Genre – Rock – Folk Rock (American)

Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde

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More Vintage Columbia Pressings

  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on all FOUR sides, this 360 stereo pressing was one of the better copies we played in our last shootout- remarkably quiet vinyl too, with no marks that play and surfaces that other early pressings are going to have a tough time competing with
  • You won’t believe how rich, full and lively this album can sound on a copy this good
  • Includes tons of quintessential Dylan classics: “Rainy Day Women,” “I Want You,” “Just Like A Woman,” and more – they all sound phenomenal
  • 5 stars: “Blonde on Blonde is an album of enormous depth, providing endless lyrical and musical revelations on each play… It’s the culmination of Dylan’s electric rock & roll period — he would never release a studio record that rocked this hard, or had such bizarre imagery, ever again.”

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Linda Ronstadt / The Stone Poneys – Skip the Originals

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More Folk Rock

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this was one of the better copies we played in our shootout for these later pressings – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Much more folk than pop, for the most part the sound here is tubey, rich and sweet
  • Re-released when HLAW hit big, this album features three great tracks with Linda singing solo
  • “It doesn’t have “Different Drum,” but the first Stone Poneys album is their folkiest and best, dominated by close harmonies and strong original material by the group’s guitarists, Bob Kimmel and Ken Edwards.”
  • The originals from 1967 have never impressed us much. Click on the links below for more records that sound best to us on the right reissue pressing 
  • Here are some currently available Hot Stamper pressings that we think sound their best on the right reissue (the ones we sell, obviously; there are plenty of reissues that don’t have good sound, but the ones we offer handily beat the originals we’ve — and no doubt you’ve — heard)
  • Here are all the titles we’ve reviewed to date that have the potential to sound their best on the right reissue

On this album the sound varies a fair amount from track to track.

The best tracks are rich, tubey and clear; the worst thin, bright and hard. Some What to Listen For advice follows.

If you are interested in digging deeper, our Listening in Depth commentaries have extensive track by track breakdowns for some of the better-known albums we’ve done multiple shootouts for.

The first track on side one rarely stayed clean when loud, but here for the most part it does. It’s a good test for whether or not you have a copy with high quality, low distortion mastering. Listen for the least amount of smear and congestion and the most resolution.

The second track is richer and tubier – it proves that side one is mastered correctly.

On side two the first track is rough, the second track better, the third richer, sweeter and smoother still. (more…)

Joni Mitchell / For The Roses – The Most Underrated Album of Her Early Period?

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

Some current thoughts on Joni’s oeuvre have been added in brackets to this older commentary.

This is probably the most underrated Joni Mitchell album, both in terms of sonics and music. It seems that everyone wants a great copy of Blue or Court And Spark, but this album ranks right up there with them and seems to have been undeservedly overlooked.

Let’s face it, we love Blue (1971), but most pressings suffer from a raft of sonic problems, as does Ladies of the Canyon (1970).

Court and Spark (1974) is up at the top up the list as well, but Roses (1972) seems to have more recording purity. Perhaps the engineers saw this as an opportunity to address the problems with Blue, the album that preceded it.

By the time Joni had fully indulged her jazzier inclinations with Court and Spark, some of the recording quality had been lost in the quest for slicker production values for which that album is known. The complexity of the instrumentation required more multi-tracking and overdubbing, and as good as that record can sound on the best copies, in a head to head matchup with For the Roses the latter would probably win, and probably by no more than a nose.

Side One

Clear, present, breathy vocals, about as good as Joni can sound on vinyl, which is saying a lot.

The second track is a great test. Here the guitars are full-bodied, harmonically rich, with more reverb and space than practically any side one we have ever played. The Tubey Magical liquidity of the sound is what vintage analog is all about. No reissue and no CD will ever get that sound the way this copy does.

And you don’t need tubes in your system to hear it. The magic is on the tape and it was transferred beautifully to this piece of vinyl.

