Labels We Love – RCA Living Stereo

Perez Prado – Pops and Prado – A Killer Bob Simpson Recording

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

A wonderful copy with a White Hot Stamper side two – unbelievably Tubey Magical and spacious. Side one was Super Hot and maybe a bit better – the top is extended, and the reverb is positively luscious. This is vintage analog at its best — the magic really comes through on this pressing. Credit for the Demo Disc sound of this one must go to the amazing Bob Simpson, working in glorious Webster Hall.

BOB SIMPSON won the Grammy for engineering Belafonte at Carnegie Hall you may recall.

Such an amazing sounding organ, some of the best Pop Organ reproduction I have ever heard!

This SUPERB sounding copy of Pops and Prado has a lot in common with the other Living Stereo / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Henry Mancini, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Ted Heath, Martin Denny and a handful of others. Talk about making your speakers disappear, these records will do it!

An album like this is all about Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation. And of course the driving, syncopated, heavily percussive arrangements add immensely to the fun, with the timbre of every scratcher and drum rendered in glorious Technicolor sound. (If only Airto had been around in the ’50s!)

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1958 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy may be just the record for you!

This copy is super spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

If you like the sound of percussion instruments of every possible flavor, including some you have never tasted before, you will have a hard time finding a more magical recording of them than this.

This IS the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There actually IS a CD of this album, and youtube videos of it too, but those of us in possession of a working turntable could care less.

Truly a Spectacular Demo Disc in its own right.

Henry Mancini – Our Man In Hollywood – Making More Progress in Audio

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The story of our recent shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

In our previous listings we noted:

This is one of those odd records in which the variation in sound quality from track to track is dramatic. Take the first two tracks on side one — they suck. They sound like your average LSP Mancini album, the kind I have suffered through far too many times. And that means bad bad bad. 

Courtesy of Revolutions in Audio.

But track three boasts DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND and the next one is nearly as good. Listen to that wonderful glockenspiel. It sound every bit as magical as anything on Bang, Baa-room and Harp, and that’s some pretty magical sound in my book!

Same thing happens on side two. Bad sound for the first tracks, then track four sounds great, followed by a pretty good five and a lovely six with a chorus of voices to die for. Go figure.

Is there a copy that sounds good from start to finish? Doubtful.

We’ve made a dozen or more improvements to the system since we last did this shootout, and I’m happy to report that most of the tracks we had trouble with in the past are now sounding very good indeed. Of course the better tracks we noted from years ago are even better, making this a consistently good sounding Mancini record.

One obvious change from the old days is that we now spend a fair amount of time honing in the VTA for every title. That may account for the fact that the first track on side one, which used to be problematical, now sounds wonderful. The value of getting the correct VTA setting — by ear, for every record — cannot be overestimated in our opinion. (more…)

Beethoven / Concerto No. 4 / Rubinstein / Krips – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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This Super Hot Stamper pressing has superb RCA Living Stereo sound, with an exceptionally clear, solid, tonally correct piano.

We recently did a major shootout for all of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos, pulling pressings from the three major Golden Age labels — RCA, London, Mercury — and this Fourth came out near the top of the heap. Most pressings of Rubinstein’s Beethoven concertos simply do not have this kind of open, big and bold sound. Side one earned a grade of A++ and side two was actually a bit better at A++ to A+++. That makes this a very special piano recording indeed. (more…)

Elvis Presley – Fun In Acapulco – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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

Finding clean real Elvis records — not those crappy compilations and vault-leftovers, but real Elvis albums from his golden period when he was the true King of Pop (sorry Michael) — has never been a walk in the park. We do the best we can.

Fortunately there are some reissues from the ’60s and ’70s that have the potential for excellent sound. This is clearly one of them. The originals we see are a lost cause; they’re practically always scratched and full of groove damage. We’d be lucky to find a clean one every five or ten years nowadays.

Side One

Breathy vocals and very full sound make this a top quality side.

For a kick check out the great sounding percussion on the third track.

Side Two

Rich and smooth on the first track, more like an old Elvis record, but the next tracks sound better, tubier and livelier (more…)

Rachmaninoff / Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini / Reiner – Reviewed in 2005

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

1S/ 1S Shaded Dog with fairly good sound. As is usual with this album, and most Rubinstein records, the piano lacks weight compared to the best Golden Age recordings. 

