Labels We Love – ABC/MCA

Rob Wasserman – Duets

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  • This rare and wonderful album from 1988 on the original MCA label offers outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout 
  • In-the-room vocal presence (Jennifer Warnes is stunning on Leonard Cohen’s Ballad Of The Runaway Horse) and tight, note-like bass are key to the best pressings
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – they don’t come quieter in our experience
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Some amazing duets and a great lineup that includes Aaron Neville (v), Stephane Grappelli (violin), Dan Hicks (v, g), and so on. The jazz community missed this one.” [But the audiophile community loved it.)

We understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound — yes, even as late as 1986 — is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate living, breathing vocalists — of every persuasion in the case of this album — singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 30 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

What outstanding sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1988
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on Duets

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around the instruments.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t back there somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Shootout Criteria (WTLF)

What are sonic qualities by which a record — any record — should be judged? Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, spaciousness, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, three-dimensionality, and on and on down the list.

When we can get many of the qualities above to come together on the side we’re playing we provisionally award it a Hot Stamper grade, which may or may not be revised over the course of the shootout as we hear what the various other copies sound like. Once we’ve been through all our side ones, we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner. Other copies have their grades raised or lowered depending on how they sounded relative to the shootout winner. Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides of each pressing match up.

That’s why the most common grade for a White Hot stamper pressing is Triple Plus (A+++) on one side and Double Plus (A++) on the other. Finding the two best sounding sides from a shootout on the same LP certainly does happen, but is sure doesn’t happen as often as we would like (!) — there are just too many variables in the mastering and pressing processes to insure consistent quality.

It may not be rocket science, but it’s a science of a kind, one with strict protocols that we’ve developed over the course of many years to insure that the results we arrive at are as accurate as we can make them.

The result of all our work speaks for itself, on this very record in fact. We guarantee you have never heard this music sound better than it does on our Hot Stamper pressing — or your money back.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Stardust
The Moon Is Made Of Gold
Brothers
Duet
One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)

Side Two

Ballad Of The Runaway Horse
Gone With The Wind
Angel Eyes
Over The Rainbow
Autumn Leaves

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Some amazing duets and a great lineup that includes Aaron Neville (v), Stephane Grappelli (violin), Dan Hicks (v, g), and so on. The jazz community missed this one.

Steely Dan – Gaucho – Listening In Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Gaucho, the last of the Must Own Steely Dan albums. 

Of all the great albums Steely Dan made, and that means their seven original albums and nothing that came after, there are only three in our opinion that actually support their reputation as studio wizards and recording geniuses.

Chronologically they are Pretzel Logic, Aja, and Gaucho. Every sound captured on these albums is so carefully crafted and considered that it practically brings one to tears to contemplate what the defective DBX noise reduction system did to the work of genius that is Katy Lied, their best album and the worst sounding. (Those cymbal crashes can really mess with your mind if you let them. To get a better picture of the DBX sound just bang two trash can lids together as close to your head as possible.)

The first two albums can sound very good, as can Royal Scam, but none of those can compete with The Big Three mentioned above for sonics. A Hot Stamper copy of any of them would be a seriously good sounding record indeed. (more…)

Ray Charles – Genius + Soul = Jazz

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  • With stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides and Count Basie backing up The Genius himself, this copy is As Good As It Gets! 
  • Most of this album is Ray stretching out with “some pretty mean and lean, cut-to-the-heart-of-the-matter B-3 Hammond organ licks.”
  • Big and rich, clear and Tubey Magical, the 1962 sound of this vintage stereo pressing is just right; quiet vinyl too!
  • Allmusic notes: “…one of those instrumentals, a cover of the Clovers’ “One Mint Julep,” would give Charles one of his most unpredictable (and best) early-’60s hits.”.

This album has long been a personal favorite of mine. It features Ray on the organ playing with every bit as much soul as he sings with, and who sings with more soul than Ray Charles?

Both sides here are open and transparent with HUGE amounts of room-filling bass. (more…)

The Best Sounding Tom Petty Record We’ve Ever Played

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Damn the Torpedoes is the best sounding Tom Petty album we have ever played.

Credit must go to SHELLY YAKUS, someone who we freely admit, now with a sense of embarrassment, has never been one of our favorite engineers. After hearing this beyond-White Hot Stamper side two and a killer copy of Animal Notes we realize that we have seriously underestimated the man, and for that we deeply apologize.

If your Damn the Torpedoes doesn’t sound good (and it probably doesn’t), you sure can’t blame him — the master tape is mind-boggling in its size, weight, power and rock n’ roll energy.

Our 2014 better than White Hot Stamper copy had the kind of sound we never expected to hear on Damn The Torpedoes, an album that’s typically bright, thin, pinched and transistory — radio friendly but not especially audiophile friendly.

Well folks, all that’s changed, and by “all” I don’t necessarily mean all to include the records themselves. This may very well be a record that sounded gritty and pinched before it was cleaned. And our stereo has come a long way in the last five or ten years, as I hope yours has too.

