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Review: Wham! / The Final: Japanese K2HD mastered edition

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As reported a few months back, amongst some recent releases in Japan comes this K2HD remastering of Wham!’s classic 1986 compilation The Final.

Although the album was effectively a greatest hits (released in May ’86 after just two studio long-players Fantastic and Make It Big) The Final has over the years been accorded almost a de facto ‘proper album’ status thanks to the inclusion of the duo’s last three singles; Last Christmas (late ’84), I’m Your Man (September ’85) and The Edge of Heaven (June 1986). None of those tracks had been on an official Wham! studio album at that point and the addition of new tracks Battlestations (the clearest indication which direction George would move with Faith) and Was (Not Was) cover Where Did Your Heart Go? only increased the appeal.

Of course it didn’t hurt that The Final also contained (the best) half of Make It Big, seven UK number ones (and that’s not including the double ‘A’ side tracks) and a few extended remixes (even more on the cassette/double LP).

Despite the fact that The Final has been crying out for a serious expanded reissue, nearly thirty years on this has not happened. One can only assume it’s not on George Michael’s list of priorities and he’s known to be rather dismissive of some of Wham’s output with a few exceptions (Everything She Wants is a case in point).

In late 2011 Sony reissued the album on CD as a 25th anniversary edition, with a limited CD/DVD combo also available. While welcome, the track listing adhered loyally to the CD issued back in the day and the audio didn’t sound remastered,  so it really brought nothing much of interest to the table of passionate Wham! fans.

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The first thing to get out of the way with regards to this new Japanese reissue, is that it too sticks to the original CD track listing, so if you were getting your hopes up for some rare alternate version or perhaps a few surprise inclusions (the studio version of Blue (Armed With Love), perhaps?) then consider that balloon of expectation popped.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, because the good news is that this Japanese K2HD edition has been properly remastered! Other Japanese formats such as Blu-spec CD2 or SHM-CD often use the existing mastering and try to convince consumers that a specific manufacturing process will lead to better sound reproduction. That can be a hard sell, but with this K2HD disc the focus really is on the mastering process rather than the system of manufacture. The system was developed by JVC and K2HD is supposed to deliver the ‘ambience of analogue sound’, ‘higher resolution’, ‘lower distortion’ and a ‘richer sound field’. A creative mastering engineer trained in how to get the best from this K2HD process works in a specially prepared “FLAIR” (Victor Studio) and extracts more detail from the master tapes.

Sounds great in theory, but does this process deliver for Wham!’s The Final? I took a listen to find out.

The comparisons carried out were in the main between the 2011 reissue and the Japanese 2014 K2HD. The 2011 issue doesn’t sound remastered at all, so there wasn’t really any need to also go back to the 1986 disc, although I did that occasionally and sometimes referenced the Music From The Edge Of Heaven CD from the USA (where The Final was never released).

Results varied. Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do) is very similar indeed and it isn’t that easy to detect any difference at all, but Wake Me Up Before You Go Go is a distinct (although subtle) improvement with a smoother vocal which doesn’t seem to ‘compete’ with the music as much. It’s also less trebly and does indeed seem to offer that more ‘analogue’ sound promised. In short, definitely better.

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Careless Whisper also benefits from K2HD. The sax sounds very sweet indeed. While A-B testing, it was quite shocking when switching back to the 2011 disc how inferior that iconic saxophone figure sounded. In fact the whole balance is much nicer on the Japanese disc with George’s vocal really smooth again. Careless Whisper remains an all-time classic and it’s pleasing to hear it treated with some real care and attention.

On the K2HD disc Last Christmas and I’m Your Man don’t deliver a vastly different listening experience but Everything She Wants is amazing. The proverbial blanket is lifted when compared to the older disc and the music is much more involving and like Careless Whisper George’s vocals are a big improvement. 

A Different Corner is another one of those where it’s not a night and day transformation, but the last three tracks (all 1986 recordings) are all very clear improvements. It really is no contest, with the Japanese disc really shining. The old mastering of Battlestations sounds like GM singing over a dull, lifeless backing track but K2HD offers much more crunch in the drums, and that squelchy rhythm guitar is much clearer in the mix. The Edge Of Heaven is another good improvement with more bite on the brass, but the award for most improved track goes to Where Did Your Heart Go? which is AMAZING. A massive difference. When you switch to the 2011 version it sounds truly awful in comparison and you wonder why this audio has been unloved for so long. It’s really flat. George’s vocals are full and thick in the Japan compared to the other disc, with sax nice and sweet, just like like with Careless Whisper. The US Edge of Heaven sounds even worse than the European 2011 version – atrocious in fact – with some presumably horrendous analogue-to-digital conversion done at the time.

