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Article: The Best Version Of… Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow

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I love this article, and I'm going to buy the disc.  (This is especially noteworthy since I don't really like the Airplane and you don't really like the sound quality, haha)  You've made a critical topic so much fun and accessible.  Recording quality is a HUGE variable, especially on hi end systems, yet except for the excellent loudness wars database you reference, it goes almost completely unmentioned on the interwebs.  You've done a great job with a full evaluation.  THANKS!  Keep'm comin'!

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Thanks, josh. I have a digital rip of a mono LP. But this article inspired me to go to Tidal. They have a 17 song version there, which I assume is the same as one of the Irwin ones you referred to. I will pick up the CD at some point. 

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@JoshM : Great article I hadn't listened to  the Airplane in years- and to my surprise didn't even them in my ripped CD library and my vinyl is long gone.

Went to TIDAL and they didn't even have Surrealistic Pillow then it magically showed up with almost identical ones but less quantity as on Qobuz (below)!

BUT... if you have Qobuz type in 'Jefferson Airplane' 36 different albums come up including various 'live' collections(probably some are same albums/collections on different labels) including a bunch from the fillmore including 'Grace's debut' and others plus a slew of albums and movie scores that have the Airplane and then a slew of similar groups and tributes... including one entitled 'Worst of Jefferson Airplane'!

I can't comment on SQ they all sound good to me especially if you use A+3 as the 'player'.

It would be interesting for comments from you Josh and others if so inclined as to how these 'streamed' collections sound compared to the CDs you describe.

bobbmd

Edited by bobbmd

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Surrealistic Pillow got me into The Airplane... Volunteers and Crown of Creation made me a lifetime fan. Volunteers of America was the soundtrack in the back of my head at a number of marches and demonstrations back in the day. And unfortunately it's the soundtrack in the back of my head again at marches and demonstrations... I thought we'd finished with all that. 

Now I just have to figure out which version I've got on my music server...

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3 hours ago, bobbmd said:

including one entitled 'Worst of Jefferson Airplane'!

 

That was their "Best of ..."  album, self-derisively titled as a commentary on the "Best of X" albums being produced at the time.

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14 hours ago, firedog said:

Thanks, josh. I have a digital rip of a mono LP. But this article inspired me to go to Tidal. They have a 17 song version there, which I assume is the same as one of the Irwin ones you referred to. I will pick up the CD at some point. 

 

7 hours ago, bobbmd said:

@JoshM : Great article I hadn't listened to  the Airplane in years- and to my surprise didn't even them in my ripped CD library and my vinyl is long gone.

Went to TIDAL and they didn't even have Surrealistic Pillow then it magically showed up with almost identical ones but less quantity as on Qobuz (below)!

BUT... if you have Qobuz type in 'Jefferson Airplane' 36 different albums come up including various 'live' collections(probably some are same albums/collections on different labels) including a bunch from the fillmore including 'Grace's debut' and others plus a slew of albums and movie scores that have the Airplane and then a slew of similar groups and tributes... including one entitled 'Worst of Jefferson Airplane'!

I can't comment on SQ they all sound good to me especially if you use A+3 as the 'player'.

It would be interesting for comments from you Josh and others if so inclined as to how these 'streamed' collections sound compared to the CDs you describe.

bobbmd

 

I believe the Tidal version is the Irwin remaster, but I’ll download a track from Tidal and let you know for sure. 

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I have the album in the CD of the Irwin remaster.  It sounds more tipped up than the LP I used to have. It does sound similarly balanced to an original reel to reel a friend has.  Despite all that, artistic intent, etc etc. its just too bright to me.  Not horrifyingly so, but it sounds as if it shouldn't be this up-titled.  As if it would be better tilted the other way. There isn't much below 100 hz to speak of in any case to give good overall balance.  

 

I'm not at all immune to rebalancing something so far off imo.  In simple terms I take this and work in decades.  I pick 200 hz as a reference 0 level.  I use Audacity and tilt the EQ up from 200 hz to +5 db at 20 hz.  I tilt the EQ down to -5 db at 2000 khz.  And continue that tilt to - 10 db at 20 khz.  At least that was what I chose for this album.  Then I think I added 2 db of gain when I was done. 