Henry Mancini – Hatari! – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

This Super Hot Stamper pressing is one of the BEST COPIES we’ve ever played! Both sides earned very high A Double Plus honors, beating practically all the other copies we played it against. The sound is relaxed, natural, and musical, with an incredibly sweet top end. 

The overall sound is airy, open, spacious, and SUPER transparent. The brass on this copy also sounds just right: breathy with a nice bite, avoiding most of the blare-y quality we heard on so many other pressings. (There is a touch of smear on even the best copies; this one is no different.)

The sound is Super 3-D. You’re not going to believe all the ambience surrounding this room full of musicians, especially on the drums! We LOVE that sound. (more…)

Ravel / Daphnis et Chloé / Munch – Reviewed in 2011

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

We actually had three clean Shaded Dog pressings for our shootout of this Ravel classic (which took us somewhere between five and ten years to acquire) with this copy showing itself as CLEARLY the best, with transparency and openness not heard on the others. The sonic grade for side one was at least A++ to A+++, meaning that the sound was Hard To Fault (HTF), but of course there’s no telling if a better copy exists. One must assume such a thing is possible but where would one find such a copy? Clean shaded dogs do not come cheap. 

This copy might not have been the quietest in our shootout at Mint Mnus Minus but it is without a doubt the best sounding. With quiet music such as this surfaces for vintage pressings are always an issue, but we think you will find the superb sound more than compensates.

Side One

A++ to A+++ or better. This work includes a chorus, always a tough test for any recording/pressing to pass. The good news here is that the voices are clear, natural, separate and full-bodied. This is the hallmark of a vintage Golden Age recording — naturalness.

The top is also quite good, with a triangle that sounds harmonically correct and clear. The transparency on this side is superb.

In addition the bass is big and powerful. You will not find many recordings of the work that do a better job of capturing such a large orchestra and chorus, and of course Munch is a master of the French idiom. (more…)

Perez Prado – Prez – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

This AMAZING sounding White Hot Stamper copy of Prez has a lot in common with the other Living Stereo / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Henry Mancini, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Ted Heath, Martin Denny and a handful of others. Talk about making your speakers disappear, these records can do it! 

An album like this is all about Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation. And of course the driving, syncopated, heavily percussive arrangements add immensely to the fun, with the timbre of every scratcher and drum rendered in glorious Technicolor sound. (If only Airto had been around in the ’50s!)

From the back cover.

In “Perez” two sides of the fabulous “King of the Mambo” are presented. One features Prado interpreting Latin rhythms as only he and his musical aggregation can. The other side of Prado is not as familiarly known but is sure to be equally appreciated, for it reveals that Perez Prado is a jazz impresario of the first order.

Side One

A+++. We cannot recall hearing a record that was this big and full-bodied, yet this clear, dynamic and energetic. The brass is never “blary” the way it can be on so many Big Band or Dance Band records from the ’50s and ’60s. (Basie’s Roulette records tend to have a bad case of blary brass as a rule.)

Lovely warmth, Tubey Magic, lack of smear, correct tonality, unerringly correct timbres, powerful brass — everything you want is here!

Play tracks one and three to hear this side at its best.

Side Two

A+++ again! Like side one it’s big, lively, clear and dynamic, with no smear, and exceptionally full-bodied.

Play tracks one and two to hear this side at its best.

This IS the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There actually IS a CD of this album, and youtube videos of it too, but those of us with a good turntable could care less.

Truly a Spectacular Demo Disc in its own right.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Maria Bonita 
Cu-Cu-Rru-Cu-Cu Paloma 
La Borrachita (I’ll Never Love Again) 
Machaca 
Adios Mi Chaparrita (Goodbye My Little Angel) 

Side Two

Lullaby of Birdland 
Flight of the Bumblebee
Leo’s Special 
Come Back to Sorrento (Torna a Sorrento) 
Fireworks

Prez Prado

In “Perez” two sides of the fabulous “King of the Mambo” are presented. One features Prado interpreting Latin rhythms as only he and his musical aggregation can. The other side of Prado is not as familiarly known but is sure to be equally appreciated, for it reveals that Perez Prado is a jazz impresario of the first order. – from the back cover

All Music Guide Artist Biography

by Steve Huey

Universally known as the King of the Mambo, Pérez Prado was the single most important musician involved in the hugely popular Latin dance craze.

Whether he actually created the rhythm is somewhat disputed, but it’s abundantly clear that Prado developed it into a bright, swinging style with massive appeal for dancers of all backgrounds and classes. Prado’s mambo was filled with piercing high-register trumpets, undulating saxophone counterpoint, atmospheric organ (later on), and harmonic ideas borrowed from jazz.

