Linda's favorite digital versions of all Black Sabbath albums Finally, I am doing this. Of course I have been inspired by Roland's amazing thread(s) for which I will always be grateful to him and the hundreds of participants: Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) I have been posting a lot on Roland's thread, and while doing that, I started considering creating my own thread. Which is what I am doing now. A few general remarks: This thread will deal with different masterings available for all Black Sabbath albums, and its purpose is to discuss which is the very best digital version available for each of those albums. The most obvious difference to Roland's thread is that this one will start from my own preferences, rather than Roland's. ;-) Other than that, as the title suggests, I wish to more systematically and explicitly include digital releases that aren't redbook CDs, like official hi-res downloads available on HDtracks or similar sites, and SHM-SACDs. That does NOT mean that I consider hi-res audio to be superior over redbook audio for listening purposes; it's just that certain masterings may be exclusively available as hi-res downloads or on SHM-SACD. Many of my assessments are based on blind shootouts (for convenience, I will usually just use the term "shootout" eather than "blind shootout") using this free software: ABX/Shootout audio testing tool The files I use for my shootouts always have their volume level adjusted first (using ReplayGain and Foobar2000 conversion). I usually shoot out only 1 or 2 tracks per album, so it is always possible that shooting out other tracks would lead me to different conclusions. Also, sometimes I use headphones, sometimes I listen with speakers, so when my first shootout was done with headphones and I later retry with speakers or vice versa, the results may again differ. In such cases, and anytime my preferences change, I will let you know via a post in this thread. I am usually excluding some releases from the outset, e.g. if I know they use excessive compression (like the Black Box) or no-noise. I am interested in the entire Sabbath catalogue, not just one or two specific eras. There are Sabbath albums that I rarely listen to, but even for those I wish to discuss which is the best mastering. As is well known, the Sabbath catalogue is pretty much a mess in terms of available masterings and releases. Basically, there are lots of them, and many of them sound bad. There's no consistency whatsoever, and for several albums, I haven't been able to find any mastering that really makes me happy. I am not really interested here in discussing whether a certain mastering or release sounds "bad" or "not really good" or rather "decent" or "OK for its price" - none of those are the focus of this thread, except in those cases where even the best available digital version of an album sounds "decent" at best. Some releases that I will strongly recommend - like the Master of Reality Japan SHM-SACD - are out of print and very expensive. I have noticed that for some people that's a criterion for exclusion. I personally think it shouldn't be, and that's certainly not because I am rich - I am not, not at all. My point is a different one: many of us have friends, offline and online, so getting a digital copy of even a rare, out-of-print release from one of those friends is a real option to consider - and actually in no way problematic, as, again, I am talking out-of-print releases here. Reading my notes about each album below, you will notice that I have yet to compare the available releases of most albums from 1989 onwards. I have already listed them nonetheless in order to make clear that I do intend to compare them ASAP, and invite you to tell what you have to tell about their masterings. Now let's get started: Black Sabbath (self-titled debut) This album requires a hybrid, for two reasons: first, I want it to include both Wicked World and Evil Woman (even though I prefer WW over EW), and second, on most post-1980ies releases that include Evil Woman, that song sounds rather bad (probably due to tape deterioration): Black Sabbath - tape flaws or drop-outs on "Evil Woman" - where exactly do they occur? For the main portion of the album, my favorite is the Japan SHM-SACD. The 2009 Pearce Sanctuary, the 2012 Pearce remaster (available on the 2014 HDtracks, 2016 WB/Rhino CDs and various official streaming and download releases) and the 1986 Castle CD are all good, but the SACD has consistently been winning all my shootouts. For Wicked World, my favorite is now the 