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The Who, Who's Next VINYL, my pet theory

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by sungshinla, Jan 30, 2007.

  1. sungshinla

    sungshinla Vinyl and Forum Addict Thread Starter

    Although what I post here may be common knowledge to some folks, I thought that most people may not know this and may find it useful (I hope).

    Before I expound my theory (plus some hypotheses), let me briefly explain how I got to this level of obsessiveness regarding this LP.

    The Who, Who's Next, has always been one of my all-time favorite Rock LPs, and until recently, I enjoyed just about any vinyl pressing of this (and yes, I even enjoyed the digital counterparts). A few months ago, however, I picked up a U.K. original Track pressing of this with the dead wax matrix ending A//1 on Side 1 and B//2 on Side 2. After doing some research, I learned that many UK vinyl buffs consider that pressing to be the finest sounding vinyl pressing of Who's Next. My own listening sessions had convinced me that this LP just cannot sound any better. It does not "wow" you from the start like a "double-RL" cut of Led Zeppelin II, but it sounds very real and "right" throughout the LP that I do not find to be case with most other Rock LPs. Since acquiring my UK Track, I have sold two copies of the MCA "Heavy Vinyl Audiophile Series" pressing, and my 1972 US MCA reissue, the Japanese original and two other Japanese pressings are collecting dust.

    Then I read somewhere here that some members (and Mike Fremer) consider the Classic's recent reissue on 200 or 150 gram vinyl to be the best. Being curious, I, of course, threw away another $30 on a copy to do my own comparison. After many careful and casual listening sessions and comparisons, and trying very hard to like the Classic reissue (which, by the way, is excellent), I concluded that my original UK Track is better in just about every way (and twice on Sundays). The only thing that the Classic reissue was better at was the "spacious" presentation. My UK Track is more real sounding with every instrument (including vocals) and at every frequency. The vocals and piano sound more natural, the drums and bass have more body and definition with better attack and decay, the cymbals have more clarity and shimmer (and sound more like cymbals rather than tin), the acoustic guitar sounds more real and the electric guitars have less distortion and more clarity and power. I vowed never to waste more money on another false second-coming of this great record.

    Then I read a couple of posts by some fellow Forum members, whose opinions I have learned to value immensely. (Ouch, so much for my vows, :D ). According to Ben, Randy and Mike, the US Decca first "West Coast" pressing is the version to get. So I tracked down (no pun intended) a W2, W2 pressing (I could not find a clean W1, W1 copy).

    How could this be? My newly acquired W2, W2 US Decca pressing sounded remarkably similar to my UK Track on Side 1. "Getting in Tune" on Side 2 sounded like it had more reverb or echo (especially at the beginning of the vocal) but the rest of Side 2 also sounded very similar to my UK Track in terms of overall sound quality. Hmmmmmmm. Dazed and confused.

    I did some research on the Forum and discovered a couple of posts by our fearless leader stating that only the first US Decca pressing was cut from the original master tapes by Doug Sax at The Mastering Lab. Hmmmmmm. Disillusioned and disappointed.

    Then my obsession with dead wax began and here is what I concluded.

    sungshinla's pet theory :)D ):

    At LEAST Side 1 of my UK Track original pressing was cut by Doug Sax at The Mastering Lab, JUST LIKE the US Decca first pressing.

    I am certain beyond a reasonable doubt that the above statement is correct. I do not care about any "stories" to the contrary from people who are in the know, as I have hard proof.

    My UK Track original has "MG 12888" HAND-etched in the dead wax of Side 1. My US Decca pressing has "MG712888-W2" hand-etched in the dead wax of Side 1 and "MG712889-W2 x" hand-etched in the dead wax of Side 2. The handwriting on Side 1 of both my UK Track original and US Decca are identical. The "M" is written with the middle part looking like a smile rather than a "v". The "G" is written like a "C" with the "-" part going outward to the right rather than inward to the left. The "888" has the tendency to lean or tilt to the right. I have verified using the dead wax writing on Doug Sax remastered EMI Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon (the "M" from "DSOTM" hand-etched on the dead wax, and the "G" from "DOUG" also hand-etched on the dead wax) that the "MG 12888" was, in fact, hand-etched by Doug Sax. Mr. Sax has handwriting as bad as mine, but because of that, his handwriting is more readily discernible as it is unique.