Side Two

Listen to how huge the piano is — no other copy could reproduce the size, weight and clarity of that piano. No two copies will show you the same piano, which makes it a great test for sound. Put this side up against the best you’ve got, it should be no contest.

Breathy, immediate vocals are key to any Joni Mitchell record and this side reproduces them as well as any we heard in our shootout.

Simon & Garfunkel / Bookends

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Reviews and Commentaries for Bookends

  • Our hottest copies have lovely midrange magic on the guitars and voices as well as plenty of studio ambience on most tracks, especially the simpler, more folky ones
  • An album that has become much tougher to come by, especially copies that play as well as this one does
  • Top 100, 5 stars – side two alone has four all time classics: Fakin’ It, Mrs. Robinson, A Hazy Shade of Winter and At the Zoo
  • If you’re a fan of this phenomenal folk duo, this early domestic pressing of their 1968 classic belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The best copies of Bookends and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme are a sonic step up in class from anything else these two guys ever released. If you’re looking for the Ultimate Audiophile Simon & Garfunkel record, you just can’t do better than a killer Hot Stamper pressing of either title.

This album has exceptional bass as well as lovely midrange magic on the guitars and voices. There’s plenty of studio ambience on most tracks, especially the simpler, more folky ones.

Do you know how hard it is to find a clean copy of this record? I’ll bet we look at 50 every year and probably buy no more than a few, which, after cleaning and going into a shootout may or may not sound good or have audiophile quality surfaces. (more…)

Neil Young / Old Ways – Another Anadisq Disaster

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Some time in the 2000s we reviewed this pressing from 1996.

The MoFi is a muckfest, as was to be expected from a record mastered by this awful label during the Anadisq era, the darkest chapter in the disgraceful history of Mobile Fidelity.

We guarantee any Hot Stamper LP will make your MoFI pressing sound like the bad joke it was even as far back as 1996, the stone age in audio, or your money back including shipping.

As of 2015, this label may have entered a new and even more disgraceful era, but considering how bad their records have been from the very start, (something that should be obvious to any audiophile with a high quality playback system, the kind of system that should have no difficulty exposing the manifold shortcomings of their remastered pressings), how much lower can they possibly fall?

Only time will tell!


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

Here’s a good question:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

To learn more about records that sound dramatically better than any Half-Speed ever made (with one rare exception, John Klemmer’s Touch), please consult our FAQs:

More Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Below you will find our breakdown of the best and worst Half-Speed mastered records we have auditioned over the years.

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Joni Mitchell / Court And Spark – The DCC LP Is Not Bad!

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Sonic Grade: B

Steve’s version is very musical; it’s rich and natural sounding, which of course makes it very enjoyable. You can do a lot better but you sure can do a lot worse.

Opaque, veiled, lifeless, dull sound is the norm for Court and Spark — most copies are dead as a doornail. If they’re not dead, they’re likely to be thin and gritty.

The DCC is a big improvement over the average domestic pressing. (The original Brit imports are fairly competitive with the DCC; the later Brits with the K catalog numbers suck as a rule.)

The Nautilus Half-Speed is pretty but lifeless, like so many of their pressings (and Half-Speed Mastered records in general). I would grade it about a C. Don’t waste your money. Keep buying originals until you find a good one.

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John Denver – Poems, Prayers and Promises

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  • This early Orange Label RCA pressing earned Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • We guarantee that it’s fuller, bigger and clearer than any copy you have ever heard or your money back
  • Superb engineering by Ray Hall— the recording is from 1971 but in some ways it sounds as good as if it had been made in 1961 — high praise in these parts!
  • “… this was at the beginning of a golden period for Denver when his songs would dominate the easy listening airwaves, especially his big hit singles.” – All Music

NOTE: The record has a noticeable dishwarp which we had no trouble playing perfectly.  If your rig struggles with dishwarped records, best to pass on this one. (more…)

