Labels We Love – Atlantic/Atco

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains The Same

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More Live Recordings of Interest

  • Superb sound for this soundtrack album with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on all four sides
  • Clean, clear and open with a strong bass foundation and plenty of live rock and roll energy
  • An incredibly tough album to find with the right sound and surfaces
  • Packed with Zep classics, including The Song Remains The Same, Dazed and Confused, Stairway to Heaven, and more

It’s exceedingly rare that we come across a copy that sounds this good. Most we’ve played sound like bad, second-generation bootleg cassettes. We still pick them up every time we see them — hey, it’s Zep, man — but we weren’t sure we’d ever hear a decent copy. We dropped the needle on this one and were blown away by how hard it rocked.

It’s got the big sound that you look for on a Zep LP — great bass, huge drums, and immediacy to the vocals. The sound is silky up top, punchy down low, and very transparent.

Turn this one way up and you might just find yourself right in the middle of a killer live Zep concert.

The only song here that didn’t totally blow our minds was the version of “Dazed and Confused,” which sounded a bit compressed during the big jam. Other than that, all the big hits (“Rock And Roll,” “The Rain Song,” “No Quarter,” “Stairway,” etc.) sound Right On The Money.

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Hall and Oates / Abandoned Luncheonette – Their Best Sounding Album

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Our Current Rock & Pop Top 100 List

  • This early Atlantic pressing was clearly bigger, smoother and more open than practically any other copy we played – exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • By far the best sounding record these guys ever made, and for our money nothing in their recorded canon can touch it
  • A Better Records favorite, a longtime member of our Top 100, and an absolute thrill when it sounds like this
  • The early 4 Digit pressings are the only way to go on this one — all the reissues (including the worst reissue of them all, the MoFi) are terrible sounding
  • 5 stars: “Abandoned Luncheonette, Hall & Oates’ second album, was the first indication of the duo’s talent for sleek, soul-inflected pop/rock. It featured the single ‘She’s Gone,’ which would become a big hit in 1975 when it was re-released following the success of ‘Sara Smile.'”

We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

The list is purposely wide-ranging. It includes some famous titles (Tumbleweed Connection, The Yes Album), but for the most part I have gone out of way to choose titles from talented artists that are less well known (Atlantic Crossing, Kiln House, Dad Loves His Work), which simply means that you won’t find Every Picture Tells a Story or Rumours or Sweet Baby James on this list because masterpieces of that caliber should already be in your collection and don’t need me to recommend them.

Which is not to say there aren’t some well known masterpieces on the list, because not every well known record is necessarily well known to audiophiles, and some records are just too good not to put on a list of records we think every audiophile ought to get to know better.

Out of the thousands of records we have auditioned and reviewed, there are a couple of hundred that have stood the test of time for us and we feel are deserving of a listen. Many of these will not be to your taste, but they were to mine.


Don’t write these guys off as some Top 40 blue-eyed soul popsters from the ’70s that time has forgotten. They are all of the above, but they don’t deserve to be forgotten, if only on the strength of this album. Without question this is their masterpiece. We also consider it a Desert Island Disc and a true Demo Disc.

If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, look no further. This record is ALIVE! Until I picked up one of these nice originals, I had no idea how good this record could sound. For an early ’70s multi-track popular recording, this is about as good as it gets. It’s rich, sweet, open, natural, smooth — most of the time (although the multi-tracked vocals might be a little much on some songs, depending on your front end) — in short, it’s got all the stuff we audiophiles LOVE.

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John Coltrane / Coltrane’s Sound – Forget the ’70s Reissues

More of the Music of John Coltrane

Recordings that Sound Their Best on the Right Early Pressing

This is yet another superb Tom Dowd recording of Coltrane in his prime, with support from the brilliant McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones.

