Genre – Rock – British Blues Rock

Ten Years After – A Space In Time – 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 BOTH sides of this White Hot Stamper copy! Folks, it just does not get any better than this. It’s been more than two years (08/08) since last we embarked on a Hot Stamper shootout for this great album. I always knew it could sound good, but I sure never heard it sound like this! (I said that last time around too you may recall. Two years is a long time in audio. If your stereo and room are undergoing regular improvements, as they can and should be, the sound will be noticeably better every year, dramatically better after two.) 

This is some of the best high-production-value rock music of the ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of these songs is similar to that of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and the like. In other words, no effort was spared to make the home listening experience as compelling as possible.

Big Production British Rock & Roll

Just listen to the guitar solo on ‘Let The Sky Fall’. It comes complete with multiple guitar parts, acoustic and electric, with some backwards guitar thrown in for good measure! This kind of dense aural soundscape, presented with so many carefully placed elements from side to side and front to back, truly rewards repeated listening.

No matter how many times you play the album you will hear (and hopefully appreciate) something new in the mix. I’ve been playing ASIT for thirty years and I heard lots of things this time around I never knew were there. This is why we keep improving our systems, right? There is never going to be a time when these nearly forty year old recordings have nothing new to offer. (more…)

Black Sabbath – Paranoid – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This Warner Bros. pressing has TWO EXCELLENT SIDES. It’s tough to find great copies of Paranoid and even tougher to find good sound on the original Green Label — most are awful, if even playable. Drop the needle on either side of this copy and you’ll quickly hear how correct this one sounds. It’s got a HUGE bottom end, excellent presence, a good amount of tubey magic and TONS of energy. The very best copies we’ve played take the music a bit further, but you’ll have a hard time finding one that sounds much better and plays any quieter than this one!

It’s taken us ages to find good pressings of this album, probably because just about every copy we see has been beat to death by the crazy muthas who originally bought ’em! Let’s face it — this wasn’t an album bought and treasured by people who know how to take care of their records, this was a record bought by kids who probably played it after getting wasted with their buddies. (No shame in that, of course!)

The music is freakin’ great, by the way. Since Ozzy has basically become a cartoon version of himself (as charming as that is) it’s easy to forget that these guys were a serious classic rock band that were duking it out with Zep for the hearts and minds of young hard rock fans in the late ’60s and early ’70s. This album set the foundation for heavy metal, and I’m not sure anyone ever topped it. Play this album back to back with Zep II and it’s pretty clear the two bands were fueling each other, pushing both bands into creating bigger, bolder, better riff-based rockers.

Allmusic calls this “one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time” and when it sounds this good, I’m guessing you’ll agree! War Pigs, Fairies Wear Boots, Electric Funeral, Rat Salad (drummer Bill Ward’s answer to Bonham’s Moby Dick) and the title track are some of the classic tracks on this album. Not too shabby. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – In Through The Out Door – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

SUPERB A+++ SOUND! We play dozens of these each year, and almost never find one that sounds amazing and plays this quietly. When a copy sounds this good, the music REALLY works — we had fun with this one. It’s rich, full-bodied, and ALIVE like you wouldn’t believe.

Both sides here are As Good As It Gets! The sound is very rich and full-bodied with lots of extension up top. The bass is deep and well-defined, and the piano sounds just right. On a super transparent, super low distortion copy like this one, all the subtleties really come to life. Too many copies we played were a bit grainy — you could really hear it on the cymbal crashes. This copy is as smooth and sweet as you could ever ask for. It’s open and spacious, and the vocals are Right On The Money. The bottom end is SUPERB here, with deep, well-defined bass and an exceptionally punchy kick drum sound that really takes the music to another level. There’s lots of extension up top and a silky quality to the vocals and cymbals. The presence is staggering — the guitar solo on All My Love positively JUMPS out of the speakers. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet

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

AN AMAZING, SHOOTOUT-WINNING A+++ SIDE TWO backed with an excellent A++ side one. It is not easy to find good copies of this album — this kind of rich, full-bodied, MUSICAL sound is the exception, not the rule. And there’s actual space and extension up top as well, something you certainly don’t hear on the typical pressing! This is an amazing batch of songs, and a copy like this gives it the kind of sound it deserves.

Of course, Hot Stamper Sound still only gets you what’s on the tape. In this case, it’s some rude, crude, dirty rock & roll. That’s clearly what the Stones were going for here. In terms of audiophile appeal, Tea For The Tillerman this ain’t. Beggars may have some of The Rolling Stones best music on it, but those looking for the best sounding Stones album should look in the direction of Sticky Fingers or Let It Bleed. They’re clearly better recordings, which is why they are both on our Top 100 list.

But this album is no slouch. It can be a bit midrangy in places: to name just a couple, Sympathy For The Devil seems to have that quality on every copy I’ve heard, and Street Fighting Man never sounds all that amazing. What sets the best copies apart from the pack is a fuller, richer tonal balance, which is achieved mostly by having plenty of bass and lower midrange energy. The copies that are bass shy — most of them, that is to say — tend to bring out more of that midrangy shortcoming.

Two other qualities that the best copies have are 1): more Transparency, so the ambience and subtle musical qualities are more audible, and 2): less Smearing of the sound, which is especially noticeable as a lack of bass definition and a blurring or softening of the transients elsewhere. Good pressings are certainly not easy to come by — this kind of rich, full-bodied, musical sound is the exception, not the rule. And there’s actual space and extension up top as well, something you certainly won’t hear on most of the vinyl that’s been pressed over the 49+ years since this album was released.