While his tight percussion arrangements allowed for little improvisation, they were dense and sharply focused, keeping the underlying syncopations easy for dancers to follow. Prado played the piano, but was often more in his element as the focal point of the audience’s excitement; he leaped, kicked, danced, shouted, grunted, and exhorted his musicians with a dynamic stage presence that put many more sedate conductors and bandleaders to shame.

With this blueprint, Prado brought mambo all the way into the pop mainstream, inspiring countless imitators and scoring two number one singles on the pop charts (albeit in a smoother vein than the fare that first made his name) as the fad snowballed. He was a star throughout most of the Western Hemisphere during the ’50s, and even after his popularity waned in the United States, he remained a widely respected figure in many Latin countries, especially his adopted home of Mexico.

Prado is often best remembered for his softer, more commercial work, which has an undeniable kitschiness that plays well with modern-day lounge-revival hipsters. Unfortunately, that has served to obscure his very real credentials in the realm of authentic, unadulterated Latin dance music, and to this day he remains somewhat underappreciated.

Audio Issues

It’s clear to us that our stereo system loves this record. Let’s talk about why we think that is.

Our system is fast, accurate and uncolored. We like to think of our speakers as the audiophile equivalent of studio monitors, showing us to the best of their ability exactly what is on the record, no more and no less.

When we play a modern record, it should sound modern. When we play a vintage Tubey Magical Living Stereo pressing such as this, we want to hear all the Tubey Magic, but we don’t want to hear more Tubey Magic than what is actually on the record. We don’t want to do what some audiophiles like to do, which is to make all their records sound the way they like all their records to sound.

They do that by having their system add in all their favorite colorations. We call that “My-Fi”, not “Hi-Fi”, and we’re having none of it.

If our system were more colored, or slower, or tubier, this record would not sound as good as it does. It’s already got plenty of richness, warmth, sweetness and Tubey Magic.

To take an obvious example, playing the average dry and grainy Joe Walsh record on our system is a fairly unpleasant experience. Some added warmth and richness, with maybe some upper-midrange suckout thrown in for good measure, would make it much more enjoyable. But then how would we know which Joe Walsh pressings aren’t too dry and grainy for our customers to enjoy?

We discussed some of these issues in another commentary:

Our Approach

We have put literally thousands of hours into our system and room in order to extract the maximum amount of information, musical and otherwise, from the records we play, or as close to the maximum as we can manage. Ours is as big and open as any system in an 18 by 20 by 8 room I’ve ever heard.

It’s also as free from colorations of any kind as we can possibly make it. We want to hear the record in its naked form; not the way we want it to sound, but the way it actually does sound. That way, when you get it home and play it yourself, it should sound very much like we described it.

If too much of the sound we hear is what our stereo is doing, not what the record is doing, how can we know what it will sound like on your system? We try to be as truthful and as critical as we can when describing the records we sell. Too much coloration in the system makes those tasks much more difficult, if not a practical impossibility.

We think this copy has a near-perfect blend of Tubey Magic and clarity, because that’s what we hear when we play it on our system.

We are convinced that the more time and energy you’ve put into your stereo over the years, decades even, the more likely it is that you will hear this wonderful record sound the way we heard it. And that will make it one helluva Demo Disc in your home too.

Henry Mancini – The Mancini Touch – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

This original Living Stereo pressing had nearly White Hot Stamper sound on side one, earning a sonic grade of A++ to A+++, with the least amount of smear of any copy we played. (As you may know, smear and opacity are endemic to old Living Stereo pressings such as this.) The sound is SUPER 3-D. You’re not going to believe all the ambience surrounding this room full of musicians, especially on the drums! We LOVE that sound. The DEPTH that can be heard in this recording is almost hard to believe. (more…)

Bizet / Carmen / Gould – Our Shootout Winner from 2006

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875) 

More Carmen / Gould 

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

DEMO QUALITY SOUND, if what you’re demonstrating is the three dimensional quality of Living Stereo recordings. Amazing depth and width can be heard on this record. And the music is sublime.

I confess I somewhat misjudged this title. Yes, the opening is compressed, which led me to think that the entire record was compressed, but that’s not true. In some ways it’s quite dynamic. The quiet portions are very quiet; in a couple of places there are just horns playing off in the deep distance, followed by some flutes, and they sound very natural, just as you would hear them in a concert hall. (more…)