- This rare and wonderful album from 1988 on the original MCA label offers outstanding sound throughout
- In-the-room vocal presence (Jennifer Warnes is stunning on Leonard Cohen’s Ballad Of The Runaway Horse) and tight, note-like bass are key to the best pressings
- Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – they don’t come quieter in our experience
- 4 1/2 stars: “Some amazing duets and a great lineup that includes Aaron Neville (v), Stephane Grappelli (violin), Dan Hicks (v, g), and so on. The jazz community missed this one.” [But the audiophile community loved it.]
- Our old friend Bernie Grundman handled the mastering for Duets, back when he was still making good sounding records. Everything changed when he started working for Classic Records in the ’90s. Based on the scores we’ve played, the vast majority of his remastered pressings leave a lot to be desired. You can read more about them here.
We understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound — yes, even as late as 1988 — is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate living, breathing vocalists — of every persuasion in the case of this album — 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 30 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 Duets 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 1988
- 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 We’re Listening For on Duets
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- 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 the instruments.
- Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t back there somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Shootout Criteria (WTLF)
What are sonic qualities by which a record — any record — should be judged? Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, spaciousness, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, three-dimensionality, and on and on down the list.
When we can get many of the qualities above to come together on the side we’re playing we provisionally award it a Hot Stamper grade, which may or may not be revised over the course of the shootout as we hear what the various other copies sound like. Once we’ve been through all our side ones, we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner. Other copies have their grades raised or lowered depending on how they sounded relative to the shootout winner. Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides of each pressing match up.
That’s why the most common grade for a White Hot stamper pressing is Triple Plus (A+++) on one side and Double Plus (A++) on the other. Finding the two best sounding sides from a shootout on the same LP certainly does happen, but is sure doesn’t happen as often as we would like (!) — there are just too many variables in the mastering and pressing processes to insure consistent quality.
It may not be rocket science, but it’s a science of a kind, one with strict protocols that we’ve developed over the course of many years to insure that the results we arrive at are as accurate as we can make them.
The result of all our work speaks for itself, on this very record in fact. We guarantee you have never heard this music sound better than it does on our Hot Stamper pressing — or your money back.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.
The Moon Is Made Of Gold
One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)
Ballad Of The Runaway Horse
Gone With The Wind
Over The Rainbow
AMG 4 1/2 Star Review
Some amazing duets and a great lineup that includes Aaron Neville (v), Stephane Grappelli (violin), Dan Hicks (v, g), and so on. The jazz community missed this one.