Advice – What to Listen For – Tubey Magic

Elton John / Madman Across The Water – Lush Sound Is Key to the Best Pressings

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  • An outstanding copy of Madman with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • A ridiculously tough album to find with the right sound and reasonably quiet surfaces – which is why we so rarely have them on the site
  • The last of the classic albums Elton recorded at Trident, the best of which have more Tubey Magic than anything that came after
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic: “The record remains an ambitious and rewarding work, and John never attained its darkly introspective atmosphere again.”

This Madman is guaranteed to blow your mind.

The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that of the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Beatles (of course) and far too many others to list. This is some of the best high production value rock music of the ’70s.

It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted. Of course, as it turns out, recording technology only got worse as the decade wore on, and during the ’80s the sound of most Big Rock records went off a cliff.

Madman Is Lush

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on the best copies of Madman. For those of you who’ve experienced top quality analog pressings of Meddle or Dark Side of the Moon, or practically any jazz album on Contemporary, whether played through tubes or transistors, that’s the luscious sound of Tubey Magic, and it is all over the album.

The problem is that most British copies — the only ones that have any hope of sounding good in our experience — don’t have all the Tubey Magic that can be heard on the best copies. They are simply not as rich, tubey, and LUSH as the best that we’ve played.

This is the one quality that separates the winners of the shootout from the copies that came in second or third. Lushness isn’t the only thing to listen for of course. The rich copies can’t be too rich, to the point of being murky and muddy. Achieving just the right balance of Tubey Magical Madman Sound with other qualities we prize such as space, clarity, transparency and presence is no mean feat.

It’s the rare copy that will do well in all these areas, and even our best Shootout Winning sides will have to compromise somewhere. There is always a balance to be struck between richness and clarity, with no copy able to show us the maximum amounts of both that we know are possible. (more…)

Marty Robbins – Hawaii’s Calling Me – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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

Hearing this kind of Tubey Magical, tonally correct, rich, sweet, spacious sound is nothing less than a THRILL. The Analog sound of this pressing makes a mockery of even the most advanced digital playback systems, including the ones that haven’t been invented yet. I’d love to play this for Neil Young so he can see what he’s up against. Good Luck, Neil, you’re going to need it.

We’ve been through dozens of Columbia albums from the ’60s over the last year or two since we discovered how good the Marty Robbins titles on Columbia can sound. Most of the popular vocal and country albums we play have an overall distorted sound, are swimming in reverb, and come with hard, edgy, smeary vocals to boot.

To find an album with freakishly good sound such as this involves a healthy dose of pure luck. You will need to dig through an awful big pile of vinyl to uncover a gem of this beauty.

Side Two

Like any good Elvis or Nat “King” Cole record, the quality that is far and away the most important is that the vocals must be full-bodied, rich and smooth. Without that sound you might as well be playing a CD. This is precisely what side two here gives you – Tubey Magical Richness in spades.

Note that the heavy reverb not only sounds right for this music and this era, but actually sounds great, the very opposite of the hard, sour, metallic digital reverb that replaced it decades later. (more…)

Rick Nelson – Garden Party – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

UNBELIEVABLE TUBEY ANALOG MAGIC on this very fun Rick Nelson album. Who woulda thunk it? We went through a big stack of these and couldn’t believe the wonderful DEMO QUALITY sound we heard on the best copies. It’s PURE AUDIOPHILE GOLD!

If you like the sound of albums engineered by Stephen Barncard (think Deja Vu, American Beauty and Tarkio for starters) then you are going to find much to like about the sound of this one. The country-tinged opening track, complete with pedal steel guitar, sounds amazing on a copy like this.

But, of course, not all copies sound have this kind of magic in the grooves. Many of them are overly tubey to the point of thickness, others get stuck in the speakers, and a good number of them are bright and spitty. (more…)

Ted Heath – Shall We Dance – Absolutely Amazing Sound (and We Love the Music Too)

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One of the best sounding records we have ever played, the Gold Standard for Tubey Magical Big Band. Both sides are huge, rich, weighty and dynamic like few records you have ever heard. Three elements create the magic here: Kingsway Hall, Kenneth Wilkinson and the Decca “Tree” microphone setup.

More Big Band Jazz

Years ago we wrote in another listing “We had a copy of Heath’s Shall We Dance not long ago that had some of the biggest, richest, most powerful sound I have ever heard. Watch for Hot Stampers coming to the site soon.” Well, now they’re here, and this copy fulfills the promise of the album like no copy we have ever played.

DEMO DISC SOUND barely begins to do this one justice. This is Audiophile Quality Big Band sound to beat them all. The American big bands rarely got the kind of sound that the Decca engineers were able to achieve on records like this. For one thing they didn’t have Kingsway Hall, Kenneth Wilkinson or the Decca “Tree” microphone setup.

