what hath paul wrought? (the headphonist, pt. 3)

Paul McCartney’s wonderful Band On The Run is re-released in several different versions of cd/dvd/vinyl/high resolution 24-96 download. It’s the last that concerns me.

I got to pick on HD Tracks between a version of BOTR that was compressed (tastefully, the notes accompanying the album’s page assured us), meaning the loudest parts were reined in a bit, while the quietest parts were brought up a little, all of it very much in the spirit of the Beatles reissues last year.

The other choice – no compression at all. The entire dynamic range of the album, for which you sacrifice a little volume and punch. I took door number 2 and am bowled over by the results. The album is deeper now, filled with little sonic graces and atmospheres that I either just don’t remember or, more likely, never heard before.

Like a lot of people, I find McCartney’s post-Beatles output easy to like and hard to love; like many of those same people, BOTR is the exception. Even though the lyrics aren’t as good as I remembered (back then, they sounded to me like McCartney had regained his knack for writing words that were just this side of corny), they work fine, and the music is, of course, magnificent.

(There’s a second disc of alternates and the single “Helen Wheels” which is fun and worth hearing at least once.)

The experience was magnified by my choice of weapons: playing off my laptop’s hard drive by way of usb to an iBasso D10 DAC/headphone amp and then to Sennheiser 650s. Nothing, but nothing, has sounded as good in a very long time.

That said, tonight’s listening is nowhere near as enlightening. An optical digital signal coming off an Oppo 980H into the iBasso and then to the Senns is not nearly so great. Mingus (disc 1 of the ‘Complete Atlantic’ sessions) was rough edged; the Allmans live at Fillmore East were energetic but congested and Guy Klucevsek and Alan Bern’s dual accordions lack presence, detail. I’m hearing accordions, but not any particular ones.

I suspect the fault is mine, and that the extraordinary work on BOTR kept me from noticing I have underpowered the Senns. I’ll try again with something stronger, like my Little Dot mkIII.

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