(26 August 2014) The latest reissue of Renaissance's classic Scheherazade and Other Stories released originally in 1975 is a nicely packaged hybrid SACD (Audio Fidelity (USA) SACD AFZ 183, 2014). The CD will play on both conventional and SACD players although the SA encoding can only be extracted by the latter.
Note that software is now available to extract the SA stream from computer-attached players but was not used for this review. Several internet sources write that the difference in sound quality between CD and SACD may be indistinguishable to all but the very most discerning listeners. In one blind test a panel of audiophiles could do no better than a coin flip for picking the SACD vs CD tracks of the recording tested.
Audio Fidelity's management told us that the label (sadly) never discloses audio sources used in their remastering projects. While no bonus material has been included in the release, the booklet includes lovely color reproductions of the original record's central label. The remastering for this release was done by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio. Gray has done a variety of other remastering projects for Audio Fidelity and other labels.
Our reference standard for Scheherazade and Other Stories is the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (MFSL) half-speed Original Master Recording (LP) (MFSL (USA) 1-099, 1983). It has the most superb imaging and overall sound quality. Several Renaissance enthusiasts teamed up in the late 1990s to have the very first play of an MFSL LP digitally transcribed. While the Friday Music (review) remaster came close to the standard, the review team still believes that the MFSL transcription is the definitive standard for comparison. Listeners worldwide have commented about the brief "wobble" at the beginning of "Fanfare" not present in any other edition.
The first CD pressing of Scheherazade and Other Stories was made in Germany on the Repertoire label in 1994. Other versions followed, including a lovely cardboard sleeve version on the Japanese label Arcāngelo. None of the original labels -- BTM, Sire or RCA -- are known to have issued the album on CD. The phonographic copyright of the material is owned by Warner Brothers.
Repertoire's second reissue in 2006 is allegedly much brighter than the 1994 original and may have picked up on the HTD (UK) or Arcāngelo audio impressions. The first real remastering of the album after MFSL's LP was done by Joe Reagoso for Friday Music in 2010 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band. Both that remaster and the Audio Fidelity edition are manufactured by The Rhino Entertainment company.
A more obscure reissue of Scheherazade and Other Stories is the Russian picture disc (Cat. No. RNSCOLCD 006, 2004) whose only other identification when translated says "Attention. All rights reserved. License agreement #1892 from 12.16.2000." The titles Prologue through TimeLine were also briefly available as very economical 24-bit remastered picture discs on this label. We think this edition of Scheherazade was remastered from a vinyl LP. The sound is outstanding and, in fact, much better than most of the CDs mentioned above, of course with the exception of the MFSL transcription and Friday Music edition. Another rare 2009 24-Japanese version is listed in the band's discography.
Audio Fidelity's version is indeed a nice recording and pays homage to the original with its superb clarity. Listeners will immediately notice the brightness of the percussion and the improved and clear definition of the material including the album's most quiet segments, especially the so-called "crickets" sequence. [Add further review details here.]
Although the MFSL LP transcription and Friday Music versions of the Scheherazade and Other Stories album are still more appealing to this reviewer, the 24-bit Russian and Audio Fidelity versions are also quite nice.
This classic progressive rock album is certainly one of our favorites and thankfully each remaster finds a way to breathe new life into it.