Month: April 2018

Cat Stevens / Tea for the Tillerman – This Is Your Idea of Analog?

Dear Record Loving Audiophiles of Earth,

I’m afraid we have some bad news. [This was written back in 2011 when the record came out so it’s hard to imagine that what I am about to say is news to anyone at this stage of the game.] Regrettably we must inform you that the 2011 edition of Tea for the Tillerman pressed by Analogue Productions on Heavy Vinyl doesn’t sound very good. We know you were all hoping for the best. We also know that you must be very disappointed to hear this unwelcome news.

But the record is what it is, and what it is is not very good. Its specific shortcomings are many and will be considered at length in our review below.

Yes, we know, the folks over at Acoustic Sounds, in consultation with the late George Marino at Sterling Sound, supposedly with the real master tape in hand, and supposedly with access to the best mastering equipment money can buy, labored mightily, doing their level best to master and press the Definitive Audiophile Tea for the Tillerman on Vinyl of All Time.

It just didn’t come out very good, no matter what the reviewers say. And what do they say? Allow me to quote one.

…superbly dynamic, spacious and detailed…The attack of the pick on the guitar strings is astonishingly clean and detailed.

Depth is pronounced…

…the resolution of low level detail reveals a host of details that are either buried or glossed over on the other versions I’ve heard…

Uh-oh, wait a minute, here’s a blindingly red flag:

If you have the  edition, you’ll find this similar in one way: there’s nothing “mellow” about the overall production and when the music gets loud (and Marino lets it get so) it can get a bit hard, but better that than to soften it and lose the clarity, focus and detail of this superb recording, especially in the quieter passages where the resolution of low level detail is astonishing.

More about that later.

Another fellow, this time a blogger writing under the heading “my vinyl review,” had this to say:

This latest pressing… has a decidedly leaner tonal balance than the UK pink Island, and favors the chiming highs and upper mids of the guitars over the lower frequencies. That said, the QRP’s bass is also tighter than what is heard on the other pressings. As with the UK pink, Stevens’ vocals are right up front in the mix on the QRP, but also gain an additional layer or two of complexity over the other issues. This new reissue… is simply the most dynamic, detailed version of this classic album that I’ve heard to date, with more of the vocal nuances, guitar flourishes, and bass string vibrations that audiophiles crave. The U.K. pink undoubtedly possesses a rounder overall sound — and some with particularly bright systems or a sensitivity to the hint of stridence or sibilance in the vocals, might appreciate the touch of tube compression found on the original U.K.

Hey, that’s what I heard too.

Some of what is quoted above does sound very much like the Acoustic Sounds QRP record I played.

For example, when they mention that it’s not “mellow,” that “it can get a bit hard,” that it has a “leaner tonal balance than the UK pink Island,” yes, I would agree with all of that.

But that only scratches the surface of its many faults. (more…)

The Clash – London Calling

  • Truly stunning sound, with shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on all four sides 
  • A shockingly well-recorded album that comes to life with the combo of a great copy and a hi-res, full-range system
  • Five stars in the AMG: “A stunning statement of purpose and one of the greatest rock & roll albums ever recorded.”

AUDIOPHILE SOUND FOR THIS PUNK ROCK CLASSIC?! You better believe it, baby! The sound here is superb for all four sides.

Dub Style!

What really sets this album apart sonically is The Clash’s use of reggae and dub influences. You can really hear it when you tune in to the bottom end; your average late ’70s punk record won’t have this kind of rich and meaty bass, that’s for sure. Drop the needle on The Guns Of Brixton (last track on side two) to hear exactly what I’m talking about. On a Hot Stamper copy played at the correct levels (read: quite loud!) the effect is positively HYPNOTIC.

Bill Price engineered and as we like to day, he knocked this one out of the park. The best sounding record from 1979? I have the feeling it just might be.

Nobody would have accused The Clash of being an audiophile-friendly band, but a copy like this might make you think twice about that! We had a blast doing this shootout and we hope whoever takes this home has just as much fun with it. (more…)

Highway 61 Revisited – Not So Good on Sundazed in Mono

More Bob Dylan

More Highway 61 Revisited

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Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame Pressing and another Sundazed record debunked.

I don’t think mono works for this album, so we never carried this pressing nor recommended it.

Here are some other records that we don’t think sound very good in MONO.

Here are some we think can sound amazing in MONO.

The Doors’ Debut – Energy and Raw Power

More of the Music of The Doors

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Doors

What to listen for you ask? ENERGY and RAW POWER. Few audiophiles have any idea how well recorded this album is, simply because most pressings don’t do a very good job of encoding the life of the master tape onto the vinyl of the day, regardless of whether that day is in 1967 or 2017.

The first Doors album is without a doubt the punchiest, liveliest, most powerful recording in the entire Doors catalog.

Huh? I’m guessing this statement does not comport well with your own experience of the album, and there’s a good reason for that: not many copies of the album provide strong evidence for any of the above qualities. Most pressings are opaque, flat, thin, veiled, compressed, lifeless and sound exactly the way so many old rock records sound: like an old rock record. (more…)

Steve Winwood / Back In The High Life – Richness or Clarity?

On some of the copies we played richness and warmth seemed to have been sacrificed for the sake of greater clarity. That’s never been our sound, one of the reasons we do relatively few albums from the ’80s, and we noticed that on the copies with that tonal balance it was much more difficult to become involved in the music.

The richer, warmer, smoother, more balanced copies presented no such problem. Their sound transported us into the world of music Winwood had created in these songs.

If you clean and play enough copies you too might get lucky and find a copy that sounds as good as this one, where the obvious analog qualities are much more pronounced, and neither clarity or space is compromised.

