Classic Recordings: Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

dark-side-of-the-moon

Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon

EMI – (Vinyl)

By Paul Rigby

There are albums out there that are very good indeed, are given top marks in music magazines and are enjoyed by thousands. Then there are others which are ranked as albums of the year. A few transcend that status and are seen as landmark releases, keying into a particular musical scene or reflecting a social milieu. And then…and then there’s just a handful, maybe less than that, of albums which are buried so deeply into the fabric of society that they become part of the language, part of how we live our lives. The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper is one of those, Elvis’ debut album is possibly another, Michael Jackson’s Thriller a third. Dark Side of The Moon is certainly in that elite group.

It’s because Dark Side Of The Moon (DSOTM) is one of the most well known albums in existence that I’m not going to talk about it – they are…

Nick Mason: “The concept was originally about the pressures of modern life – travel, money and so on. But then Roger turned it into a meditation on insanity.”

Roger Waters: “When the record was finished I took a reel-to-reel copy home with me and I remember playing it for my wife then, and I remember her bursting into tears when it was finished. And I thought, ‘This has obviously struck a chord somewhere,’ and I was kinda pleased by that.”

Rick Wright: “We approached that album, I would say, in exactly the same way as any other album we’ve done. Except that this album was a concept album. It was about madness, it was about one’s fear, it was about the business – whereas none of the other albums had been like that.”

David Gilmour: “[After DSOTM] all your childhood dreams of pop-star success…suddenly you’ve got them all and it’s done and so you’re sort of left wondering, well… ‘What do I do now?’.”

That same question has often been posed by confused audiophiles asking themselves which, of the seemingly dozens of versions of this album, they should buy. The choice is wide and ranges from the heady heights of SACD, to CD (standard and gold) and vinyl (standard and audiophile) and the flawed quadraphonic experiments of yore. One almost expects to find the DSOTM, Edison Gold Cylinder edition with added sequins to rear its magnificent head.

Before recommending particular editions, however, it is well to first list those formats to avoid – such as the standard CD edition. This was transferred, not from the master tape, but from a standard 15ips Dolby copy.

The usual retort when discussing most album re-issues is to fall back on the original vinyl edition. This album has been repressed so many times, in vinyl, but the best version is the original UK EMI/Harvest vinyl pressing, the one with the solid blue pyramid on the label and an early stamper code. However, this will cost you around £350 from specialist dealers. Later repressings don’t cut the mustard. Mobile Fidelity’s famed Japanese-pressed half-speed LP did have the benefit of being very quiet. However, its EQ remaster was a little too hot in the upper extremes. Unfortunately, the same can be said of the gold edition CD from the same company which, being CD, is emphasised even more.

The best digital version of DSTOM is the latest SACD release from EMI. Whether you listen to the SACD stereo version or the surround version, this is the best digital reproduction of the album, bar none. Just listen to Time in surround sound and revel in the space and instrumental separation that the tracks provides. The clarity is just astounding.

The best CD version is the CD layer on the self same disk. There has been talk that this layer has suffered a little from compression but, compared to the other CD versions out there, the latest CD layer on the SACD tops the lot. Notable, here, is the bass response in Speak To Me. For the first time, the traditional boominess has gone and what is left is taught, precise lower frequencies that will provide real impact via a good speaker system .

As for vinyl? The 30th anniversary vinyl edition, from EMI, is the best of the bunch – it even compares well to the original pressing. This edition was mastered, at AcousTech, in the USA, by Doug Sax, overseen by James Gutherie (both experienced Floyd men) with assistance from Alan Parsons – the album’s original engineer. This quashes the criticism, which has raged on the Internet, which declared that Parsons had been snubbed on this project. Doug Sax commented that, for the vinyl remaster, “…we got early LP test pressings and they were mandatory since the master tape features Dolby and there are no (original) tones. By hunting and pecking we derived that the master tape has a NAB high end and an IEC low end.”

NAB is the American standard for tape equalization and IEC, also called CCIR, is the standard for Europe and most of the world. Some machines have switchable EQ. Very few machines allow switchable top-end and bottom-end EQ which is part of the reason that previous reissues never quite hit the spot. Obviously, Doug’s custom machine has this capability which allowed him to maximise all of the tapes’ frequencies, improving the final vinyl sound reproduction.

“After playing the tape correctly,” continued Sax, “we then EQd the album to sound more open and punchy than the original release ever did.”

