Beck's Morning Phase and The Vinyl Experience

Beck's Morning Phase is available now. I don't own it yet, but I have added it to my ever-growing list of Records to Buy. (Other Music is already sold out. Otherwise, I'd indulge my preferred method of consuming music: I'd go there immediately and buy it from a kind person.)

According to a very trusted source, Morning Phase is excellent. Another source explains that, as with many of today's releases, the vinyl edition comes with a download code that grants the owner immediate access to the album as MP3 files. In this case, however, that MP3 edition is referred to as "The Vinyl Experience," and is meant to sound and play like an LP—with subtle surface noise, an extra-long pause between sides A and B (after which the listener hears the sound of needle dropping into groove), and, at the album's very end, the sound of needle coursing run-out groove.

And, for what it's worth, the CD and standard digital (MP3) editions have a Dynamic Range Value of 6, while the LP and its accompanying download have DR values of 10 and 9, respectively.

It seems to me, then, that while Beck would like as many people as possible to enjoy his work, there's something about this particular album that wants to be an LP.

Still, I don't generally believe that there's a "best" format for any particular album. Instead, I think that different formats suit different purposes and situations. For that, I'm grateful. The best way to hear a piece of music is any way you can. Right now, as I sit in this cubicle, typing at a computer, I'm streaming "Blue Moon" from YouTube, and it sounds just perfect.

roscoeiii's picture

In other good news about the vinyl, it was pressed at Pallas in Germany, one of the better pressing plants out there these days (along with QRP, and RPI). 

Bought the vinyl on Monday and it does sound magnificent. 


2bitmonkey's picture

I've been listening to the album both on vinyl and digitally over the past 2 days (I got my copy via pre-order from the Beck site) and truly believe that this is a "meant to be heard on vinyl" album. Normally after some time has passed I knock all but a few songs from a new record off my iphone, to make room for more music of course. In this case, even though I already have certain songs that I like more than others, it's going to be hard not to keep the entire album in tact digitally.

Bill B's picture

I got it from hdtracks this morning in 24/96!

deniall83's picture

I agree that this album is wonderful however..

With the DR of the vinyl and vinyl experience download you have to remember that It's going to measure the pops, clicks and needle drops as dynamic range and not as noise so the values can be easily scewed. That's not to say that the mastering isn't better but there's really no way to tell using the DR database.

As for the HD Tracks release, it has a dynamic range of 6 which is the same as the CD. It offers absolutely nothing in terms of sound quality over the redbook version and is therefore a total waste of money and hard disk space. HD Tracks really need to up their game. Nearly every album I have purchased from them has the same DR as the redbook and offers no audible difference when listening for pleasure or when doing a proper ABX test.

deckeda's picture

Record labels are in the habit of dynamically compressing all digital releases regardless of bitrate or sample rate. HDTracks can only sell what they are provided. That said, they should have some muscle to complain, assuming they have the resources to listen/compare/care. (That last one's tougher because it needs to overcome "not invented here" syndrome.)

Vinyl survives because of its technical limitations regarding that. In other words if they wanted to compress it they'd have to use more wax/more sides due to the higher average volume, or to squeeze everyone on less wax/fewer sides cut it so low the noise would swamp the music, even on a perfectly-pressed LP.

I do so love the subversive irony of that.

bernardperu's picture

Hdtracks could easily post the dynamic range of all the music they sell. They justmdont want to.

deckeda's picture

The source of the vinyl's and "The Vinyl Expereince" MP3's DR values aren't mentioned by Stephen, but keep in mind that the special MP3 version still scored high, even with the silly noise added.

It's also worth noting that it's customary for underground vinyl rippers to carefuly de-click when post-processing (especially if sharing online, for others) and that stylus drops or other obvious noises would be edited out. And the DR values still are good.

bernardperu's picture

Hdtracks does not post dr because they purposedly capitalize on our emotions. We music lovers get carried away and buy hi res music and very often we encounter highly compressed albums that sound like crap. This is the crap that hdtracks sells us because they refuse to post dr because it goes against their business principles of capitalizing on our emotions and stupidity (yes, i have been stupid for repeteadly buying highly compressed music from hdtracks) i call their business model a rip off.

Bill B's picture

Aside from DR being the same on cd & 24/96 versions on this Beck recording, do you know, or do you assume, that there is no sound quality difference between those versions?

bernardperu's picture

The hi res version will sound a tiny better. But both versions are so compressed that for active listening purposes they will just sound unmusical and that is what matters the most.

why argue if some crap is not as much crap as the other crap?

