Difficult to Reproduce Recordings

Derek and the Dominos – Layla

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  • With a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides two, three and four, this copy delivers top quality sound for this famously difficult recording – exceptionally quiet vinyl too! 
  • Some of our favorite Clapton songs are here: Bell Bottom Blues, Tell The Truth, Little Wing, Layla and Have You Ever Loved A Woman?
  • One of the most difficult albums to find audiophile sound for, but a lot easier for us now that we know what pressings can actually sound good
  • Clapton’s greatest album: “But what really makes Layla such a powerful record is that Clapton, ignoring the traditions that occasionally painted him into a corner, simply tears through these songs with burning, intense emotion.”

Outstanding sound for all four sides of this classic album. Unless you plan on playing a very big pile of copies you will be hard-pressed to find a copy with sound like this. (more…)

Airto – Fingers – Truly a Desert Island Disc

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

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.)

Stampers and Promos

There are a couple of stampers we like for both sides, but knowing the numbers is not particularly helpful since there are not all that many stampers to choose from, and the good stampers can sound just plain awful on some copies. Side one is either A1, A2, or A3 and side two is B1, B2, or B3. I have never seen any other stamper numbers for a domestic pressing and I have seen scores of copies of this album over the last twenty plus years. (Quad doesn’t count; those pressings rarely if ever sound good in stereo.)

Some that we’ve put on the site are White Label Promos. I have a number of them and practically every stamper is represented for both sides, so the promo designation has almost no bearing on the quality of the sound. Which is not saying much because it almost never does.


This is Airto’s Masterpiece as well as a Desert Island Disc for yours truly.

What qualifies a record to be a Masterpiece needs no explanation. We will make every effort to limit each of the artists to a maximum of one masterpiece per artist or group, although some exceptions have already occurred to me, so that rule will be broken from time to time.

For a record to belong on my Desert Island Disc, said record: 1) must have at some time during my fifty years as a music lover and audio enthusiast been played very heavily, fanatically perhaps, even if only for a short time; 2) my current sixty year old self must still strongly respect the album, and; 3) I must want to listen to the album well into the future.

How many records meet the Desert Island Disc criteria? Certainly many more than you can see when you click on the link, but new titles will be added as time permits.

AMG Review

One of the five-star gems [although they actually give it 4 1/2!] that the Brazilian percussionist recorded for CTI was Fingers, which employs Purim on percussion and vocals, David Amaro on guitar, Hugo Fattoruso on keyboards and harmonica, Jorge Fattoruso on drums and Ringo Thielmann on electric bass. Produced by Taylor and recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s famous New Jersey studio, this LP demonstrates just how exciting and creative 1970s fusion could be. When Moreira and his colleagues blend jazz with Brazilian music, rock and funk on such cuts as “Wind Chant,” “Tombo in 7/4” and “Romance of Death,” the results are consistently enriching. Fingers is an album to savor.

Sergio Mendes – Look Around – Then Listen for the Huge Room on Roda

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises

If you have a good copy of Look Around and a high-rez stereo/room and want to have some fun, play the second track on side one, Roda. In the left channel there is some double-tracked clapping (or two people, how could you tell the difference?) in a HUGE room. Actually although it sounds like a huge room it’s probably a normal sized room with lots of reverb added. Either way it sounds awesome. 

These hand claps drive the energy and rhythm of the song, and they are so well recorded you will think the back wall of your listening room just collapsed behind the left speaker. On the truly transparent copies the echo goes WAY back. (more…)

This Album Takes Everything We’ve Got

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

During our most recent Hot Stamper shootout we were reminded of a fact that had slipped our minds: Trying to get this record to sound right is a truly humbling experience. Without a doubt it deserves the title for Most Difficult to Reproduce in the Rock and Pop category. (Yes, we know, there is no such thing, we just made it up.) 

