TAS Super Disc List

Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon – Live and Learn

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When we said this album was not the sonic equal of Teaser and the Firecat or Tea for the Tillerman, boy, We Was Wrong and then some. Read all about it in this White Hot Stamper copy review below.

It’s been about a year since we last found Hot Stampers of this album, and having made a number of improvements to the stereo over that time, I’m here to report that this album got a WHOLE LOT BETTER, better than I ever imagined it could get. Mona Bone Jakon now ranks as a DEMO DISC of the highest order, every bit the equal of Teaser and Tea.

To think that all three of these records came out in one fifteen month period is astonishing. The only other artists to have produced music of this calibre in so short a time would have to be The Beatles, and it took four of them to do it.

Which is not what we used to think, as evidenced by this paragraph from a previous Hot Stamper listing.

This album is one of Cat’s top four titles both musically and sonically. Tea and Teaser are obviously in a league of their own, but this album and Catch Bull At Four are close behind. The music is WONDERFUL — the best tracks (including I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light) rank right up there with anything from his catalog. Sonically it’s not an epic recording on the scale of Tea or Teaser, but with Paul Samwell-Smith at the helm, you can be sure it’s an excellent sounding album — on the right pressing.

That last line is dead wrong. It IS an epic recording on the scale of Tea and Teaser. This copy proves it! Now that we know just how good this record can sound, I hope you will allow me to borrow some commentary from another classic Cat Stevens album listing, to wit:

Right off the bat I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folk-pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.

When you hear I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on a Hot Stamper copy you will be convinced, as I am, that this is one of the greatest popular recordings in the history of the world. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one. (more…)

John Klemmer – Touch

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  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this is an outstanding copy of the best MoFi title to ever hit the site – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Musically and sonically this is the pinnacle of Klemmer’s smooth jazz – we know of none better
  • The best sounding Smooth – But Real – Jazz Album ever made, and the only vintage MoFi we know of that deserves a place in your collection
  • “Klemmer sets up the mellow grooves that we have come to associate with smooth jazz. But there are no cliche blues licks, none of the crap that players in this genre try to foist upon as “hip.””

This Hot Stamper copy of Touch is one of the best sounding records Mobile Fidelity ever made, and the only record of theirs I know of that can’t be beaten by a standard real-time mastered pressing.

We’re talking Demo Disc quality sound here. The spaciousness of the studio and the three-dimensional placement of the myriad percussion instruments and bells within its walls make this something of an audiophile spectacular of a different kind — dreamy and intensely emotional.

Shocking as it may be, Mobile Fidelity, maker of some of the worst sounding records in the history of audio, is truly the king on this title.

Klemmer says pure emotion is what inspired the album’s creation. Whatever he tapped into to find the source of that inspiration he really hit paydirt with Touch. It’s the heaviest smooth jazz ever recorded. Musically and sonically, this is the pinnacle of Klemmer’s smooth jazz body of work. I know of none better. (If you want to hear him play more straight-ahead jazz try Straight from the Heart on Nautilus.) (more…)

The Choir of King’s College / Evensong For Ash Wednesday from the TAS List

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We were very impressed with the sound of side one of this Dutch stereo pressing. For those not familiar with the album, it basically consists of a church service with readings and singing by soloists and choir. Recorded in a huge church, the clarity, naturalness and spaciousness are hard to fault.

Imagine our surprise then when we dropped the needle on side two and heard EVEN BETTER sound — bigger (my notes say “huge in fact”), with a wider and deeper soundstage and even more transparency and resolving power. I suppose it could get better but you will have to prove it to me. Until then I’m calling this one a legitimate Demo Disc for vocal reproduction on side two. I know of none better.

Side one earned a sonic grade of A++, for the sweetness and naturalness of the voices more than anything. This is not a sound that’s easy to capture or reproduce, making this a great test disc as well as a Demo Disc par excellence.

A+++, even better! Compare the two sides and see if you don’t agree with us that side two is even more amazing than side one!

