A vintage pressing of Nilsson’s wonderful 1969 LP with excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
You’ll have a hard time finding a copy that sounds remotely as good as this one – it’s clean, clear, and present with tons of Tubey Magic
Full-bodied and energetic, with a punchy bottom end and plenty of space all around the various instruments, this is the sound of vintage analog
4 stars: “…Harry is where Harry Nilsson began to become Nilsson, an immensely gifted singer/songwriter/musician with a warped sense of humor that tended to slightly overwhelm his skills, at least to those who aren’t quite operating on the same level.”
This is a Must Own album from 1969. The next time you see it on the site, grab it, because it is rarely up there. Until then, buy the DCC CD. It’s excellent.
This forgotten gem sank like a stone in 1969, but time has treated this album well; it still holds up. The production is superb throughout. Judging by this early Nilsson album, it appears he was already a pro in the studio, as well as an accomplished songwriter, and, more importantly, the owner of one of the sweetest tenors in popular music, then or now.
This album checks off a few of our favorite boxes:
An outstanding copy of Ronstadt’s 1984 release with Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it on both sides
Getting the strings to sound sweet and rosiny, not smeary and hard, is no mean feat, but it’s the kind of thing the better Hot Stamper pressings are guaranteed to give you on any of Linda’s American Songbook albums
“What’s New illustrated that Linda Ronstadt was no longer interested in contemporary pop, and since it was a surprise success, there was no reason not to repeat the formula on Lush Life. Working again with Nelson Riddle, Ronstadt runs through several pop standards — ‘When I Fall in Love,’ ‘Sophisticated Lady,’ ‘Falling in Love Again,’ ‘It Never Entered My Mind’…”
A tenet of conservatism is that we must all accommodate ourselves to living in the world that exists, not the world we might want to pretend exists, or the world we would like to exist.
The laws of physics are laws, not theories, not recommendations, and they operate independently of how convenient any of us may find them.
It follows from this — if you will allow me to make the case — that not everybody with a stereo can play Rudy Van Gelder’s recordings properly, and some people cannot play Tarzan at all. (See below.)
There is a fellow, rl1856, who made some comments on Robert Brook’s blog, addressing the Tone Poets pressings of RVG’s recordings vis-a-vis vintage pressings that RVG mastered. (Bolding has been added by me.)
An original RVG 1st or 2nd pressing has a visceral, “edge of the seat” feeling that is missing in the TP [Tone Poets] and BN [Blue Note] Classic reissues. The RVG has a tighter stereo spread, and is voiced so that the listener feels they are very close to the musicians. The TP and Classic remasters have a more distant perspective. The soundstage is wider, but the added apparent distance between musician and listener significantly reduces the impact of the music. OTOH, the reissues have greater extension at frequency extremes, and reproduce more micro detail than original pressings. We know that RVG used a surprising amount of EQ when mastering his LPs back in the day. So we need to ask ourselves, what do we want ? A better version of what we are familiar with, including EQ compromises, or a more accurate representation of what was actually captured on the master tape in RVG’s studio ? The answers may be mutually exclusive.
My system: Linn LP12 ITTOK LVII, SoundSmith Denon 103D, Audio Research SP10MKIII, Luxman MA 88 monoblocks, or Triode TRV 845PSE, or Mac 240, KEF LS50. Resolving enough to easily hear differences in LP quality.
When someone reveals that their equipment is simply not capable of reproducing the sound of live music, we can safely ignore whatever opinions they have offered about the records being discussed.
It should be obvious that they have played them with unacceptably low levels of fidelity.
Let’s Talk About the Real World
The science behind my argument is as follows.
Acoustic instruments make sounds by moving air, whether in the studio or the concert hall.
Speakers replicate the sound of those instruments in your listening room by the same process. They move air.
Big dynamic speakers are good at moving air in a listening room, and small ones are not.
Therefore, speakers that do not move enough air are failing fundamentally to reproduce the sound of instruments with a high degree of fidelity.
On a hot day you can fan yourself with an album jacket or you can fan yourself with a guitar pick. One moves enough air to cool you off, the other does not, no matter how hard you try. (See: physics, laws of, above.)
Box speakers with five inch drivers may move enough air in the home listening environment, especially in smaller rooms, to play music with enough fidelity to make it enjoyable.
What they cannot do is move enough air to play music that sounds like live music.
The right pressings (we admit that this phrase is doing a lot of heavy lifting here) of Rudy Van Gelder’s better recordings do a remarkable job, in this writer’s view, of reproducing the feeling one gets from listening to live music.
If the speakers you own fail to reproduce that sound, the kind of big, lively sound some of us have spent a lifetime pursuing, how can your judgment be of any value to those of us who own large speakers, in dedicated rooms, designed to reproduce music at live levels?
Colorblind people rarely make good art critics. They know better than to talk about the colors they can’t see.
Some actors who want to play Tarzan are simply not equipped to play Tarzan. They may be foolish enough to audition, but no one could possibly be foolish enough to give them the part. (See video below.)
A Poor Guide
Some speakers give an incomplete picture of what the record is getting right and what it is getting wrong. Due to the laws of physics mentioned above, speakers with “woofers” that are 5.25 inches in diameter can be safely placed in this category.
No recording of a jazz group with a bass player can be reproduced properly using a five inch woofer.
Rudy recorded many jazz groups, and few of them did not have someone playing bass.
If you have that kind of ‘incomplete” speaker, regardless of how much you may like what it does well in other ways, the first step in the long road to better sound is to recognize that it is preventing you from appreciating a great deal of what makes Rudy Van Gelder’s recordings powerful.
Little speakers are not powerful. To be powerful, a speaker has to move air well, and that is one thing, among many, that small speakers cannot do.
They also do not do a good job in my experience of capturing frequency extremes, especially at the low end, which makes this fellow’s comment that “the reissues have greater extension at frequency extremes” rather absurd. His speaker goes down to 80hz. I looked it up. There are two full octaves of bass below 80hz. I guess those aren’t important. (When audiophiles tell you some aspect of the reproduction of music is “not important,” this should be seen as nothing more than motivated reasoning. You don’t want to be that guy either.)
Something I’ve never taken the time to write about on this blog is the correct sizing of instruments.
Some speakers — typically those with smaller drivers — create images of instruments that are too small, smaller than you would picture them if you were sitting in the audience. Other speakers — typically screens of one kind or another — produce larger-than-life images of instruments and vocalists. In the ’70s, I heard a lot of screens and full-range electrostats — these come to mind, and there were plenty of others like them, Magneplanars and the like — and the images never seemed right-sized or real enough to be taken seriously. I opted for a big dynamic system and never heard anything that would give me a reason to switch.
Yes, he may think that his system is “Resolving enough to easily hear differences in LP quality.”
But what about all the differences his system does not allow him to hear? Failing to recognize the shortcomings of a stereo system doesn’t make them go away.
When you close your eyes while listening to a system that looks like this (I found this one randomly on the web), do you feel that you’re in the presence of live musicians?
Of course you don’t. How could you?
But when I listen to the system seen below (that’s me at the table) turned up good and loud, that is precisely the sound I get from the hottest of the Hot Stamper pressings I play. Here is one example from not that long ago. I could easily describe hundreds of others, many of which are unforgettable.
The remarkable White Hot stamper pressings we discuss on this blog were made from the greatest recordings ever put on tape, and that group includes a fair number that were engineered by RVG.
Rudy Is the Man
Of the many hundreds of jazz albums we have listened to critically over the past thirty plus years, our pick for The Best Sounding Jazz Record of them all has Rudy’s name in the credits. Even better, it’s a reissue from the ’70s, because the originals, at least the ones we’ve played, don’t sound remotely as good as the right reissues.
We didn’t read that on a forum, or a website, or in a magazine. We heard it with our own two ears.
It’s the kind of thing that an obsessively-tuned full-range system, set up in a heavily-tweaked, dedicated room, can reveal about just how remarkably different various pressings of recordings can sound. These differences are often obscured by the manifold shortcomings of smaller, more limited systems, the ones most audiophiles own.
That’s why some audiophiles believe what they read from self-described experts about master tapes and mastering approaches and all the rest. Their systems can’t show them how mistaken all this talk really is.
To convince others that you know something about “a more accurate representation of what was actually captured on the master tape,” as if that could be known by someone with no access to the master tape and speakers you could fit in a backpack, is the height of self-deception. It’s the worst kind of pretentious knowledge.
We’ve learned that the only way to truly understand records is by ignoring what everybody says and just play as many different pressings as you can in blinded, carefully controlled experiments. The data derived from these experiments should inform your opinions, not the other way around.
If you really want to make the case for your expertise in record reviewing, it’s never a good idea to claim that the laws of physics don’t apply to you. It’s the kind of thing that upsets irredeemably skeptical types such as me, who then spend all afternoon writing longwinded commentaries about the things that misinformed audiophiles believe.
Never Played One
To be clear, we have never played a Tone Poets record. We’ve played many titles mastered by Kevin Gray, and we know that he is credited with mastering some records for the label. Without exception we find that his remastered records leave a lot to be desired. You can find many of them in our Hall of Shame. Anyone defending his work to me has some heavy lifting to do.
A couple of titles we will be doing shootouts for soon will include the Tone Poets pressings, and you will be able to read all about them right here on the blog.
Until then, allow us to leave you with a few things to think about.
