Labels We Love – Capitol

Nat King Cole – Unforgettable

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Our shootout winner here had the clearest, most natural vocals, with a living, breathing Nat King Cole front and center. Hard to believe some of these songs date back to 1946, with the most recent being from 1954. No matter; whatever the limitations of the recording technology, they knew enough of what they were doing to get Nat’s voice consistently right for practically every track. 

One of the key elements we noticed on the best of the best was the relaxation in Nat’s performance. He sings so effortlessly on the best copies; on other pressings you often don’t notice that casual quality.

Warmth and sweetness were nearly as important, the distinctive and unmistakeable hallmarks of vintage All Tube Analog. Each of these qualities combined to make the music on these sides as thoroughly involving and enchanting as any album of its kind we have ever offered.

The Hunt

Naturally we’re always on the lookout for Nat King Cole records with good sound. In our experience finding them is not nearly as easy as one might think it would be. Far too many of his recordings are drenched in bad reverb, with sound that simply can’t be taken seriously — fine for old consoles but not so good on modern audiophile equipment.

At least one we know of has his voice out of phase with the orchestra on most copies, which put a quick end to any hope of finishing the shootout we had started.

If anything the sound on his albums gets even worse in the ’60s. Many of Nat’s albums from that decade are over-produced, bright, thin and shrill. (more…)

The Band – Music From Big Pink

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  • Two strong Double Plus (A++) sides AND quiet vinyl make this a consistently impressive copy of this all-time classic album
  • Forget all those lifeless, ambience-free, vague sounding Heavy Vinyl pressings – THIS is the sound of the album
  • It’s big, punchy and dynamic, and resolves all the intricacies of the recording that make it so interesting to us audiophiles
  • 5 stars on Allmusic: “Over time, Music from Big Pink came to be regarded as a watershed work in the history of rock, one that introduced new tones and approaches to the constantly evolving genre.”

We guarantee you have never heard Music from Big Pink sound remotely as good as it does on this very copy. (more…)

Dean Martin – This Time I’m Swingin’

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  • A wonderful copy that lets this music swing the way it’s supposed to! Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • Both sides are incredible with big, clear and present sound — Deano’s vocals are Right On The Money
  • With Nelson Riddle arranging, the album has plenty of swing all right — and the brass sounds amazing here
  • 4 1/2 Stars in the All Music Guide: “…an easy swinging collection…”

If you’re a fan of the Capitol Sinatra sound you’ll love this record. It’s an exceptionally difficult title to find in anything but trashed condition. I’ve been a fan of this record for many years but this is the first copy we’ve been able to find that’s clean enough to go up on the site with White Hot Stamper grades.  (more…)

The Band’s Second Album – 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 Band’s second album.

The best copies have no trace of phony sound from top to bottom. They’re raw and real in a way that makes most pop records sound processed and wrong. Our best Hot Stampers have plenty of the qualities we look for in The Band. Energy, presence, transparency, Tubey Magic… you name it — you will find it there. The biggest strength of this recording is its wonderful, natural midrange. And tons of bass.

Despite what anyone might tell you, it’s no mean feat to find good sounding copies of this record. There are good originals and bad originals, as well as good reissues and bad reissues. Folks, we’ve said it many times — the label can’t tell you how a record sounds, but there’s a sure way to find out that information. You’ve got to clean ’em and play ’em to find out which ones have Hot Stampers, and we seem to be the only record dealers who are doing that, in the process making unusually good pressings available to you, the music-loving audiophile. (more…)

The Band Rock Of Ages – Turn Up Your Volume, Now It Rocks!

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Yet another record that really comes to life when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Most copies of this album do not have a boosted bottom or top, which means that at normal listening levels — depending on how you define that term — they can sound pretty flat. This is one album that needs to be turned up, obviously not to the levels of a live rock concert, but up about as loud as you can until you can get the bass and the highs to come out. We found ourselves adding more and more level in order to get the sound to come to life, and it was playing pretty loud before the sound was right.  

