Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits on vinyl is currently available in the inexpensive Back to Black pressing or more expensive as an Abbey Road remaster. Is the surcharge worth it?
Some background on Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits
Brothers in Arms was released in 1985 as Dire Straits’ fifth studio album. The previous albums Dire Straits, Communiqué, Making Movies and Love Over Gold were recorded completely analogue. Brothers In Arms, on the other hand, was conceived as a CD from the beginning and produced completely digitally (DDD). To demonstrate the longer running time of a CD, the CD version was about seven minutes longer than the LP released at the same time. However, bonus tracks were not responsible for the extra music. Some tracks were played longer on the CD version. This advantage obviously prompted many buyers to buy the CD. And Brothers In Arms contributed to the triumph of the CD.
Which versions of Brothers In Arms are we comparing?
The latest version of Brothers In Arms was released in 2021 on Vertigo and is part of the Abbey Road Remasters series. Not only did the Beatles record the album Abbey Road or Pink Floyd The Dark Side Of The Moon in the legendary Abbey Road Studios, classic rock albums such as something Seconds Out by Genesis, Regatta De Blanc by The Police or Live! by Bob Marley And The Wailers are also remastered there and re-cut by Miles Showell using half-speed mastering.
All releases of the series can be recognised from the outside by a kind of OBI. In the case of our copy, one record weighed an impressive 214g – so there was no skimping on the vinyl. Both records come in a single sleeve and were given printed but unlined inner sleeves in a pink cloud design. Our Brothers In Arms runs at 45 rpm and the songs in the longer CD versions were spread over two LPs.
The version from the Back To Black series also consists of two LPs, but these run at the traditional 33 rpm. It was pressed at MPO in France on two 198g records. Unfortunately, the surfaces of the discs do not look good. Lots of streaks and superficial scratches that could not be removed even by ultrasonic washing. For the most part, the scratches were not audible. The unlined, printed inner sleeves with the song lyrics can also be found here. In addition, the songs were also played as long as on CD.
From the Back To Black series, we had already examined Making Movies by Dire Straits and gained an excellent sound impression. The hype sticker for Brothers In Arms promises that the records have been remastered “from the original analogue and digital masters by Bernie Grundman and Bob Ludwig”. The lacquer was cut by Chris Bellman (CB) for Bernie Grundman Mastering.
How do the Abbey Road and Back to Black pressings differ in the listening test?
Brothers In Arms serves well as a demonstration CD in countless hi-fi studios around the world. Why? Firstly, the album is very well recorded and always opens up a nice stereo panorama, for example. Moreover, everyone knows the key songs of the album and can thus compare them with the last listening impression at home.
Comparing the BtB and Abbey Road pressings, we initially found it difficult to discern any differences. Both sounded simply good in the opener So Far Away. The guitars pearl effectively in stereo from the speakers, the rhythm section presses on unagitatedly and gives the sound a stable foundation. The voice is rock solid in the centre.
With Money For Nothing we had finally listened in and could distinguish the versions in the meantime even in a blind test. On the Abbey Road pressing everything simply sounds bigger and rounder, the BtB has a few harshnesses in sound.
The impression solidified further with Walk Of Life. The BtB pushes the mids a bit too much – a hint of telephone line makes the guitars and the voice sound a bit too harsh. It’s not a difference like day and night but always present.
The Man’s Too Strong is a nice piece of folk rock with huge dynamic leaps. Versions master these jumps perfectly. Even the harshness heard before was no longer so noticeable here.
How do the levels and dynamics differ between the Abbey Road and Back To Black pressings?
The waveform for So Far Away does not reveal any major differences between the two pressings. If you look very closely, you can see that the Back-To-Black has a little less air between the peaks. So this version seems to be a bit louder.
Money For Nothing is not characterised by great dynamics. Therefore, once again, there is not much difference in the two diagrams. Again, the BtB seems minimally louder.
The waveform for The Man’s Too Strong reproduces what was already noticeable in the listening test. Both versions have enough headroom to dynamically reproduce the loudest parts. The fact that no limiter cuts off the level peaks, as was the case with the previously heard tracks, is surprising, but it gives plus points to both pressings.
How do the frequency spectra of the MoFi and Back To Black pressings differ?
The frequency spectrogram for So Far Away immediately shows a few differences. Above the dotted line at about 15,500 hertz, the BtB has only a few and rather pale peaks. Abbey Road has much more to offer here. On the other hand, the red areas below the line appear darker and fuller on the BtB than on the Abbey Road. This indicates louder frequencies in the mid and treble range. Possibly we perceived this difference as tonal harshness.
