Acoustic Sounds

The Who

Who's Next



Label: Polydor/UMC

Produced By: The Who

Engineered By: Glyn Johns

Mixed By: Glyn Johns

Mastered By: Jon Astley

Lacquers Cut By: Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios

By: Michael Fremer

October 7th, 2023





"Who's Next" Gets the 1/2 Speed and Plangent Process Treatment

not at all ghastley from Astley!

Update! 10/8/2023 My inbox was filled with "first press" info. That's one of the great things about doing these videos and reviews. You learn stuff. So, I learn that supposedly the "first pressing" I have with date of 8-13-71 is an "east coast" pressing and doesn't sound nearly as good as one with a "W1" in the lead out groove and no date.

So I search my storage space and I have one. I play it. It is much better sounding but hardly the mythical 'greatest' claimed by advocates who never divulge on what they are listening. It's kind of soft and "tubey" but way better than the one I reference in the video. And I note that the handwritten date on the record appears identical to the earlier date listed on the master tape box (7-10-71) so I'd say both were mastered at The Mastering Lab, but one not so well done.

I also was sent to a Steve Hoffman Forum thread where someone claims side one of the original Track that I reference in this video was cut by Doug Sax at TML because of handwritten numerals and yes, I agree with him there, but the Track sounds far superior to the Decca "W1" probably in part due to plating and pressing differences. Side two of that Track has "Bilbo". People speculate why only one side was cut at TML but sometimes a lacquer sent overseas gets ruined in plating so rather than a recut, they might have shipped over a tape copy, Who knows? Good album title!

Since the date on the tape box image in the 2003 3 LP set shown in the video is 7-10-71 I should have realized the 8-13-71 cut was a second lacquer but why does it sound so bad? The handwritten dates on the tape box and inner groove area look like the same person wrote both.

Now back to the original review:

Obviously the photo at the top isn't from the recently released Jon Astley mastered, Plangent processed, 1/2 speed cut LP available in multiple packages. Instead it's the "hype sticker" on the MCA "Heavy Vinyl" version released in 1995 cut all-analog by Kevin Gray, then at Future Disc. I was involved as editor of Tracking Angle the magazine all those years ago.

MCA CEO Doug Morris decided vinyl needed to live and invested in the project, which was done the right way. Unfortunately, at the time stores had just about stopped selling vinyl records and online commerce did not yet exist so the series didn't do well.

At the end of the embedded video is a "lacquer-rip" using the 1995 lacquer, Lyra Atlas Lambda SL cartridge, SAT CF1-12 arm and OMA K3 turntable plugged into the new CH Precision P10 phono preamp. Despite the lacquer's age, in my opinion it sounds quite good and definitely better than the file based new LP.

"Who's Next" remains one of greatest records released during the "rock era" even though it was really an orphan cast-off of Pete Townshend's ambitious, Lifehouse project. The record was recorded in various studios in the U.K. and The United States, yet despite that, it holds together well as a cohesive set of tunes that express the times in which they were written and produced, yet resonate strongly today—especially songs like "Baba O'Reilly", "Song is Over" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" but really there's not a weak tune in the set. Townshend successfully introduces synthesizers to the group's sound giving it a more modern vibe but it doesn't diminish the trio's power and authority.

The video does not discuss the Lifehouse project or lecture on its history. Instead, it compares multiple versions of "Who's Next": original American Decca, original U.K. Track, 1995 MCA "Heavy Vinyl" —LP and lacquers—2003 digitally sourced triple LP featuring outtakes and extras and live Old Vic performance, Classic Records 2005 reissue cut by Chris Bellman from original tape and the new Jon Astley mastered, Plangent processed file cut 1/2 speed at Abbey road by Miles Showell. The only version accidentally omitted that I own was a Japanese pressing (MPF 1106) that i forgot I had! I do not have multiple copies from other countries, or the 1/2 speed mastered MCA version. Most 1/2 speed mastered attempts by major labels tended to present 1/2 the music.

When you go into something with the lowest of expectations yet come away pleasantly surprised, that's saying something and that's what I'm saying. Astley doesn't mess with things unnecessarily as he habitually has done over the years, so the resulting record is at least recognizable—a good start. The timbral balance is even-handed, honest and lump and bump free. the soundstage is wide though without depth or dimensionality and the images are flat and hung as if on a shower curtain instead of being presented in three dimensions as was true on many of the other editions.

