Labels We Love – Atlantic/Atco

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…)

John Coltrane – My Favorite Things

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  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this 1961 Coltrane classic
  • You’ll also find dramatically more richness, fullness and presence than most copies have to offer
  • An exceptionally difficult album to find with top quality sound and decent surfaces, but here one is!
  • 5 stars: “The unforced, practically casual soloing styles of the assembled quartet allow for tastefully executed passages a la the Miles Davis Quintet, a trait Coltrane no doubt honed during his tenure in that band.”

An album like this is all about its Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1961 All Tube Analog sound can be — thanks go to legendary engineers Phil Lehle and Tom Dowd — this excellent copy should be just the record for you. (more…)

The Rolling Stones Goats Head Soup – Live and Learn, A Lesson from 2011

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This is a classic case of Live and Learn.

We would agree with very little of what we had to say about Goat’s Head Soup as a recording when we wrote about it back in 2011 — and for the previous 35+ years since I first played a domestic original.

Having done a big shootout for the album in 2016 we now know there most certainly are great sounding pressings to be found, because we found some. The data are in, and now we know just how wrong we were. In our defense, let me just ask one question: Did anybody else know this record was well recorded? I can find no evidence to support anyone having ever taken such a contrarian position.

But we’re taking that position now. All it takes is one great sounding copy to show you the error of your ways, and we had more than one! (more…)

The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Sticky Fingers.

A QUICK TEST: The best copies have texture and real dynamics in the brass. The bad copies are smeared, grainy and unpleasant when the brass comes in. Toss those bad ones and start shooting out the good ones. Believe me, if you find a good one it will be worth all the work.

And don’t forget to Turn Up Your Volume. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Some Girls

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  • A KILLER copy of the Stones’ last great album with Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last
  • You aren’t going to believe how hard this pressing rocks, with all the WHOMP and ENERGY you never knew was there
  • Tons of great songs – Miss You, Beast of Burden and Shattered, all sounding shockingly good on this Shootout Winning copy
  • 5 Stars on Allmusic: “Some Girls may not have the back-street aggression of their ’60s records, or the majestic, drugged-out murk of their early-’70s work, but its brand of glitzy, decadent hard rock still makes it a definitive Stones album.”

This is the Stones’ last truly great album in our opinion. All Music Guide gives it the same 5 star rating that they awarded Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Sticky Fingers. With hits like Miss You, Shattered, and Beast Of Burden it’s easy to see why.

Most copies are too thin or too grainy for serious audiophile listening, but this one is a MONSTER. It’s beyond difficult to find great sound for The Stones, so take this one home for a spin if you want to hear this band come to life in your very own listening room.

Not many copies have this kind of clarity and transparency, or this kind of big, well-defined bottom end. The sound of the hi-hat is natural and clear on this pressing, as are the vocals, which means that the tonality in the midrange is correct, and what could be more important than a good midrange? It’s where all the music is! (more…)

Roundabout Vs. South Side of the Sky

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Fragile.

This shootout taught us that track one is not as well recorded as the rest of side one. On copy after copy, and there were well over a dozen, it was the other big track on side one, South Side of the Sky, that had consistently better sound. You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first.

You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first. We play both songs, but we play them in reverse order, knowing that the mind-boggling sound is really going to be on South Side, not so much Roundabout.

This record should give any record you own a run for its money. It’s as BIG and as BOLD a statement about raising the bar for rock recordings as any I know. Without a doubt one of the Best Rock Recordings of all time.

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Graham Nash / David Crosby – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

This album has some of the BEST SOUND Crosby and Nash ever recorded, but you’d never know that listening to the average pressing. You need plenty of deliciously rich Tubey Magic if this music is going to work, and on that count this copy certainly delivers.

BILL HALVERSON was the engineer for this album, the man behind the first CSN album and many others.

We asked ourselves: Where in the world did all the midrange magic we were hearing on Graham Nash / David Crosby 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?

This Copy Is Killer

When you drop the needle on side one, you’ll know very quickly why we went so crazy for it — especially if you’ve been playing the kind of copies that we tend to run into, with veiled, hard, gritty voices — the kiss of death for a record that lives or dies by its vocal reproduction. (This is true for all CSN albums of course.)

This one is a whole different story, with wonderful clarity (listen to the acoustic guitar transients throughout) and silky sweet vocals. It’s got the kind of weight down low and extension up top needed to give the midrange the space — the room, if you like — to present itself properly and not get lost in the mix. The transparency is incredible, with richness and sweetness you have never heard on this album, guaranteed or your money back!

Side two is quite good. The vocals are not quite as clear and present, not as “breathy”, as they are on side one. We took a lot of points off for that; the rest of the sound is actually quite good. A very good side two and an amazing side one — this copy has a lot going for it.

Forgotten Sound

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These records are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Southbound Train

This song would be right at home on Graham Nash’s first album, a desert island disc for me. This gets side one off to a great start.

Whole Cloth
Blacknotes
Strangers Room
Where Will I Be?

The best sound on side one, and a great test track. When the chorus of voices really starts pushing the meter, most copies will run into harmonic distortion trouble. Only the truly Hot Stampers manage to keep the loudest parts of the song clean and clear.

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Listen for the attack of the snare; so many copies have that cardboardy drum sound we have to put up with on albums from this era, but the best ones get a nice crisp attack to the snare that really sells it.

Side Two

Frozen Smiles
Games
Girl to Be on My Mind
The Wall Song
Immigration Man

Love the music. The sound… uh, not so much. Still, the best copies tend to minimize the distortion and maximize the sweetness and richness.