Genre – Rock – Big Production Rock

10cc – Deceptive Bends – Listening in Depth

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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 Deceptive Bends.

We’ve long been huge fans of this album both musically and sonically. It’s the kind of recording where the sound JUMPS out of the speakers. It reminds me of Crime Of The Century that way. It’s also one of the most DYNAMIC popular recordings I know of. If this album doesn’t wake up your system, it’s time to scrap it and start over! Musically it’s one of my all time favorite albums, a real Desert Island disc. 

One of the many elements that combine to push this album well beyond the bounds of most popular recordings is the thought and care that went into the soundstaging. Listen to the stereo separation on any track — the sound of each instrument has been carefully considered within the context of the arrangement and placed in a specific location within the soundfield for a reason — usually that reason is for MAXIMUM EFFECT.

That’s why we LOVE 10cc. Their recordings from this era are an audiophile dream come true. Compare that to some of the stereo mixes for the Beatles albums, where an instrument or vocal seems to panned to one channel or another not because it SHOULD be, but because it COULD be. With 10cc those hard-left, hard-right effects make the songs JUMP. They call attention to themselves precisely because the band is having a blast in the studio, showing off all the tricks they have up their sleeves. They want you to get as big a kick out of hearing them as they did conjuring them up. (more…)

Steely Dan – Gaucho – Listening In Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Gaucho, the last of the Must Own Steely Dan albums. 

Of all the great albums Steely Dan made, and that means their seven original albums and nothing that came after, there are only three in our opinion that actually support their reputation as studio wizards and recording geniuses.

Chronologically they are Pretzel Logic, Aja, and Gaucho. Every sound captured on these albums is so carefully crafted and considered that it practically brings one to tears to contemplate what the defective DBX noise reduction system did to the work of genius that is Katy Lied, their best album and the worst sounding. (Those cymbal crashes can really mess with your mind if you let them. To get a better picture of the DBX sound just bang two trash can lids together as close to your head as possible.)

The first two albums can sound very good, as can Royal Scam, but none of those can compete with The Big Three mentioned above for sonics. A Hot Stamper copy of any of them would be a seriously good sounding record indeed. (more…)

Bryan Ferry – The Bride Stripped Bare – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

It’s been years since I last played this album, and I’m happy, ecstatic even, to report that it sounds far better than I remember it sounding. In the old days I recall it as somewhat dry, flat and transistory. Now it’s BIG and BOLD, revealing a band that’s on fire in the studio. 

This White Hot side two had by far the most energy of any side we played, showing us just what a monster rocker this album can be when it’s mastered and pressed right. The reviews were mixed when the album was released in 1978 but time has been kind to it — after hearing the killer copies I would rank it up at the top with the best of Ferry’s and Roxy’s work.

The first three tracks are uptempo barn burners sure to get you out of any funk you may find yourself in, day or night. (more…)

Boston – Boston

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  • Both Double Plus (A++) sides of this Top 100 Title offer superb Demo Disc Analog sound 
  • The multi-tracked multi-layered guitars are as big as life on this copy and are guaranteed to rock your world
  • Top sound for all the hits: More Than a Feeling, Long Time/Foreplay, Rock & Roll Band, Peace Of Mind…
  • “Boston is essential for any fan of classic rock, and the album marks the re-emergence of the genre in the 1970s.” — Allmusic, 4 1/2 stars

Boston’s first (and only good) album is a long-time member of our Top 100, and on a great pressing like this it’s easy to see why. It’s an incredible recording when you can hear it right, and this is about as right as it gets!

It’s obvious why the first Boston album became a Multi-Platinum Record. Practically every one of its songs still gets heavy radio play on every rock station in town. Consummately well-crafted music like this is almost impossible to find nowadays. I guess that’s why they call it Classic Rock. (more…)

Queen – A Day At the Races

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout
  • Tie Your Mother Down and Somebody to Love are both wonderful sounding on this EARLY British pressing
  • It’s incredibly difficult to find big, bold, lively sound like this for Queen – it takes us years to do the shootout
  • “Its sleek, streamlined finish is the biggest indication that Queen has entered a new phase, where they’re globe-conquering titans instead of underdogs on the make.”

(more…)

U2 – Boy

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  • We here present the best sounding copy of U2’s debit we’ve ever played, our Shootout Winner with Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides
  • The sound is bigger and richer, as well as more present and lively, than any other copy that’s ever hit our turntable
  • The vinyl is quiet for an Island pressing from 1980, with each side playing Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “From the outset, U2 went for the big message — every song on their debut album Boy sounds huge, with oceans of processed guitars cascading around Bono’s impassioned wail. It was an inspired combination of large, stadium-rock beats and post-punk textures.”

