a lot, and the vinyl itself is beautiful, but the acoustic guitar intro on Weather Report lacks the startling realism of the original. A worthy reissue and a solid selection for the VMP box.
  3. Wingtip

    Wingtip Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Greenwich, CT
    From the Mars Hotel

    1974 Original Pressing
    A: GD102A-1G 1 SX
    B: GD102B-1G 2 SX
    A nicely balanced, terrific-sounding LP. Jerry’s pedal steel on Pride of Cucamonga sounds fabulous, and Phil’s vocals are natural and relaxed. The cymbals don’t have quite the sparkle and shimmer present on the MFSL pressings, but the overall mix is good and very realistic-sounding. Unbroken Chain is the real test, and again Phil’s vocal quality is unstressed and very convincing. All the other instruments sit nicely in the mix, and the overall sound quality is far more satisfying than I remember. The better my cartridge, the better these original pressings sound.

    1984 Mobile Fidelity “Original Master Recording”
    This Jack Hunt remaster showcases the classic mid-1980s Mobile Fidelity sound: nice separation, plump bass, and boosted high frequencies, presented on a very quiet slab of vinyl. Cucamonga is once again great, with real bounce and shimmery top end, but Phil’s vocals have a crispy edge to them and don’t sound as organic as on the original pressing. The high-pitched, descending sound effect on Unbroken Chain really pops, but once again the edginess creeps into Phil’s vocals and there’s a bit of sibilance noticeable, especially when he sings “searchin’ for the sound.” A fun listen but not an improvement over a clean original.

    2019 Mobile Fidelity 45 RPM Pressing
    This Krieg Wunderlich remaster gets the “Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab” banner, because they were not able to confirm whether their source tape was the “original master recording” as in 1984. Mobile Fidelity’s 45 RPM pressings are incredible, and this is no exception: sparkling highs, earthquake bass, and insane separation combine to produce a thrilling listen. Unlike the 1984 reissue, the 45 RPM version is able to enhance the upper frequencies without becoming spitty or sibilant, but that high-pitched descending sound in Unbroken Chain now feels like a dentist’s ultrasonic drill, which is a little much at volume. When it comes to the ease and naturalness of Phil’s voice, the original pressing just barely edges this one out, but the 45 RPM pressing is so stunning overall that this is a minor quibble.
  4. sparkmeister

    sparkmeister Forum Resident

    Abergavenny UK
    Great idea for a thread. I’ve avoided the MFSLs as I prefer 33rpms (less flipping).

    Regarding WotF, I have two pressings - the U.K. original and the recent Rhino re-issue and I have to say the latter wins hands down. Would be interested to hear how this compares to other pressings.
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  5. Wingtip

    Wingtip Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Greenwich, CT
    Without A Net

    1990 Original Euro Sonopress Pressing
    This is a clean, detailed, digital-crisp but ultimately kinda flat-sounding pressing, very similar to the CD. Satisfying but not exciting. Unfortunately I don't have the original USA Masterdisk DMM pressing to compare.

    2020 Vinyl Me, Please - Chris Bellman remaster
    This is a spectacular pressing and a noticeable step up from the 1990 Euro vinyl. The Half-Step is juicier and more vibrant, the Althea punchier, and the China > Rider actually had me up and out of my listening chair. The VMP color vinyl pressing has real sparkle, drive, and joy. My decision to get the VMP box set was strongly influenced by the opportunity to get the only vinyl reissue of this album and it definitely lived up to my hopes for a well-done remaster. Again, I only had the 1990 Euro to compare, not the USA Masterdisk, so I don't know if it's better than a domestic original, but it looks great, sounds great, and the book-style sleeve is way easier to deal with than the tri-fold original.
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  6. john lennonist

    john lennonist There ONCE was a NOTE, PURE and EASY...

    First-era (early 80's) MFSL LP of American Beauty sounds fantastic.

    The MFSL Silver CD (apparently from 1984) of From the Mars Hotel (verrrry underrated Dead album, IMO) has Steve Hoffman's approval of the best pressing ever of it (at least as of 10 or so years ago).

    No need for me to look beyond either of these... YMMV.
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2020
  7. Wingtip

    Wingtip Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Greenwich, CT
    Blues for Allah

    1975 Original Artisan Pressing
    A: GD-LA 494-1 (artisan stamp)
    B: GD-LA 494-2 (artisan stamp)
    This clean early pressing has a little light crackle in the quieter passages but sounds fantastic. Franklin’s Tower is crisp and tight, and Jerry’s vocal timbre is lovely. Music Never Stopped is dry and fresh, with a delightful propulsive sound. Once again, I’m stunned by how good these original pressings can be: Crazy Fingers has an audiophile-quality presentation and the chimes are spooky realistic.

