The Traveling Wilburys – Volume One – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

MASTER TAPE SOUND ON SIDE ONE backed with an excellent side two, both on very quiet vinyl! It took us ages to put together enough clean copies to get this shootout going again. Many of the pressings we played suffered from too much compression and a phony hi-fi quality. We knew there had to be great copies out there somewhere, so we kept dropping the needle until we found a few good men. Here’s the best of them all — it rates our top grade of A+++ on side one and A++ on side two. Drop the needle on Handle With Care to hear how wonderful this music can sound when it’s cut right!

Side one of this copy is As Good As It Gets! The sound is natural, balanced, and tonally correct from top to bottom. Most copies we played weren’t nearly this open or transparent. The energy factor here is OFF THE CHARTS and the clarity is superb. We heard a lot of copies with a spitty, gritty top end, but this one is smooth like butter and sweet like candy! Side two is nearly as good but doesn’t have quiet the same energy factor. It’s still dramatically better than most copies out there.

It’s hard not to enjoy this music. Put Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne in a recording studio together and something good is bound to happen, right? This may not be these guys at the very top of their game, but the songs are still a lot of fun. Now that we’ve discovered these Hot Stampers, the sound is finally where we want it to be. Until this week, we were convinced that these songs sounded better on the radio! (That’s what tons of compression will do for you.)

What outstanding sides on Volume One have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1988
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Learning the Record

For our recent shootout we had at our disposal a variety of pressings we thought would have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that other pressings do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given copy reproduces those passages.

The process is simple enough. First, you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we never pretended it was. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection. (The problem is that unless your a crazy person who bought multiple copies of the same album there is no way to know if any given copy is truly Hot Stamper. Hot Stampers are not merely good sounding records. They are copies that win shootouts. This is a fact that cannot be emphasized too strongly.

As your stereo and room improve, as you take advantage of new cleaning technologies, as you find new and interesting pressings to evaluate, you may even be inclined to start the shootout process all over again, to find the hidden gem, the killer copy that blows away what you thought was the best.

You can’t find it by looking at it. You have to clean it and play it, and always against other pressings of the same album. There is no other way.

For the more popular records on the site such as the Beatles titles we have easily done more than twenty, maybe even as many as thirty to forty shootouts.

And very likely learned something new from every one.

What We’re Listening For on The Traveling Wilburys

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Handle with Care 
Dirty World 
Rattled 
Last Night 
Not Alone Anymore

Side Two

Congratulations 
Heading for the Light 
Margarita 
Tweeter and the Monkey Man 
End of the Line

AMG Review

There never was a supergroup more super than the Traveling Wilburys. They had Jeff Lynne, the leader of ELO; they had Roy Orbison, the best pop singer of the ’60s; they had Tom Petty, the best roots rocker this side of Bruce Springsteen; they had a Beatle and Bob Dylan, for crying out loud! It’s impossible to picture a supergroup with a stronger pedigree than that (all that’s missing is a Rolling Stone), but in another sense it’s hard to call the Wilburys a true supergroup, since they arrived nearly two decades after the all-star craze of the ’70s peaked, and they never had the self-important air of nearly all the other supergroups…