Advice – What to Listen For – Smear

America’s Phenomenal Debut on a Phenomenally Good Sounding Pressing

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  • An incredible sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • One of our favorite Hippie Folk Rock albums – the instruments and voices seem to be right in your listening room
  • The Tubey Magical acoustic guitars on this record are a true test of stereo reproduction – thanks Ken Scott!
  • “America’s debut album is a folk-pop classic, a stellar collection of memorable songs that would prove influential on such acts as the Eagles and Dan Fogelberg…”

This is clearly America’s best album, and on the better pressings like this one the sound is worthy of Demo Disc status. You’ll find the kind of immediacy, richness and harmonic texture that not many records (and even fewer CDs) are capable of reproducing.

The version we are offering here has the song A Horse With No Name. Some copies without that song can sound very good as well, but with grades these good this copy is going to be very hard to beat.

Interestingly A Horse With No Name never sounds quite as good as the rest of the album. It was recorded after the album came out in 1971 and added to later pressings starting in 1972. Unlike the rest of the album, it was not engineered by Ken Scott at Trident, but by a different engineer at Morgan Studios. (more…)

Vintage Violin Recordings – What to Listen For

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

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This copy had practically no smear on either the violin or the orchestra. Try to find a violin concerto record with no smear. We often say that Shaded Dogs, being vintage All Tube recordings, tend to have tube smear. But what about the ’70s Transistor Mastered Red Label pressings – where does their smear come from?

Let’s face it: records from every era more often than not have some smear and we can never really know what accounts for it. The key thing is to be able to recognize it for what it is. (We find modern records, especially those pressed at RTI, to be quite smeary as a rule. They also tend to be congested, blurry, thick, veiled, and ambience-challenged. For some reason most audiophiles — and the reviewers who write for them — rarely seem to notice these shortcomings.) (more…)

Burt Bacharach – Reach Out – What to Listen For

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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 Reach Out.

What to listen for? Brightness, Blare, Lifelessness, Smear.

We played a good-sized stack of these recently, but not many of them sounded like this one. The majority of copies had a tendency to be bright, which is MURDER when the horns start blaring at the levels we like to play our records at. (more…)

Offenbach Gaite Parisienne with Fiedler – More Smeary Dreck from Classic Records

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Sonic Grade: F

Another Classic Records LP found wanting. 

The last time I played the Classic I thought it was a smeary mess, as awful as their awful Scheherazade (both shamefully on the TAS List as I recall). If I were to play it today I’m guessing it would join the other Classic Records entries in our Hall of Shame. 

 I love Fiedler’s performance and the 1954 two track RCA Living Stereo sound but finding an original Shaded Dog pressing in clean condition under $500 with the right stampers (something above 10 as a rule) is all but impossible nowadays.

If you want to go that way more power to you. 

This 1954 2-track recording is RCA’s first stereo recording of the work. 1954. Can you believe it? Two mics and two channels and it blows away 99% of all the classical recordings ever done! Some old record collectors and tube lovers say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be. This record proves it.

Beethoven Violin Concerto with Heifetz (LSC 1992)

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

More on Beethoven / Violin Concerto / Heifetz

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

The reproduction of the violin here is superb — harmonically rich, natural, clean, clear, resolving. What sets the truly killer pressings apart is the depth, width and three-dimensional quality of the sound, as well as the fact that they become less congested in the louder passages and don’t get shrill or blary. The best copies display a Tubey Magical richness — especially evident in the basses and celli — that is to die for.

Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are strongly in evidence throughout. Practically zero smear, exceptional resolution, transparency, tremendous dynamics, a violin that is present and solid — this copy takes the sound of the recording right to the limits of what we thought possible. (more…)

Iberia (LSC 2222) on Classic Records – Part of the First Batch of Their RCA Reissues from 1994

More of the music of Claude Debussy

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

The Classic of LSC 2222 is all but unlistenable on a highly resolving system. The opacity, transient smear and loss of harmonic information and ambience found on Classic’s pressing is enough to drive us right up the wall. Who can sit through a record that sounds like that? Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were disparaging the “Classic Records Sound” in our catalogs.

With each passing year — 24 and counting — we like it less. 

The Classic may be on Harry’s list — sad but true — but that certainly has no bearing on the fact that it’s not a very good record. (more…)

Sky Diving with Freddie Hubbard

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for this classic Freddie Hubbard CTI album – both sides won our shootout, earning our top grade of Triple Plus
  • This is the kind of spacious, low-distortion, dynamic and energetic sound Rudy Van Gelder was getting in the early ’70s
  • Hubbard got together a great group of Funky Jazz players to support him here, with Don Sebesky doing his usual inventive arrangements
  • 4 Stars: “Freddie Hubbard’s fourth CTI recording certainly has a diverse repertoire. The charts for the brass and woodwinds are colorful; there is a fine supporting cast that includes guitarist George Benson, Keith Jarrett on keyboards, and flutist Hubert Laws; and Hubbard takes several outstanding trumpet solos.”

Rudy was getting one hell of a lively trumpet sound on tape during this period in his career. If you have a good pressing of one of his early ’70s jazz recordings the sound can be positively EXPLOSIVE, with what feels like all the size and power of live music.

Sonic Issues

Smear. It’s by far the most common problem with the copies we played. When the transient bite of the trumpet is correctly reproduced, maintaining its full-bodied tone and harmonic structures, you know you have a very special copy of Sky Dive (or Straight Life or First Light or Red Clay, etc.). When the sound is blurry, thick, veiled, dull or slow, you have what might be considered something more like the average copy. (more…)

Rockin’ the Mandolin with Loggins and Messina

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A recent White Hot Stamper pressing of L&M’s fourth release demonstrates pretty convincingly just what an amazing DEMO DISC this album can be. When Jim Messina rips into his mandolin solo half way through Be Free your jaw is likely to hit the ground. On the best copies it positively LEAPS out of the left speaker. I can’t recall another pop or rock recording that captures either the plucked energy or the harmonic nuances of the instrument better. To hear such a well-recorded mandolin on a copy of this quality is nothing less than a THRILL.
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Basie & Peterson – Probably Bad Sounding on Heavy Vinyl, But Who Really Knows?

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More on The Timekeepers

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Analogue Productions remastered this longtime favorite of ours, The Timekeepers, on 45 RPM vinyl. Considering their dismal track record — an unbroken string of failures, scoring not a single winner with which I am familiar — I’m guessing the Hot Stamper we offered here would have blown the doors off their version as well as any other Basie album they will ever do on vinyl. (more…)

An Extraordinary Recording of the Carmen Fantasie – This Is Why You Must Do Shootouts

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This London Whiteback LP has DEMO DISC sound like you will not believe, especially on side two, which earned our coveted A Triple Plus rating. The sound is warm, sweet and transparent; in short, absolutely GORGEOUS. We call it AGAIG — As Good As It Gets!

As this is one of the Greatest Violin Showpiece Albums of All Time, it is certainly a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophle’s collection. (If you’re on our site and taking the time to read this, that probably means you.) Ruggiero Ricci is superb throughout.
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