Genre – Rock – Hippie Folk Rock

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

More America

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

More Donovan

  • 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

More David Crosby

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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Listening in Depth to Brewer & Shipley – Tarkio

Analog richness, sweetness and Tubey Magic are elements absolutely indispensable to the sound of these recordings. Without them you might as well be playing a CD.

Some of the reissue pressings actually do sound like CDs and are not part of the shootouts for this album anymore. Who wants a record that sounds like a CD? They may be pressed on vinyl but they’re no less an embarrassment to analog for it. As you can imagine we feel the same way about most of the Heavy Vinyl records being made today. They’re just embarrassing.

The best pressings, on the other hand, are everything that’s good about the analog medium — smooth, sweet, relaxed and involving. You had best have a fast cartridge and not overly rich electronics to get the most out of this one. The richness on this record is already baked-in; no need to add more.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

One Toke Over the Line

This track is almost always ever so slightly too bright on even the best copies. How many records do we know that have the projected hit single EQ’d a little brighter (or a lot brighter) than the rest of the album? Sergio Mendes’ first album and Mona Bone Jakon spring immediately to mind and I’m sure if I thought about it for a while I could think of many more. It’s a common practice and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

But what this slightly bright track helps the listener to notice is whether there is grain to those brighter highs. The Hot Stamper copies will still be sweet and clear even though they are a little tipped up on the top. The typical copy, pressed on the typically bad vinyl Buddah records is infamous for, will be edgy and aggressive when the vocals get loud.

Song From Platte River
The Light
Ruby On the Morning
Oh Mommy

Side Two

Don’t Want To Die In Georgia

My favorite track by the boys. So good!

Can’t Go Home
Tarkio Road
Seems Like A Long Time

This track is often noisy. The intro is quiet and the Buddah vinyl has a nasty habit of shining through. Once the song gets going the surfaces should not be much of a problem if you have a quiet cartridge and high quality front end.

Fifty States Of Freedom

Sonic Elements

This Bay Area Hippie Folk Rock has a lot in common with The Grateful Dead circa Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty (the latter recorded by the same engineer, Stephen Barncard), and like those superbly well-recorded albums, it lives or dies by the reproduction of its acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies.

Analog richness, sweetness and Tubey Magic are elements absolutely indispensable to the sound of these recordings. Without them you might as well be playing a CD. (Some of the reissue pressings actually do sound like CDs and are not part of the shootouts for this album anymore. Who wants a record that sounds like a CD? They may be pressed on vinyl but they’re no less an embarrassment to analog for it. As you can imagine we feel the same way about most of the Heavy Vinyl records being made today. They’re just embarrassing.)

The best pressings, on the other hand, are everything that’s good about the analog medium — smooth, sweet, relaxed and involving. You had best have a fast cartridge and not overly rich electronics to get the most out of this one. The richness on this record is already baked-in; no need to add more.

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Donovan – The Hurdy Gurdy Man

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 accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

The list is purposely wide-ranging. It includes some famous titles (Tumbleweed Connection, The Yes Album), but for the most part I have gone out of way to choose titles from talented artists that are less well known (Atlantic Crossing, Kiln House, Dad Loves His Work), which simply means that you won’t find Every Picture Tells a Story or Rumours or Sweet Baby James on this list because masterpieces of that caliber should already be in your collection and don’t need me to recommend them.

Which is not to say there aren’t some well known masterpieces on the list, because not every well known record is necessarily well known to audiophiles, and some records are just too good not to put on a list of records we think every audiophile ought to get to know better.

Out of the thousands of records we have auditioned and reviewed, there are a couple of hundred that have stood the test of time for us and we feel are deserving of a listen. Many of these will not be to your taste, but they were to mine.

An outstanding pressing of what we consideDonovan’s best album, musically and sonically. The 1968 sound here is wonderful — rich, sweet, Tubey Magical and very, very Analog.

Donovan records tend to be hit or miss affairs, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could not find a bad track on either side of the album. Most are in fact quite wonderful.

Both Yellow Label Epics and Orange Label Epics fared well in our shootout. (We could find no Blue/ Black later labels to play.) Finding any pressing with clean surfaces was another matter, but we managed to have a pretty healthy group with which to do our shootout.

Some of these tracks may remind you more than a little of Pentangle. Danny Thompson, that band’s amazingly talented and unusually well recorded double bassist, just happens to be the bass player on the album. Go figure. Tony Carr does most of the drumming as he has on many of Donovan’s albums from the period. Needless to say, the rhythm section is first-rate.

A Must Own Pop Record

This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious audiophile Popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

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David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name…

More David Crosby

More Hippie Folk Rock

  • The ultimate Hippie Folk Rock Demo Disc – both sides are shockingly transparent, with huge amounts of bass, silky highs, in-the-room vocals and TONS of Tubey Magic
  • 4 1/2 stars: ” If I Could Only Remember My Name is a shambolic masterpiece, meandering but transcendentally so, full of frayed threads. Not only is it among the finest splinter albums out of the CSNY diaspora, it is one of the defining moments of hungover spirituality from the era.”
  • If you’re an audiophile, this is a Demo Disc from 1971 that no record collection comprising Top Quality Recordings should be without
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

Here it is, folks… a TRUE ROCK DEMO DISC! A White Hot Stamper copy such as this will show you why we’ve long considered it one of the All Time Top Ten Rock Albums for Sound and Music. You will not believe how Tubey Magical and three-dimensional this album can be when you have a pressing with this kind of sound. The harmonic complexity and extension on the acoustic guitars are absolutely stunning!

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording? (We do applaud his decision not to add the Classic pressing of this title to the list, the way he did with so many other Classic pressings that have no business on anything called a Super Disc list.)

You Don’t Have to Be High to Hear It

When you drop the needle on this record, all barriers between you and the musicians are removed. You’ll feel as though you’re sitting at the studio console while Crosby and his no-doubt-stoned-out-of-their-minds Bay Area pals (mostly Jefferson Airplaners and Grateful Deads, see list below) are laying down this emotionally powerful, heartfelt music.

The overall sound is warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied… that’s some real ANALOG Tubey Magic, baby! And the best part is, you don’t have to be high to hear it. You just need a good stereo and the right pressing. (more…)