Difficult to Reproduce Recordings

Listening in Depth to Fingers – Airto’s Masterpiece

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This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto.

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.) (more…)

Elton John Self-Titled – Live and Learn

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A classic case of Live and Learn. Scroll down to read what we learned from our recent shootout. To illustrate how the game is played we’ve copied some of the previous commentary into this listing to show the change in our understanding from 2004 to today.

Folks, if you’re looking for Classic Rock that appeals to adults with sophisticated tastes forty plus years after it was made, this is the album for you.

What’s especially remarkable about this album is the quality of the string arrangements. I don’t know of another pop record that uses strings better or has better string tone. The strings are all over this record, not only adding uniquely interesting qualities to the backgrounds of the arrangements, but actually taking the foreground on some of the songs, most notably Sixty Years On. When the strings give in to a lovely harp just before Elton starts singing, the effect is positively glorious. It’s the nexus where amazing Tubey Mgical sound meets the best in popular music suffused with brilliant orchestral instrumentation. Who did it better than The Beatles and Elton John? They stand alone. (more…)

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam – Larry Carlton Stretches Out

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  • Stunning sound from start to finish: Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it on both sides
  • This is a killer Shootout Winning copy of The Dan’s hard-rockin’ classic from 1976 – HERE is the right sound for this music
  • These two sides give you what you need for The Royal Scam – rich, meaty, with powerful rhythmic energy and not too bright
  • “Drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie lashes out the rolling grooves on most of the nine tracks, establishing the album’s anxious feel, and Larry Carlton’s jaw-dropping guitar work provides a running commentary to Fagen’s strangulated vocals… These are not the sort of Steely Dan songs favored by smooth-jazz stations.”

One of the best copies from our last shootout. The life and energy are off the charts here, and the edge and grit that ruin the typical pressing are virtually nowhere to be heard.

It’s an absolute monster, and if you love this album like we do you are doing to flip when you hear it. And side two of this album is KILLER for this group of Steely Dan Classics: Green Earrings, Haitian Divorce, Everything You Did, and of course, The Royal Scam. (more…)

Sergio Mendes + Psych + Your Mind Will Be Blown

Stillness

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Allow me to quote a length a wonderful review from Brasil66.com before we get into What to Listen For on Stillness.

A radical departure from anything that had gone before, Stillness remains the one album that Brasil ’66 fans either love or hate. Most complaints about it center on the fact that the familiar bossa sound of the earlier records was now mostly gone.

Nonetheless, Stillness is arguably one of the most fluid albums of Mendes’ career. It takes its cue from the work of many of the singer/songwriters of the day (Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, etc.), with thoughtful lyrics and often delicate arrangements. It is a almost a concept album, with the theme expressed in the title song — the words of which are even printed on the front cover — and an outdoorsy, peaceful feeling running through many of the other lyrics. (This feeling is also reflected in the cover photos, which were shot in a rural setting.)

Stillness is also Lani Hall’s final album with Mendes; she left the group during these sessions and was replaced by Gracinha Leporace, who does lead vocals on several songs. Standout tracks include “Chelsea Morning” and “Viramundo,” both of which contain traces of the earlier Brasil ’66 sound; “Righteous Life” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” both of which reflect the mood of late ’60s America through their lyrics; and the very pretty “Sometimes in Winter,” featuring an elegant orchestral arrangement by Dick Hazard.

If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as wonderful, look no further — this is the record for you.

If I had one song to play to show what my stereo can really do, For What It’s Worth on a Hot Stamper copy would probably be my choice. I can’t think of any material that sounds better. It’s amazingly spacious and open, yet punchy and full bodied the way only vintage analog recordings ever are. (more…)

The Beatles White Album – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with plenty of What to Listen For (WTLF) tips. 

It’s exceedingly difficult to find audiophile quality sound on The White Album. The Beatles were breaking apart, often recording independently of each other, with their own favorite engineers as enablers, and George Martin nowhere to be found most of the time. They were also experimenting more and more with sound itself, which resulted in wonderful songs and interesting effects. However, these new approaches and added complexity often result in a loss of sonic “purity.”

Let’s face it, most audiophiles like simplicity: A female vocal, a solo guitar — these things are easy to reproduce and often result in pleasing sound, the kind of sound that doesn’t take a lot of expensive equipment or much effort to reproduce.

Dense mixes with wacky EQ are hard to reproduce (our famous Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS) comes into play here), and the White Album is full of that sound, taking a break for songs like Blackbird and Julia.

Some of the Tubey Magic that you hear on Pepper is gone for good. (Play With a Little Help from My Friends on a seriously good Hot Stamper to see what has been lost forever.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Looks at the lineup for side one. Is there a rock album on the planet with a better batch of songs?