    From this, I was also able to tell that Mr. Sax did not write the "7" in between "MG" and "12888" or the "-W2" on the US Decca. Someone else SQUEEZED in the "7" and added the "-W2" after he had written the "MG 12888". Also, it was clear from the size of the "MG 12888" on Side 1 vs. "MG 12889" on Side 2 that the marking on Side 2 was NOT hand-etched at the same time as the marking on Side 1. The marking on Side 2 is noticeably bigger (although of the same handwriting).

    From that, I have the following hypothesis: EITHER Mr. Sax, when FIRST cutting the lacquer, wrote "MG 12888" on Side 1 only (which then were used to pressed the US Decca first pressing AND some of the UK Track first pressing) OR Mr. Sax also wrote "MG 12889" on Side 2 also but that lacquer was not used to press the UK Track first pressing. Someone with a true W1, W1 Decca pressing (as opposed to W1 with other trailing numbers or letters) should check to see if the "MG712889" or "7MG 12889" on Side 2 is bigger than the "MG712888" or "7MG 12888" on Side 1.

    If Side 2 lacquer used for the UK Track first pressing was NOT cut by Mr. Sax, then I would think that the reason may have had something to do with the UK import tax issues. Perhaps, if only one side came from the US, the tax did not apply.

    Anyway, Side 1 of my UK Track first pressing sounds better than Side 1 of my US Decca W2, W2 pressing, although they sound incredibly similar. I believe the slightly better sound of my UK Track comes from better vinyl formulation of the UK pressings.

    As previously mentioned, "Getting in Tune" on my US Decca W2, W2 sounds like it has more reverb or echo. It also has more pronounced vocal and mid-bass sound. I personally think that this was due to EQ'ing (or compression), as my US Decca W2, W2 is missing much of the deep lower bass information compared to my UK Track original. Someone with a TRUE W1, W1 US Decca should check the beginning minute or so of "Getting in Tune" to see if there appears to be more reverb or echo compared to Side 1 (for example, "Bargain"). If not, then that should sound identical to Side 2 of my UK Track (and that would also support the position that Side 2 of my UK Track original was also mastered by Mr. Sax).

    Also, the following are some hypotheses that I have formulated during all this dead wax reading:

    The later US MCA reissues, if mastered by Mr. Sax, do not have Mr. Sax's handwriting on the dead wax. I am guessing that the handwriting belongs to Mike Reese, another engineer at The Mastering Lab for many years (as confirmed by the handwriting on the dead wax of many 80's and late 70's "TML" records, including Styx, Grand Illusion, for which only Mike Reese at The Mastering Lab is credited on the inner sleeve). I have only found Mr. Sax's own hand markings on the US and UK originals of Who's Next, the recent EMI reissue of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and the Analogue Productions reissues where he was the mastering engineer (e.g., Art Pepper, Sonny Rollins, etc.)

    The UK Track pressings with "Bilbo" on the dead wax was cut from a dub of the master tapes by another engineer in the UK, Denis Blackham. Also, I have compared my UK Track first pressing against Scott's UK Track later pressing with "Bilbo" on Side 1 (A//4, B//4 pressing), and my copy is on MUCH THICKER vinyl (similar to Hendrix UK Track records).

    My UK Track pressing is THE EARLIEST UK Track pressing, as indicated by the earliest matrices, Mr. Sax's marking of "MG 12888" on the dead wax of Side 1, and the date code of "8 71" (August, 1971, when the record was first released in the UK) on the inner sleeve. (By the way, some of the UK eBay sellers are incorrect when they claim that the ones with a "head hunter" paper inner sleeve are the only first runs, as my copy has an earlier matrix number following the A//1 and B//2, indicating that my copy was from an earlier mother and stamper than the "head hunter" copies that I have seen on eBay).

