A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.
WOW! Here’s a stunningly good sounding and shockingly quiet copy of The Big One — Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues’ first Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP aka S9. We’ve been comparing and contrasting pressings of this album for a long time and this is one of the very best — and QUIETEST — copies we’ve ever had the good luck to stumble on. The sound is BIG, RICH and FULL OF ENERGY. We gave side one an A++ and side two our top grade of A+++. It is ridiculously tough to find this record anymore, let alone a pressing this amazing. Who knows when we’ll find another copy, let alone one that sounds like this!
Can you imagine doing a shootout for a Super Rare and Collectible Audiophile Title, the kind of record you might run across once every ten years or so? Well, your friends at Better Records managed to find a handful of copies of the legendary Sheffield first album, S9, (for the most part in practically unplayed condition) and decided that it would be fun to actually find out which copy sounded the best. That’s what do around here all day, so why would we treat S9 any differently than any other record?
I have to confess we were actually quite shocked at the pressing variations on this record. These direct to discs are all over the map sonically. Some Sheffield pressings are aggressive, many of them are dull and lack the spark of live music, some of them have wonky bass or are lacking in the lowest octave — they are prey to every fault that befalls other pressings, direct to disc and otherwise.
Which should not be too surprising. Records are records. Pressing variations exist for every album ever made. If you haven’t noticed that yet, start playing multiple copies of the same album while listening carefully and critically. If your stereo is any good at all, it should not take you long to notice how different one record sounds from another in practically every case.
Biggest problems on S9? I would have to say smearing is Number One. When the brass loses its bite and the bells don’t have the percussive quality of metal being struck, this is not a good thing. The band also seems to lose energy when the pressing suffers from smear.
Number Two would be a lack of top end extension. The harmonics of the sax and trumpet are muted on some copies, and the harpsichord really suffers when the top end isn’t all it should be. This lack of extension is most noticeable on all the lovely bells and percussion instruments that pepper the soundstage, but you can actually hear it on practically every instrument once you recognize the problem: guitar harmonics, cymbals and snares, and on down the list.
This Copy Rocks
It gives you the LIFE and ENERGY of the music — the tonality of the instruments is correct (although admittedly some tracks can sound a bit dark. That’s not actually a pressing issue, it’s more of a mixing and mic’ing issue.) and the whomp factor is fully intact. This is what made the album such a Demo Disc in its day. It’s got real power and IMPACT from the deepest bass up through the lower midrange, that range that small speakers and screens have so much trouble with. (The Legacy Focus we use for our shootouts has three twelve inch woofers and LOVES records with this kind of WHOMP.)
Above the bottom you will find wonderfully transparent and sweet mids and highs. This is the kind of sound that brings out the breathy, reedy quality of the saxes that play on so many of the tunes here (alto, tenor and baritone, the full complement don’t you know).
This is one of the MINTIEST COPIES of the album we’ve seen in decades. As I’m sure you know, most of the copies that have survived the stereo demo wars of the ’70s are just beat. They were played to death, their grooves worn smooth in the days before good cartridges and arms (not to mention record cleaning machines) were invented. EX++ is about as nice a copy as I’ve seen in the last five years; sad but true.
The chances of this record surviving in this kind of condition make it one of the rarest finds in the history of Better Records. I’ve heard rumors of copies changing hands for multiple thousands of dollars. I don’t know if those rumors are true, but I can tell you that the chances of you or anyone else for that matter finding a nicer copy than this are exceedingly, ridiculously remote.
We are big fans of Mayorga’s music for Sheffield from back in the day; all three of the Distinguished Colleagues records are fun and boast amazing sound when you get the right pressing. (We do Hot Stamper shootouts for all of them on a regular basis; it’s shocking how much better some copies sound compared to others. If you want the amazing sound that the Direct to Disc recording technology promises, we know of no other way to get it than by cleaning, playing and evaluating the discs themselves.)
Anyone Who Had A Heart
I’ll Be Back
Learning To Be Kind
Up, Up and Away
She’s Leaving Home
Don’t Think Twice
All The Things You Are