Bill B's picture

Apparently you do not currently have the 2 versions and have not compared them yourself, is that correct? 

bernardperu's picture

Please see john atkinson's comment below.

I am subjectivist, but dr6 is just way too much compression. Even if the hi res master came from a 24/96 source, it would still sound unmusical. 

I have not listened to it just like i have never had a burger from mcdonald's. why waste my time having a taste of something that is bound to hurt my ears/health?

Bill B's picture

Also regarding the sound of this album: 

BASS and SPACE all over the place!!

(common to any of its formats, I would imagine)

o0OBillO0o's picture

Beck has come a long way from the Billboard topper, "Loser" and this is a great release, regardless of media medium.

deckeda's picture

... but this continued practice of intentionally adding obvious noise to a digital file to mimic the worst aspects of an LP's sound quality don't amuse me. It's not quaintly humorous and evokes zero "nostalgia." What it does, is continue the myth that LPs sound the way they sound because of easily-identifiable, easily-labeled flaws. Bullshit.

I buy LPs because they sound better to me, and pretty soon you realize they don't sound better because of any surface noise present, but in spite of it. Now, that's what I call high-tech playback.

The sooner Beck and other artists actuallly realize this--and act accordingly--they'll quit this embarrassing behavior. Your MP3 version doesn't sound as good without a glop of distraction added? Aw, poor baby--not "fair," is it?

Regadude's picture

Dude, you are so wrong! Vinyl is not noisy. Geez... Another vinyl hater. If your turntable is not properly set up, don't blame the media. 

You hear that? That is the sound of me ignoring you...

JR_Audio's picture

Besides the high compression for this kind of music, where the bass drum kicks extremely often into hard limiting and the bass notes most times also, I have recognized, that for example the Track 10 and also Track 11 of the 24 Bit 96 kHz HighRes versions are 100 % for sure from 44k1 MP3. They show all the typical 44k1 MP3 artifacts of modulating a 16 kHz low pass filter with level. So we have 2 MP3 tracks sold as 24/96 HighRes. This 2 MP3 tracks are also valid in the other releases, not just the HighRes release, All other HighRes Tracks are based on 44k1 sources with the same DR and Bandwidth, as with the CD release.


John Atkinson's picture

JR_Audio wrote:
for example the Track 10 and also Track 11 of the 24 Bit 96 kHz HighRes versions are 100 % for sure from 44k1 MP3. They show all the typical 44k1 MP3 artifacts of modulating a 16 kHz low pass filter with level.

I bought this album from HDTracks last night but haven't listened to it yet. However, I looked at a spectrogram of one of these 24/96 tracks  - see - and yes, it is brickwall-filtered at 16kHz, strongly suggesting that the master was originally MP3-encoded. A second brickwall at 22kHz suggests that the CD master, sampled at 44.1kHz, was used for the 24/96 master. :-(

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

bernardperu's picture

John, your honesty is highly appreciated.

Selling an MP3 44khz as 24/96 has to be illegal. It seems that the rest of the album comes mostly from CD-quality 16/44 converted to 24/96 (Couldnt they at least convert to 24/88??). 

Would you say this is a common practice by HDTracks? Even if they blame the error on the music label, they are supposed to check on quality, right? I bet they have the means and time to check on provenance. This would make up for a great article for your readership. Hi-Fi journalism at its best :-)





John Atkinson's picture

bernardperu wrote:
John, your honesty is highly appreciated.

Thank you.

bernardperu wrote:
Selling an MP3 44khz as 24/96 has to be illegal. It seems that the rest of the album comes mostly from CD-quality 16/44 converted to 24/96 (Couldnt they at least convert to 24/88??).

With the best modern sample-rate converters, the 44.1-96kHz transcoding is as good-sounding as 44.1k-88.2kHz.

bernardperu wrote:
Would you say this is a common practice by HDTracks? Even if they blame the error on the music label, they are supposed to check on quality, right?

I bumped into David Chesky at an industry event last night and asked him about this album. He feels caught between a rock and a hard place because HDTracks is not allowed to do anything to the files other than sell them. Capitol did admit that some of the samples used by Beck in the multitrack mixes are lower resolution than 24/96 but is adamant that the provenance of the mixed files was genuine 24/96.

The dynamic compression was Beck's own choice as artist, apparently.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture

John Atkinson wrote:
The dynamic compression was Beck's own choice as artist, apparently.

And you know what? Having now listened to this album all week, I think its musical value outweighs the technical shortcomings. There truly is a mind behind this music.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

bernardperu's picture

Now I am compelled to getting the record.