    Judging from the Classic reissue and our fearless leader's CD, the master tapes have degenerated a bit over the years and no vinyl reissue will sound as good as the UK Track A//1 "MG 12888", B//2 pressing or the US Decca first pressing cut by Doug Sax when he had the fresh master tapes. I must add, however, that both reissues are excellent on their own.

    Because of the huge demand for the LP PRIOR to its release in the UK (generated by The Who's amazing concert performances immediately prior to the release of the LP), my guess is that a lacquer initially cut by Mr. Sax in the US was shipped to the UK to save time in meeting the anticipated demand. That may explain why this record was released at least two weeks before in the US than in the UK.

    By the way, I also believe that some of the "later" UK Track pressings were actually pressed in the US (with the outer jacket being made also in the US). Some of the US Decca pressings came in an outer cover having the top and bottom inch (approx.) of the SPINE being "pinched" (similar to the UK Beatles outer sleeves of this same period). I think that these records and sleeves were mostly made in the US and shipped to the UK, and were "finished" in the UK for the UK market.

    Well, that is all for now. I am sure I am missing some other tidbits of information that I have gathered during the last couple of weeks but the above is all I can remember right now. I hope this helps.

    ArpMoog, Mr.Sean, puelche and 20 others like this.
  2. Sckott

    Sckott Hand Tighten Only.

    South Plymouth, Ma
    What hasn't happened yet, although it's been close, is that master tape has NOT been played on period-equipment.

    Steve did a great job, but I think he used not of what he has at his disposal now. I think there in lies the fairy dust....
  3. Chris M

    Chris M Senior Member

    Baton Rouge, LA
    IIRC I asked Steve awhile back if he did Who's Next again would use tube equipment and he said something like if he did "it would turn to mush".
  4. Sckott

    Sckott Hand Tighten Only.

    South Plymouth, Ma
    It just might, and if anyone knows it's him.

    But... I still think he could better his 1st attempt by slight. For many, it would be worthy.

    The Classic Recs vinyl is excellent too. I was quite pleased.
  5. Ed Hughes

    Ed Hughes Forum Resident

    Sckott,I really like your avatar.It brings back a lot of memories.:love:
    Sorry guys,back to the Who thread.
  6. If Sung hadn't explained this to me in person last night, I might be a little lost at the moment. ;)

    However, something that really has to be seen is the hand writing in the dead wax. There is no mistaking Doug Sax's hand writing, and when compared to the the other hand writing that Sung mentions was 'squeezed' in, it's VERY obvious.

    Bottom line, Sung played for me virtually every pressing he mentions in his post, and I agree, after hearing it with my own ears, that his 'Track' 1st pressing is the stand out of all the others. I was bummed to realize my 'Track' pressing is inferior to his 1st pressing, but such is life.

    Excellent detective work Sung. :righton:
  7. sungshinla

    sungshinla Vinyl and Forum Addict Thread Starter

    By the way, I forgot to thank Randy W, Mikelakers and John Hunter for sharing information regarding their US Decca first pressings, and ScottJ for his patience in listening to the various pressings (Scott, you must be so tired of this LP now, lol).

    Argh! I did not want this to sound like a Oscar winner speech. Sorry!
  8. rhkwon

    rhkwon Forum Resident

    Houston, TX USA
    Sung, can we have some more detail please? :righton:

    Excellent post!
  9. Goodness. What a thorough examination. I just got done watching House, and like that show, this is serious detective work.
  10. Stax Fan

    Stax Fan Forum Resident

    Much obliged, Sung. Your handwriting analysis is key here, not to mention indicative of a great eye for detail. :righton:

    Dunno about tubes making mush outta this though, since Mr Sax would've used 'em. My understanding is The Mastering Lab used tubes from day 1.

    I have an absolutely gorgeous US Decca copy, but it's an east coast pressing...figures. :D
  11. That's OK Sung, take a bow, you deserve it. :laugh:

    Actually, after all of the listening that we did, I've got a ten times greater appreciation for the album and the work that went into it, both by the Who, and the mastering that was done by Doug Sax. :wave:
  12. lukpac

    lukpac Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    I've said this before, but...