Unlike some of the American big band leaders who were well past their prime by the advent of the two-channel era, Heath is able to play with all the energy and verve required for this style of music. He really does “swing in high stereo” on these big band dance tunes. (more…)

Julie London – Lonely Girl

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

A Knockout recording of female vocal with guitar: Triple Plus (A+++) on the first side, seriously good Double Plus (A++) on the second. Julie is in the room with you – intimate, breathy and Tubey Magical like practically nothing you’ve ever heard. For late night listening this is surely one of the best Sultry Female Vocal recordings ever made – you won’t believe how real the sound is.

After hearing this amazing copy in our shootout we felt that it might be a bit too noisy to list, but another scrub cleaned it up nicely and now it’s about typical for an exceptionally clean copy of the album. No marks play — the noise one hears is mostly just the vinyl of the day.

I bought this very record in 1998. It took me close to twenty years to be able to clean it and play it right! (more…)

Esquivel – Infinity In Sound

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  • Stunning Living Stereo Sound from 1960; Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • Both sides are incredibly clear and open, yet rich and and oh-so-Tubey Magical, with brass that has little to none of the “blarey” quality that plagues most copies
  • Folks, I can tell you right now most original Living Stereo Popular (LSP) pressings, of this or any other LSP title, do not begin to recreate the Studio Wizardry found on this album; the sound rivals the best Chet Atkins albums and Bob and Rays in all their delicious three-dimensional Cinerama staging
  • AMG raves that “Esquivel returns to his full glory on Infinity in Sound.”

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Frank Sinatra – The Voice

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  • With superb Double Plus (A++) sound, this killer 6 Eye mono LP is full of the analog warmth and sweetness missing from the Classic reissue and probably anything else pressed in the last twenty five years – relatively quiet vinyl too
  • Featuring most of his best Columbia material, here is the Tubey Magical Midrange missing from the Classic reissue – theirs was not a bad record per se, but without the presence, breathiness and intimacy of the younger Sinatra’s vocals reproduced faithfully, boredom will likely set in before the first side comes to an end
  • 4 stars: “…the focus is on the ballads, and the dozen represented here constitute a bumper crop of classics, all resplendent in the singer’s richest, most overpowering intonation and most delicately nuanced work.”

In our experience, these Mono early Columbia pressings (either on the 6 Eye label or earlier solid red) are the only ones with any hope of having the Midrange Magic that is fundamental to the sound of Frank’s early Columbia LPs, a midrange that is clearly missing from the Classic Records heavy vinyl pressing. The Classic is clean and clear and tonally correct — like a CD. Without the warmth and sweetness of analog and, in this case, tube mastering, the sound just isn’t “the real Frank.” (more…)

Peter, Paul & Mary – A Song Will Rise

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  • Incredible sound for this Warner Brothers stereo pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades; the first copy to hit the site in years!
  • “The fifth album, A Song Will Rise, appeared in March 1965. It was, in a sense, the last of a quartet of albums that made up the early Peter, Paul and Mary sound. Again employing two-acoustic-guitars-and-acoustic-bass instrumentation, it featured a combination of recent cover tunes, songs associated with the groups’ predecessors, such as the Weaver’s ‘Wasn’t That A Time,” and a collection of revised traditional songs.”

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Peter, Paul & Mary – Gold Versus Green

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In previous shootouts we felt strongly that the best Gold Label copies had the lock on Tubey Magic, while the best Green Label pressings could be counted on to offer superior clarity.

That was quite a few years ago, and as we never tire of saying, things have changed. Now the Gold Label pressings have the ideal combination of Tubey Magic and clarity.

In fact, based on our recent shootout we would state categorically that the best originals are clearly better in every way, with the most vocal presence, the most harmonic resolution, the most space, the most warmth and intimacy, the most natural string tone on both the guitars and bass — in sum, the most of everything that allows a Hot Stamper vintage LP to be the most sublime musical experience available to any audiophile fortunate enough to own it.

Steve Hoffman’s famous phrase is key here: we want to hear The Breath Of Life. If these three gifted singers don’t sound like living, breathing human beings standing across from you — left, right and center — toss your copy and buy this one, because that’s exactly what they sound like here.

The TUBEY MAGIC of the midrange is practically off the scale. Until you hear it like this you really can’t even imagine it. It’s a bit shocking to hear each and every nuance of their singing reproduced so faithfully, sounding so much like live music.

This is high-rez ’60s style; not phony and forced like so much of what passes for audiophile sound these days, but relaxed and real, as if the recording were doing its best to get out of the way of the music, not call attention to itself. This, to us, is the goal, the prize we must constantly strive to keep our eyes on. Find the music, leave the rest.

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Frank Sinatra – Strangers In The Night – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

Folks, for The Best Sound on a Frank Sinatra record it simply does not get any better than Strangers In The Night. It’s a real treat to be in the presence of the Chairman Of The Board, in his prime, working his magic — but only an exceptional copy like this one has the power to put him right in the room with you.

1966 was a very good year indeed for Frank Sinatra — he recorded Live at the Sands with Count Basie that year as well. (more…)