Advice – What to Listen For – Choruses that Are Big, Clear and Lively

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This BEYOND White Hot side one (A++++) has nothing less than MASTER TAPE SOUND. Our Four Plus ranking is rare enough, but in this case it has the added benefit of conferring upon this very pressing the status of the BEST SOUNDING STEELY DAN RECORDING we have ever heard.

There is no recording better in the Steely Dan catalog, and I don’t think there’s a copy anywhere that’s any better than this one. (more…)

Pink Floyd – The Wall – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

SAY IT ISN’T SO. This is the ULTIMATE White Hot Stamper pressing of The Wall, the finest ever to hit our site BAR NONE. 

All four sides of this monster earned top A+++ grades in our massive recent shootout. This copy gives you ALL of the magic that Floyd laid down to tape. You get incredible clarity, breathtaking transparency, wonderful punch to the bottom, sweetness and full extension up top, tubey magical acoustic guitars, full-bodied vocals and serious depth and dimension to the soundfield. Folks, if you love The Wall you will TREASURE this copy for the rest of your listening days.

We spent a ridiculous amount of time cleaning, playing, and comparing copies of this classic double album this week and let me tell you, there are a lot of WEAK copies out there. The Wall is an album that DEMANDS big, bold, explosively dynamic sound, and this copy has got it in spades. (more…)

Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners – Greatest “Copy” Ever

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

WHOA! We’ve paired up two FOUR PLUS sides to create this stunning 2-pack with mindblowing Demo Quality sound for the whole album. These A++++ sides will show you just how amazing it can sound: super full-bodied, rich, warm and natural. 

Please note that we award this very special grade so rarely that we don’t even have a graphic to represent it in our sonic grade box. The scale usually only goes to three pluses, but these two sides went up to four!

This is an incredible recording, and on a copy like this the sound is truly stunning. When you hear Chicago here you will not believe how CINEMATIC the sound is! It’s everything we love about ANALOG, and then some.

Most of the credit must go to the team of recording engineers, led here by the esteemed Bill Halverson, the man behind all of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young albums. Nash was clearly influenced by his work with his gifted bandmates, proving with this album that he can hold his own with the best of the best. Some songs (We Can Change The World, Be Yourself) are grandly scaled productions with the kind of studio polish that would make Supertramp envious. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better than this. (more…)

Queen – Queen

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  • With a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two and a side one that’s close to it, this original pressing has the analog magic in its grooves
  • Both sides here are big, full-bodied, clear and spacious with a nice bottom end and plenty of rock energy
  • “Almost every one of Queen’s signatures are already present, from Freddie Mercury’s operatic harmonies to Brian May’s rich, orchestral guitar overdubs and the suite-like structures of “Great King Rat”… It showcases the band in all their ornate splendor yet it’s strangely lean and hard, revealing just how good the band was in their early days as a hard rock band.”
  • Plays with surfaces as quiet as any we can find on both sides – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus

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Queen – News Of The World – Stomping and Clapping with the Fans

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of NOTW.

Side one starts out with Queen’s back-to-back anthemic classics, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”. Does it get any better for a Queen fan? Hell no! 

The stomps and claps that introduce the former should make you feel like you are in a stadium full of people with a single goal – to rock you. Those stomps and claps need weight and clarity, an unusual combination. One without the other is not going to cut it.

The record needs to be able to reproduce the room everybody is in, while still conveying the tremendous impact and power. Most domestic pressings are severely lacking in these areas. This kind of anemia can be frustrating — you want to rock but the sound won’t let you.

Another quality our best copies excelled in was the sound of Brian May’s guitar during his solo toward the end of the song. Here his tone is very boxy with no real highs or lows, but when that sound is exaggerated by bad mastering, it sounds like there are mattresses sitting in front of his amplifiers. The best copies had extension on the high end, restoring the clarity and complimenting his distinctive technique. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado

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  • An outstanding vintage pressing of Eldorado with solid Double Plus (A++) sound and vinyl that’s about as quiet as can be found
  • This pressing showed us a big, lively, musically involving Eldorado, one of the toughest nuts to crack in the entire ELO canon
  • There are some really awful UK pressings out there (and lots of bad domestics to be sure), so if you like the thrill of the hunt, make sure you have plenty of time and money to spend
  • 5 stars: “Eldorado was strongly reminiscent in some ways of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not that it could ever have the same impact or be as distinctive, but it had its feet planted in so many richly melodic and varied musical traditions, yet made it all work in a rock context, that it did recall the Beatles classic.”

