Labels We Love – EMI/Harvest

Queen – Queen

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  • With a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two and a side one that’s close to it, this original pressing has the analog magic in its grooves
  • Both sides here are big, full-bodied, clear and spacious with a nice bottom end and plenty of rock energy
  • “Almost every one of Queen’s signatures are already present, from Freddie Mercury’s operatic harmonies to Brian May’s rich, orchestral guitar overdubs and the suite-like structures of “Great King Rat”… It showcases the band in all their ornate splendor yet it’s strangely lean and hard, revealing just how good the band was in their early days as a hard rock band.”
  • Plays with surfaces as quiet as any we can find on both sides – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus

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Queen – News Of The World – Stomping and Clapping with the Fans

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

Side one starts out with Queen’s back-to-back anthemic classics, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”. Does it get any better for a Queen fan? Hell no! 

The stomps and claps that introduce the former should make you feel like you are in a stadium full of people with a single goal – to rock you. Those stomps and claps need weight and clarity, an unusual combination. One without the other is not going to cut it.

The record needs to be able to reproduce the room everybody is in, while still conveying the tremendous impact and power. Most domestic pressings are severely lacking in these areas. This kind of anemia can be frustrating — you want to rock but the sound won’t let you.

Another quality our best copies excelled in was the sound of Brian May’s guitar during his solo toward the end of the song. Here his tone is very boxy with no real highs or lows, but when that sound is exaggerated by bad mastering, it sounds like there are mattresses sitting in front of his amplifiers. The best copies had extension on the high end, restoring the clarity and complimenting his distinctive technique. (more…)

Holst / The Planets / Boult – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

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

This 1967 recording of the work has one very special quality that’s not often heard on classical vinyl — THE FEEL OF LIVE MUSIC. This is also something you will not often hear us say about EMI recordings from the late ’60s and ’70s. (Unlike HP and most audiophiles in the ’70s, we find EMI’s recordings leave a lot to be desired, lacking in warmth, with a thin, sour, overly clear presentation. Great for muddy equipment but bad news on higher resolution modern rigs.) 

Super Hot Stampers on both sides means this Planets can take on any pressing you have of the piece and show you what you’ve been missing out on all these years.

(There are a LOT of bad Planets out there. With its monstrously large orchestra and chorus, it’s not an easy work to capture on tape.) (more…)

Deep Purple – In Rock

More Deep Purple

More In Rock

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

The best pressings give you exactly what you want from this brand of straight ahead rock and roll: presence in the vocals; solid, note-like bass; big punchy drums, and the kind of live-in-the-studio energetic, clean and clear sound. (AC/DC is another band with that kind of live studio sound. With big speakers and the power to drive them YOU ARE THERE.)  

I’m guessing that very few people have ever heard this record sound this good. The average domestic pressing is really a piece of trash, and lots of Brits were not much better. (more…)

Queen – Jazz – Rockin’ Out with Fat Bottomed Girls

More Queen

More Jazz

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

There is a tendency in the recording to be a little “hot” tonally on the vocals and snare. The better copies like this one keep it under control, with the lesser copies getting much too lean and gritty to play loudly. What good is a raver like Fat Bottomed Girls if you can’t turn it up and really rock out with it? 

Roy Thomas Baker is back on the scene here for Jazz, his first production with the band since 1975’s A Night at the Opera, and the last time he would work with Freddie and the boys.

On side one check out the low harmony vocal on the first track. The big kick drum is also a treat. RTB loves his bass, that’s for sure.

Both sides should have an open, extended top end and a solid, rich bottom. Our best copies were big and clear with plenty of rock bottom end and Whomp Factor.

We Love Dynamic Choruses, and These Are Amazing

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that dramatically changes levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many its songs, especially the anthemic Fat Bottomed Girls. Mustapha, the first track on side one, has a huge finish as well. It can take a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically every rock album you own is.

