Advice – What to Listen For – Size and Space

Wes Montgomery – California Dreaming – Cisco Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Heavy Vinyl pressing from Cisco / Impex reviewed. 

Beware any and all imitations, even this one, which I admit I used to like somewhat. They barely BEGIN to convey the qualities of the real master tape the way the best pressings do. Our Hot Stampers exhibit huge amounts of ambience and spaciousnesss, with far more energy and the kind of “see into the studio” quality that only the real thing ever seems to have.

Note especially how so much musical information is coming from the far sides of the soundfield on the best copies. The Cisco reissue makes a mockery of that wall to wall sound, sucking it into the middle and flattening it into a single plane. (more…)

Sketches Of Spain on Six Eye in Stereo

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1960 – It Was a Very Good Year

When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the sound is truly MAGICAL. (AMG has that dead right in their review.) Tons of ambience, Tubey Magic all over the place; let’s face it, this is one of those famous Columbia recordings that shows just how good the Columbia engineers were back then. The sound is lively but never strained. Davis’s horn has breath and bite just like the real thing. What more can you ask for?

We Was Wrong in the Past About HP and Six Eye Labels

In previous commentary we had written:

Harry Pearson added this record to his TAS List of Super Discs a few years back, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording?

Of course you can be quite sure that he would have been listening exclusively to the earliest pressings on the Six Eye label. Which simply means that he probably never heard a copy with the clarity, transparency and freedom from distortion that these later label pressings offer.

The Six Eyes are full of Tubey Magic, don’t get me wrong; Davis’s trumpet can be and usually is wonderful sounding. It’s everything else that tends to suffer, especially the strings, which are shrill and smeary on most copies, Six Eyes, 360s and Red Labels included.

Over the course of the last few years we’ve come to appreciate just how good the right Six Eye stereo pressing can sound.

In fact, the two copies earning the highest grades were both original stereo pressings. Other pressings did well, but none did as well as the originals. This has never been our experience with Kind of Blue by the way. The later pressings have always done the best job of communicating the music on that album. (more…)

Willie Dixon – I Am The Blues – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

It was pretty easy to separate the men from the boys in this shootout. A quick drop of the needle on each side would immediately answer our number one question: “How BIG is the sound?” The copies that lacked top end extension or heft in the bottom end were just too uninvolving. This is the BLUES, baby — you think it’s supposed to sound small and distant?

Another problem we ran into on many copies was excessive smoothness. When a copies was overly rich or smeary, it usually lacked the “gritty” feel that music like this should have.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m listening to the blues I am not looking for glossy sound. Give me the texture and the detail that Willie Dixon put on the tape. I don’t want his sound to be “fixed” after the fact. (more…)

If You Like Power Pop, Get The Knack

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  • The Knack’s debut finally returns to the site and with excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • With plenty of bass punch, the music comes to life like you’ve never heard before
  • Wall to Wall Live-in-the-Studio Rock Sound to rival Back in Black and Nevermind
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Get the Knack is at once sleazy, sexist, hook-filled, and endlessly catchy — above all, it’s a guilty pleasure and an exercise in simple fun.”

This Monster Power Pop Debut by the Knack is an AMAZINGLY well-recorded album, with the kind of Wall to Wall Big Beat Live Rock Sound that rivals Back in Black and Nevermind — if you’re lucky enough to have a copy that sounds like this! (If you’re not then it doesn’t.)

This is a Rock Demo Disc that is very likely to lay waste to whatever rock demo disc you currently treasure. My Sharona is simply STUNNING here. You just can’t record drums and bass any better! 

And let’s not forget the song Lucinda. It’s got exactly the same incredibly meaty, grungy, ballsy sound that Back in Black does, but it managed to do it in 1979, a year earlier!

Mike Chapman produced this album and clearly he is an audiophile production genius. With a pair of Number One charting, amazing sounding Pop albums back to back — Blondie’s Parallel Lines in 1978 and this album early the next year — how much better could he get? The answer is: None more better. (more…)

Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo Is Crazy Tubey Magical

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  • KILLER sound from start to finish: Triple Plus on side two, nearly that good (A++ to A+++) on side one 
  • DEMO DISC QUALITY – full-bodied, rich, spacious, BIG and PRESENT, with practically zero smear on the horns (nice!
  • The Tubey Magical keyboards found on the title cut are really something to hear, especially on this copy
  • The Grand Wazoo now gets my vote as the best sounding record Zappa ever made (along with Absolutely Free)

Wow – big, present and clear, with lots of lovely studio space, yet full-bodied. These sides about as right as any we’ve ever heard.

