Month: April 2022

Sonny Rollins / Alfie – Rollins and Nelson Are Hard to Beat in ’66

More of the Music of Sonny Rollins

More Music and Arrangements by Oliver Nelson

More Recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

A triumph for Rudy Van Gelder, a Top Impulse title, and as much a showcase for Oliver Nelson (+11) as it is for Sonny Rollins. 

This album is on the TAS Superdisc list, which is probably what first alerted me to it. I know I was listening to this album 25 years ago, just from the memory of hearing it in the condo I used to live in. It sounded great back then and it sounds even better now! You will have a hard time finding a better Sonny Rollins record, sonically or musically. It may just be my personal favorite of all his work.

Great players of course. Kenny Burrell is wonderful as always. Interestingly I never realized that Roger Kellaway is the pianist on these sessions. I saw him live years ago with Benny Carter (who was 90 at the time) and he put on one of the most amazing performances at the piano I have ever seen. For some reason he was never able to make it as a recording artist, but the guy is a genius at the keyboard.

Of course any orchestration by Oliver Nelson is going to be top flight and this is no exception. Two of his records are Must Owns in my book: Jimmy Smith’s Bashin’ and his own The Blues and the Abstract Truth. No jazz collection without them can be taken seriously.

For audiophiles who are looking for one of the best sounding jazz recordings ever made, this is it. (more…)

Roxy Music / Self-Titled

  • An excellent UK pressing of Roxy Music’s debut, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – this is some of the most dynamic sound the band achieved
  • Andy Hendriksen’s engineering (over the course of a week!) is superb in all respects – we think the best pressings of this first album reveal a recording that is superior to any other by the band
  • A Top 100 album, Roxy’s Masterpiece, and a Must Own Desert Island Disc of Glamorous Arty Rock
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Falling halfway between musical primitivism and art rock ambition, Roxy Music’s eponymous debut remains a startling redefinition of rock’s boundaries. Simultaneously embracing kitschy glamour and avant-pop, Roxy Music shimmers with seductive style and pulsates with disturbing synthetic textures.”

Folks, this is a true Demo Disc in the world of Art Rock. It’s rare to find a recording of popular music with DYNAMICS like these.

The guitar solo at the end of “Ladytron” rocks like you will not believe.

In both music and sound, this is arguably the best record the band ever made. Siren, Avalon and Country Life are all musically sublime, but the first album has the kind of dynamic, energetic, POWERFUL sound that their other records simply fail to show us. And we’ve played them by the dozens, so there’s a pretty good chance we will never find copies with the abundant richness and power we find here.

We hope you will agree with us that it was entirely worth the wait, as this album is a MASTERPIECE of Art Rock, Glam Rock and Bent Rock all rolled into one.

AMG calls Roxy Music the “most adventurous rock band of the early ’70s” and I’m inclined to agree with them. Roxy is certainly one of the most influential and important bands in my growth as a listener and audiophile, along with the likes of Supertramp, Ambrosia, 10cc, Steely Dan, Yes, Bowie and others, groups of musicians dedicated to exploring and exploding the conventions of popular music.

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The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed

More of The Moody Blues

Reviews and Commentaries for The Moody Blues

  • With INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other you’ve heard
  • The sound is huge, rich and lively throughout – you need this kind of space for the orchestral parts to work their Moody Magic
  • Fairly quiet for a 55-year-old UK pressing – a couple of light marks put this one in the top ten percent for condition of the top copies we’ve played, not a bad place to be
  • An Album Experience beyond practically anything that had come before (Sgt. Pepper excluded)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Days of Future Passed became one of the defining documents of the blossoming psychedelic era, and one of the most enduringly popular albums of its era.”
  • If you’re a fan of the Moodies, this vintage UK pressing from 1967 surely belongs in your collection
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life

Pretty quiet if you ask me, all things considered!

This album is 55-years-old, for god’s sake! In those 55 years I’d forgotten how good it is.

“Tuesday Afternoon” is the Perfect Pop Song, with the whole of side two flowing effortlessly from it as each song (each day) is linked by means of the surrounding orchestrations until it reaches its zenith with the climax of “Nights in White Satin.”

