Vinyl Fidelity Shootout: Kid A
When I first started collecting, I never thought there would be a reason to ever get more than one variant of an album. I didn't know what dead wax was, that matrix/runout information told a story - who mastered the record, when it was pressed, where it was pressed, etc - or that one pressing could sound significantly better than another.
Kid A was one of my initial must-haves, and I just bought the first copy I came across at my local shop. I thought it sounded pretty good and just figured I was hearing the same mastering as every other owner. However, as my collection and knowledge grew, I found myself clicking through reviews on Discogs and diving down the Steve Hoffman Forum rabbit hole. I knew there had to be a better version out there, which ultimately led me here. I recently sat down for my first A/B(/C) critical listening session and wanted to share my findings. Here we go!
Label: Parlophone - 7243 5 27753 1 6
Format: 2 x Vinyl, 10", 33 1/3 RPM
Relased: October 2000
Instinctively, I believed the original pressing would be the winner, so I placed the 2000 Parlophone 10" on the platter first.
When "Everything in it's Right Place" kicks in, you know you're in for a treat. You are greeted with dynamic, rich music that is devoid of any surface noise. The highs are very clear, and the vocals sound great but are mastered a tad loud. Drums, cymbals and guitars are less present than other instruments. Soundstage is decent but not as wide as some of my other records - just isn't quite airy enough. Looking past the few shortcomings of the original, it is definitely an enjoyable and rewarding listen.
Label: Capitol Records/EMI - 7243 5 27753 1 6
Format: 2 x Vinyl, 10", 33 1/3 RPM, Reissue
Country: UK & Europe
Released: August 2012
After digesting the OG press, I reached for the 2012 UK reissue by Capitol.
Like the original Parlophone, the vocals and highs are crisp, forward and dominate the soundstage - the strings and horns shine as well. Unfortunately, that's where the positives end. There is consistent surface noise that is somewhat intrusive through quieter passages but can be ignored during rippers like "National Anthem". Overall, the lows and mids are lackluster - guitars get lost in the mix and the soundstage is narrow. Despite the flaws, it's passable for anybody just wanting to have Kid A on vinyl, but it's not engaging enough to grab your full attention.
Label: XL Recordings - XLLP 782B
Format: 2 x Vinyl, LP, 33 1/3 RPM Reissue
Released: September 2016
Last but not least, the 12" XL was up to be dissected. Much of Radiohead's back catalog was recently purchased by XL Recordings, so they have been re-releasing everything from Pablo Honey up until Hail to the Thief. Initially, I had zero interest in their offerings, as I was very happy with all the Radiohead vinyl I had, however, there was chatter on a few message boards that the new 12" Kid A was the reference version to own, even over the original press. I was hesitant to dish out more cash, but I couldn't pass up owning a possibly better sounding copy of one of my favorite albums.
Not expecting a huge improvement, if any, over the 10" Parlophone, I dropped the needle and was immediately surprised by what I heard. The soundstage was wide-open. Everything was detailed and very engaging, even the guitars and drums, which were lost on the other two. Vocals had more depth, horns were crisp, my toes were tapping the entire time. It is without a doubt how this album should be heard. If I had one criticism, there was low surface noise that could be heard at times during "How to Disappear Completely", but it wasn't enough to hinder my enjoyment. Also, it would've been intriguing if XL had cut this at 45 rpm, as they did with their 12" offering for Amnesiac.
If you are in the market for this masterpiece, absolutely hunt down the 12" XL version. It's widely available for under $30 and likely won't be bested any time soon.