Month: January 2019

Ella Fitzgerald Sings Cole Porter

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it for all four sides, this glorious 1956 mono recording is superb from first note to last
  • Full-bodied, musical, and smooth, with surprisingly spacious orchestral staging – this is just the right sound for this album and especially this kind of music
  • “The combination of Ella and Porter is irresistible and whether up-tempo or down-tempo, Ella’s three-octave range voice soars effortlessly as she makes each song come to life. It was all helped by the cream of L.A. session men and Buddy Bregman’s arrangement that oozes sophistication way beyond his twenty-four years. It is a perfect record.” – Richard Havers

he space is HUGE and the sound so rich. Prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies.

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one. The sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably hasn’t heard, and that’s the best reason to demonstrate a stereo. (more…)

The Allman Brothers – Listen for Thin, Edgy Vocals

More of the Music of The Allman Brothers

Easily the group’s best sounding studio recording and especially impressive on a copy like this

Drop the needle on Midnight Rider or In Memory Of Elizabeth Read to hear what this copy can do. You get lots of extension here both up top and down low that makes the overall sound far more engaging and musical than what you’d hear on a typical copy.

One of the biggest problems we ran into with this shootout was thin, recessed or edgy vocals. This is a band known for their rockin’ guitar jams, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the vocals are not where they focused their energy when recording.

I wish the vocals here were a bit fuller but at least they have enough presence to put them front and center. (more…)

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – What to Listen For

There is some edge on Sinatra’s voice on every side of every copy; it’s so common it’s got to be on the tape. Those copies with less edge and grit on the vocals which are not overly smooth or dull tend to do very well in our shootouts.

Also, richness is very important. We look for a combination of rich, Tubey Magical sound that still maintains a fair amount of space, clarity, transparency and freedom from smear.

The original label pressings (always in stereo; the monos are really a joke) are richer and thicker as a rule.

The pressings with the orange two-tone labels tend to be thinner and clearer. A high percentage of them are much too modern sounding, bright and gritty, and when they are we throw them right in the trade-in pile.

Finding the copy with “best of both worlds” sound is the trick. Pressings on both labels have won shootouts in the past. With this album we do what we always do. We play the record without looking at the label and simply grade the quality of the sound coming out of the speakers. Any other approach is liable to fall prey to unconscious biases. As we like to say, record shootouts may not be rocket science, but they’re a science of a kind, one with strict protocols developed over the course of many years to insure that the results we arrive at are as accurate as we can possibly make them.

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Weather Report / Sweetnighter – Watch Out for Sourness and Slowness

More of the Music of Weather Report

Weather Report Albums We’ve Reviewed

What surprised us most about the dozen or so copies that we played years ago for this shootout was how wrong most copies of this album sound. They’re SOUR in the midrange. On this kind of music, a sour midrange is the kiss of death. Those copies that aren’t sour are frequently just plain dull. On a recording like this, so full of percussion — which to be honest LIVES OR DIES on the quality of its percussion — dullness is devastating.

And so is slowness. If you have old school tube equipment — great for vintage RVG recordings but way too slow to keep up with this fast-paced and percussion-heavy music — this record is not going to do what it desperately wants to do: get your foot tappin’.

Smear is also another thing to watch out for — smear kills what’s good about this record. The percussion transients lose their snap and the harmonics get lost. The less smeary sides really work to bring out the funky magic of the recording.

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Count Basie & Oscar Peterson – The Timekeepers

More Oscar Peterson

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Oscar Peterson

Hot Stamper sound on both sides of this Pablo original pressing of the Two Masters in a small group setting. Basie and Peterson recorded five albums together, and this may very well be the best of the bunch, though I have yet to hear one that I didn’t enjoy. I wrote a rave review about this title when I first heard it more than ten years ago. If you like small group piano jazz — here we’re talking two pianists accompanied by Louie Bellson on drums and John Heard on bass — this should be right up your alley. 

Side One

Big, rich pianos. Everything here is clear with no smear, with a fair amount of space. This side is a bit opaque compared to the best we heard, and the bass isn’t quite as deep as it was on the top copies, but overall this side is doing most of what we wanted it to.

Side Two

This side is lively and tonally correct — getting the music right — but lacks extension on both ends. (more…)

The Ornette Coleman Trio – At The Golden Circle Vol. 1

More Ornette Coleman

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

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This is a Blue Note LP with EXCELLENT sound! We didn’t have enough clean copies to do a shootout, but you can be sure that each side rates at least an A+ for sound.

Side one has tons of energy, gorgeous highs and a nice deep bottom end. Side two is rich and full-bodied with wonderfully textured brass. This is a superb copy with sound that does this complex music justice. 

Whether you’ll like the music or not is another question — this is free form jazz; not everybody’s into it, that’s for sure. Ornette Coleman, though, is undeniably one of the masters of this genre. If you have a taste for adventurous, avant garde jazz, this is an excellent record for you both musically and sonically. (more…)

Styx / Pieces Of Eight – What to Listen For

More of the Music of Styx

Number one: Too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression, there will be too many elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space in the upper part of the midrange, causing congestion and a loss of clarity. This is especially noticeable on songs with the loudest choruses.

