I was plugged in to my phone when the news came crashing outside my window: on its 25th anniversary, the remastered version of Ultraelectromagneticpop would be available on Spotify and other digital platforms. And I listened to it on Spotify the same day it came out. What tiny tidbit I missed at the time, is the news that it will be available not just for digital streaming, but also in other format—physical format to be exact. Eraserheads’ debut album will be out in limited edition vinyl in early 2019.
Why on vinyl? Well, vinyl is en vogue. Also, listening to records on a turntable automatically makes you look like an audiophile—therefore cool—and makes your musical tastes appear superior to those who don’t. It’s also said that listening to vinyls takes a lot of effort, preparation, time, and money. So, it’s only fitting for landmark album like Ultraelectromagneticpop, in its 25th anniversary reissue, to be played only in something as quaint and expensive as a gramophone.
Honestly, I was initially skeptical about this whole “remastered by Bernie Grundman from the original tapes” thing. Sounded like marketing pitch to me. Wasn’t there already a remastered version of the Ultra that came out in 2010? (We’ll get to that later.) So, Ely Buendia’s Offshore Music and Sony Music is reissuing Ultra, on vinyl, with no bonus tracks, no extra disc, but its remastered. By Bernie Grundman. As the story goes, Buendia found the original master tapes in Laguna, took them to Hollywood, and have them remastered by the guy who’s CV lists big names like Michael Jackson and Prince. No kidding. Grundman’s also responsible for Full Flood, the latest from Apartel.
Could this new remastered version really sound better, way better, than the original? If yes, would the improvement be noticeable for the common earbuds listener?
Well, here’s what I did. Since there are two versions of Ultra available on Spotify, I did a quick A/B-ing the other night. But before that, I also checked on Reddit, to see if some fans already made the comparison. Fortunately, some people already did. One redditor said s/he couldn’t hear any difference, while another said the album’s originally tinny sound was greatly improved, that there were noticeable differences. So, I plugged in my headphones and did my little experiment.
I thought it’s probably harder to hear any improvement on songs like “Pare Ko” or “Ligaya,” my ears being already acquainted to their imperfections for so long that they would sound perfect no matter what. And since I don’t have the time to compare all the tracks on each version, what I did was focus on the lesser tracks, the non-hits.
First, I did “Combo On The Run,” which, in my opinion, is the worst sounding track in the original version. I switched back and forth between the original and new version. And to my surprise, the new version actually sounds better, clearer. The improvement is noticeable. Then, I also compared “Shirley” and guess what, I came to the same conclusion.
So, yes, the new remastered version is better than the original. But is it noticeable when using earbuds? Hmm, on a decent pair (I actually used a not too expensive JVC headphones) plugged in to a device with a good sound card (doesn’t have to be iPhone; Huawei, Samsung, Alcatel, etc. will do), I’d say yes. But to truly appreciate the improvements, one needs to play the album on decent sound system. Not necessarily hi fi, but at least decent.
Wait, how about the 2010 remasters? The ones included in that Greenwich pizza box set? Wasn’t Ultra already remastered by Angee Rozul for 2010’s The Heads Set? Is the box set version the same as the one on Spotify? Or is the Ultra on Spotify the 1993 version? Actually, I don’t know. It’s highly possible that the 2010 remaster is the one uploaded on Spotify, ditto with the rest of the band’s discography, which were “digitally remastered” by Angee Rozul. Thinking about it now, it’s highly possible that they only made the tracks louder, especially on Ultra. Well, they had to remaster all the 8 LPs and as far as I know, no one from the Eheads were involved in the process. It’s also hard to tell if Robin Rivera was even involved, although he wrote the liner notes for booklet.
Maybe, next time, when I have time, I will compare the Spotify version with The Heads Set CD. For now, let’s savour and enjoy the newly improved Ultraelectromagneticpop!
For those who have already set up their hi fi systems, this is all good news. Whether you’re a huge Eheads fan or not, getting a landmark OPM album reissued on vinyl would be like getting any LP by the Beatles, or Mariah Carey, or Lady Gaga. It’s like the coolest thing to do in 2019, whether you’re a true blue audiophile, a record collector or just a casual fan. Simply because vinyl reissues is rare on our shore.
But there are problems with this: it’s bad news for music fans who still collects records but don’t have a turntable at home. It’s bad news for those who prefer the “digital coldness,” the “plastic precision,” and “down to earth affordability” of compact discs over the digital stream of sound coming out of your Spotify-ed earbuds. Hmm. Okay, it’s not really the sound. It’s not really the sound. It’s the thought of collecting and owning something. It’s about having something tangible to hold in your hands, something to look at: artworks, photos, lyrics and liner notes printed on a piece of paper.
The good news is, the LP isn’t out yet, and you still have time to go the nearest audiophile shop and check for speaker systems and turntables within your budget. According to this site, they come at around £500. Not so expensive, right? Wait until you convert that to local currency. That’s like a whooping 30 grand! Only so you can hear the difference between the Bernie Grundman remaster and the original. Okay, it’s not practical. Some fans may have to break their piggy banks or apply for a loan.
Let’s get to the other side of the tape, the technical stuff. Let’s say you’re on a budget, but could still squeeze it for low-to-mid range priced turntables. Would it be worth it? Would you get a much better sound than what you could get from streaming? Maybe. Maybe not. But at least you have a turntable and it looks good on that side of the room. It’s nice to look at, it’s nice to have (except when you have little kids around).
The next question is: Do vinyls really sound better than CD and digital streaming? To answer that, I will have to point you to this article.
Finished reading? Nope? TL; DR? Nevermind. The point is, if you prefer the “warmth” and beautiful analogue sound of vinyl, then go for it. If you’re on a budget and could not afford a pricey equipment, you may still go for vinyl. Just don’t expect it to sound as good as with high-end audio systems. Listening to music on vinyl isn’t for everyone. Turntables and vinyls don’t come cheap. Not every music fan could afford them. Listening to vinyl is not egalitarian like digital streaming.
Last question: What if you prefer something tangible but not as pricey? What if you want something you can show to your grandchildren someday? Like compact discs with their “Perfect Sound Forever”? Well, this leads us to the last part of the show.
Last year, Orange & Lemons released a re-recorded version of their debut album Love In the Land of Rubber Shoes and Dirty Ice Cream. And Clem Castro’s Lilystars Records put it out in limited edition vinyl and CD formats. It was for the album’s 15th Anniversary and everyone was happy.
If Clem Castro and Lilystars could release Love In the Land in both CD and vinyl, why can’t Ely Buendia and Offshore Music do the same?