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Article: The Best Version Of ... Nick Drake's Bryter Layter


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Josh, thanks for yet another entry in your brilliant series of articles uncovering optimal versions of great albums. Each of these is a joy to read, incredibly insightful, superbly written and something I look forward to whenever they might appear.

 

JC

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This was another very helpful article thanks very much for all the effort, it certainly shows as a labor of love.  A few years ago I spent time over several sessions between the 2000 remasters and the original CDs for the three albums and eventually sided with the original CDs.  It was more an emotional response thing than any technical measure, the EQ hit me a certain way if you will.  The 2000’s were great, I had zero problem liking them, but they were a little boxed in, thuddy/dulled by comparison.  I never knew about these hi-res (or Japan CD) versions so tried the three albums in hi res last weekend, chose 3 songs per album, level matched, redbook vs hi res of course on my office system, and I really like these hi res.  Probably some confirmation bias but yeah now it jumps out at you how the original CDs sound like from LP cutting masters.  They are still pretty great to me, although now the hi res seems to deliver that full tape experience, more bass for sure, without being boxed in sounding.  I would say the difference between the three albums of the copy tape, digital source from the 2000 remaster, and for Pink Moon the master tape don’t jump out at me so much but then I didn’t really listen for differences in that way.  So thanks again for helping me find new remasterings to love for these incredible albums.

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On 12/30/2020 at 6:07 AM, semente said:

I am a big lover of Drake's music although Bryter isn't my favourite album; I prefer his other two more pain-full recordings.

 

Since I don't listen or enjoy listening with headphones, is the Nunn/Wood stil the best mastering/version for a speaker-listener?


Yes. I listed through headphone and speakers. In both cases, the Nunn/Wood wins out.

 

On 12/31/2020 at 9:04 AM, Boleary3 said:

Hey Josh, thanks so much for so thoughtfully sharing your expertise. What a pleasurable read. Any recommendations on the best versions, digital, of Drakes other two albums?


I haven’t done a detailed analysis, but my more informal listening says the Nunn/Wood is still your best pick. The process that produced each iteration of masterings was the same for each album, though they did diverge slightly for the hi-res. The original CDs were from cutting masters, and the 2000 returned to the original tapes (or copy tape, in the case of BL). However, for the hi-res, the sources were original tape for PM, copy tape for BL, and the 24-bit 2000 transfer for FLL. According to Wood, the original tape for FLL was “unusable” by the 2012. So it’s possible there’s less of a difference between the 2000 and 2012 for FLL than for the others. But, at the very least, I can’t imagine being disappointed with the hi-res Nunn/Wood masterings for any of the albums. 

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On 1/13/2021 at 5:56 AM, blue2 said:For those interested there's more about the music of and influences on Nick Drake by Pete Paphides on the John Peel Archive site. Lots of good stuff to beat lockdown! PS don't skip past Jackson C. Frank ;)


I agree. Frank is great. A very underrated songwriter who seemingly pops up as an influence for every major singer-songwriter of the late-‘60s.

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@JoshM, once again a fantastic article, filled with great background info, passion for the music, and of course excellent sonic analysis. And once again, you arrive at the correct conclusion as well! 😀

 

I've been a huge fan of the Nunn/Wood mastering ever since I first heard it around maybe 2015 - I thought it blew the others away for all three albums. It is indeed possible that Five Leaves Left is not as much of an improvement because it's just the mastering that's new compared to 2000 rather than the digital transfer of the analogue source, but I feel that too clearly surpasses the 2000 remaster.

 

It wasn't until last year, though, that I became aware that the Nunn/Wood mastering had been pressed to CD in the form of the Japan mini-LP issues from 2013. They were not super-cheap, but I snapped them all up, brand new, from CD Japan for about $30 each including the more expensive shipping (since EMS is suspended from Japan to the US during the pandemic) and I love them.

 

One curiosity, though - when I put rips of the CDs in my computer playback system and look at their ReplayGain values, the three albums differ significantly. In particular, Bryter Layter is 9-10dB quieter than the other two albums. I don't know if this is just the CDs or is also true of the high-res files. Did you encounter this?


Oh, and finally - the only downside I can see of this mastering is that it kind of spoils you for other Nick Drake releases. I have the Treasury SACD and I like it, but the mastering is IMHO not nearly as good.

