Advice – What to Listen For – Transparency

David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name… – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

More David Crosby

If I Could Only Remember My Name

xxxxx

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

THE ULTIMATE PSYCH ROCK DEMO DISC! Both sides are shockingly transparent with tight bass, silky highs, full-bodied vocals and TONS of Tubey Magic. 

No CD ever made could compete with the amazing analog sound of a record like this, and after twenty five years of that technology failing to do its job I’m pretty sure no CD (or SACD, or any other digital media for that matter) ever will.

These stampers are different from the ones I used to think were the best about ten or twelve years ago. For a long time I didn’t play this record, and then a while back, when this whole Hot Stamper thing took off, I grabbed my personal hot copy and a bunch of others, cleaned them up and did a big shootout.

As is so often the case, I discovered that my previous conclusions had to be reexamined in the light of contrary evidence. (This is, after all, a science. Or is it an art? I can never keep those two straight.) The stampers I used to like were still wonderful, but these “new” stampers were even more magical. These particular pressings have a transparency and delicacy that my old system, as good as it was, simply wasn’t capable of resolving.

After even more upgrades to the room and the stereo (including the amazing EAR 324 phono stage that resolves at a much higher level than anything I had owned before), we couldn’t be sure that these magical stampers would still be the best. After shooting out nearly a score of top contenders, we checked out the dead wax on the champions and saw that our most recent favorite stampers were still the king. (As we noted before, the person listening to the record never knows which actual pressing is playing, which we feel helps to keep everybody honest. In audio you can convince yourself of anything if you want it to be true badly enough.)

You Don’t Have to Be High to Hear It

Side one here has INSANELY GOOD SOUND! This copy has it all — amazing transparency, breathtaking clarity, super low distortion, breathy vocals, uncanny immediacy and lots of life. Master Tape Sound is the phrase we reserve for A+++ sides like this. When you drop the needle on this record, all barriers between you and the musicians are removed. You’ll feel as though you’re sitting at the studio console while Crosby and his no-doubt-stoned-out-of-their-minds Bay Area pals (mostly Jefferson Airplaners and Grateful Deads) are laying down this emotionally powerful, heartfelt music. Laughing has OUT OF THIS WORLD sound — warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied… that’s some real ’60s tubey magic, baby! And the best part is, you don’t have to be high to hear it. You just need a good stereo and the right pressing.

By the way, the first track has that “home recording” sound and always sounds weak compared to the rest of this album. Don’t expect any wonders, even from a copy like this. By one minute into track two, you’ll understand why we freaked out over this copy.

Side Two Is Right Up There With It

Side two is nearly as amazing! The highs are PERFECTION — silky, delicate, airy and sweet. The vocals are breathy with amazing presence and lots of texture. The acoustic guitars are super clean and clear with just the right balance of pluck and body. The overall sound is exceptionally dynamic and lively with tons of tubey magic. It’s so transparent, so spacious, and incredibly clear. We rate side two A++ – A+++, making this a knockout copy from start to finish.

Barncard’s Masterpiece

(We all owe a debt of gratitude to the superbly talented recording engineer on this project, Stephen Barncard. We like his work so much we created a whole bundle for him, which you can see on the left. This album is probably his masterpiece. It fully deserves its standing as one of our Top Five Best Rock Recordings of All Time, which can also be seen on the left.)

Your Reward Awaits You

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, records like this are the reward for owning the right stereo equipment and having it properly tweaked. There is no way in the world I could have played this album 10 years ago remotely as well as I can now. It only makes me appreciate the music even more.

What to Listen For on Eat a Peach

xxx

EAT A PEACH

What do high grades give you for this album? Unbelievably Tubey Magical guitars, huge whomp factor on the bottom end, incredible dynamics and life, shocking transparency and clarity, and the kind of immediacy that puts these crazy southern rockers right in your very own living room. The overall sound is impressively BIG, BOLD, and POWERFUL!

This and Live At Fillmore East are the two monumental albums these guys ever put out, and they have a lot in common. You know what you’re gonna get with the Allmans: dueling electric guitars, sweet acoustic guitars, energetic drumming, and full-bodied vocals throughout. There’s obviously a lot of exploration — two complete sides are dedicated to the song Mountain Jam — but the heartfelt radio-friendly songs such as Melissa and Little Martha keep up the energy and provide maximum enjoyment factor.

The Three Keys: Transparency, Energy, and WHOMP

A great copy like this one really lets everything that’s great about this music come through. You can easily pick out each of the musicians and follow their contributions over the course of the songs. The huge WHOMP factor throughout kicks up the excitement factor and sets the foundation for the extended guitar jams to work their Southern bluesy magic. The top end extends beautifully to bring out all the ambience and spaciousness of the Fillmore. (more…)

Frank Zappa – Waka/Jawaka – What to Listen For

More Frank Zappa

More Waka/Jawaka

xxxxx

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

Problems? 

Not long ago we discovered the secret to separating the men from the boys on side one: TRANSPARENCY.

On the lively, punchy, dynamic copies — which are of course the best ones — you can follow the drumming at the beginning of ‘Big Swifty’ note for note: every beat, every kick of the kick drum, every fill, every roll. (more…)

Rod Stewart – Never A Dull Moment – What to Listen For

More Rod Stewart

More Never A Dull Moment

xxxxx
xxxxx

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

Most copies tend to be dull, veiled, thick and congested, but the trick with the better pressings is being able to separate out the various parts with ease and hear right INTO the music.