I have to admit to being really surprised at this K2HD disc. When there were improvements (and that was more often than not) they were significant. What’s great is although this is still a relatively expensive Japanese import, the disc is compatible with all CD players so you don’t need to buy into hi-res SACD technology, for example, to benefit (Make It Big was actually issued on SACD in Japan but that disc isn’t in the SDE archive!).

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One slight disappointment is the packaging, which the Japanese are normally so good at. The gold casebound book is lovely and it slots into a transparent plastic outer slipcase not dissimilar to the kind that Universal deluxe editions used to come in, before cost-cutting measures saw them axed. The CD itself is also very well protected. So far so good. But where the side is definitely let down is the reproduction of images and photographs. There are really obvious moiré patterns on all the photos, which are visible dots or crosshatched type patterns on the image which is a result of scanning from already printed materials. Clearly no original negatives were sought out (or could be found) and it’s quite obvious and rather poor when you’re so used to massive attention to detail with Japanese packaging.

Despite this, the K2HD disc is undoubtedly the best sounding digital version of The Final out there and demonstrates that the only way you’re going to get a significant improvement in audio quality is by going back to source material and doing a careful remaster. This is something that has been achieved and we look forward to checking out further K2HD discs in the future.

The Final K2HD remaster is out now. It’s a numbered edition limited to 1000.


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38 responses to Review: Wham! / The Final: Japanese K2HD mastered edition

  1. Boaz Halachmi says:

    Well… nice. Don’t worth the money, IMHO, just for real hard core fans. But the main issue is the lack of Wham! re-issues. This is one of the strongest catalogs out there, that will sell re-issues and Deluxe Boxsets like crazy, and nothing is done about it. We see remasters and reissues from much less-selling artists from the major labels, but Wham!?… These reissues will Make It Big and it will be Fantastic to have them.

  2. Stephen K. says:

    Good to know. I won’t run across one of these in the normal course of things, but I appreciate what was done with it. Also, I appreciate what else could be done with it with some more work.

  3. Don says:

    God bless the Japanese for still caring about CDs and CD packaging.

  4. DJ Control says:

    I have the “Make It Big” and it sounds pretty good for a digital recording. I bought it for the full version of “Careless Whisper”.

  5. Galley says:

    $56? Are these types of reissues always that expensive? I’ll stick with Audio Fidelity SACDs.

  6. Richard Rootes says:

    Excellent review – I got this disc a couple of months ago, and I have to say, the remaster of Everything She Wants truly is night and day when compared to the original disc (which I also have). If you’re a Wham/George fan, get it while you still can. Paul – if you want to hear the Make It Big SACD, let me know…..

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Thanks Richard – glad we reached the same conclusions on Everything She Wants! Would love to listen to that SACD… let me know what you are proposing! You can email me direct using details on the ‘Get In Touch’ button. Best, P

  7. Simon says:

    It’s all well and good George being “rather dismissive of some of Wham’s output” but he should remember without that output he might not be where he is today. Would he have been so successful if we’d only ever known his more mature material? Is it such a dream to have Wham! albums re-issued with the same attention to detail as Lisa Stansfield’s this week?

    (And Sade and Eurythmics albums too)

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Yes it’s very annoying. Even when George did work with Sony on “Faith” it was a bit of a lacklustre effort!

  8. Scott says:

    Was the version of “Wham Rap!” from the video ever released commercially? It’s practically a different song than what’s on the Fantastic album and The Final. I always assumed it was a “single mix” from back in the day but have never been able to get confirmation of that.

  9. Bruce says:

    Nice to hear that several of the tracks do sound better than the original CDs from the 80s, but how do they compare to the more recent George Michael anthologies, such as “Ladies and Gentlemen” and “Twenty Five”? Surely the Wham-era tracks on those compilations were remastered? I’d love to see remastered deluxe editions of the Wham albums too but at least there are some other options than having to shell out $50+ dollars for a rare Japanese import.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Well Ladies and Gentlemen didn’t have any Wham! tracks for a start… but yes they must have been remastered for Twenty Five. Doubt they will compare well to this Japan disc, but I only have 25 on DVD not the CD version. Agree about wanting deluxe versions of Wham! releases!

