Genre – Rock – Singer / Songwriter

Bob Dylan – Knocked Out Loaded

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Knocked Out Loaded

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this superb pressing of Dylan’s 1986 release – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides here are super rich and full with excellent bass and tons of energy
  • “… the 11-minute epic “Brownsville Girl”, co-written by Sam Shepard, has been cited as one of his best songs by some critics.”
  • “… [Dylan’s] scattershot approach has its charms, especially when it results in winding epics like the Shepard collaboration ‘Brownsville Girl.'”

This is one of the better sounding Dylan records from the ’80s. It’s not exactly Blood on the Tracks, the only Dylan album we think is qualified to be on our Top 100 Rock and Pop List, but it sounds good for a record from this era. (more…)

Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks

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Blood on the Tracks

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  • With Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides, this is an outstanding Blood on the Tracks from start to finish
  • For musical, un-hyped acoustic guitars and vocals, the sound of this album is tough to beat in Dylan’s catalog 
  • The better copies are rich, warm, tubey and full-bodied – in other words, they are exactly what’s good about vintage analog
  • 5 stars: “…it’s an affecting, unbearably poignant record, not because it’s a glimpse into his soul, but because the songs are remarkably clear-eyed and sentimental, lovely and melancholy at once. Dylan made albums more influential than this, but he never made one better.”

This is an outstanding recording — a member of our Top 100 in fact — but it takes a special pressing to bring it to life. It’s nice when the copy in hand has all the transparency, space, layered depth and three-dimensionality that makes listening to records such a fundamentally different experience than listening to digitally-sourced material, but it’s not nearly as important as having a rich, relaxed quality. A touch of smear and a slight lack of resolution is not the end of the world on this album. Brightness, along with too much grain and grit, can be. (more…)

Leonard Cohen – New Skin For the Old Ceremony

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New Skin For the Old Ceremony

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish; exceptionally quiet vinyl too! 
  • If you’re trying recreate a solid, palpable Leonard Cohen singing live in your listening room – sounding just as his did in the studio back in 1974 – these sides will let you do just that
  • “New Skin for the Old Ceremony may be Leonard Cohen’s most musical album, as he is accompanied by violas, mandolins, banjos, and percussion that give his music more texture than usual. The fact that Cohen does more real singing on this album can be seen as both a blessing and a curse — while his voice sounds more strained, the songs are delivered with more passion than usual.”

This vintage LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings rarely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is pretty much gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much in the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable LEONARD COHEN singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)

Leonard Cohen – Songs Of Leonard Cohen

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Songs Of Leonard Cohen

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  • A KILLER sounding original 360 copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – reasonably quiet vinyl too  
  • Bigger, richer and clearer than any other copy we played – the wonderfully intimate, breathy vocals are the key to these amazing sounding pressings
  • Sometimes the conventional wisdom is true, and this record makes the case as well as any we play – the right original Columbia pressings are in a league of their own
  • 5 stars: “A breathtaking and perfect debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen marked the emergence of one of the most enduring, unique, and brilliant voices in popular music… A masterpiece of perversity and pain.”

*NOTE: There is a mark that plays eight times, mostly lightly, near the end of track four.

Get ready for some serious goosebumps! If this copy of Songs Of Leonard Cohen doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will.

We’ve played a ton of 360s and Red Labels and copies that sound as good as this one are clearly the exception and not the rule.

The Red Label pressings from the ’70s can be quite good if you know which are the good stampers and which to avoid, information that the average audiophile record lover would have a hard time coming by. (more…)

Leonard Cohen – Death of a Ladies’ Man

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

What are the criteria by which a record like this should be judged? Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, and on and on down through the list. (more…)

Carly Simon – Another Passenger – 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. 

There’s one quality in particular that added immensely to our enjoyment of the music — gobs and gobs of Tubey Magic. The copies that were opaque, dry, flat and “modern” sounding — which pretty much describes practically every Heavy Vinyl record we’ve played in the last five years — bored us to tears, not surprisingly in the very same way that most Heavy Vinyl does.

This is 1976, they were still making good records then. You would hardly know it by playing the average pressing of the album, but when you hear one like this, there is no mistaking the richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality.

These are qualities for which good tube equipment is rightly revered. (We no longer use tube equipment ourselves, preferring to be guided by the approach of reproducing the Tubey Magic of the records we play, assuming there is some, unadorned.)

Most pressings get Carly’s voice all wrong — gritty, edgy, hard and strained, but not this one. Carly’s singing on this copy is smoother, sweeter, more immediate and clearly more emotionally compelling than we heard on any other copies in our shootout. We call this Master Tape Sound; you hear it on those rare pressings so far beyond the norm that the music seems to come to life right in front of you, right there in your very own listening room. (more…)

Leonard Cohen – Songs Of Love And Hate

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

Audiophiles should go crazy for this one! On the best pressings, the sound is SO tubey magical with wonderful transparency and the kind of richness that you just won’t find on other copies. (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame Pressing

The CBS Half Speed is ridiculously bright — can you imagine a worse way to present this intimate music?   

The chances of there being Hot Stamper CBS Half-Speed Mastered pressings of Tapestry may be vanishingly small, but we can’t say the number is zero. There could be some, but considering how bad an idea Half-Speed Mastering is, would they have much chance of beating our Hot Stampers? As a practical matter I would have to say the chances are zero.

Carole King – Tapestry on Classic Records Reviewed in the ’90s

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Sonic Grade: B

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic LP, but I remember it as being fairly good. At the time we wrote:

It’s a little rolled off on the top, but it’s a good rolled off, because brightening it up would make it sound modern and wrong. It’s rich and full of body, especially the piano, the way modern recordings almost never are.

Musically it’s hard to fault as well. What’s surprising, if you haven’t played this album in a while, is how good a non-hit track like “Home Again” can be. But there aren’t many of those on this album because almost every song was a hit or received a lot of radio play; the quality of the material is that good.

Heavy Vinyl and the Loss of Transparency (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry

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  • This KILLER copy of King’s beloved Tapestry earned top honors — Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides are big, full and Tubey Magical yet still clean, clear and open – you will hear that the dark veils of most copies have finally been lifted
  • This album is clearly Carole’s masterpiece – it’s loaded with great songs, and they all sound fantastic here
  • 5 stars: “…an intensely emotional record, the songs confessional and direct; in its time it connected with listeners like few records before it, and it remains an illuminating experience decades later.”

Audiophile sound is not easy to find on Tapestry. As we’ve been saying for twenty years, most copies are either dull and murky or edgy and thin, and on half the ones that DO sound good the vinyl is noisy. On a copy like this, though, the sound gets out of the way and lets you focus on the MUSIC — and make no mistake, the music on this album is as good as it gets from Carole King. (more…)