- Spectacular Prog Rock sound explodes on this copy of the band’s phenomenally well-recorded debut album, mixed by none other than Alan Parsons – reasonably quiet vinyl too
- With Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on side one, and outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on side two, this copy was delivering the goods for Ambrosia’s ambitious Masterpiece
- Big Whomp Factor here – the bottom end is huge and punchy on this copy
- A Better Records All-Time Favorite and Top 100 Demo Disc: “Its songs skillfully blend strong melodic hooks and smooth vocal harmonies with music of an almost symphonic density.”
Folks, this LP is nothing short of a Sonic Spectacular. For that reason alone it would get a strong recommendation, but the music is so good that the brilliant sound is best seen as a bonus, not the sole reason to own the album.
These sides have the kind of energy that few titles can lay claim to. Put this one up against your best Dark Side of the Moon. Unless you bought a High Dollar copy from us, I’d say there’s almost no chance that this album won’t reduce it to vinyl rubble. (We talk about how similar the recordings are below.)
What Amazing Sides Such as These Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear
- 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 1975
- 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
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 Do The Best Hot Stampers of Ambrosia’s Debut Give You?
- 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.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Ambrosia’s first album occupies a special place in my collection for two reasons. For starters, musically it’s my All Time Favorite Album, bar none. If I could take only one record with me to my desert island, this is the album I would take, no question about it. My love and esteem for this record have not diminished a bit in the last forty plus years. However, I did learn one very special lesson from a big shootout we did back in late 2008 which I would like to share with you…
What We Learned Circa 2008
When you sit down to play ten or twelve copies of an album, one right after the other, sonic patterns are going to emerge from that experience, patterns which would be very likely to pass unnoticed when playing one copy against another copy or two over the course of the twenty minutes it would take to do it.
The pattern we perceived was simply this: About one or two out of that group of a dozen will have punchy, solid, rich, deep bass. (There is tons of bass on the recording so recognizing those special copies is not the least bit difficult if you have a full-range speaker and a properly treated room.)
About one or two copies really get the top end right, which is easily heard when the cymbals splash dynamically, with their harmonics intact, extending high about the rest of the soundfield. (Fewer copies have an extended top end compared to those with tight punchy bass by the way. Like so many Mastering Lab tube-mastered records from the era, most copies tend to be somewhat smooth.)
Think about it: if you do your home shootouts with three or four or five copies of an album, what are the chances that
- You will detect this pattern?
- Or that you will run into the one copy that does it all?
This is precisely the reason we have taken the concept of doing comparisons between pressings to an entirely new, practically unheard of level. It’s the only way to find the outliers in the group, the “thin tails” as the statisticians like to call them. These very special White Hot pressings are the kind of game-changing records that more than make up for all the hassle and expense of good analog. They can take your stereo, and your listening experience, to a place no other records can.
I remember doing a big shootout with this title many years ago, back in the mid ’90s if memory serves. I had four different stamper numbers for side one (AS, AS-1, AS-1A, AS-1B) and four different stamper numbers for side two (BS, BS-1, BS-1A, BS-1B), and of course they all sounded different. Surprisingly, when I discovered what the Hot Stampers were and checked my own personal copy against them, they matched. I had started off with the best sounding version! Had I bought one of the not-so-hot sounding copies I might not have ever gotten into this record the way I did. It was pure luck that the copy I started out with turned out to have the best sound.
The only other time that I can recall such a lucky break happened to me with Deja Vu. in the mid-’90s I got hold of an original looking domestic copy of Deja Vu that had absolutely breathtaking sound. I had never heard a copy that sounded even remotely that good. To this day I can picture the listening room where it was playing and almost hear the amazing sound in my head. I went back to my personal record shelf, pulled out my copy — which I hadn’t played in years — and sure enough it had the same stamper numbers!
Only later did I find out how rare those stampers are. I used to demo my stereo with the song Carry On in the early ’80s, using — gulp — the MoFi. You sure can’t demo your stereo with the typical domestic copy of Deja Vu, which is a real piece of crap 95% of the time. This must explain why people are not rioting over the bad sound of the Classic 200 gram LP. The version they have must be even worse.
The Old 80/20 Rule in Action (But It’s Actually More Like 90/10)
Ambrosia’s first album is exactly what a Test Disc should be. It shows you what’s wrong, and once you’ve fixed it, it shows you that it’s now right. We audiophiles need records like this. They make us better listeners, and they force us to become better tweakers. You cannot buy equipment that will give you this kind of sound. You can only tweak the right equipment to get it. At most 20% of the sound of your stereo is what you bought. At least 80% is what you’ve done with it.
There is no question that this band, their producers and their engineers sweated every detail of this remarkable recording. They went the distance. In the end, they brought in Alan Parsons to mix it, and Doug Sax to master it. The result is a masterpiece, an album that stands above all others. It’s not prog. It’s not pop. It’s not rock. It’s Ambrosia — the food of the gods.
The one album that I would say it most resembles is Dark Side of the Moon. (Note the Parsons connection.) Like DSOTM, Ambrosia is neither Pop nor Prog but a wonderful mix of both and more.
