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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 Silk Degrees.
What do you hear on the best copies? Well, the first thing you hear is a rich, solid piano, a piano that’s missing from the CBS Half-Speed and 90% of the reissues we’ve played. Like so many recordings from the ’70s this album is surprisingly natural sounding. I’ve had the same experience with Billy Joel’s ’70s records. I was surprised to hear how well recorded they are — and how full-bodied the piano is — after I stopped listening to the audiophile and import pressings and went back to the original domestic copies.
When you get the right ones they’re wonderfully rich and smooth, the way good analog should be.
And these were the kinds of records that we audiophiles were complaining about back in the day. We lamented the fact that these pressings weren’t audiophile quality, like the best MoFis and Japanese pressings. Can you imagine?
This is how bad even good equipment must have been back then.
Of course we got what we deserved. We got lots of phony, hyped-up pressings to fool us into thinking we were hearing better sound, when in fact the opposite was true. I regret to say that nothing has changed — most pressings aimed at audiophiles are still mediocre if not outright awful (bad enough to fill up our Hall of Shame in fact.
The other record that immediately comes to mind to show you the sound that’s missing from many pressings, both vintage and modern, is Aja. Here’s what we had to say about it:
If you own the Cisco 180 gram pressing, focus on Victor Feldman’s piano at the beginning of the song. It lacks body, weight and ambience on the new pressing, but any of our better Hot Stamper copies will show you a piano with those qualities in spades all the way through. It’s some of my favorite work by the Steely Dan vibesman. The thin piano on the Cisco release must be recognized for what it is: a major error on the part of the mastering engineers.
A full piano is key to the sound of the best pressing of Silk Degrees. The other thing you hear on the best copies is a smooth, sweet top end, which is likewise missing from the above mentioned pressings.
Most copies lack presence and top end. Dull, thick, opaque sound is far too common on Silk Degrees, which may account for some audiophiles finding the half-speed preferable. Of course, our Hot Stampers give you the presence and highs that let this music come to life. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be Hot Stampers now would they?