Local audiophile gives Surf Zombies vinyl an 8; release show Sept. 11

Surf Zombies headman Brook Hoover asked local audiophile Michael Roeder to assess the new vinyl version of the band’s instant surf rock classic  It’s…a Thing. Michael (who also operates the music blog Play B Sides) ran the record through the paces and gave it a solid 8.

A very special vinyl release show is planned for Sept. 11 at CSPS, with openers Black Bull Nova. More info and tickets here.

Before delving into Mike’s full rundown (which includes a reference to Yes’ Fragile), let’s get his advice on a wine pairing for listening to this record:

“Fun and funky without the pretentious oak. Something suitable for the beach and the blacktop. So probably a blend. I’d say 19 Crimes Red Blend.

Here’s the unedited version from Michael’s test kitchen…

I played my copy on my 1981 Sony Direct-Drive turntable with a vintage B&O cartridge that I’ve found does a great job playing every kind of LP. I have it set with 1.5g tonearm weight and the anti-skate matching. I played through my 1978-vintage Kenwood integrated amp. I have a pair of Polk Audio 3-way bookshelf speakers, but I played it through my general-purpose Sony MDR MC60’s with the noise-cancelling turned off.

First off, the pressing doesn’t have any of the possible mechanical bugaboos that can happen. This one is relatively flat, and is punched on-center, so that is really, really good. Overall the record is dead quiet. I didn’t give it any kind of cleaning.

It was my opinion that this album was going to be a good candidate for vinyl because even on CD it seemed to have a lot of the characteristics that would lend itself well to vinyl and I was right. It has a very vintage sound to me, the fact that you guys tracked this to tape first helped a lot with the necessary limiting/compression that vinyl would take advantage of. The sound stage for this album has been heavily on the mid’s, and that helps with vinyl too.

A side note: A lot of bass reproduction requires either a lot of real estate on vinyl (dropping the total minutes per side to accommodate) or dramatic re-equalization to fix. I shake my head at some of the recent vinyl re-issues of albums that weren’t on vinyl to begin with– 60-minute albums that had all kinds of CD overhead on the original record getting squashed into too-tightly packed grooves making a lot of distortion on playback and apparently no one does a real QA of this stuff. They really need to go back and remaster these albums. It’s kind of like the early days of compact disc when labels where just digitally transferring the LP master to CD (my 1989 CD copy of Yes “Fragile” actually had pops and clicks in it!!). They learned eventually that they needed to remaster the pre-CD albums as the songs didn’t have the same loudness and soundstage as new albums did (apparent when hearing old and new masters side-by-side on the radio, incidentally). And, we’ve come full-circle. While it seems like a marketing ploy to remaster albums to drive up catalog sales (and it kind of is) it sometimes has a practical reason, too.

I listened closely for any kind of sibillance distortion and I didn’t hear any. Usually this comes out as a sizzling “ess” in cymbals or vocals. Since there aren’t any vocals, I only needed to focus on the cymbals and there was no sibbillance distortion. Whoever did the mastering for vinyl did a good job of making this a loud record. Your music doesn’t have a lot of dynamics really, so the engineering could lean towards pushing everything up without sacrificing much. All of the track fade outs were good– I could hear the last ringing reverb die into the track gaps.

I did some A/B between the LP and the CD. I know the thing that a lot of people want to hear is “it’s really warm” and things like that, but what I found was that aside for some slight EQ difference between the two, the LP is a faithful transfer of the recording that created the CD and that is a good thing, since I thought the CD sounded very good to begin with. The same tape compression/distortion (apparent on some of the guitars) that exists on the CD came over to the LP in tact, maintaining the awesome garage-y vibe.

Congrats on a super-cool LP! I can’t wait to buy it!

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