What sets the best copies apart from the pack is a fuller, richer tonal balance, which is achieved mostly by having plenty of bass and less upper midrange. Those are the copies that sound tonally correct to us, and you should have no trouble appreciating the difference. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume. 

A TRULY STUNNING COPY of this classic album! Both sides here are rich, warm and full-bodied with tons of energy and presence. It just doesn’t get much better than this, folks! We gave side two a Four Plus grade — note that we don’t even have a graphic for that! — and side one was also very strong.

Side two earned the rare Four Plus grade (making it the first copy of Houses ever to do so, I believe) with an insane combination of clarity, presence, size, richness, transparency, bottom end punch and more. Side one is not quite in the same heady league but is certainly very strong with a Double Plus grade. You’re going to have a ridiculously hard time finding another copy that can hold its own against this one. Frankly, I don’t think it can be done without the kind of operation we have here! (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Coda – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

TWO GREAT SIDES and QUIET VINYL on this Swan Song pressing, one of the few good sounding copies we’ve ever played. We just sat down with the dozen-plus copies of Coda that made it through our preliminary round and only found a few that were worth writing home around. Most copies are too dry, grainy, and/or dull to get excited about, but this one is a MONSTER.

The best material on here — We’re Gonna Groove, Poor Tom, and the great live take of I Can’t Quit You Baby, just to name a few of our favorites — sounds darn good.

Of course, this probably isn’t — and shouldn’t be — anyone’s favorite Zep album. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. Drop the needle on the smoldering version of I Can’t Quit You Baby and I’m pretty sure you’ll be a happy man. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – IV – With This Copy You Better Be Ready to Rock

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

We did a massive shootout in 2012 for Zep’s beloved fourth album and this British pressing earned a nearly perfect score with some of the BIGGEST, BOLDEST, HARDEST Rockin’ sound we have ever heard on the album. Without a doubt this is the best sounding IV side two we’ve ever played, with the biggest bottom of them all.

When the Levee Breaks, a problematical track on even the best copies, finally sounds the way you’ve always heard it in your head — relentless and so powerful it’s downright scary.

But the best copies are so good, and so much fun, that it was definitely worth the trouble. Because the best copies ROCK, and it is a positive THRILL to hear this record rock the way it was meant to. If you have big speakers and the power to drive them, your neighbors are going to be very upset with you.

Let’s get right to why this copy is SO DAMN GOOD.

Side Two

The biggest, boldest, most dynamic, punchiest and liveliest of them all. Zero smear, live-in-your-listening-room presence, with a beautifully extended and amazingly natural and correct top end, nothing could touch this one.

Note that the vocals for the first track are always somewhat edgy on even the best copies. After playing scores and scores of copies, having adjusted the VTA every which way we could, no copy did not have at least some edge on Plant’s vocal. We’re pretty sure by now it’s that way on the tape. Our job is to find the copy that reproduces it as accurately as possible. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Undercover

More The Rolling Stones

More Undercover

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

Engineered by Chris Kimsey, if you know his work from Some Girls, Tattoo You, Frampton Comes Alive and the like, then you should have a good idea of what this album sounds like on the better copies such as this one.   (more…)

Led Zeppelin – III – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

It is INCREDIBLY difficult to find knockout copies of Zep III — of the dozen-plus copies we auditioned, this British Import Plum & Orange pressing was the only one with two superb sides, with an AGAIG A+++ side two and a side one that’s just half a step behind at A++ – A+++. Folks, when I tell you that it is no mean feat to find a decent copy of this album, I am not joking around.

Side one here is STUNNING. It’s really full-bodied with substantial weight to the bottom end. The bass is tight, punchy, and easier to follow than on any other copy we’ve heard. Just listen to John Paul Jones tearing it up during Immigrant Song — on most copies he’s just a deep rumble, but here you can appreciate the notes he is playing. It really kicks up the excitement factor of one of the hardest-rockin’ songs these guys ever did.

The overall sound is unbelievably lively — we’ve never heard a copy that rocked so hard! It’s just a bit on the bright side at times, but that little bit of extra top end seems to give this copy the ENERGY and PRESENCE that were missing from almost every other pressing we played. Drop the needle on Since I’ve Been Loving You and turn it up loud. Zep will be right there between your speakers, and your jaw will be on the floor!

Side two is EVEN MORE AMAZING — in fact, it’s OUT OF THIS WORLD! You are not going to believe how lively and dynamic it is. Drop the needle on Tangerine for a taste of rich, sweet, Master Tape Sound. The acoustic guitars are lush and delicate, the bass is deep and well-defined, and the vocals are completely natural and free from any bad mastering or phony EQ. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume. 

Zep fans, rejoice — PHYSICAL GRAFFITI HOT STAMPERS ARE HERE! We thought this day might never come. As you probably know by now, most copies of this album just plain suck!

After making some improvements in our evaluation process (minor tweaks to the room and the stereo, plus some new steps in our cleaning process) and — let’s face it — some seriously good luck, we’ve finally been able to track down a few killer copies of Zep’s monster double album.

If you’ve been waiting for The Ultimate Kashmir Experience, today is your lucky day.

Though we’ve known forever that many of you were eager for them, we just weren’t sure we’d ever have Hot Stampers for Physical Graffiti. There are a number of factors at play here. First off, you’ve gotta have a whole lot of copies around to do a shootout, and clean copies of this album sure ain’t cheap. When we’re doing a shootout for a title like The Stranger, Toto IV, or even Rumours, we can afford to pick up any nice-looking copy we see without breaking the bank. Not so with this one — minty copies don’t come cheap, and most of them sound so bad that it ain’t worth the risk. (more…)