When I first heard about the pending release of a commercial reel-to-reel tape under the Columbia/Sony label (for the first time in how many years?) I sent an email to Sony requesting a review copy (being the administrator for reeltoreel with over 3000 members). No response. So I relied on a music-industry friend to send me his copy for a quick listen.
First impressions: the packaging and labeling seem both amateurish and inadequate. The tape, with plain white leader, is wound on a generic reel with no labeling whatsoever, not even the speed (7-1/2 ips) or the format (4 track). The reel is enclosed, along with Shins postcard art and a download slip , in a generic white box that has labels pasted on the front and back, replicating the vinyl album cover art and providing a list (not in any recognizable order) of the songs on the tape. There is no text on the spine, so there isn't a way to identify this tape sitting on a shelf. On the back panel, though, there's a tape production number. Mine is 108, suggesting that the run was limited to a few hundred copies at most.
The album is duplicated on back-coated brown oxide 1 mil (long-play) tape with no noticeable background hiss or crosstalk. This is rock music where much of the sound is generated by amplification, with electronically synthesized sounds mixed in. Like quality vinyl, the extended highs, solid bass, spatial depth (what there is of it) and pinpoint imaging of the master are all there. But like recent Flaming Lips albums (notably Dark Side of the Moon) the sound is a bit overprocessed (like, how do you reduce 24 tracks to only two?) and inevitably compressed. Unless you're listening on a very large system, the stage is somewhat miniaturized.
It's unlikely that there was a special mix for reel tape, and the limits of vinyl and radio broadcast probably affected the engineers' mix-down concept. There's been some chatter among audiophiles that recent vinyl releases (and rereleases) might be "CD drops," where new vinyl might simply be cut from digital or CD masters rather than the original analog tapes or analog running masters. I don't know if that's the case here; the wide sonic range suggests that it might not be. That said, modern vinyl can easily handle this amount/quality of sonic information, so if you're wanting this album for its sound, you might consider saving $80 by buying the vinyl.
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Topic - The Shins Port of Morrow: a review - michael22 14:16:57 05/27/12 (4)