Month: August 2016

ROY DUNANN and HOWARD HOLZER in 1957 are hard to beat

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More Andre Previn

The piano sounds uncannily lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom. I can’t think of many records off the top of my head that get a better piano sound than this one.

Both sides are rich and Tubey Magical in the right way, because they’re still clear and reproduce the space of the room.

Warmth turned out to be key to the sound of the best copies. When the piano sounds warm and smooth everything else in the recording seems to fall into place. That was the problem with the OJC pressing we played — we found it to be a bit on the thin and brittle side, not remotely the right sound for a vintage Contemporary recording.

With tight, deep bass and an extended top, both sides are analog at its best.

Like we said, ROY DUNANN and HOWARD HOLZER in 1957 are hard to beat.

Some of the Better Sounding Live Albums We’ve Played, Starting with Deep Purple’s Classic Made In Japan

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Made in Japan

Machine Head Live? That would not be far off, and the fact they brought Martin Birch along with them all the way to Japan in order to engineer a live album that was only supposed to sell to the Japanese market (!) could not have been more fortuitous for us audiophiles.

Machine Head is clearly one of the best sounding hard rock records ever made, and Made In Japan, its successor, sounds more like a top quality studio production than any live album I’ve ever heard. It’s shocking how clean and undistorted the sound is. Equally shocking is the fact that it’s every bit as big and lively as a Hard Rockin’ Live Album should be.

This is a combination the likes of which we have never heard.

More Great Live Albums with Commentary

We’ve raved about a number of live albums over the years. Some of the better sounding ones that come readily to mind (in alphabetical order) are Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, David Live, Johnny Cash At San Quentin, Donny Hathaway Live, The Jimi Hendrix Concerts, Performance – Rockin The Fillmore, Live Wire – Blues Power, Waiting For Columbus, Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out and Live at Leeds. I would be proud to have any of them in my collection.

Having just played a stack of copies of Made In Japan I’d put it right up there with the best of the best. In terms of Tubey Magic, richness and naturalness — qualities that are usually in very short supply on live albums — I would have to say that the shootout winning copies of Made In Japan would be very likely to take Top Honors for Best Sounding Live Album of All Time. Yes, the sound is that good.

 

 

 

The Search for Lush Life

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We’ve been searching for years trying to find just what kind of Lush Life pressing — what era, what label, what stampers, mono or stereo, import or domestic — had the potential for good sound.

No, scratch that. We should have said excellent sound. Exceptional sound. We’ve played plenty of copies that sounded pretty good, even very good, but exceptional? That pressing had eluded us — until a few months ago.

Yes, it was only a few months ago, early in 2016 in fact, that we chanced upon the right kind of pressing — the right era, the right label, the right stampers, the right sound. Not just the right sound though. Better sound than we ever thought this album could have.

Previously we had written:

“There are great sounding originals, but they are few and far between…”

We no longer believe that to be true. In fact we believe the opposite of that statement to be true. The original we had on hand — noisy but with reasonably good sound, or so we thought — was an absolute joke next to our best Hot Stamper pressings. Half the size, half the clarity and presence, half the life and energy, half the immediacy, half the studio space. It was simply not remotely competitive with the copies we now know (or at least believe, all knowledge being provisional) to have the best sound.

Are there better originals than the ones we’ve played? No doubt. If you want to spend your day searching for them, more power to you. And if you do find one that impresses you, we are happy to send you one of our Hot Copies to play against it. We are confident that the outcome would be clearly favorable to our pressing. Ten seconds of side one should be enough to convince you that our record is in an entirely different league, a league we had no idea even existed until just this year.

By the way, the mono original we played was by far the worst sound I have ever heard for the album. By far.

Other Pressings

The DCC heavy vinyl pressing is a nice record; I remember liking it back in the day. I’m guessing it’s a bit better than the ’80s OJC, which is typically a bit thin and hard like most OJC pressings, but neither one of them can hold a candle to the record we are offering.

The Trio

One thing that makes this album a very different experience is that side one was recorded as a trio. Hearing Coltrane is such a stark setting lets you really appreciate all the emotion, detail, and texture of his playing. And a copy like this makes that even more possible! The band fills out to five pieces on side two, but the music is every bit as good.

See all of our John Coltrane albums in stock

1986 – Not a great year for recording quality!

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This original domestic pressing offers two superb sides for Crowded House’s wonderful debut.

Note that this copy won our shootout on side one, and since side one has the best batch of songs here, that works out well for everyone who loves great sounding sophisticated pop music, a group that includes us to be sure.

MORE CROWDED HOUSE

Sonically Speaking

1986 – Not a great year for recording quality!

Exhibit A: Paul Simon’s Graceland. Exhibit B: Peter Gabriel’s So.