Playing Us And Them, again the word clarity springs to mind. This vinyl version unhooks the invisible curtain that has been lying between the record and your ears. Each detail is sharper, muffled information springs into focus. The master improvements removes distortion allowing only the most important information to reach your ears.

So, now you have no excuse to, once more, turn off the lights, lie on the floor and, like, freak out…man.

Stand-out track: Time (SACD)


Just listen to this track in surround sound and revel in the space and instrumental separation that the tracks provides. The clarity is just astounding

Stand-out track: Speak To Me (CD)

Notable, here, is the bass response. For the first time, the traditional boominess has gone and what is left is taught, precise lower frequencies that will provide real impact via a good speaker system .

Stand-out track: Us And Them (Vinyl)

Playing Us And Them, again the word clarity springs to mind. This vinyl version unhooks the invisible curtain that has been lying between the record and your ears. Each detail is sharper, muffled information springs into focus. The master improvements removes distortion allowing only the most important information to reach your ears.

Tracklisting

Speak To Me/Breathe

On the Run

Time

The Great Gig In The Sky

Money

Us And Them

Any Colour You Like

Brain Damage

Eclipse

20 Comments

  • Jim says:

    This album is an audiophile classic. And one I always use when checking out any new equipment. Perhaps that’s why I’ve not listened to it for a while – I’m pretty happy with my set up right now.

    That aside, reading this review made me dust off my DSOTM LP for the first time in a year or so, and I must say it was, once again, a revelation!

    As the reviewer says US and Them is just breathtaking to listen to.

    Thanks for this review – I’d filed DSOTM under ‘audiophile/audition’ but now it;s back at the front of my LP collection again!

  • Rob says:

    Great review. I have a vinyl copy from the 80’s which sounded great but unfortunately hasn’t survived the arrival of kids well. Think I’ll be buying the 30th anniversary EMI edition you mention to replace it and am looking forward to enjoying all over again.

  • Jeffrey says:

    If I could rescue two albums from my collection, it would be this and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme! Stone cold classic.
    Loved your Beatles story by the way. Have ordered the USB stick for the 24-bit FLAC versions and am now seriously considering buying the mono box set!

  • Bryan says:

    Never could past 1979 as far as music is concerned. Still spinning Vinyl. On my third copy of DSOTM. When I get into any discussion regarding the best music ever, this album is on the top of my list. Introduce my nephew to it at the millemium new year, he was any easy convert.

  • hajo says:

    I bought the MFSL GOLD CD Version of Dark side of the Moon maybe 20 Years ago and last year the SACD. I can say that there is no great difference between these versions, but i heard the SACD only with the 2-channel SACD-Layer. This are the ‘hard’ facts but lets talk about music as well. Pink Floyds Dark side of the Moon is one of the recordings i will take to the ‘famous’ lonley island. Every time i put the cd or the sacd in the players, i’m very exited about the music and never stopped heard this until the end.

  • Steve says:

    Agree this is one of a very few “perfect” albums in my view. Every track and every note part of a perfect whole. Tommy and Quadrophenia are two others.

    Have to disagree about the best version. A few years ago I managed to get a DVD-Audio copy of DSOTM – the Alan Parsons quadraphonic mix. – very musical and exciting. It makes the SACD version, which in other ways is a phenomenal version, sound sterile in comparison.. The instruments and vocals are much more solidly fixed in the sound field. Both versions make surround music really work and I’ve never heard better.

  • Andrew Wiseman says:

    Even though Wish You Were Here is my favourite PF album, Dark Side of the Moon is an awesome album. I remember when I first listened to it on my fathers new Quadraphonic Surround system in the 70′s and it was pretty darn amazing. In recent times I properly listened to it again on a friends new sound system that we were auditioning, which is the best sound system I’ve heard so far and it is a very revealing system that brings out all the flaws in a recording. Again….. what an album, it came up beautifully clear detailed and all these hidden gems you overlook sometimes. ….. so I was wanting to ask an opinion as well. I think Toni Childs – Union is a pretty darn good album, but I would love to hear an opinion from someone that has a very high end system. I’d love to know.

  • MichaelCPE says:

    I love the SACD surround version of Dark Side. This is an album that is enhanced by surround.

    But one of the things that makes the SACD surround sound so good is that it has great dynamics.

    Now it is not a surprise to anyone who appreciates audio that greater dynamics increases the realism of the sound. The SACD makes a great demo disc not just because of the surround, but because it sounds great.

