- With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we would be very surprised if you’ve ever heard Steel Wheels sound remotely as good as it does on this pressing
- We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard
- 4 1/2 stars in Rolling Stone: “All the ambivalence, recriminations, attempted rapprochement and psychological one-upmanship evident on Steel Wheels testify that the Stones are right in the element that has historically spawned their best music – a murky, dangerously charged environment in which nothing is merely what it seems. Against all odds, and at this late date, the Stones have once again generated an album that will have the world dancing to deeply troubling, unresolved emotions.”
NOTE: *A mark at the end of track two and into track three makes fifteen moderate pops.
Sometimes the copy with the best sound is not the copy with the quietest vinyl. The best sounding copy is always going to win the shootout, the condition of its vinyl notwithstanding. If you can tolerate the mark on this pressing you are in for some amazing Rolling Stones music and sound. If for any reason you are not happy with the sound or condition of the album we are of course happy to take it back for a full refund, including the domestic return postage.
We had a great time shooting this one out — we had forgotten how good the music is and were pleasantly surprised by how good the better copies sound. It’s tough to get great Stones sound at this point in their career. I’m sure most of you know that, but there’s plenty of good sound here and no shortage of very good songs either. It’s probably the last great studio album these guys put out.
As you might expect, we heard lots of dry, grainy, thinned-out copies, and clearly those are the ones that didn’t make the cut. When you get a Hot copy with a punchy bottom end and some richness, it’s an entirely different story. This killer pressing lets a song like Mixed Emotions come to life, giving you bigger, livelier, fuller sound than you ever expected to hear on this record. We sure have never heard the album sound this good, and that is a fact.
What Shootout Winning 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 1989
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.
What We’re Listening For on Steel Wheels
- 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? Less grit – smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on Steel Wheels.
- 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 — Chris Kimsey in this case — would have 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.
Shooting Out The Stones from 1989
We just finished a shootout for Steel Wheels.
We went about it the usual way. We carefully cleaned all the copies we had in stock. (Domestic, of course. The imports sound dubby, which is often the case with Rolling Stones albums. Funny how virtually no one — no reviewer we have read, for example — has ever noticed that fact.)
We then found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing each of our copies 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.
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, against other pressings of the same album.
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 shootouts. And we might have learned something new from almost every one.
Sad Sad Sad
Hold On To Your Hat
Hearts For Sale
Blinded By Love
Rock And A Hard Place
Can’t Be Seen
Almost Hear You Sigh
Break The Spell
Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone writes “All the ambivalence, recriminations, attempted rapprochement and psychological one-upmanship evident on Steel Wheels testify that the Stones are right in the element that has historically spawned their best music – a murky, dangerously charged environment in which nothing is merely what it seems. Against all odds, and at this late date, the Stones have once again generated an album that will have the world dancing to deeply troubling, unresolved emotions.”
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic writes “The Stones sound good, and Mick and Keith both get off a killer ballad apiece with “Almost Hear You Sigh” and “Slipping Away,” respectively. It doesn’t make for a great Stones album, but it’s not bad, and it feels like a comeback – which it was supposed to, after all.”
In 2000 it was voted number 568 in Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums.