Month: January 2023

Al Stewart – Year Of The Cat

More Al Stewart

More British Folk Rock

  • You’ll find seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage Janus pressing of Stewart’s 1976 Masterpiece
  • With engineering by Alan Parsons, the top pressings are every bit the Audiophile Demo Discs you remember
  • The best sides have Tubey Magical acoustic guitars, sweet vocals, huge amounts of space, breathtaking transparency, and so much more
  • The sound may be too heavily processed and glossy for some, but we find that on the best copies that sound really works for this music
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A tremendous example of how good self-conscious progressive pop can be, given the right producer and songwriter — and if you’re a fan of either prog or pop and haven’t given Al Stewart much thought, prepare to be enchanted.”

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Pat Metheny – American Garage

More Pat Metheny

More Jazz Fusion

  • An original ECM pressing that boasts stunning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Both of these sides are open and transparent throughout, with wonderfully full-bodied guitars, solid bass and huge amounts of swingin’ jazz energy
  • Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The arrangements are more structured, the playing often more intense and searching, with a more pronounced rock influence. [T]his is…high-quality jazz-rock for its time.”

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Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Out of This World Sound at Loud Levels

More Emerson, Lake and Palmer

More Prog Rock

  • This UK Island Pink Rim pressing makes the case that ELP’s debut is clearly one of the most POWERFUL rock records ever made
  • Spacious, rich and dynamic, with big bass and tremendous energy – these are just some of the things we love about Eddie Offord‘s engineering work on this band’s albums
  • ANALOG at its Tubey Magical finest – you’ll never play a CD (or any other digital sourced material) that sounds as good as this record as long as you live
  • “Lucky Man” and “Take A Pebble” on this copy have Demo Disc Quality Sound like you won’t believe
  • If you are looking for a shootout winning copy, let us know – with such good music and sound, we hope to get another shootout going again soon
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Lively, ambitious, almost entirely successful debut album… [which] showcased the group at its least pretentious and most musicianly …there isn’t much excess, and there is a lot of impressive musicianship here.”

If you’ve got the system to play this one loud enough, with the low end weight and energy it requires, you are in for a treat. The organ that opens side two will rattle the foundation of your house if you’re not careful. This music really needs that kind of megawatt reproduction to make sense. This is bombastic prog that wants desperately to rock your world. At moderate levels it just sounds overblown and silly. At loud levels, it actually will rock your world.

This UK Island pink rim import pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Queen – A DCC Disaster

More of the Music of Queen

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Queen

Sonic Grade: F

This DCC pressing is a disaster, one of the worst releases that Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman ever mastered.

Murky, opaque and compressed: yes, we can agree it has never been an especially good sounding record on anything but the most difficult to find UK pressings [and we know exactly which ones those are now, which only makes this record sound even worse in comparison], but does it deserve this kind of mastering disrespect?

Isn’t the idea to try and FIX what is wrong, rather than to make it worse?

Whether made by DCC or any other label, starting at some point in the mid-’90s many audiophile pressings started to have a shortcoming taht we find insufferable these days — they are just too damn smooth.

At collector prices no less. Don’t waste your money.

Is it the worst version of the album ever made?

That’s hard to say. But it is the worst sounding version of the album we’ve ever played, and that should be good enough for any audiophile contemplating spending money on this kind of trash. Our advice: don’t do it.


Further Reading

Here are some of our many reviews and commentaries concerning the many Heavy Vinyl pressings we’ve played over the years, well over 200 at this stage of the game. Feel free to dig in.

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries

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Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um

More Charles Mingus

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

  • Boasting seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides, this 6 Eye Stereo pressing is doing just about everything right
  • Teo Macero was the producer and Fred Plaut was the engineer for these sessions in Columbia’s glorious-sounding 30th Street Studio. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.
  • If you like Kind of Blue, here’s another album with that sound (same year, same studio, same engineer)
  • The rich, sweet, spacious sound of the vintage tubes used to record the session is reproduced faithfully here – without that sound, it would just not be Ah Um
  • Marks and problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 5 stars: “Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist’s talents and probably the best reference point for beginners… Mingus’ compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultra-tight zenith on Mingus Ah Um”

This vintage Columbia pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for —this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, 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 maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the Best Sides of Ah Um 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 1959
  • 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.

