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For The Audiophile and Avid Vinyl Collector Who Loves to Dig - Several Holy Grail Box Sets to Get On Your Radar

11-06-2021 | By Robert S. Youman |

As we all know, vinyl is booming. Not only new sales, but collectable titles are also in high demand. Discogs and eBay have shown tremendous growth in sales for pre-owned and sealed out of print vinyl. Prices almost seem unfair.

During the lockdown and to keep myself busy, I found myself pursuing the various Internet sites several times a week and in some cases it truly paid off. Now that things are settling down, I have also kept a close eye on local garage sales and of course I still find a way every month or so to visit the record stores that are nearby. As they like to say in this hobby, I have learned to "dig" and I love seeking out the potential "holy grails" that have been on my want list for years.

As this vinyl journey continues, I thought I might share some thoughts about a few box sets that I have added to the collection. All are superstars for both performance and sound. Some are well known grails and prices can now be well beyond what most can afford. On the other hand, a few are relatively new to me (my apologies to those in the know for my naivety), and I am astounded by what I am hearing and experiencing. Collecting vinyl never ceases to amaze. Music continues to be so much fun and rewarding.

Still, with a little digging, you never know, so keep your eyes and ears open. Sometimes sellers are not aware of the current market value. In my case, several of these titles were purchased for so little that I am almost embarrassed to mention the prices. So I won't. No need to upset the troops. In total contrast, I also bit the bullet on a couple titles that go well beyond what I ever imagined paying for a pre-owned LP (or a used car for that matter). My wife never imagined these prices either (LOL). 

One caveat on all of these box sets. Do your homework if you decide to buy directly from a collector rather than jumping in on the digging process! Discogs and the Steve Hoffman forum are a good place to start before laying out any big bucks if that's the route that you take. You want to know what others have to say about analog verses digital sources, pressing preferences, and who provided the engineering and mastering. The amount of variations and caveats can have your head spinning, but again, for me, the research was part of the fun and satisfaction.

Nick Drake, Fruit Tree (Hannibal Records)

I was aware of Nick Drake, but I never had an opportunity to hear any original vinyl or even well produced reissues. Nick passed away in 1974 at the age of 26 (another interesting story in itself), and he released only a few titles. With a cult like following, Pink Moon is considered his classic album. Original UK pressings, which seem to have the best rep for sound quality, are extremely rare and those in good condition can go for thousands. This four LP box set includes Pink Moon, Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Time Of No Reply. Talk about an emotional connection! When listening to Pink Moon, Nick Drake is virtually sitting in your listening room with just an acoustic guitar while pouring out his heart to all who will listen. This LP in particular has exceptional air and ambiance—some of the best sounding vinyl in my entire collection. Be careful, as there are several variations of this box set. Some with digital and others with true analog sources.

LCD Soundsystem, The Long Goodbye: LCD Soundsystem Live At Madison Square Garden (DFA Parlophone Records)

Originally released in 2014 on the Warner Brothers label as a Record Store Day limited edition, The Long Goodbye was reissued in 2021 on the DFA label. Original pressings are going for up to $800 on Discogs. The recording is based on the then announced last concert by LCD Soundsystem in 2011 at Madison Square Garden. They have since toured again and will hit the road once more in 2021. I was able to recently purchase the new 2021 reissue at my local record store. With a seasonal discount coupon, it was priced at close to some of my recent new audiophile double LP reissues. Such a deal! As a five LP box set, group leader James Murphy was intimately involved with the engineering and mastering. Bob Weston cut the lacquers. James was determined to mix and cut this release for vinyl only—no digital. Only the new 2021 reissues include hi-rez and CD options as sperate purchases. The sound on this one is vast and expansive. Low end weight and slam is superb. If you can find a copy, get ready to put on your dancing shoes!

Wilco, Kicking Television: Live In Chicago (Nonsuch)

I'm a Chicago guy and Wilco has long been one of my favorite local groups. I have seen them several times, including the infamous concert at the Civic Opera House in 2011 where the sound was simply amazing. This four LP box set was released as a Record Store Day pressing in 2010 in very limited quantities. I was very fortunate to find one at a local garage sale. Though many of Wilco's studio releases on vinyl have an excellent reputation for sound, I find that several seem fairly muted and distant. This recording changes all of that as many of my favorite Wilco songs now breath with new life and energy. Recorded in 2005 at the Vic Theater and mastered by Bernie Grundman on vinyl, you get a real sense of the attack and physical power of an outstanding rock group in a truly reverberant concert venue. I owned the CD version of this which was mastered by Robert Ludwig, and it too had my head spinning. Just an outstanding release and a must have for all Wilco fans.