With the more solid sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich; above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments and voices comfortably, not piling them one on top of another as is often the case. Consequently, the upper midrange area does not get overloaded and overwhelmed with musical information.

Number Two: edgy vocals, which is related to Number One above. Most copies have at least some edge to the vocals — the boys want to really belt it out in the choruses, and they do — but the best copies keep the edge under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull or smeary.

The highest quality equipment, on the hottest Hot Stamper copies, will play the loudest and most difficult to reproduce passages with virtually no edge, grit or grain, even at very loud levels

Tracks two and three on side one were our favorite test tracks. Plat track three to hear how correct, smooth and sweet the midrange is.

Shooting Out the Tough Ones

Styx albums always make for tough shootouts. Like Yes, a comparably radio-friendly Pop Prog band, their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to recording makes it difficult to translate their complex sounds to disc, vinyl or otherwise. Everything has to be tuned up and on the money before we can even hope to get the record sounding right. (Careful VTA adjustment could not be more critical in this respect.)

If we’re not hearing the sound we want, we keep messing with the adjustments until we do. There is no getting around sweating the details when sitting down to test a complex recording such as this. If you can’t stand the tweaking tedium, get out of the kitchen (or listening room as the case may be). Obsessing over every aspect of record reproduction is what we do for a living. Styx’s recordings require us to be at the top of our game, both in terms of reproducing their albums as well as evaluating the merits of individual pressings.

When you love it, it’s not work, it’s fun. Tedious, occasionally exasperating fun.

Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation.

Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear a copy that sounded that open and clear. And how many even dedicated audiophiles would have more than one of two clean vintage pressings with which to do a shootout? These kinds of records are expensive and hard to come by in good shape. Believe us, we know whereof we speak when it comes to getting hold of vintage pressings of Classic Rock albums.

One further point needs to be made: most of the time these very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different – and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Great White Hope 

I’m O.K. 

Sing for the Day

The Message 

Lords of the Ring  

Side Two

Blue Collar Man (Long Nights) 

Queen of Spades 

Renegade 

Pieces of Eight 

Aku-Aku

AMG Review

Styx’s feisty, straightforward brand of album rock is represented best by “Blue Collar Man” from 1978’s Pieces of Eight, an invigorating keyboard and guitar rush — hard and heavy, yet curved by Tommy Shaw’s emphasized vocals. Reaching number 21, with the frolicking romp of “Renegade” edging in at number 16 only six months later, Pieces of Eight maintained their strength as a front-running FM radio group.

Even though these two tracks were both mainstream singles, the rest of the album includes tracks that rekindle some of Styx’s early progressive rock sound, only cleaner. Tracks like “Sing for the Day,” “Lords of the Ring,” and “Aku-Aku” all contain slightly more complex instrumental foundations, and are lyrically reminiscent of the material from albums like The Serpent Is Rising or Man of Miracles, but not as intricate or instrumentally convoluted. While the writing may stray slightly from what Styx provided on The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight kept their established rock formula in tact quite firmly.

Carly Simon – What to Listen For

Too many copies we played erred on the hi-fi-ish side, with not enough warmth. The copies that sound clean and clear just didn’t do much for us. They weren’t able to convey the intimacy and emotion of the music.

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience playing CDs of some of your old favorites. You keep wondering why you liked the music in the first place.

Don’t blame the music. Blame those crappy CDs.  (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Look Around, Then Listen for the Huge Room on Roda

More of the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

If you have a good copy of Look Around and a high-rez stereo/room and want to have some fun, play the second track on side one, Roda. In the left channel there is some double-tracked clapping (or two people, how could you tell the difference?) in a HUGE room. Actually although it sounds like a huge room it’s probably a normal sized room with lots of reverb added. Either way it sounds awesome. 

These hand claps drive the energy and rhythm of the song, and they are so well recorded you will think the back wall of your listening room just collapsed behind the left speaker. On the truly transparent copies the echo goes WAY back. (more…)

Richard & Linda Thompson – Bigger, Taller, Wider, Deeper

More of the Music of Richard Thompson

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Richard (and Linda) Thompson

One of the qualities we don’t talk about nearly enough on the site is the SIZE of a record’s presentation. Some copies of the album don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. Other copies do, creating a huge soundfield from which the instruments and voices positively jump out of the speakers. 

When you hear a copy that can do that, needless to say (at least to anyone who’s actually bought some of our best Hot Stamper pressings) it’s an entirely different listening experience.

With constant improvements to the system Shoot Out is now so powerful a recording that we had no choice but to add it to our Top 100 list in 2014, but we would go even further than that and say that it would belong on a list of the Top Ten Best Sounding Rock Records of All Time.

The guitars are HUGE — they positively leap out of the speakers on the title cut, freeing themselves from a studio that seems already to be the size of a house.

Not long ago we played an amazing copy of The Sky Is Crying, one of the biggest — and by that we mean tallest, widest and deepest — sounding records we have ever heard. This album is every bit as big. It’s nothing less than astounding.

There is the kind of solid, powerful kick to the drums on every track that only the best of the best rock records ever display, the Back in Blacks and Zep IIs, with deep punchy bass augmenting the drums, just as it does on the Hot Stamper pressings of those two titles.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this record should put to shame 99% of all the rock records you have ever heard.

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