A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.
This White Hot Stamper original LP goes BEYOND DEMO DISC sound. What that means exactly I’m not sure, but I know it when I hear it, and this record has THAT SOUND. Side one of this copy has ENERGY and LIFE we have never heard before.
Please note: we award the Four Plus grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side one here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus!
No other copy had this kind of OFF THE CHARTS sound on either side, which means we feel no compunction awarding this side one our Ultimate Rating of A Quadruple Plus (A++++). Only a handful of records over the course of the last few years have earned such a grade, certainly no more than ten, and if memory serves there has never been a record with Four Pluses on both sides; that would be just too extraordinary, the Black Swan incarnate.
This Side One
Going back to our best Hot Stamper Triple Plus contenders for the final shootout round, we dropped the needle on this one and it could not have taken three seconds to know that this copy was BEYOND amazing, truly in a league of its own.
Side Two was right up there with the best, but in our final round of shootouts we had to deduct a few points for a subtle lack of extension at the very top (12 to 15K) that on the best of the best lets the cymbals shine above the din below. Without ten or twenty copies to play you will have a hard time finding one like this, we can assure you of that.
The commentary quoted below is lifted from our previous Hot Stamper listing, and it’s all good — my love and esteem for this record have not diminished a whit in the last thirty years. However, I did learn one very special lesson from this shootout which I would like to share with you.
Ambrosia’s first album occupies a special place in my collection for two reasons. For starters, musically it’s my All Time Favorite Album, bar none. If I could take only one record with me to my desert island, this is the album I would take, no question about it.
Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale
But don’t stop there. Not only does it boast DEMO DISC quality sound — another good reason it’s coming with me to my island — it also holds the title for Most Difficult to Reproduce, because it’s so damn hard to play it! This record will bring any stereo to its knees. On most days this record would bring my stereo to its knees. Everything would have to be working at its absolute best before I would even attempt to play this album. It’s not enough to have the stereo warmed up and cookin’, with everything in the house unplugged. The electricity from the pole needs to be at its best, not that grungy garbage you get in the middle of the day or around dinner time, when all your neighbors have their appliances going. You need that late-at-night, two o’clock in the morning everybody-has-gone-to-bed-and-turned-off-all-their-stuff electricity for this bad boy.
So what is the lesson I learned? Simply this: you can play hard-to-reproduce records all day long if your system is tuned up and working fine. Mine is, every day. The shootouts we do demand that everything is working properly. But you can’t play this record on such a system, because this is the Single Most Difficult to Reproduce Recording I have ever heard, bar none.
Which means I had to retweak a lot of the table setup to make sure it was 100% right, by ear. (None of those silly setup tools for us here at Better Records. You can hear when it’s right and if you can’t then you need to keep at it until you can.)
But the biggest change was getting the BALANCE right, and not by setting the balance control at the 12 o’clock notch on the preamp, and not by making sure the vocal is focused dead center either. Those are approximations at best. Ambrosia requires the highest standards of playback, and in the case of balance that means judging the total amount of energy, especially below the midrange, coming out of both speakers. When the energy coming out of the speakers is at its maximum, the sound is louder, more dynamic and more spacious at the same volume setting. And if you’re like me, that volume setting is Very Very Loud. We went on to talk about why this challenging record is such a valuable Test Disc.
If everything is cookin’ and you’re at the top of your game, this is the album for you. It’s an Audiophile Extravaganza for all the right reasons. To be properly expressed, every musical idea needs the right instrumental complement, and each instrument in that complement needs to be recorded properly to produce the desired effect, the one that will express the idea. This album is overflowing with fresh musical ideas, layers and layers and layers of them. I hear more of them every time I have occassion to revisit a new batch of Hot Copies.
Which, by the way, was two years ago. (I’m telling you, I’m afraid to play this record!) Having recently made a string of important changes to the system, I thought I was ready for this one. Boy, was I wrong. I spent the next two days (3/19-20) playing this record over and over again, at fairly high levels mind you, while rearranging all the room treatments. The goal was to balance the sound from top to bottom — to make it as seamless as possible — while retaining the presence and dynamics I knew the best copies exhibited.
The Old 80/20 Rule in Action (But It’s Actually More Like 90/10)
When I was done not only did the record sound better than I ever thought it could, the system did too! This is what a Test Disc is all about. It shows you what’s wrong, and once you’ve fixed it, it shows you that it’s now right. We audiophiles need records like this. They make us better listeners, and they force us to become better tweakers. You cannot buy equipment that will give you this kind of sound. You can only tweak the right equipment to get it. At most 20% of the sound of your stereo is what you bought. At least 80% is what you’ve done with it.
Detail Freaks Beware
This is the kind of record that will eat the detail freaks alive. If your system has any extra presence, or boost in the top end — the kind that some audiophiles mistake for “detail” — this record with beat you over the head with it until blood runs out of your ears. You need balance to get the most out of this album. The more your system is out of whack, the more this album will make those shortcomings evident. Once you have balance, then you can unleash the energy in a way that’s enjoyable, not painful. When this record is sounding right, you want to play it as loud as you can. It’s pedal to the metal time. This music wants to overwhelm your senses. When the system is up to it, it can, and will.
There is no question that this band, their producers and their engineers sweated every detail of this remarkable recording. They went the distance. In the end they brought in Alan Parsons to mix it, and Doug Sax to master it. The result is a masterpiece, an album that stands above all others. It’s not prog. It’s not pop. It’s not rock. It’s Ambrosia — the food of the gods.
The one album that I would say it most resembles is Dark Side of the Moon. (Note the Parsons connection.) Like DSOTM, Ambrosia is neither Pop nor Prog but a wonderful mix of both and more.
Perhaps hearing Dark Side was what made you realize how good a record could sound. Looking back on it over the last thirty years, it’s clear to me now that this album, along with a handful of others, is one of the surest reasons I became an audiophile in the first place, and stuck with it for so long. What could be better than hearing music like this sound so good?