Genre – Rock – Hippie Folk Rock

Stephen Stills – Self-Titled

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  • With outstanding sound throughout, this copy of Still’s superb debut is doing just about everything right
  • Love the One You’re With and Sit Yourself Down are to die for, but there’s really not a bad track on the album
  • A triumph of engineering for Bill Halverson and Andy Johns – this and Deja Vu are the very definition of Big Production Rock
  • A member of our Top 100 and a Rock Demo Disc on big speakers at loud levels
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Listening to this album three decades on, it’s still a jaw-dropping experience, the musical equal to Crosby, Stills & Nash or Déjà Vu, and only a shade less important than either of them.”

When we say it’s getting harder and harder to find clean copies of albums such as this in the bins of our local record stores, we are not kidding. (more…)

The Grateful Dead – Barncard Knocked It Out of the Park with This One

More of the Music of The Grateful Dead

Hot Stamper Pressings of Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

The crowning glory of the Grateful Dead, this is their MASTERPIECE. Albums like this come along once in a band’s life — if they’re lucky. This is the zenith of the Grateful Dead. Workingman’s Dead is a good album. American Beauty is a great one.

If you don’t have a killer copy yet, it’s time to get on the bus. Stephen Barncard is the recording engineer responsible for this album, Deja Vu, Brewer and Shipley’s Tarkio, and a host of other amazingly rich, sweet and natural, mostly acoustic recordings that stand head and shoulders above the bulk of their contemporaries. American Beauty is one of them.

All the Elements Come Together for Once

All of the elements necessary to take this music to an entirely new level are here, my friends: smooth, sweet vocals; rich, meaty bass; an open and airy top end; top-notch presence and so forth. The sound is so spacious and transparent that you can easily pick out each of the instruments and follow them over the course of the songs.

The acoustic guitars sound magical on this one, and I can’t believe how wonderful these guys’ voices sound. The Tubey Magic and immediacy on this copy are going to STUN you.

You could choose any track you wanted to and find lovely sound here, but I’d recommend Ripple and Attics Of My Life for starters. Most copies suffer from a glaring lack of highs, but just listen to the ride cymbals on this one to find out that the top end is still alive and well here.

Here are some other records we’ve played that can often have No Real Top End.

Donovan – In Concert

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More Hippie Folk Rock

  • With two insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to sound far better than any copy you’ve ever heard; exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A shockingly well recorded live set, so REAL and natural, with some of Donovan’s best songs played with real feeling
  • This early Epic stereo pressing is the only way to hear the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from modern records
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The only album that comes close to having the flow of this concert was the studio recording of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks … One of the great live albums of the ’60s.”

Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here. You could certainly demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, even one that’s not nearly this good, because this one is superb.

But what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably hasn’t heard, and that’s the best excuse to show off your stereo.

Midrange presence and immediacy are key to the sound. Get the volume just right and Donovan himself will be standing between your speakers and putting on the performance of a lifetime. This early Epic stereo pressing is the only way to hear the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from modern records. As good as the best of those pressings may be, this record is dramatically more REAL sounding.

Donovan’s no longer a recording — he’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. His voice is so rich, sweet, and free of artificiality you cannot help but find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

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Listening for Harmonically Correct Acoustic Guitars on America’s Debut

More of the Music of America

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of America

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo fidelity. As it says below, most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. They often sound veiled and dull, and on a copy with a bit too much top end they will have an unnatural hi-fi-ish sparkle.

This kind of sparkle can be heard on many records Mobile Fidelity made in the ’70s and ’80s. Tea for the Tillerman, Sundown, Year of the Cat, Finger Paintings, Byrd at the Gate, Quarter Moon in a 10 Cent Town — the list of MoFis with sparkling acoustic guitars would be very long indeed, and these are just the records with prominent acoustic guitars!

Three Roses and Rainy Day

The key song on side one that we use to test is Three Roses. There are three sonically-separated individuals each playing six string acoustic guitars, and when this side is cut right the guitars sound just gorgeous: sweet, with all their harmonic structures intact. (It’s also my favorite song on side one.)

The real test on side two is the song Rainy Day. Lots of guitars, and when the close-miked descending guitar figure comes in after the first few couplets, if it’s too bright, you’re going to know it. This song is the hardest one to cut and almost never sounds right. Some copies are cut JUST RIGHT. The vocals are breathy, the guitars are full-bodied, and the overall sound is airy, open, and spacious.

On the best copies Rainy Day is Demo Disc material — they just don’t know how to make acoustic guitars sound like that anymore. You have to go back to 50-year-old records like this one to find that sound.

Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency, all the things that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings).

Of course, many 50 year old records are beat to death, and many of them don’t sound any good anyway. It’s no mean feat to find quiet, superb pressings of albums like this, but you can be sure that Better Records is up to the task.

