Author: humorem

Roy Wood – Boulders

More Roy Wood

More Psych Rock

  • Big, rich and solid on both sides, with a more relaxed, musical quality, as well as the clarity that was missing from most copies we played
  • “With the exception of harmonium by Abbey Road engineer John Kurlander on ‘Songs of Praise,’ all the instrumentation on Boulders was played by Wood, who also provided all lead, harmony and backing vocals.” – Wikipedia
  • 4 1/2 stars: “An intricate, deliberately idiosyncratic record, assembled piece by piece, Boulders perfectly captures Roy Wood’s peculiar genius, more so than anything else he recorded. All of his obsessions are here — classical music, psychedelia, pre-Beatles pop, pastoral folk ballads, absurdist humor, studio trickery, and good old-fashioned rock & roll — assembled in a gracefully eccentric fashion.”
  • If you’re a Psych Rock or Art Rock fan, this is a classic from 1973 that belongs in your collection.

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Cowboy Junkies – Whites Off Earth Now!!

More Cowboy Junkies

More Debut Albums of Interest

  • An outstanding copy of the band’s debut album – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This pressing is well balanced, yet big and lively, with such wonderful clarity in the mids and highs as well as an open and spacious soundfield
  • “Whites Off Earth Now!! establishes the spare country blues sound that took the band to international fame with their next album.” – Wikipedia
  • “… it’s fascinating to hear their signature country-on-valium sound develop. Margo Timmins sings beautifully.”

This vintage Latent Recordings 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. (more…)

Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna

Albums with Stevie Nicks Performing

  • This STUNNING pressing earned Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them on both sides
  • Both sides are punchy, big and clear, with plenty of hard rockin’ energy – exactly what you would expect from the team of Shelly Yakus and Jimmy Iovine
  • Two of her biggest hits are here (and they still hold up): Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around and Leather And Lace
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Equally engaging are less exposed tracks like the haunting ‘After the Glitter Fades.’ Hit producer Jimmy Iovine wisely avoids over-producing, and keeps things sounding organic on this striking debut.”

It’s easy to hear what the good pressings are doing. They’re big and rich, never thin nor harsh. They open up on the top end and go down deeper on the bottom. They’re smooth and full-bodied in the midrange. Stevie’s vocals are breathy and present. The energy of her performance drives the music the way you want it to.

In short, the best copies demonstrate the sound one could expect on a good Tom Petty album. Nothing surprising there; this album, like Petty’s, was produced and engineered by the same team, Jimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus. They’ve made some great records together, Damn the Torpedoes being the best of the bunch for sonics.

Bella Donna may not reach those exalted heights, but it’s still quite good, especially for 1981. As the decade wore on things went south very quickly, sonically and musically, so we must be thankful that this record came out early in the decade and not much later.

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The Doors / The Soft Parade – What Happens When the Gold Label Doesn’t Have the Best Sound on Both Sides?

It gets marked the sonic grade it earned.

If a Big Red E label pressing sounded better to us on side two, if it somehow managed to sound better than any of our Gold Label originals, then it would earn the top grade on side two.

Here is how we described a killer copy we had not long ago:

With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side two and a Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy is practically as good as it gets. The sound on this Gold Label pressing is incredibly powerful — big, rich, full-bodied, present and lively. It’s HUGE, RICH, and FULL-BODIED, exactly the way it should be.

But note that side two was clearly not as good as side one. Even the best early pressings cannot be relied on to get both sides right. The pressing above is proof. We discuss the issue in the commentary below.

What are the sonic qualities by which a Pop or Rock record — any Pop or Rock 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 hear a good many of the qualities mentioned above on the side we’re playing, we provisionally award it a Hot Stamper grade. This grade is often revised over the course of the shootout, as we come to more fully appreciate just how good some of the other copies are.

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 does happen, but it sure doesn’t happen as often as we would like (!) There are just too many variables in the mastering and pressing processes to ensure that level of consistency.

But some pressings pull it off, triumphing over all comers and winning the shootout for both sides. These very special Triple Triple pressings have their own section, separate from our White Hot Stamper pressings. If you want the ultimate in audiophile sound for any particular title, this is where you will find it.

At the time of this writing there were about four times as many records with one White Hot side as there were records with White Hot Stamper sound on each side.

Record shootouts may not be rocket science, but they’re a science of a kind, one with strict protocols we’ve developed over the course of many years to ensure that the sonic grades we assign to our Hot Stampers are as accurate as we can make them.

The result of all our work speaks for itself. We guarantee you have never heard this music sound better than it does on our Hot Stamper pressing — or your money back.

Hot Stampers of The Soft Parade

Letters and Commentaries for The Soft Parade

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Armstrong & Ellington / An Historic Recording Event

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • Lively, dynamic, transparent, spacious and musical throughout – you won’t believe how good this Jazz Classic from 1961 sounds
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness and presence on this copy than anything you have ever heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market (or the Classic Records pressing, which sounded fine at the time, but up against the real thing, forget it
  • “The music resulting from Thiele’s inspired experiment is outstanding and utterly essential. That means everybody ought to hear this album at least once, and many will want to hear it again and again all the way through, for this is one of the most intriguing confluences in all of recorded jazz. Armstrong blew his horn with authority and sang beautifully and robustly.”

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The Rolling Stones – Stripped

More Rolling Stones

  • Insanely good sound throughout for this Virgin import pressing with all four sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it
  • These sides are clean, clear, full-bodied and present with tons of energy and a solid bottom end
  • One of the best records from The Rolling Stones in the last 25 years!
  • Compiled from live performances at The Paradisco Club, Amsterdman, Holland; The Olympia Theatre, Paris, France; and rehearsals in Tokyo, Japan, Lisbon and Portugal
  • “Patched together from an embroidery of tour rehearsals and live club dates in Paris and Amsterdam, the project was an extension of acoustic sets the group introduced on the North American leg of the Voodoo Lounge tour. The concept offered an invigorating opportunity to dust off some rough gems from the past that no longer felt at home on sloping stadium stages.”

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Donovan – The Hurdy Gurdy Man

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 accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

The list is purposely wide-ranging. It includes some famous titles (Tumbleweed Connection, The Yes Album), but for the most part I have gone out of way to choose titles from talented artists that are less well known (Atlantic Crossing, Kiln House, Dad Loves His Work), which simply means that you won’t find Every Picture Tells a Story or Rumours or Sweet Baby James on this list because masterpieces of that caliber should already be in your collection and don’t need me to recommend them.

Which is not to say there aren’t some well known masterpieces on the list, because not every well known record is necessarily well known to audiophiles, and some records are just too good not to put on a list of records we think every audiophile ought to get to know better.

Out of the thousands of records we have auditioned and reviewed, there are a couple of hundred that have stood the test of time for us and we feel are deserving of a listen. Many of these will not be to your taste, but they were to mine.

An outstanding pressing of what we consideDonovan’s best album, musically and sonically. The 1968 sound here is wonderful — rich, sweet, Tubey Magical and very, very Analog.

Donovan records tend to be hit or miss affairs, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could not find a bad track on either side of the album. Most are in fact quite wonderful.

Both Yellow Label Epics and Orange Label Epics fared well in our shootout. (We could find no Blue/ Black later labels to play.) Finding any pressing with clean surfaces was another matter, but we managed to have a pretty healthy group with which to do our shootout.

Some of these tracks may remind you more than a little of Pentangle. Danny Thompson, that band’s amazingly talented and unusually well recorded double bassist, just happens to be the bass player on the album. Go figure. Tony Carr does most of the drumming as he has on many of Donovan’s albums from the period. Needless to say, the rhythm section is first-rate.

A Must Own Pop Record

This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious audiophile Popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

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Letter of the Week – “The harmony vocals on “Uncle John’s Band” are so much clearer, sounding like three distinct voices…”

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

  Hey Tom, 

I was extremely surprised when I received my WD Hot Stamper. I was expecting an olive (green) Warner Brothers original (I have one) – and this one is the “floral” later label. I’ve read your comments long enough to know it’s the sound, not the label, which dictates quality. Was quite surprised either way! But I shouldn’t have been….

And what a lovely sound! The harmony vocals on “Uncle John’s Band” are so much clearer, sounding like three distinct voices (my peasant original was dark and gritty in comparison); being able to actually hear Micky’s rhythmic contributions to the track, it sounds like a full band, really grooving and live.

The pedal steel on “Dire Wolf”! I could go on and on.

Anyway, great stuff, liked it so much had to write a letter!

Kyle Miller

Kyle,

The person who listened to your copy did not know what label it had. It got the proper sonic grade because no bias could enter into the proceedings, and that is the revolutionary approach we developed for judging records.

But there is nothing revolutionary about it. Scientists have been using blind testing for more than a hundred years!

All we did was incorporate good testing protocols into our record shootouts, and voila, you have Hot Stampers that really are hot and Better Records that really are better.

Even when they have the “wrong” label.

Sometimes the green label copies win shootouts and sometimes the Burbank label copies win. In either case, the best sounding record wins, and that makes for satisfied customers. We call that a Win Win.

