Advice – What to Listen For – Tubey Magic

Stealers Wheel – Stuck in the Middle with You Rocks on These Early British LPs

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

Forget the dubby domestic pressings. Like so many British bands on the A&M label, when it came time to master the album for the domestic market, the people in charge (whoever they may have been) took the easy way out and simply ordered up a dub of the master tape to cut the album from.

Spooky Tooth, Procol Harum, Fairport Convention, (my beloved) Squeeze and too many others to think about all had their records ruined by sub-generation masters.

But this is the real British-pressed vinyl from the real master tape, and that makes all the difference in the world. (more…)

Michael Jackson – Off The Wall – Listening in Depth

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Listening in Depth

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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 Off The Wall.

On the better copies the multi-tracked chorus and background vocals are as breathy, rich, sweet and Tubey Magical as any pop recording we know of. An extended top end opens up the space for the huge, dense production to occupy. There is Midrange Magic To Die For exceeding anything to be found on Thriller.

Track Commentary

Side One

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

The first single from the album was designed to go to Number One and it certainly met all expectations in that regard.

On the properly mastered and pressed copies the vocals and percussion will be a bit brighter than those on most of the tracks that follow. The percussion is often somewhat brittle on even the best copies; it’s surely on the tape that way.

It should be big, clear and lively right out of the gate. (more…)

Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure

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  • With two seriously good Double to Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this UK LP is sure to be one of the best sounding Roxy Music records you’ll ever play
  • These sides are unbelievably rich and Tubey Magical – Roxy just does not get much better than this!  
  • We’ve been working on this shootout for over ten years – here is one of the better copies we have to show for our effort
  • AMG 5 Stars: “…another extraordinary record from Roxy Music, one that demonstrates even more clearly than the debut how avant-garde ideas can flourish in a pop setting.”

This album is a MASTERPIECE of Art Rock, Glam Rock and Bent Rock all rolled into one. Spacious, dynamic, present, with HUGE MEATY BASS and tons of energy, the sound is every bit as good as the music. (At least on this copy it is. That’s precisely what Hot Stampers are all about.) (more…)

Elton John – Madman Across The Water Is Lush

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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. (more…)

America’s Wonderful Debut from 1971

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  • An outstanding early pressing with superb Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish 
  • 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 some of 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 guitars on this record are a true test of stereo reproduction. As it says down below, most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. On many copies they will sound veiled and dull, and on a copy with a bit too much up top, they will have an unfortunate hi-fi-ish sparkle.

A Clear Picture

The best copies are of course wonderfully transparent; they just seem to give you a clearer picture of all the instruments in the soundfield. They’re also better defined and localized in space. The bass on the better copies is more note-like and less blurry. These Hot Stamper qualities are simply the result of higher resolution pressing and mastering, for people who appreciate the higher resolution of analog.  (more…)

Contemporary Tube Versus Transistor Tradeoffs

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In some ways yes, in some ways no, and we are happy to lay it all out for you based on the critical listening we undertook recently. Here’s how we weighed the tradeoffs in the sound of the originals versus that of the reissues, with VTA advice to follow. 

This superb sounding ORIGINAL Black Label Contemporary pressing of Benny Carter’s swingin’ jazz quartet is the very definition of a top jazz stereo recording from the late ’50s mastered through an all tube chain.

There’s good extension on the top end for an early pressing, with TONS of what you would most expect: Tubey Magic and Richness. If that’s what you’re looking for, this copy has got it!

We prefer the later pressings in most ways, but this record does something that no later pressing we have ever played can do — get Benny’s trumpet to sound uncannily REAL. If you want to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends what no CD (or modern remastered record) can begin to do, play side two of this copy for them. They may be in for quite a shock. (more…)

The Grand Wazoo and Its Prodigious Amounts of Tubey Magic

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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. (more…)

Marty Robbins – Hawaii’s Calling Me

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a side two that’s very respectable in its own right, this copy has the rich, sweet, sound we love
  • This kind of Tubey Magical, tonally correct, spacious sound on this stereo 360 pressing is nothing less than a THRILL
  • The only other Robbins record that can hold a candle to this one is Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs
  • “Robbins performs beautifully, creating a breezy mood that marks one of pop music’s better attempts at the genre.” 

Fairly quiet vinyl too!

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 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 awfully big pile of vinyl to uncover a gem of this beauty. (more…)

Dire Straits Debut from 1977 – Rhett Davies Knocked It Out of the Park

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  • SUPERB sound throughout, with both sides of this very special British pressing rating a strong Double Plus (A++) or BETTER! 
  • The sound is shockingly rich, full and solid with fantastic energy – you will not believe all the space and ambience on this copy
  • A Better Records Rock & Pop Top 100 title, a True Demo Disc, and our favorite by the band for both sound and music
  • “…the album is remarkably accomplished for a debut, and Dire Straits had difficulty surpassing it throughout their career.”

What superb sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1978
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments (and effects!) having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is of course the only way to hear all of the above. (more…)

Masterpieces By Ellington from 1950

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  • You’ll find DEMO quality sound on this 6 Eye pressing, boasting outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides 
  • For his first LP, Ellington is freed from prior 3-minute constraints and the results are nothing short of breathtaking on a record this good
  • The early mono sound is shockingly real – not for the era, but for any era – it’s remarkably big, rich and Tubey Magical
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…he and the band rose to the occasion with extended (11-minute-plus) “uncut concert arrangements” of “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “Solitude,””

We’ve known about this wonderful album for decades, since first got hold of a red label copy from the ’70s. Although not in the league with the best 6 eye pressings, even that late reissue had enough Columbia magic left in its grooves to impress the hell out of me.

And the fact that a jazz album recorded in 1950 was still in print more than twenty years later is testament to the lasting power of Ellington’s music. As Kenny Burrell would say, “Ellington Is Forever.” (more…)