  10. Will says:

    Anyone know if this CD on CD WOW is the same thing?
    http://www.wowhd.co.uk/CD/wham-final-hd-remastered/dp/39197549#bc=dc57
    It’s only 20 quid delivered.
    Would love to hear a comparison between this and the make it big SACD (which I have).

  11. André says:

    Great review, Paul. Thank you for the in depth analysis of the sound quality for each track. Wham/George Michael’s back catalogue is criminally ignored! Surely there MUST be an interest in deluxe editions out there? The mess that was FAITH was such a let down (beautifully packaged though). Come on, Paul, with the sublime magic you did with TFF’s SFTBC, surely you could plant a seed in some music exec’s head?! Thank for the great site – it’s my daily fix!

  12. Terence Delaney says:

    Yes Paul, please listen to André above….tell someone to get the wheels in motion before CDs stop getting pressed… We need UBER DELUXE EDITIONS of all Wham!/GM.
    PLEASE!

  13. Shane says:

    Can someone explain what the difference is between the CD and LP/Cassette versions? I have taken a look and they seem to have the same track listing? I’ve only known the CD, although I did but the vinyl a couple of years ago but never played it.

  14. Nuno Bento says:

    Last year I compiled a comprehensive Wham! collection [4CD+4DVD], which I hope will see the light of the day in the future:

    http://escolhamusicaldodia.blogspot.pt/2013/07/wham-im-your-man.html
    :)

  15. Mike Cox says:

    There seems to be a trend record execs and George…..people want more Wham!!! Are you listening?!!!! I would love to have a better sounding version of some of this material but…….you need some additional tracks and a more reasonable price!!

  16. Lenny K. says:

    @Shane:
    The 2-LP has the studio recording of “Blue” and all tracks are found here in their 12″ mixes!

  17. mike says:

    Deluxe wham! Wouldnt be particularly large sets from frugal George’s writing output?!

  18. Shane says:

    Thanks Lenny K. I compared side by side the two now and see that some are the same though. But definitely worth digging out. I have a copy and have no idea where it is. I know that I always see used copies in record stores or at flea markets, strangely enough, with all inserts, but the sticker on the front has its colours always washed out.

    Too bad that 4CD/4DVD link is in Spanish :( (or Portuguese)

  19. Andreas says:

    Here’s hoping George gets off his ass for the 25th LWP vol. 1 anniversary. A great album which could really do with a remaster, there are also at least 6 tracks out there that were destined for vol. 2 that could hopefully encourage completing this as a second disc, along with the cover 2 cover tour at the time (CD/DVD). Knowing George though, that date will just pass us by . . .

  20. Shane says:

    Plus, wasn’t it around this era, or slightly after, that all the problems with Sony began, he might want to not celebrate this at all

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      I think the bottom line with George Michael is that he doesn’t need the money, probably hates the business stuff and ‘engaging’ with labels and so wouldn’t want to do any promotion. Unfortunately he also doesn’t want to delegate and just let others get on with it – Sony can’t do anything without his approval. In his mind I guess he’s ‘busy’ continuing to work on the new studio album that we’ve been waiting 10 years for. It’s a bit sad to be honest – no new material and no reissues. Not quite sure what George’s ‘day job’ is any more….?!

  21. Kuba says:

    Have you heard about this one:
    George Michael Older Numbered Limited Edition K2 HD?

  22. Uten Frame says:

    Having bought the original disc, the 25th anniversary and now the HD2K remaster of “The Final”, I feel that I have spent enough of my money to wheigh in on the subject on which version sounds best.

    Is the HD2k-version the best sounding version of “The Final” around today? Yes. Is the improvement so superior that you absolutely have to upgrade? That depends on what else is in your collection, but probably ‘no’.

    Regarding all Wham tracks, my advice is to only upgrade if you only own the original cd of “The Final”.

    If you own the 25th anniversary or even the Wham-collection “If You Were There” (remastered in 1997!) the difference is very, very subtle. The HD2K is better, but it’s not going to get you jumping out of your seat. Chances are you’ll have a hard time noticing any difference at all.

    For the tracks “Careless Whisper” and “A Different Corner”, great remasters can be found on the George Michael-collection “TwentyFive”. It’s hard to tell any difference at all between that remaster and the HD2K one.

    So to sum it all up, not too much to get exited about here.

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