When my overplayed cassette copy of I Robot broke, I swore I would never again buy a copy of this recording that would wear out. When the same album appeared on DVD, I was prompted to buy 24/96 audio playback with which to hear it.
I Robot was recorded over the course of four months at Abbey Road Studio. Released in mid-1977 to critical acclaim, by the end of the year it was certified Gold. As far as singles go, "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You" cracked the Top 40, while "Don't Let It Show" made it into the Top 100. But it was the album as a whole that had the greater success, peaking at #9 on the US album charts. Before 1978 was over, the recording was Platinum, and it had spent 19 weeks in the US Top 40.
Because The Alan Parsons Project was never a regular band, the recording sessions were a bit unique. The songs were assembled in a fashion Herbert Spencer would be proud of. Various artists contributed their parts and Alan Parsons mixed in whatever version of each section he felt was the best. The most dramatic example of this is found in "Some Other Time." Both Peter Straker and Jaki Whitren sing on this track. Apparently Straker did the superior job on the main vocal, while Whitren's version of the chorus worked better, so that's what's laid down on the master tape. Many people have listened to this recording for decades without noting that two people were involved here, even though Peter and Jaki are man and woman!
Subtle details like these are exactly what a well-remastered recording should reveal. The regular CD release of the I Robot [Arista 07822-18962-2] is free of any obvious flaws, but it certainly has room for improvement. Mobile Fidelity released a slightly better-sounding disc [MFCD 804]. Arista Japan put out a remastered CD in the early '90s [BVCA-1004] that I was never too fond of (a review commenting on that is in our archives). Finally, Alan Parsons remastered a two-CD greatest hits release a few years ago called The Definitive Collection [Arista 07822-18962-2] that has some of the best Project sound available on CD.
So how does the Classic Release in 24/96 compare to the rest of the releases? It's easily the king of the hill. After hearing the DVD, the "Don't Let it Show" from The Definitive Collection sounds grainy and rough around the edges. High-frequency material is the most improved by the latest remastering, in particular the percussion. All of the CD releases come off as congested and cluttered after you hear the unbridled energy of the classic version. You just can't cram all of the detail of a song like the title track into a regular compact disc without losing some of it.
Also commendable is the low level of noise on the DVD release. The CD releases that come closest to the high-frequency extension and energy of the classic, the DC and Japanese versions, have a much-exaggerated amount of background noise to go along with that. While there is some unavoidable analog tape hiss present, this new DAD is overall the quietest version of this recording I've ever heard. This helps contribute to the excellent dynamics, in both loud and soft passages, that are the most impressive aspect of the sonic upgrade the remastering offers. The better your system, the more you should appreciate what's been done here, because it's the low-level details that are improved all around rather than any big alteration in how the recording sounds.
Along with the audio, the DVD does have a small amount of video content, giving the titles of each song and an interface to select them by name. I know what I want this Christmas -- for Classic Recordings to release more of my favorite albums, remastered onto DVD. The sound quality of I Robot in that format is forcing me to redefine what is possible for home playback of a studio rock recording, raising the bar of my expectations. And, best of all, it won't wear out.
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