Paul McCartney – Unplugged – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

WHITE HOT STAMPERS and QUIET VINYL on BOTH SIDES make this the best copy of McCartney’s Unplugged to ever hit the site! We just finished a huge shootout for this Better Records favorite and this pressing really blew us away, clearly the best sounding on both sides out of a big stack of copies. The sound is rich, full-bodied and amazingly present, with the kind of jumpin’-out-of-the-speakers sound that you only get on the best pressings.

This copy will put you front and center for the acoustic Paul McCartney concert of your dreams!

In the final round of shootouts on both sides, this copy showed itself as clearly superior in terms of transparency and three-dimensionality, as well as having the most rock solid bottom end. To sum it up, my notes read “so real”, which is exactly what makes this copy THE one to have. This is Paul and his mates LIVE in your listening room like you have never heard them before!

This copy, more so than any of the others, gave us the feeling that we were right there in the audience for the taping of this amazing performance. It made other copies sound like records — good records, but records nonetheless. This one has the IMMEDIACY of a live show, one which just happened to be fronted by one of the greatest performers in the history of popular music, Sir Paul McCartney.

What Hot Stampers Give You For This Album

On the best copies, the sound is warmer, richer, and sweeter, or in a word, more ANALOG sounding. You get more extension up top, more weight down low, and more transparency in the midrange. It’s surprising how veiled and two-dimensional so many copies are, considering this is a live recording with not a lot of processing after the fact.

This Copy, Sides One and Two

The guitars are full-bodied, the highs aren’t harsh or brittle, the vocals are breathy, and the immediacy is off the charts. When the band is playing uptempo, this copy ROCKS, and when they’re doing a mellow number, it’s delicate and sweet. We don’t have another copy to offer that so consistently sounds amazing. How about them apples?

What to Listen For

This isn’t your typical rock record that sounds crappy on eight out of ten copies. Most copies of Unplugged sound pretty good. We did hear quite a few that had a somewhat brittle quality to the top end, with no real extension to speak of. It wasn’t ever a dealbreaker, but the copies with a silky openness up there are much more enjoyable — and, unfortunately, fairly uncommon.

There are copies that lack warmth, copies that never fully come to life, and copies that are a bit dark. Some that we auditioned didn’t seem to get the breath in the vocals, and others lacked weight to the piano. Again — not one of the pressings we played sounded BAD, but many of them definitely sounded dry, boring and lifeless.

Just for fun, check out Linda’s percussion and tambourine work in the right channel of the first track on side one, Be-Bop-A-Lula. Since that’s one of our test tracks, we had the opportunity to hear her “contribution” to the song about twenty times or so, and it became a source of — to be charitable — “entertainment” in its own right as the shootout progressed.

It’s Also An Excellent Test Disc

This is a Must-Own LP for testing purposes. When Paul’s voice and the guitars sound right it’s pretty obvious that the system is working. Of course, what makes this a great test disc is that when they sound wrong, it’s just as obvious.

Click here to read more about testing your system with the song Blackbird.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Be-Bop-A-Lula
I Lost My Girl
Here There And Everywhere
Blue Moon of Kentucky
We Can Work It Out
San Francisco Bay Blues
I’ve Just Seen A Face
Every Night
She’s A Woman

Side Two

Hi-Heel Sneakers
And I Love Her
That Would Be Something
Blackbird Track Commentary

Before this song starts, Paul banters with the audience for a minute or two. He spots a woman in the crowd and jokes with her. If your system is capable of resolving it, you can hear their conversation clearly. The sense of actually being in the room with the audience and the performers is uncanny. All the “messing around” on stage stuff gives the listener plenty of nice ambience cues to listen for.

Also, Paul moves the microphone, scraping it along the floor, which causes a huge wave of bass to envelop the room. I was over at one of my customer’s houses one time, doing a shootout with various electronics and tweaks, and I remember distinctly that the microphone stand was shrunken and lean sounding in a way I had never heard before. Now this customer, whose system was in the $100K range, had no idea what that microphone stand could really do. I did, because I’ve been hearing it do it for years.

Some speakers can’t move enough air down there to reproduce that sound. And some speakers shrink the size of images. These are two things I listen for in a system: if it doesn’t have the bottom end and it doesn’t have correctly sized images for the instruments, that’s a system that is failing in fundamental ways. If you close your eyes, you’re not in the presence of the musicians. That’s the goal, and all the equipment in a system must work to serve that purpose.

That’s why this is a good test disc. The band is RIGHT THERE. To the extent that you can make them sound live in your living room, you are getting the job done. The last tiny bit of resolution is not the point. Full-sized live musicians in your living room is the point. Either Paul and his band are in front of you, or they’re not. When they’re not, it’s time to get to work and find out what part of the system is not doing its job.

Ain’t No Sunshine
Good Rockin’ Tonight
Singing The Blues
Junk

AMG  Review

… it remains one of the most enjoyable records in McCartney’s catalog. Running through a selection of oldies — not only his own, but Beatles and rock & roll chestnuts — McCartney is carefree and charming, making songs like “Be-Bop-a-Lula” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” (which finds Paul melding Bill Monroe with Elvis) sound fresh. But the real revelations of the record are the songs McCartney hauls out from his debut — “That Would Be Something,” “Every Night,” and “Junk” — which sound lovely and timeless, restoring them to their proper place in his canon. They help make Unplugged into a thoroughly enjoyable minor gem.