Boasting two stunning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) Living Stereo sides, this vintage Shaded Dog pressing is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner
Tons of energy, loads of rich detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – the very definition of Demo Disc sound
This record will have you asking why so few Living Stereo pressings actually do what this one does.
The more critical listeners among you will recognize that this is a very special copy indeed. Everyone else will just enjoy the hell out of it.
We’ve reviewed most of the famous recordings Fritz Reiner did for RCA, and those reviews can be found here
With the advent of the stereo LP, RCA produced a large number of album titles using the wonderful Living Stereo banner across the top of the jacket. The link above will take you to titles either recorded or released in 1958.
Our review for LSC 2314, comprising the Mendelssohn and Prokofiev Violin Concertos, described the wonderful sound we heard on some of the better copies.
As usual for a Living Stereo Heifetz violin concerto recording, he is front and center, with his fingering and every movement of his bow clearly audible without being hyped-up in the least. (Well, maybe just a bit.)
No violin concerto recording can be considered to have proper Living Stereo sound if the violin isn’t right, and fortunately this violin is very, very right, with the kind of rosiny texture and immediacy that brings the music to life right in your very own listening room.
need to find themselves a nice — maybe even one that’s not so nice — vintage RCA Shaded Dog or White Dog pressing of any of his albums just to see just how poorly the Classics stack up (with the exception of the Glazounov, which is very good).
Anyone has ever attended a classical music concert should recognize that the violin on any of the Heavy Vinyl pressings of these famous works sounds almost nothing like a violin in a concert hall ever sounds.
And I mean ever.
No matter where you sit.
No matter how good or bad the hall’s acoustics.
Solo violins in live performance are clear, clean and present. You have no trouble at all “seeing” them clearly.
Our vintage Hot Stamper pressings have that kind of clear and present sound for the violin. If they didn’t, they would not be Hot Stamper pressings.
We haven’t sold a violin concerto record with sound as bad as the typical Classic Records pressing since 2011, the year we stopped selling Heavy Vinyl. Since then we have dedicated ourselves to offering our customers pressings with audiophile quality sound. We believe that makes us unique in the world of audiophile record dealers.
All record dealers, when you stop to think about it.
As an aside, many of the vintage orchestral recordings we’ve auditioned over the years did a good job of capturing the lead instrument in a concerto — for example, the piano or violin — but fell apart completely when the orchestra came in, with obvious and unacceptable levels of congestion and distortion.
Here are some titles that can have congestion problems when they get loud. If you play your orchestral recordings at moderate levels, you may not be as bothered by this problem as we are, because we do not have the luxury of listening at moderate levels. We have to put the records through the ringer, and one of the ringers they must go through is they must sound right at loud levels, because live music gets loud.
Congestion and distortion are problems for practically all the titles you rarely see on our site, the Golden Age recordings by EMI, DG, Philips, Columbia and dozens of others. We discussed the problem here in more detail.
The first three songs on side one alone are worth the price of the album, three of the best Judy ever recorded.
Joni Mitchell’s Michael from Mountains is one of the best songs on her debut album; Judy sings it with comparable taste and skill.
Since You Asked is Judy’s own composition, her first to be recorded in fact. In this writer’s opinion it’s the best song she ever wrote, “as good as it gets” as we like to say.
And of course Leonard Cohen’s Sisters of Mercy is one of his many masterpieces and brilliant in all respects as performed here.
What to Listen for
Most copies were small and veiled, with edgy, dry vocals that often get hard or shrill when loud — definitely not our sound.
We were surprised that so few copies sounded the way we expected them to, that so few had the Tubey Magical qualities that we’ve come to expect from Elektra in 1967.
The label was home to The Doors and Love at the time, so what happened here?
John Haeny, the engineer, worked on Waiting for the Sun, which is an amazing sounding Doors album on the right pressing. Why so few great sounding Wildflowers?
If that’s a legitimate question to pose, then first answer me this: why so few great sounding copies of Waiting for the Sun?
It’s simple — the 1967 Elektra magic of the tape did not make it to the 1967 Elektra vinyl with any consistency. That’s why it’s hard to find good sounding Judy Collins records or good sounding Doors records. This is our first big Judy Collins shootout for precisely that reason.
We can find great sounding Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell records all day long; the site is full of them. Judy Collins, not so much. Almost none outside of this one.
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.
There’s More Where This Pressing Came From
If this is the kind of sound you like, below are links to recordings that you may wish to pursue, with similar “qualities,” if I can use that term.
We don’t sell junk like this, but every other audiophile record dealer does, because most of the current group of mastering engineers making records for audiophiles have somehow gotten into their heads that this is the way records should sound.
We’ve been telling them they are wrong about that for years now, that good records have never sounded this way, but the collectors and audiophiles of the world keep buying their wares, so why should they listen to us?