Kraftwerk, Minimum-Maximum (EMI)

Issued in 2005, this four LP box set is a live compilation from Kraftwerk's 2004 world tour. There were US, UK and German pressings, but still in very limited quantities as CD was the playback vehicle of choice at that time. I found my pre-owned UK copy at a local record store for much less than a typical new 2021 vinyl box set. Discogs has them listed for up to $600 for the German pressing. Like the Wilco vinyl studio releases, the Kraftwerk catalog is well known for excellent sound and high quality production values. But again, like Wilco, this live set on vinyl takes it all to a new level. "The Man-Machine," "Radioactivity," and "Computer World" are all there, but you are swallowed up in an envelope of electronic sound and thunderous musical dialogue. When Autobahn begins with an automobile engine kick start and turn over, I was physically startled by the tremendous bottom end grunt and high end extension of this live version—so much more dynamic and unleashed than the original studio LP. Krautrock lovers beware!

Jennifer Warnes, The Well (IMPEX Records) 

This 2009 three LP 45 RPM box set from IMPEX was a complete surprise. Famous Blue Raincoat and Hunter seem to get all the hype from the Jennifer Warnes discography and maybe deservingly so. However, The Well has just as much appeal in my humble opinion. Beautiful song selection and simple arrangements fill the listening room with a lovely relaxed feeling—especially addictive for a Sunday morning coffee and newspaper. Jennifer's voice never sounded better as Bernie Grundman continues his superb batting average when mastering her vinyl releases. IMPEX has provided an extremely flat and quiet pressing—as good as the Supervinyl reissues that I have purchased lately. I found this displayed on the Holy Moly Wall at a record store while visiting relatives in another part of the country. After returning to the store on a second visit weeks later, it looked like it had not been touched. For a price less many new releases, I grabbed it and never looked back. An absolute steal!

Caveat Emptor

These next two recommendations are not going to pop up in the "New Arrivals" bin at your local record store or a local thrift shop or a neighborhood garage sale. Both are highly collectable and will be quite expensive—even if you can find them on Discogs or if you know a serious collector who might be willing to negotiate. But, these both were very much two of my ultimate holy grails—at least on my personal priority list. I was fortunate to buy them early on before prices really exploded. All I can say is that they are both worth all the time and effort and just maybe the money too. I am confident that from a contractual perspective, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to reissue these box sets. These days, major labels want to control the entire process and all the potential revenues. Most will not typically license their titles to the audiophile labels. We can only pray that Chad Kassem over at Analogue Productions can someday find a way to make it happen!

The Miles Davis Quintet, The Great Prestige Recordings (Analogue Productions)

I have the 2008 Analogue Productions 45 RPM 10 LP edition of this box set mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray. At one time, I also owned the original 1996 Analogue Productions 33 RPM 5 LP box set cut by Stan Ricker. There is no comparison. The 33 RPM is wonderful, but the 45 RPM is an absolute killer. I am not a huge fan of mono, but this is one of the few exceptions. This is what I call "Big Mono." The sound stage is so expansive and deep, that it goes from speaker to speaker much like a true stereo recording. The level of inner detail and the layer after layer of musical information at all frequencies can be quite overwhelming. This final effort to produce his last five LPs to meet and then end his Prestige contract for his move to Columbia is one of Miles' most famous career decisions. The results were historic. Miles, Cookin', Relaxin', Workin' and Steamin' are true masterpieces that have never sounded better.

Creedence Clearwater, Absolute Originals (Analogue Productions)

This is the 2007 Analogue Productions 45 RPM 8 LP box set that is basically a Greatest Hits compilation. This is not the 2004 Analogue Productions 33 RPM box set pressed at RTI or the 2014 Analogue Productions 33 RPM box set pressed at QRP. All three were mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray. The last two are complete 33 RPM LP reissues of all seven of the Creedence Clearwater releases and a new single 45 RPM LP of five specific remixed songs. Like the Miles Davis box set mentioned above, the 33 RPM pressings are fantastic, but the 45 RPM pressings are the absolute. When Doug Clifford begins his legendary drum intro on Suzie Q and then John Fogerty kicks in on his Rickenbacker guitar, you will immediately sit straight up in your listening chair and take notice. If you grew up listening to these hits on your car radio, your college stereo system, or even today on a high end system, you will probably feel like you are listening to these songs for the first time. Goosebump City!