Records – What We’re Listening For

Jennifer Warnes – Famous Blue Raincoat – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

This Cypress pressing has AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUND on side one! With a grade of A++ to A+++ it’s the highest rated side of any copy we have to offer this go around — none of our other pressings could touch it on any side.

Why such a high grade? Simple. It’s ALIVE! It’s super transparent with a big, bold bottom end. The drums here are as good as they get — punchy and powerful with lots of WHOMP and the sound of the skins being THWACKED.

The presence and immediacy of this side are STUNNING — play it good and loud and you’ll have a living, breathing Jennifer Warnes right between your speakers. The clarity here is also SUPERB — just listen to all the texture to the strings, one of our favorite tests for resolution and freedom from smear.

The sax on the title track sounds rich and full with clearly audible leading edge transients and just the right amount of bite. This side one was doing pretty much everything we wanted it to and then some. What a record! (more…)

Joe Walsh – So What

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side two and a better than Double Plus (A++ to A+++) side one, this copy is practically as good as it gets
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the only way to go
  • Includes a couple of classic tracks, notably Welcome to the Club and a remake of Turn to Stone
  • You’ll hear most of the Eagles playing on this one, produced and engineered by the redoubtable Bill Szymczyk
  • “So What sees Walsh in top form as a guitarist. Most of the nine tracks feature solos of unquestionable quality in his usual rock style.”

We were impressed with how rich and punchy this copy sounded after hearing dozens of dry, thin, lifeless pressings over the years. Once we had heard at least one copy sound good we proceeded to gather up every LP we could get our hands on and make this shootout happen.

Unfortunately, most of what we ended up playing had the kind of mediocre sound we had been suffering through for decades. The best copies had real energy, surprising dynamics, and lots of that ’70s Tubey Magic we love so much and never tire of talking about. (It’s also a sound that you will have a very hard time finding on most Heavy Vinyl pressings being made these days, as you doubtless know.)

The best pressings have (relatively; this is still Joe Walsh album we’re talking about) rich, warm guitars and vocals, supported by tight, punchy bass. Most copies were far less energetic and dynamic than this one. Excellent transparency as well.

All in all, this is pretty much as good as it gets for Joe Walsh in 1974. The very next year he would become an Eagle and help those boys knock it out of the park with Hotel California. (more…)

Van Halen – 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 Van Halen’s debut album.

Most copies just do not have the kind of weight to the bottom and lower mids that this music needs to work. Put simply, if your Van Halen LP doesn’t rock, then what exactly is the point of playing it?

The other qualities to look for on the best pressings are, firstly, space — the best pressings are huge and three-dimensional, with large, lively, exceptionally dynamic choruses.

The copies with the most resolving power are easy to spot — they display plenty of lovely analog reverb trailing the guitars and vocals. (more…)

Alice Cooper – Welcome to My Nightmare

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  • Alice Cooper’s debut solo album finally arrives on the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • This one is killer – it’s lively and rich, with plenty of deep punchy bass, a nicely extended top and a huge three-dimensional soundfield
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… a concept album tied into the story line of the highly theatrical concert tour he launched soon after the album’s release… there’s plenty of fist-pumping rock to go around.”

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Joe Cocker – Joe Cocker (1969)

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  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Consistently stronger material than his debut – did Cocker ever release an album with more good songs than these?
  • How’s this for a track listing: Dear Landlord; Bird on the Wire; She Came in Through the Bathroom Window; Something; Delta Lady; Darling Be Home Soon – and there’s more
  • “Cocker mixed elements of late-’60s English blues revival recordings (John Mayall, et al.) with the more contemporary sounds of soul and pop; a sound fused in no small part by producer and arranger Leon Russell, whose gumbo mix figures prominently on this eponymous release and the infamous Mad Dogs & Englishmen live set.”

This is a surprisingly good recording. Cocker and his band — with more than a little help from Leon Russell — run through a collection of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the Beatles, and when you can hear it on a killer Hot Stamper copy such as this, it’s hard to deny the appeal of this timeless White Soul music.

The consistently high quality of the material is another reason this album has to be considered a Must Own. Did Cocker ever release an album with more good songs than these?

On side one alone you’ll find Dear Landlord; Bird on the Wire; She Came in Through the Bathroom Window; and Hitchcock Railway.

On side two: Something; Delta Lady; Hello, Little Friend; and Darling Be Home Soon.