    2011 Audio Fidelity Pressing
    This Kevin Gray remaster is very well done. The bass is slightly more pronounced than on the original, and Jerry’s vocals sound a little less processed. It has a classic audiophile presentation with bigger bass and greater high-frequency extension, but it’s not gimmicky or overdone. The beautiful Crazy Fingers chimes are clearer more sustained. A tasteful, restrained remaster presented on beautiful and very quiet vinyl.

    2019 Mobile Fidelity 45 RPM
    Once again, MFSL squeezes everything it can out of the master tape to fulfill the promise of the 45 RPM format. Outrageous clarity and separation, monstrous bass response, holographic soundstage. I don’t always love MFSL’s 33 RPM remasters but the 45’s are incredible.
  8. Wingtip

    Wingtip Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Greenwich, CT

    Europe '72

    1972 White Label Promo Artisan Pressing
    A: 3WX-2668-A 40324-1A [artisan logo]
    B: 3WX-2668-B 40325-1A [artisan logo]
    Sides C-F follow same matrix sequence.
    I’m a sucker for white label promo pressings, and they often sound great, but there’s no secret sauce that distinguishes them from other good early pressings. This is a lively pressing and despite a little surface noise, it’s very fun to listen to. It’s better than most copies I’ve heard but doesn’t make the hair on my neck stand up.

    1972 Original Green Label WB Shield Artisan Pressing
    A: 3WX-2668 40324-1 [artisan logo]
    B: 3WX-2668 40325-1 [artisan logo]
    Sides C-F follow same matrix sequence.
    This pressing is unbelievable. It has the ineffable magic, that “breath of life” quality, that transforms otherwise rational people into insane vinyl addicts. The energy and propulsion on Cumberland is startling, and the band’s multi-tracked harmonies on China > Rider are heavenly. On the intro to China Cat, Jerry’s guitar tone has bite and vigor and an almost unnerving presence. I return to this pressing over and over for the sheer joy of hearing how a live Dead pressing should sound.

    2020 Vinyl Me, Please Chris Bellman Remaster
    This all-analog remastering is pressed on colored vinyl for The Story of the Grateful Dead box set, and comes in a book-style sleeve that is far superior to the original tri-fold. It’s a satisfying listen, but tame compared to my -1 stamper Green Label original. The overall presentation is very similar, and it’s a really excellent version, but the original has a sense of air and openness that seems difficult to extract from 50-year-old tapes. I can’t comment on the 2011 Rhino Bernie Grundman reissue.
  9. SBegonias17

    SBegonias17 Forum Resident

    I think there is no chance that you'll get a better sound than the 45 rpm editions of AB, WB, Mars Hotel, Blues for Allah. I hope their entire catalog gets that type of treatment.
  10. farewelltransmission

    farewelltransmission Forum Resident

    Boston, MA
    I appreciate the thread as I've been buying quite a bit of GD vinyl lately. I recently returned the VMP set as mine was riddled with pressing defects, but the mastering on those versions (WotF and Terrapin Station especially) is fantastic.

    The MoFi 45s that I've heard (WMD, AB, Skull & Roses) are is stellar. The recent Rhino release of Aoxomoxoa (Bellman cut) has been getting a lot of play lately too. I wish Rhino would do the same for some of the other studio albums.

    The past two RSD releases (Cornell and Buffalo 77) are top notch, as is the Light in the Attic One From The Vault release. I've only heard volume 1 there, but I believe all three are Kevin Gray cuts.

    You could spend a small fortune on GD reissues. They're all wonderful. I'm hoping that AP represses Reckoning and TS as those are fetching quite a bit of $ on the secondary.
  11. Mad Dog

    Mad Dog Forum Resident

    Pottstown, PA
    I'm going to like following this thread. Thanks for starting it.

    I do have a lot of GD vinyl (Garcia & Weirs solo too), including WLPs, originals, the Audio Fidelity, the MFSLs (the original 33s & the newer 45s), the Rhino re-issues, RSD exclusives, and a sucker for all the new assorted color re-issues (some of which have remained sealed).

    I did not pop for any of the new VMP colored versions. I'm hoping like all of the various box sets, like the early Warner Bros box & The GD issues label box, that one will get issued individually.
    Wingtip likes this.
  12. Revolver

    Revolver Forum Resident

    Great point about the intro of Weather Report Suite. I've been preferring the Mofi overall because my original ( slightly different matrix numbers) has surface noise. I just compared that intro part and the original sounds so much more natural.

