Labels We Love – Elektra

Carly Simon – Another Passenger – 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 the album. 

There’s one quality in particular that added immensely to our enjoyment of the music — gobs and gobs of Tubey Magic. The copies that were opaque, dry, flat and “modern” sounding — which pretty much describes practically every Heavy Vinyl record we’ve played in the last five years — bored us to tears, not surprisingly in the very same way that most Heavy Vinyl does.

This is 1976, they were still making good records then. You would hardly know it by playing the average pressing of the album, but when you hear one like this, there is no mistaking the richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality.

These are qualities for which good tube equipment is rightly revered. (We no longer use tube equipment ourselves, preferring to be guided by the approach of reproducing the Tubey Magic of the records we play, assuming there is some, unadorned.)

Most pressings get Carly’s voice all wrong — gritty, edgy, hard and strained, but not this one. Carly’s singing on this copy is smoother, sweeter, more immediate and clearly more emotionally compelling than we heard on any other copies in our shootout. We call this Master Tape Sound; you hear it on those rare pressings so far beyond the norm that the music seems to come to life right in front of you, right there in your very own listening room. (more…)

Judy Collins – Wildflowers – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

This White Hot Stamper side one was clearly the best we heard in our most recent shootout — the sound is rich and full, yet Judy’s voice comes across as especially clear and breathy. Yes, vintage analog pressings can do it all, with a naturalness that no modern LP or CD can begin to equal, making this side one the obvious choice for those who want to hear just how good Wildflowers gets.

The first three songs on side one alone are worth the price of the album, three of the best Judy ever recorded. Joni Mitchell’s Michael from Mountains is one of the best songs on her debut album; Judy sings it with comparable taste and skill. Since You Asked is Judy’s own composition, her first to be recorded in fact. In this writer’s opinion it’s the best song she ever wrote, “as good as it gets” as we like to say. And of course Leonard Cohen’s Sisters of Mercy is one of his many masterpieces and brilliant in all respects as performed here. (more…)

Judy Collins – Judy Collins #3 – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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

This is a Minty Elektra Red Label LP with two AMAZING sounding sides! Typical copies are dull and thin sounding, making Judy Blue Eyes’ beautiful voice sound honky and weak like she has a head cold. This copy is the remedy! (more…)

Bread – The Best of Bread Vol. 2 – Reviewed in 2010

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

This very nice looking Elektra Butterfly Label LP has the best sound I’ve ever heard for this compilation. Keep in mind that this is an album of mostly weak material, not in the class with the first ’Best of Bread’ by a long shot. However, some of these songs sound quite good here, easily better than the typical Bread album from which they are taken. Listen to ‘Been Too Long On The Road’ or ‘He’s A Good Lad’ to hear the best sounding Bread.

Carly Simon – Hotcakes – 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 Hotcakes.

Many copies of this album suffer from (at least) one of two problems: unnatural hi-fi sound or considerable grit and grain. Both are in large part due to the processing-intensive production of Richard Perry. On the best copies it’s easy to understand his choices as the sound is quite lovely. Unfortunately that rich, sweet sound he obviously got on to the master tape didn’t quite make it to the average vinyl pressing of the album.

The effects used on Carly’s vocals turn her voice into a gritty, grainy mess on most copies — certainly not the kind of sound that audiophiles want to hear. It took a few exceptional copies to make us understand what Simon and Perry were going for. Compare this Hot Stamper to the typical copy and you’ll hear it for yourself right away. (You DEFINITELY want your electricity really cookin’ for this shootout, because bad electricity will certainly exacerbate problems with grit and grain.) (more…)

Bread – The Best of Bread

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

For just the second time since 2007, here’s a White Hot Stamper copy of The Best Of Bread — a Better Records Desert Island Disc if ever there was one. (Believe me, there are plenty.)

I can’t be sure why these songs sound so much better here than they do on Bread’s standard albums, but we’ve never heard a Bread album that could compete with the best copies of this compilation. [This is no longer true, please read more about this subject in the listings for the individual Bread albums.]

Bread albums have some of the most Tubey Magical, rich and sweet ANALOG sound you can find, thanks to engineer ARMIN STEINER.

He was also one of the engineers on Spirit’s first album, assisted on Ram and has more than a hundred other engineering credits. (more…)

Carly Simon – What to Listen For

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Carly Simon – Carly Simon

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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.

Too many copies we played erred on the hi-fi-ish side, with not enough warmth. The copies that sound incredibly clean and clear just didn’t do much for us; they weren’t able to convey the intimacy and emotion of the music.

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience playing CDs of some of your old favorites. You keep wondering why you liked the music in the first place. Don’t blame the music. Blame those crappy CDs.  (more…)

Grover Washington – Winelight – A Demo Disc for Bass (on the Right Copy)

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Another in our series of Demo Discs for Bass.

What’s unusual about this album — shocking really — is how MEATY the bottom end is. I don’t know of a pop jazz recording with beefier, more articulate or weightier bass. The only record I can think of in this genre of jazz with comparable bass is Mangione’s Children of Sanchez. We played some copies of that album recently and were just knocked out with how well recorded the bass is, just the way we were knocked out by the best copies of Grover Washington’s Winelight from a recent shootout. Both of these albums really set the standard for recording this kind of music.  (more…)

Carly Simon – Boys In The Trees – How Clearly Can You See the Hi-hat

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The Hi-hat Listening Test — yet another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Carly’s soulful version of You Belong To Me is what made this album a Must Own back in the day (and still does). During our shootout, as we listened to the song over and over again on copy after copy, it became clear that the best pressings allowed us to easily hear the drummer’s hi-hat within the dense mix of this heavily produced pop song. On most copies it’s buried and all but inaudible.

If the pressing you own is full-bodied and tonally correct, and you can easily pick out the rhythmic contribution of the hi-hat within the mix, you have a copy with the kind of transparency that few we played managed to achieve.

Transparency (and all the other stuff we talk about) can and does make a big difference in your enjoyment of the music. If the average record sounded even close to right nobody would need us to find good sounding copies for them, copies would be in every record bin in town and we would have to find some other records to sell. Copies of this album may be in every bin in town — that’s where we found this one — but the sound sure isn’t.

(And without the very best cleaning technologies, the ones invented only recently as a matter of fact, there is no chance of achieving the kind of transparency our best copies have. We consider it one of the most important Revolutions in Audio of the last twenty years. If you want your records to sound their best, we would love to help you do it.) (more…)

Queen – The Game – 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 the album.

The best sounding side ones were rarely as good as the best sounding side twos.

Even the good side ones tended to have a trace of harmonic distortion and compression that is simply nowhere to be found on the good side twos. How and why this is we have no idea. Since every copy had the same sonic issues we discounted it in our grading. Only the better copies bring the hits on side one to life and give them the size and power we know they can have.  (more…)