The Plangent process locks on the high frequency inaudible bias tone, which should be steady but because of various analog tape issues (machine speed inconsistencies, scrape flutter, wow, and other factors), rarely is. In the digital domain it's possible to 'straighten' the tone and by doing so, correct the errors. The result as can be heard on various projects in which it's been used, including the Bruce Springsteen box set and some Grateful Dead projects, is a pleasing sense of 'forward motion' and the elimination of some audible glitches that haven't bothered me since the dawn of tape recording and probably never will. And since you must first digitize the tape to apply the process, if the tape is in good shape do you really want to do that?

It's important to understand that Plangent isn't "mastering" in the sense that the process isn't involved in equalization or compression or any sonic manipulation. It takes the flat file transfer and does its thing and then the file goes to the mastering engineer who applies the equalization, compression, etc.

The process's inventor says you do want to digitize first and fix problems, and that digitization is transparent to the source but in my listening almost always tells me otherwise (can get fooled again occasionally). Here, the result is flat imaging and a frustrating lack of focus, image three dimensionality and solidity. Is this due to digitization or to compression applied by the mastering engineer? The listener can't know without hearing the flat file, which I've not, but whatever the cause, play the Classic reissue, the MCA reissue, or the U.K. original and Daltry's voice appears vivid, solid, and locked in three-dimensional space. Moon's kick drum slams have shape and texture missing on this reissue, though thankfully the file wasn't dynamically squashed of all life...just some.

I had a mainstream music writer over recently who thought the 1/2 speed mastered McCartney sounded really good....until I played him a U.K. original. It's "nice recording" versus "McCartney's in the room", he said and he was correct. All of the immediacy and transparency gets filtered through an almost invisible gauze. Compared to nothing, or to the original U.S. Decca, this new Who's Next will be well-received but only because buyers won't know what they are missing. You could say "not everyone cares", but I find once they hear that difference, suddenly they care!

There's a multi-LP set with a live San Francisco concert but I passed on it and just bought the single LP version so I could review it. As fore the "deep dive" multi-CD box set, I'll leave that to the music historians, and heavy Who completists.

Were I buying my first copy of this essential rock record, I'd go for a U.K. original, or the MCA "Heavy Vinyl" unless you can drop a substantial amount for the Classic Records version. A just ok one sourced from a file is just ok, though I'll close on a positive note: Jon Astley's light touch mastering and Miles Showell's 1/2 speed cut produces a record that will please many listeners, even those who know how much better a cut from tape version can sound.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: ARHSLP019

Pressing Plant: GZ Media


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: Plangent Processed digital file

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-10-07 05:15:28 PM

    Al in New York wrote:

    Mikey, the hype sticker says "No Bass Roll-Off." At best, that seems disingenuous. There has to be "roll off" as per the RIAA curve, otherwise the record couldn't be cut. So what do they mean/what are they trying to imply with "no bass roll off"?

    • 2023-10-07 05:23:29 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      The RIAA application is different than "bass roll off". In other words, the record can be flat from 20Hz to 20kHz but the RIAA curve will substantially cut the bass so the contents can fit on a side of the record. During playback the inverse RIAA curve produced by the phono preamp will restore the 20Hz-20kHz response. If the producers fear that full bass response will make the record unplayable on mediocre turntables, they can attenuate the bass but that's not related to the RIAA curve!

      • 2023-10-07 06:50:54 PM

        Al in New York wrote:

        Thanks. A real-world example of your last sentence is Led Zeppelin II and the story involving Ahmet Ertegun's daughter (or niece, depending on who's telling the story).

        If the producers fear that full bass response will make the record unplayable >on mediocre turntables, they can attenuate the bass but that's not related to >the RIAA curve!

  • 2023-10-07 08:18:54 PM

    Brenro wrote:

    Glad I read this. I was all set to pull the trigger after reading another review.

  • 2023-10-07 09:53:09 PM

    Come on wrote:

    Thanks for this review which set things straight for me (after reading the other review) according to my usual impression of Abbey Road half Speed mastering as well as Plangent Processing. Fixing things that don’t really bother at the cost of flatness all around compared to AAA releases. And I’m not a general hater of vinyl releases from digital transfers where not to avoid.