Consisting of hymns, psalms and readings, this is a regular event in the King’s College calendar.

Cat Stevens / Tea For The Tillerman – Live and Learn

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A blast from the past from 2006.

I have to admit that I was dead wrong when I said that the best copies of this album were the Brown Label A&M pressings. I see now how I made this error. We played four pink label copies and our best A&M LP is only better than three of them.

But it sure isn’t better than this one! I’ve heard a good dozen or so Pink Labels and this is the first one that ever blew my mind. I thought I knew this record, but this copy changes everything.

Our White Hot Stamper Commentary from 2006 (more…)

Prokofiev / Love for Three Oranges Suite / Dorati

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame. 

Huge hall space, wonderfully textured strings – it’s easy to forget just how REAL a recording like this from 1957 can sound. With almost none of the Mercury nasality on the strings or the brass, we were knocked out by the sound and, of course, the legendary performance.

My notes for side one read: Big hall! Transparent! Zero smear! Dynamic! Huge Bass! Realistic! If that sounds like the kind of record you would like to play for yourself, here it is.

The Scythian Suite was also very good but it seems to get a bit congested (tape overload? compressor overload?) on the loudest parts. It does sound amazing in the quieter passages. It’s not distorted, just brash. It’s very dynamic of course, as is side one. That’s Mercury’s sound.

This was obviously a record the previous owner did not care for. We acquired a copy of LSC 2449 in the same batch, but unfortunately that was a record the owner must have loved — it’s just plain worn out. (We kept it as a reference copy for a future shootout which, considering how rare the record is, may never come to pass.)

In the heyday of the ’90s, when these records were all the rage, this copy would have sold for at least $1000 and probably more. And the copy that sold for that would have been very unlikely to sound as good as this one, if only for the fact that cleaning technologies have advanced so much over the last ten years or so. (more…)

Prokofiev / Concerto #3 / Hendl – An Old Review of the TAS List Favorite

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Good piano tone and dynamic too. Side two is not as good. It’s more compressed and smeared, but not too badly. If side one gets a 10, side two gets a 7 or so.

Performed by Van Cliburn, pianist, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Walter Hendl. This performance also includes MacDowell’s ”Concerto #2”.

Canteloube / Songs Of The Auvergne Vol. 1 & 2 (and a Swipe at Classic Records)

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This 1972 Vanguard pressing (VSD-713/714) has SUPERB SOUND for the Volume One material — it’s super-transparent, with an extended top end that is not often heard on the typical vintage Vanguard pressing. The overall sound is HTF – Hard To Fault — and if it hadn’t been for one other pressing we heard that blew our minds even more, we would surely have thought this first disc was as good as it was going to get. (As you can imagine, many copies over the years have been rejected as they came in and never made the cut, for both noise and sound issues.)

Miss Devrath is front and center, live in your livingroom, as natural a human voice as you will ever hear on record. It’s clear what the best copies are really capable of — completely natural Demo Disc Sound.

Sides Three and Four

Good, but quite a step down from sides one and two. Although musical and enjoyable, sides three and four were somewhat veiled and smeary compared to the sound we heard on sides one and two. We gave them both a grade of A Plus. Even these two lesser sides would probably beat the Classic reissue, and sides one and two would kill it.

TAS and Classic Records

I believe Volume One used to be on the TAS Super Disc List, and for a time the Classic Heavy Vinyl reissue may have been as well. I remember playing the Classic years ago and thinking the sound was not bad, not as awful as most of their stuff, but still far from what it should be.

How anybody can take Classic Records seriously is beyond me, yet HP has many of their records on his Super Disc list and he is certainly not alone in praising their remastered vinyl. In our opinion, you should be able to hear what’s wrong with their records from another room, a test we would happily submit to. That dark, hard, smeary, transient- and texture-free sound one hears on all their records is pretty obvious to those of us who listen to The Real Thing all the time.