Production and Engineering

Teo Macero was the producerFred Plaut the engineer for these sessions in Columbia’s glorious-sounding 30th Street Studio. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

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Led Zeppelin / II – Jimmy Page Remasters a Classic

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

You could also call this one The Two Game, in honor of The Blue Game we created in 2007. That was the year we officially gave up on Heavy Vinyl, having finally concluded it was a lost cause and was unlikely to change for the better. (This prediction was borne out by the slough of pressings of dubious merit released since then. It seems we got out just in time!)

Fittingly, it was actually Blue that finally tipped the scales.

Geoff Edgers, the writer for the Washington Post investigating the world of audiophiles, visited me in 2021 to hear what this crazy Hot Stamper thing was all about. [1]

He brought with him a number of records to hear on our reference system, including the 2014 remaster of Led Zeppelin II (excellent), the remaster of Brothers in Arms that Chris Bellman cut, released in 2021 (also excellent, review to come), the last and definitely least, the pricey Craft Recordings remaster by Bernie Grundman of Lush Life (astonishingly bad, review coming). That last one will cost you a couple of hundred dollars minimum, but you should save your money. It’s not worth a plugged nickel if good sound is what you are after.

I’ve been meaning to write about Page’s version of the second Zeppelin album for more than a year. The more times I played the album, and the longer I thought about it, the more remarkable the sound of the record seemed to me, remarkable in the sense that some very interesting things were going on in the sound that would be worth writing about for the benefit of our customers and readers.

But then I retired and had lots of other things to do in order to get out of California. The review would have to wait.

In 2021 and for some time thereafter, I was so impressed with the sound that I considered buying a dozen, cleaning them up and doing a shootout with them. The sound was good enough to qualify as a Hot Stamper, probably One Plus or even a bit better.

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Dire Straits – Love Over Gold

More Dire Straits

More Love Over Gold

  • This vintage British import boasts a STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated to an outstanding solid Double Plus (A++) side one – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The open, spacious soundstage, full-bodied tonality and Tubey Magic here are obvious for all to hear – huge, punchy, lively and rockin’ throughout
  • This killer Hot Stamper is far more natural than any other pressing you’ve heard – we guarantee it
  • “Certainly a quantum leap from the organic R&B impressionism of the band’s early LPs and the gripping short stories of Making Movies, Love Over Gold is an ambitious, sometimes difficult record that is exhilarating in its successes and, at the very least, fascinating in its indulgences.” – Rolling Stone
  • The sound may be heavily processed, but it works surprisingly well on the best sounding pressings (played at good, loud levels on big dynamic speakers in a large, heavily-treated room, of course)

This modern album (from 1982, which makes it 40 years old, but that’s modern in our world) can sound surprisingly good on the right pressing. On most copies, the highs are slightly grainy and can be harsh, not exactly the kind of sound that inspires you to turn your system up good and loud and really get involved in the music. I’m happy to report that both sides here have no such problem – they rock and they sound great loud.

We pick up every clean copy we see of this album, domestic or import, because we know from experience just how good the best pressings can sound. What do the best copies have? REAL dynamics for one. And with those dynamics, you need rock solid bass. Otherwise, the loud portions simply become irritating. (more…)

The Allman Brothers – Eat a Peach

More Allman Brothers

More Southern Rock

  • Boasting excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides, this copy was doing just about everything right – reasonably quiet vinyl too for an early Capricorn pressing
  • These superb sides have the immediacy that will put these wild and crazy southern rockers right in your living room
  • The heartfelt radio-friendly songs such as “Melissa” and “Little Martha” keep up the energy and add to the enjoyment factor
  • 5 stars: “The record showcases the Allmans at their peak, and it’s hard not to feel sad as the acoustic guitars of ‘Little Martha’ conclude the record, since this tribute isn’t just heartfelt, it offers proof of Duane Allman’s immense talents and contribution to the band.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this title from 1972 is clearly one of their best
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Listening In Depth to Let It Be

