Genre – Rock – More Pop than Rock

Ambrosia – One Eighty

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

This is smooth, rich ANALOG at its best, easy on the ears as we like to say.

This is clearly the poppier side of Ambrosia, containing as it does two of their highest-charting mainstream hits, Biggest Part of Me (#3) and You’re the Only Woman (#13). I myself of course prefer the proggy first two albums, falling as they do into the broad category of Art Rock where my favorite albums by Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, Supertramp, 10cc, later-period Beatles, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Traffic and so many others from the last forty-plus years can be found.

These artists’ recordings tend to be big, powerful and exceedingly hard to reproduce, which, probably more than anything else, accounts for my becoming a serious stereo enthusiast while still in my teens. (My mother had to co-sign the loan I needed to purchase the currently-state-of-the-art ARC SP3A-1 preamp I coveted. I remember it being $600+ at a time when I was earning roughly $2 an hour. That had to hurt, but I did it. Bought a D-75 amp after I paid it off too.)

The Music

One Eighty (recorded on 1/80, get it?) kicks off with a real rocker: Ready, which is a great name for an opening track and really gets the album off to a high-energy start. Side two opens with my favorite track on the album, Livin’ On My Own. I actually used to demonstrate my system with it: the bass is huge, way up in the mix and really punchy. Additionally there are powerful multi-tracked vocal harmonies in the chorus that are wall-to-wall, surprisingly dynamic, yet sweet (all things considered; this is a modern recording after all).

One Eighty has an excellent mix of rock and softer pop ballads. The last track, Biggest Part Of Me, no matter how many times you’ve heard it, on the radio or elsewhere, is an exceptionally well-produced (designed?) piece of songcraft that will tug at anyone’s heartstrings, anyone who has a heart that is (if I may quote the title of the best song Burt Bacharach ever wrote). On a big audiophile system it should be both powerful and emotional. (more…)

Ambrosia – Life Beyond L.A.

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

This White Hot Stamper Ambrosia LP has the kind of sound you would never expect to find in the grooves of this album. It was a THRILL to hear, especially at the volumes at which we played it! The transparency and openness were off the charts, and unmatched by any other copy in our shootout. We’re big fans of this band here at Better Records — we love their take on complex, big production rock!

It’s also yet another example of the value of taking part in the myriad revolutions in audio. If you never want your prized but sonically-challenged records to sound any better than they do right now, this minute, don’t bother to learn how to clean them better, play them back better or improve the acoustics of your room. No one can make you do any of those things. The only reason you might have for doing them is so that you can enjoy more of your favorite music with much better sound. Is that a good enough reason? If you’re on this site I’m guessing it is.

That’s the reason we do it. We want records like this one, which didn’t start sounding good until about 2005, and now sound MUCH better than I ever thought they could, to keep getting better and better. Why shouldn’t they?

And these improvements we talk about so much have allowed us to enjoy records we could never fully enjoy before because they never really sounded all that good to us. Now they do, and they will keep getting better, as more and more developments come along in all areas of analog reproduction. (more…)

Styx – In Pieces Of Eight

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  • A superb sounding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Here is the kind of sound we want on our ELP, Yes and Queen-like multi-layered Proggy Pop Rock – big, full-bodied and lively
  • 4 Stars: Styx’s feisty, straightforward brand of album rock is represented best by “Blue Collar Man,” an invigorating keyboard and guitar rush… reaching number 21, with the frolicking romp of “Renegade” edging in at number 16 only six months later… the rest of the album includes tracks that rekindle some of Styx’s early progressive rock sound, only cleaner. Tracks like “Sing for the Day,” “Lords of the Ring,” and “Aku-Aku” all contain slightly more complex instrumental foundations…”

Who likes their Wall of Sound small and closed-in? Certainly not Big Speaker guys like us. By all accounts this band wanted their records to sound good, or at least as good as their contemporaries (and the bands that inspired them, name-checked above). There’s no shortage of production polish here and on the best pressings the sound really works. (more…)

Billy Joel – Turnstiles – Listening in Depth

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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.

On side two Prelude/Angry Young Man were key test tracks. The biggest, richest copies with the most space consistently brought out the best in the songs and individual performances of the players.

Summer, Highland Falls is a great test — listen for breathy vocals, a full piano, a clear snare drum once it comes in and, most importantly, an energetic performance. You will need all four to score well in one of our shootouts.  (more…)

Loggins & Messina – Sittin’ In – What to Listen For

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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 Sittin’ In. 

Practically any copy you find will have a bit of a boost in the bottom end. The kick drum really kicks on this album, more than it should in fact.

And almost all copies have too much top end right around 10k. The ones with the worst case of boosted highs and boosted bass sound like they were mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed in Japan, much like those put out by a famous label back in the ’70s.

Oddly enough, many audiophiles to this day do not seem to know that this particular label has been responsible for a slough of the phoniest sounding audiophile records ever pressed.

There is also a sibilance problem with the recording. Some copies keep it under control, while other, more crudely mastered and pressed ones, suffer greatly from spitty vocals, especially noticeable on Danny’s Song. The better copies will tend to have the “cleanest”, least-objectionable sibilance.