2014 HDtracks: very sharp stereo separation, great overall sound, but a little too bright. For Evil Woman, my favorite is the 1989 Japan 23PD-133, with the 1991 Japan TECP-23892 as a very close 2nd: Black Sabbath - tape flaws or drop-outs on "Evil Woman" - where exactly do they occur? Black Sabbath - tape flaws or drop-outs on "Evil Woman" - where exactly do they occur? I believe that the 1991 is a (very subtle) remaster of the 1989; while I sometimes seem to prefer the sound of the 1991, I am currently leaning towards the 1989, partly because it is the original. I haven't made up my mind on whether WW or EW need to be EQed to be sufficiently in line with the sound of the SACD. Moreover, as sathvyre has pointed out (thank you!), WW has an azimuth error on all the US (WB and Creative Sounds) releases that should preferably be corrected. Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) There are two 2xCD Deluxe Editions available for this album: the 2009 Sanctuary and the 2016 WB/Rhino. (Moreover, AFAIK, all of Sabbath's 2009 through 2011 Sanctuary Deluxe Editions have simulaneously or shortly afterwards been reissued in Japan as well, on redbook CD and/or SHM-CD, and those I have tested are digitally identical to the European versions.) Both contain the same bonus tracks, but as rnranimal has pointed out, the mastering of those differs between the 2009 and the 2016 (as does, of course, the mastering of the main albums): Black Sabbath Deluxe Editions January 22, 2016 Not sure if I will ever get to carrying out a shootout for the bonus discs. A few more details on WW, because most or all European and some Japanese releases are either missign this track altogether, or including horrible-sounding versions that seem to be vinyl-sourced. Altogether, there are now at least 4 good-sounding digital releases of WW available, all of them American: 2014 HDtracks, 2016 WB/Rhino CD, 2016/2017 The Ultimate Collection, and the original WB CD (but see my notes below). Interestingly, the 2016 WB/Rhino CD uses a different mastering, and possibly a different tape source or transfer, than the 2014 HDtracks; and the copy on the The Ultimate Edition (2016/2017) is different yet again. All 3 sound great but too bright; the 2014 HDtracks notably differs from the others in that it has full stereo separation (which is the main feature putting it ahead of the 2016 CD and The Ultimate Collection), while on those 2 versions the channels are bleeding into each other (thanks for rnranimal for pointing that out). Very interesting to compare them with headphones. The WW version on the original WB CD actually won the last shootout that I did with headphones: Black Sabbath - tape flaws or drop-outs on "Evil Woman" - where exactly do they occur? However, when I did another shootout with speakers, it got zero points: Black Sabbath - tape flaws or drop-outs on "Evil Woman" - where exactly do they occur? And in earlier shootouts, the original WB CD had been more in the midfield: Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) So I don't seem to have a consistent opinion about the sound of the original WB CD. Anyway, most listening I have done suggests that I tend to like the 2014, 2016 and The Ultimate Collection versions better. Another interesting fact about the WW 2014 HDtracks is that it is the only track (IIRC) from the 2014 HDtracks collection that doesn't have the low end summed to mono. Thanks again for that information to rnranimal, see his post for further details on the 2014, 2016 and 2017 versions: Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) Paranoid A great album with many bad masterings. My overall favorite is the 1986 West German Intercord CD. However, there's one major problem with that release: the drop-outs during Iron Man. There is no easy solution. The 2009 Sanctuary is an only slightly changed copy of the rather bad-sounding 1996 Castle, none of those two is good. The 1987 Japan 33PD-353 IMO is better than the Japan SHM-SACD, and neither of them has the drop-outs on Iron Man, but otherwise they simply do not sound as good as the Intercord. The 1991 Japan TECP-23893 seems to be a relatively subtle remaster of the 33PD-353, and I like it a tad better, but again, clearly not as much as the Intercord. The 2012 Pearce (available on HDtracks, 2016 WB/Rhino CDs and various official streaming and download releases) sounds surprisingly good, and the drop-outs have almost disappeared, but it is too bright-sounding (plus, as all the 2012 Pearce remasters, it has the low end summed to mono). Bottom line, I love