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On 12/29/2020 at 3:49 AM, Jud said:

I've now read the very fine and enjoyable article, and wanted to mention someone who's noted in passing there: John Martyn. He's not that widely known, at least in the US, but had an absolutely prodigal career of about 40 years. I had the pleasure of seeing him live a very long time ago. He might be the second best acoustic guitar player I've ever seen after John McLaughlin, and I've seen Clapton among others. His unique vocals were better than the guitar playing as far as I'm concerned. They were half-jazz-scatted, half-sung, and a bit mumbled, especially in his mid to late career. One of my favorite albums is his No Little Boy from 1993, a reworking of some of his own material. (He liked reworking material, never doing one of his songs the same way twice, and he went through various labels, so his discography is, to put it politely, a bit disordered.)

 

If you find yourself liking Nick Drake, check out Martyn.

John Martyn not widely known in the US?  Unbelievable!   Solid Air is a desert island disc.

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@tmtomh this is what I get for the hi res

 

Bryter Layter all tracks : -1.00 dB

Track 01  : 0.11 dB
Track 02 : -1.06 dB
Track 03 : 0.38 dB
Track 04 : -1.40 dB

Track 05 : -0.60 dB

Track 06 : -0.77 d
Track 07 : -1.40 dB
Track 08 : -1.77 dB
Track 09 : -1.34 dB
Track 10 : -0.91 dB

 

Five Leaves Left - all tracks : 2.48 dB

Track 01 : 1.38 dB
Track 02 : 2.80 dB
Track 03 : 3.78 dB
Track 04 : 2.29 dB
Track 05 : 2.43 dB
Track 06 : 2.14 dB
Track 07 : 2.71 dB
Track 08 : 1.80 dB
Track 09 : 1.94 dB
Track 10 : 3.94 dB

 

Pink Moon - all tracks : 1.54 dB

Track 01 : 0.57 dB

Track 02 : 0.45 dB
Track 03: 1.41 dB
Track 04: 2.39 dB

Track 05: 4.29 dB
Track 06 : 1.10 dB
Track 07 : 2.03 dB
Track 08 : 2.16 dB
Track 09: 1.18 dB
Track 10 : 2.53 dB
Track 11 : 1.87 dB

 

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Thanks JoshM for this article !! As a small addendum it might interest you that Nicks mother, Molly Drake, also wrote music and poetry. Recorded in their livingroom her music was never intended for another public. But the lovely Unthanks with the help of Nicks sister made a tribute album a couple of years back. Certainly that one has no issues with sound quality. 

 

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On 1/17/2021 at 5:30 PM, tmtomh said:

@JoshM, once again a fantastic article, filled with great background info, passion for the music, and of course excellent sonic analysis. And once again, you arrive at the correct conclusion as well! 😀

 

I've been a huge fan of the Nunn/Wood mastering ever since I first heard it around maybe 2015 - I thought it blew the others away for all three albums. It is indeed possible that Five Leaves Left is not as much of an improvement because it's just the mastering that's new compared to 2000 rather than the digital transfer of the analogue source, but I feel that too clearly surpasses the 2000 remaster.

 

It wasn't until last year, though, that I became aware that the Nunn/Wood mastering had been pressed to CD in the form of the Japan mini-LP issues from 2013. They were not super-cheap, but I snapped them all up, brand new, from CD Japan for about $30 each including the more expensive shipping (since EMS is suspended from Japan to the US during the pandemic) and I love them.

 

One curiosity, though - when I put rips of the CDs in my computer playback system and look at their ReplayGain values, the three albums differ significantly. In particular, Bryter Layter is 9-10dB quieter than the other two albums. I don't know if this is just the CDs or is also true of the high-res files. Did you encounter this?


Oh, and finally - the only downside I can see of this mastering is that it kind of spoils you for other Nick Drake releases. I have the Treasury SACD and I like it, but the mastering is IMHO not nearly as good.

 

Thank you for the incredibly kind post. 

 

As far as the levels, the Nunn/Wood downloads included as a code with the LPs were much lower in level than the ones released to HDTracks (while otherwise being identical). I wonder if in dithering them down for CD release they pulled the HDTracks-level files for two of the CDs and the LP code-level files for the other?

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On 1/18/2021 at 3:35 PM, enyonam said:

Thanks JoshM for this article !! As a small addendum it might interest you that Nicks mother, Molly Drake, also wrote music and poetry. Recorded in their livingroom her music was never intended for another public. But the lovely Unthanks with the help of Nicks sister made a tribute album a couple of years back. Certainly that one has no issues with sound quality. 

 

 

Yes, and a few of her songs were included in the "Family Tree" box. 

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