Thanks for your letter,

TP

More Grateful Dead

More Hot Stamper Testimonial Letters

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Grateful Dead


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Key Tracks for Critical Listening 

Making Audio Progress 

We Get Letters 

We Was Wrong

 

Bad Company / Straight Shooter – We Was Wrong

In late 2009 we had just finished a shootout for this hard-rockin’ album, our first since January of ’08, and what we were hearing this time around BLEW OUR MINDS. This record got a whole lot better over the course of the last twenty months or so. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the drum sound on this record is the right up there with the most present, punchy and realistic I have ever heard on record. 

I saw a friend’s band play recently in a small club and remember thinking how amazingly punchy the snare sounded (the sound coming from the live instrument itself and the club’s speakers) and this record has that kind of drum sound!.

There’s nothing like live music — everybody knows that — but good copies of this album get you a whole lot closer than I ever expected to get.

It’s a classic case of We Was Wrong. Last time around we wrote “I don’t think you’ll ever find a copy of this album that qualifies as a True Demo Disc, but make no mistake: on the right pressing there’s magic in the grooves.”

We was wrong: It is a true Demo Disc. (On our system anyway. Our stereo is all about playing records like this, and playing them at good loud levels as nature — and the artists — intended.) We revamped our Top 100 List in 2011 and this sucker is now on it, right next to its older brother, the first Bad Company album.

What You Want

It’s got exactly what you want from this brand of straight ahead rock and roll: presence in the vocals; solid, note-like bass; big punchy drums, and the kind of live-in-the-studio energetic, clean and clear sound that Bad Company (and Free before them) practically invented. (AC/DC is another band with that kind of live studio sound. With big speakers and the power to drive them YOU ARE THERE.)

One of the best cuts on side two is the ballad Anna, and boy does it sound good. This track will show you exactly what we mean by “live in the studio” sound. You can just tell they are all playing this one live: it’s so relaxed and natural and REAL sounding.

Turn It Up and Rock Steady!

If you’re playing this copy good and loud you’ll feel like you’re in the room with the boys as they kick out the jams. Feel Like Makin’ Love rocks like you will not believe — shocking clarity, tons of ambience, silky sweet highs, and a grungy guitar sound that will blow you away. Who gets better tone than Mick Ralphs? Half the sound of Bad Co. is his guitar and the other half is Paul Rodgers voice. Between the two of them they rocked FM radio in the ’70s as good as any band of their time and far better than most. Check out the lineup on side one. Three out of four of those songs are serious Heavy Hitters that you probably know by heart. (If you listen to a Classic Rock station you definitely know these songs by heart.)

Cleaning

We used to think that “the biggest problem with the average copy of this record was GRIT and GRAIN, no doubt caused mostly by the bad vinyl of the day. You have to suffer through a lot of dry, flat, grainy copies in order to find one that sounds like this.”

That was not our experience this time around. Our Odyssey record cleaning machine, Walker fluids and tons of interim tweaks have taken most of that grain and grunge our of the sound of the records we played. (Uncleaned or improperly cleaned records are a major cause of Old School sound. There really is no hi-fidelity without the use of these revolutionary cleaning methods.)

Engineering

This album was one of Ron Nevison’s first big engineering jobs. He also did Bad Company’s debut, a Top 100 album for us. In 1977 he worked on the sprawling mess that turned into Physical Graffitti.

He went on to do lots of the biggest selling monster rock albums of the ’80s, but The ’80s Sound has never held much appeal for us, which is of course why you find so few recordings from that era on our site, silk purses, sow’s ears and all that.

More Bad Company

More Rock Classics

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Gerry Rafferty / City To City – Listen for the Huge Chorus of The Ark

Listen to the chorus on the first track, The Ark. On the best copies, it really gets loud without becoming harsh or shrill. So many popular albums have choruses (and guitar solos) that are no louder, and sometimes not even as loud, as the verses, which rob the songs of any real drama or power. This recording has the potential to give you a dramatic, powerful, loud chorus and it’s a thrill when you find a pressing that delivers on that promise.

(One way we know to listen for these volume changes is that we actually play our records good and loud. When a dynamic recording such as this comes along, we have to watch our levels, otherwise, the chorus will overwhelm the system and room. When playing this copy, be sure to set the level for the chorus of the first track. Everything should play just fine once that setting is correct, as the artist intended.)

The double-tracked vocals on Whatever’s Written in Your Heart are a good test for resolution and Tubey Magic. There should clearly be two voices heard without having to sacrifice the wonderful richness of the better copies for the clarity that makes hearing both voices possible.

Hot Stamper Albums with Huge Choruses

Albums with Choruses that Are Good for Testing

More Gerry Rafferty

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