Sony Japan continues with their limited edition quad SACD series with one of the greatest masterpieces of the fusion jazz genre. The 1973 “Head Hunters” album from keyboardist Herbie Hancock gets a reissue in multi-channel surround and now housed in a 7” cardboard sleeve case. Not only is the packaging unique to other editions, for the first time, the actual 4 channel quad version of the album has been released in a digital format. This should not be confused with the SACD that was issued by Sony Japan back in 2008, a 5.1 version which was reconfigured from the four channel master tapes. Instead this newly remastered 2020 edition truly gives quadrophonic collectors the original mix on a great format, and directly takes fans back to the 70’s quad era.
After recording with Miles Davis over several years starting in 1963, Hancock's solo career blossomed on the Blue Note label with his classic albums Maiden Voyage, Empyrean Isles, and Speak Like a Child. After leaving Miles Davis's group, Hancock put together a new band called The Headhunters and, in 1973, recorded Head Hunters. This album became a pivotal point in his career, bringing him into the limelight of fusion jazz. Drawing heavily from Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield and James Brown, Hancock developed a deep funky, texturally gritty rhythms over which he took liberties with electric synthesizer solos. Maintaining all of the sensibilities of jazz, particularly with his long improvisational solos, he firmly tied jazz to the rhythms of funk, soul, and R&B, in turn giving the album a mass appeal.
In this review, I will focus on the difference between the 2008 SACD and this new 2020 7” edition. I don’t have the 2016 Analog Production version on hand to compare, nor do I have the vinyl edition, as I don’t have a quad turntable, nor any quad vinyl LP’s for that matter. In short, to answer the question, is the new edition worth it? Simply put, yes, with some minor balancing issues. Also, as a quad immersion release, this is by far one of the best out there, and no matter the edition one purchases, they will surely enjoy sitting in the sweet spot with various instrumentation funking out from all corners.
From a sense of analog quality perspective, the 2020 edition is the one to reach for, as it brings warmth and richness throughout, along with excellent dynamics. I continue to be impressed by the mastering techniques used recently over at Sony Japan, and Head Hunters is no exception. The snare is rich, and the high hat full. The bass is round and settles nicely at the bottom, keyboards are clear and the horns airy and open. For me, the reverberant space is transparent and compliments the music with its densely shimmering plate.
This is in contrast to the brighter 2008 edition which still sounds extremely good yet falls short of boasting a warmth that invokes the analog era. Yet, on balance, the rear channels pop on the earlier edition, certainly more than the 2020 edition, wherein I almost want to crank the back channels to hear the keyboard solos on the opening track “Chameleon,” but absolutely feel no need to do that on the earlier SACD version.
Likewise, the snare and hi-hat cut through in the quad mix with greater ease on the earlier edition, while they get somewhat over-powered by the bass on the newer version. Yet, on the 2020 SACD, the stereo mix boasts the brighter side and listeners may find this to become their choice version. From an audiophile perspective, the stereo edition is outrageously good, and is the best version I have on hand.
Separation is fantastic on the 2020 edition, with better centering on the quad when compared to the 2008 version that subtly adds a faux center channel. Also, consider that there is no subwoofer extracted on the Japan edition, which is clearly truer to the original quad version. Many quad enthusiasts would likely say that the sub-woofer is not needed, and the same could be said for surround versions too from my perspective. That is a discussion for a different day, worthy of high-resolution surround enthusiasts consideration, since sub-woofers were really designed for movie viewing, not music listening.
I am personally a fan of the larger 7” packaging, and only wish more artists would see the merits of this form factor. That may be part of one’s decision for getting this edition, but let it be known that the quad SACD alone is worthy of the price of admission. Best for collectors of fusion jazz, fans of Herbie Hancock, and quad enthusiasts seeking great sounding digital versions of quad classics.
Released September 9, 2020.
Quad Hybrid multi-channel SACD DSD fron Sony Japan.