Genre – Rock – Hippie Folk Rock

Crosby / Nash – Graham Nash / David Crosby

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  • An early Atlantic pressing with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The vocals are wonderfully breathy, smooth and sweet here – this recording is the very definition of Midrange Magic, thanks to the brilliant engineering of Bill Halverson
  • 4 stars: “This self-titled release is one of most impressive side project to arise from CSN. The best elements of each are readily available here, punctuated at every turn by their complicated vocal arrangements and air-lock harmonies.”

Where in the world did all the Midrange Magic that we were hearing on this copy of the album come from?

On a song like Where Will I Be the sound is so unbelievably transparent, open and intimate it sounds like an outtake from David Crosby’s first album, one of the ten best sounding rock records ever made. 

I was in high school when I first played this album and I remember being disappointed with it, mostly because I was expecting another Deja Vu. As I grow older I appreciate other qualities in a recording; I’ve come to appreciate this album for what it is: not the Grand Musical Statement that Deja Vu is, but a simpler, more intimate portrait of two artists at the start of a lifelong harmonious collaboration. With a damn fine batch of songs to sing.

Top Quality Sound

The Midrange Magic on some of these tracks is off the scale. The transparency is also remarkable, with richness and sweetness matched by few copies in our huge shootout.

Listen to the three-dimensional quality of the piano on the first track of side two. Skip to the second track and you will hear some of the best bass to be found on the side. The song is not about the bass, obviously, so we hasten to point out the vocals and harmonies — the sine qua non of any CSN or Y record — are Truly Right On The Money as well. (more…)

Crosby / Nash – Check Out that Zither

More of the Music David Crosby

More of the Music of Graham Nash

What to Listen for?

The zither.

At first I thought it might be a harpsichord placed well back in the mix, but we looked up the list of instruments being played and there it was — the zither. I think we heard it on Taken At All on side two. It’s a favorite test track for that side because the vocals on that song are some of the best of the post-CSN era. If your system is sufficiently transparent, you should be able to pull the zither out of the mix.

Here are some other albums with specific advice on What You Should Be Listening For.

Side two of this album is, in our estimation, the strongest side of any album by the group after Deja Vu (1970).

As a budding audiophile I went out of my way to acquire any piece of equipment that could make these records from the ’70s (the decade of my formative music-buying years) sound better than the gear I was then using. It’s the challenging recordings by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as well as scores of other pop and rock artists like them, that drove my pursuit of higher quality audio, starting all the way back in high school.

And here I am — here we are — still at it, more than forty years later, because the music still sounds fresh and original, and the pressings that we find get better and better with each passing year.

As we never tire of saying, only one thing drives progress in audio: the music.

That kind of progress is proof that we’re doing it right. It’s a good test for any audiophile. If you are actively and seriously pursuing this hobby, perhaps as many as nine out of ten non-audiophile pressings in your collection should sound better with each passing year. As your stereo improves, not to mention your critical listening skills, the shortcomings of some will be revealed, but for the most part, vintage pressings should sound better each time you play them with continual refinements and improvements to your system, room and cleaning techniques.

That’s what makes it fun to play old records: They just keep getting better!

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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young / 4 Way Street

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  • An outstanding pressing with Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on all FOUR sides – hard to find this one quiet nowadays, so fans should take note than not many unscratched copies are going to make it to the site
  • This live album gives you the “naked” sound of the real thing – the real voices and the real guitars and the real everything else, in a way that would never happen again
  • Bill Halverson worked his magic, but only the best pressings let his genius shine the way it does here
  • 4 1/2 stars: “4 Way Street, released in April of 1971: a live double-LP set, chock-full of superb music distilled down from a bunch of nights on that tour that more than fulfilled the promise of the group.”
  • Rolling Stone raves that “Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young are all performers of unquestionable talent, and mostly because they stay out of each others’ way, 4 Way Street must surely be their best album to date.”

