Grateful Dead – American Beauty

Because the Grateful Dead was always a band that paid close attention to the sound quality of its live performances and recordings, even a random copy of any Dead album usually sounds pretty good—provided it hasn’t been played to extinction.  Mobile Fidelity did a stellar job on the original single-album reissue of American Beauty in the 80s, but they are rare, with sealed versions fetching about $150 and opened albeit gently played copies ranging from $45-$75. By comparison, original, opened, green-label WB versions in excellent condition can usually be found for about $30-$40.

With many records, choosing between versions can often be a dilemma. But most Dead fans usually want everything, so consider this more a pairing than a choice. The early Mobile Fidelity version presents a wider soundstage than the new 45RPM reissue, with all vocals more out in front of the speakers. The current release lines everything up on nearly the same plane.

Tonally, the early Mobile Fidelity is slightly crisper, and more etched on the very top end.  Your personal taste and overall system tonal balance will determine what you prefer.  On our reference system, the Lyra Atlas cartridge tends to favor the new version, while the Clearaudio Goldfinger delivers a more homogenous playback with the older disc. The green label is smack dab in the middle of the two.

While all three versions sound close tonally and spatially, the current 45RPM edition is the champ in terms of noise floor. It’s an amazing testament to the staying power of analog in that a high-quality tape, when well-preserved and expertly handled, can deliver such a quiet background.

Keep in mind the difference between these three pressings is decidedly small, and all three are excellent.  Mobile Fidelity has done a phenomenal job.

Mobile Fidelity, 180g 45RPM 2LP set