May 1999

Van Halen - Van Halen
DCC GZS-1129
Originally released: 1978
Remaster released: 1998

by Greg Smith

Sound Quality ****

Comparison Releases:

Van Halen
Warner Bros W2-3075

Sound Quality **1/2

Best Of Volume 1
Warner Bros 9 46332-2 (1996)

Sound Quality ***1/2

[Reviewed on Gold CD]As the legend goes, Eddie Van Halen would turn around during early concerts when playing particularly complicated guitar parts so that nobody could see exactly what playing technique he was using. It's no wonder he was so protective of his style, because when Van Halen was released in 1978, nobody else sounded quite like them. That's certainly not the case today, as the band has spawned countless imitators, despite Eddie's attempt at propriety.

While Van Halen fans argue about the relative merits of original-era Van Halen vs. later "Van Hagar" releases, I suspect almost all of them agree that the band's first release is their best. But it certainly hasn't made for a particularly good-sounding CD before. There are significantly better versions of some tracks on the recently released Best Of Volume I collection. That one I picked up after hearing "Me Wise Magic" on the radio and being totally confused. It was obviously a recent Van Halen tune, yet David Lee Roth was on vocals; I hadn't heard about the short-lived reunion they went through. But if you want remastered versions of all the classic tunes on the original album, you'll need to turn to the new DCC release.

"Running With the Devil"

  • Original: I don't think the unique opening noises were supposed to have such nasty, harsh transients to them. Tinny cymbals and barely any bass are the main impressions I get from this track. I liked this one better when I had a crappy stereo and couldn't tell how bad the CD sounded.
  • Best Of : First off, this is recorded way louder than the original. The bass guitar actually has some real growl to it now, and cymbals are considerably better.
  • DCC: Now the low-frequency notes actually follow a musical envelope, instead of being just thuds. Michael Anthony plays better than I had thought! The reverb on Roth's singing is really pulled up front, but the background vocals are still a bit weak and indistinct. The biggest difference is in the guitar solos. I don't know that I've ever heard Eddie Van Halen wail away quite so clearly before.


  • Original: More unpleasant edges around all the notes here, along with some hard-to-take resonances that build up inexplicably in spots. And I dare you to identify the recording location; there's this weird pseudo-space that is just plain disconcerting.
  • Best Of : A night-and-day improvement, the guitar parts in particular are incredibly improved.
  • DCC: While not a huge difference from the hits collection, the rough spots are smoothed out a bit.

"Ain't Talking About Love"

  • Original: More of the same old junk here. The ill-defined top-end is joined by considerable compression of the louder parts.
  • Best Of : The guitar distortion really comes through on this version, but there's still some missing body to the drums. The compression of the louder parts exists here as well, but now it sounds like the overall volume of the CD has been pushed up so far it's hitting some sort of dynamic-range limitation.
  • DCC: This one is recorded at a level partway between the other two, and unlike the others there's none of the compression that had bugged me. There's an amazing improvement in how the guitar during the opening sounds, even over the Best Of version. And the drums finally sound right as well.

My original Van Halen CD is a pretty sparse package. The liner notes tell you the basic information about the band, but that's about it. The Best Of collection gives a discography, including what tracks appear on each album, but other than that there's not a whole lot there either. DCC's release includes sweaty pictures of every band member, and the artwork restoration by Complete Color lets you count every hair on Roth's chest. Whether that in particular was a worthwhile effort is debatable to me, but maybe you'll find it exciting. A picture of the original LP sides are included as well.

If you listen to Van Halen and you care about sonics, you need the DCC version of their first album. It wildly exceeded my expectations for how good a Van Halen recording could sound. Just remember to turn around when you're playing air guitar if you want to recreate the original Van Halen concert experience.