The sad fact of the matter is that most mixes for rock and pop recordings are just too safe. The engineers and producers believe that the mixes have to be safe for the average (read: crap) stereo to play the record.

We like when music gets loud. It gets loud in live performance — why shouldn’t most of that wonderful energy make it to the record? (more…)

Deep Purple – Mark I & II – Reviewed in 2009

More Deep Purple

More Mark I & II

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

This is a Minty looking EMI Import Double LP. It’s a compilation with a single LP dedicated to each era of the band’s early history. As with any compilation some tracks sound better than others here but don’t let the German sourced tapes scare you. These sound like really high quality tapes, close to, if not the actual, master tapes.

The second LP features the most recognizable and probably best lineup (Mark II) the band ever had, with songs such as Black Knight, Speed King, Smoke on the Water and Highway star, to name but a few. 

Holst – The Planets – Testing with Mars and Saturn

More Gustav Holst

More The Planets

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

Mars on the first side and Saturn on the second present serious challenges for any vinyl pressings you may own. Generally speaking, the White Hot copies tend to have a bit more top end extension, and/or more lower end weight. Let’s get to the specifics of the two movements we feel are the best test for The Planets as a whole.

The War Test — Side One

War, the first movement, has the string players “bouncing” their bows upside down to create the effect you hear. It’s not fingers plucking the strings; it’s the wood of the bows bouncing on the strings. The quality of that technique is so obvious and correct sounding on the good copies and so blurry and indistinct on the bad ones that you could almost judge the whole first side by that sound alone. When it’s right it’s really right. 

And of course the players are spread out wider and the soundfield is so much more transparent when these types of sonic qualities are brought out. This bouncing bow test makes it easy to separate the better copies from the also-rans when it comes to smear, resolution, transparency and the like. (more…)

Deep Purple – Made In Japan

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  • This outstanding UK pressing earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades for sound or BETTER on all four sides 
  • Surpisingly clean, undistorted sound for a live album, yet every bit as big and lively as a Hard Rockin’ Live Album should be
  • In terms of Tubey Magic, richness and naturalness, Made In Japan might just be The Best Sounding Live Album of All Time
  • Rolling Stone: “They’ve done countless shows since in countless permutations, but they’ve never sounded quite this perfect.”

*A mark makes 5 loud to medium pops near the beginning of track 1, Highway Star.

Having just played a stack of copies of Made In Japan I’d put the album right up there with the best of the best. In terms of Tubey Magic, richness and naturalness — qualities that are usually in very short supply on live albums — I would have to say that the shootout winning copies of Made In Japan would be very likely to take Top Honors for Best Sounding Live Album of All Time.

Yes, the sound is that good.

Machine Head Live? That would not be far off, and the fact they brought Martin Birch along with them all the way to Japan in order to engineer a live album that was only supposed to sell to the Japanese market (!) could not have been more fortuitous for us audiophiles. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – ELO 2

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  • Stunning sound from start to finish for this Harvest UK import with both sides earning nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades, just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • These sides are huge, rich and Tubey Magical with wonderfully sweet and breathy vocals and a huge bottom end
  • “It was as personal an effort as Lynne had ever made in music, showcasing his work as singer, songwriter, guitarist, sometime synthesizer player, and producer, and it is more focused than its predecessor but also retains some of the earlier album’s lean textures… the album holds up well, and it and the single [Roll Over Beethoven] did go a long way toward getting them the beginnings of an audience in America.”

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Duran Duran – Seven and the Ragged Tiger

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  • An incredible sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • Forget the dubby domestic pressings and whatever crappy Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – the UK LPs are the only way to fly for Duran Duran
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout, Mint Minus to Mint Minus to Minus – we had to go through about ten copies to find one this quiet
  • “Duran Duran put three of the album’s singles in the Top Ten, taking it to number one in the U.K… it’s bright, energetic, and effectual. Duran Duran’s new direction eventually gave Seven and the Ragged Tiger double platinum status.”

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