Sonic Grade: D
Completely lifeless. This pressing takes all the rock out of rock and roll. A ridiculous joke played on a far-too-credulous audiophile public.
The first two Cars albums were both in The Better Records Rock and Pop Top 100 at one time, with good reason: they’re superb recordings. The Cars have been in “heavy rotation” on my system since their albums came out in the late ’70s. We started doing shootouts for both right around 2006 or 2007, and they continue to be a regular feature of our Rock Hot Stamper section, not to mention some of the most fun shootouts we do in any given week.
Before then had you ever read a word in any audiophile or record collecting publication about how amazing the originals can sound? Of course not. Most of the audiophile types writing for the stereo rags wouldn’t know a good record from a hole in the ground.
If anything the typical audiophile probably has one or both of the disastrous Nautilus half-speed mastered versions, and, having played them, would not be inclined to think highly of the sound. We knew better than to waste our time with that muck. Recently Mobile Fidelity has taken upon itself to remaster a selection of the band’s titles with the same flawed half-speed mastering approach. We haven’t played any of them and don’t intend to. We know that sound and we don’t like it.
Our point, other than to bash a record we have never played, is simply this: if you have any of those MoFi versions we would love to send you a copy of the album so that you can hear for yourself what it’s really supposed to sound like.
If you have Big Dynamic Speakers and like to rock, you can’t go wrong with a Hot Stamper Cars album. Neil Young albums have the Big Rock sound, and if you’re more of a Classic Rock kind of listener, that’s a good way to go. We’re behind you all the way, just check out the commentary for Zuma linked above.
For a band with thin ties, leather jackets, jangly guitars, synths and monstrously huge floor toms that fly back and forth across the soundstage, Cars albums are going to be the ones for you.
…along these lines can be found below.
Some of the most important advice on our site can be found under the heading of The Four Pillars of Success.
Here you can find more entries in our ongoing Shootout Advice series.
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.
Sonic Grade: D
I’m embarrassed to say we used to like the Rhino Heavy Vinyl version, and in our defense let me tell you why: it was (for the most part) tonally correct, fairly low distortion, and had tight punchy bass.
Boy, was we wrong. Now it sounds positively CRUDE and UNPLEASANT next to the real thing — if by “the real thing” you mean an honest to goodness Hot Stamper copy. The average copy of this record is aggressive and unpleasant. The British pressings are mud. You either have to work very hard to find a good one (which means buying, cleaning and playing lots and lots of them), or you have to luck into a good one by accident.
What really separated this copy from the pack was the lack of edge on the vocals. It’s not duller — it’s bigger and clearer yet less distorted and cut cleaner than most of the other sides we played. (more…)
What to Listen For
The best copies have superb extension up top, which allows the grit and edge on the vocals to almost entirely disappear. Some of it is there on the tape for a reason — that’s partly the sound they were going for, this is after all a Bob Clearmountain mix and a Jimmy Iovine production — but bad mastering and pressing adds plenty of grit to the average copy, enough to ruin it in fact.
You can test for that edgy quality on side one very easily using the jangly guitar harmonics and breathy vocals of My Baby. If the harmonic information is clear and extending naturally, in a big space, you are more than likely hearing a top quality copy.
Take it from us, it is the rare pressing that manages to get rid of the harshness and congestion that plague so many copies.
Look for a copy that opens up the soundstage — the wider, deeper and taller the soundstage the better the sound — as long as the tonal balance stays right.
When you hear a copy sound like this one, relatively rich and sweet, the minor shortcomings of the recording no longer seem to interfere with your enjoyment of the music. Like a properly tweaked stereo, a good record lets you forget all that audio stuff and just listen to the music as music. Here at Better Records we — like our customers — think that’s what it’s all about.
And we know that only the top copies will let you do that, something that not everyone in the audiophile community fully appreciates to this day. We’re doing what we can to change that way of thinking, but progress is, as you may well imagine, slow.
Get Close has long been a personal favorite of mine. Side one starts off with a bang with the song My Baby, one of the best tracks this band ever recorded. Of course at this point it’s hard to call The Pretenders a band as it is pretty much Chrissie Hynde’s show. She continues to mature as a songwriter, and the arrangments and production value are excellent as well, with heavy hitters such as Steve Lillywhite, Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine involved.
The Domestic LP and CD
The domestic LP is pretty awful, and the domestic CD is even worse, practically unlistenable in fact. I have one in my car; only the judicious use of the treble control, steeply downwards, makes the sound even tolerable.
But the album rocks — it’s great driving music.
This is one of our favorite recordings — a former member of our Top 100 — for one very simple reason: it’s got Big Rock Sound in spades! Drop the needle on Let’s Go and check out the sound of the big floor tom. When the drummer bangs on that thing, you will FEEL it! It’s similar to the effect of being in the room with live musicians — the difference between just hearing music and also feeling it. That’s what you get from a Hot Stamper copy.
What other New Wave band ever recorded an album with this kind of DEMONSTRATION QUALITY sound? It positively JUMPS out of the speakers. No album by Blondie, Television, The Pretenders or ANY of their comtemporaries can begin to compete with this kind of sound, with the exception of the Talking Heads’ Little Creatures. The Cars very own first album is excellent, but it doesn’t have this kind of LIFE and ENERGY. No way, no how. (more…)
AUDIOPHILE SOUND FOR THIS PUNK ROCK CLASSIC?! You better believe it, baby! The sound here is superb for all four sides.
What really sets this album apart sonically is The Clash’s use of reggae and dub influences. You can really hear it when you tune in to the bottom end; your average late ’70s punk record won’t have this kind of rich and meaty bass, that’s for sure. Drop the needle on The Guns Of Brixton (last track on side two) to hear exactly what I’m talking about. On a Hot Stamper copy played at the correct levels (read: quite loud!) the effect is positively HYPNOTIC.
Bill Price engineered and as we like to day, he knocked this one out of the park. The best sounding record from 1979? I have the feeling it just might be.
Nobody would have accused The Clash of being an audiophile-friendly band, but a copy like this might make you think twice about that! We had a blast doing this shootout and we hope whoever takes this home has just as much fun with it. (more…)
Sonic Grade: F
A Hall of Shame pressing.
The Rhino Heavy Vinyl reissue of this album was Dead On Arrival the minute it hit my turntable. No top, way too much bottom, dramatically less ambience than the average copy — this one is a disaster on every level.
Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino touts their releases as being pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl.” However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.
If you thought you’d never hear a truly great pressing of this album, here’s the copy that will prove you wrong and rock your world doing it! The top end is extended and sweet, the bottom end is big and punchy, and the overall sound is as rich and full-bodied as you could expect from this zany art-rock.
The vocals have the kind of presence that put David Byrne right there in your living room, and not under a blanket or behind the speakers as most of the pressings we played were wont to do.
Top Notch ’70s Art Rock
I don’t think these guys ever put together a better group of songs. The ultimate pressings of Little Creatures go a step further sonically, but the best copies of this one can sound incredible, if not quite Demo Disc worthy. (more…)
Nope. It’s just another Record Myth.
The British pressings are simply not competitive with the best domestics. No import, from any country, can touch a good Columbia pressing from the states. The most common stampers for the Columbia pressings have never sounded very good to these ears, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some killer copies with different stampers sitting in the bins wearing the generic ’70s Red Columbia label. We’ve heard them. Wish we could find more of them but they are rare and only getting rarer.