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Should you buy the remastered 'Exile on Main Street'?

One of the greatest rock records ever made is being re-released in a remastered version today. Should you buy it? Here's how to decide.

Matt Rosoff
Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for CNET.com in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattrosoff.
Matt Rosoff
3 min read

The Rolling Stones' 1972 masterpiece "Exile on Main Street" is being re-released today in a new remastered version, complete with 10 outtakes or alternate versions that have never been released before. A friend posted the question on Facebook: "should I buy the remastered vinyl version?" The answer to this question is more complicated than you might expect: there are five different versions of the re-release available.

The Super Deluxe edition of Exile on Main Street includes CDs, LPs, a DVD, and a book, and has a retail list price of about $180. Amazon.com

If you like rock music (or country or soul) and don't know "Exile," then I would start with the Original Recording Remastered. It's the original album on a single CD and costs only $9.99 at Amazon. The outtakes are interesting for big fans but don't justify the extra 10 bucks for the Deluxe CD edition.

But what if you're a vinyl devotee? I'm a little skeptical about the remastered double LP version, which Amazon offers for $33.23. Why? Because that's expensive for a new vinyl release, and it doesn't include any new songs--the outtakes aren't available on vinyl at all. The original album was mastered for vinyl and sounded great. If you can find a used LP copy in good condition, it will probably sound just as good as (maybe better than) the remaster, and you'll save about 20 bucks. Of course, this only works if you've got a good local record store with lots of quality old vinyl, like Amoeba in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Los Angeles, or Jive Time or Bop Street in Seattle. If you live in a town with no used vinyl, you can risk buying a used copy online, or just suck it up and buy the new remaster.

If you already have an old copy of the LP but want the CD (say, for putting the songs on an MP3 player), I'd buy the Deluxe two-CD edition with the extra tracks. It's only about $20, the outtakes are interesting, and the remaster will probably sound better than the CD versions that have been sold in the past. Remember, "Exile" was originally mastered for vinyl 38 years ago, and previous CD releases probably weren't transferred to the CD format with any particular care.

If you've already got the CD and want the LP, I'd look for a used LP. Then all you need to do is buy the Rarities Edition of the CD, which costs $9.99 and is available exclusively at Target, for the new songs. Again, I'm skeptical that you'll hear much improvement in the remastered LP, unless your old copy is scratched or warped beyond comfort.

Of course, if you're a huge Stones fan or a completist, you can spring for the Super Deluxe Edition, which Amazon has on sale for $137 (it's list-priced at nearly $180). That includes the remastered CD of the original album, CD of outtakes, remastered double LP of the original album (yes, that's redundant, but cool), a 30-minute DVD of clips and "lost" footage from several Stones documentaries released in the early 1970s, and a 50-page hardcover book. It might also make a good birthday present. Mine's in October.