One sign that you’re making progress in this hobby is that at least some of the records you’ve played recently, records that had never sounded especially good before, are now sounding very good indeed. In our case Damn the Torpedoes is one of those records. It’s the best sounding Tom Petty album we have ever played. (more…)

Ray Charles – Ingredients In A Recipe For Soul

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  • Insanely good sound throughout with both sides earning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • These sides are doing it all right — richer, fuller, better bass, more Tubey Magic, and the list goes on!  
  • “The high points are very high — “Busted,” his hit reworking of a composition by country songwriter Harlan Howard, is jazzy and tough, and one of his best early-’60s singles…” – All Music

What the best sides of this Rhythm and Blues album from 1963 have to offer is not hard to hear: (more…)

Steely Dan – Gaucho – The Last Good Dan

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  • Amazing Triple Plus (A+++) sound from beginning to end for the last of Steely Dan’s insanely well recorded Classic Seven Albums
  • This copy offers tons of ambience, amazing richness, you-are-there immediacy, tight bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic
  • 4 stars in the AMG, 4 1/2 in Rolling Stone, and one of their Three Best Sounding Albums – a true Must Own
  • “Despite its coolness, the music is quite beautiful. With its crystalline keyboard textures and diaphanous group vocals, ”Gaucho” contains the sweetest music Steely Dan has ever made.” New York Times

What do these high grades give you for this album? Mindblowing, DEMO QUALITY, Steely Dan Magic, baby! Tons of ambience, amazing richness, ‘you are there’ immediacy, note-like bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic. The bottom end is punchy, and even on this, their most laid-back album, the bass and energy let these songs come alive like they never have before. (more…)

Steely Dan and Pretzel Logic – Donald Gets Dynamic on Rikki

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Rikki Don’t Lose that Number — yet another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

This is one knockout recording. After having done shootouts for every Steely Dan title, I can say that sonically this one has no equal in their canon. 

Which is really saying something, since Becker and Fagen are known to be audiophiles themselves and real sticklers for sound. No effort in the recording of this album was spared, that I can tell you without fear of contradiction. They sweated the details on this one. The mix is PERFECTION.  (more…)

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam – Larry Carlton Stretches Out

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  • Stunning sound from start to finish: Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it on both sides
  • This is a killer Shootout Winning copy of The Dan’s hard-rockin’ classic from 1976 – HERE is the right sound for this music
  • These two sides give you what you need for The Royal Scam – rich, meaty, with powerful rhythmic energy and not too bright
  • “Drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie lashes out the rolling grooves on most of the nine tracks, establishing the album’s anxious feel, and Larry Carlton’s jaw-dropping guitar work provides a running commentary to Fagen’s strangulated vocals… These are not the sort of Steely Dan songs favored by smooth-jazz stations.”

One of the best copies from our last shootout. The life and energy are off the charts here, and the edge and grit that ruin the typical pressing are virtually nowhere to be heard.

It’s an absolute monster, and if you love this album like we do you are doing to flip when you hear it. And side two of this album is KILLER for this group of Steely Dan Classics: Green Earrings, Haitian Divorce, Everything You Did, and of course, The Royal Scam. (more…)

Steely Dan – Katy Lied – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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KATY LIED is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it. And scroll down to see a wonderful testimonial from one of our good customers about a killer copy we sent him years ago. 

We love the album and we hope you do too. If you have some time on your hands — maybe a bit too much time on your hands — please feel free to check out our commentaries.   

This link will take you to all of our other STEELY DAN albums.

This week’s letter is from our good friend Roger, who, like us, is a GIANT Steely Dan fan. Apparently he had tried every copy of Katy Lied he could get his hands on and practically had given up on the album — until he decided to shell out the princely sum of Three Hundred Clams ($300, probably not the last piaster he could borrow, but a pretty hefty chunk of dough for a fairly common used LP from 1975) to Better Records, with the hope that we might actually find a way to put him in touch with the real Dr. Wu.

Let’s just say it seems that Roger got his money’s worth — and maybe a little more.

The title of his letter is: 

Katy Lied? Are you sure?

I tried your Hot Stamper Steely Dan Katy Lied. You gotta be kidding me. Are you sure this is the same recording? I remember your saying that this one is your favorite SD record and I could never understand why, at least until I heard this secret recording. Other than the HS copy you basically had a choice between the dull and lifeless bland US pressing, or the Mobile Fidelity version, which has those undescribable phasey, disembodied instruments and voices that sound unmusical to me.

I even tried British and Japanese pressings with no luck. I just figured this was just a bad recording, which made sense in light of all the press about the problems during the recording and mixing sessions, and I don’t think I bothered to listen to it again for at least the past 5 years.

But wow, this is clearly in another league. The voices and instruments are in three dimensions, the bass and dynamics are far far better, the saxes are up-front and breathy. I couldn’t believe how good Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More and Chain Lightning sounded. Even my subwoofer that I roll off at 30Hz got a good workout. It sounds like live music. So how did you sneak your tape recorder into the studio sessions, anyway?

Roger, we’re so happy to know that your love for Katy Lied has finally been requited after all these years. The reason we go on for days about the sound of practically every track on the album (the green commentary below) is that we love it just as much as you do. (more…)

Ray Charles & Betty Carter – A Forgotten Classic

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on this vintage stereo pressing – it’s the first truly Hot Stamper to EVER hit the site 
  • This 1961 release showcases two of the most soulful singers to ever share a microphone, both at the height of their powers
  • Includes the still-popular “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (no one has ever recorded it quite like these two), People Will Say We’re In Love, Side By Side, and many more
  • 4 stars: “There is certainly a powerful, often sexy rapport between the two — Charles in his sweet balladeering mode, Carter with her uniquely keening, drifting high register — and they definitely create sparks in the justly famous rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.””

It’s EXTREMELY rare to find a stereo copy of Ray Charles & Betty Carter in anything but beat condition, but here’s one that not only sounds great, but plays exceptionally quietly for an album from this era.

We’ve raved about the DCC pressing in the past. If you own that one, this very record will show you what you’ve been missing. (more…)