The sound is very much a part of the entire experience. The strings of the orchestra sound as sweet as any Decca, the soundstage wide and deep as a symphony. For those of you who still think Mobile Fidelity is the king on this one, here’s a record that demonstrates what a real orchestra sounds like.

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Dvorak / Violin Concerto – A Killer Philips Recording

More of the music of Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)

More Recordings Featuring the Violin

  • This Philips import pressing of Dvorak’s classical masterpieces boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from the first note to the last
  • The orchestral passages are rich and sweet, the violin present, its harmonics gloriously intact
  • We audiophiles are fortunate indeed that a violinist of Accardo’s skill and taste recorded this piece for Philips at a time when their recording technology was still capable of capturing the sound of his violin in rich, warm, sweet, clear ANALOG
  • A SUPERB performance from Salvatore Accardo, certainly competitive with the best we have heard – we know of none better

Yes, it was still possible to record classical music properly in 1980, though not many labels managed to pull it off. (Londons from this era are especially opaque and airless. We find them as irritating and frustrating as most of the Heavy Vinyl releases being foisted on the audiophile public today.)

The orchestral passages are rich and sweet, the violin present, its harmonic colors gloriously intact. This is still ANALOG, with the better copies displaying much of the Tubey Magic of ’50s and ’60s vinyl without as much compressor distortion (the Achilles’ heel of so many of the great recordings from the Golden Era).

Accardo is an accomplished performer of the works of Paganini, but those recordings are on DG and we would not expect them to be of acceptable audio quality for our customers. We will investigate further of course, as Paganini’s works for violin are some of the most sublime in the repertoire.

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How Can Anybody Not Hear What’s Wrong with Old Records Like These?

beatlrubbeoriginalRecord Collecting – A Guide to the Fundamentals

More of the Music of Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

It is our strongly held belief that if your equipment (regardless of cost) or your critical listening skills do not allow you to hear the kinds of sonic differences among pressings we describe, then whether you are just getting started in audio or are a self-identified Audio Expert writing for the most prestigious magazines and websites, you still have a very long way to go in this hobby.

Purveyors of the old paradigms — original is better, money buys good sound — may eventually find their approach to records and equipment unsatisfactory (when it isn’t just plain wrong), but they will only do so if they start to rely more on empirical findings and less on convenient theories and received wisdom.

A reviewer we all know well is clearly stuck in the Old Paradigm, illustrated perfectly by this comment: (more…)

Bizet – Carmen and L’Arlesienne Suites / Gibson / Morel

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • A superb UK Decca pressing of these lively orchestral showpieces with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • Vibrant orchestrations, top quality sound and reasonably quiet surfaces combine for an astounding listening experience
  • This is a spectacular recording – it’s guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of orchestral music you own
  • Speaking of Heavy Vinyl, Alexander Gibson conducts two of the most sought-after and valuable RCA Living Stereo titles of them all, LSC 2225 and LSC 2449. We have not been able to find either for about ten years at anything under $1000, and that is too pricey for records that may not sound the way we want them to

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Count Basie / Kansas City 3 – For The Second Time

More Count Basie

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • A KILLER piano trio recording with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this original Pablo LP
  • It’s bigger, richer, more Tubey Magical, and has more extension on both ends of the spectrum than the other copies we played
  • A different, more compact sound for Basie, joined here as he is by two of the most sympathetic sidemen in jazz: Ray Brown on bass and Louis Bellson on drums
  • “[T]he main joy of this set is hearing Basie stretch out on such numbers as ‘If I Could Be with You,’ ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ and ‘The One I Love,’ tunes he did not play much with his orchestra in this later period.”
  • Steer clear of the OJC of this title – it’s thin and opaque, the opposite of the sound you want

It’s a joy to hear Basie perform as a frontman, stretching out on tunes that were no doubt dear to him. Veterans of hundreds of sessions, Ray Brown and Louis Bellson are just as interesting as Basie, high praise. Recorded by the legendary engineer Ed Greene (Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd – Jazz Samba) — that accounts for the exceptional sound.

Naturally we pick up all the Pablo Basie titles we can get our hands on these days, having had very good luck with a great many of them. When we dropped the needle on a copy of this one a few years back we were amazed at the sound. My post-it, still on the record, reads “SUPERB DEMO DISC.” It certainly is.

