I own three copies of Tom Wait's The Heart of Saturday Night. The first copy I bought was an early-1980s Asylum pressing made here in the old U.S. of A. The second pressing I bought was for 'family' listening - it was the 180g Rhino re-issue. The latest copy I bought is a 1990s pressing from Germany. How different do these three version sound?
First, a little note on the actual album - The Heart of Saturday Night is Wait's second. Lacking some of the beauty and emotional melodies of his first album, Closing Time, Heart has a gruffer, rougher sound. While Closing Time is nostalgic memories, Heart has more of a beatnik growl. There are signs of the future, darker Waits here - for example, check out the classic song Diamonds on my Windshield. Anyways, there are plenty of reviews out there of this album, so check 'em out - but be sure to not miss out on this great record.
The 1980s Asylum pressing has a very organic sound that is rich and inviting. My only gripe is the overall sound is a little 'dirty' - like a faint dirty wash over the entire soundscape. It's like a slightly out-of-focus lense that obscures detail and treble extension. But this really wasn't noticeable until I heard something better.
The recent 180g re-issue from Rhino was a big disappointment. I bought this copy to use in a second stereo system, so I really wasn't expecting it to best my original. Why is that? I've had some problems with a number of recent re-issues. Vinyl and mastering quality is subpar compared to the glory days when records were the medium of choice. But the mastering on the Rhino is just plain awful - the treble is just gone, sounding like a wet blanket has been placed over my speakers. Supposedly this has been addressed with a re-re-issue, but I haven't heard it yet.
Finally we come to the 90s German re-issue. Since my U.S. copy is in VG+ condition, I wanted something a little better. I found a nice German copy for about the same price I would throw down for an original U.S. pressing, so why not give it a try? I've had some good luck with German vinyl in the past, and I was not disappointed. The quality of the vinyl is absolutely fantastic, almost meeting the standards of the Japanese for quietness and flatness. And the overall sound is really where this record shines - the detail and focus is really that much better than the U.S. copy I have. It doesn't "sound like a different record", but I can hear more detail, a great treble extension, and the 'soundscape' has more coherence. The qualities I'm hearing come from good mastering practices, excellent electronics, and an attention to quality that is often lacking these days.