What to Listen For
The weaker copies have a tendency to sound smeary and congested. Listen for good transients and not too much compression. Many are also somewhat opaque as well as dull up top; try to find the ones with some degree of transparency and as much top end extension as you can (the percussion will be helped most of all by the extended top).
And of course you need to find a copy that rocks, as this is a definitely a Rock Concert, although what it most reminds me of is Ray Charles doing a choice set of modern pop classics, mixing it up by off-handedly throwing in a few hits of his own. See how they all fit together? That’s how the pros do it. (The main pro in this case is Leon Russell, the mastermind of the whole operation.)
Well, for one thing, if you get the wrong stampers on this record you will discover, as we did, that it’s clearly been mastered from a badly transferred dub tape. The “cassette-like” sound quality will not be hard to recognize. If you have stumbled onto one of those pressings, give up on it and try your luck elsewhere, making sure to note the bad stampers. That’s how we do it; there is in fact no other way. Trial and error is the name of the record hunting game.
All tracks were engineered by the legendary Eddie Kramer, then selected and mixed by the equally legendary Glyn Johns.
The Feeling of Reality
One thing we learned from our shootout was the how important TRANSPARENCY is to the enjoyment of this music. Of course this has to be a multi-miked, multi-tracked, overdubbed pop record — they don’t make them any other way — but it doesn’t have to FEEL like one.
When you get a good copy it feels like all these guys and gals are live on stage. They may have their own mics, and are certainly being placed artificially in the soundfield to suit the needs of the track (singers here, drummer there), but the transparency of the better pressings makes them sound like they are all on the same stage singing and playing together. You hear their grunts and laughter way back in the mix, just as if you were at the concert.
What the best sides of this Soulful Live Album have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl domestic pressings like this one offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes Eddie Kramer recorded and Glyn Johns mixed in 1970
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the keyboards, guitars and drums having the correct sound for this kind of recording
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the hall
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now
Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.