THE BEACH BOYS -- Pet Sounds (DCC Compact Classics)

Even though Pet Sounds was never one of The Beach Boys' biggest sellers, it's considered by many to be one of the most influential albums ever. Paul McCartney once said that the album was the inspiration for Sgt. Pepper. CMJ New Music Monthly recently named Pet Sounds one of the ten most important albums for the upcoming millennium. With that in mind, it seems the time is right to take another look at this landmark album. Capitol reissued the 1966 album on CD in 1990. DCC released their audiophile version of the album on CD in 1993, and then followed with a virgin vinyl pressing in 1995. This review will attempt to compare the two DCC pressings with the Capitol version on CD.

Renowned for their exceptional audiophile pressings, DCC's 24K gold CD wins the sound quality test hands down. Mastering guru Steve Hoffman did a fine job with Pet Sounds. You can hear the natural reverb of the studio, as opposed to the sterile, 'cleaned up' sound on the Capitol CD. There is some tape hiss on the DCC disc, but none of the compression heard on Capitol's version. The sound throughout DCC's disc is warmer, and more robust. "I'm Waiting for the Day" and "Caroline, No" sound noticeably better than they do on Capitol's CD. Capitol electronically removed the hiss on their version, but unfortunately compressed the signal at the same time.

The DCC vinyl pressing did not fare as well. Out of the three versions being compared, this one was the worst by far. As the needle got close to the end of the side, there was distortion on the louder passages--a common problem with older vinyl releases (although this is normally compensated for on audiophile pressings by allowing more space between the grooves). This particular copy also had considerable surface noise--highly unusual for DCC. Normally, you won't hear any surface noise at all on a DCC vinyl release.

As far as liner notes, neither of the DCC pressings compare with the Capitol CD. DCC's versions include a recording session photo that does not appear in the Capitol booklet. The print quality of DCC's booklet is better than Capitol's, and contains photos of the original album labels. Capitol's booklet has a minor typo in Brian Wilson's album notes referring to when he first heard Rubber Soul (which prompted him to write Pet Sounds). Aside from those minor differences, the Capitol liner notes are far superior to DCC's. Capitol's booklet has an additional twelve pages on the making of Pet Sounds, which for some reason, DCC decided not to include. Capitol also added three bonus tracks, while DCC only added one.

So the question remains: is there a definitive Pet Sounds? The answer is: not yet. Capitol has plans (although these plans seem to keep getting postponed) to release a box set of the Pet Sounds sessions--including the original mono mix, and for the first time ever, a true stereo mix of the album. Will this box set ever actually appear in your local record store? You never know. For now, if you want a little more information on the making of the album and you're willing to sacrifice sound quality to get it, go with the Capitol disc. If you want the best sounding copy of Pet Sounds currently available, stick with the DCC disc.

© 1997 Steve Marshall