For Big Production Rock Albums like English Settlement there are some obvious problem areas that are often heard on at least one or two sides of practically any copy of this four sided album.
With so many heavily-produced instruments crammed into the soundfield, if the overall sound is at all veiled, recessed or smeared — problems common to 90+% of the records we play in our shootouts — the mix quickly becomes opaque, forcing the listener to work too hard to separate out the elements of musical interest.
Exhaustion, especially on this album, soon follows.
Transparency, clarity and presence are key.
Note that none of the British copies we played was thin and anemic. The domestic copies are made from dubs and can’t begin to compete.
Almost all had plenty of Tubey Magic and bottom end, so thankfully that was almost never a problem.
They did however tend to lack top end extension and transparency, and many were overly compressed. There is plenty of tube compression being used in both the mixing and mastering, but most of the time it is working its magic to keep the bass big, punchy and loud.
Robert Ludwig used humungous amounts of tube compression on this album, and we’re glad he did. All that massive compression is at least partly responsible for it being one of the Ten Best Sounding Rock Records Ever Made.
The sides that had sound that jumped out of the speakers, with driving rhythmic energy, worked the best for us. They really brought this complex music to life and allowed us to make sense of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music.
Credit Hugh Padgham, producer and engineer, who’s worked with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Genesis, The Police, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Those bands make the kind of music that make good use of Padgham trademark sound: wall-to-wall, deep, layered, smooth, rich and stuffed to the gills. XTC with Padgham’s help have here produced a real steamroller of an album in English Settlement.
The big hit on this album is one that most audiophiles will probably know: Senses Working Overtime. Even over the radio you can hear how dense the production is. Imagine what it sounds like on an original British pressing with Hot Stampers, played on a modern audiophile rig. Simply put, IT ROCKS.
It’s a Big Speaker Demo Disc par excellence.
We’re Big Fans
If you love Big Production Rock, exemplified by the work of Ambrosia, Yes, Supertramp, ELP, Jethro Tull and others too numerous to name, this album should be quite an experience. Over the course of a long day — four sides for each of about ten copies is a big job, trust me — we grew to really like this band.
Their music is sophisticated and innovative, with attention to detail second to none. Add top quality musicianship — the drummer was a real standout on practically every side — and you have an album that will reward repeated listenings for many years to come.
And really put your system to the test to boot.
For Maximum Whomp Factor you need speed, weight, richness, freedom from distortion, dynamics, and the power to play your albums good and loud.
We love big dynamic speakers because they make Big Production Rock Records such as these come alive like you would not believe. Having big speakers to play these kinds of very special pressings is truly a THRILL.
Keep in mind that the amount of whomp in a system is generally limited by the size and number of dynamic drivers, as well as the size, shape and quality of the listening room. Large dynamic speakers with multiple large woofers (12 inches and up, say) usually are capable of delivering serious amounts of whomp. Dynamic speakers with small woofers, as well as planar speakers of every design, even those mated to subs, tend to have noticeably less whomp, what can sometimes seem like almost none.
We had to do a lot of work to get to where we are now, to get the system and the room working well enough to handle the kind of low end energy found on these albums. And it costs a chunk of change too. If you know of an alternative to endless hours of tweaking combined with the lavish expenditure of money on equipment and room treatments, please feel free to share it with us.
Ball and Chain
Senses Working Overtime
Jason and the Argonauts
No Thugs in Our House
All of a Sudden (It’s Too Late)
Melt the Guns
It’s Nearly Africa
Fly on the Wall
Down in the Cockpit
Andy Partridge’s discovery of the 12-string guitar set the tone for English Settlement, an album that moved away from the pop gloss of Black Sea in favor of lighter, though still rhythmically heavy, acoustic numbers with more complex and intricate instrumentation. There are plenty of pop gems — “Senses Working Overtime” stands as one of their finest songs… the textural sound of the album is quite remarkable, indicating the direction they would take in their post-touring incarnation.