    I've got a few W1 copies, and while they sound nice enough on their own, they *do* sound like mush compared to Steve's apparently flat transfer. Now, I don't know how much of that is tubes and how much is just EQ, but the difference is fairly dramatic.
  13. Monsieur Gadbois

    Monsieur Gadbois Senior Member

    West Coast
    For the best vinyl pressing detective work on Who's Next, the Grammy goes to...


    Great job, Sung. Now I have a even greater appreciation for this Lp.
  14. Simon A

    Simon A Arrr!

    Splendid analysis Sung! You've almost convinced me to give this album a first listen...;)

    Wouldn't be great if Mr. Sax joined us to add a few tidbits? :agree:
  15. sungshinla

    sungshinla Vinyl and Forum Addict Thread Starter

    I thought about sending an e-mail to Mr. Sax to confirm some of the stuff that I wrote about and perhaps to get some more tidbits. But I thought that he might think I am a stalker or something, lol.

    I am pretty sure our fearless leader has a working relationship with Mr. Sax and perhaps Steve can chime in and give us more scoop on the recording and/or mastering of this great LP.

    Also, when I remember some other bits of information that I have gathered during this research, I will post them here. I had to run to a dinner meeting last night when I wrote the initial post and I know that I missed a lot. Unfortunately, I am at work right now (and I have a dinner meeting later) and I can't seem to focus on this.

    By the way, thank you all for taking the time to read my confusing post. I just read it over and, if I had not wrote it, I can see that I would be confused.
    MisterNines likes this.
  16. soundQman

    soundQman Forum Resident

    Arlington, VA, USA
    Oh, why not. You should have some kind of prize for your grand obsession! You've raised the bar quite high for us vinyl freaks. :D
  17. Stax Fan

    Stax Fan Forum Resident

    That CD's still one of the best values ever. As usual, your insight into anything Who-related is appreciated.

    I'm bypassing all the variables involved here (on the mastering and playback ends) and going with Steve's (and your's) assessment. Maybe Sung's copy isn't as mushy for whatever reason, or maybe it's complimentary to his system.
  18. barzzz

    barzzz Forum Resident

    rochester ny
    I found a w3 that matches the Sax handwriting, and it sounds great. When looking for these, what is meant by a true w1 pressing? Also, thanks for the great detective work, I love this kind of stuff.
    Mr.Sean, etherealdog and marcfeld69 like this.
  19. 51nocaster

    51nocaster Forum Resident

    Very nice work. Once again, a great, well researched posting from Sung. In the short time he has been here, he has established himself as an invaluable resource for all of the vinyl junkies on this board.
  20. Randy W

    Randy W Original Member

    Thanks, Sung! Fantastic Synopsis!! :)

    I also nominate Sung for an award.

    I think the only question I have is how close sonically is the W2/W2 to the W1/W1 - from your matrix info they should sound the same or very similar. I do not have a W2 (just W1 and W3s, and the W1 was better). I also do not have a Track A//1 (just Bilbo A//4) so cannot offer any more help.

    If you find another Track first pressing though and decide to sell it - I'll buy it! ;)
  21. sungshinla

    sungshinla Vinyl and Forum Addict Thread Starter

    I guess I tried to limit my initial post to just those conclusions that I were more certain of.

    I will now post some of my suspicions, which need to be verified by the folks here.

    First, by "a true W1 pressing", I am referring to the true first lacquers cut by Mr. Sax. As I do not have a copy of a "W1, W1" pressing (nor do I have a "W1" followed by a dash and other numbers or letters, e.g., W1-2 x), I was not able to verify the reverb/echo on "Getting in Tune" of Side 2 of the very first lacquers cut by Mr. Sax for the US West Coast pressing. If someone here has a US Decca West Coast copy with the dead wax matrix ending simply -W1for Side 1 and -W1 for Side 2 (OR, in the alternative, a US Decca copy with the dead wax matrix of just "MG 12888", "MG712888" or "7MG 12888" on Side 1 and nothing on Side 2, which if it exists, I would think was the first lacquer), please listen to a cut from Side 1 and then listen to the first minute or so of "Getting in Tune" on Side 2 to compare the reverb/echo, especially when the vocal first comes in on that song.

