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Nothing but the Music - Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 7 Inch Platinum SHM-CD

08-10-2014 | By Wojciech Pacuła | Issue 74

EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER, Island/Victor Entertainment VICP-78001 (1970/2014)
TARKUS, Island/Victor Entertainment VICP-78002 (1971/2014)
PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION, Island/Victor Entertainment VICP-78003 (1971/2014)

Platinum SHM-CD is the newest and best CD pressing technology. I have no doubt about that. Although its advantage over "regular" XRCD and K2 HD releases differs from title to title, even the smallest difference results in a large improvement, with the biggest ones being close to the "unbelievable" category. If you think you know how Dire Straits sound on their debut CD, or Queen do on their first albums or John Coltrane on his Ballads, and have not yet heard their SHM-CD Platinum editions, let me assure you that you have no idea what you are talking about. Hearing the difference between this new Victor Entertainment "invention" and a "regular" release usually brings out a faint "holy s…."

Multiple auditions of new mastering and manufacturing CD technologies conforming to the Red Book specification, repeated ad nauseam during the Krakow Sonic Society meetings, have shown that there is still untapped potential in the CD format. And even if hi-res audio files on the one side and vinyl on the other (or actually their "followers") seem to eliminate the CD from market, as long as I have breath I will be saying that it is a mistake which we will regret someday.

The only area where the CD flat out loses to LP, and often to audio files, is the cover art, or rather its scale. Nothing beats a large vinyl cover, or high-resolution image on your tablet or computer screen. The CD has always been at a disadvantage in this respect. Some compensation or substitute for the black disc came with Japanese mini-LP or cardboard sleeve releases—the replicas, often extremely accurate, of vinyl releases. But even their name indicates that they are only a "reflection" of the full-size vinyl cover artwork.

With the launch of Platinum SHM-CD, the Japanese had to emphasize the new format identity. This is a fundamental marketing strategy used by any manufacturer bringing a new product to the market. The results can vary, but in this case all went pretty well. The new discs were sold in a kind of white, stiff cardboard boxes, with glued-on album covers and new release description. Inside the box was a mini-replica of the vinyl cover, like in Cardboard Sleeve releases with the OBI. Included underneath was a Japanese description of the album and remaster. The disc was inserted into a cotton sleeve—again, like in a mini-LP. There was, however, provided a special location for the disc. The inside of the box cover featured a foam disc with a recess for the CD. It looked pretty cool and I was completely satisfied with it. The boxes stood out from other releases, and although not all the shelves were designed to accommodate them I accepted the new format in its entirety.

Very quickly there appeared another version of Platinum SHM-CD, slightly poorer equipped, without the box. The rest remained the same. When I was ordering Coltrane's Ballads and Mozart's Requiem, performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker and conducted by Karl Böhm (and featuring the great Polish tenor Wieslaw Ochman!), I was convinced that I bought the original Platinum SHM-CD version. Hence, my great disappointment when it turned out that the new releases only differ from the regular "plastic case", somewhat humorously named "jewel box" since the beginning of the CD, by their shimmering transparent covers. And the difference in price was symbolic. The music itself and the way it sounded made me quickly forget my first negative impression, but did not remove it completely.

Platinum SHM-CD seems to be the current ultimate CD pressing technology. I am sure that manufacturers will soon come up with something new, maybe even better. In my view, however, this format, like the earlier gold-CD, all varieties of XRCD, K2 HD, HQCD, Blu-spec, and SHM-CD, represents such refined level that exchanging it for a newer release will only rarely make sense.

There remained an unsolved problem of the "intrinsic" weakness of CD packaging, "imprinted" in this format in the moment of designing the original compact disc case. Although later with him repeatedly spurt, whether in the form of a digipak, mini LP, or popular lately packaging, and the SACD (with rounded edges), it was a modification under the old paradigm.

The landscape has been completely changed by the launch of "Platinum SHM-CD 7 inch" (7"). They are exactly what their name suggests—their covers have the same size as standard vinyl singles, i.e. 7-inch (almost 18 cm). They include a classic OBI and, as mini LP releases, they are true replicas of the original 12" vinyl records. Taking the disc in hand for the first time, one has the feeling of holding an analog release. Album cover descriptions, tracklist and the list of personnel—everything is bigger. The only thing that remained unchanged is the size of the CD—it is still 12 cm. To somehow keep the CD in place, it is clipped to the center of a black cardboard disc that imitates the vinyl single. And it is the only element that seems tacky. The idea of  magnification cover is brilliant in its simplicity and, as with most such solutions, all had not come to mind.

At this moment, the problem is a very limited catalogue of releases—close to zero. The list of releases available in the new format include three first Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums (together with a 7" Union Disk box) and Premiata Forneria Marconi discography. I think this is just a feeler and, depending on customer interest, Victor Entertainment will decide the fate of the project. In my opinion, these are the best CD releases (apart from extended box sets) that I have come across thus far.

Sound quality

EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER - 6-7/10 | remaster – 10/10

TARKUS - 6-7/10 | remaster – 10/10

PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION - 6-7/10 | remaster – 9/10

Victor Entertainment

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