 

My approach is to start with a 3 db/decade tilt.  I do it once or twice to see when its close.  Then I make one for whichever album I'm doing this to by trying in between tilt values.  One could do more extensive EQ and try doing sections for this or that problem.  But that gets into remastering.  I feel my approach keeps whatever octave to octave balance was intended while letting me tune a full bandwidth tilt to my liking.  So in this case I did a 3 db/decade down tilt once which was better, but not best.  I did it again, and it was I felt close to right.  I think some tracks need that amount.  But overall I decided backing up to 5db/decade tilt was right for the album as a whole.  

 

I am surprised with all this DSP we have today, that more people don't do such things.  You have to pay attention.  For instance if an album has lots of real low bass you might leave it shelved below 200 hz or might choose 20 hz as the 0 level reference to work from.  Then add a little gain as needed at the end. 

 

Does no one else do this?  Try at least a 3db/decade tilt on this album.  I think you'll see it is an improvement with no drawbacks and you'll enjoy it more.  

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Great first article Josh and a great idea for a column ! :)

 

  There is only one Surrealistic Pillow on Qobuz , or at least here in the Spain Qobuz ... may be different in other territories ... but it is the Irwin master !!   Woohoooo !!!!  I admit I am not supper familiar with Jefferson Airplane aside from the giant hits that everyone on the planet knows  .... but I am enjoying this album Immensely !  

 

  Looking forward to next article . Two thumbs up .

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@Don Blas De Lezo sorry Don but on my Qobuz have 36 albums and bunch of tributes etc

your experience is why i probably will not sign up for a USA subscription and keep my 'French' address.

I don't have a 'missing' albums problem but what i have is albums ie Dylan being shown but only some or all of songs being grayed out- not available to listen to

do you have same problem in Spain?

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2 hours ago, bobbmd said:

@Don Blas De Lezo sorry Don but on my Qobuz have 36 albums and bunch of tributes etc

your experience is why i probably will not sign up for a USA subscription and keep my 'French' address.

I don't have a 'missing' albums problem but what i have is albums ie Dylan being shown but only some or all of songs being grayed out- not available to listen to

do you have same problem in Spain?

 @bobbmd Hi Bob ,  I also have 36 Jefferson Airplane albums here  ... I meant only one " Surrealistic Pillow"  and that is the Irwin version .

I just quickly counted about 157 Dylan albums, many are different versions/masterings of same album ... and just taking quick look do not see anything grayed out .  Any particular albums I could check ?  Would take some time to go through them all  !  :)

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@Don Blas De Lezo thankyou but no need to do that it is mainly the newer albums and bootleg series not a big deal i have more than enough Dylan but thanks anyway so the 'best' Airplane is the actual pink album or is the Irwin master on a different album cover? 

thanks again but please do not waste your time on the dylan albums

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@bobbmd    Just had a very quick look , "The Cutting Edge" and  "Another Self Portrait " of the bootleg series  are grayed out but  'Volume 5' , 'Volumes 1-3' and 'Volume 8' for example are ok  ....    and yeah the Irwin Surrealistic is the Pinkish one  ,2003.   I did not loose anything when I switched over from French Qobuz and upgraded my subscription , perhaps rights are the more the same across the countries within the E.U ... the U.S may be different of course.  I did however think that I lost a few tracks/albums that appeared grayed out but this was an odd problem with Audirvana which I use,  and the tracks/albums were still there in Qobuz. Just had to put them back into my favourites or playlists again. Odd.   

 

   I did recently have one of my favourite albums get greyed out from Qobuz , an old Milton Nascimento  classic that I love ... I guess if a label wants to pull an album from streaming for whatever reason, Qobuz can't do anything . Fourtunately I had an original Philips Compact Disc stored deep in one of many boxes :)    So hang onto your discs still just in case !  ;)     (  Yes that felt very strange typing in "Compact Disc " !  )    O.K  I will go back to listening now.

 

Regards.

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SP is a landmark album, regardless of its low fi status. There will never be an audiophile version. In this way it’s  similar to the equally low fi and equally iconic Tapestry by Carole King.

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Wow you are brave! This has to be one of the worst albums ever recorded!

 

I have the German version. Today has a DR of 7.6. It sounds like they are playing somewhere in the bottom of a cave - not much high frequency content - kind of like old analog telephones!

 

I think given the terrible studio recording quality, there really isn’t much one can do except put lipstick on a pig!

 

 

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Thanks so much for this article, Josh! As someone who grew up in SF during the Airplane’s heyday, I really appreciated all the insights you gave. I never thought Surrealistic Pillow had good sound quality, even on my substandard record-playing equipment at the time. Nevertheless, it’s still my favorite of theirs and, I think, their best.

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