Of course you might. We say it all over the site: it ain’t a magic trick to find a copy of Back In The High Life that sounds as good as this one does. All you need is a reliable source for large numbers of British pressings, the right cleaning techniques, and the time to painstakingly shoot out your copies one by one. We recommend scheduling the better part of a day. It’s how we found this outstanding pressing, and it’s how we found every other title you see on our site.

We find great sounding records like this every day, and we do it the only way it can be done, the old fashioned way: by working at it.

Brit Vs Domestic

It’s no contest. The British early pressings are the only way to go. The domestic pressings are clearly made from dubs and sound dull, smeary and small.

Spencer & Kirwan, Lost Guitar Heroes

More of the Music of Fleetwood Mac

Kiln House is one of the all-time great Fleetwood Mac albums. It’s the first album they recorded after Peter Green left. With Green gone Jeremy Spencer’s influence came to the fore. Apparently he was quite a fan of Buddy Holly. His songs are excellent: straightforward and unerringly melodic.

The co-leader for Kiln House is Danny Kirwan, and he rocks the hell out of this album. Three of the best songs Fleetwood Mac ever did, regardless of incarnation, are here: Tell Me All The Things You Do, Station Man and Jewel Eyed Judy, all written by Kirwan (with the help of others). His guitar work on these three songs is blistering.

Any Fleetwood Mac greatest hits collection would be a joke without these tracks. Of course they are consistently missing from all such compilations, at least the ones with which I am familiar. The sad fact is that few people miss them because few people have ever heard them.

The closest thing I can think of to the kind of music the new Mac plays is moody rock of the middle-period Beatles. Kiln House is similar to Beatles ’65 in its dual concerns with vintage rock ‘n’ roll and muted, romantic pieces. Jeremy Spencer took care of the former area, while Danny Kirwan extended the style best represented by McCartney’s “I’ll Follow the Sun.”

(more…)

Basie’s Farmers Market Barbecue – First Among Equals, or The Best Pablo Ever?

More Count Basie

More Big Band Jazz

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Musically FMB is a Top Basie Big Band title in every way. This should not be surprising: many of his recordings for Pablo in the ’70s and early ’80s display the talents of The Count and his band of veterans at their best.

Sonically it’s another story. Based on our recent shootout for this title, in comparison to the other Basie titles we’ve done lately we would have to say that FMB is the best Basie big band title we’ve ever played. Since so many Basie big band recordings are so good, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves; after all, we haven’t done shootouts for all of his Pablo large group recordings. To be safe we’ll just call this one First Among Equals.

The following are some general guidelines as to What to Listen For (WTLF) while you critically evaluate any of the Basie Big Band Pablo recordings (or any other big band recordings for that matter). 

Simply put, we offer here a short list of qualities that we’ve come to appreciate on the best of the Basie Big Band pressings, qualities that we find are often in short supply on lesser LPs (and, as a rule, those that have been remastered onto Heavy Vinyl). (more…)

B.B. King – Live & Well

More B.B. King

More Electric Blues

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  • With two Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning sides, this original Bluesway pressing from 1969 simply could not be beat
  • Surprisingly dynamic, with great energy, this copy brought BB King’s music to life in our listening room like no other could
  • This copy had the Tubes and the Big Bass that this music needs to work it’s Electric Blues Magic from The Master himself
  • “…a worthy recording on its own merits, divided evenly between live and studio material. King’s always recorded well as a live act, and it’s the concert tracks that shine brightest…”

Some of the Bluesway pressings we’ve auditioned recently have had exceptionally big, rich, lively sound, and that’s the way we like our music to sound.

There are plenty of dogs in the King canon, especially in the ’70s, so you have to be somewhat careful with the man’s recordings, but good titles in the ’60s with excellent sound can still be found if you’re willing to do the work (or you’re willing to let us do it for you). (more…)

The Pretenders – Learning To Crawl – Awesome on the Right German Pressing

  • The first Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning copy to hit the site in over a year – we’ve never heard it sound better
  • Both sides of this (very specific) German pressing were richer, clearer and more energetic than any of the others we played
  • With Robbie McIntosh having joined the band this is first and foremost a guitar rock record; his jangly, grungy riffs drive every song
  • 5 Stars: “While Hynde hardly held back in her emotionally potent songwriting in the Pretenders’ early work, on Learning to Crawl there’s a gravity to her lyrics that blended with her tough but wiry melodic sense and streetwise intelligence to create a set of truly remarkable tunes…”

This is where Chrissie Hynde matured into a top class songwriter; every track is good and many are brilliant. With Robbie McIntosh having joined the band, this is first and foremost a guitar rock record; his jangly, grungy riffs drive every song. Great songs and great guitar work — what more do you need in a rock record?

Think of Middle of the Road — everything that’s good about this band on this album is there in that song: it’s uptempo, with a driving beat, a rock solid rhythm section and a beautifully distorted guitar out front and high up in the mix.

German Pressings? Why Not British? (more…)

Sam Cooke – Hits of the ’50s in Living Stereo

  • A vintage Living Stereo recording that’s rarely available on the site, this Sam Cooke LP boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • If you want to hear one of the great vocalists from the ’50s, in his prime, with top quality audiophile sound, this is the album that will do the trick!
  • This is the way it must have sounded in 1960, in the New York studios where it was recorded, with legendary RCA engineer BOB SIMPSON behind the board
  • This is not the typically radio-EQ’d singing-out-of-tin-can sound of so many male vocal albums from the era – Cooke’s voice is warm and rich here

This early pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing into a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)