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Let It Be

This is the first time we’ve discussed individual tracks on the album. Our recent shootout [now many years ago], in which we discovered a mind-boggling, rule-breaking side one, motivated us to sit down and explain what the best copies should do on each side of the album for the tracks we test with. Better late than never I suppose. 

These also happen to be ones that we can stand to hear over and over, dozens of times in fact, which becomes an important consideration when doing shootouts as we do for hours on end.

On the better pressings the natural rock n’ roll energy of a song such as Dig A Pony will blow your mind. There’s no studio wizardry, no heavy-handed mastering, no phony EQ — just the sound of the greatest pop/rock band of all time playing and singing their hearts out.

It’s the kind of thrill you really don’t get from the more psychedelic albums like Sgt. Pepper’s or Magical Mystery Tour. You have to go all the way back to Long Tall Sally and Roll Over Beethoven to find the Beatles consistently letting loose the way they do on Let It Be (or at least on the tracks that are more or less live, which make up about half the album).

Track Commentary

Side One

Two of Us

Dig a Pony

On the heavy guitar intro for Dig a Pony, the sound should be full-bodied and Tubey Magical, with plenty of bass. If your copy is too lean, just forget it, it will never rock.

What blew our minds about the Shootout Winning side one we played recently was how outrageously big, open and transparent it was. As the song started up the studio space seemed to expand in every direction, creating more height, width and depth than we had ever experienced with this song before.

But there is no studio space; the song was recorded on Apple’s rooftop. The “space” has to be some combination of “air” from the live event and artificial reverb added live or later during mixing. Whatever it is, the copies with more resolution and transparency show you a lot more of “it” than run-of-the-mill pressings do (including the new Heavy Vinyl, which is so airless and compressed we gave it a grade of F and banished it to our Hall of Shame).

In addition, Ringo’s kit was dramatically more clear and present in the center of the soundfield just behind the vocal, raising the energy of the track to a level higher than we had any right to believe was possible. The way he attacks the hi-hat on this song is crazy good, and the engineering team of Glyn Johns and Alan Parsons really give it the snap it needs.

These are precisely the qualities that speed and transparency can contribute to the sound. If you have Old School vintage tube equipment, these are two of the qualities you are most likely living without. You only need play this one track on faster, better-resolving equipment to hear what you’ve been missing.

On the line after “All I want is you”, the energy of “Everything has got to be just like you want it to” should make it sound like The Beatles are shouting at the top of their lungs. If you have the right pressing they really get LOUD on that line. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “[My wife] jumped out of her seat on the couch after the percussive intro to Shout was over and the song launched.”

More of the Music of Tears For Fears

Hot Stamper Pressings of Help Available Now

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

I know you must have a TON of e-mail traffic to sort through but wanted to send accolades for the latest shipment of hot stampers from you! Simply incredible!

I don’t know how you managed to get the TFF Big Chair LP to play SO clean because it looks atrocious. If I would have seen that in a used record store I would have put it back but when the stylus touched down, dead silent surface and throughout the whole record. The sound is incredible as advertised. I played it for my wife who is enjoying these pressings with me and praises you after reading your descriptions. She jumped out of her seat on the couch after the percussive intro to Shout was over and the song launched.

The Beatles Help album was also incredible. Compared to the MoFi I have it now sounds overly bright and goosed. The UK 1970’s press sounds more cohesive and even across the spectrum. That title was missing from my others of that same pressing era.

All the jackets that have come with the LPs so far have been very nice. The TFF was crisp and new.

I am HOOKED on your hot stampers, Tom. My system is up to reproducing these as you hear them and with the play grades you rate them at.

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