    Looks like I'll have to buy a clean copy of this next. I'd like to know if the Monarch is any better than the non-Monarch pressing. This is one of my favorite albums. Too bad they didn't do this one at 45rpm.

    I'm still curious as to why they skipped over Aoxomoxoa when they did AB and WD.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2020
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  13. Revolver

    Revolver Forum Resident

    Has anybody compared the Mofi Blues For Allah with the Rhino Rocktober version? I have the Rhino but its the only version I've owned at this point.
    Echoes Myron and polchik like this.
  14. ODShowtime

    ODShowtime Swirl Life

    That AP pressing of Terrapin Station is a boss. I have Pitman and Santa Maria originals and they're great but man that AP pressing is really something else. I can't say why; it just owns. It was actually worth the price.
  15. Wingtip

    Wingtip Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Greenwich, CT

    Live Dead

    1969 Original W7 Seven Arts Green Label
    A: 39602 2WS 1830-1E
    B: 39603 2WS 1830-B-1B
    C: 39604 2WS 1830-C-1B
    D: 39605 2WS 1830-D-1B
    The Star that launched a thousand trips! Although my copy is a regular W7 green label, the best match I could find for my runout matrices was the white label promo on Discogs. The mix on this pressing is murky, with lots of reverb applied to the guitars, and Jerry’s voice emerging from a mysterious ether. For years I was dissatisfied with the sound on this pressing, but the better my playback chain as gotten, the more I like it. My theory about this recording is that the master tape has a high noise floor; in addition to the hum and buzz of the guitar amps, there’s a noticeable amount of tape hiss. A good, satisfying pressing.

    1969 Original Canadian WB Gold Label
    I picked this one up because I love the classic WB gold labels and thought it would be fun to compare to the American W7. My pressing looked clean enough but didn’t sound that great and had too much surface crackle to make it worth keeping, so I let it go on Discogs.

    1969 Original UK Red/Orange Label Pressing
    A: WS 1830A-2 *T STEREO
    B: WS 1830B-1 *T STEREO
    C: WS 1830C-2 *T STEREO
    D: WS 1830D-1 *T STEREO
    This is unusual in that it’s a foreign pressing that actually sounds better than an American original. The overall presentation is very similar to my 1969 W7 pressing, but it’s somehow crisper, clearer, and more alive, like a thin layer of sonic grunge has been removed. I can’t explain it but it’s the best-sounding version of this album I’ve heard. Maybe the credit goes to Abbey Road mastering engineer Tony Bridge, whose signature "*T" is on the runouts, and who cut the lacquers for this pressing. Remarkable and thrilling! This is my current favorite.

    1973 Japanese WB Green Label
    Thin, tipped-up sound with anemic bass and even more hiss than the American original. Not recommended.

    2020 Vinyl Me, Please Chris Bellman Remaster
    This is another solid effort in the VMP box and deserves huge accolades for abandoning the incredibly annoying autocoupled format (side A is backed by Side D, and Side B with Side C) and moving to a standard A/B, C/D plating. The overall sound is similar to the original pressing, but with updated mix choices featuring richer, more pronounced bass and better definition on the drums. My only quibble is that Bellman seems to have reduced the amp hum and tape hiss present on the master, and lost a bit of clarity and insight into whatever musical information sits on or near the frequencies he attenuated. It just doesn’t have the sprinkling of fairy dust present on the 1969 UK pressing.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2020
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  16. Mad Dog

    Mad Dog Forum Resident

    Pottstown, PA
    I found the MFSL of Live Dead to be a total miss. To me it’s the worst of all the GD issues they have done.
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  17. jewelsnbinoculars

    jewelsnbinoculars Forum Resident

    Washington, DC
    Really hoping Without a Net gets its on release. Man I love that album.
    wrat and drapes like this.
  18. ODShowtime

    ODShowtime Swirl Life

    American Beauty original Artisan pressing, green labels. Terra Haute, Pitman, Santa Maria, it doesn't matter. I think I can confidently say it's the best sounding Dead record out there since it's one of the best sounding albums I own by anyone.

    It's a special record.
  19. malfano

    malfano Forum Resident

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on the 50th anniversary “workingmans dead” and “American beauty”. I have copies of both and think they sound fabulous.
    Echoes Myron likes this.
  20. Wingtip

    Wingtip Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Greenwich, CT

    Workingman’s Dead

    1970 White Label Promo Pressing
    A: WS-1869 39719-A-1A KD A6
    B: WS-1869 39720-B-1B KD A6
    Uncle John’s has terrific presence and relaxed natural sound on the vocals, but the guitars lack that extra-special sparkle found on my standard green label pressing. Cumberland is smokin’ but again, it’s merely excellent and not transcendental.

