Month: December 2018

Santana’s Guitar Solos Soar on Inner Secrets

More of the Music of Santana

Albums with Especially Dynamic Guitar Solos

On side two the final guitar solo Santana takes on Well All Right gets as loud in the mix as any guitar solo on any rock record with which I am familiar. Here are some of the other records with especially dynamic guitar solos we have auditioned to date.)

The sound gets louder after the first chorus, then louder still right before the second solo, and then the solo itself gets even louder until it seems to be as loud as live music. (Operative word: seems.)

Some copies get loud and some do not. Some stereos are dynamic and some are not.

If you have the right stereo, set at the right volume, and THIS copy, you will hear something that not one out of one hundred audiophiles (or music lovers) have ever heard on a record — LIVE ROCK SOUND.

What makes it possible to play this record so loud and still enjoy it? Simple. Just like Nirvana, when the sound is smooth and sweet, completely free of aggressive mids and highs, records get BETTER as they get LOUDER. (This of course assumes low distortion and all the rest, but the main factor is correct tonality from top to bottom, and this record has it.) 

One reason The Turn Up Your Volume Test is such a great test; the louder the problem, the harder it is to ignore.

Turn It Up

It’s a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house. When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.)

Jump Factor

There were about a half dozen different stampers for each side that we did the shootout with. Like other Hot Stampers you may have read about, sometimes the instruments and voices just JUMP out of the speakers. When that happens I usually write “It’s Alive!” on the post-it, and I know exactly what to do with it — it goes right in the Contender pile, to be compared with the other top contender copies. It’s definitely a crazy Hot Stamper; just how hot we still need to find out..

Which is what happens in Phase Two of these affairs. We go back through all the best copies to see in what areas they really shine and in what areas they may fall a bit short of the best. Occasionally a record will come along that just murders what I thought was the best. That is what happened this time.

Of course there’s no way to know what accounts for any of the sound we hear. Not for sure anyway. It’s just interesting to ponder what makes one record sound one way and the next record, with stampers as little as one letter off in the alphabet — sometimes with exactly the same stampers! — sound so different from one another.

The Sound We Like

But back to Inner Secrets. I know EXACTLY the kind of sound I like on this album. When the background vocals come in, on the tubey magical copies they are wall to wall and sweet as honey, with no trace of grain or edge. Big as life too. The guitars have plenty of bite, but no matter how loud they get, they never seem to strain. The louder they get the more I like it. That’s the ticket as far as I’m concerned.

The Music

This is, IMHO, their best later album, and much better than the ones Carlos has been doing lately, which frankly suck in my opinion. Well All Right and Dealer are the two monster tracks on this one — both have some of the best rock sound I have ever heard.

Musicanship

Like Abraxas, when you play a Hot Stamper copy good and loud, you find yourself marvelling at the musicanship of the group — because the Hot Stamper pressings, communicating all the energy and clarity the recording has to offer, let you hear what a great band they were.

On badly mastered records, such as the MoFi or CBS Half-Speed of Abraxas, the music lacks the power of the real thing. I want to hear Santana ROCK. Only the best early Columbia pressings let me do that. 

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Dealer/Spanish Rose

This track is worth the price of the album. It rocks! The dueling guitars and synths are out of this world.

Move On
One Chain (Don’t Make No Prison)
Stormy

Another big hit for the band.

Side Two

Well…All Right

This track is almost worth the price of the album as well. Another big hit for the band with superb sound. Santana’s guitar work here is as good as it gets.

Open Invitation
Life Is a Lady/Holiday
The Facts of Love
Wham

Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto #3 – The Highs Come Back

This side one is interesting., I would say that it starts out Super Hot (A++) and within a few minutes becomes White Hot (A+++). The piano is a bit veiled at the start, but within a relatively short period of time that subtle loss of transparency disappears and the piano is RIGHT THERE.

This is not unusual in our experience. The first track on many records can sound dull, and by the second track the highs come back and the tonality is right from top to bottom. Who knows why?

We speculate that the vinyl did not have time to fully heat up the edge of the record, but that’s speculation, something that has almost no value in our (yours and mine) quest for better sounding records. 1A, 1B, first off the stamper, who gives a flying you-know-what. You have to play the record to know its sound.

The rest is BS, proffered by those who are simply too lazy to do the work of actually cleaning and playing multiple copies of an album to know how they sound. 

Side Two

A++, with all the texture and transparency we heard on side one. The strings are PERFECTION — truly Demo Disc quality.

