Genre – Soul / R&B

Earth, Wind & Fire – Gratitude

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

OFF THE CHARTS SOUND on three out of four sides! Make no mistake: This is BY FAR the best copy of Gratitude we have ever played. No other copy in our shootout was the equal of this bad boy. This copy showed us a Gratitude we had no idea existed. Every once in a while you run across a record that has both sides mastered as good as they can be mastered, and this is very nearly one of those times — for this double album only one side fell short out of four, and that side still rated a very respectable A+ to A++. That’s ten and a half pluses all told. Nice job, Mastering Lab. You did Earth Wind and Fire proud. (more…)

Earth Wind & Fire – The Best Of EWF, Vol. 1 – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This original Columbia LP has AMAZING SOUND on BOTH sides. Side one was right up there with the best we have ever heard. Without ten side ones to play there is very little chance you will be able to beat it. Hell, you might need twenty to find a better side one, but since the first track on the album is Got To Get You Into My Life, you might just have a ball doing it. 

What a song. And it’s not on any other EWF album. Three points to make here: 1) It’s from the real master tape; 2) It happens to have DEMO DISC quality sound, which means: 3) You need this record in your collection. (more…)

Lionel Richie – Lionel Richie

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Lionel Richie – Lionel Richie

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  • A KILLER sounding copy with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from the first note to the last, just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the way to go
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The key to its success — is that Richie doesn’t even make a pretense of funk here… The ballads, of course, provided two big hits with “My Love” and “Truly,” two numbers that illustrate that he was moving ever-closer to mainstream pop, since these are unapologetic AOR slow-dance tunes. [It’s] a dynamic mainstream pop-soul record, one of the best the early ’80s had to offer.”

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Al Green – Let’s Stay Together

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Let’s Stay Together

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

It’s rare that we have copies of this brilliant record up on our site, and it’s not for a lack of effort on our end.

It’s tough enough to find any copies of Green’s early LPs out in the bins, let alone clean copies with great sound. I wish we were able to find more copies of this album, because when you stumble on a good one it’s an absolute thrill. The best pressings give you a big, spacious soundfield and put Green’s vocals right up front. If you’ve got a pressing of your own around, throw it on for comparison’s sake — odds are pretty good that the sound will be dry and grainy, particularly on the strings. (more…)

Aretha Franklin – Hey Now Hey: The Other Side of the Sky

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Hey Now Hey: The Other Side of the Sky

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  • A STUNNING copy of Aretha’s 1973 release, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead on correct tonality, and wonderfully breathy vocals – everything that we listen for in a great record is here
  • An album of deep introspective soul produced by none other than Quincy Jones!
  • “… notable are a poignant cover of Bernstein’s ‘Somewhere,’ and a sparkling ‘Moody’s Mood,’ and the beautiful Carolyn Franklin composition ‘Angel.'”

This vintage Atlantic LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.  (more…)

Donny Hathaway – Live

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  • Stunning sound throughout for this superb live album with both sides earning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Hathaway and his band are on fire here playing for an enthusiastic small club audience – this is the best album the man ever made and a true Must Own
  • Clean originals of this Classic Soul album are practically impossible to find in audiophile condition, and this one has its fair share of problems, but with music and sound this good, it’s a lot easier to overlook them
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Donny Hathaway’s 1972 Live album is one of the most glorious of his career… Live solidified Hathaway’s importance at the forefront of soul music.”

This is an absolutely superb recording. The best copies capture the feeling of a live club like few recordings you’ve ever heard. The enthusiasm of the crowd, the honest, emotive performances, the superb musicianship — it’s all there on a Shootout Winning Hot Stamper copy like this! (more…)

Michael Jackson – Bad

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  • A KILLER copy with two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides – this is some of the best sound we have ever heard on Bad – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • This one beat every other copy we played against it – the sound is huge, full-bodied, punchy and relatively smooth throughout, with real space and ambience around the vocals and instruments
  • Includes some of Jackson’s biggest 80’s hits, “Man in the Mirror,” “Dirty Diana,” Smooth Criminal,” and of course, the title track 
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… essentially taking each portion of Thriller to an extreme, while increasing the quotient of immaculate studiocraft. He wound up with a sleeker, slicker Thriller, which isn’t a bad thing…”

Michael Jackson’s records always make for tough shootouts. His everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to recording make it difficult to translate so much sound to disc. vinyl or otherwise. Everything has to be tuned up and on the money before we can even hope to get the record sounding right. (Careful VTA adjustment could not be more critical in this respect.) (more…)

Al Green – I’m Still In Love With You

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I’m Still In Love With You

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

This is The Memphis Sound at its best — big Hammond organs with whirring Leslie speakers, funky drums, punchy brass blasts, and lovely string arrangements. 

Al Green’s singing is superb, of course, but one thing that really stands out after hearing the best Hot Stamper copies is the quality of the musicians’ performances. The rhythm section on this album really drives the music. Just listen to the punchy kick drum and deep, note-like bass on a song like Love and Happiness — the band is rockin’.

The Hodges Brothers — the house band at Hi Records, known for their “telepathic interplay” — deliver rock solid musicianship just brimming with energy and soul. The brass is handled by the truly great Memphis Horns, of Stax Records fame. (more…)

Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul (2011)

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

A++ sound and quiet vinyl on both sides of this 1968 soul classic, an album that received a top Five Star rating from the All Music Guide! We’ve been playing a ton of Aretha Franklin records around here in recent days, but it’s hard to find pressing that separate themselves from the pack to give you audiophile-friendly sound for her recordings, which (naturally) seem to be optimized more for the radio than for your hi-rez audio rig. Every now and then, however, we’ll luck into a copy that delivers some real soul magic in its grooves, and this was one of those copies. Chain Of Fools and Aretha’s great version of Natural Woman sound JUST RIGHT. 

Most of the Aretha records we’ve played tend to be a bit too bright, which brings out a lot of grit, grain and edge. I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I can’t imagine that’s the sound the Queen Of Soul was going for. A copy like this gives you smoother, sweeter sound with a more natural tonal balance. It makes the music work so much better — the sound is easier on the ears and not nearly as fatiguing, plus it lets you turn up the volume good and loud without giving yourself a headache! (more…)

Aretha Franklin – Amazing Grace – A Bit of Experimentation with VTA Can Really Pay Off

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This is a handy record for VTA setup, a subject we discuss at length below.

On the better copies Aretha’s vocals are as dynamic as any you will ever hear, and unlike all the records she did with Tom Dowd, her voice never breaks up on this record. If you have big speakers that can play at loud levels, with the right volume level you can really get Aretha to belt it out like nothing you have ever heard. 

Like most modern churches, the kind that have upholstered pews and lots of carpeting, the natural reverberation of the sound isn’t as pronounced as it would be were the recording taking place in a 16th century cathedral. (more…)