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Signals - on compact disc


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[edited from an original post at The Counterparts Messageboard - July 2009]


the review below was prompted by the 'hype' behind the new SHM-CD format released in 2009 - I had bought one and tested it back to back to back against the other existing CD releases...




Rush - Signals


I listened to each CD in its entirety, and for this A to B (to C to D) review, I've picked 'Digital Man' as my test subject (I would not be surprised to find it my most-listened-to Rush song, were we able to sort the brain like media players).



Mercury W. Germany release | 1989

I set the volume at a comfortable level (5) in a silent room, EQ dead level. Noticeable at first is the mix, which sounds 'like it's supposed to' - meaning it reminds me of the LP/cassettes I listened to for eight years (before the CD's were released).


The snare drum is 'tight' and clear. The cymbals are bright, but well-mixed with no harshness.


The bass guitar is midrange-aggressive, with a 'dirty' slightly overdriven growl that is instantly definable as a 'signature' Geddy sound.


The vocals are clear.


The guitars are a bit thin but pleasant, 'buried' just a bit behind the drums and bass guitar.


Overall, it's an excellent-sounding song as is. With a slight EQ bump along the lower frequencies, 'Digital Man' gains some needed 'heft' and will really throw you around the room when played at an 'appropriate' volume.




Mobile Fidelity (MFSL) release | 1994

Leaving my settings alone, the volume of this disc is slightly louder than the 1989 disc (though not uncomfortable). The sound is remarkably like the '89 CD, but feels 'fuller' and slightly 'wider'.


The snare is again 'tight' and clear, with a perceptibly pleasant 'crack'. The cymbals are perfectly bright and well-mixed.


The bass has been 'warmed' and 'rounded' just a bit, developing a pleasant bottom end without losing that Geddy Lee midrange 'bite'.


The vocals are clear.


Guitars are ever so slightly forward in the mix, and mixed well - never competing with the bass/vocals/drums. A nice 'upgrade'.


No need to reach for the EQ at all. Stunning.



Mercury Remasters release | 1997

Again - no settings touched between discs - the remaster is markedly louder. I resisted turning it down for the sake of the true A/B comparison.


The snare is a bit 'lost' now behind a bass drum that is too punchy.


The cymbals sound good, however; they're too bright and - to make matters worse - are too far up front in the mix.


The bass is midrange city, very nice and full of bite.


The vocals are clear.


The guitars have been unpleasantly 'brightened' and sound more overdriven than the original - it's relatively subtle, but a shocking 'change' when listening for it.


Overall, a bright, slightly harsh experience that I wished to turn down a bit.



Anthem/Atlantic SHM release | 2009

Volume level almost exactly at the MFSL level (checked separately, confirmed).


Snare drum is 'tight' but slightly warmed, with some of the 'snap' rolled off.


The cymbals sound absolutely perfect. Well mixed, crisp, with a pleasant 'wash'.


The bass is noticeably 'warmed', and the midrange-aggressive tone and 'bite' is missing.


The vocals are clear.


The guitars are mellower, and more widely spaced in the mix. Like the '89 CD, they are just slightly buried behind the drums and bass guitar.


Overall, a pleasant if 'over-warm' mix. The bass guitar tone is the most 'shocking' deviation from the original here.



VERDICT: the MFSL sounds the best

> followed very closely by the W. German '89 CD (2nd)

> the SHM-CD (3rd)

> the Remaster (dead last)


The MFSL does the best job of taking the original song and 'improving' on the foundation (bass guitar, snare sound, guitar) without changing the original intent or mix.


No surprise, like my Steely Dan review, the late 90's remaster sucks in all kinds of bad ways. These really are the worst of the worst.



I'm a graphic designer and self-professed packaging junkie, so the little details really stick out/matter to me. The SHM packaging bears comment.


Far and away the best packaging job for a Rush CD I've ever seen.


In comparison, the original '89 CD artwork is horrible. The scale of the artwork is ruined by an enlarged photo and cropping of the original white border. The interior is black & white and substitutes the 'digitized' color photos of the band with the unretouched originals. The MFSL is built on the same crappy cover, but at least restores the color and 'digitized' photos to the inside sleeve (even though they break up the photos/lyrics).


The one thing you could say for the Rush remasters is that the artwork was a 'win' - the scale of the original LP cover is back, and the lyric sleeve echoes the LP closely.


The SHM release is mini LP-style (for those that don't know, it simply looks and feels like a cardboard LP/sleeve 'shrunk down' to CD size)


Although the 'Rush' logo is a bit too light-gray, the cover art is crisp and faithful to the original LP, even down to the slightly glossy feel of the original sleeve (thumbsup.gif points for that!).


The back cover (blueprint) is clear and legible, and the 'Side One/Side Two' tracklisting is retained from the original LP.


The inside sleeve is exactly like the LP - glossy and thin, full color.


I was going to take photos of everything, but if you own the LP it'd be redundant - for all intents and purposes, it's exactly the same. Perfect.


(however, I thought the CD itself - referencing the original LP label - was such a nice touch, I had to photograph them together, below):





Based on (now) two experiments, I'd again say that you wouldn't be wasting your money to buy an SHM-CD if you own no other copy of a particular album, and especially if you appreciate expert packaging and attention to detail.


Someday, perhaps, I will hear the SHM-CD that rivals all other remasters/formats for a particular album, and is a true upgrade/advantage for the listening experience (and if I do, I'll tell you all about it smile.gif ). Seeing as it's (relatively) expensive to test, though, I'm not sure how much farther I will/should go to prove to myself that SHM is Solely Hyped Marketing and little else.

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wow. only on a Rush forum lol. don't get me wrong though, I'm impressed trink39.gif
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