Genre – Rock – More Pop than Rock

Frank Zappa – Cruising With Ruben & The Jets

More Frank Zappa

More Ruben & The Jets

xxxxx
xxxxx

  • An excellent copy with both sides rating a solid Double Plus (A++) or better
  • Both sides here are killing it — big, full and solid with a big bottom end and tons of energy 
  • It’s a classic of twisted Doo-Wop that belongs in your collection. At least we think you should give it a chance anyway; hearing it sound this good might just make a believer out of you
  • The new CD – with its modernized sound and wrong-headed re-recorded rhythm tracks – is a bad joke next to the top early pressings

Is the thought bubble on the cover the real story behind the album?

Is this the Mothers of Invention recording under a different name in a last ditch attempt to get their cruddy music on the radio?

This was one of the best copies we heard in our most recent shootout, our first since 2013! At this rate you should expect the next top copies to show up on the site sometime in 2021, a thought that should give everyone (including us) pause to say the least. (more…)

Elton John – Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player

More Elton John

More Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player

xxxxx

xxxxx

xxxxx

  • Amazing Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and Double Plus (A++) on the second
  • Spacious, musical and lifelike, this is a truly superb pressing!
  • Thanks to Ken Scott’s brilliant engineering and Gus Dudgeon’s production savvy, every song here sounds better than you imagined
  • 4 stars in the AMG: “His most direct, pop-oriented album… a very enjoyable piece of well-crafted pop/rock.”

It’s not easy to find great copies of this album, but this one absolutely nails it! It’s dynamic, energetic and full of tubey magic, and most importantly, the vocals and piano sound JUST RIGHT. The overall sound is rich, smooth, and sweet.  (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill

More Sergio Mendes

More Fool on the Hill

xxxxx

  • Sergio’s unique rearrangement of two songs in particular here make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and The Fool On The Hill
  • We rarely have had good copies on the site up in recent years – these are tough to come by in clean condition with this kind of sound
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Even though he had become thoroughly embedded in the consciousness of mainstream America, Mendes still managed to have it three ways, exposing first-class tunes from little-known Brazilian talent, garnering commercial hits, and also making some fine records.

Two songs in particular make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and The Fool On The Hill. Both of them are given wonderfully original treatments. These songs hold their own against the originals, and that’s saying something.

Sergio took on many of the heavyweights of his day, and most of the time he succeeded in producing a uniquely satisfying version of well-known material. Superb original tracks by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell and others were given the Sergio Mendes latin pop treatment and came out much the better for it.

What do the best Hot Stamper pressings give you? (more…)

Phil Collins – Face Value with Hugh Padgham’s Big Drum Sound

More Phil Collins

More Face Value

xxxxx

xxxxx

xxxxx

  • Great sound throughout with both sides of this original UK pressing rating a solid Double Plus (A++) and playing quietly 
  • Hugh Padgham discovered an amazing drum sound on Peter Gabriel’s 3rd album, and he really went to town with it on this one, Collins’ debut (and Masterpiece)
  • His most consistent songwriting and many of his biggest hits – In The Air Tonight sounds amazing, but practically everything here does
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Collins proves himself a passionate singer with a gift for both deeply felt ballads and snarling rockers.”

Collins’ songwriting and musicianship shine on this breakout debut, the first and clearly the best of all his solo albums. We’ve tried to do some of his other albums but nothing we’ve played seems remotely as well recorded as this album from 1981.

There may be some hope for Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982), but Phil’s third album, 1985’s No Jacket Required, sounds digital and ridiculously processed. I suppose not many albums from 1985 weren’t, but it’s still an unfortunate development for us audiophile types who might’ve wanted to enjoy these albums but are just not able to get past the bad sound. (more…)

Chicago and The Hottest Stampers – Are You a Thrillseeker Too?

More Albums by Chicago

More Chicago VII

 

xxxxx

When it comes to sound, I’m a Thrillseeker. I want to hear it LOUDER and BETTER, with more ENERGY and EXCITEMENT, and the reason I spent so many hundreds, even thousands, of hours working on my stereo is that that kind of sound doesn’t happen by accident. You have to work your ass off to get it. And spend a lot of money. And dig through a lot of dusty record bins buying LPs until you find one that sounds the way you want it to.