These are the hallmarks of the modern Heavy Vinyl LP. Whether made by Speakers Corner, DCC, AP or any other label, starting at some point in the mid-’90s, the sound these labels preferred had an infuriating tonal balance problem we heard in practically every record we played.
The acoustic guitars are magical on this copy, and you won’t believe how wonderfully breathy and sweet these guys’ voices sound
American Beauty is one of Stephen Barncard‘s greatest recording achievements – the richness and clarity are really something here
A 5 star Top 100 album – “A companion piece to the luminous Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty is an even stronger document of the Grateful Dead’s return to their musical roots. American Beauty remains the Dead’s studio masterpiece.”
Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.
This is a longtime Better Records favorite for both music and sound. For those of you who love acoustic guitar-driven folk songs — we call it Hippie Folk Rock — you should find a lot to like about the sound of this album.
Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the best Hot Stamper pressings. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings).
All the Elements Come Together for Once
All of the elements necessary to take this music to an entirely new level are here, my friends: smooth, sweet vocals; rich, meaty bass; an open and airy top end; top-notch presence and so forth. The sound is so spacious and transparent that you can easily pick out each of the instruments and follow them over the course of the songs.
You could choose any track you wanted to and find lovely sound here, but I’d recommend “Ripple” and “Attics Of My Life” for starters. Most copies suffer from a glaring lack of highs, but just listen to the ride cymbals on this one to find out that the top end is still alive and well here.
This vintage Mono Prestige recording boasts a KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated to a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side one
The sound is everything that’s good about Rudy Van Gelder‘s recordings – it’s present, spacious, full-bodied, Tubey Magical, dynamic and, most importantly, alive in that way that modern pressings never are
Finding the best sounding pressings of this exceptional recording was a turning point for us – here was sound we had never experienced for the work, and what a thrill it was
4 stars: “‘Lush Life’ is not only the focal point of this album, it is rightfully considered as one of Coltrane’s unqualified masterworks.”
If you’re a fan of vintage small-group jazz, this Coltrane LP from 1961 surely belongs in your collection
We’d been searching for years trying to find just what kind of Lush Life pressing — what era, what label, what stampers, mono or stereo, import or domestic — had the potential for good sound.
No, scratch that. We should have said excellent sound. Exceptional sound. We’ve played plenty of copies that sounded pretty good, even very good, but exceptional? That pressing had eluded us — until a few years ago.
It was early 2016, in fact, that we chanced upon the right kind of pressing — the right era, the right label, the right stampers, the right sound. Not just the right sound, though. Better sound than we ever thought this album could have.
Previously we had written:
“There are great sounding originals, but they are few and far between…”
We no longer believe that to be true. In fact we believe the opposite of that statement to be true. The original we had on hand — noisy but with reasonably good sound, or so we thought — was an absolute joke next to our better Hot Stamper pressings. Half the size, half the clarity and presence, half the life and energy, half the immediacy, half the studio space. It was simply not remotely competitive with the copies we now know (or at least believe, all knowledge being provisional) to have the best sound.
Are there better originals than the ones we’ve played? Maybe there are. If you want to spend your day searching for them, more power to you. And if you do find one that impresses you, we are happy to send you one of our Hot Copies to play against it. We are confident that the outcome would be clearly favorable to our pressing. Ten seconds of side one should be enough to convince you that our record is in an entirely different league.
By the way, the mono original we played was by far the worst sound I have ever heard for the album. By far.
Boasting seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades from start to finish, this early Contemporary MONO pressing is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Vol. 3, To Swing Or Not To Swing you’ve heard – reasonably quiet vinyl too
Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom – this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best
For some reason, the guitar sound from this era of All Tube Chain Recording is seems to have died out with the times – it can only be found on the best of these vintage pressings, like this one
5 stars: “The unusual repertoire on this set … would by itself make this bop/cool set noteworthy. Add to that a very interesting lineup of players (trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, Georgie Auld or Bill Perkins on tenor, pianist Jimmy Rowles, the rhythm guitar of Al Hendrickson, bassist Red Mitchell, and Shelly Manne or Irv Cottler on drums) … and the overall result is a recording highly recommended to fans of straight-ahead jazz.”
If you’re a fan of Jazz Guitar, this All Tube MONO Recording from 1955 belongs in your collection.
Man, this music is a blast when it sounds this good. I don’t think there’s a whole lot you could do to make this music sound any better! It’s one of the best early mono Contemporary LPs we’ve ever played. It’s so Tubey Magical. Kessel’s guitar sound is out of this world.
The music here matches the sound for excellence. The whole band just swings. There’s a real old rag-timey feel to the songs. Look at this list of all-star players: Harry Edison, Jimmy Rowles, Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne — this is some serious jazz talent.