Labels We Love – Atlantic/Atco

Helplessly Hoping to Get the VTA Right

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This listing from 2005 (!) contains commentary about VTA adjustment using the track Helplessly Hoping from a Hot Stamper pressing of CSN’s So Far. 

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. (more…)

Ray Charles – The Genius of Ray Charles

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  • One of the few copies to ever hit the site and boy is it KILLER — Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • The sound is incredibly rich, full and Tubey Magical with tons of energy and a nice extended top end
  • Robert Christgau noted that “Charles tried many times, but except for Modern Sounds, he never again assembled such a consistent album in this mode.”
  • “Charles’ voice is heard throughout in peak form, giving soul to even the veteran standards.”

Tom Dowd engineered on Ampex 3 Track through an All Tube chain (this is 1959 after all), Quincy Jones did the arrangements, and Ray sang the hell out of this great batch of songs — all the ingredients in a recipe for soul are here.

Top tracks on the first side: Let The Good Times Roll, It Had To Be You and When Your Lover Has Gone. (more…)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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DEJA VU is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it.

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 Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young albums.

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Deja Vu. (more…)

Coltrane’s Sound – Forget the Reissues

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound, or close to it, on both sides of this early pressing of Coltrane’s Sound
  • An authentic Green and Blue Atlantic stereo pressing, the only version of the album that has the potential for Hot Stamper sound, which explains why this is only the second copy to hit the site since 2011
  • “This is one of the most highly underrated entries in Coltrane’s voluminous catalog. Although the same overwhelming attention bestowed upon My Favorite Things was not given to Coltrane’s Sound upon its initial release, both were actually recorded during the same three-day period in the fall of 1960… these recordings remain among Trane’s finest.”

This is yet another superb Tom Dowd recording of Coltrane in his prime, with support from the brilliant McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones.

Advice

Forget the later Red and Green Atlantic pressings. Every one we’ve ever played was flat, dry, and thin. They sound like the cheap reissues that we Atlantic churned out in the ’70s. Don’t get me wrong; there are some good sounding records on the Red and Green label, but you really have to know what you are doing, or be really lucky, to find them.

We’ve played them by the score, and found relatively few winners among a slough of losers. If you want to take your chances on some, knock yourself out, more power to you, but expect to come up with nothing to show for your time and money almost every time. That’s been our experience anyway.

And be very thankful if you happen to run into one of these early Atlantic stereo pressings, especially if it plays as quietly as this one does. Few Classic Coltrane albums survived the jazz lovers of the day and their awful turntables. (more…)

Crosby, Stills and Nash Replay – Listening in Depth

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This is another very handy record for setting your VTA. The end of Shadow Captain has loud vocals and punchy bass, which are a bit difficult to reproduce. (Forget trying to get this song to sound good if you don’t have an exceptionally good copy.) 

The next song is To The Last Whale, which starts with Nash and Crosby’s multitracked voices in a big hall. With the correct VTA, their voices should sound silky and sweet. If your arm is too far down in the back, they will get a bit dull. Too high, and they will lose that breathy, “fluffy” quality. And once you get their voices to sound just right, make sure the ending of Shadow Captain is still punchy and dynamic.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Carry On 

A crappy remix, with added guitar, ugh.

Marrakesh Express 

Nothing special.

Just a Song Before I Go 

This song sounds WONDERFUL on the better pressings. One of the best reasons to play this album. It’s probably better here than it is on almost any pressing of the album it comes from: CSN.

First Things First 

This track tends to be aggressive.

Shadow Captain 

This track on the typical pressing of this album will tear your head off. On properly mastered copies, it’s surprisingly smooth and sweet, a quality I never associated with this song before, until I played the Hot Stamper.

To the Last Whale 

This song also sounds WONDERFUL on the better pressings. Another one of the best reasons to play this album.

Side Two

Love the One You’re With 

Nice but a little spitty as a rule.

Pre-Road Downs 

This track tends to sound dull but sometimes it’s magical.

Change Partners 

Nothing special, from a nothing special sounding album, Stills’ second outing (which usually sounds like cardboard).

I Give You Give Blind 

This track can sound quite good on the better pressings, better than almost any pressing of the album it comes from: CSN.

Cathedral 

Nice, and, as with some cuts mentioned above, better than almost any pressing of the album it comes from.

Detail on Crosby Stills and Nash’s First Album – Holy Grail or Audio Trap?

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Detail may be the Holy Grail to most audiophiles, but detail can be a trap we all too easily fall into if we are not careful. Tonal balance is the key. Without it no judgments about detail have any real value. 

One example: As good as the Classic Heavy Vinyl pressing 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.



Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

The most important advice can be found under the heading Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.

Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and directly address in this commentary from way back in 2005.

Here are more entries in our ongoing Shootout Advice series.

The Yes Album – What a Recording!

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  • An outstanding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – the sound is huge and powerful
  • Plenty of Prog Rock Power is on display here – Eddie Offord’s engineering is Hard To Fault throughout 
  • A Top 100 Album and the band’s best sounding record – quiet too, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “It was the addition of Steve Howe’s guitar pyrotechnics that finally allowed Yes to find their true identity. The Yes Album is a giant leap forward.” 

At its best, this album is a Big Speaker Prog-Rock opus with tremendous power and dynamic range, but it takes a special pressing like this one to really bring it to life. 

These guys — and by that I mean this particular iteration of the band, the actual players that were involved in the making of this album — came together for the first time and created the sound of Yes on this very album, rather aptly titled when you think about it.

With the amazing EDDIE OFFORD at the board, as well as the best batch of songs ever to appear on a single Yes album, they produced both their sonic and musical masterpiece — good news for audiophiles with Big Speakers! (more…)

Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

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  • Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second; quiet vinyl too!
  • The title track is clean, open, rich and solid, and the vocals aren’t screechy (for once!)
  • Both sides are smooth, rich and Tubey Magical, which means the album is actually enjoyable
  • 4 1/2 stars Allmusic: “The epitome of heavy psychedelic excess… the group’s definitive album.” 

We’ve heard some awful, awful, just really awful sounding pressings of this album over the course of the last twenty years. If you own the album you know what I’m talking about.

Clean originals that we’d hoped would have the goods rarely lasted more than 30 seconds on our table, they were that bad. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

The best copies will tend to have the qualities detailed below, and the more abundant these qualities are on any given pressing, the higher its grade will be.

Yes, it is a science, an empirical one, which can only be carried out by the use of strict protocols and controls, but it sure ain’t rocket science. All you need is the system, the room, the records, the time and the will to do the painstaking critical listening required to carry out the task.

It can be done, but you could spend a lifetime meeting audiophiles of the vinyl persuasion and never run into a single one who has made the effort more than a handful of times.

To be honest, shootouts are a bitch. If you aren’t getting paid to do them the way we are, finding the motivation to devote the time and energy required to do them right — not to mention the piles of copies of each record you will need — is daunting to say the least.

So, back to the question: what to listen for? (more…)

The Immortal Otis Redding

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  • An incredible sounding copy with a Triple Plus (A+++) side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two
  • This ’60s LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce
  • This vintage Plum and Tan label LP plays pretty darn quietly for an original Atco pressing – we’ve never heard one quieter
  • “…any Otis Redding recordings should be considered welcome (if not mandatory) additions to all manner of listeners.”

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real person singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)