the Intercord, no other digital release comes close, so I guess I'll have to live with the drop-outs. For this album, 3 Deluxe Editions exist: the 2009 Sanctuary Deluxe set contains a bonus CD with studio outtakes and a bonus DVD with what turned out to be a bad-sounding vinyl-rip(!) of the Paranoid QUAD LP. The 2016 WB/Rhino 2xCD contains a bonus CD with the same outtakes as the 2009 (differently mastered, see my link to rnranimal's review above in the debut album section). The 2016 WB/Rhino Super Deluxe 4xCD contains a stereo fold-down of the Paranoid Quad mix (so basically an alternate stereo mix sourced from Quad, but the sound is incredibly much better than on the 2009 DVD, clearly tape-sourced, indicating that WB own a superior source for the Quad mix), the 1970 Montreux live recording (in true lossless quality, unlike the circulating bootlegs) and, finally, the complete 1970 Brussels AKA Paris (audio only, regrettably). Master of Reality Japan SHM-SACD for me. Second best is the 2009 Pearce Sanctuary. As with the debut and Paranoid, MOR i available on two 2xCD Deluxe Editions, 2009 Sanctuary and the 2016 WB/Rhino, containing the same bonus material differently mastered (see, again, the link to rnranimal's review posted above in the debut album section). Vol. 4 Japan SHM-SACD, very easily. Live at Last/Past Lives Many releases of Live at Last actually sound horrible. I am aware of 4 that don't: my favorite soundwise is the 1996 Castle, its main flaw being the omittance of Ozzy's "Will you welcome Black Sabbath" intro at the beginning. The 1996 Castle has some compression added vs. the 1986 Castle, but in this case, it actually improves the recording a bit IMO. 2nd best is the 1986 Castle (which does include said intro). 3rd (surprise!) is the Creative Sounds 6001 with "CSL-NEMS 6001" on the red-printed disc and "13S 10749 AZ" matrix. 4th is another Creative Sounds CD: 6001-2, with "CSL-NEMS 449800-2" on the black-printed disc and "PILZ CD 449800-2 [ K 30550 B ]" matrix. The following releases, in contrast, are just awful (IMO), much much worse than any of the above: 1987 West German 832 704-2 Vertigo, 1989 Japan 23PD-124 Vertigo (identical to the WG 832 704-2), 1996 Japan TECW-25319, 2010 German 2749910 Sanctuary, and Qobuz 24/44.1 official download release. Disc 1 of Past lives contains the exact same material that we know from Live at Last. Disc 2 is a weird compilation of live songs from 1970 Brussels (AKA Paris) and 1975 Asbury Park. All copies of Past Lives that I have - the 2002 US 06076-84561-2 Divine, 2003 Japan VICP-62203+4 Victor and 2010 German 2749907 Sanctuary - are victims of the Loudness War (DR7 to DR8). However, disc 1 of the Japan VICP is an exception as it is obviously a copy of the 1996 Castle. It is not digitally identical to the 1996 Castle, but to my ears sounds like the same mastering. Disc 2 of the VICP, however, is just as overcompressed as on the other releases. I am not too worried about that though, because Past Lives is 100% obsolete anyway: The complete 1970 Brussels (AKA Paris) and 1975 Asbury Park shows have been available all over the internet for many years, and Brussels eventually got a proper official release (alas audio only) as one of the bonus discs of the Paranoid 2016 Super Deluxe 4xCD (see above). Sabbath Bloody Sabbath Japan SHM-SACD for me. Last time I shot out the SACD, the 2009 Pearce Sanctuary, the 2012 Pearce remaster (available on HDtracks, 2016 WB/Rhino CDs and various official streaming and download releases) and the 1986 Castle, the 2012 Pearce actually came in as 2nd, closely followed by the 2009 Pearce Sanctuary. Sabotage The three best digital versions of this album IMO are the original WB CD, the 2009 Pearce Sanctuary and the 1986 Castle. The 1986 Castle, however, has some tape damage on Symptom of the Universe, Megalomania and maybe the second half of Don't Start (too Late). For the other tracks, the Castle is a serious contender, especially because the WB sounds a tad bright for my taste, and I am not 100% happy with the 2009 Pearce either. Anyway, both are still very nice choices. See my shootouts here: Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) I have done some further listening since those shootouts, and I still haven't really made up my mind. The 2012 Pearce (available on the 2014 HDtracks, 2016 WB/Rhino CDs and various official streaming and download releases) sounds too bright. Technical Ecstasy Last time I checked, I preferred the original WB CD: Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) The original West