Labels We Love – Asylum

Linda Ronstadt / Don’t Cry Now – What to Listen For

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

Her vocals on both sides can be very DYNAMIC, but only the best copies will present them with no hint of STRAIN or GRAIN, two problems that make most pressings positively painful to listen to at the loud volumes we prefer.

Linda really belts it out on this album — face it, it’s what she does best — and only the rarest copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing.

Another key to recognizing the best copies is the fact that they tend to be highly resolving. Two places to check:

Note how breathy her voice is in the quiet passages. Only the least smeared, most transparent copies reproduce that breathy quality in her voice

Next check out the tambourine on Silver Threads and Golden Needles. If the sound is delicate, not gritty or transistory, you have yourself a winner in the resolution department. (more…)

Jackson Browne – The Pretender

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  • STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides, making this a Pretender that rocks like no other!
  • One of the all time great rock / pop Demo Discs — the best copies are so rich and full-bodied they make most rock records sound positively anemic
  • Five Stars in Rolling Stone, one of their Top 500 Albums, and a true classic from 1976
  • Without a doubt the best sounding record Jackson Browne ever made – this is the pressing that backs up everything we say and more

As I’m sure you know by now, especially if you own a copy or two, pressings of The Pretender don’t usually sound like Demo Discs. In fact, most copies of this record are mediocre at best — thin, grainy, and flat sounding.

This copy is none of those things. And it positively kills the famous MoFi pressing. (more…)

Jackson Browne – For Everyman

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  • A KILLER copy of JB’s sophomore effort with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • David Lindley joins the band, and talented helpers include Bonnie Raitt, Glen Frey, David Crosby, Elton John and Joni Mitchell
  • “His work is a unique fusion of West Coast casualness and East Coast paranoia, easygoing slang and painstaking precision, child’s-eye romanticizing and adult’s-eye acceptance… Brilliantly conceived, incomparably immediate, For Everyman truly earns its title.” – Rolling Stone

The average copy of this record is MUD, but this pressing will show you that the master tape of For Everyman is a whole lot better than most music lovers and audiophiles might suspect. (The first album is the same way.)

Want a quick test for transparency? Listen to the piano on I Thought I Was a Child. On most copies you can’t really hear the attack of the hammers hitting the strings, but here you can. If the tonal balance is correct — and it is on this copy — then you know you are getting a pressing of very high quality.

Note that the first track on side one almost never sounds as good as those that follow. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Prisoner In Disguise

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  • Insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this copy of Prisoner, the followup to Linda’s Masterpiece, Heart Like a Wheel
  • This is an amazing recording, but it takes a special copy like this one to reveal all the magic that we know must be on the tape
  • 4 1/2 stars – Love Is a Rose, Tracks of My Tears and Heat Wave were hits, but Linda really pours her heart into Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox
  • Andrew Gold (so critical to the success of HLAW) is still heavily involved, along with Emmylou Harris, James Taylor, Lowell George, David Lindley, JD Souther, and of course Peter Asher

The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that was nonexistent on some of the other copies we played. Drop the needle on Many Rivers To Cross and check out the amazing sound of the organ coming from the back of the room. Only the highest resolution copies give you that kind of soundstage depth.

The piano sounds natural and weighty. The fiddle on The Sweetest Gift (played by our man David Lindley) is full of rosiny texture.

Emmylou Harris, dueting here with Linda, sings beautifully.

All in all, you will find truly Demonstration Quality Sound on the best copies. (more…)

Eagles / Desperado – The Absolute Sound Was Half Right

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  • This STUNNING copy of the band’s sophomore release boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • This vintage pressing has huge amounts of Tubey Magic, a strong bass foundation, and plenty of space around the guitars and voices – man, that is our sound!
  • This is the second-best sounding Eagles record of all time, no doubt thanks to their brilliant engineer and producer, Glyn Johns
  • “A solid country-rock classic… the music stands the test of time, especially when Desperado is heard in its entirety, from start to finish.”

Acoustic guitar reproduction is key to this recording, and on the best copies the harmonic coherency, the richness, the body and the phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard in every strum.

This vintage Asylum pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the Best Sides of Desperado Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1973
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What to Listen For on Desperado

Too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange during the loudest passages. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression, there will be too many elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space in the upper area of the midrange, causing congestion and a loss of clarity.

With the smoother, more solid sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich; above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments and vocals (lead and backing) comfortably, without having to pile them up one on top of another as is so often the case with densely mixed pop recordings. On the better copies, the upper midrange does not get overwhelmed and congested with too many elements fighting for too little space.

