Originally this 10CD set was to be a 12-disc affair, with eight CDs and four hi-res audio DVDs, to appeal to general collectors and audiophiles alike. The DVDs were quietly dropped and the bonus tracks were relocated. Rather than being tacked on the end of each album they were collected together on two bonus CDs. The lack of hi-res audio is a big blow to those looking for a reason to repurchase albums they might own many times over, although having unspoiled albums free of appended bonus audio can be regarded as good thing.
The packaging is curious. Virgin have gone the cost and effort of reproducing the gatefold sleeves of the first three albums using very thick high quality card, so at first this looks like a Beatles Mono Box-type celebration of the original vinyl packaging. This proves not to be the case, since the final five albums are also packaged in gatefold sleeves, and – nice though these are – none of the original vinyl issues were in this format. Also, while the outer sleeves look great, the inner sleeves are plain coloured content-free items that do not reflect original inner sleeves from the 1970s. Country Life, Manifesto, Flesh + Blood and Avalon all had bespoke inner sleeves with full lyrics. Virgin Records either ran out of budget, or lacked the inclination to follow through with these details.
There is also no booklet with this set, or with any of the individual CDs. Surely some kind of annotation or biography should have been included, particularly to help people navigate through the bonus discs of singles, B-sides and alternative mixes.
What saves this set is the quality of the audio remastering. Although there is no indication who is responsible for this new mastering, it is far superior to the 1999 HDCD discs which are still available. There is much more dynamic range and less compression on these new discs. There is talk of the audio on these CDs being close to so-called ‘flat transfers’ where the original master tapes are copied without a busy-fingered engineer tweaking the sound with unwanted EQ. Although we cannot confirm this, the quality of the audio reproduction certainly suggests a more respectful, audiophile approach to the remastering that has been evident in many recent releases from David Bowie‘s superb 40th Anniversary Ziggy Stardust reissue to Paul McCartney‘s RAM box.
While we did not welcome the unwanted specification change to this box while it was in development, at least the price changed to reflect the fact that you are getting less for your money. This can be picked up for around the £55 mark.
Despite the record label considering it perfectly acceptable to omit any kind of booklet or annotation to sit alongside the career output of Roxy Music, the quality of the mini-LP sleeves and the quality of the audio makes this box worth buying. It is a beautiful package, despite a few compromises along the way. Recommended.