Just listen to those meaty electric guitars, the note-like bass or that amazing snare drum sound with such a huge THWACK — that’s the raw power of rock n’ roll, baby.

It’s also surprisingly airy, open, and spacious — not quite what you’d expect from a bluesy British rock album like this, right? Not too many Faces records sound like this, we can tell you that.

But the engineers here managed to pull it off. One of them was Glyn Johns (mis-spelled in the credits Glynn Johns), who’s only responsible for the first track on side one, True Blue. Naturally that happens to be one of the best sounding tracks on the whole album. (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry on Classic Records Reviewed in the ’90s

More Carole King

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: B

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic LP, but I remember it as being fairly good. At the time we wrote:

It’s a little rolled off on the top, but it’s a good rolled off, because brightening it up would make it sound modern and wrong. It’s rich and full of body, especially the piano, the way modern recordings almost never are.

Musically it’s hard to fault as well. What’s surprising, if you haven’t played this album in a while, is how good a non-hit track like “Home Again” can be. But there aren’t many of those on this album because almost every song was a hit or received a lot of radio play; the quality of the material is that good.

Heavy Vinyl and the Loss of Transparency (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry

More Carole King – Tapestry

xxxxx

  • This KILLER copy of King’s beloved Tapestry earned top honors — Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides are big, full and Tubey Magical yet still clean, clear and open – you will hear that the dark veils of most copies have finally been lifted
  • This album is clearly Carole’s masterpiece – it’s loaded with great songs, and they all sound fantastic here
  • 5 stars: “…an intensely emotional record, the songs confessional and direct; in its time it connected with listeners like few records before it, and it remains an illuminating experience decades later.”

Audiophile sound is not easy to find on Tapestry. As we’ve been saying for twenty years, most copies are either dull and murky or edgy and thin, and on half the ones that DO sound good the vinyl is noisy. On a copy like this, though, the sound gets out of the way and lets you focus on the MUSIC — and make no mistake, the music on this album is as good as it gets from Carole King. (more…)

James Taylor – Sweet Baby James

More James Taylor

More Sweet Baby James

xxxxx

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • Just listen to all that lovely echo – it’s a dead giveaway that both sides have resolving power far beyond the other copies you may have heard 
  • A Top 100 Title, inarguably a Masterpiece – Fire and Rain and Suite for 20 G (one of JT’s All Time Best) are out of this world here
  • 5 Stars: “Sweet Baby James launched not only Taylor’s career as a pop superstar but also the entire singer/songwriter movement of the early ’70s that included Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and others…”

Vocal reproduction is key to the best sounding copies of Sweet Baby James as it is on so many Folkie Pop Rock albums from the era.

To find a copy where Taylor’s vocals are front and center — which is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet, tonally correct and Tubey Magical is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off. (more…)

David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name…

More David Crosby

If I Could Only Remember My Name

xxxxx

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

BEYOND TRIPLE TRIPLE! This Top Copy had a side one that blew us away enough to earn FOUR Pluses!

Here it is, folks… a TRUE ROCK DEMO DISC! A White Hot Stamper copy such as this will show you why we’ve long considered it one of the All Time Top Ten Rock Albums for Sound and Music. You will not believe how Tubey Magical and three-dimensional this album can be when you have a pressing with this kind of sound. The harmonic complexity and extension on the acoustic guitars are absolutely stunning!

Please note that the grading scale pictured above only goes up to three pluses, as that is our standard top grade. Every now and then we’ll hear a side of an album we know well that goes beyond our expectations and our ref copies to earn a fourth plus. This side one did just that! (more…)

Ry Cooder – Paradise and Lunch

More Ry Cooder

More Paradise and Lunch

xxxxx

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

This copy does almost everything you could ask for from this music — good energy, tons of richness and clarity and lots of texture to all of the instruments. You’ll feel like you are right in the studio with Ry and his top-notch crew as they kick out these fun, eccentric jams. LEE HERSCHBERG engineered this one as well as a great many others for Ry Cooder.

I can’t think of another Ry Cooder album with such consistently good material. And since Ry and his pals have such interesting and unusual ideas, there’s a lot here for audiophiles to appreciate.

Take for example the version of Burt Bacharach’s song Mexican Divorce. You’ve got timbales in the left channel, a conga in the right channel, a marimba somewhere in the background, and for good measure, a wonderful sounding mandolin takes center stage! (more…)

Ry Cooder – Ry Cooder

More Ry Cooder

More Ry Cooder – Ry Cooder

xxxxx

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

The music reminds me a lot of early Little Feat, which is a good thing. The sound is somewhat similar as well, which is to say that it is natural and musical, nothing like the hyped-up hi-fi sound of his TAS-listed album Jazz — and that’s a good thing as well.

There are some great songs here, including My Old Kentucky Home, One Meat Ball and How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live. It may even be his best album.

Side One

Very rich and natural with a strong bottom end and real texture up top. The top end is nice and open, with good separation between parts. So good!

Side Two

Easily the best side two we heard in our shootout! You get a bigger soundstage, more energy, a strong bottom end, and right on the money tonality for the brass and guitars. (more…)