Advice – What to Listen For – Energy

Steppenwolf – Gold: Their Great (But Awful Sounding) Hits on Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl

There is a story behind how I got my mitts of this particular Heavy Vinyl pressing.

Months ago a fellow contacted us to buy some of our Hot Stamper pressings.  We sent him one or two, and he soon wrote back to say he was not happy with the sound. We exchanged emails with him on a number of occasions, trying to rectify the situation and get him records he would be happy with.

In the middle of all this back and forth, a discussion we had crossed over into Heavy Vinyl territory, specifically were there any that he liked the sound of?  Why yes, there were.

You guessed it. The above-pictured album is one he recommended. (There was another he also said we should try, but after playing this one we decided against buying any more records he liked the sound of, as you will see.)

So, a number of months ago we finally got around to cracking the seal and playing our newly remastered Heavy Vinyl LP.

Right from the get-go, thick, murky, compressed, lifeless, ambience-free, dead-as-a-doornail sound started to come out of my speakers. Like sludge from a sewer you might say. What the hell was going on?

I quickly grabbed a Super Hot copy off the shelf and put it on the table.

Here was the energy, clarity, richness, space and more that had been missing mere moments before while playing the Heavy Vinyl pressing. Now, coming out my speakers was everything that makes a good vintage pressing such a joy to listen to. I felt like turning it up and rocking out. The first song is Born to Be Wild. Who doesn’t love to blast Born to Be Wild?

What a difference. Night and Day. Maybe more!

As I was thinking about the turgid, compressed, veiled, overly smooth but not tonally incorrect sound coming out of my speakers, I thought back about the kinds of stereo systems that can produce that sound on command. They often look like the one you see below.

If this is your idea of good sound, you are in luck. You can buy your Limited Edition Heavy Vinyl audiophile pressings from Acoustic Sounds to your heart’s content.  They’re sure cheaper than our records, and they apparently do a bang up job of giving you precisely the sound you’re looking for on vinyl.

To finish up with our little story, to no one’s surprise we never could satisfy our new customer. We ended up refunding him all his money. It seems our records were expensive, and simply not much better than records he owned or could find cheaply enough.  Ours might be even worse! Who the hell do we think we are?  The nerve.

I also know he wasn’t playing them on an old console. He took great pains to tell me all about his fancy handmade tonearm, custom tube preamp and screen speakers. State of the Art stuff in his mind, no doubt about it.

But if your system is so ridiculously bad that an Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl LP doesn’t call attention to its manifold shortcomings, doesn’t actually make your head hurt and your blood boil at the very idea that someone would charge money for such bad sound, you might want to think about scrapping your precious audiophile equipment and starting over.

Of course, this guy and the thousands of other audiophiles like him would never do such a thing. They are thoroughly invested in whatever approach to audio they have taken, and nobody can teach them anything.  They already know more than you.

They’re also the ones keeping hopelessly incompetent labels like Analogue Productions in business.  They supported Classic Records before it went under, they support Mobile Fidelity to this day. They are the guys that buy Heavy Vinyl records and extoll their virtues on audiophile forums far and wide.  Some even make youtube videos about this crap now and get tens of thousands of hits.

It’s sad, but there is nothing we can do but keep on doing what we are doing: finding good pressings for audiophiles who can appreciate the difference.

Another way we can help is this. Use the guide below when you do your shootouts for records, Heavy Vinyl and otherwise. Perhaps you will avoid the mistakes the above-mentioned gentleman made.  We include them in practically every listening of every record we sell.

And this blog is full of advice explaining practically everything there is to know about records.

You may want to start here. (more…)

The Poll Winners – Straight Ahead

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  • This superb collaboration has KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Musically, this is by far our favorite Poll Winners record – these guys got back together after 15 years and were eager to prove that they still had their youthful exuberance, and even better chops, which they did have and did prove!
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Kessel in particular is heard in excellent form… Overall this is the best all-around recording by The Poll Winners and is easily recommended to bop fans.”

These guys play with more spunk here than on any other album of theirs I’ve ever heard. And you have to love those ’70s leisure suits they’re wearing on the cover. I remember my commentary when this record was around, mentioning that Roy DuNann had lost none of his engineering skills in the intervening years either.