What We’re Listening For on Desperado

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt —Glyn Johns in this case — would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

A True Super Disc (Second Only to the First Album in that Respect)

Of course, the best sound on an Eagles record is found on the first album. For whatever reason, that record was left off the TAS Super Disc list, even though we feel that both musically and sonically it beats this one by a bit.

On the TAS Super Disc List, Harry Pearson recommends the British SYL pressings for this album. SYL pressings can sound very good; we’ve previously found one that rated a Double Plus on both sides. But our champions for both sides were both domestic, both this time and last time. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Don’t Cry Now

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Reviews and Commentaries for Linda Ronstadt

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  • A STUNNING copy of Don’t Cry Now with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • The transparency and vocal presence here are wonderful – the piano is solid and Linda’s vocals are breathy and heartfelt
  • We love her emotionally powerful interpretations of Desperado, Sail Away and Neil Young’s achingly sublime I Believe in You
  • She really belts it out on this album – it’s what she does best – but only the best copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing
  • Rolling Stone raves it’s “the Ronstadt album for which we’ve been waiting.”

A key to recognizing the best copies is the fact that they tend to be highly resolving. Two places to check:

Note how breathy her voice is in the quiet passages. Only the least smeared, most transparent copies reproduce that breathy quality in her voice.

Next check out the tambourine on Silver Threads and Golden Needles. If the sound is delicate, not gritty or transistory, you have yourself a winner in the resolution department. (more…)

David Lindley – El Rayo-X

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Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

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  • El Rayo-X finally returns to the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • If you’re looking for deep punchy bass, crashing dynamics, silky sweet vocal harmonies, grungy slide guitars, tons of ambience, and super low distortion sound, this is the copy for you
  • Engineered in 1981 by Greg Ladanyi, the very next year he would take home the Best Engineering Grammy for Toto IV (one helluva good sounding album and a former member of our Top 100)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “One of the greatest rock music albums of its time. Fabulous.”

This superb Asylum original LP is a real DEMO DISC — if what you are trying to demonstrate is how BIG and BOLD a good old-fashioned analog recording can sound.

After hearing Lindley’s white-bread session playing on ’70s albums by Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, et al., you might think the man must have a stick up his butt. His solos just never seem to let loose or get loose, and they rarely rock. Mercury Blues is proof positive that he can rock like a wild man when he wants to. On this album, perhaps for the first time, he really does seem to want to.

The sound on this record is so punchy and dynamic, the rest of your rock records should seem positively anemic in comparison. Most of it sounds live in the studio, and live in the studio is how you get a bunch of guys to play with this kind of enthusiasm and energy.

Engineered in 1981 by Greg Ladanyi, the very next year he would take home the Best Engineering Grammy for Toto IV (one helluva good sounding album and a former member of our Top 100).

Fortunately for us audiophiles, this album catches him before the overly-processed, digital drums and digital echo “sound of the ’80s” had gotten into his blood. (Just play any of the awful Don Henley records he made to hear what we mean.) This record still sounds ANALOG, and even though it may be 1981 and mostly transistorized, the better copies display strong evidence of TUBES in the recording chain. (more…)

Lindsey Buckingham / Law and Order

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  • An outstanding copy of Buckingham’s first solo album with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • The sound here is rich, full-bodied and lively, with solid and present vocals, as well as excellent clarity all around
  • You can thank Richard Dashut for the superb recording quality, and Better Records for finding a copy of the record that sounds as good as this one does
  • September Song was an inspired choice – it might just be the best song on the album
  • “. . . this album to me covers a wide spectrum of emotion and musicality that is hard to find in solo departures like this one. The music carries a funny, kind of goofy vibe throughout . . . but Buckingham isn’t afraid to get serious and pull out dramatic day-to-day human circumstances . . . and let the audience become captivated by his minimalist approach that seems to fit in each time.”

(more…)

Jackson Browne – Running On Empty

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  • A STUNNING Running on Empty, with two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl pressing they’re making these days – the Tubey Magic, size and performance energy of this vintage pressing simply cannot be beat
  • This Grammy nominated release is packed with previously unreleased songs
  • A hard record to find with audiophile quality sound – not many copies have ever hit the site
  • “Audio verité—one of the most conceptually fascinating recordings in the history of rock & roll.” — Bill Shapiro

(more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Lush Life

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  • An outstanding copy of Ronstadt’s 1984 release with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides were doing everything right — clean, clear, full-bodied and dynamic with wonderfully breathy vocals and a solid bottom end
  • “What’s New illustrated that Linda Ronstadt was no longer interested in contemporary pop, and since it was a surprise success, there was no reason not to repeat the formula on Lush Life. Working again with Nelson Riddle, Ronstadt runs through several pop standards — ‘When I Fall in Love,’ ‘Sophisticated Lady,’ ‘Falling in Love Again,’ ‘It Never Entered My Mind’…”

(more…)