Recordings from the ’80s are always a bit tricky in terms of sound quality, and U2 is not a band we have ever associated with the highest audiophile-quality sonics. We’ve been through quite a number of their albums now, including War, The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree.

While Demo Quality Sound may never be in the cards for these guys, over the years we’ve stumbled upon (stumbling being the only way to go about it) pressings that are much better at communicating their music than others, and certainly a great deal better than any Heavy Vinyl reissue or digital source. (more…)

Queen – The Game – 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 the album.

The best sounding side ones were rarely as good as the best sounding side twos.

Even the good side ones tended to have a trace of harmonic distortion and compression that is simply nowhere to be found on the good side twos. How and why this is we have no idea. Since every copy had the same sonic issues we discounted it in our grading. Only the better copies bring the hits on side one to life and give them the size and power we know they can have.  (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Wild Things Run Fast

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this copy has Joni rockin’ like you will not believe
  • Her last great record – fortunately for us audiophiles it’s spacious, open and powerful with present vocals and solid bass
  • Relatively quiet, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus throughout – they don’t come any quieter in our experience
  • “On her first new studio album of original material in five years, Joni Mitchell achieved more of a balance between her pop abilities and her jazz aspirations, meanwhile rediscovering a more direct, emotional lyric approach. The result was her best album since the mid-’70s.”

One of our favorite Joni Mitchell albums and one of the few good reasons to listen to new music in the ’80s. (more…)

The Turn Up Your Volume Test – Almost Cut My Hair

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The only time Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young actually sound like a real rock and roll band is on the track Almost Cut My Hair. According to Stephen Barncard, one of the engineers on Deja Vu, the track was actually recorded live in the studio. Boy, it sure sounds like it. The amount of energy the band generates on this one song exceeds the energy of the entire first album put together. 

The reason this song presents such a tough test is that it has to be mastered properly in order to make you want to turn it up, not just louder, but as loud as your stereo will play. This song is not to be used as background music whilst sipping wine and smoking cigars. It positively cries out to be played at serious volume levels on monstrously large speakers. Nothing else will do justice to the power of the band’s one and only live performance. (more…)

The Best Sounding Tom Petty Record We’ve Ever Played

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Damn the Torpedoes is the best sounding Tom Petty album we have ever played.

Credit must go to SHELLY YAKUS, someone who we freely admit, now with a sense of embarrassment, has never been one of our favorite engineers. After hearing this beyond-White Hot Stamper side two and a killer copy of Animal Notes we realize that we have seriously underestimated the man, and for that we deeply apologize.

If your Damn the Torpedoes doesn’t sound good (and it probably doesn’t), you sure can’t blame him — the master tape is mind-boggling in its size, weight, power and rock n’ roll energy.

Our 2014 better than White Hot Stamper copy had the kind of sound we never expected to hear on Damn The Torpedoes, an album that’s typically bright, thin, pinched and transistory — radio friendly but not especially audiophile friendly.

Well folks, all that’s changed, and by “all” I don’t necessarily mean all to include the records themselves. This may very well be a record that sounded gritty and pinched before it was cleaned. And our stereo has come a long way in the last five or ten years, as I hope yours has too.

One sign that you’re making progress in this hobby is that at least some of the records you’ve played recently, records that had never sounded especially good before, are now sounding very good indeed. In our case Damn the Torpedoes is one of those records. It’s the best sounding Tom Petty album we have ever played.

See all of our Tom Petty pressings in stock
 

Mindblowing On Both Sides

Side two is OFF THE CHARTS! It’s big and rich with excellent presence and tons of energy. I could go on and on here but all you have to know is that it is BY FAR the best sounding side two we have ever heard.

Side one is almost as good, with lots of space around all of the instruments, tons of energy and less congestion than the average copy. The sound is positively jumpin’ out of the speakers.

The First Two Albums

His first two albums are also classics, IMHO, and we’ve done Hot Stamper shootouts for both. You’re Gonna Get It, his second release, is my personal favorite. After “Damn” I kind of gave up on him as an album artist: a few tracks here and there sparkle but mostly what I hear is variations of his earlier and better material, with brighter and brighter, thinner and thinner sound.


Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below. See more entries in our Favorite Engineers series.

This listing will help you to get The Most Out Of Your Records .

Here’s a link with advice for setting up your Table, Arm and Cartridge that can be found in a section containing Audio Advice of all kinds.

We have a large number of entries in our new Listening in Depth series.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in The Four Pillars of Success.

Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and directly address in this commentary from way back in 2005.