But it’s SO GOOD when it’s loud. Why the hell would you not want to crank it up and ROCK OUT? (more…)

Nat “King” Cole’s Love Is The Thing – The Breatkthrough We Were Waiting 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.

Love Is The Thing has long been one of the best sounding Nat “King” Cole recordings we had auditioned over the years. With a large variety of copies to play, including some interesting “finds” among them, we now know it actually is The Best. We have never heard the man sound better than he does on the hottest copies of this very album.

Of course we’re always on the lookout for Nat King Cole albums with good sound. In our experience that is not nearly as easy as one might expect. Far too many of his recordings are drenched in bad reverb and can’t be taken seriously. At least one we know of has his voice out of phase with the orchestra on most of the copies we played, putting a quick end to that shootout.  (more…)

Nat King Cole Sings / George Shearing Plays

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides of this wonderful collaboration from 1962 
  • Two masters come together here to create a compilation of timeless arrangements still appreciated by both music lovers and audiophiles to this day
  • It’s tough to find top quality sound for Nat King Cole – here’s your chance to hear just how good he sounded on this All Tube Recording from the early ’60s
  • “Cole is in prime form on such songs as “September Song,” “Pick Yourself Up,” and “Serenata.” Shearing’s accompaniment is tasteful and lightly swinging, and the string arrangements help to accentuate the romantic moods.”

The better pressings of this unique collaboration between Nat King Cole and George Shearing put Cole’s voice right up front with lovely breath and natural texture. On the better copies such as this one, the Nat’s vocals are full-bodied, the piano has real weight, and the soundfield is open and transparent. If you want a great sounding male vocal LP in your collection, this one will do the trick nicely. (more…)

Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle – Capitol Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

This Capitol Records Limited Edition 180 gram LP from the series that Robert Ludwig mastered is the worst sounding version of the album I have ever heard, bar none. It was cut with the azimuth off, which makes all the high frequency transients sound smeared. How anybody could put up with that crappy sounding LP is beyond me, but I have never heard a single person complain about the bad sound.

The MoFi has a bit more going on up top but the blurry bass and compressed lifeless sound fail to bring the music to life the way a Hot Stamper does. 

Crowded House – Woodface

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  • This killer original British import copy of Woodface boasts nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A++) sound from start to finish
  • Thankfully the care and effort that went into every aspect of the production of Woodface more than justifies the effort we put into finding this copy
  • Some of the most original, melodic, hook-laden, sophisticated popular music recorded in the last twenty seven years 
  • “The songs are easily their finest to date, combining flawless melodies and the outstanding harmonies of the brothers’ perfectly matched voices.” – All Music

This excellent copy of Woodface fulfills the promise of this extraordinarily well-recorded album beyond all expectations. The effect so totally immerses you in the musical experience that you forget you’re listening to a record at all. In your mind, you have the sense that you’re hearing the music exactly the way the musicians, producers, and engineers intended it to sound. The sound is everything you want it to be as you experience every element of the music without limitation. (more…)

Paul McCartney and Wings At the Speed of Sound – Our Mindblowing Four Plus Copy

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This is a classic case of Live and Learn. We were wrong about At the Speed of Sound as a recording. As to whether or not there are great sounding pressings of it, having just done a big shootout for the album in 2016 we now know there most certainly are. 

Previously we had written:

I can’t even begin to convey to you what a rough shootout this was. Copy after copy bored us to tears and most of them were too noisy. It was one of those shootouts that almost just defeated us, but we persevered and managed to find a few Hot Stampers. They didn’t do miracles and turn Speed Of Sound into a stunning Demo Disc, but they sounded musical, correct and enjoyable, and that seems to be all you can ask for on this album. 

This is not true. We played a copy that we awarded our very special grade of Four Pluses to (on one side, two sides would be too much to ask for) because it showed us an At the Speed of Sound that we had no idea could possibly exist, this after having played them by the dozens for years.

It was DRAMATICALLY bigger and more transparent, with no sacrifice in richness or smoothness. (more…)