How these audiophile reviewers can be fooled by such second-rate fare is frankly beyond our understanding.  (more…)

Acoustic Sounds Was Selling This “Tas List” Record Back in the ’90s

[This commentary was written circa 2001. The record above came out in 1986]

I remember 15 years ago when Acoustic Sounds was selling the then in-print 25th Anniversary Island pressing (7U, as I recall) for $15, claiming that it was a TAS list record. If you’ve ever heard that pressing, you know it has no business going anywhere near a Super Disc List. It’s mediocre at best and has virtually none of the magic of the good originals.

I refused to sell it back in those days, for no other reason than it’s far from a Better Sounding Record. I don’t like misrepresenting records and I don’t like ripping off my customers.

That pressing was a fraud and I was having none of it.

Chad probably didn’t even know the difference. When you don’t know much about records, you can say all sorts of things and not get called out for them. Audiophiles are a credulous bunch and always have been. They still believe the same nonsense that I foolishly believed back in the ’80s (and even as late as 2000).

Over the last twenty years we’ve figured a few things out. Most of what we learned you can read right here on this blog.

We’re still waiting for most of the audiophile community to catch up with us. Excessive amounts of credulity make it hard for audiophiles to approach audio problems scientifically. They believe things that are easily disproven, but when you want to believe as badly as most audiophiles do, why make the effort to find out whether what you believe is true or not?

Dick Schory – Listen for an Extended Top End on Bang Baaroom and Harp

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

What to listen for you ask? Top end, plain and simple. It’s the RARE copy that really has the incredible extension of the side two we heard recently. The space, the clarity, the harmonic complexity — perhaps one out of ten copies will show you a side two like that.

The highs are so good on this record you can use it as a setup tool. Adjust your VTA, tracking weight and the like for the most natural and clear top end, then check for all the other qualities you want to hear and you may just find yourself operating on a higher plane than before.
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Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular – Our Favorite Record for Cartridge Setup

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Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular just happens to be our favorite Test Disc, eclipsing all others in the areas of naturalness and difficulty of reproduction. Any tweak or new room treatment — we seem to do them almost weekly these days — has to pass one test and one test only — the Bob and Ray Test. 

This record has the power to help you get to the next level in audio like no other. Six words hold the key to better sound: The Song of the Volga Boatman.

For the purpose of mounting new carts, our favorite track is The Song of the Volga Boatman on Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular (LSP 1773). It’s by far the most difficult record we know of to get to sound right.

There are about twenty places in the music that we use as tests, and the right setting is the one that gets the most of them to sound their best. With every change some of the twenty will sound better and some will sound worse. Recognizing when the sound is the biggest, clearest, and most balanced from top to bottom is a skill that has taken me twenty years to acquire.

It’s a lot harder than it looks. The longer you have been in audio the more complicated it seems, which may be counterintuitive but comports well with our day-to-day experience very well.

All our room treatments and tweaks must pass The Bob and Ray Test as well. It’s the one record we have relied on more than any other over the course of the last year or two.

Presenting as it does a huge studio full of brass players, no record we know of is more dynamic or more natural sounding — when the system is working right. When it’s not working right the first thirty seconds is all it takes to show you the trouble you are in.

If you don’t have a record like that in your collection you need to find one.

It will be invaluable in the long run. The copy we have is so good (White Hot, the best we have ever played), and so important to our operation here, that it would not be for sale at any (well, almost any) price.

The Bob and Ray Trombone / Trumpet Test

One of the key tests on Bob and Ray that keeps us on the straight and narrow is the duet between the trombone and the trumpet about half way through The Song of the Volga Boatman. I have never heard a small speaker reproduce a trombone properly, and when tweaking the system, when the trombone has more of the heft and solidity of the real instrument, that is a tweak we want to pursue. The trumpet interweaving with it in the right rear corner of the studio tests the transients and high frequency harmonics in the same section. With any change to the stereo, both of those instruments are going to sound better. For a change to be positive they must both sound better. (more…)