Advice – Understanding Records

Elton John Self-Titled – Live and Learn

More Elton John

More Live and Learn

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A classic case of Live and Learn. Scroll down to read what we learned from our recent shootout. To illustrate how the game is played we’ve copied some of the previous commentary into this listing to show the change in our understanding from 2004 to today.

Folks, if you’re looking for Classic Rock that appeals to adults with sophisticated tastes forty plus years after it was made, this is the album for you.

What’s especially remarkable about this album is the quality of the string arrangements. I don’t know of another pop record that uses strings better or has better string tone. The strings are all over this record, not only adding uniquely interesting qualities to the backgrounds of the arrangements, but actually taking the foreground on some of the songs, most notably Sixty Years On. When the strings give in to a lovely harp just before Elton starts singing, the effect is positively glorious. It’s the nexus where amazing Tubey Mgical sound meets the best in popular music suffused with brilliant orchestral instrumentation. Who did it better than The Beatles and Elton John? They stand alone. (more…)

Cat Stevens Albums – Lee Hulko Cut Them All – Good, Bad and Otherwise

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Is the Pink Label Island original pressing THE way to go? That’s what Harry Pearson — not to mention most audiophile record dealers — would have you believe.

But it’s just not true. And that’s good news for you, Dear (Record Loving Audiophile) Reader.

HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM JOHN BARLEYCORN

Since that’s a Lee Hulko cutting just like Tea here, the same insights, if you can call them that, apply. Here’s what we wrote: (more…)

Turning Skeptics into Believers, One Hot Stamper at a Time

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions

Turning Skeptics into Believers

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Years ago we received a letter from a fellow on our email list who found our prices for vinyl curious, as he considered a vinyl a bygone technology. Can’t say I agree with that assessment. It sure would be nice to demonstrate for him how much better records sound than the supposedly superior technologies that have — for most people, perhaps even for this gentleman — replaced them.audiophile label on the planet, I don’t know who it could be, and I don’t want to find out.  

Wait, there is a way! A Hot Stamper, 100% Guaranteed to Satisfy or Your Money Back. One click is all it takes. Which is pretty much what I said in my reply to his letter which you can read below.

Tom,

I receive your HTML email regularly. Along with the curious prices of your offerings, I occasionally wonder about the opinions expressed in your e-missives. A Roman senator once said that all mortal things are ‘only perfect in death.’ Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust aside: vinyl (of which I own a considerable library) is merely a bygone technology at this point in time. The opinions expressed on your website rarely credit the writer. Whose words are these? And why should I accept the opinions of someone who only stands to profit from their fanaticism? (more…)

Miles Davis In Person – Friday Night and the Sound of Tubes

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Allow me to transcribe my notes:

Both Sides

The right sound — big, rich, tubey and real. Transparent. Rich, smooth, balanced. Horn gets huge and loud the right way. Piano is full. Solid bass.

No need to pick nits.

The Dog that Didn’t Bark in the Night

Normally our notes for the sound of the records we are shooting out against each other fall into two categories: what the record is doing right and what the record is doing wrong. You’ll note that in this case there was nothing wrong about the sound to write about. (more…)

Dirty Little Secrets of the Record Biz, Part 2

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Master Tape? Yeah, Right

Let me ask you one question. If so many of the current labels making 180 gram reissues are using the real master tapes — the real two-track stereo masters, not dubs, not cutting masters, not high-resolution digital copies, but the real thing — then why do so many of their records sound so bad?

If you’re honest you’ll say “I Don’t Know…” because, and here I want you to trust me on this, you don’t know. I don’t know either. Nobody does. (more…)

Brahms Violin Concerto – Is the 1s Pressing Always the Best?

More recordings featuring the violin

More Brahms Violin Concerto

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This early Shaded Dog pressing of a 1958 recording has surprisingly good Super Hot stamper sound on side two. On the second side the sound opens up and is very sweet, with the violin becoming much more present and clear. The whole of side two is transparent with an extended top. Usually the earliest Living Stereo titles suffer from a lack of top end extension, but not this one.

Maybe the 1S is that way. For some reason audiophiles tend to think that the earliest cuttings are the best, but that’s just another Record Myth in our experience, easily refuted if you’ve played hundreds of these Living Stereo pressings and noted which stampers sound the best and which do not.

The 1S pressings do not win all that many shootouts around here. Of course, to avoid being biased the person listening to the record doesn’t know the stamper numbers, and that may help explain why the 1S loses so often! (more…)

Chicago and The Hottest Stampers – Are You a Thrillseeker Too?

More Albums by Chicago

More Chicago VII

 

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When it comes to sound, I’m a Thrillseeker. I want to hear it LOUDER and BETTER, with more ENERGY and EXCITEMENT, and the reason I spent so many hundreds, even thousands, of hours working on my stereo is that that kind of sound doesn’t happen by accident. You have to work your ass off to get it. And spend a lot of money. And dig through a lot of dusty record bins buying LPs until you find one that sounds the way you want it to.

I don’t play records to drink wine and smoke cigars. I play records to ROCK. Whether the music is rock, jazz or classical, I want to feel the power of the music just as you would feel it at the live event. To me that means big speakers and loud levels. We played Chicago VII as loud as we could… (more…)

Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

Thinking About Hot Stampers

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A while back we did a monster-sized shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second release, an album we consider THE Best Sounding Rock Record of All Time. In the midst of the discussion of a particular pressing that completely blew our minds — a copy we gave a Hot Stamper grade of A with Four Pluses , the highest honor we can bestow upon it — various issues arose, issues such as: How did this copy get to be so good? and What does it take to find such a copy? and, to paraphrase David Byrne, How did it get here?

Which brings us to this commentary, which centers around the concept of outliers.

Wikipedia defines an outlier this way: “In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.” In other words, it’s something that is very far from normal. In the standard bell curve distribution pictured below, the outliers are at the far left and far right, far from the vast majority of the data which is in the middle.

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The Four Pillars of Success – Hot Stamper Shootouts

The Four Pillars of Success

More entries in our Thinking About Hot Stampers series

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Finding Hot Stampers is all about doing shootouts with as many copies of the same title as you can get your hands on. There are basically four steps in this process and you have to achieve success with each of the four if you are going to be any good at discovering and evaluating your own Hot Stampers. 

We discuss each and every one of them in scores of commentaries and listings on this very site. Although none of it will come as news to anyone who has spent much time reading our stuff, we cobbled together this commentary to help formalize the process and hopefully make it easier to understand and follow.

If you want to make judgments about recordings — not the pressing you have in your collection, but the actual recording it was made from — you have to do some work, and you have to do it much more thoroughly than most audiophiles and record collectors think is necessary.

The Four Cornerstones of Hot Stampers

That work is made up of these four steps. (more…)

Crisis? What Crisis? The Exception that Probes the Rule

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[This is an old commentary from about ten years ago so take it with a grain of salt. The best domestic pressings kill this audiophile record. That said, the better half-speed copies are actually surprisingly good.

This Hot Stamper A&M Half Speed of Supertramp – Crisis? What Crisis? today joins a VERY ELITE GROUP: Half-Speeds that hold their own in a head to head shootout against some of the BEST Hot Stamper Non-Audiophile pressings we can find. There are presently a total of three titles that fit the description: Dark Side of the Moon on MoFi, Crime of the Century on MoFi, and this title on A&M.

Most half-speed mastered records we throw on our table have us scratching our heads and asking, What the hell were they thinking? They SUCK! Tubby bass, recessed mids, phony highs, compression — the list of bad qualities they almost all have in common is a long one. Playing these kinds of records on a properly set-up modern system is positively painful.
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