The story of our latest shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about. 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 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.
Huge 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.
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.
If you’re familiar with what the best Hot Stamper pressings of Tea for the Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat or Mona Bone Jakon can sound like — amazing is the word that comes to mind — then you should easily be able to imagine how good this killer copy of Catch Bull at Four sounds.
All the ingredients for a Classic Cat Stevens album were in place for this release which came out in 1972, about a year after Teaser and the Firecat. His amazing guitar player Alun Davies is still in the band, and Paul Samwell-Smith is still producing as brilliantly as ever.