The piano however does not quite have the weight it does on side one, so we knocked a plus off, putting this one at A++.

Only the last quarter inch has the slightest amount of groove damage on the loudest piano peaks. We’ve never heard one that played cleaner all the way through, I can tell you that. [Now we have, plenty of them in fact.]

What an amazing recording! What an amazing piece of music!

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

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Cannonball Adderley with Bill Evans – Know What I Mean? How Does the ’80s OJC Sound?

Horn and Hoffman

George Horn was doing brilliant work for Fantasy all through the ’80s. This album is proof that his sound is the right sound for this music.

The DCC Gold CD of the album is also excellent. As with many of the better DCC CDs, it’s proof that Steve Hoffman’s sound is also the right sound for this music. But as we all have learned by now — all too painfully in fact, having wandered for thirty plus years in the digital wasteland — a CD, no matter how well mastered, can only take you so far.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Waltz for Debby
Goodbye
Who Cares?
Venice

Side Two

Toy
Elsa 
Nancy (With the Laughing Face)
Know What I Mean?

AMG 4 Star Review

What’s better than a Bill Evans Trio album? How about a Bill Evans trio album on which the leader is not Evans but alto sax god Cannonball Adderley, making the group actually a quartet? It’s a different sort of ensemble, to be sure, and the musical results are marvelous. Adderley’s playing on “Waltz for Debby” is both muscular and sensitive, as it is on the other Evans composition here, a modal ballad called “Know What I Mean?” Other treats include the sprightly “Toy” and the Gershwin classic “Who Cares?”

The focus here is, of course, on Adderley’s excellent post-bop stylings, but it’s also interesting to hear Evans playing with a rhythm section as staid and conservative as Kay and Heath (both charter members of the Modern Jazz Quartet). It’s hard to imagine any fan of mainstream jazz not finding much to love on this very fine recording.

Tears For Fears / Songs From The Big Chair – What to Listen For

More of the Music of Tears For Fears

More of Our Favorite Art Rock Albums

There is one quality that the best copies always have and that the worst copies always lack: Frequency Extension, especially on the top end.

When you get a copy like this one, with superb extension up top, the grit and edge on the highs almost disappears. You can test for that quality on side one very easily with the percussive opening to Shout. If the harmonics and air are present at the opening, you are very likely hearing a top quality copy.

Side one here has smooth, sweet, analog richness and spaciousness I didn’t think was possible for this recording. The bass is full and punchy. When it really starts cooking, like in the louder, more dynamic sections of Shout or Mothers Talk, it doesn’t get harsh and abrasive like practically every other copy I’ve heard. It’s got energy and life, and it gets loud when it needs to without making your ears bleed.

There is wonderful transparency and presence in the vocals, not to mention a really deep soundstage. This copy trounced nearly all of the other pressings we played in terms of bringing the music to life while still keeping the aggressiveness of the presentation under control.

A Classic

This is a CLASSIC in the Tears for Fears canon, probably the album most people regard as their best. I myself prefer Seeds of Love, which takes nothing away from Big Chair — it’s one of the top albums from the ’80s no matter how you look at it. It went to Number One on the charts for a reason. There’s really not a bad song on either side, and quite a few absolutely brilliant ones.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Shout
The Working Hour
Everybody Wants To Rule The World
Mothers Talk

Side Two

I Believe
Broken
Head Over Heels
Listen

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

If The Hurting was mental anguish, Songs From the Big Chair marks the progression towards emotional healing, a particularly bold sort of catharsis culled from Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith’s shared attraction to primal scream therapy. The album also heralded a dramatic maturation in the band’s music, away from the synth-pop brand with which it was (unjustly) seared following the debut, and towards a complex, enveloping pop sophistication. The songwriting of Orzabal, Smith, and keyboardist Ian Stanley took a huge leap forward, drawing on reserves of palpable emotion and lovely, protracted melodies that draw just as much on soul and R&B music as they do on immediate pop hooks.

The album could almost be called pseudo-conceptual, as each song holds its place and each is integral to the overall tapestry, a single-minded resolve that is easy to overlook when an album is as commercially successful as Songs From the Big Chair. And commercially successful it was, containing no less than three huge commercial radio hits, including the dramatic and insistent march, “Shout” and the shimmering, cascading “Head Over Heels,” which, tellingly, is actually part of a song suite on the album. Orzabal and Smith’s penchant for theorizing with steely-eyed austerity was mistaken for harsh bombasticism in some quarters, but separated from its era, the album only seems earnestly passionate and immediate, and each song has the same driven intent and the same glistening remoteness.

