For Tom Petty Fans, the True Sound of Vinyl, Also Captured on a CD
By Robert Levine
The New York Times - June 23, 2008
The vinyl version of the new album from Mudcrutch, the recently reunited band from the early '70s that features Tom Petty, comes with a CD that buyers can play in their cars or rip to make MP3 files. Those who do will notice that it is abnormally quiet -- and that the CD holder instructs listeners to play it on a good stereo and turn it up.
One reason CDs sound different from LPs is that mastering engineers can make them louder in much the same way commercials sound louder than television shows. This is done by raising the level of the softer sounds, so there is less difference between a bass drum and a whispered vocal. This dynamic compression, as it is called in the audio world, can make songs jump out at listeners who hear them on the radio.
But it can also cause fatigue over time -- and audiophiles hate it. So Warner Brothers Records, Mr. Petty's label, decided to package the vinyl LP that comes out on Tuesday with a CD that was made from the same master. After Ryan Ulyate, a Mudcrutch co-producer, played the regular CD and the LP masters for Tom Biery, the executive vice president for promotion at Warner Brothers Records who also oversees vinyl releases, they decided to use the LP master for the CD.
"Everyone is in love with the way vinyl sounds," Mr. Biery said. "We started talking about how cool it would be to let people have that experience anywhere they are."
On a reasonable stereo, the difference between the regular CD and the CD packaged with the LP is noticeable: the drums hit harder, because they're much louder than the other sounds, and the vocals jump out. "When we did the regular CD, we had to deal with the realities of the marketplace, and we came up with a good compromise," said Mr. Ulyate, who produced the album with the guitarist Mike Campbell. "But this is a different experience."
It is not an experience for everyone. Background noise can block some of the quieter passages, and those who use the CD to rip files for an iPod will find that Mudcrutch sounds quieter than other bands. Mr. Biery said that Warner Brothers Records made only 3,500 copies of the LP, but that he thought the company would soon make more, since vinyl sales were rising.
"I think that with the right titles, there's a market for this in limited quantities," said Joel Oberstein, president of the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a music store marketing company. "There's a new generation of audiophiles now."