The difference in the highs above 15,000 hertz is even greater with Money For Nothing. Here, Abbey Road sets off fireworks in the barely audible frequencies. In these frequency ranges, there are overtones that help shape the sound character.
Same thing with Walk Of Life. Above 15 kHz, Abbey Road really gets going. However, it stops abruptly here at 20 kHz. 20 kHz is a hard limit resulting from the sampling frequency of CDs with 16 bits at 44.1 KHz. Obviously, a digital master file was involved here, which simply cuts off above 20 kHz.
The frequency spectrogram for The Man’s Too Strong also confirms the auditory impression. As clear as the differences were in the spectrograms of the other pieces – here there are no deviations to be seen by any stretch of the imagination. And the BtB now also suddenly plays up into the highest frequency ranges. For whatever reason – both pressings had a better master available for The Man’s Too Strong than for other pieces.
Spectrograms with linear scaling clearly fan out the differences in the high frequencies. To assess the low frequency ranges, spectrograms with logarithmic scaling are suitable. However, the differences in the bass range were negligible with Brothers in Arms. Both pressings are characterised by tight bass and powerful lower mids. As an example, we show the frequency spectrogram for Money For Nothing, where there are no serious differences – but considerable purple areas, which stand for the aforementioned bass and lower mids. The situation is similar for the other tracks.
How does the loudness of the Back To Black and Abbey Road pressings differ?
The loudness measurement with the Youlean Loudness Meter showed –19.9 LUFS integrated (Loudness Units relative to Full Scale) for side 1 with the BtB pressing, -20.6 LUFS integrated with the Abbey Road. This means that the BtB is on average 0.7 dB louder.
For side 2, the measurement stopped at -19.8 LUFS for BtB and -20.0 LUFS for Abbey Road. Looking at the graphs, we would have expected greater differences. After all, Abbey Road has more green passages (i.e. quieter parts) than BtB.
The measurement for side 3 turns the previous picture upside down. With -24.2 LUFS (BtB) compared to -22.6 LUFS for the Abbey Road, the Back To Black is 1.6 dB quieter overall than the Abbey Road.
Side 4 of the BtB is also slightly quieter with -21.3 LUFS compared to -20.5 LUFS for Abbey Road. Not noticeable, but still 0.8 dB.
How good does the Back To Black pressing of Brothers In Arms sound?
The Back To Black pressing of Brothers In Arms scores points for using the longer CD versions of the songs. That’s why the single album from 1985 became a double album. Sound-wise, there are strengths and weaknesses. The stereo stage and the transparency of the mix are excellent. Also in terms of dynamics and bass range, the BtB does not show any weaknesses. However, in some tracks such as Money For Nothing or Walk Of Life, it comes across a bit edgier than necessary. This impression results from a somewhat too strong emphasis on the mids. The quality of the pressing also has room for improvement, as there are superficial scratches and a little too much running noise. Overall, however, the Back To Black is not a bad edition of Brothers In Arms.
How good does the Abbey Road pressing of Brothers In Arms sound?
The better is the enemy of the good, as the saying goes. And so it is here. The Abbey Road pressing has the same strengths as the Back To Black, i.e. an exceptionally well-balanced stereo stage and plenty of dynamics and pressure where it is needed. Compared to the Back To Black pressing, however, it offers a somewhat rounder sonic picture. The disturbing harshness of the BtB is fortunately missing here. Our pressing didn’t show any external problems either, sonically it was up to scratch anyway. The Abbey Road is therefore preferable to the BtB pressing.
- So Far Away
- Money For Nothing
- Walk Of Life
- Your Latest Trick
- Why Worry
- Ride Across The River
- The Man’s Too Strong
- One World
- Brothers In Arms
|Title||Brothers In Arms|
|Cover||Single Sleeve||Single Sleeve|
|Add-ons||Printed inner sleeves, MP3 download voucher||Printed inner sleeves, Abbey Road certificate|
|Lacquer cut by||Bernie Grundman, Chris Bellman||Miles Showell|
|Pressing plant||MPO||Optimal Media|
|Matrix-Runout||MPO 0602537529087 A2 00602537529070-A CB MPO 01 196045 MPO 0602537529087 B2 00602537529070-B CB MPO 01 196047 MPO 0602537529094 A2 MPO 21 196641 00602537529070-C CB MPO 0602537529094 B2 MPO 21 196641 00602537529070-D CB||BK03595-01 A1 0865301 MILES ABBEY ROAD ½ SPEED ROOM 30 BK03595-01 B1 0865301 MILES ABBEY ROAD ½ SPEED ROOM 30 BK03595-02 C1 0865302 MILES ABBEY ROAD ½ SPEED ROOM 30 BK03595-02 D1 0865302 MILES ABBEY ROAD ½ SPEED ROOM 30|