Genre – Rock – Hippie Folk Rock

Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

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We’ve mentioned how difficult some records are to reproduce: how the Revolutions in Audio of the last decade or two have profoundly changed the ability of the seriously dedicated audiophile to get records that never sounded good before to come to life musically in a way previously understood to be impossible.

This is one of those records. But you have to have done your homework if you want to play a record like this, as the commentary below explains.

’60s Sound

The problem here is the sound. It’s got a bit of that tinny ’60s pop production sound — too much upper midrange, not enough lower midrange and a slightly aggressive quality when things get loud. Still, it’s quite a bit better than recordings by, say, The Byrds or Jefferson Airplane from the era, and I have no trouble playing and enjoying those records, so…

I can also tell you that if you have a modest system this record is just going to sound like crap. It sounded like crap for years in my system, even when I thought I had a good one. Vinyl playback has come a long way in the last five or ten years and if you’ve participated in some of the revolutionary changes that I talk about elsewhere on the site, you should hear some pretty respectable sound. Otherwise, I would pass.

On the Difficulty of Reproduction scale, this record scores fairly high. You need lots of tubey magic and freedom from distortion, the kind of sound I rarely hear on any but the most heavily tweaked systems. The kind of systems that guys like me have been slaving over for thirty years. If you’re a Weekend Warrior when it comes to stereo, this is not the record for you. (more…)

Brewer & Shipley – Tarkio – Do All the Robert Ludwig Mastered Copies Have Hot Stampers?

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Even though all the original Pink Label pressings are mastered by Robert Ludwig, they have a marked tendency to be dull, thick and opaque. The sound is just too smooth. The best copies however have the top end and the transparency to let you hear all the guitar and vocal harmonics, surrounded by the large acoustic of the studio.

This time around we discovered something new: one specific stamper that seemed to be the only one with the potential for an extended top end. This special stamper did not always fare well; some copies with it were mediocre. We have always found this to be the way with the “right” stampers; they often let us down and sometimes they really let us down hard.

But this stamper, when it was right, had an extension on the top that no other copy could match. (The Robert Ludwig mastered Band second albums are the same way. Most have no top but boy, when they do, the magic you hear is phenomenal.) (more…)

Donovan – Storyteller on SACD – Reviewed in 2003

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This is a Factory Sealed Audio Fidelity Dual Layer Hybrid SACD (playable on any CD player) with superb sound.

One of the best sounding CDs I’ve ever heard! I can’t play the SACD layer anymore — my SACD player broke and I decided the medium was not for me. I’m a record guy and don’t want to invest the time and money to find a player that gets the SACD layer right. My CD player tells me that this is some of the best digital around and that’s good enough for me.

This disc is so rich and sweet you would swear it was an LP. Hoffman did an AMAZINGLY good job with this title. Same with The Searchers. Both are highly recommended. (more…)

The Grateful Dead – Live/Dead

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  • A KILLER copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on sides one, two and three and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the fourth side
  • All four sides are incredibly big, rich and full-bodied with super present and breathy vocals and a solid bottom end
  • “Few recordings have ever represented the essence of an artist in performance as faithfully as Live/Dead. It has become an aural snapshot of this zenith in the Grateful Dead’s 30-year evolution and as such is highly recommended for all manner of enthusiasts.” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars

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Grateful Dead – American Beauty – An Honest-to-Goodness Hot Stamper MoFi

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Sonic Grade: B

Another MoFi LP reviewed

This is a Mobile Fidelity LP with SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND. The transparency and presence in the midrange is outstanding. The bass actually sounds in control on this copy — there’s no 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. 

America – Harbor

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  • Insanely good sound for this Warner Brothers pressing from 1977 with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them; the first copy to ever hit the site!
  • These sides are doing everything right — clean, clear, full-bodied and dynamic with a tight punchy bottom end 
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • 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’s still plenty of great songs here

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Grateful Dead – Go to Heaven

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  • With Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning sides or close to them, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard for Go to Heaven – exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • Bill Kreutzmann noted, “If you go back and (re)listen to it, you’ll find that time has been very kind to Go to Heaven. It plays better now than it did back then. That’s still no excuse for the cover, though – all six of us, dressed all in white disco suits against a white background.”
  • Classic Rock Review wrote, “While this may be a far cry from the group’s lauded stage improvisation, it made for an enjoyable studio album which holds up decades later…. It still sounds good today and shows that this band had some vast talent away from the stage.”

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Grateful Dead – In The Dark

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  • A superb copy of the band’s 1987 return with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This copy has just the right sound for this music – rich and meaty, with powerful rhythmic energy
  • Includes comeback hit, “Touch Of Gray,” the band’s first number one single
  • 4 stars: “Although the album is unmistakable as the work of the Dead, much of it recalls the punchy, pungent production of Dire Straits’ recent work. It’s not the second coming of the Dead, but a more entertaining epilogue you couldn’t ask for.”

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Grateful Dead – Skeletons From The Closet

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  • A KILLER copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
  • Both of these sides are out of this world — clean, clear and present yet still pretty rich and Tubey Magical with plenty of bottom end weight
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “… long-lived as a Grateful Dead primer… [it] remains a good introduction to the band’s early — and arguably best — work… Skeletons — for longtime fans — will always be a great disc for a lazy Sunday afternoon.” – All Music

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Crosby / Nash – Graham Nash / David Crosby

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  • Close to Shootout Winning sound on both sides – Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) – one of the best copies of this shockingly well recorded album to hit the site in years
  • The vocals are exceptionally breathy, smooth and sweet here – this recording is the very definition of Midrange Magic, thanks to the 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. How did Bill Halverson learn how to record as well as Stephen Barncard all of a sudden?

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…)