I don’t play records to drink wine and smoke cigars. I play records to ROCK. Whether the music is rock, jazz or classical, I want to feel the power of the music just as you would feel it at the live event. To me that means big speakers and loud levels. We played Chicago VII as loud as we could… (more…)

McCartney Unplugged – Life-Size Images and Living Presence

More Paul McCartney

More Unplugged

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises. (This is one of our earliest ones, from all the way back in 2006!)

On the song Blackbird Paul moves the microphone, scraping it along the floor, which causes a huge wave of bass to envelop the room. I was over at one of my customer’s houses a while ago, doing some testing with electronics and tweaks, and I remember distinctly that the microphone stand was shrunken and lean sounding in a way I had never heard before. Now this customer, whose system was in the $100K range, had no idea what that microphone stand could really do. I did, because I’ve been hearing it do it for years.

Some speakers can’t move enough air down low to reproduce that sound. And some speakers, usually those with woofers under 12 inches, shrink the size of images. These are many things to test for for in a given system, dozens and dozens in fact, but two of the important ones are these: if it doesn’t have a solid foundation (read: a big bottom end), and it doesn’t have correctly-sized images for the instruments, that’s a system that is failing in fundamentally important ways. 

If you close your eyes, you’re not in the presence of full-size musicians. Ipso facto, the fidelity to the live event has been compromised.

That’s precisely what makes this a good test disc. The band is RIGHT THERE. To the extent that you can make them sound live in your living room, you are getting the job done.

The last bit of resolution is not the point. Full-sized live musicians in your living room is the point. Either Paul and his band are in front of you, or they’re not. When they’re not, it’s time to get to work and find out what part of the system is not doing its job.

Hint: you can be pretty sure it’s the speaker. Most audiophile speakers are not very good at moving enough air. You need multiple large dynamic drivers with plenty of piston area to do the job correctly. Speakers of that design are usually large and expensive. I recommend the original Legacy Focus (not the current model) as the best sounding, most affordable full size speaker on the used market.

Elvis Costello – King of America

More Elvis Costello

More King of America

xxxxx

  • Elvis’s brilliant 1986 release finally comes to the site with two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides
  • Both sides are incredibly clean, clear and lively with a huge bottom end and lots of space around all of the instruments
  • Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is only one highlight among many – these are some of his best songs 
  • AMG raves: “Stripping away much of the excess that cluttered Punch the Clock and Goodbye Cruel World, Elvis Costello returned to his folk-rock and pub rock roots with King of America, creating one of his most affecting and personal records … one of his masterpieces.”

Even though the album was recorded right here in the states, the domestic copies are clearly made from dubs, sounding quite a bit more opaque, vague, closed-in, flat and dry than most of the British pressings we played. Like most Costello albums on domestic vinyl, they should be avoided. (more…)

What to Think When the New Version Is Completely Unrecognizable?

simongrace_180_1263556119

Paul Simon – Graceland on Heavy Vinyl

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from? Having played at least 50 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded very much like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can’t say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing?

Well, in favor of that proposition I guess you could say it sounds less like a CD now. On the other side of the ledger, it now sounds a great deal more like a bad LP.
(more…)

Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

Thinking About Hot Stampers

More Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

xxxxx

xxxxx

A while back we did a monster-sized shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second release, an album we consider THE Best Sounding Rock Record of All Time. In the midst of the discussion of a particular pressing that completely blew our minds — a copy we gave a Hot Stamper grade of A with Four Pluses , the highest honor we can bestow upon it — various issues arose, issues such as: How did this copy get to be so good? and What does it take to find such a copy? and, to paraphrase David Byrne, How did it get here?

Which brings us to this commentary, which centers around the concept of outliers.

Wikipedia defines an outlier this way: “In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.” In other words, it’s something that is very far from normal. In the standard bell curve distribution pictured below, the outliers are at the far left and far right, far from the vast majority of the data which is in the middle.

(more…)

Dire Straits Debut from 1977 – Rhett Davies Knocked It Out of the Park

More Dire Straits

More Dire Straits – Dire Straits

xxxxx

  • SUPERB sound throughout, with both sides of this very special British pressing rating a strong Double Plus (A++) or BETTER! 
  • The sound is shockingly rich, full and solid with fantastic energy – you will not believe all the space and ambience on this copy
  • A Better Records Rock & Pop Top 100 title, a True Demo Disc, and our favorite by the band for both sound and music
  • “…the album is remarkably accomplished for a debut, and Dire Straits had difficulty surpassing it throughout their career.”

What superb sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1978
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments (and effects!) having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is of course the only way to hear all of the above. (more…)