This is a very dynamic recording, one of his best. You almost never hear cymbals sound this good on an RVG Blue Note, that’s for sure. The bass definition on this record is amazing — you can really hear Ray Brown pulling and bending the strings of the instrument. He’s tearing it up. (more…)

Little Feat – Waiting For Columbus

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  • With Double Plus (A++) grades, or close to them, on all four sides, this copy of Waiting for Columbus is outstanding from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the best sounding live rock and roll sound you will ever hear outside of a concert venue
  • One of our all-time favorite live recordings and their single best release – a true Masterpiece
  • 4 1/2 stars: “There’s much to savor on Waiting for Columbus, one of the great live albums of its era, thanks to rich performances that prove Little Feat were one of the great live bands of their time.”

This is an amazingly well-recorded concert, and what’s more, the versions the band does of their earlier material are much better than the studio album versions of those same songs in every case.

Fat Man In A Bathtub on this album is out of this world, but you could easily say that about a dozen or more of the tracks on this double album. Which simply means that you will have a very hard time listening to any of the studio versions of these songs once you’ve heard them performed with the kind of energy, enthusiasm and technical virtuosity Little Feat brought to this live show. (I saw them twice with Lowell and they were amazing both times.) (more…)

Santana – Inner Secrets – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

The sound went so far beyond our expectations, so far beyond even the White Hot Stamper pressing we discovered in this shootout, that we had to throw on another plus if the grading was to make any sense at all.

It’s a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house. When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.) (more…)

Little Feat – Waiting For Columbus – We Was Wrong in 2009

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We used to think that:

This German import pressing of Waiting for Columbus is much better sounding than the typical Mastering Lab-mastered copy.

This German pressing is similar to one that came from my own personal collection, accidentally discovered way back in the early ’80s as I recall. It KILLED my domestic original, and got some things right that even my treasured Mobile Fidelity pressing couldn’t. We have been meaning to do a shootout for this album for at least the last five years, but kept running into the fact that in a head to head shootout the right MoFi pressing — sloppy bass and all — was hard to beat.

This is no longer the case, courtesy of that same old laundry list you have no doubt seen on the site countless times: better equipment, tweaks, record cleaning, room treatments, etcetera, etcetera. Now the shortcomings of the MoFi are clear for all to see, and the strengths of the best non-half-speed mastered pressings are too, which simply means that playing the MoFi now would be an excruciating experience. All I can hear is what it does wrong. I was so much happier with it when I didn’t know better.

That same laundry list continued to pay big dividends, and right around 2017 or so the best original domestic Mastering Lab copies started to sound much more right to us than the German ones.  The German pressings can be good, but the TML pressings are the only ones we expect to win shootouts from now on.

But who knows? We could find something even better down the road. That’s what shootouts are for. (more…)

The Best Sounding Jethro Tull Album Is Thick As a Brick

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Thick As A Brick is surely the BEST SOUNDING ALBUM Jethro Tull ever recorded. Allow us to make the case.

  • The better copies are shockingly dynamic. At about the three minute mark the band joins in the fun and really starts rocking.
  • Set your volume for as loud as your system can play that section. The rest of the music, including the very quietest parts, will then play correctly for all of side one. For side two the same volume setting should be fine.
  • The recording can have exceptionally solid, deep punchy bass (just check out Barrie “Barriemore” Barlow’s drumming, especially his kick and floor toms. The guy is on fire).
  • The midrange is usually transparent and the top end sweet and extended on the better pressings.
  • The recording was made in 1972, so there’s still plenty of Tubey Magic to be heard on the acoustic guitars and flutes.
  • The best copies can be as huge, wide and tall as any rock record you’ve ever heard, with sound that comes jumping out of your speakers right into your listening room.
  • Unlike practically any album recorded during the ’80s or later, the overall tonal balance, as well as the timbre of virtually every instrument in the soundfield is exceedingly correct.

That kind of accuracy practically disappeared from records about thirty years ago, which explains why so many of the LPs we offer as Hot Stampers were produced in the ’70s. That’s when many of the highest fidelity recordings were made. In truth this very record is a superlative example of the sound the best producers, engineers, and studios were able to capture on analog tape during that time.
(more…)

The Who – Who’s Next – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

TWO AMAZING sides on QUIET vinyl — a stunning A+++ Off the Charts, Hard To Beat, Shootout Winning side two mated to a superb A++ to A+++ side one! This week we sat down for an all day MASSIVE shootout for Who’s Next, a true Glyn Johns Classic and undeniably one of the greatest rock albums of all time.