The best copies manage to keep the EQ anomalies within bounds, while giving us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthusiasm; harmonically-rich guitars; and a three-dimensional soundstage, revealing the space around them all.



Further Reading

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

We discuss the issue of Sibilance in these listings.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

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

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

This debut album was credited to Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina because the project had begun as a solo record by Loggins being produced by Messina. By the time it was finished, however, Messina had written or co-written six of the 11 songs, contributed “first guitar,” and shared lead vocals on many tracks. Messina’s “Nobody but You” and “Vahevala,” co-written by Loggins’ second cousin, Dave Loggins, were the singles chart entries, but today everybody remembers the album for Loggins’ “House at Pooh Corner,” which had earned Loggins his record contract, and “Danny’s Song,” which Anne Murray took into the Top Ten the following year.

The only thing wrong with this record is that it was too perfect — with their infectious blend of country, folk, rock and Caribbean music, L&M started out at the top of their game, and although they were able to match some of the material and performances on later records, the team never got any better than this.

The Moody Blues – A Question of Balance

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  • Side one earned a Double Plus (A++) grade and side two was even better, nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++)!
  • This copy has some of the tubiest, richest, yet clearest Moody Blues sound we’ve heard
  • Huge and spacious with strong midrange presence – this is the way the band should sound, alive and kickin’!
  • Includes the big hit Question, one of the all time greats by the band, which sounds fantastic here of course

Note that the sound on side one seems to get better as it goes, a phenomenon we have noticed often in the past.

What to Listen for

Achieving just the right balance of “Moody Blues Sound” and transparency is no mean feat. You have to be using the real master tape for starters. Then you need top end extension, a very rare quality on these imports, and finally, good bass definition to keep the bottom end from blurring and bleeding into the midrange. No domestic copy in our experience has ever had these three qualities, and only the best of the British imports (no Dutch, German or Japanese need apply) manages to get all three on the same LP. (more…)

Roy Orbison – Sings Lonely and Blue on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked. 

Can’t recommend this one. It’s too bright. The DCC LP of Orbison’s material is dramatically better [assuming you want a Heavy Vinyl pressing. I doubt I would care for the sound of it now but back in the day we recommended it].

I’ve had some discussions with some audiophiles who liked this album, and I’m frankly surprised that people find this kind of sound pleasing, but if you’re one of those people who likes bright records, this should do the trick! 

 

The Turn Up Your Volume Test – Bonnie Raitt’s Home Plate

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Another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is a classic case of a record that really starts to work when the levels are up. It’s so free from distortion and phony processing it wants to be played loud, and that’s the level this music works at. It’s the level it was no doubt mixed at, and that mix sounds pretty flat at moderate levels. If you want to hear the real rockin’ Bonnie Raitt you gots to turn it up!

Like a lot of the best recordings from the mid-’70s, the production and recording quality are clean and clear, and we mean that in a good way. There is very little processing to the sound of anything here; drums sound like drums, guitars like guitars, and Bonnie sings without the aid of autotuning — because she can sing on-key, and beautifully. Her vocals kill on every song. (Her dad had a pretty good set of pipes too.) (more…)

Pat Benatar – Crimes of Passion

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  • This impressive Double Plus (A++) copy is ROCKIN’ with Sound City Classic Rock energy like you will not believe
  • Credit engineer Keith Olsen, the man behind the Buckingham Nicks album and the even-more-amazing Fleetwood Mac self-titled release
  • All kinds of big hits can be found on this one, including Benatar classics such as Treat Me Right, You Better Run and Hit Me With Your Best Shot
  • “Benatar avoids the synth-happy trends of the early ’80s and delivers a hard rocking ten-song session of power pop tempered with a few ballads for balance.”

Credit for the sound must go to the brilliant engineer Keith Olsen, the man behind the amazing sounding Fleetwood Mac self-titled release from 1975. Is there a better sounding Fleetwood Mac album? I certainly can’t think of one. 

The man knows Big Rock sound as well as anyone in the business. The two recordings mentioned above and our Crimes of Passion here have too much in common for it to be a mere coincidence. All three have tons of bass (which is the sine qua non of live rock music), huge size and scope, richness, Tubey Magic, a smooth top and last but not least, hard-rockin’ energy. (more…)

Blondie – Eat To The Beat

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  • Incredible sound for this followup to Parallel Lines with both sides earning a Triple Plus (A+++)!
  • Turn it up as loud as you want – the top end and vocals are balanced, smooth and tonally correct, not gritty or edgy
  • The drums and bass of Die Young Stay Pretty are as real sounding as if you were standing five feet from the band
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic:The British… made Eat to the Beat another chart-topper, with three major hits, including a number one ranking for Atomic and almost the same success for Dreaming.

This is Mike Chapman’s Big Beat Sonic Masterpiece — yes, bigger and better than Parallel Lines — akin to the debuts of The Knack and The Cars, and every bit as huge and punchy as either.

Eat to the Beat lives and dies by its energy, its bass and above all by its transient snap. The drums and bass of Die Young Stay Pretty are as real sounding as if you were standing five feet in front of a the band. On the best copies it’s hard to imagine that song sounding any better. The drum and bass are massive in their attack. It’s the very definition of punch. (more…)