It is not only a commercial triumph, it is an artistic tour de force. And in the loping, percolating “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” Tears for Fears perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the mid-’80s while impossibly managing to also create a dreamy, timeless pop classic. Songs From the Big Chair is one of the finest statements of the decade.

The Who – Quadrophenia – What to Listen For

More The Who

More Quadrophenia

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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 the album.

On the best copies the energy factor is OFF THE CHARTS. The highs are silky sweet, the bottom end is meaty, the drums are punchy and the vocals are present and tonally correct. The piano has real weight, the synths float breathily in the air, and there’s wonderful three-dimensional depth to the soundfield. 

There’s a POWER to the sound that the average copy only hints at. The crashing guitar chords that are the hallmark of The Who Sound often lack the weight of the real thing; they don’t punch you in the gut the way Townsend no doubt wanted them to.

Moon’s drums need to blast away like cannons. This is the quintessential Who sound. Everybody who’s ever seen them live knows it. I saw them back in the day when Moon was still behind his kit and it’s a sound I’ll never forget. 

Most copies don’t have nearly this much Tubey Magic — you aren’t going to believe all the richness, sweetness, and warmth here. The clarity and transparency are superb in their own right, and the impressive dynamic range really allows this copy to communicate the explosive energy of The Who at their peak.. (more…)

Cat Stevens / Catch Bull At Four – Listening In Depth

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Sitting

This track often sounds a bit flat and midrangy, and it sounds that way on most domestic pressings and the “wrong” imports.

The best imports and domestic pressings are the only ones with the sweeter, tubier Midrange Magic that we’ve come to associate with the best Cat Stevens recordings.

Boy With a Moon & Star on His Head

Another very difficult track to get to sound right. The better copies have such amazingly transparent sound you can’t help feeling as though you really are in the presence of live human beings. You get the sense of actual fingers — in this case the fingers of Cat’s stalwart accompanist Alun Davies — plucking the strings of his Spanish guitar.

Angelsea

This is one of the best sounding tracks on the album, right up there with Cat’s most well recorded big productions such as Tuesday’s Dead, Changes IV, Where Do The Children Play and Hard Headed Woman. On Hot Stamper copies this is a Demo Track that’s hard to beat.

The midrange magic of the acoustic guitars is off the scale. Some of Catch Bull At Four has the magic and some of it does not, unlike Tea and Teaser, which are magical all the way through.

Silent Sunlight
Can’t Keep It In

On the best copies this track is as Huge and Powerful as anything the man ever recorded. It’s another one of the best sounding tracks on the album. On our top copies this is a Demo Track that’s hard to beat.

The midrange magic of the acoustic guitars is off the scale. Some of Catch Bull At Four has the magic and some of it does not, unlike Tea and Teaser, which are magical all the way through.

Side Two

18th Avenue

This track is a great test for side two. The strings should sound silky yet also have nice texture to them. Without proper mastering, the kind that results in midrange clarity and extension on the top, they’ll never sound right.

There’s also a lot going on with the percussion on this track; you’ll need a dynamic copy to really get the full effect. If you have the kind of speaker that can really move some air you are in for a treat with this one.

Freezing Steel

Another great test for side two. The huge drums and chorus at the end of the song are going to be tough to get right if you’re playing the album at the good and loud levels we do.

Again, you’ll need a dynamic copy with plenty of solid deep bass to get the full effect. If you have big speakers that can really move air this track might just rock your world.

O Caritas
Sweet Scarlet
Ruins

Audio Progress

Many copies were gritty, some were congested in the louder sections, some never got big, some were thin and lacking the lovely analog richness of the best — we heard plenty of copies whose faults were obvious when played against two top sides such as these.

Speaking of congestion, it had previously been our experience that every copy of the record had at least some congestion in the loudest parts, typically the later parts of songs where Cat is singing at the top of his lungs, the acoustic guitars are strumming like crazy, and big drums are pounding away are jumping out of both speakers.

The best import and domestic copies in our shootout this time around managed to reproduce all these elements cleanly, on a larger soundstage, with dynamically more energy, sonic firepower the likes of which we have never heard on this album before.