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America – Homecoming

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More Hippie Folk Rock

  • An outstanding copy of America’s second album, boasting Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the most tubey, warm acoustic guitar reproduction you could ever ask for – this is the sound of real analog!
  • AMG raves; “The songs here are tighter and more forthright… The sound quality is clear and bright; the colorful arrangements, while still acoustic guitar-based, feature more electric guitar and keyboards. The performance quality is more assured, among the most urgently committed the group would ever put on vinyl. This top-flight album is a very rewarding listen.”

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this recording. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings).

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo reproduction quality. Most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. And when the guitars are perfection, the voices and all the other instruments tend to be right as well.

Let’s face it: they just don’t know how to make acoustic guitars sound like this anymore. You have to go back to 49 year old records like this one to find that sound. (more…)

Donovan – Wear Your Love Like Heaven

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  • Balanced, musical, present and full-bodied throughout – this pressing was a big step up from every other copy we played
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… one of the brightest, most pleasant works Donovan ever recorded… Donovan’s voice is better than ever, playful and unassuming…”

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Crosby / Nash – Whistling Down The Wire

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More Graham Nash

  • Whistling Down the Wire returns with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • These sides were noticeably richer than many of the copies we played, which generally tended to be lean and dry
  • We played a big pile of these, but finding the Tubey Magical, spacious, sweet ANALOG sound we were after was not easy
  • Fortunately this copy showed us that it indeed was possible to get the clear, breathy vocals necessary to bring out the wonderful harmonies these two are so rightly famous for

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Helplessly Hoping to Get the VTA Right

More Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

More Commentaries and Letters for So Far

This listing from 2005 (!) contains commentary about VTA adjustment using the track Helplessly Hoping from a Hot Stamper pressing of CSN’s So Far. It would not be long before we went with the much more accurate and revealing 17D, which took us to another level, documented here.

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song that has a lot of energy in the midrange and upper midrange which is difficult to get right. Just today (4/25/05) I was playing around with VTA, having recently installed a new Dynavector DV-20x on my playgrading table (a real sweetheart, by the way), and this song showed me EXACTLY how to get the VTA right.

VTA is all about balance. The reason this song is so good for adjusting VTA is that the guitar at the opening is a little smooth and the harmony vocals that come in after the intro can be a little bright. Finding the balance between these two elements is key to getting the VTA adjusted properly.

When the arm is too far down in the back, the guitar at the opening will lose its transparency and become dull and thick. Too high in the back and the vocals sound thin and shrill, especially when the boys all really push their harmony. The slightest change in VTA will noticeably affect that balance and allow you to tune it in just right.

To be successful, however, there are also other conditions that need to be met. The system has to be sounding right, which in my world means good electricity, so make sure you do this in the evening or on a weekend when the electricity is better.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is that you need a good pressing of this song, and those don’t grow on trees. The vast majority of CSN’s first album and the vast majority of So Far’s are junk. Trying to get them to sound right is impossible, because they weren’t mastered right in the first place. But if you’re one of the lucky few who has a good pressing of Helplessly Hoping, try tweaking your VTA adjustment and see if you aren’t able to dial it in even better than before.

Since the Classic heavy vinyl version is also excellent, it too can be used to set VTA. But of course you are setting VTA for a thicker record, which means you will need to note where the setting is for thick and thin vinyl respectively and make sure that the VTA is correct for each.

As good as the Classic Record is, the guitar at the opening of Helplessly Hoping tells you everything you need to know about what’s missing. The guitar on the Hot Stamper domestic copies has a transparency that cannot be found on Classic’s version. The Classic gets the tonal balance right, but their guitar doesn’t have the subtlety and harmonic resolution of the real thing.

(I’m laboring here to avoid the word detail, since many audiophiles like bright, phony sound because of all the wonderful “detail”. The MOFI guys and the CD guys often fall into this trap. Get the sound tonally balanced first, then see how much detail you have left. Detail is not the end-all and be-all of audio. Those who think it is usually have systems that make my head hurt.)

But most people will never know what they’re missing on Helplessly Hoping, because they will never have an amazing sounding copy of this song. The hot copies are just too rare.


America – Harbor

More America

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • Produced by George Martin and engineered by Geoff Emerick, this is the last America album to feature Dan Peek before he took off for a career as a solo Christian musician – while it’s less folky (and less popular) than their earlier work, there are still plenty of great songs here

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Jonathan Edwards – Self-Titled

See more of our Singer Songwriter albums

  • If you’re a fan of superbly well recorded Acoustic Guitar Folk Pop (think James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg), this pressing is guaranteed to deliver the goods
  • 4 1/2 stars: “His brand of homespun tunes were perfectly matched to his emotive and soaring tenor… The acoustic and optimistic “Sunshine” struck a chord with listeners in the fall of 1971, climbing all the way to a lofty number four on the Pop Singles survey…

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