This record will bring any stereo to its knees, including one like ours, which is tuned and tweaked within an inch of its life. Everything has to be working at its absolute best before I would even consider any attempt to play the album. It’s not enough to have the stereo warmed up and cookin’, with everything in the house unplugged. The electricity from the pole needs to be at its best, not that grungy garbage you get in the middle of the day or around dinner time, when all your neighbors have their appliances going. You need that late-at-night, two o’clock in the morning everybody-has-gone-to-bed-and-turned-off-all-their-stuff electricity for this bad boy to work its magic.

I learned an important lesson from a shootout we conducted not long ago, which boils down to this: You can play hard-to-reproduce records all day long if your system is tuned up and working fine. Ours has to be, every day. The shootouts we do require that everything is working properly or we simply couldn’t do them. (more…)

The Beatles White Album – A True MoFi Disaster

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Sonic Grade: D

Another MoFi LP debunked. 

The last time I played the MoFi I could not believe how ridiculously phony and compressed it was. And to think I used to like their version when it came out back in the ’80s!

Take Yer Blues. The MFSL pressing positively wreaks havoc with all the added bass and top end The Beatles put on this track. The MoFi version is already too bright, and has sloppy bass to start with, so the result on this track is way too much BAD bass and way too much BAD spitty 10k-boosted treble, unlike the good imports, which have way too much GOOD bass and treble.

Yer Blues ROCKS. Listen to the big jam at the end of the song, where John’s vocal mic is turned off but his performace is still caught by a room or overheard mic. They obviously did this on purpose, killing his vocal track so that the “leaked” vocal could be heard.

Those crazy Beatles. It’s more than just a cool “effect”. It actually seems to kick the energy and power of the song up a notch. It’s clearly an accident, but an accident that works. I rather doubt George Martin approved. That kind of “throw the rule book out” approach is what makes The Beatles’ recordings so fascinating, and The White Album the most fascinating of them all.

The EQ for this song is also a good example of something The Beatles were experimenting with, as detailed in their recording sessions and interviews with the engineers. They were pushing the boundaries of normal EQ, of how much bass and treble a track could have. This track has seriously boosted bass, way too much, but somehow it works!

Difficulty of Reproduction

This recording is quite difficult to reproduce, which means it ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS). Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment.

In its way this is an ideal record to gauge how much progress you have made in audio. Here is what I had to say about a Brewer and Shipley album that ranks high on the DOR scale:

I can also tell you that if you have a modest system this record is just going to sound like crap. It sounded like crap for years in my system, even when I thought I had a good one. Vinyl playback has come a long way in the last five or ten years and if you’ve participated in some of the revolutionary changes that I talk about elsewhere on the site, you should hear some pretty respectable sound. Otherwise, I would pass. On the Difficulty of Reproduction scale, this record scores fairly high. You need lots of Tubey Magic and freedom from distortion, the kind of sound I rarely hear on any but the most heavily tweaked systems, the kind of systems that guys like me have been slaving over for thirty years. If you’re a Weekend Warrior when it comes to stereo, this is not the record for you.

Much like Synchronicity, this is a tough record to get the right sound out of — even if you do have an excellent pressing. It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively. It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too. As we’ve said before about these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring any audio system that tries to reproduce them to its knees.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this requires — demands even — you are going to hear some amazing sound when you drop the needle on one of our Hot Stampers.

Airto Fingers – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

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.

In-Depth Track Commentary (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

The best copies will tend to have the qualities detailed below, and the more abundant these qualities are on any given pressing, the higher its grade will be.

Yes, it is a science, an empirical one, which can only be carried out by the use of strict protocols and controls, but it sure ain’t rocket science. All you need is the system, the room, the records, the time and the will to do the painstaking critical listening required to carry out the task.

It can be done, but you could spend a lifetime meeting audiophiles of the vinyl persuasion and never run into a single one who has made the effort more than a handful of times.

To be honest, shootouts are a bitch. If you aren’t getting paid to do them the way we are, finding the motivation to devote the time and energy required to do them right — not to mention the piles of copies of each record you will need — is daunting to say the least.

So, back to the question: what to listen for? (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…)