The Record that Did It for Me
Perhaps hearing Dark Side was what made you realize how good a record could sound. Looking back on it over the last thirty years, it’s clear to me now that this album, along with a handful of others, is one of the surest reasons I became an audiophile in the first place, and stuck with it for so long. What could be better than hearing music like this sound as good as this copy sounds?
Fun fact: Burleigh Drummond, the original and continuing drummer for the band, is my neighbor right here in Thousand Oaks.
Billboard Magazine Gets It
Ambrosia is one of the few groups that has mastered the technique of being both far-out galactic in scope of vision and mainstream AM commercial in execution… There is an unusual dreamlike quality that pervades its work. The songs seem to be reaching the listener direct from some strange and beautiful realm of the unconscious. It is an experience rare in popular music today, or at any time.
Nice, Nice, Very Nice
Once you know this record well, you can easily tell if you have a good side one within the first minute of this song. Side one has a tendency to be somewhat bright and even aggressive in places. This problem is further exacerbated by the typical copy’s lack of bass. The best copies have incredibly tight, punchy bass at the beginning of this song, and plenty of it. Phenomenal bass. Demo Disc quality bass.
If that’s not what you hear, you know you will soon be in for more problems. The vocals need to start out smooth, because they get brighter later on. Missing bass or added brightness are sure signs of trouble ahead. The lines “I wanted all things to make sense/ so we’d be happy instead of tense” will be aggressive on copies that are not tonally correct. And copies without tons of bass are not tonally correct, because the recording has tons of bass. It’s essential to the music. Any stereo incapable of providing the power in the lower octaves demanded by this recording is going to make a real mess of this one.
Time Waits for No One
Room shaking deep bass can be heard (and felt!) on the best copies, somewhere in the 20 hertz range. (The deep bass in my house can best be heard in the kitchen; bass seeks the most solid walls that intersect, and that must be where they are, cause it sure sounds good in there.)
Holdin’ on to Yesterday
The big hit off the album. Note the pure-left pure-right guitar-violin duet in the break. Turning your balance knob all the way over gives you one without the other, a neat effect, like sitting at the console and bringing up the fader marked “guitar” or “violin”.
Listen for the distortion on the loudest notes of the guitar; it’s on every copy, which means it’s on the tape.
World Leave Me Alone
The number of copies that have a Hot Stamper on side one are somewhat more rare than those with a Hot Stamper for side two. Side two is usually smoother; that smoothness is key to making this record sound right on both sides.
Make Us All Aware
One of my all time favorite songs, in waltz time no less. On this track there is a great deal of musical information, which makes it difficult to reproduce on anything but the best equipment. If you do not have a high quality front end and carefully tweaked system this track will be a mess.
The close-miked harpsichord in the instrumental break is a real tracking test as well.
Amazing drums. If you’ve got a speaker with the kind of piston area that can really move air, the drumming on this track will knock you out.
Drink of Water
Truly the Monster Track of the whole affair, complete with massive church organ and large chorus, all recorded in the kind of cinerama sound that few engineers have ever dreamed of — sound that stretches from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, overflowing with drums, guitars and keyboards of every stripe.
No matter how long you’ve been on this audio journey, twenty weeks or twenty years, this song will present the toughest challenge your system will ever have to face, and that is a fact that will hold true from now until the end of time. It doesn’t get any bigger or any better. Or any tougher.
Systems that can play this kind of musical energy are few and far between, but if you’re lucky enough to have built one, this will be the song that validates your hard work and expense. Failure certainly is an option. But don’t lose hope. If your system isn’t up to the challenge, this song will guide you in your pursuit of better sound. When this track sounds right, everything else you play will sound right.
Donald Guarisco Review
Although they would become better known for smooth AOR ballads like “How Much I Feel,” Ambrosia first made their name with this album of progressive rock with a pop music twist. Its songs skillfully blend strong melodic hooks and smooth vocal harmonies with music of an almost symphonic density. Good examples of this crossbreeding are “Drink of Water,” which sounds like the Beach Boys tackling a Pink Floyd space rock epic, and “Nice, Nice, Very Nice,” which utilizes a combination of stately close-harmony vocals and dynamic instrumental breaks to put forth a clever lyric derived from a Kurt Vonnegut novel.
“The complexity of the music is further highlighted by its crystal-clear sonic landscape, mixed by Alan Parsons, which highlights unique touches like the use of a Russian balalaika ensemble and 300-year-old Javanese gongs on “Time Waits for No One.” Despite this prog rock ambitiousness, the group is smart enough to avoid letting their instrumental chops take precedence over their music’s melodic content: They keep their songs succinct and punchy (nothing extends over six-and-a-half minutes) and they infuse tunes like “Lover Arrive” and the radio favorite “Holdin’ on to Yesterday” with a delicate sense of pop songcraft that makes the group’s cinematic sound easy for listeners to assimilate.
“The end result is an album that is intricate enough to please prog rock addicts but catchy enough to win over a few pop fans in the process. Though Ambrosia would go on to score bigger hits later in their career, this is definitely their most cohesive and inspired album.”