Labels We Love – Decca/London

Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Solti on Decca/London

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

Deep bass; rich, smooth strings, lots of lovely hall space – this copy was right up there with the best we heard, and clearly won the shootout for side two. You will hear immediately why this side two could not be beat – it’s wonderful. (more…)

The World of the Zombies on Decca

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  • Two outstanding sides each rating a solid Double Plus (A++) or BETTER – you have never heard The Zombies sound better, guaranteed
  • When you get hold of a sublimely Tubey Magical copy such as this, the sound of Rod Argent’s Hammond B-3 is nothing less than GLORIOUS
  • This UK compilation plays very quiet throughout – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – they don’t come quieter
  • 4 Stars: “The Zombies’ obvious appreciation for adeptly crafted melodies and rich vocal harmonies likewise made them favorites of pop fans as well as more discerning listeners.”

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1965 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

Albeniz / Suite Espanola / De Burgos – What to Listen For

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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 Suite Espanola. 

Wow, is this record ever DYNAMIC! I would put it in the top 2 or 3 percent of the most dynamic recordings we have played over the course of the last twenty five years. It also has tons of DEPTH. The brass is at the far back of the stage, just exactly where they would be placed in the concert hall, which greatly adds to the realism of the recording.

The strings may not be quite as sweet as the best earlier Londons, but the trade off is well worth it when you hear a record with this kind of LIFE and so little distortion.

Note that careful VTA adjustment for a record with this kind of dynamic energy is a must. Having your front end carefully calibrated to this record is the only way to guarantee there is no distortion or shrillness in even the loudest passages. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed

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  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy ROCKS from start to finish; fairly quiet vinyl too! 
  • Love In Vain on a copy like this is one of the best sounding Rolling Stones songs of all time
  • The acoustic guitar sound and the rich whomp of the snare proves that Glyn Johns is one of the Greatest Engineers who ever lived
  • Top 100, 5 stars on Allmusic – Jason McNeil of PopMatters wrote that Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed are, “the two greatest albums the band’s (or anyone’s) ever made.” 

This is, IMHO, the second or third best record the Stones ever made. (Sticky Fingers is Number One, and either this or Beggar’s Banquet comes in a strong second.) With this pressing we can now hear the power and the beauty of this superb recording.

Love In Vain on a copy like this is one of the best sounding Rolling Stones songs of all time. In previous listings I’ve mentioned how good this song sounds — thanks to Glyn Johns, of course — but on these amazing Hot Stamper copies it is OUT OF THIS WORLD.

Love In Vain!

This is our favorite test track for side one. The first minute or so clues you into to everything that’s happening in the sound. Listen for the amazing immediacy, transparency and sweetly extended harmonics of the guitar in the left channel. Next, when Watts starts slapping that big fat snare in the right channel, it should sound so real you could reach out and touch it.

If you’re like me, that Tubey magical acoustic guitar sound and the rich whomp of the snare should be all the evidence you need that Glyn Johns is one of the Five Best Rock Engineers who ever lived. Ken Scott, Stephen Barncard, Alan Parsons and a few others are right up there with him of course. We audiophiles are very lucky to have had guys like those around when the Stones were at their writing and performing peak. (more…)

Rossini Overtures with Maag and the PCO

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The London and Decca original pressings are the best, right?

Not in our experience. We think that’s just another Record Myth.

Bad vinyl, bad mastering, who knows why so many copies sound so thick, dull and veiled? 

This Stereo Treasury pressing of Maag’s 1958 recording is shockingly good in many ways. It sure doesn’t sound like a budget reissue. If anything it sounds more original than the originals we played against it! (more…)

The Moody Blues – To Our Children’s Children’s Children

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  • Lush but clear Tubey Magical Double Plus (A++) British Decca LP sound on both sides, on quiet vinyl to boot
  • You get richness, fullness and warmth on both of these sides, which is exactly what you want for the Moodies’ music
  • “It is the fourth of what are popularly considered the group’s “core seven” (or Classic Seven) albums from 1967 to 1972, and as such represents the peak of their career to some.”
  • “There are no extended suites on this album, but Justin Hayward’s “Watching and Waiting” and “Gypsy” have proved to be among the most popular songs in the group’s history.”