German Vertigo CD sounds closer to the original LP, but like the LP, I find it too bright-sounding. I am not entirely satisfied with the WB CD either though. The 2012 Pearce (available on the 2014 HDtracks, 2016 WB/Rhino CDs and various official streaming and download releases) sounds much too bright - even significantly more so than the original WG Vertigo CD and the original West German Vertigo CD. Never Say Die! 1993 German Spectrum CD for me: Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) Heaven and Hell This one is harder than expected. Last time I discussed Heaven and Hell on this forum, I compared both Lonely is the Word and the song Heaven and Hell with headphones and preferred the 2010 Pearce Sanctuary, even though I already found it a bit too bassy: Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) However, when I carried out a shootout series for Die Young today (again with headphones), the winner was, surprisingly, the Japan SHM-SACD, with the 1986 Japan 32PD-129 as 2nd. The 2010 Pearce Sanctuary, the HDtracks, the original West German Vertigo and the original US WB CD were all far behind. Hmmmmmm, seems I have to do another shootout series with speakers. The Pearce clearly adds warmth but is a bit too bassy for me. The 2010 Pearce Sanctuary Deluxe 2xCD comes with live tracks from the Heaven and Hell tour and a mono edit of Evil Woman as bonus material. Mob Rules Original WB CD, easily: Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) Disc 1 of the 2010 Pearce Sanctuary Deluxe 2xCD contains a live track from the 1980 Uniondale concert and the movie soundtrack version of The Mob Rules. Disc 2 is a slightly changed copy of the Live at Hammersmith Odeon album, see below. Live at Hammersmith Odeon I am aware of the following 2 releases of this live recording: the original, limited Live at Hammersmith Odeon 2007 US Rhino CD and the bonus disc of the Mob Rules 2010 Pearce Sanctuary Deluxe 2xCD (plus, as usually, the 2010 Japan SHM 2xCD, which is identical to the European Deluxe). Turns out that the Deluxe bonus disc slightly differs from the original Live at Hammersmith Odeon 2007 US CD. While the DR values are all identical, the peaks on the 2007 CD mostly go up to -0.01 dB, while the peaks of the same songs on the 2010 bonus disc have all strangely been reduced to -2.51 dB. After adjusting both to the same level, they sound rather similar; however, the shootouts I did today for two tracks of the album, The Mob Rules and Children of the Sea, seem to suggest that I do hear a difference and actually prefer the 2010 bonus disc because it sounds a tiny little bit darker. Anyway, I am not 100% sure I am not just hearing things. As usual, any comments are welcome. Live Evil Original WB 2xCD or HDtracks for me. Several 1xCD releases are available for this album, but I am ignoring all of those, because I want the complete album. Thus, I am limiting my comparisons to the 2xCD releases and the HDtracks. For shootout and details, see here: Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) The 1996 Japan TECW-350189+350190 2xCD sounds terribly bright, and I agree with sathvyre that something is 'off' with the 2010 Pearce Sanctuary - one channel is too low or muffled or whatever, resulting in an overall unbalanced and dull sound. The HDtracks is better but a bit too bright for my taste. The HDtracks release and the Pearce Sanctuary 2xCD sound more dynamic (DR11) than the TECP and the original WB (DR9), though I guess that's partly (but probably not entirely) due to the added brightness. EQ-wise, the original WB 2xCD is perfect, but the longer I listen, the more I find the HDtracks a bit easier on the ears despite its brightness, possibly because it is more dynamic. I imagine my definitive version would be the HDtracks, re-EQed in order to match the EQ of the original WB CD, but without any added compression. Born Again My favorite is the 2011 Pearce Sanctuary, 2nd best is the 1990 Japan PHCR-2054 (which contains a unique mastering). Both are MUCH better than the original West German Vertigo CD and the 1996 Castle remaster: Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) Disc 2 of the Deluxe 2xCD contains two outtakes: The Fallen (which is actually my favorite track off this album) and Stonehenge (Extended Version), along with live tracks from 1983 Reading. Seventh Star Overall an album with a pretty horrible sound to begin with IMO. For me the best, or 'least bad', one at this moment is the 2010 Pearce Sanctuary. 