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Listening in Depth


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

The best copies of Layla are Tubey Magical, energetic, and tonally balanced. Most importantly, they sound CORRECT; you get the sense that you are hearing the music exactly as the band intended. The best sounding tracks have presence, clarity, and transparency like you have never heard — that is, unless you’ve gone through a pile of copies the way we do.

We have a special designation for such a pressing. We call it As Good As It Gets. When it finally all comes together for such a famously compromised recording, it’s nothing less than a THRILL. More than anything else, the sound is RIGHT. 

Like Blind Faith or Surrealistic Pillow, this is no demo disc by any stretch of the imagination, but that should hardly keep us or anyone else from enjoying the music, and now we have the record that lets us do it.

That’s not to say it’s going to blow your mind sonically from start to finish. This ain’t Tea For The Tillerman to say the least — many tracks can sound amazing, but a few (such as the title track) will likely leave you cold. It’s yet another hot-and-cold Tom Down production, much like Wheels of Fire and Disraeli Gears.

Next time we do a big shootout I hope to have more specific advice as to what we listen for on the best pressings. For now allow me to point the way to the tracks that we think have the best sound on each side.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

I Looked Away
Bell Bottom Blues

One of the better sounding tracks on the album. If you’re going to critically make judgments about the sound of this or any other side one, Bell Bottom Blues is probably your best bet. It’s usually less dry, richer and bigger than the other tracks on this side, with notably more correct vocal reproduction.

Keep On Growing
Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down And Out)

Side Two

I Am Yours

One of the better sounding tracks on the album. The notes for Bell Bottom Blues above apply. The best copies have superb Tubey Magical grungy guitar tone and energy to spare — they can really rock.

Key To The Highway

Side Three

Tell The Truth

One of the better sounding tracks on the album. If you’re going to critically make judgements about the sound of this or any other side three, Tell The Truth is probably your best bet. Listen for big guitars, lots of energy, plenty of bass (not always easy to come by on this album) and choruses that get big and loud without distorting.

Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
Have You Ever Loved A Woman?

Another one of the better sounding tracks on Layla. Much more space than most, with more Tubey Magic, less congestion, less compression and less distortion.

Side Four

Little Wing

There’s huge, wall to wall and floor to ceiling sound on the best copies. Listen for how energetic and present the vocals are, and how emotional the singing is. And the soaring guitars on this track are really something, arguably the best playing on the album. If you play this song good and loud and it doesn’t knock you out something is very wrong somewhere.

It’s Too Late

As you might know, some of the songs on here are just never gonna sound all that good — and unfortunately one of those songs is the title track. We played it on our British originals, our domestic originals, later pressings, and the actually-pretty-good Simply Vinyl reissue, and we were never impressed — there’s just too much distortion, and it’s clearly got to be on the master tape as well.

These guys weren’t trying to record an audiophile-quality Demo Disc, but thankfully the best sounding tracks can sound wonderful on the right pressings.

Thorn Tree In The Garden

Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

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.