If you want to hear Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young rock out live in your listening room, this copy will let you do it. It’s not easy to find good sound on even one side of this album, let alone all four! (more…)

America / History: America’s Greatest Hits

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More Hippie Folk Rock

  • With excellent grades from start to finish, this early Warner Bros. Palm Tree pressing is doing just about everything right
  • These sides are BIGGER and RICHER and have more of the rock solid energy that’s missing from the average copy
  • “Master Tape” sound lets this compilation of gems hold its own against the originals
  • 4 1/2 stars: “History: Greatest Hits perfectly spotlights both the polished and layered production of British studio legend George Martin and the West Coast tones of the band’s folk-pop style. An essential collection for fans who like their ’70s folk with a pop sheen, loads of hooks, and top-drawer arrangements.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this classic from 1975 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

THE BIG SOUND on both sides lets this Greatest Hits compilation hold its own against the originals. They have plenty of bottom end that drives these songs with energy and life. Listen for the bells on ‘Tin Man‘; they have the correct transients and harmonics.

You never quite get back all of the Tubey Magic of the originals, but the detail and richness should be enough to make you fall in love with this high quality George Martin (re)production.

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Listening in Depth to Tarkio

More of the Music of Brewer and Shipley

Reviews and Commentaries for Brewer and Shipley

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

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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Grateful Dead / American Beauty – An Honest-to-Goodness Killer MoFi LP

More of the Music of The Grateful Dead

Hot Stamper Pressings of Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

Sonic Grade: B+

This is a Mobile Fidelity LP with SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND. The transparency and presence in the midrange is outstanding for a MoFi. This copy does not have the usual midrange suckout that ruins so many of their records.

The bass actually sounds mostly in control on this copy — there’s much less of the typically bloated MoFi bass to be found here.

This is the best sounding Mobile Fidelity American Beauty we have ever heard. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s hugely better than we expected.

Any original Green Label domestic pressing is sure to be better, but sure to be noisier too, so if you must have quiet vinyl, you can do a lot worse than this MoFi.

Which means it belongs on our list of The Best Sounding Mobile Fidelity Records We’ve Ever Played.

FURTHER READING on the subject of Half-Speed Mastering

People sometimes ask us:

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

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The Grateful Dead – American Beauty

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  • A superb copy of American Beauty with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The acoustic guitars are magical on this copy, and you won’t believe how wonderfully breathy and sweet these guys’ voices sound
  • American Beauty is one of Stephen Barncard‘s greatest recording achievements – the richness and clarity are really something here
  • We completed our most recent shootout just last month (with the top copy going for $899), but with some luck we might get another one going early next year
  • 5 star Top 100 album – “A companion piece to the luminous Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty is an even stronger document of the Grateful Dead’s return to their musical roots. American Beauty remains the Dead’s studio masterpiece.”

We managed to find enough clean early pressings to get this always-fun shootout going once again, and this copy had most of the qualities we were listening for. This is an amazingly well-recorded album — and a member of our Top 100, of course — but it takes a special copy to let the recording’s qualities shine the way this one does!

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.

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.

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America – Hat Trick

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 More Hippie Folk Rock

  • You’ll find killer Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout this original Warner Brothers pressing, just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides here are wonderfully rich, full-bodied and spacious, with sweet and breathy vocals
  • “Hat Trick, the trio’s third effort in as many years, is an admirable and ultimately successful attempt at fleshing out a sound that at one time consisted almost entirely of crisp acoustic guitar interplay, two-fingered elementary piano progressions and saccharin-sweet three-part harmonies… [it] should hopefully dispel America’s once notorious reputation as a ‘pubescent Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.'” – Cameron Crowe, L.A. Times
  • If you’re an America fan, this self-produced title from 1973 has much to recommend it

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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…)

Crosby, Stills and Nash – CSN

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  • An outstanding original copy of CS&N’s “comeback” album with Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • The sound is big and relatively rich, the vocals breathy and immediate, and you will not believe all the space and ambience – which of course are all qualities that Heavy Vinyl records have far too little of, and the main reason we have lost all respect for the bulk of them
  • Includes CS&N classics “Dark Star,” “Just A Song Before I Go,” and “Fair Game”
  • 4 stars: “It has held up remarkably well, both as a memento of its time, and as a thoroughly enjoyable musical work.”

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