    If the first lacquer for the US Decca West Coast pressing does not have a more prominent reverb/echo at the beginning of "Getting in Tune" on Side 2 (or does NOT have "MG 12889", "MG712889" or "7MG 12889" etched on Side 2), I would guess that is basically identical to the UK Track A//1 "MG 12888", B//2 first pressing.

    By the way, I also suspect that the "later" UK Tracks with "MG 12888" hand-etched on Side 1 sound less good compared to the first UK Track with "MG 12888" because of one of two reasons: Either (1) the later ones are from the later lacquers cut by Mr. Sax (which can be verified by the hand-writing of "MG 12888" being a bit different although of the same style, between the first UK Track pressing and the later ones); or (2) they are from the same lacquer, but after that lacquer, being used over and over, started losing its freshness.

    Also, the folks here whose opinions and ears that I trust have concluded that a W1 sounds better than a later W pressing (for example, a W3), and Steve at one point mentioned, I think, that at some point, Mr. Sax or someone else started cutting lacquers from a dub as opposed to the master tapes. If a W3 or later pressing sounds a bit less good than a W1, I would guess that that later pressing was either cut from a dub or the master tape was beginning to lose its freshness (which is not that far fetched, as I think that was the case with Blind Faith, S/T).

    Regarding the sound of a W3 pressing, I would imagine that it sounds incredible, most likely very similar to the US Decca W1 W1 or the UK Track first pressing cut by Mr. Sax.

    Also, if your W3 W3 pressing comes in a outer cover which has the top and bottom inch or so of the SPINE pinched, it is possible that your copy was a part of a batch that was being made for the UK market (as the UK Track pressings had the same pinched cover).

    By the way, if your copy on Side 2 has a "x" at the end of the dead wax matrix, I would guess that the reverb/echo on "Getting in Tune" is similar to my W2, W2 x copy. I do not know what this "x" means, but it could be a mark to differentiate between a non-reverb/echo original vs. the later reverb/echo ones. I can only guess, as I do not have a W1 W1 copy.
  22. barzzz

    barzzz Forum Resident

    rochester ny
    My w3 copy does have the pinched spine., but is missing the 7 in the matrix. I also have a w1, without the Sax handwriting, which I bought here in Rochester Ny. The w3 I have with the Sax handwriting was purchased about a year ago on the forum from mfidelity, who lives in San Fran.
    MisterNines and marcfeld69 like this.
  23. sungshinla

    sungshinla Vinyl and Forum Addict Thread Starter

    YES, YES, YES!!!

    Thank you very much for that info. Your W3 copy without the "7" in the "MG 12888" prooves my theory that the 7 was added on the US Decca domestic pressings AFTER Mr. Sax had cut the lacquer and inscribed his "MG 12888" on the dead wax. The foreign (export to the UK) lacquer did NOT have the "7", as evidenced by my first pressing UK Track and YOUR US-made-for-UK-export W3 copy. Your copy (or the lacquer that your copy was pressed from) was intended for the UK (as evidenced by the "pinched" spine and the lack of "7", which stood for the US Decca).

    Yippeeee. Thanks for that information again!
    MisterNines and Bas Mollenkramer like this.
  24. CardinalFang

    CardinalFang New Member

    I looked at a copy today... it was a W1-2/W1-X in not-so-great condition. I see what you mean by that "7" being written in after Sax wrote MG 12888. Makes perfect sense to me...
  25. ress4279

    ress4279 Forum Resident

    I have located in England an mg12888 UK Track pressing. The paper sleeve has 8-71, but there is no A//1 or B//2 in the deadwax according to the seller.

    Is this a later pressing, do you think?

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