Feature image courtesy of UHQR
By Dylan Peggin
What can be said about The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced that hasn’t been said before? Let’s be honest, not much. It’s an album that stands out as being one of the greatest albums ever made and established a new direction for psychedelic and hard rock music. After Jimi Hendrix’s stint as a backup guitarist in the R&B music scene, his approach as a front-and-center rockstar was so unlike his contemporaries. His approach to his own guitar playing, songwriting, and production duties were so fresh and unique thus earning his place in the pantheon of rock mythology. Having only released three studio albums during his lifetime and a bucketload of posthumous releases, it is safe to say that Jimi Hendrix was perhaps more prolific than most thought him to be. His debut album with The Experience, Are You Experienced, is a true testament to the freshness he brought to the music world at the time. It is also highly regarded for the many recognizable songs that most people come to associate Hendrix with, such as “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” and “Fire.” There is your rock history lesson, let us now dig into the wonder that is the UHQR!
The Ultra High-Quality Record (UHQR) is one of the specialty products that are offered by the audiophile label, Analogue Productions. The label is run by Chad Kassem, who also has his hand in the pressing plant Quality Record Pressings and the online retailer Acoustic Sounds, all based in Salina, Kansas. It is safe to say that any album that is released via a UHQR pressing will be the best sounding a respective album will ever be heard and also presented. These pressings use only the original master tapes mastered by the best mastering engineers in the industry. The records are pressed utilizing a one-step process, which allows for more detail to be extracted from the source material for a more defined playback experience. The records are also pressed on clarity vinyl, which is vinyl at its purest state without the addition of carbon black that gives black vinyl its long-lasting durability. Given the fragility of the material, it cannot be run through an automatic press so they are indeed manually pressed by hand. These pressings are exclusively pressed at Quality Record Pressings, which is single-handedly the best vinyl pressing plant in the United States when it comes to the level of quality control and how it is a hot button issue in today’s vinyl market.
In regards to the presentation of this pressing, it is absolutely deluxe to the touch. You can see it for yourself in the unboxing I did for it upon its release!
Upon dropping the needle on side one, the album kicks into high gear with “Purple Haze.” Given this album was recorded during a time when mono was the preferred mixing template, the stereo mix does suffer a bit from funky mixing techniques with the instrumentation being mixed left-center and the vocals coming out of the right. Regardless, the soundstage is impressive and wide sounding and the vocals are very spatial sounding with minor nuances being more pronounced. “Manic Depression” features very intimate, up-front sounding vocals, and the guitar solos are mixed in the far left channel. Mitch Mitchell’s cymbals are spread very nicely across the soundstage.
Another huge highlight on the record is “Hey Joe.” The chugging guitar rhythm panned to the right channel was hardly noticeable until I heard this pressing. The backing vocals panned to the left are absolutely angelic sounding. Noel Redding’s bass obviously provides a solid bottom end but it is the glue of this track. The intensity of Mitch’s drum fills are absolutely dynamic in every sense. As the song progresses, the buildup and the ascending riff during the guitar solo add some excitement as I was literally at the edge of my seat! The guitars dominate the mix of the next track, “Love or Confusion,” with the vocals panned to the far left. While the stereo mix has its quirks, the tasteful use of reverb and how it leaches onto the opposite channel creates a bit of space in the overall soundstage.
The raucous energy of the album is brought down briefly with “May This Be Love.” The double-tracked vocals create this warming atmosphere that I have never experienced before while listening to other pressings of this album. With the drums panned left and the guitar panned right, it provides a stellar example of instrument separation. It never dawned on me that during the guitar solo, the channels shift back and forth. This is a pleasing effect that I never took notice of before until now. The life-like attack of the snare drum signals the introduction of “I Don’t Live Today.” With the vocals panned to the far right, the extra guitar and doubled/background vocal panned to the left add an element of surprise. During the middle section, the vocals panned in both channels come out like a total aural attack.
Flipping the record over to side two, we are treated to the toned-down delight of “The Wind Cries Mary.” The vocals are panned to the left and the guitars come from the left-center. With the cymbals providing a nice shimmer to the mellow nature of the song and the bass coming across as warm sounding, there is a sense of soothing tranquility with this particular track. Don’t get too comfortable, because “Fire” picks up the pace! The bass tone can easily be singled out, and it stands out on its own with this track. The backup vocals, panned to the left, stand out much more. We are then treated to the experimental nature of “Third Stone from the Sun.” While the bass provides a beefy-sounding steady heartbeat to the piece, the vocals and guitars jump back and forth between both channels. When the vocals reappear, it comes out of the speakers to the same effect as a jumpscare! The band swells right into “Foxey Lady” and I am immediately mesmerized by the whispering “foxeys” coming out of both speakers. In the brief moments where the band stops playing and Jimi is singing a capella, the reverb is toned down and it comes across as very intimate sounding. The album reaches its climactic finale with the title track. The fade-in of the track explodes with The Experience Symphony: piano panned far left, guitar panned right, muted guitar chugs piercing through both channels, and a steady marching drum rhythm holding the track together. The backward guitar and drums create this feeling of psychedelic wonder that Jimi sought to do with his unique ways of writing, recording, arranging, and mixing.
Before I had the chance to listen to the UHQR pressing of Are You Experienced, what I had previously of this album to go off of was the 2010 reissue oversaw by the Hendrix estate, which featured all-analog mastering, mastered by the late great George Marino, pressed at QRP, costing $20 on average. Sure, this pressing is still available for an unbeatable cost and surely does ooze of great quality – like all Hendrix releases the estate oversees – the UHQR certainly does set a new benchmark on how this album could sound.
While this written review may sound nutty with the descriptions of the overall sound of this record, this won’t do any service as opposed to listening to the pressing for yourself. The price point of $125 may seem daunting and steep but you can purchase it with the assurance that this is single-handedly the best-sounding version of this album you’ll ever hear. If you have an audiophile comrade who happens to be one of 20,000 people who purchased this set, get into their man cave and hear this for yourself. Believe me, the Jimi Hendrix UHQR gets you experienced.
Be sure to check out the full archives of The Record Spinner, by Dylan Peggin, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/the-record-spinner-archives/