Listening in Depth to The Band

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of The Band’s second album.

The best copies have no trace of phony sound from top to bottom. They’re raw and real in a way that makes most pop records sound processed and wrong. Our best Hot Stampers have plenty of the qualities we look for in The Band. Energy, presence, transparency, Tubey Magic… you name it — you will find it there. The biggest strength of this recording is its wonderful, natural midrange. And tons of bass.

Despite what anyone might tell you, it’s no mean feat to find good sounding copies of this record. There are good originals and bad originals, as well as good reissues and bad reissues. Folks, we’ve said it many times — the label can’t tell you how a record sounds, but there’s a sure way to find out that information. You’ve got to clean ’em and play ’em to find out which ones have Hot Stampers, and we seem to be the only record dealers who are doing that, in the process making unusually good pressings available to you, the music-loving audiophile.

Vinyl Reissues and Gold CDs

There are some pretty bad sounding Heavy Vinyl reissues available on vinyl these days. And then there is the gold CD Hoffman mastered for Audio Fidelity, which I frankly didn’t care for much. It’s clean and clear the way most CDs are, and kind of misses the point the way most CDs do.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Across The Great Divide

This song should sound very smooth, with correct tonality from top to bottom; that’s the way it is on the best copies.

It’s easy to tell when the sound is boosted in the upper midrange: the vocals sound “shouty,” not smooth and real the way they can on the killer Hot Stamper copies.

If the sound is rich, smooth and sweet, you are off to a good start. If this track sounds “modern” – clean with lots of presence — all is lost. If you can hear much detail on this track, the record is too bright. (Or your system is.)

Rag Mama Rag
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

This is probably the best sounding track on the album; it’s certainly the best sounding on side one. If the whole album sounded like this we wouldn’t have to work so hard to find a decent sounding copy. But that is sadly not the case. To find one good copy a year is not easy, and that’s with going to record stores practically every week.

If you have a slightly bright copy, this is the track that will be ruined.

When You Awake
Up On Cripple Creek

Tons of subterranean bass are the hallmark of this track. You may think your side one is bass shy on the opening tracks — many of them are — and perhaps you will conclude that the recording is a bit lean like so many other ’60s rock recordings. But when this one rolls around there will be more than enough bass to disabuse you of that notion. It’s the mix that’s screwy; it’s not the fault of the recording engineers failing to capture those low low notes. This song has plenty.

Whispering Pines

Side Two

Jemima Surrender

Side two should have audible tape hiss if there are going to be any highs. If the tape hiss sounds too loud, you probably have a record that is made from a sub-generation copy tape. If that is the case the sound should be pretty hopeless. Typically the reissues are bright and irritating with little of the warmth and sweetness which are this recording’s principal strengths.

Rockin’ Chair
Lookout Cleveland

The drums are cardboard on the average copy of this record. On the better sounding copies they may not be the best drums you ever heard, but at least you can tell they are drums!

Jawbone
Unfaithful Servant

A great test track for side two. There should be plenty of air and room around the lead vocal. The horns should also sound clean and clear, not smeary and thick.

King Harvest (Has Surely Come)

The song will sound quite flat and dull unless you have a good copy. Most originals are this way. The reissues try to “fix” the problem with brightness, but that’s even worse. You need an early pressing that has that warm, rich, tubey sound, coupled with some presence and “life”, the quality that’s mostly missing from them. Finding a copy with all these good qualities on one LP, that’s not beat to death, is practically impossible. They are no doubt out there, but they sure are hard to find!


Further Reading

We have a large number of entries in our new Listening in Depth series.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.