    1970 Original Green Label WB Shield Pressing
    A: WS-1869 39719-A-1A KD A
    B: WS-1869 39720-B-1B KD A8
    Uncle John’s just leaps out of the speakers. Vocal harmonies sound the same as the WLP pressing but Jerry’s guitar is three-dimensionally realistic. Cumberland is where this pressing really achieves liftoff: when Bobby sings “Lotta poor man make a five-dollar bill,” it’s as if he’s in the room. Real hair-raising stuff, as is Jerry’s line “Lotta poor man got the Cumberland blues.” His voice on Black Peter is similarly present, and Bob’s guitar is sublime. There’s a tiny bit of surface noise but it’s a small price to pay to hear sound like this.

    1970 German W7 Pressing
    Nice chubby bass but muffled high end; sounds like it’s from a second or third generation tape.

    1971 Japanese WB Green Label Pressing
    Thin, emaciated bass and over-emphasized treble; not a great listen.

    2011 Rhino Reissue; Chris Bellman Remaster
    This is an acceptable pressing but doesn’t hold up to critical listening. I’m not a mastering engineer so I can’t pinpoint exactly what’s going on but although the mix is fine, the whole thing falls apart at higher volume. Cumberland becomes unlistenably harsh, and Black Peter sounds like it’s been smoothed-over, like the audio equivalent of a flattering SnapChat filter. Vocals sound okay at low/moderate volume but are intolerable if you want to rock out.

    2014 Mobile Fidelity 45 RPM Krieg Wunderlich Remaster
    The MoFi 33s are hit-or-miss but the 45s of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty are absolutely incredible. I really believe that this is as close as I’m going to get to hearing the master tape rolling at 15ips. Incredible pressing, incredible sound. Everything is happening right now, in my listening room, when I spin this LP. I keep this and the 1970 greenie close to the turntable, and the others in storage.

    2020 Vinyl Me, Please; Chris Bellman Remaster
    A very faithful recreation of the 1970 green label pressing. Not quite as electrifying as the best-sounding original pressing, but unlike the 2011 Rhino release, it remains coherent and listenable at higher volumes. There’s a bit of smoothing detectable on Jerry’s multi-tracked overdubs on Black Peter, but it’s a minor quibble. I can’t speak directly to the 50th Anniversary pressing of this album, but the VMP and 50th of American Beauty are indistinguishable and both very good, so the same is probably true of Workingman’s Dead. I very slightly prefer the original but must emphasize that this is a very, very good - astonishing, really - reissue. The best contemporary 33 RPM option, and I assume based on the sound of the AB 50th that the WD 50th is excellent as well.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2020
  21. drapes

    drapes Forum Resident

    Montreal, QC
    Me too. I finally had to get this on CD because I practically wore out the Eyes and Help/Slipknot/Franklin’s sides
  22. farewelltransmission

    farewelltransmission Forum Resident

    Boston, MA
    Just have to say that this thread inspired me to grab the Rhino Rocktober WotF. I can’t see myself spending the $120 or whatever the MoFi goes for and I don't own any other copies. And as much as I love the MoFi 45s, I think I'll grab the 50th anniversary pressings of AB and WMD for those *ahem* lazy GD listening sessions. Hopefully they're not too hard to find now...

    BTW, I did email AP once asking about Reckoning and TS and they told me that they would eventually get repressed. Standing by...

    Thanks again @Wingtip for doing this!
  23. challenge

    challenge Forum Resident

    We are always in these threads. I agree with you on the 50th's of American Beauty and WD if somebody wants a great cheap option I would jump on these now as I think they are great.

    Definitely need to seek out the AP Reckoning it is one of the best sounding records in my collection. I would think they would repress in a year are so
    Revolver likes this.
  24. SJR

    SJR Senior Member

    I have both the Rhino Rocktober and the recent MoFi 45 of Blues For Allah. The Rhino is pretty damn good, but the MoFi is exceptional. It’s crystalline clear and the instrument separation is phenomenal.

    I have all the Rhino pressings and their MoFi equivalent and in all cases (except Live/Dead) the MoFi pressings come out on top. The Rhino’s are very good, though and I enjoy them as it’s easier to play 33’s.

    I’ve just picked up an OG US 1st pressing Terrapin Station but yet to spin.
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  25. astro70

    astro70 Forum Resident

    Southern Illinois
    I really like how my 1979 MFSL American Beauty sounds. It’s nice and full, not like what I usually hear about MSFLs. I also have a 1970 German pressing that isn’t nearly as good, would love to find a nice original US some day too.

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