This Decca Colorband Original pressing BLEW OUR MINDS with phenomenal sound from start to finish — check out the BIG, BOLD, Rock ’em Sock ’em bottom end energy! No other pressing we played had this kind of POWER down below. If you’re ready to really rock out with The Who, this White Hot Stamper is your ticket to ride.

The sound is WONDERFUL from start to finish. There’s no grain to speak of and dramatically less smearing and veiling than most of the copies we played it against. The presence is startling — turn it up good and loud and The Who will be right there thrashing around in your listening room! The bottom end, on both sides, has the kind of weight that’s absolutely essential to this music.

We’re talking BIG ROCK SOUND and quiet vinyl, a rare combination in our experience, our experience of course coming from dozens and dozens of British Tracks and Polydors, German Polydors, Decca originals, MCA reissues, a few imports from other countries (Japan, thin and bright), and last but far from least, The Classic 200 gram pressing. (More about that later.)

Sides One and Two

The best Track copy we found to be ever so slightly better on side one; this Decca had more whomp but the Track had clarity and transparency that was impossible to beat. It was a close call but in the end we had to award this side one the silver, not the gold. It’s a common trade-off with Who’s Next — the copies with the most going on down low often get a little murky in the midrange.

But who are we kidding? Most copies of the album are murky in the midrange, whether they have any low end or not. It’s a murky sounding recording. Some copies clean up the murk — the Japanese pressings we’ve played come to mind — and that just ruins everything. What you want is the most transparency and clarity in the midrange coupled with the most low end weight and energy; it’s a simple as that.

Side two here gives you exactly that, the best of both worlds — all the whomp, all the clarity, and all the ENERGY. Wait until you hear it. When we say it rocks we ain’t kidding. The louder you play it the better it sounds. (more…)

Loggins & Messina – Sittin’ In – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

TWO INCREDIBLE SIDES ON QUIET VINYL! This White Hot Stamper Side Two had off the charts ENERGY and DRIVE — the music on this copy simply COMES ALIVE in a way that no other pressing we played was able to match. I can honestly say I’ve never heard these songs sound better.

This record has the LIFE OF THE MUSIC in its grooves like nobody’s business. No other copy could touch it. Sure, it has a little smile curve problem — the top and bottom are a little hotter than they should be.

But a minute into this amazing side one and you will have forgotten all that audiophile stuff and just be groovin’ to the Loggins and Messina magic. It just doesn’t get any better.

Smile Curve

Practically all copies have a bit of boost in the bottom end; the kick drum really kicks, more than it should in fact. And almost all copies have too much top end right around 10k. (The ones with the worst case of boosted highs and boosted bass sound like they were mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed in Japan, much like those by a certain famous LABEL that many audiophiles to this day don’t seem to realize made some of the phoniest sounding records ever pressed.

There is also a fairly serious sibilance problem with the recording. Some copies keep it under control, while other, more crudely mastered and pressed ones suffer greatly from spitty vocals, especially noticeable on Danny’s Song.

This copy manages to keep the EQ anomolies within bounds, while giving us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthuisam; harmonically-rich guitars, and a three-dimensional soundstage that reveals the space around them all. (more…)

Heart – Little Queen

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is a Classic Rock Demo Disc to beat practically anything you could throw at it. Love Alive and Barracuda on this copy will deliver the full Rock and Roll Power of your system. If you’ve got The Big Sound, this is the record that will truly show it off. 

Even though our graphic scale only goes to three pluses, you’ll know the Four Plus sound on this side one the moment you hear it.

You get HUGE meaty guitars, BIG bass, a smooth top end, full-bodied vocals, incredible rock energy and dynamics, loads of richness and incredible transparency.

There are plenty of commentaries that discuss the sound of this recording and what it can really do when you get hold of a good pressing… and have the system that can play it… and turn up the volume good and loud. We proudly present here a copy with the kind of Big Sound that we think backs up every claim we make. (more…)

The Allman Brothers – Eat a Peach

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  • One of the best copies of Eat a Peach to ever hit the site – Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on ALL FOUR SIDES!
  • These superb sides have the immediacy that will put these wild and crazy southern rockers right in your living room
  • Includes phenomenal hits Melissa, One Way Out, Blue Sky, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More and more
  • 5 stars: “The record showcases the Allmans at their peak .. proof of Duane Allman’s immense talents and contribution to the band.”

What do such 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! (more…)