- With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this is an all around killer pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- One of the funkiest audiophile-quality discs money can buy, but you need a copy that sounds as good as this one to make that case
- The key qualities are richness, warmth, Tubey Magic, and clarity, and here you will find a healthy dose of all four
- “Stevie Wonder applied his tremendous songwriting talents to the unsettled social morass that was the early ’70s and produced one of his greatest, most important works, a rich panoply of songs addressing drugs, spirituality, political ethics, and what looked to be the failure of the ’60s dream — all set within a collection of charts as funky and catchy as any he’d written before.”
Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Stevie Wonder singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 44 years old), 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 less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.
What the best sides of Stevie’s One True Masterpiece 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 1973
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with the lead and background vocals as well as the instruments having the correct sound for this kind of recording
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
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 listed 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 to Listen For
Copies with rich lower mids oftenedid well in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course.
Many copies are murky and opaque. We gave out high grades to copies that were transparent without sacrificing the richness and Tubey Magic that is absolutely critical to the sound of the best copies.
Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural ambience and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.
What do the best Hot Stamper pressings of Innervisions 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 most 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.
The Average Copy: Don’t Get Me Started
Millions of these were made, but most of them weren’t made right.
Years ago we made some progress with regards to the various stampers and pressing plants we liked best, but trying to find clean copies with the right matrix numbers has proved exceedingly challenging. Even when you do get the copies with good stampers, they often don’t sound all that amazing. I had practically given up on making this shootout happen until about ten years ago when a friend dropped off a copy that had seriously good sound.
It didn’t turn out to be the ultimate copy — that’s why shootouts are crucially important to the discovery of the best pressings — but it was so enjoyable that we decided to give Innervisions another try, and since that time we’ve gotten better and better at finding, cleaning and playing Stevie Wonder’s Masterpiece, a record that should be played regularly and one that belongs in any right-thinking audiophile’s collection.
A lovely song. On a good copy, the acoustic guitar is warm, rich, and sweet, and Stevie’s voice is surrounded by wonderful ambience. It’s almost impossible to find a copy that doesn’t have some surface noise on this track.
Living for the City
On the best copies, this song comes to LIFE!
One of Stevie’s funkiest songs. Only the best copies give this song the life and energy it needs to really rock.
Jesus Children of America
All in Love Is Fair
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
He’s Misstra Know It All
This track tends to be a bit smooth, even dull, but on the better copies it will sound lovely.
When Stevie Wonder applied his tremendous songwriting talents to the unsettled social morass that was the early ’70s, he produced one of his greatest, most important works, a rich panoply of songs addressing drugs, spirituality, political ethics, the unnecessary perils of urban life, and what looked to be the failure of the ’60s dream — all set within a collection of charts as funky and catchy as any he’d written before.
Two of the highlights, “Living for the City” and “Too High,” make an especially deep impression thanks to Stevie’s narrative talents; on the first, an eight-minute mini-epic, he brings a hard-scrabble Mississippi black youth to the city and illustrates, via a brilliant dramatic interlude, what lies in wait for innocents. (He also uses his variety of voice impersonations to stunning effect.)
“Too High” is just as stunning, a cautionary tale about drugs driven by a dizzying chorus of scat vocals and a springing bassline. “Higher Ground,” a funky follow-up to the previous album’s big hit (“Superstition”), and “Jesus Children of America” both introduced Wonder’s interest in Eastern religion. It’s a tribute to his genius that he could broach topics like reincarnation and transcendental meditation in a pop context with minimal interference to the rest of the album. Wonder also made no secret of the fact that “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” was directed at Tricky Dick, aka Richard Milhouse Nixon, then making headlines (and destroying America’s faith in the highest office) with the biggest political scandal of the century.
Putting all these differing themes and topics into perspective was the front cover, a striking piece by Efram Wolff portraying Stevie Wonder as the blind visionary, an artist seeing far better than those around him what was going on in the early ’70s, and using his astonishing musical gifts to make this commentary one of the most effective and entertaining ever heard.
The MoFi Gold CD
Sounds fabulous, some of the best digital I have ever heard.