As a result of Jeff Lynne’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production approach, it’s the rare copy that provides enough transparency and resolution to bring out all the elements in the incredibly dense mixes — with strings! – that Lynne favors. But when you find a copy that does, what a THRILL it is. (more…)

Queen – Jazz – Rockin’ Out with Fat Bottomed Girls

More Queen

More Jazz

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

There is a tendency in the recording to be a little “hot” tonally on the vocals and snare. The better copies like this one keep it under control, with the lesser copies getting much too lean and gritty to play loudly. What good is a raver like Fat Bottomed Girls if you can’t turn it up and really rock out with it? 

Roy Thomas Baker is back on the scene here for Jazz, his first production with the band since 1975’s A Night at the Opera, and the last time he would work with Freddie and the boys.

On side one check out the low harmony vocal on the first track. The big kick drum is also a treat. RTB loves his bass, that’s for sure.

Both sides should have an open, extended top end and a solid, rich bottom. Our best copies were big and clear with plenty of rock bottom end and Whomp Factor.

We Love Dynamic Choruses, and These Are Amazing

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that dramatically changes levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many its songs, especially the anthemic Fat Bottomed Girls. Mustapha, the first track on side one, has a huge finish as well. It can take a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically every rock album you own is.

The sad fact of the matter is that most mixes for rock and pop recordings are just too safe. The engineers and producers believe that the mixes have to be safe for the average (read: crap) stereo to play the record.

We like when music gets loud. It gets loud in live performance — why shouldn’t most of that wonderful energy make it to the record? (more…)

Journey – Evolution

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  • An insanely good sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and Double Plus (A++) sound on the first – (mostly) exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Three distinctive qualities of vintage analog recordings – richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality – are most clearly heard on a Big Production Rock Record like Evolution in the loudest, densest, most climactic choruses of the songs, and this side one delivers that size and power like no copy you’ve ever heard
  • “Journey could seemingly do no wrong. Evolution quickly became the band’s biggest-selling album, and Perry and co. soon embarked on yet another mammoth tour, which set many an attendance record, and set the stage for even greater triumph with 1980’s Departure.”

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Crack The Sky – Crack The Sky – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

More Crack The Sky

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This White Hot Stamper pressing of the first and best album by the legendary-but-now-mostly-forgotten American Prog band Crack The Sky shows just how amazingly well recorded their debut really was.

This is Big Production rock that pulls out all the stops and then some, with a massive Beatlesque string section, horns, synths, backward guitars and every other kind of studio effect that they could work out.

Much like Ambrosia’s debut (another unknown band on a small label), such an ambitious project was clearly an effort to make a Grand Musical Statement along the lines of Sgt. Pepper, Crime of the Century, Close to the Edge, The Original Soundtrack and Dark Side of the Moon, all albums I suspect this band revered, having played them countless times.

In the ’70s I was a huge fan of those albums too. (Still am of course; check out ouTop 100 if you don’t believe me. They’re all in there.) I played them more times than I can remember, with Crack The Sky’s albums spending plenty of time — heavy rotation you could say — on the turntable in those days. To my mind, speaking as a fan and an audiophile, the first Crack the Sky album succeeds brilliantly on every level: production, originality, songwriting, technical virtuosity, musical consistency and, perhaps most importantly for those of you who have managed to make it this far, Top Quality Audiophile Sound.

This is simply a great album of adventurous, highly melodic proggy rock. If you like the well known bands that made the classic albums cited above, there’s a very good chance you will like this much less well known band’s first album also. (more…)

Stephen Stills – Bill Halverson’s Engineering Masterpiece?

More Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

More Stephen Stills

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

When all the elements are working together as they do here, the music on Steve Stills’ first album is postively AMAZING. Until I hear something better, I’m going to have to call this BILL HALVERSON‘s Engineering Masterpiece.* Yes, on the best copies it’s that good.

*We have now heard something even better, an album from earlier in the same year in fact, Deja Vu.

We’ve had an unbelievably hard time finding copies that lived up to our expectations, prompting much of my crew to argue that it just could not be done. We didn’t find copies that sounded just as good as I remembered — no, we found copies that went BEYOND what I had hoped for.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Both sides are rich and full-bodied, as well as transparent, with lots of separation between the parts. Most copies tend to be murky, thick, and veiled. The overall sound here is airy, open, and spacious, with TONS of ambience. (more…)