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The Police / Zenyatta Mondatta: Japanese SHM-SACD

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Universal Music Japan have been strong supporters of the Super Audio CD format for many years now. While in Europe blu-ray audio is starting to dominate the hi-res end of the market – and has arguably become the audiophile format of choice for rock/pop fans – out in the Far East there is still an enthusiasm for the DSD (Direct-Stream Digital) mastered SACDs.

In the last 18 months or so the packaging and presentation of these releases (which tend to come in small ‘waves’) has changed significantly. A few years back, the SHM (super high material) SACDs came in a slightly awkward eight-panel gatefold package which was a rather awkward Brundefly fusion of mini-LP CD (vinyl replica) packaging and something more conventional. In terms of presentation it didn’t really work, although that didn’t affect the sound of the discs many of which were superb.

The Japanese SHM-SACD releases have had a revamp and since 2013 have come in a totally new style of packaging. A bespoke rigid-board outer box now contains a high quality vinyl replica which sits inside the box. The outer boxes have album cover art pasted onto the front via a label which wraps around the spine and encroaches onto the rear of the package.

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Inside the outer box resides a fully functioning mini-LP CD

When you buy these, the disc (in a protective sleeve) actually sits separately behind the vinyl replica jacket. The inside front cover of the outer box actually has a place with foam surround where you can also ‘seat’ your disc, although that does mean taking the disc out of its cover so I can’t see too many people choosing to do this.

The vinyl replica mini-LP CDs have the usual high quality presentation complete with OBI strips (replicating original design), inner sleeve recreation, and booklet with Japanese notes and normally English lyrics. A second OBI-type strip actually wraps around the entire rear of the outer box and enthuses (in Japanese) about the benefits of SHM/SACD/DSD.

Outer box contains lavish mini-LP CD

I’ll be focussing on various SHM-SACD titles over the next few weeks but the first one up for examination is The Police‘s 1980 album Zenyatta Mondatta, and I found it had a lot going for it. Despite a hefty price tag of around £25 (that’s before the cost of importing and often much more via Amazon resellers), if ultimate audio quality is your goal – and/or you are a big enough fan of the artist – then it is undoubtedly worth investigation. The other thing to bear in mind is that the low print runs of these discs ensure they virtually never depreciate. You are always likely to be able to sell on at a decent price in the future, assuming you keep the item in great condition – there aren’t too many CDs you can say that about these days.

As someone who also owns the 30th anniversary Police Japanese reissues (complete with rather swish Reggatta de Blanc Disk Union promo box)  a comparison quickly confirms that the new SHM-SACD is significantly better; far less harsh, smoother with that analogue warmth that is totally lacking on the earlier disc. In fact I dug out my Message In A Box set for further comparison and that had a similarly loud mastering (perhaps even worse). The guitar during the chorus of Driven To Tears feels far too ‘up front’ and the various instrumentation seeming to compete with each other in a way that simple doesn’t exist on the SACD, which seems to give more ‘space’ to the individual elements and encourages you to crank up the volume.

zenyatta_box

Pictured: The old 30th Anniversary version (shown) isn’t a patch on the new SHM-SACD remastering

Rather like a crystal decanter, or heated leather seats in your automobile, the SACD is certainly an indulgence, especially since this has no ‘red book’ CD layer (in other words it will only work on SACD players) meaning you’re ‘locked’ into only playing it on your ‘main’ system. If that sounds too restricting, the good news is you can purchase an SHM-CD (compatible with all CD players) that shares the same mastering and therefore should still sound great. The SHM-CD version of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers released last year bears out that much of the listening pleasure is down to the quality inherent in the new mastering with the ‘super audio’ element of the CD perhaps a secondary factor – although obviously that will still make a difference. For the record, the booklet for this new release declares “DSD flat transferred from UK original analogue master tape by Richard Whittaker at FX Copyroom, London, in 2014.

Incidentally, if you think I’ll automatically rubber-stamp any of these SHM-SACDs that is not the case. The sound of Tears For FearsSongs From The Big Chair on SHM-SACD is actually quite disappointing – Shout in particular has virtually no bottom end and is really very thin. This perhaps suggests that a ‘flat transfer’ isn’t always the be-all and end-all.

Anyway, back to The Police – if you want a decent sounding Zeyatta Mondatta on a budget then the original A+M CDs still have a lot going for them. If you have some disposable income burning a hole in your wallet and simple want the best digital sounding version of the record then you have reached your destination with the SHM-SACD (or SHM-CD). The CD variant is available in ‘platinum’ and non-platinum versions and they both have the full-blooded mini-LP CD packaging but the platinum shares the outer box that comes with the SACD which might account for the price differential.