I rest my case. Fortunately for us audiophiles, Crowded House’s debut here is big, rich, smooth, natural and, above all, ANALOG. (I really don’t know if it is actually is analog or not, but it sounds like analog, and that’s really all that matters.)

Musically Speaking

Musically side one is absolutely brilliant from first note to last. Crowded House may have wanted to be the New Beatles, but those are some pretty big shoes to fill. They fell a bit short — who can compete with The Beatles? — but in their heyday, 1985-1993, they were better at making intelligent, original, melody-driven pop than practically any other group I was listening to at the time.

(We love Squeeze’s albums from this period as well but the ’80s sound is just too processed and artificial on even the best pressings to be enjoyed on modern high-resolution audiophile equipment.)

When people ask me what kind of music I like, a common question from non-audiophiles seeing a house full of records and a custom sound room stuffed with equipment and room treatments, Crowded House is one band I’m happy to namecheck (10cc and Roxy Music and Little Feat being a bit too obscure for most people by now).

Sophisticated Pop Albums with Audiophile Quality Sound make up a large part of my record collection, with Crowded House taking its place up near the top, not on the same plane as The Beatles, say, but not that far below either. (Woodface is an album that I have played many hundreds of times over the course of the last twenty years and have yet to tire of.)

The first Crowded House album is a record that belongs no less in your collection than it does in mine. Their songs still get played on the radio and to these ears they’re holding up just fine.

What to Listen for (WTLF)

Number one: Too many instruments jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression, there will be too many elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space in the upper area of the midrange, causing congestion and a loss of clarity. This is especially noticeable on the second track of side one, Now We’re Getting Somewhere.

With the more solid sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich; above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space to fit all the instruments in comfortably, not piled one on top of another as is so often the case; consequently, the upper midrange area does not get stuffed and overwhelmed with musical information.

Number Two: edgy vocals, which relates to Number One above. Almost all copies have some edge to the vocals — the band seems to want to really belt it out in the choruses — but the best copies keep the edge under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull or smeary.

Import Vs. Domestic

We had good and bad copies of both. Interestingly, although the band is from New Zealand, the album was recorded right here in Los Angeles, so there’s no reason to assume that the source tape used to make the domestic pressings was not the real master two-track. The British copies tended to be a bit smoother, the domestic pressings somewhat livelier. As a rule we tend to like livelier.

 

Argybargy Rocks on UK Vinyl

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Our Shootout Winner from 2016

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

If you think you might enjoy the mashup of Pub Rock and New Wave that this group unleashed on the pop music scene of the ’70s and ’80s I could not recommend any album of theirs more highly than Argybargy.

Squeeze’s prime period with Jools Holland on keyboards encompasses four albums, any of which is worth owning. The band really gets going with their second album, Cool for Cats (1979), pulls it all together and takes it to another level for their breakthrough third, Argybargy (1980), and produces two more of high quality, East Side Story (1981, produced mostly by Elvis Costello) and the darker but equally brilliant Sweets from a Stranger (1982).

I’m a huge fan of all four, as well as two from their later days, the amazing-to-this-day Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985) and the weaker but enjoyable Babylon and On (1987). I play all of them on a regular basis.

If you’re a fan of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson and probably quite a few other lesser-knowns from this era, Squeeze is the band for you. I put them right up there with Elvis Costello and Peter Gabriel in the pantheon of British Pop Music of the era.

The Sound

There’s plenty of Tubey Magical richness and smoothness on the best British pressings — such as this one — qualities the domestic pressings are sorely lacking. If you want to hear this music right, on vinyl it’s British or nothing, and with one of our White Hot Stamper pressings it’s British and everything — everything that’s good about this recording is captured on this very side two. And side one is awful good as well.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Extension up top was hard to come by on most pressings. When you hear those lovely hights you can hear how much they add to the sound.

The overall sound is rich and tubey, not dry, thin or modern. Clarity and space are nice but not if they come at the expense of the smooth, rich, natural sound of tubes (whether there are tubes in the chain or not).

Track Commentary

The Track Listing tab above has background on a few of the songs that may be of interest to you, courtesy of Wikipedia.


This is one of the band’s Masterpieces as well as a Desert Island Disc for yours truly.

What qualifies a record to be a Masterpiece needs no explanation. We will make every effort to limit the list to one entry per artist or group, although some exceptions have already occurred to me, so that rule will no doubt be broken from time to time. As Ralph Waldo Emerson so memorably wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”

For a record to come to my Desert Island Disc, said record: 1) must have at some time during my fifty years as a music lover and audio enthusiast been played enthusiastically, fanatically even, causing me to feel what Leonard Bernstein called “the joy of music”; 2) my sixty year old self must currently respect the album, and; 3) I must think I will want to listen to the music fairly often and well into the future (not knowing how long I may be stranded there).

How many records meet the Desert Island Disc criteria? Certainly many more than you can see when you click on the link, but new titles are coming online as time permits.