This album was part of a series of smaller ensemble recordings under the heading of Kansas City that Pablo undertook with Basie later in his career. Basie had recorded a piano trio record with the same gents the year before For the First Time and must have enjoyed himself enough to give it another go.

The best copies are big and rich, and present you with a solid, weight, clear piano like few piano trio recordings you have ever heard.

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Willie Nelson – Without A Song

More Willie Nelson

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this was one of the better copies we played in our recent shootout 
  • As he did so brilliantly on Stardust, here Willie brings his inimitable singing style to classics of love and loss taken from The Great American Songbook
  • Top quality arrangements – drop the needle on Autumn Leaves or A Dreamer’s Holiday to hear Booker T and his bandmates at their best
  • Top tracks include Autumn Leaves, As Time Goes By, Harbor Lights and of course, Without a Song
  • The critics may not have been impressed, but music lovers sure were – Amazon buyers award the album more than 4 1/2 stars

Once again Willie is backed by a top-notch backing band fronted by the one and only Booker T. Jones. Drop the needle on “Once In A While” and dig the uncanny presence of the vocal and astonishing clarity of the ensemble.

Much like Stardust, a Hot Stamper pressing of this record is a real treat for we audiophiles. This is some amazingly soulful music with midrange magic to spare.

There’s lots of air up top, giving the instruments plenty of room to breathe. The vocals are breathy and full-bodied; if Willie’s voice doesn’t sound a bit gravelly, you’re probably playing an overly smooth or lo-rez copy, and we take away a lot of points for both.

This copy gives you everything you could ask for from this music — tight bass, clearly audible guitar transients, generous amounts of warmth and sweetness, vocal immediacy and studio ambience like no other.

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Destination Stereo and the State of Reviewing As We See It

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

Your Destination — Stereo!

“Your passport to great music in new sound by the world’s greatest artists.”

This reasonably quiet RCA Shaded Dog LP has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND on BOTH sides. It is without a doubt THE best sounding copy we have ever heard*.

Side one is White Hot, with some of the best 1959 Living Stereo we’ve ever heard. Explosive dynamics, HUGE space and size, with unerringly correct tonality, this is a Demo Disc like no other. When “in-the-know” audiophiles discuss soundstaging and depth, they had better be talking about a record that sounds like this.

Shockingly real – proof positive that the cutting systems of the day are capable of much better sound than many assume. 

This record is designed to show off the Living Stereo sound at its best and it succeeds magnificently. The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy. If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them. No CD ever sounded like this.

Just play Gnomus to hear The Power of the Orchestra, Living Stereo style.

The fourth and fifth movements of Capriccio Espagnol, the second track on side one, sound superb, CLEARLY better here than on the Shaded Dog pressings we played about a year ago (which were terrible and never made it to the site. Great performance but bad mastering of what obviously was a very good master tape).

You can also hear the Living Stereo sound especially well on the excerpt from “The Fourth of July” performed by Morton Gould. It’s one of the best sounding tracks here.

I don’t think the RCA engineers can cut this record much better — it has all the Living Stereo magic one could ask for, as well as the bass and dynamics that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

This is as good as it gets, folks.

The State of Reviewing

Even twenty years ago reviewers noted that tracks on compilations such as this often had better sound than the albums from which they were taken, proof that they were listening critically and comparing pressings. What happened to reviewers of that caliber?

I can tell you what happened to them: they left audio, driven out according to the principle that underlies Gresham’s Law: bad reviewers drive out good ones. Which leaves you with the type that can’t tell how truly awful most modern Heavy Vinyl Reissues are. A sad state of affairs if you ask me, but one that no longer impacts our business as we simply don’t bother to buy, sell or play most of them.

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Neil Diamond / Stones – His Best Sounding Studio Album?

More of the Music of Neil Diamond

More Singer Songwriter Albums

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 not many held our interest.

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 showed us.

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.

Good cleaning techniques can help, but bad vinyl and worn stampers limit the encoding of the highs, and bad mastering or the use of sub-generation tapes both can work plenty of mischief on their own.

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.”