Aretha Franklin – Amazing Grace – A Bit of Experimentation with VTA Can Really Pay Off

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More Amazing Grace

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This is a handy record for VTA setup, a subject we discuss at length below.

On the better copies Aretha’s vocals are as dynamic as any you will ever hear, and unlike all the records she did with Tom Dowd, her voice never breaks up on this record. If you have big speakers that can play at loud levels, with the right volume level you can really get Aretha to belt it out like nothing you have ever heard. 

Like most modern churches, the kind that have upholstered pews and lots of carpeting, the natural reverberation of the sound isn’t as pronounced as it would be were the recording taking place in a 16th century cathedral.

Note also that the recording is from 1972, not 1962, so the Tubey Magic that would have been on a recording such as this ten years earlier is not going to be as great. When we play a big stack of copies of a record like this, the limitations of the recording have to be taken into account. The best copies will do what the best copies do; we can’t ask them to sound like something they were never designed to sound like. The best copies of the album clearly sound quite a bit better than the average copy we played, but they still sound like the same recording, just bigger, richer, clearer and more alive.

To set your VTA right, don’t try to make Aretha too smooth — she should sound a bit “hot” when the spirit fills her and she shouts her loudest. If you get her to sound correct you lose a lot of space and ambience. What space and ambience there is on the tape need to be there for the recording to sound “real.”

Huge amounts of deep bass and bass in general are a hallmark of the recording.

The gospel singers behind the two leads should sound clean, clear and rich, never congested, throughout the recording on the best pressings. They too can help you get the VTA for this record dialed in right.

Balancing all the elements of this recording is not easy, but we think you will find that with a bit of work the results are more than worth it!

Size

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.

And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it’s an entirely different listening experience.