Recording of October 1983: The Stranger

Billy Joel: The Stranger
CBS CD 35DP2 (CD) and JC34987 (digitally mastered, CX-encoded LP).

This is one of four recordings we now have on hand in both the CD and digital-mastered LP formats, and all reviews of these will be parallel reviews. In the case of the CBS discs, there is no "conventional" version, as all of their recent LP releases are CX-encoded. Thus, I will be comparing decoded CXed CBS LPs (footnote 1) with their CD equivalents.

The Stranger was among the first CDs we got from Sony/CBS for review, and was part of the reason we noted early on that some pop releases on CD were better than most of the classical releases. Even undecoded, the LP of The Stranger is one of the best-sounding recordings CBS has made. With CX decoding it is noticeably better except in terms of background noise. (And there is so little dynamic range that noise is not a problem even without CX decoding.) The CD is better still, but not dramatically so.

Differences: The CD's bass is tighter and more detailed but no deeper; its high end is slightly more prominent and revealing of a slight metallic sibilance in Joel's solo mike.

But the major difference is a feeling of effortlessness from the CD which is just not present from the vinyl disc. That the CD is not noticeably more transparent than the LP would seem to suggest that the slight veil over the sound originated with the microphones or input-mixing console rather than in the disc-cutting system.

This was an enjoyable record in its original version. It is even more so on CD, but whether or not the sonic difference is worth the price difference is moot. Tell you one thing, though; you won't have to tape the CD in order to play it frequently without wear.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 1: Although it has been around for a couple of years now, CX is the latest noise-reduction system to hit the audio market. It is a full-spectrum compander system which compresses dynamic range during recording and expands it in (supposedly) complementary fashion during playback. When the compressed- dynamic-range signal is recorded at the usual maximum level on disc, the quietest passages are raised well above the disc's background noise. When the signal is expanded again in playback, the low-level passages are shoved back down where they were to begin with, but the disc noise goes down by the same amount.—J. Gordon Holt

otaku's picture

I've been fighting myself for weeks to not run out and buy the 2LP 45RPM release.

DaveinSM's picture

I have this on CD and SACD and it is very hard to tell the difference between the two. The production values are so high that it sounds like it was recorded in a vacuum. But the whole album is great and this is some of the very best music that Billy Joel ever made.