  • 2023-10-08 01:09:21 PM

    EM wrote:

    I have seen other 'MCA' label versions of this album, how do those compare to these "heavy vinyl" editions?

  • 2023-10-08 07:28:11 PM

    Dennis Poggenburg wrote:

    Michael, two questions: have you ever considered staging a pay-for-admission symposium, most likely associated with a big audio show, where you take two or three great albums and dissect them live for the audience, much like this excellent review? I think I’d attend the show JUST to hear you point out the differences you hear.

    Second, and I apologize that this is off-topic, but do you plan on reviewing the new MFSL Hotel California? I’ve only had a chance at one listen, and I might be too accustomed to the DCC issue (many of which now sound awfully soft and “gauzy” to my ear), but my god I thought the MFSL sounds painfully hard and bright. Thank you!

    • 2023-10-09 05:15:02 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      "Hotel California"...have not heard the Mo-Fi. Someone would have to send it my way and I'd safely return it.

    • 2023-10-09 05:17:16 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      I'd love to do something like that, or do comparisons between different versions. I've done that at shows but in small room demos...

      • 2023-10-11 01:50:33 PM

        Dennis Poggenburg wrote:

        Exactly! A couple or three pressings (including one digitally sourced) of a couple or three classics, with you highlighting what you hear…I think that would be terrific. As for MSFL’s one step Hotel Cal, please feel free to email me and I’d love to get a copy in your hands for review. Thanks!

  • 2023-10-09 04:08:19 PM

    Jim Shue wrote:

    Michael - the clip at the end of your video is STUPENDOUS! WOW!

    Even thru YouTube you can hear how insanely good that is compared to ANY digital version of Who's Next I've ever heard.

    I thought (according to some Record Dealers in the Desert) that lacquers turn to dust or something ;-)

    The level of insight from you and your writers on TrackingAngle puts to shame all the nonsense from the blowhards in the so called VC on YouTube.

  • 2023-10-09 05:46:18 PM

    Jeff Stockton wrote:

    If I don't have a U.S. original, should I find one of those, or order one of these?

  • 2023-10-10 07:43:42 AM

    tim davis wrote:

    I fear my experiences with vinyl of this title aren't going to be very relative to this talk of pricier editions but, as I really love this record I still had to share them. Several years ago I figured I had a major score on my hands when I got a German pressing on Polydor which I had heard were great (not this title in particular but German releases in general) turns out no, I hated its bass rolled off, tinny sound. Later on I found a "rainbow & clouds" MCA label edition in a dollar bin in a generic sleeve that was so much better than that German slab it's still my go-to copy for real vinyl pleasure of The Who. That's all I got.

  • 2023-10-10 12:37:49 PM

    Joe Taylor wrote:

    I bought Who's Next at a store in Sunbury PA the week it was released. I remember reading John Mendelsohn's review in RS soon after I bought the LP. Anyway, I think my copy is a Gloversville pressing, with the MG7-12888-W1/MG7-12889-W1-2 etching. I carried it home in the handlebar basket on my Schwinn, and the lower left corner got a little bent. Still my favorite copy, and I also have a Classic pressing. It shows the durability of our favorite format. I played that LP on some crummy, heavy tracking tables. I've cleaned it using a Spin Clean, and I'll do that again now, and use my KAB vacuum record cleaner to remove the liquid. Anyway, pretty damn quiet for a more than 50 year old LP.

    As for this new pressing, I spent an hour comparing them last night. I liked the Astley/Showell version of Sell Out, but this one is not that good. The bass is pushed forward too much and is bloated. When I went from the new pressing of "Bargain," then turned to the Decca, I thought Pete's guitar just had more sparkle and resonance on the old pressing. Entwistle's bass had more sharpness on its attack on the old pressing, Keith's drums rang out more soundly, Roger's voice is more forward and centered, and so on. Nicky Hopkins' piano on "Getting in Tune" sounded more lively and resonant, Pete's guitar cut more deeply.

    I read the review on Analog Planet and had high hopes. Wish I'd read this one first, but it's only 35 bucks, so not that big a deal. A disappointment, though.