In summary, I’m as sceptical as the next man when it comes to SHM, ‘platinum’, blu-spec CD2 etc., but I know a well mastered album when I hear it. Whichever variant of this new 2014 reissue of Zenyatta Mondatta you plump for I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Look out for more features on Japanese SHM-SACD/CD releases in the coming weeks.


SHM-SACD

Platinum SHM-CD

SHM-CD

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20 responses to The Police / Zenyatta Mondatta: Japanese SHM-SACD

  1. Chris Bekhuis says:

    Thanks for this. I hope you will be doing a report on the UK (the band feat. Eddie Jobson etc.) albums and especially compare their mastering the original EG cd’s.

  2. Sam says:

    Did the original Japanese SACD’s use the same mastering as the original UK digipak SACD’s?
    Any reason why they sound different?

    • Gordon says:

      It use a new 2014 DSD transfer based on UK original analog tape. The previous SACD used DSD mastering produced by US A&M in 2003.

  3. Galley says:

    I prefer my SACDs to be packaged in Super Jewel Boxes, but this packaging looks nice.

  4. Peter says:

    Generally all the recent Universal SACD/Shm releases use recent japanese DSD remastering from best source analogue tapes. The recent Stones/Police/Who releases are in my view the best out there !.

  5. Mike says:

    My 2003 Dutch version, made from hardened child’s tears, coated with Unicorn urine and blessed by Tibetan monks is the best hi-res version I have ever heard!!

    The Japanese SHM-CD is a close second but loses out because a fluctuating soundwave from a percussion instrument at 2.56 on track 2 that is not perceptible by human hearing could have echoed for 3 seconds longer in my opinion.

  6. John says:

    I dip my vinyl in turtle spunk before playing it and it sounds loads better.

  7. Bob M says:

    I think the most telling part of your review is that you know good mastering when you hear it. I have always maintained that it is not so much the type of format but how good the mastering is to begin with and then the transfer. I am still amazed that supposedly the same masters pressed in different countries/plants can produce different audio results. The key is finding the best sound. Unfortunately, it requires having to re-buy the discs to compare on your own system.

  8. LedMan says:

    Some of these SHM-SACDs sound amazing. Haven’t heard this one yet but if it sounds anything like Steely Dan “Can’t Buy A Thrill” , The Carpenters “Singles 1969 -1973″ or Rod Stewart “Every Picture Tells Story” then it should be worth the price of admission.

  9. Piotr says:

    Very interesting review, thanks Paul. While I won’t be buying this due to the high price I would be very keen on a Super Deluxe Box. I still find it unbelievable that Universal have not exploited The Police and Sting catalogues with lavish Super Deluxe box sets. I always wondered if for the 25 Years box set the early Sting tracks were remixed only for the box, or if a whole remixed/remastered Blue Turtles album was also done for a future release.

  10. Echo says:

    For the people complaining about the price of SHM-SACDs, remember the last batches of these are companied with the release of regular SHM-cds and platinum SHM-cds, both based on the same DSD mastering of the SHM-SACD. These two are cheapier and, of course, very usefull for people with ‘only’ a regular cd player.

    The sound quality of all three is fantastic!

  11. CJ Feeney says:

    I bought a few discs during the recent CD Japan bonus points promotion. I got Innervisions and Talking Book by Stevie Wonder on SHM CD. They mostly sound amazing, but the mix of You Are The Sunshine of My Life sounded terrible. The “S”s sounded irritatingly raspy and the instruments and backing vocals were overpowering the lead vocals in places.

    Having owned the song on Song Review (CD) and Original Musiquarium (Cassette) this is the worst mix I’ve owned. Original Musiquarium was my top walkman album for a whole summer in 1988, so it’s a bit of nostalgic number for me. I’m tempted to seek out a vinyl copy of Talking Book for further comparison.!

    The long version of Living For The City (also on Original Musiquarium) sounds fantastic on the Innervisions SHM CD

  12. Mik says:

    Nice review Paul!
    By the way, be extra-careful with both SHM-SACD and Platinum SHM-CD discs, as those are more fragile that a conventional CD/SACD, being the formers more crystal alike than the usual polycarbonate plastic.

  13. LedMan says:

    Has anyone heard either of the Grand Funk “We’re An American Band “or “Shinin On” reissues and know what sources were used?

    While on topic of The Police, anyone know which sources are used for the SACD reissues that are reasonably priced? I’m curious if these are straight reissues or use the same sources as the Japanse reissues.?

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  17. LedMan says:

    Bought The Police “Zenyatta Mondatta” SHM-SACD and agree that it sounds amazing.

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