Blondie - No Exit
Album Comparisons: No Exit
No Exit heralded Blondie's return to the music industry following a 17 year absence. As they were always wont to do, the band dabbled in various musical styles and genres for this release, and scored their sixth U.K. number one hit with the single "Maria." I stumbled upon the cassette version of this album while perusing the goods in a local used music store not too long ago, making it (as of this writing) the most recently released major label album I've ever purchased on tape. So how does it compare to the regular CD version? Note: Since the cassette format is much more limited in terms of potential dynamics and sound quality, this comparison is mostly intended to contrast the different philosophies employed in the mastering of these two different formats. The overall volume of the cassette version has been normalized, with dynamics between songs retained. The cassette release does not include the three hidden bonus tracks found on the CD.

Screaming Skin

1999 original CD release

Screaming Skin

1999 original cassette release

Screaming Skin

Forgive and Forget

1999 original CD release

Forgive and Forget

1999 original cassette release

Forgive and Forget

Maria

1999 original CD release

Maria

1999 original cassette release

Maria

No Exit

1999 original CD release

No Exit

1999 original cassette release

No Exit

Double Take

1999 original CD release

Double Take

1999 original cassette release

Double Take

Nothing Is Real But the Girl

1999 original CD release

Nothing Is Real But the Girl

1999 original cassette release

Nothing Is Real But the Girl

Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room

1999 original CD release

Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room

1999 original cassette release

Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room

Night Wind Sent

1999 original CD release

Night Wind Sent

1999 original cassette release

Night Wind Sent

Under the Gun

1999 original CD release

Under the Gun

1999 original cassette release

Under the Gun

Out in the Streets

1999 original CD release

Out in the Streets

1999 original cassette release

Out in the Streets

Happy Dog

1999 original CD release

Happy Dog

1999 original cassette release

Happy Dog

The Dream's Lost on Me

1999 original CD release

The Dream's Lost on Me

1999 original cassette release

The Dream's Lost on Me

Divine

1999 original CD release

Divine

1999 original cassette release

Divine

Dig Up the Conjo

1999 original CD release

Dig Up the Conjo

1999 original cassette release

Dig Up the Conjo
And the winner is: Compact disc release, due to the limitations of the cassette format. Looking at the waveforms, it's clear that the "brickwalling" philosophy was not followed with the cassette release as compared to the compact disc, where it was very definitely applied. This seems consistent with the overall trend of pushing recording levels on digital media higher and higher due to the absence of the physical limitations of analog formats, which tend to restrict how powerful a recording can be while still being considered listenable (or, in fact, playable when it comes to vinyl records). Without these restrictions, it has been possible to escalate the loudness wars to truly ridiculous extremes on compact disc, while leaving the true analog formats comparatively unscathed. That being said, while it's clear that the cassette transfer is less compressed than that employed for the CD, I can't honestly recommend this hard to find version of the album over the far more common digital version. Despite its more dynamic transfer, there's just no escaping the fact that the limitations of the cassette tape format simply make it uncompetitive from an audio standpoint. In the mid to late 90s I used to get excellent, very high quality audio out of the deck in my car using home recorded cassettes, but that was due to using a combination of expensive metal bias, type IV cassettes recorded on a good home stereo with carefully set recording levels and Dolby noise reduction, played in a high end car stereo that was loaded with features you just don't find anymore (auto reverse, a chrome/metal bias switch, etc.). The fact is, your typical type I cassette employing ordinary Dolby B noise reduction just isn't capable of reproducing that same kind of quality. If it were, I'd be more open to recommending the cassette version of this release, but as things stand, the compact disc version is the winner here.

As a side note, this CD is technically HDCD encoded, though not labeled as such. Decoding of the tracks, however, yields no improvement in dynamics.