August 1999

Jethro Tull - Original Masters

Chrysalis F2 21515

Sound Quality **1/2

DCC GZS-1105

Sound Quality ***1/2

Jethro Tull - Aqualung
DCC GZS-1105

Sound Quality ***

Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick
Mobile Fidelity UDCD 510

Sound Quality ***

Jethro Tull - War Child
Mobile Fidelity UDCD 745

Sound Quality ***1/2

by Greg Smith

[Reviewed on Gold CD]Sometimes, I manage to hold up a conversation with normal people, the kind who buy their stereo equipment at Circuit City, their CDs at Sam Goody, and their speaker cable at Radio Shack. It's both difficult and uncomfortable trying to explain to non-audiophiles that I routinely drop upwards of $30 buying a CD title that I already own. But no matter how inexpensive someone's audio system is, I find they all recognize one thing: the regular CD release of Jethro Tull's Aqualung sounds awful, and paying more for a better version is a very good idea.

I last looked at Tull on gold CD two years ago, with a review of DCC's version of Aqualung. You can consider that a prerequisite to this article because I talk at length there about what's wrong with the official Chrysalis CDs, material I find too painful to revisit here. Since then, two newly remastered Tull CDs have caught my attention. DCC has brought out Original Masters, a good greatest-hits collection from the band, and Mobile Fidelity just released War Child, remastered with their original GAIN system. I loaded them both in the changer with some of the rest of my Tull collection. The regular silver disc of Original Masters from Chrysalis is this month's whipping boy. And I also added MoFi's older Thick as a Brick, from their Ultradisc II series. Note that Mobile Fidelity has several other Tull titles recently available, including A Passion Play, Living in the Past, and Songs from the Wood.


  • Silver Original Masters: Compressed, distorted, and with no frequency extension, this version is sheer misery.
  • DCC Original Masters: While still not a masterpiece, the instruments sound considerably more real here. The dynamics were a bit more compressed than I was expecting.
  • DCC Aqualung: Mastered at a considerably higher volume level than the other DCC version of this song, we're rewarded with a touch better dynamic range. I was surprised there were any real differences between the two DCC versions, but the one on this CD is obviously superior.

Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day

  • Silver Original Masters: While I have no serious complaints about this one, surprisingly, there's a bit of a shift toward the treble that makes for a less-than-pleasant peak I estimate is around 8kHz.
  • DCC Original Masters: Unlike the silver version, the DCC disc includes the full-length song here, including the humming of the song that serves as an introduction. There's a big improvement in how the guitars sound, and the echo around Ian Anderson's voice is resolved much better. There are a couple of background sound effects I'd never heard before this release that are unburied by the remastering.
  • MoFi War Child: Obviously this release includes the full album version of the song as well, as it's the full album. It's a more dry presentation than DCC's, and the instruments don't seem as harmonically rich. On the other hand, there's better placement of instruments in the soundstage, and the notes are better controlled and sharp, with less bleed on the transients. Tubes vs. transistors, anyone?

Bungle in the Jungle

  • Silver Original Masters: There's no body to the vocals and the guitars are all washed out. Yuck.
  • DCC Original Masters: Congratulations, DCC. From the opening notes, we're in the jungle, baby! Just try not to sing along as if you're Axl Rose. Unfortunately, the cymbals and snare drum still seem a bit sloppy.
  • MoFi War Child: The high frequencies of the percussion come through better here, with considerably better control on the bass guitar as well. The flip side is that the more laid-back presentation doesn't give as enveloping a musical experience.

Thick as a Brick

For those unfamiliar with the album, "Thick as a Brick" was conceived for the LP format, with two 20-some-minute long sides. The old Original Masters CD abbreviated that to a three-minute single version that included the most recognizable portion of the album, the opening (minus the countdown at the beginning). Mobile Fidelity's CD includes both full-length tracks, as you'd expect. Imagine my surprise when listening to the DCC version of Original Masters, waiting for the song to end, and discovering it didn't! Yes, they've included over 22 minutes of "Brick," the entire first album side, considerably extending the amount of music you get on their remastering of this hits collection.

  • Silver Original Masters: The guitars are quite disembodied, but there's no real nastiness here. The same kind of treble shift I noted on "Skating" is also here.
  • DCC Original Masters: The vocals sound very real, and there's an excellent sense of space around the flute.
  • MoFi Thick as a Brick: The flute and guitars sound about the same as the DCC version, but the vocals are better on the DCC version. And unlike what you'll find on any of MoFi's current titles, this older release doesn't quite deliver the full kick to the drum during the second section of the song.

Locomotive Breath

Didn't they use this one for a beer commercial? I hate it when that happens. I still haven't gotten over my overdose of Clapton's "After Midnight" when that was a recurring TV ad; those bums ruined that song for me.

  • Silver Original Masters: Run! Cover your ears! The hiss is coming! Once you get past the opening, it's not quite as bad, but man is that first minute despicable.
  • DCC Original Masters: Still some hiss here, but not nearly as loud. The drums don't sound that great, but the rest is fine.
  • DCC Aqualung: Compared with DCC's other version, there's a bit more snap to the drums and a better sense of the recording space.

Let me do my usual run through packaging. Chrysalis includes almost no liner notes with their Original Masters release. I know -- you're shocked. DCC doesn't include a whole lot of info above the basic song information, but they do have a nice picture of the master tapes. Mobile Fidelity reprints the entire Thick as a Brick newspaper, shrunk to CD booklet size but still quite legible. Their War Child booklet includes full lyrics and a couple of pictures. And DCC's Aqualung is a deluxe package with calligraphic lyrics and full LP artwork intact.

What would I recommend? Depends on how much of a Tull fan you are. If I were picking a single disc from the band, it would be DCC's Original Masters. It's got most of the songs people know from radio play, with full-length renditions and sound quality as good as Tull gets. If I were getting two discs, they'd be DCC's Aqualung and MoFi's War Child, both of which sound fantastic considering the source material. And if I wanted three albums, I'd ignore all these titles and instead add Stand Up, with the ethereal instrumental "Bourée." Mobile Fidelity released that one on gold CD as well, but I was foolish enough not to have picked up a copy when it was in print.

For more information about what's available from Tull on CD, I recommend www.collecting-tull.com. And if you'd like to know about what's on gold CD from just about anybody, run to John Harp's excellent Audiophile Music Site, the best resource I've found on the topic.