I put this album up against the best Cocker has ever made. He released both of his first two albums in 1969, strikingly reminiscent of another band we revere, Led Zeppelin. (Small world: Jimmy Page plays on Cocker’s first release.) (more…)

Kansas – Reverse Your Polarity, My Wayward Son

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This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

About eight years ago (time flies!) we discovered that the first track on side one is in the wrong polarity, or out of absolute phase, whichever terminology you prefer (we ourselves use both). The full story can be found below.

Here’s what we wrote:

But last night (07/13/06) we made an AMAZING discovery. I was listening to another Sterling original, and the slightly aggressive, hi-fi-ish quality of the opening vocals made me think that maybe I had been putting up with a problem that I should have investigated further. What really sold me on the idea was listening to the vocals and noticing that the ambience was “disconnected” from the voices. It’s hard to explain exactly what that sound is, but it’s almost as if the ambience is added in on top of the voice instead of surrounding and resulting from the voice. I suspected reversed absolute phase.
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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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Joe Walsh – But Seriously, Folks…

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

Triple Plus sound, a rarity for this really fun album! Most copies have a tendency to be gritty, thin, and/or edgy — a quality you may recognize from the typical Eagles pressing — but this one is rich, full and smooth in all the right ways.

Life’s Been Good is the big hit here, and it sounds excellent, but there are plenty of other great songs here. It’s one of the more solid rock albums from 1978 to hit our table in a while. Check out the Allmusic review linked above, they rave about the album (4 1/2 stars) and even compare it to Pet Sounds! (more…)

Joe Walsh – The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

MASTER TAPE SOUND on side one of 1973 classic, an album the All Music Guide calls “a superb album by anyone’s standards.” We had no idea this album could sound so good until we stumbled upon a clean copy recently a threw it on the table. We couldn’t believe how rich and punchy it sounded, after hearing dozens of dry, thin, lifeless copies over the years. 

We gathered up every copy in the place and put together a shootout; unfortunately, most of them had that mediocre sound we had expected. This side one is a whole different story, earning our top A+++ grade with real energy, surprising dynamics, and lots of that ’70s tubey magic we love so much.

Side one is ALIVE! It has rich, warm guitars and tight, punchy bass. There’s real weight to the bottom end and Joe’s vocals sound exactly right to our ears. Most copies weren’t this energetic nor dynamic. The sound is super full-bodied and rich with excellent transparency. Rocky Mountain Way KILLS on this copy.

Side two is a big step down, rating between solid A and A+. That means it’s better than average but nowhere near as impressive as the first side or our best side twos. The vocals are a bit edgy and the overall sound is not as rich or full, but at least you get a strong bottom end and good energy.

We grew quite fond of this music once we heard it sound this good. If you’re already a fan of the album, I bet you’ll get a real thrill out of hearing this copy! You can be sure that based on our positive experiences here we’ll revisit Walsh’s other ’70s albums soon. Hopefully we can come up with some pressings that sound like this. (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner

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

Please note that we do not have a graphic for our chart to indicate the Four Plus grade, since we award it so rarely. Our rating system usually only goes to three pluses, but this side one was so amazing we had to give it a fourth!

This White Hot pressing gives you TRULY KILLER SOUND for this classic album! It’s not easy to find great sound for Tapestry. Most pressings are either dull and veiled, or hard and edgy in the midrange — not exactly the kind of sound we’re after.

This kind of sound is not easy to find on this album. As we said above, the typical copies are either dull and murky or edgy and downright unpleasant, and on half the ones that DO sound good the vinyl is thrashed! On a copy like this, though, the sound gets out of the way and lets you focus on the MUSIC — and make no mistake, this album is a true classic.

We went nuts for this album during our big shootout. Since most of the time we’re playing testosterone-fueled, raging classic rock, it was a nice change of pace for us — and certainly easier on our poor eardrums! Our man JT makes an appearance playing acoustic guitar on a number of tracks, most notably You’ve Got A Friend, and his pals Russ Kunkel and Danny Kootch turn up too, with Kootch handling most of the electric guitar duties.

What’s surprising, if you haven’t played this album in a while, is how good non-hit tracks like “Home Again” can be. But there aren’t many of those non-hits on this album, and that’s a good thing; almost every song was a hit or received a lot of radio play. The quality of the material is that good. (more…)