Linda Ronstadt – Prisoner In Disguise – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

Val Garay (JT, Simple Dreams) does it again! Both sides of this Asylum pressing have SUPERB SOUND, and side one I would go so far as to say has MASTER TAPE SOUND.

Side one is simply OFF THE CHARTS. It’s super-transparent; the clarity is amazing, and from the moment the needle hits the groove you hear the kind of stunning immediacy that brings Linda right INTO your listening room! This is EXACTLY the kind of sound a pop record is supposed to have. This copy gives it to you big time, on both sides.

The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that was pretty much nonexistent on the other copies we played. Drop the needle on Many Rivers To Cross and check out the amazing sound of the organ, coming from the back of the room. Only the highest resolution copies give you that kind of depth to the soundfield.

The Middle of the Midrange Is Key

Here’s what we learned when doing this shootout. So many copies sounded like they were half-speed mastered. They had a little something phony added to the top of Linda’s voice, they had a little bit of suckout right in the middle of the midrange, the middle of her voice, and they had a somewhat diffuse, vague quality, with sound that lacked the SOLIDITY we heard on the best pressings. These hi-fi-ish qualities that we heard on so many copies reminded us of the kind of audiophile sound we decry at every turn. We’ve played literally hundreds and hundreds of MoFis and other half-speed mastered records over the course of the last twenty years, and one thing we know well is That Sound.

But think about it. What if you only had one copy of the album — why would you have more than one anyway? — and it had that Half-Speed Sound? You would simply assume the recording had those qualities, assuming you could even recognize them in the first place. (Let’s face it, most audiophiles can’t, or all these companies would have gone out of business and stayed out of businesss, and their out of print records would sell for peanuts, not the collector prices they bring on ebay and audiophile web sites, including ours if truth be told.)

It’s Not Really That Hard to Tell One from the Other

Fortunately our customers recognize those phony qualities and are willing to pay top dollar for copies that don’t have those phony audiophile BS colorations. If you have a good stereo and two working ears it’s not hard to hear right from wrong. It’s not rocket science. The records that sound right to us we call Hot Stampers. They’re the ones that get all the energy into the grooves, with correct tonality from top to bottom. Audiophile records are the ones that compress the shit out of the sound and have colorations and problems everywhere you look. It’s really not that hard to tell one from the other, for us and our Hot Stamper fans anyway. The rest of the world has a way to go in this respect, but we’re doing our best to convert them, one audiophile at a time.

Sides One and Two

It’s a knockout copy from start to finish. The piano sounds natural with real weight. The fiddle on The Sweetest Gift (played by our man David Lindley) is full of texture. (Emmylou Harris, dueting here with Linda, is SUPERB, with truly Demonstration Quality Sound on the best copies.) The acoustic guitars are Right On The Money throughout — the transient information is captured perfectly. (Listen to the opening guitar in the right channel of The Sweetest Gift; we used it as a test track and when that guitar is RIGHT THERE you know you have a copy with Hot Stampers.)

What A Supporting Cast!

Check out all the cool cats who helped make this record: EmmyLou Harris, James Taylor, Lowell George, Andrew Gold, Peter Asher, Val Garay, Russ Kunkel, David Lindley, JD Souther and more. You see those same names all over our site! Perhaps it is time to rethink the conventional wisdom that says Linda Ronstadt’s records are not for audiophiles. Those people are involved with some of our all-time favorite records, and their contributions really help this music sound great.

Another Ignored Gem From Linda

I confess to never having taken this album seriously (much like Simple Dreams, an album I now LOVE), dismissing it as a commercial collection of pop hits with as much depth as the L.A. river, but I was wrong wrong WRONG. This is a great album on the right LP, not the compressed piece of grainy cardboard pop we’re used to. The typical pressing barely hints at the tremendous energy and top-quality musicianship that characterizes practically every track on this wonderful record.

Give It Up Again For Val Garay

Kudos must go to Val Garay, the man behind one of our favorite recordings, JT, with which this album shares much in common. That same super-punchy, jump-out-the-speakers, rich and smooth ANALOG sound is everywhere in evidence. I don’t think Mr. Garay gets anything like his due with audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them. This is a shame. The guy makes Top Quality Pop Records about as good as they can be made, and if you have the kind of Big System that can really rock out, you owe it to yourself to get to know his work.