Of course the reason I hadn’t heard the congestion and the dryness and hardness in the recording is that two things changed. One, we found better copies of the record to play — probably, can’t say for sure, but let’s assume we did, and, Two, we’ve made lots of improvements to the stereo since the last time we did the shootout.

You have to get around to doing regular shootouts for any given record in order to find out how far you’ve come, or if you’ve come any way at all. Fortunately for us the improvements, regardless of what they might be or when they might have occurred, were incontrovertible. The album was now playing at a much, much higher level.

It’s yet more evidence supporting the possibility, indeed the importance, of taking full advantage of the Revolutions in Audio of the last ten or twenty years.

Who’s to Blame?

It’s natural to blame sonic shortcomings on the recording; everyone does it including us.

But in this case We Was Wrong. The congestion and flatness we’d gotten used to are no longer a problem on the best copies. We’ve worked diligently on every aspect of record cleaning and reproduction, and now there’s no doubt that we can get Catch Bull At Four to play at a much higher level than we could before.

This is why we keep experimenting, keep tweaking and keep searching for the best sounding pressings, and why we encourage you to do the same.

Steely Dan – The Parker’s Band Saxophone Battle Listening Exercise

Parker’s Band — another in our series of Home Audio Exercises

Take three or four Pretzel Logic pressings, clean them up and just play the saxophone battle we discuss below. You won’t find any two copies that get those saxes to sound the same. We had twenty and no two sounded the same to us. 

By far the TOUGHEST test on side two is the saxophone battle at the end of the song. If you’ve got a badly mastered or pressed copy it’s sure to be an unmitigated sonic DISASTER: aggressive, hard, shrill, sour, irritating — pick whatever adjective makes you wince, because wincing is exactly what you will find yourself doing with the typical ABC or MCA LP on your table.

You need a copy with an extended top end to allow the harmonics of the saxes to be reproduced correctly. This is the only way they will sound balanced. Otherwise you will be left with a honky upper midrange aggressiveness that will no doubt be doing its level best to tear your head off. If the pressing in question has any added grit or grain, and they almost all do, you are in for even more trouble. Only the sweetest, most tonally correct, grain-free, full-bandwidth copies will let you dig those battling bopish saxes.

Ah, and it’s so good when they do.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Brubeck And Rushing

More Dave Brubeck

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

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This Minty looking Columbia Six Eye Demo LP has SUPERB SOUND and some of the quietest Six Eye vinyl I’ve ever heard. If you’re a fan of either Dave Brubeck or Jimmy Rushing you can’t do better than this album. The sound is as close to perfection as I can imagine.

Chet Baker, Art Pepper, Phil Urso / Picture Of Heath – A Killer Copy from 2005

This is an exceptionally nice original Pacific Jazz Black Label Mono LP with SUPERB SOUND. Pure Pleasure just did a 180g reissue of this album, but the real thing is THE REAL THING! This copy has the PRESENCE, the DYNAMICS and the LIFE of real jazz. I can’t think of a more fun west coast jazz session that sounds as good outside of the best Contemporary records. This one gets a top recommendation. 

Templeman, Barncard and Landee Work Their Magic FIX BAD LINKS

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The Doobie Brothers – Toulouse Street

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.

Two of our favorite engineers worked their magic on this one: Stephen Barncard and Donn Landee. This copy surely has all the Tubey Magic one could ask for, but it’s the size, space and clarity here that really shocked us. After listening to one smeary, veiled mess after another it was a thrill to hear one rock like this.

The vocals have room to breathe, the acoustic guitars are big and up front with extended, correct harmonics, and the bass has more punch and definition than we had any right to expect.

The huge bass on the better copies of this album has to be the handiwork of STEPHEN BARNCARD (American Beauty, Tarkio), although DONN LANDEE (Little Feat, Van Halen), one of the other two engineers here, likes plenty of bass as well.

Back in the day I had no idea this record could sound so punchy in the bass, be this dynamic, yet still have smooth, silky, oh-so-analog vocals.

Some copies have wonky, bloated bass. Others have a bit of a boost at 10k, adding a sparkly unnatural quality to the vocals and cymbals, somewhat like a MoFi pressing.

The best copies have none of those problems. You have never heard ‘Listen To The Music’ sound better. It’s everything a good Ted Templeman produced rock record should be.

The vocals are sweet and natural, not something you would expect on a Doobie’s record, but here they are anyway. I think you will be impressed by the quality of the production. I can’t speak for every track but the ones I played on both sides were consistently excellent.