2nd place is shared by the 1996 Castle and the original 1986 West German Vertigo. EQ-wise I like the Castle better than the WG, but I don't like the added compression on the Castle. The 1996 Japan TECW-20187 is an earbleeder, cranking it up makes me want to kill myself. The 1990 Japan PHCR-2055 is digitally identical to the original WG Vertigo after correcting for offset; the 2013 US R2-25337 Rhino Flashback is digitally identical to the 1996 Castle after offset correction. The 2010 Pearce Sanctuary is a Deluxe 2xCD, containing as bonus material an alternative version of No Stranger to Love and a live recording from 1986 London featuring Ray Gillen (RIP) on vocals. The Eternal Idol Another album that doesn't sound very good to begin with. I am currently leaning towards the 2010 Pearce Sanctuary, but the original West German Vertigo CD is very close. 1996 Castle is close too, but compressed. Original US WB CD and 1996 Japan TECW-20188 sound thin. For a more detailed discussion, see here: Best CD version(s)/mastering(s) of Black Sabbath's The Eternal Idol??? Disc 2 of the 2010 Pearce Sanctuary Deluxe 2xCD includes two single B-sides: Black Moon and Some Kind of Woman. Disc 2 contains the Ray Gillen (RIP) version of the album - which is very cool to have, even though the mastering of this bonus disc lacks dynamics (DR8). Headless Cross Comparing the releases of this album is on my to-do list. Tyr Another album on my to-do list. Dehumanizer The HDtracks is my favorite version, much darker-sounding than the others. For details, see here: Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) Roland's favorite CD versions of Black Sabbath albums (part2) The 2011 Sanctuary Deluxe allegedly mastered by Pearce actually sounds very similar to the original 1992 CDs (all of which sound identical to each other). The bonus disc contains alternate versions of 3 studio tracks from Dehumanizer and 5 live tracks from 1992 Tampa. Disc 1 of the 2019 Rhino Deluxe 2xCD uses the same mastering as the 2011 Sanctuary, and disc 2 of the 2019 contains the same bonus material as disc 2 of the 2011. Whether the bonus disc has the same mastering as the 2011 as well, I don't know yet. Cross Purposes Another album on my to-do list. The 1994 Japan TOCP-8128 includes a bonus track, called What's the Use. Cross Purposes - Live I only have the European release. I suspect it is likely identical to the US release, but that's just my guess. DOES ANYONE HAVE THE US CD, SO WE CAN COMPARE? PLEASE LET ME KNOW. Forbidden Yet another album on my to-do list. The 1995 Japan TOCP-8586 includes a bonus track, Loser Gets it all. Reunion Oooooh, so many albums left to analyze. Live from Radio City Music Hall Formally this live album was released by Heaven & Hell, not Black Sabbath, but it was 4/5 of the same band that released Mob Rules - instead of Geoff Nicholls (RIP) on keyboards, we now got Scott Warren. Another album on my to-do list. The Dio Years Only slightly confusingly, this is officially a Black Sabbath compilation, rather than a Heaven & Hell album, even though it includes three new studio tracks by the same band that was touring as Heaven & Hell at the time. Well, I am determined to compare them all, but it may take a while. The Devil You Know The only full-length studio album under the Heaven & Hell moniker. I have the German and the Japan CDs, DR and peak values match, but I haven't yet compared if I hear any difference. Awfully brickwalled: DR5. Neon Nights - 30 Years of Heaven & Hell Subtitled "Live in Europe" for the US market and "Live at Wacken" for the European market. The final live album by Heaven & Hell. RIP Ronnie! On my to-do list. 13 Back to Ozzy-Sabbath. 13 is another brickwalled mess. IIRC, all the multiple standard, Deluxe, Special and Super Deluxe Editions outside the Blu-ray audio release share the same brickwalled mastering, but it has been a while since I checked. On my to-do list. Live… Gathered in Their Masses On my to-do list. The End 8-track CD exclusively sold at concerts during "The End" Tour 2016 through 2017: Black Sabbath - The End Contains 4 studio outtakes from the 13 recordings and 4 live tracks. Since I am only aware of one release, there's not much to do for me here. The End - 4 February 2017 - Birmingham Unrelated to the aforementioned 8-track CD simply called The End, despite the partly identical title. This one got quite a lot of releases, both audio and video: Black Sabbath - The End (4 February 2017 - Birmingham) Some of these include the Angelic Sessions, which IMO are the most interesting part of this album. On my to-do list, of course. Now, let the discussion begin!