Excessive dynamic compression (anything below DR10 assuming the artist had good engineering resources) cannot be an "artistic" decision, right? My guess is that the artist records the album and the label decides on the DR. If the artist were to put in his contract that he requires a minimum level of dynamics, then, the label might say yes and pay a lot less. It all comes down to business decisions. For instance, I would assume Willie Nelson is willing to take less money in exchange for great sounding albums (or he might have his own label). 

How many times have we seen incredibly talented and smart actors supporting their crappy movies? How about Lars Ulrich supporting a DR3 of Metallica's latest album?

A DR6 might be the artist's decision, but not sure if it can be an artistic one.

Regadude's picture

That's one of the things I hate about these so called hi-rez downloads. They just "put lipstick on a pig". They also "polish a turd".

I bought an album in DSD format 3 weeks ago. I already had the CD, but since this artist does not put her music on vinyl (my first choice), I decided to buy the album in DSD for 30$, to get a better than CD sound.

After several comparisons, I hear a slight difference in soundstage with the DSD. And I mean slight. You have to have really good ears, and strain to hear the difference. I am confident the vast majority of people, even with a great system, would hear no difference. I am positive that the 30$ DSD version is not worth it compared to the 14$ CD. 

This surprises me because, the DSD stuff I have on SACD discs is awesome! A clear cut above the CD versions. 

trstereophile's picture

My rips are up there on the DR database.  Kind of flattering that stereophile mentioned my rips, can't deny :)

I didn't use any de-clicking.  I vacuumed the sides thoroughly, then used an anti-static brush.  There are no clicks/pops - this rip was the first playback of my record.

Clearaudio Emotion table w/ CMB using Grado Reference Master 1 needle, Grado Phono Preamp to E-mu 1212m ADC at 24/96, then downsampled to 16/44 for analyzing.  No digital cleanup/editing other than separating out the tracks.

I agree with the other commenter who mentions that the MP3 clicks/pops really don't add anything and its a bit annoying... but am thankful the MP3 is supplied from the vinyl master.  The latest Foo Fighters did the same thing.

I posted a snippet of my rip here in mp3 lossy if you are interested:

recoil's picture

DR ratings for vinyl can never be compared to the cd/MP3 conterpart. I have seen many situations where the DR for the vinyl was 3 to 4 db higher and it was the same master as the CD. This falls within the same range so I would be surprised if dynamically its different.

Also the vinyl experience MP3 is taken from a needledrop of the album. They don't add noise to the digital file, it's there because it is a recording of the actual vinyl.

ckennedy's picture

Well said.

DR levels aside, musically, this is a sublimely satisfying album. I have both cd and vinyl versions and despite the dr diffs, enjoy both.

bjo74's picture

Hey are the lyrics included in the sleeve of this album?

ckennedy's picture

Yes, the lyrics are presented on an insert in the album's jacket.

bjo74's picture

Thank you!!

bjo74's picture

This album is just stupidly ridiculously good.  One of the best albums I've heard in years, by any artist.  Can't wait to hear it on vinyl now and see the real lyrics. 

Al from Hudson Avenue's picture

NPR made available a full preview of Beck's Morning Phase.  I listened to it.


And as I listened to it, I wondered "Who in the world would want to listen to this?"


I think that the Beck organization has tapped into a very effective promotion organization.  I need to find out who they are.

Morris's picture

that's a lot of tracks for each side of this album.

I prever the way Radiohead releases vinyl, two 10" records with two songs on each side.

lots of room for the grooves to breathe :)

TriodeDave's picture

Computer did an impressive/horrifying amount of listening to the 6 downloadable versions of this album. What a rat's nest! And I thought keeping track of US, UK, Euro and Japanese pressings was a pain on vinyl.

apparently, to his ears on his system, the EQ Vinyl Experience lossy MP3 which comes in the vinyl packaging sounded best, and, as observed in comments earlier here, all kinds of nasty business goes on in some versions you would expect to be top notch.

I'll buy the vinyl and enjoy it. I'll give my son the download coupon. Digital with evermore impressive stat 'labels' may be the shiniest bauble in the audiophile universe, but all that glitters is still not gold.

ianshepherd's picture

This is another great Beck album, and a lot of it sounds pretty good, too. It would be interesting to know if the higher "DR" reading of the vinyl is because of a genuinely more dynamic master, or just a side-effect of the format, though - lots of vinyl reads higher without any additional audible dynamics:

Al from Hudson Avenue's picture

I heard this record at NPR's full-album stream.  I immediately recognized it as the most unnecessary record I've ever heard.

And the most expertly marketed.  Here, and everywhere else, are this article and this discussion.  For a record that, before the modern vicious marketing practices were developed, would have sunk into the 99-cent bins without a peep.

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