Having done shootouts for the White Album by the score, we can also say with some certainty that side one is the most difficult side to find White Hot stamper sound for. It’s somewhat rare to find a side one that earns our top Triple Plus (A+++) sonic grade, even when all the other sides do. (Actually what happens more often than not is that we take the best second discs and mate them with the best first discs to make the grades consistent for the whole album. But don’t tell anybody.) (more…)

Roundabout Vs. South Side of the Sky

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Fragile.

This shootout taught us that track one is not as well recorded as the rest of side one. On copy after copy, and there were well over a dozen, it was the other big track on side one, South Side of the Sky, that had consistently better sound. You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first.

You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first. We play both songs, but we play them in reverse order, knowing that the mind-boggling sound is really going to be on South Side, not so much Roundabout.

This record should give any record you own a run for its money. It’s as BIG and as BOLD a statement about raising the bar for rock recordings as any I know. Without a doubt one of the Best Rock Recordings of all time.

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Setup Discs, Part Two – Dialing in the Anti-Skate

Setup Discs, Part Two – Dialing in the Anti-Skate

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises

This is a superb Demonstration disc, but it is also an excellent Test disc. The sound of the best copies is rich, full-bodied, incredibly spacious, and exceptionally extended up top. There is a prodigious amount of musical information spread across the soundstage, much of it difficult to reproduce. Musicians are banging on so many different percussive devices (often at the back of the stage, exactly where they should be) that getting each one’s sonic character to clearly come through is a challenge — and when you’ve met it, a thrill.

If you’ve done your homework with VTA, Azimuth, Anti-Skate and Tracking Weight, this is the record that will make clear just how much you’ve accomplished.

More of the music of Georges Bizet

But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce! You better have everything working right when you play this one — it’s guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. And if you have any peaky audiophile wire in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this. More than anything this is a record that rewards your system’s neutrality.

On the best copies the strings have wonderful texture and sheen. If your system isn’t up to it (or you have a copy with a problem in this area), the strings might sound a little shrill and possibly grainy as well, but I’m here to tell you that the sound on the best copies is just fine with respect to string tone and timbre. You will need to look elsewhere for the problem. (more…)

Two Reviews of Blood, Sweat & Tears – Fremer Vs. Better Records – You Be the Judge

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In 2010 MF reviewed both the Sundazed and Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl pressings of the album. I think his review is mistaken on a number of counts, and mostly unhelpful. The commentary below will discuss his errors in detail, in the hopes that you, dear reader, will not make the same mistakes yourself. 

He talks about his history with the album for a while, and then notes:

Anyway, the original “360 Sound” edition of this record sounds fantastic. It’s a high quality Columbia studio recording, with vivid harmonics, impressive transparency and dynamics, shimmering highs and tight extended bass. The soundstage is expansive and the images tightly presented. I’m not sure it can get much better than the original given how well-pressed Columbia records were in those days, especially if you have a clean original.

We, however, seem to hold precisely the opposite view. I quote from our review:

“Why did it take us so long [to do a Hot Stamper shootout]? Let me ask you this: have you ever played this album? The average copy of this record is a sonic MESS. Even the best copies have problems.”

We then go on to discuss in detail what most copies do wrong and what to listen for in order to find a copy that gets it right. (More on that later.) (more…)

Chicago V – What to Listen For

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  • An incredible Triple Plus (A+++) side one backed with an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two – quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is especially rich, full and warm, with big bass, lively brass and multi-tracked vocals that are breathy and clear
  • 4 stars on Allmusic and one of their best sounding albums, the last to be recorded at Columbia’s famed 30th Street studios
  • Their first Number One, and The Biggest Selling Album of 1972 (!), spending nine weeks at the top of the charts

Most pressings don’t reproduce the percussion harmonics, the leading edge transients of the horns, or the big, open space around Peter Cetera’s vocals that we know is there, but a Hot Stamper copy such as this brings out all those qualities and more.

The presence here puts the vocalists right in the room with you, and when the band kicks in, the sound really starts jumping out of the speakers.

The Brass Is Key

The brass on any Chicago album has to have just the right amount of transient bite yet still be full-bodied and never blary. In addition, on the best of the best pressings you can really hear the air moving through the horns. (more…)

Can You Imagine Sound this Bad from a TAS List Super Disc? We Can, We Played It.

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This 2-pack boasts White Hot Stamper sound on side two for the Mehta Planets. Yes, it IS possible. Side two shows you what this record is actually capable of — big WHOMP, no SMEAR, super SPACIOUS, DYNAMIC, with an EXTENDED top. It beat every London pressing we threw at it, coming out on top for our recent shootout. Folks, we 100% guarantee that whatever pressing you have of this performance, this copy will trounce it.

But side one of this London original British pressing was awful. We wrote it off as NFG after about a minute; that’s all we could take of the bright, hard-sounding brass of War.

Can you imagine sound this bad from a TAS List Super Disc record? We can, we played it. (more…)