WHICH SOUND, WHICH REMASTER?

By John Buchanan

A comparison of the sound of various current Cream albums – the gold CD remasters (Mobile Fidelity (MoFi) and DCC Compact Classics (DCC)) vs the Cream Remasters (CR) series and Those Were The Days (TWTD)

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It is always a point of argument plus a large amount of personal taste (ears?) and your hi-fi as to what sound one prefers when presented with a plethora of alternate masters.  Cream is now well served with alternatives, but not overburdened by commercial excess. 

Some people, misguidedly, remain attached to the vinyl sound.  For those of us who have always strived for maximium quality sound - the CD was a true revolution.   Without doubt most of the original analogue-to-digital conversions were hasty and often poorly done but still provided a quantum improvement over our noisy, dynamically limited and frequency manipulated records which were being degraded every time we played them.  Later digital remasters improved as the basic technology and engineering skills improved.  The newest generation employing, usually, original master tapes and fully digital (ie P.C. based) processing are achieving even greater sonic improvements.  However a few limitations always remain: the source and the ears of the engineers. 

Cream's latest remasters are an excellent example of the difficulties of the technology.  The major problem is that only the mixed down two track masters are available with few exceptions.  There is some chioce between alternate mixes and non vs equalised masters but no multi-tracks exist to truelly remix.  To some degree the latest remasters reflect a desire to achieve a more modern balance in Cream's sound.   For this reason the original and more contemporary remasters continue to retain a high degree of interest.

Note: original CD releases are not discussed as they were direct, non RIAA equalised, conversions of the analogue masters.

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 The three current versions of Fresh Cream are, in order of release dates, the DCC, TWTD and CR.

The DCC has a lovely laminated CD booklet replica of the original US Atco release with the same track listing (the extra tracks of the remasters are appended), whereas the CR version has the UK track listing and is not laminated. The TWTD and CR version sound identical and will be treated in the same breath in a comparison with the DCC. The DCC has more bottom end, a more intelligible mid range (Jack Bruce’s vocals are much clearer) and a smoother treble. This version sounds closer to the master tape to me, simply because it sounds more like a band playing. The sound, although "cut" at a lower volume, has more dynamic range than the TWTD and CR versions, so take care with comparisons.

It is a pity that the mono-mixes were not included on the DCC as this was the era when the mono mix was done first (I'm So Glad is only available in mono as Steve Hoffman found for the DCC reissue) and then the stereo.  The basic recording approach of Fresh Cream favours a mono mix.  The all-to-obvious conclusion is that the master mono-mix tape no longer exists.

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The MoFi Disraeli Gears is now OOP (see Ebay) but is MUCH better than any other version. The CR and TWTD versions are identical and sound, again, brighter, less dynamic and with less bottom end than the MoFi, but "cut" at a louder volume. The MoFi also has a larger fold out mini-poster of the original cover (even if it is slightly out of focus, unfortunately, typical of MoFi) and both stereo and mono mixes of the album as issued originally in 1967 all on one CD.

The mono-mix offers no significant sonic difference except on "Tales of Brave Ulysses" where Ginger's drums are mixed high and very dynamic.   There are quoted timing differences on the cover but they relate to start and ending editing not to any real difference. The mono vinyl was initially released but only in the 1st pressing run.  It is now a collectors item.

Wheels, Goodbye, Live Cream Vol. I and II

2001 by John Buchanan