This British Decca pressing has two excellent sides. Most aren’t nearly this airy, open or spacious. The bottom end is strong with nice weight and much improved bass definition. The vocals are big and solid. (more…)

The Moody Blues – In Search Of The Lost Chord

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  • This early UK pressing offers excellent Double Plus (A++) sound, OR BETTER, from beginning to end
  • This copy is tubey and rich and, most importantly, doesn’t sound murky or muddy
  • The first Moody Blues album to feature their trademark mellotron arrangements
  • “…the album on which the Moody Blues discovered drugs and mysticism as a basis for songwriting and came up with a compelling psychedelic creation, filled with songs about Timothy Leary and the astral plane and other psychedelic-era concerns.”

Achieving just the right balance of Tubey Magical rich-but-not-too-rich “Moody Blues Sound” and transparency is no mean feat. You had better be using the real master tape for starters. Then you need a pressing with actual extension at the top, a quality rarely found on most imports. Finally, good bass definition is essential; it keeps the bottom end from blurring the midrange. No domestic copy in our experience has ever had these three qualities, and only the best of the imports manages to combine all three on the same LP.

On the best of the best, the clarity and resolution come without a sacrifice in the Tubey Magical richness, warmth and lushness for which the Moody Blues recordings are justifiably famous. In our experience the best LPs are correct from top to bottom, present and alive in the midrange, yet still retain the richness and sweetness we expect from British (and Dutch) Moody Blues records. They manage, against all odds, to remove the sonic barriers put up by most pressings of the Moodies’ unique music. Who knew, after so many years and so many bad records, that such a thing was even possible? (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet – Critical Listening Exercise

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF).

Want a good test for Transparency and Resolution? Try this one. There is a sound on this album’s side one that’s unlike any I can recall hearing before. Listen to No Expectations and see if you don’t hear something quite strange going on in the general area of the left rear of the studio. It took me a while to figure out what it was, and on the bad British pressings and all of the domestic copies you can hardly hear it all. 

You should be able to hear it provided:

  • You have a good copy of the record.
  • You cleaned it properly.
  • You played it on high quality equipment in a good room, and
  • You listened to it critically.

You really need all four. It’s what this commentary is all about. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet on London

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  • A killer vintage copy of this exceptionally well-recorded Stones album from ’69, with superb Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Clear, rich and lively throughout – the Tubey Magic of the best pressings is what has them sounding the way they should
  • One of a select group of Rolling Stones Must Own records which we prize above all others – Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed round out the trio
  • 5 stars: “Basic rock & roll was not forgotten, however: ‘Street Fighting Man’… was one of their most innovative singles, and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’… was an image-defining epic.”

Good pressings are certainly not easy to come by — this kind of rich, full-bodied, musical sound is the exception, not the rule. And there’s actual space and extension up top as well, something you certainly don’t hear on most pressings. This is a fantastic album, and excellent sides like these give it the kind of sound it deserves.

Raw Rock & Roll Sound

Of course, Hot Stamper Sound still only gets you what’s on the tape. In this case, it’s some rude, crude, dirty rock & roll. That’s clearly what the Stones were going for here. In terms of audiophile appeal, Tea For The Tillerman this ain’t. Nor does it want to be!

What sets the best copies apart from the pack is a fuller, richer tonal balance, which is achieved mostly by having plenty of bass and lower midrange energy. The copies that are bass shy — most of them, that is to say — tend to bring out more of that midrangy shortcoming. (more…)

The Mehta Planets – Sealed with the Pioneer Booklet

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Factory Sealed CS 6734 with the super rare Pioneer spacecraft booklet inside the shrink!

There’s a very good chance this is the last such copy on the planet. I have never seen one before, and I remember when this record came out, so probably few were made with this special booklet included. I’m guessing it has about a dozen pages or so, and probably talks about the Pioneer mission to Jupiter.

“Launched on 2 March 1972, Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to travel through the Asteroid belt, and the first spacecraft to make direct observations and obtain close-up images of Jupiter. Famed as the most remote object ever made by man through most of its mission, Pioneer 10 is now over 8 billion miles away.”