Side One: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus (w/ a noisy edge)
- This stunning copy of Queen's Masterpiece boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
- Both sides are exceptionally quiet - this is some of the best sound and quietest vinyl we have ever heard for the album
- HUGE with WHOMP like nothing you have ever heard - finally, the code has been cracked (but the right British pressings are sure hard to find)
- 5 stars: "But the appeal of A Night at the Opera is in its detailed, meticulous productions. It's prog rock with a sense of humor as well as dynamics, and Queen never bettered their approach anywhere else."
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Although we wish it were not the case, for some reason it's unusually difficult to find good-sounding Queen albums, which is why you rarely see most of their better titles on the site. (News of the World and The Game are exceptions to that rule; they're much easier to find with good sound, especially The Game.)
Not to worry. We've done our homework (which simply involves finding, cleaning and playing a big stack of British pressings from different eras) and found you the copy that has all of the Queen Magic you heard in your head (and only in your head) while Bohemian Rhapsody was playing on the radio.
Here's the pressing that finally can let you hear that BIG, BOLD sound in your very own listening room. You can even play it for your audiophile friends now.
This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to "see" the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It's what vintage all analog recordings are known for -- this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What the best sides of A Night at the Opera have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1975
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Problems That Plague Most Copies
Number one: Too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression, there will be too many elements -- voices, guitars, drums -- vying for space in the upper part of the midrange, causing congestion and a loss of clarity. This is especially noticeable on the songs with huge choruses, and A Night at the Opera is stuffed with those kinds of heavily-multi-tracked songs. It's what makes Queen Queen.
With the more solid sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich; above them, the next "level up" so to speak, there's plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments and voices comfortably, not piling them one on top of another as is often the case. Consequently, the upper midrange area does not get overloaded and overwhelmed with musical information.
Number Two: edgy vocals, which is related to Number One above. Almost all copies will have at least a slight edge to the vocals -- the boys want to really belt it out in the choruses, and they do -- but the best copies keep everything under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull or smeary.
The highest quality equipment, on the hottest Hot Stamper copies, will play the loudest and most difficult to reproduce passages of this album with virtually no edge, grit or grain, even at very loud levels.
What We're Listening For on A Night at the Opera
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks for the guitar and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
- Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering -- which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
- Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren't "back there" somewhere, way behind the speakers. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt -- Mike Stone and Gary Lyons in this case -- would have put them.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
One of the qualities that we don't talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record's presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small -- they don't extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don't seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies -- my notes for these copies often read "BIG and BOLD" -- create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They're not brighter, they're not more aggressive, they're not hyped-up in any way, they're just bigger and clearer.
And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it's an entirely different listening experience.
Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage import pressing will play, and since only the right vintage imports have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later import or domestic pressings, or -- even worse -- the Heavy Vinyl reissue, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To....)
Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon
I'm In Love With My Car
You're My Best Friend
The Prophet's Song
Love Of My Life
God Save The Queen
Queen were straining at the boundaries of hard rock and heavy metal on Sheer Heart Attack, but they broke down all the barricades on A Night at the Opera, a self-consciously ridiculous and overblown hard rock masterpiece.
Using the multi-layered guitars of its predecessor as a foundation, A Night at the Opera encompasses metal ("Death on Two Legs," "Sweet Lady"), pop (the lovely, shimmering "You're My Best Friend"), campy British music hall ("Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon," "Seaside Rendezvous"), and mystical prog rock ("'39," "The Prophet's Song"), eventually bringing it all together on the pseudo-operatic "Bohemian Rhapsody."
In short, it's a lot like Queen's own version of Led Zeppelin IV, but where Zep find dark menace in bombast, Queen celebrate their own pomposity. No one in the band takes anything too seriously, otherwise the arrangements wouldn't be as ludicrously exaggerated as they are.
But the appeal -- and the influence -- of A Night at the Opera is in its detailed, meticulous productions. It's prog rock with a sense of humor as well as dynamics, and Queen never bettered their approach anywhere else.
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