As noted above, the Tubey Magical keyboards at the start of The Grand Wazoo are amazing sounding here. How Zappa ever decided to go digital when he managed to record so well in analog (from time to time, let’s be honest) is beyond me.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience. (more…)

Eagles – One Of These Nights – Our 4 Plus Shootout Winner from 2016

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

This 2-pack contains the best side one we’ve ever heard! The sound is bigger, richer, tubier and livelier than we even thought possible. Side one was so amazing, such an obvious step up over every side of every other copy, we felt it deserved to be awarded our “Four Plus” (A++++) grade. One of These Nights, Too Many Hands and Hollywood Waltz will blow your mind on this side one. 

Please note: we award the Four Plus grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side one here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus!

We award this copy’s side one our very special Four Plus (A++++) grade, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a recording to a level never experienced by us before, a level we had no idea even existed. We estimate that about one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade. You can’t get much more rare than that.

A Side One Like No Other

My notes read: ‘hi-rez, super tubey, breathy vocals with much less honk.”

This comment which really gets to the point: “guitar solos rise above.” The big solo on the title track just soars on this copy like we had never heard before. This is the guitar sound that Bill Szymczyk achieved with the band that Glyn Johns had not. Of course Johns had never tried; he saw them as a Country Rock band. The Eagles saw themselves as a Rock band, it’s as simple as that. (more…)

Getz Au Go Go – A Bossa Nova Classic

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  • Truly superb sound for this incredible recording, Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • Amazingly present, immediate and REAL — musically and sonically, this is one of our favorite jazz albums
  • This is an incredibly tough album to find with the right sound and decent surfaces, which is the main reason it’s been years since we did the shootout
  • 4 stars on Allmusic: “Highly recommended for all dimensions of jazz enthusiasts.” [We would of course give it the full 5 Stars]

This Stan Getz record has the kind of LIVE JAZZ CLUB SOUND that audiophiles like us (you and me) dream of. More importantly, this ain’t no Jazz at Some Stupid Pawnshop — this is THE REAL THING. Stan Getz, Gary Burton, Kenny Burrell and the lovely Astrud Gilberto, the living embodiment of Cool Jazz, are coming to a listening room near you.

This is about as good a copy as has ever hit the site. Fans of cool jazz — in point of fact, some of the coolest jazz ever recorded — take note. 

Cool Jazz Is Right (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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Bach Organ Music – Richter on Vintage London Vinyl, in Stereo, from 1954 (!)

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This London Whiteback pressing of CS 6173 has SUPERB SOUND! Like its brother, CS 6172, recorded by Richter in 1954, probably on the same day, the sound of this early stereo 2 mic recording is amazingly spacious and rich.

Here’s what I wrote about CS 6172: (more…)

Shoot Out The Lights – Loud Versus Live

Shoot Out The Lights

 

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Here’s a thought: if 180 gram records are supposed to be an improvement over the original pressings, why is it that they NEVER sound Big and Bold like this pressing? And I do mean never; I’ve played hundreds of them over the years and have yet to hear this kind of sound on any of them. At this point I would have to conclude that it is simply not possible.

If you have big speakers, a large listening room and like to play your records loud, there is no modern reissue that will ever give you the thrill that a record like this can. (Of course, to fully appreciate the effect it obviously helps if you have a White Hot Stamper copy to play.)

Loud Versus Live

I’ve seen Richard Thompson on a number of occasions over the years, and as loud as my stereo will play, which is pretty darn loud, I could never make his guitar solos 20 dB louder than everything else, because it’s not on the record that way. That’s why live music can’t be duplicated properly in the home: the dynamic contrasts are much too great for the typical listener or his stereo.

Having said that, when you actually do turn this record up, way up, you get the feeling of hearing live music, and that’s not easy to do! Only the best recordings, in my experience, can begin to give you that feeling. We discuss this subject in a number of commentaries under the heading of Turn Up Your Volume.
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