    I was a member of the B&W Audio Club for its first year. I was expecting ok music that sounded great. I hoped for some great sounding music that would show off my system.

    I was very surprised that I very much enjoyed most of the music.

    But I was shattered that B&W followed the modern trend and highly compressed all the recordings. The less compressed ones sound passable and the worst just terrible.

    It seems that no-one at B&W recognized that these recording sounded bad. And most of the members who commented on the recording were happy (which is not a surprise given that they sound similar to most other modern recordings.)

    Is there anyone who agrees with me on the poor sound of the Music Club?

    In the times of the iPod, it seems that most people (and most reviewers) no longer have any appreciation of good sound.

    It’s great to get recognition for something that does sound good. I only wish that someone would return to releasing music with at least the dynamic which appeared on vinyl in the ’70s.

    Happy listening.

    Michael

  • Pete says:

    If I had to choose just one more album, then it would be Led Zeppelin (the first album). This monumental release fundamentally changed the rock music scene. A landmark album which would benefit from some tightening up (e.g. the bass) using the technologies now available some 40 years on!

  • Garth says:

    I am a great fan of Pink Floyd and I love to listen to my first pressing vinyl and one of my next choices would by Steele Dan Gold, its just a great sounding album..long live the classics and long live vinyl, just something about analog you just can’t get out of digital.

  • Micke says:

    The Dark Side Of The Moon is an all time favorite. I prefer the LP version, not sure why. It is hard to pick favorite albums since there are so much good music out there. How can you choose between such masterpiece like:
    The Beatles – Revolver
    Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert
    Ketil Björnstad – Rainbow Sessions
    Steely Dan – Aja
    Ry Cooder – Buena Vista Social Club

    I can’t think of more joy then when you find something new unexpected.

    Regards / Micke

  • Dave says:

    I personally find DSOTM boring! It’s a fantastic production, but man, the music generally drags. Nick Mason’s drumming bores me to tears. Just imagine what kind of creative rhythms he could have injected into the 7/8 time signature of “Money” – but he just plods along with no thought to making it interesting. Sgt Pepper on the other hand, is in a whole other league of creativity, and the 24-bit USB sounds brilliant.

    @ MichaelCPE : agree TOTALLY with you about the over-compressed noise that is distributed on this site, it makes my heart sink everytime I hear yet another loud, compressed release. And somehow, making it 24-bit makes it ok? Peter Gabriel is just as bad. Banging on about hi-def formats is all well and good, but all his releases of the last 10 years are compressed as hell, and thus sound rubbish, whatever the format. Shame, because I respect his music so much.

  • Chris C. says:

    The Quad UK Vinyl LP is an amazing sounding record in my estimation, only slightly less exciting to me than the Alan
    Parsons DVD-A version i have. I did buy the 30th anniversary LP and personally wasnt terribly excited about that mix.

  • kevin says:

    So, cutting a long story short, which is the best version of DSOTM for these P5 headphones and where can I buy it?

  • John says:

    I have played several versions of DTOSM with the P5 headphones.SACD version sounded the best to me.Amazing sound.The P5s are in a league of their own,if you need new cans these are it .
    John

  • Steve Labo says:

    … Surprisingly the above YouTube track sounded pretty decent via glass cable to DacMagic RCA to M-Stage Amp to Sennheiser HD800s! Why wouldn’t this be remastered to become available for purchase for the rest of us as 24/96 or 24/192 on HDTracks or similar?

  • sora2532 says:

    THANK YOU

  • Jonathan says:

    Well it is a wonderful rock album that I love. Its funny, I was mature to buy my first mercedes at age 30, but I didn’t feel mature even then to own dsotm. So i waited and now nearly five years later I got it and officially entered middle age with it. However, for me an audiophile album needs to be about reproduction of acoustic instruments primarily which this is not. Sorry. Or not sorry cos it is great anyway.

  • Matt says:

    A great, well produced album is nothing more than that. At 53, I’ve listened to this album several hundred times. You made the comment of being “mature” enough to buy your first Mercedes. Well, I’ve just become mature enough to buy my first set of B&Ws.(CM7) Now dsotm is completely different than before. Amazing sound at a reasonable price. I look forward to digging into the rest of my “older” music and hereing it like never before.

  • Les says:

    My first and only cassette (for about a year) in my first car, was a home made C90 with DSOTM on one side and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells on the other … what a great combination of ‘head music’ … kept me going and going and going …

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