Neil Diamond – Stones

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  • A Shootout Winner – Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side, Double Plus (A++) on the first – this is the way to hear Neil Diamond!
  • Armin Steiner engineered the album, and it’s Neil’s best recorded release (that we’ve critically auditioned in large numbers)
  • Stones and I Am… I Said are killer on the A+++ side one, but both sides have outstanding sonics
  • 4 Stars: “Stones is a stronger album than most of Neil Diamond’s late-’60s records. An engaging collection of mainstream pop.”

I can’t say for sure that this is the best sounding Neil Diamond album, we haven’t been through all of them yet, but it’s certainly the best sounding album of his that we’ve critically auditioned in large numbers. Good luck finding another copy of Stones out in the bins that deliver top quality sonics the likes of these — we went through a TON of copies and only a small number held our interest.

This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What outstanding sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • 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
  • 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 1971

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.

Engineering

On the Hot Stamper copies that do have sweet and rich ANALOG sound, credit naturally belongs with Neil’s go-to engineer, ARMIN STEINER. He was one of the engineers on Spirit’s first album (a truly phenomenal recording from 1968), assisted on Ram, recorded some of the best sounding, most Tubey Magical Chart Topping Pop Rock for Bread in the early ’70s, and, if that’s not enough, has more than a hundred other engineering credits. He’s also the reason that Hot August Night is one of the best sounding live albums ever recorded.

When you find his name in the credits there’s at least a chance, and probably a pretty good one, that the sound will be excellent. You need the right pressing of course, but the potential for good sound should be your working hypothesis at that point. Now all it takes is some serious digging in the bins, cleaning and listening to determine if you’ve lucked into a “diamond in the rough.”

What We’re Listening For on Stones

  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
  • 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.

Problems to Watch For

Some of the more common problems we ran into during our shootouts were slightly veiled, slightly smeary sound, with not all the top end extension that the best copies have.

You can easily hear that smear on the guitar transients; usually they’re a tad blunted and the guitar harmonics don’t ring the way they should.

Smeary, veiled, top end-challenged pressings were regularly produced over the years. They are the rule, not the exception.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

I Am…I Said
The Last Thing on My Mind
Husbands and Wives
Chelsea Morning
Crunchy Granola Suite

Side Two

Stones
If You Go Away
Suzanne
I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today
I Am…I Said (Reprise)

Review

Driven by the hit singles “I Am…I Said” and “Crunchy Granola Suite,” Stones is a stronger album than most of Neil Diamond’s late-’60s records. Instead of padding the album with mediocre originals, Diamond picked several fine covers to fill out the remainder of the album, including Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives,” Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning,” Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Gonna Rain,” Jacques Brel’s “If You Go Away,” and Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing on My Mind”… the record remains an engaging collection of mainstream pop.