This Hot Stamper listing from 2006 is a Time Capsule of Commentaries of sorts; it contains write-ups from 2006, 2005 and 2002 all rolled into one. Out of sheer laziness we used to leave the old commentary in the listings, sort of like building the new city on the ruins of the old. For those who don’t mind excavating through the Hot Stamper thoughts of the past, please read on.
Notes from August 2006
DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND of the HIGHEST ORDER!
(For pop music anyway.) Before I get into the sound of this record, let me preface my remarks by saying this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made two records which belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folky pop, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.
For years I have been telling people that one day I would put up on the Web site some Hot Stamper copies of Cat Stevens’ greatest albums. Today is that day.
Last night I listened to at least fifteen of the best pressings of this album that I had available to me — we’re talking some heavy hitters here, all top quality British and American original pressings — and even though this pressing didn’t take top honors (that distinction belongs to the $500 copy we put up) — it was clearly at the top of the pack.
This is an Original Island Sunray pressing. As good as the best domestic originals are, none of them could compete with the amazing British copies that I played. I can’t explain it, but that’s the way it worked out.
Notes from Sometime in 2005
Some of the above comments were written for the last Hot Stamper which went up early in 2005, and of course, my sentiments have not changed. Not only do I think this record can’t be bettered, I have now found copies that are superior to even the best pressing I had heard back then.
Of course, I own a much better stereo than I did in 2005. I’m now using the DynaVector 17D cartridge, which is more correct than the 20X I had before. Also, I’ve improved phono stages quite a bit, incorporating the EAR 834P (and a very special vintage tube complement which makes ALL the difference in the world) into the system, balancing tubey magic with the speed and dynamics of the best transistor systems.
I’ve been acquiring and evaluating superb copies of this album for a couple of years now, waiting for just the right time and the right stereo to shoot them out with each other. The changes I mention above gave me the confidence to tackle this project. I can tell you in all honesty that I have NEVER heard better sound than I heard last night while doing these comparisons. It is my contention that there is no audiophile pressing on the face of the Earth that can compete with the best sounding original Teaser and the Firecats. Of ANY music. This is a sound I simply don’t experience when playing modern mastered records. There is a magic in these grooves that seems to be impossible to recapture. Perhaps one day I’ll be proven wrong, but that day is not upon us yet. Until then, this is the king.
Speaking of stereo improvements, a record like this is the reward for for the endless hours of effort and huge expense an audiophile must invest over the course of years — if not decades — to achieve the kind of reproduction a recording like this demands.
This record, on the right system, is a thrill that can not be experienced any other way.
Notes from January 2005
As you may have read elsewhere on the site, Lee Hulko cut all the original Cat Stevens records at Sterling for both the domestic and British Import versions. Some of that metalwork went to England to be pressed on Pink and Sunray Labels and some stayed in America and were pressed with A&M Brown labels.
Interestingly enough, on this title anyway, the Brown labels are all over the map sonically. They vary like crazy. Conversely, I have never heard a British 3U/3U Sunray label pressing that did not sound amazing, so the British must have much better quality control than the Americans. I have no other way to explain it.
But there are amazingly good Brown label pressings. They are not common and they are hard to find quiet, but they are 99% as good as my best British copy and better than almost all the later British copies, which often do not sound very good at all. I should know. I’ve made the mistake of buying many 4U, 5U, 6U, 7U, etc. pressings only to find the sound left much to be desired.
I remember 15 years ago when Acoustic Sounds was selling the then in-print 25th Anniversary Island pressing (10U, as I recall) for $15, claiming that it was a TAS list record. If you’ve ever heard that pressing, you know it has no business going anywhere near a Superdisc List. It’s mediocre at best and has virtually none of the magic of the good original pressings. I refused to sell it back in those days, for no other reason than it’s far from a Better Record. I don’t like misrepresenting records and I don’t like ripping off my customers. That pressing was a fraud and I was having none of it.
In case you don’t already know, one of the worst sounding, if not THE WORST SOUNDING VERSION OF ALL TIME, is the Mobile Fidelity Anadisq pressing that came out in the ’90s. If you own that record, you really owe it to yourself to pull it out and play it. It’s just a mess and it should sound like a mess, whether you have anything else to compare it to or not.
The recently remastered CDs are pretty awful as well. In fact I don’t know of any good CDs for Cat Stevens’ material. I think they all leave a lot to be desired and have very little of the midrange magic that makes his recordings so special.
So if you’re looking for an amazing demo quality recording, you’ve come to the right place. If you want a timeless Classic Rock recording, it’s here too. They just don’t make them like this anymore and those of you who are waiting for audiophile vinyl reissues of records like this, with all the magic of the originals intact, will be in your graves long before it ever comes to pass. (Note that the Universal heavy vinyl Cat Stevens pressings were three of the worst sounding so-called audiophile records ever made.)
Enough about bad records. Let’s talk about this record. These are stampers that I was not familiar with when I picked up this copy. Of course, anything that looks clean and is on a Brown label I will buy. (The Silver label pressings are generally not very good. Even the best of them never rate better than a ‘B’ and many of them are terrible.)
I knew right away this was a great sounding copy when I dropped the needle on side two and heard the strumming of the guitar at the opening of Tuesday’s Dead. As Dr. Frankenstein so famously shouted, “It’s alive!” When those guitars jump out of the speakers, you know you have a Hot Stamper. Of course, you have to be on guard for any hi-fi-ishness on the top end, which can initially be exciting but wears thin before long. This side does not have that problem. This side is 95% as good as the best copies I’ve ever heard. Since my favorite song on the album is Tuesday’s Dead — you may have read elsewhere on the site that it’s my favorite demo track of all time, mostly because it sounds so good on big speakers — this to me makes this copy worth owning, even if side one were blank.
Side one is very good. It’s a little flat sounding compared to side two. If you didn’t have an amazing side two to compare it to you would probably think it sounds better than it does. But compared to side two the most we can give it is a something like a ‘B’ or ‘B+’. I’m a tough grader when it comes to Teaser and the Firecat because I know how good the album can sound.
Which is a long way around of saying this record is very quiet — I would grade it NM to M- — but it is certainly not pressed on audiophile vinyl and those who are counting tics and pops will find more than a few here. You will also find some of the most glorious sound and music on any piece of vinyl in the world, for what that’s worth.