The Band / Northern Lights – Southern Cross

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More Roots Rock

  • These sides are bigger, more natural, more warm and more solid than those of any other copy you’ve heard or your money back
  • This is The Band’s undiscovered gem, containing the most powerful tearjerker they ever wrote: “It Makes No Difference”
  • 4 stars: “…the Band’s finest since their self-titled sophomore effort … “Acadian Driftwood” stands out as one of Robertson’s finest compositions, the equal to anything else the Band ever recorded.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. This album by The Band is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

Thankfully both sides here are rich and full-bodied. This pressing is not nearly as dry and flat as the vast majority of pressings we run across. Both sides have a nicely extended top end to go along with the weighty bottom. The guitars and keyboards are Tubey Magical as well, a quality we we focused on, and one that we believe is essential if the album is to sound its best. (more…)

Buffalo Springfield – Again

  • Buffalo Springfield’s sophomore release is back on the site with INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Tubey Magical Analog sound or close to it from from start to finish – unusually quiet vinyl for an ATCO original as well
  • Consistently brilliant songwriting and production: “Mr. Soul,” “A Child’s Claim To Fame,” “Expecting To Fly,” “Bluebird,” “Hung Upside Down,” “Rock & Roll Woman,” “Broken Arrow” and more!
  • These days it takes us years to find enough clean copies of an album like this with which to do a shootout – nice originals are thin on the ground and getting thinner by the day
  • A true Desert Island Disc – 5 stars: “…this record stands as their greatest triumph… its classic status cannot be denied.”
  • If you’re a fan of The Buffalo Springfield, this early pressing from 1967 surely belong in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. This band’s second and third albums are both good examples of records many audiophiles may not know well but should.

Listen to the vocal harmonies — you can separate out all the parts much more clearly on these Hot Stamper pressings. You can really hear precisely who’s in there and what part they are playing in the vocal arrangement. I can’t remember ever hearing it sound so clear. The best copies really let you hear into the music. (more…)

Peter, Paul & Mary – Gold Versus Green

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More Folk Rock

In previous shootouts we felt strongly that the best Gold Label copies had the lock on Tubey Magic, while the best Green Label pressings could be counted on to offer superior clarity.

That was quite a few years ago, and as we never tire of saying, things have changed.

Now the Gold Label pressings have the ideal combination of Tubey Magic and clarity.

In fact, based on our recent shootout we would state categorically that the best originals are clearly better in every way, with the most vocal presence, the most harmonic resolution, the most space, the most warmth and intimacy, the most natural string tone on both the guitars and bass — in sum, the most of everything that allows a Hot Stamper vintage LP to be the most sublime musical experience available to any audiophile fortunate enough to own it.

Steve Hoffman’s famous phrase is key here: we want to hear The Breath Of Life. If these three gifted singers don’t sound like living, breathing human beings standing across from you — left, right and center — toss your copy and buy this one, because that’s exactly what they sound like here.

The TUBEY MAGIC of the midrange is practically off the scale. Until you hear it like this you really can’t even imagine it. It’s a bit shocking to hear each and every nuance of their singing reproduced so faithfully, sounding so much like live music.

This is high-rez ’60s style; not phony and forced like so much of what passes for audiophile sound these days, but relaxed and real, as if the recording were doing its best to get out of the way of the music, not call attention to itself. This, to us, is the goal, the prize we must constantly strive to keep our eyes on. Find the music, leave the rest.

The Mids Are Key

Peter, Paul & Mary records live and die by the quality of their midrange. These are not big-budget, high-concept multi-track recordings. They’re simple, innocent folk songs featuring exquisite vocal harmonies, with straightforward guitar and double bass accompaniment (and a few more instruments thrown in for good measure at this later stage of the game).

If Peter, Paul and Mary’s voices aren’t silky sweet and delicate, while at the same time full-bodied and present, let’s face it, you might as well start looking for another record to play.

The best copies convey the surprisingly moving artistry, taste and energy of the group’s performance in the studio all those years ago. When Peter, Paul and Mary start to sing good and loud on some of these tracks, not only can you really hear them belting it out, you FEEL it too. (more…)