Just forget the later Red and Green Atlantic pressings. Every one we’ve ever played was flat, dry, and thin. They sound like the cheap reissues that Atlantic churned out in the ’70s. Don’t get me wrong; there are some good sounding records on the Red and Green label, but you really have to know what you are doing — or be really lucky — to find them.

We’ve played them by the score, and found relatively few winners among a slough of losers. If you want to take your chances on some, knock yourself out, more power to you, but expect to come up with nothing to show for your time and money almost every time. That’s been our experience anyway.

And be very thankful if you happen to run into one of these early Atlantic stereo pressings, especially if it plays as quietly as this one does. Few Classic Coltrane albums survived the jazz lovers of the day and their awful turntables


FURTHER READING

This record sounds best this way:

In Stereo

On the Right Domestic Pressing 

On the Right Early Pressing

Foreigner – Double Vision

More Foreigner

More Rock Classics

  • This outstanding copy of Foreigner’s sophomore release boasts solid sound from beginning to end
  • If you own the Half-Speed or any modern reissue, you won’t believe how much bigger, clearer and more energetic this pressing is
  • Keith Olsen produced and engineered – he’s the man behind the amazing sound of Buckingham/Nicks and Fleetwood Mac (1975)
  • 4 stars: “Foreigner promptly followed up its blockbuster debut with the equally successful Double Vision LP in 1978, which featured the FM mega-hits “Hot Blooded” and the driving title track.”
  • If you’re an Arena Rock fan, this title from 1978 is surely a Must Own

As I’m sure you know, there is a Mobile Fidelity Half-Speed Mastered version of this album currently in print, and an older one from the days when their records were pressed in Japan (#1-052).

We haven’t played the latter in years; as I recall it was as lifeless and sucked-out in the midrange as most of the other MoFis of that period, notably The Doors (#051) and Trick of the Tail (#062). Is there any doubt that the new MoFi will be every bit as bad or worse? If any of our Hot Stamper customers have purchased the current release, I would be interested in hearing how you think it stacks up against this copy. (more…)

Flack / Hathaway – Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

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  • An outstanding copy, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades throughout, making this the best copy to hit the site in many years!
  • There’s Tubey Magic, sweetness and spaciousness all over this recording – when it all comes together on Where Is The Love, you won’t believe how good it sounds
  • One of our favorite duet albums, Flack and the woefully underrated Soul Man Donny Hathaway are in top form here
  • Allmusic raves: “A duet classic, and perhaps the most popular album Roberta Flack made. ‘Where Is the Love’ dominated urban contemporary radio for almost the entire year, while ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ was just as influential…”

These soulful duets sound wonderful. The best sides are big, bold, open and transparent with a huge three-dimensional soundfield, strong presence, good rhythmic energy, and wonderfully dynamic leads and choruses. (more…)

Average White Band – Cut The Cake

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  • Incredible sound throughout for this Atlantic pressing with each side earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Check out the title track and School Boy Crush for some funky fun with great sound
  • We’ve always been big fans of their AWB album, but it was only recently that we discovered how good Cut The Cake can sound on the right pressing
  • All Music Guide calls it “one of their finest, most engaging albums” and when it sounds this good, we sure aren’t going to argue!
  • Check out the title track and School Boy Crush for some funky fun with great sound!

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Yes / Fragile – Roundabout Vs. South Side of the Sky

yes__fragiMore of the Music of Yes

Reviews and Commentaries for Fragile

This shootout taught us that track one is not as well recorded as the rest of side one. On copy after copy, and there were well over a dozen, it was the other big track on side one, South Side of the Sky, that had consistently better sound.

You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are especially full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track. A lesser amount of these qualities can be heard on the first.

We play both songs, but we play them in reverse order, knowing that the mind-boggling sound is really going to be on South Side, not so much Roundabout.

This record should give any record you own a run for its money. It’s as BIG and as BOLD a statement about raising the bar for rock recordings as any I know. Without a doubt one of the Best Rock Recordings of all time.

A well known audiophile record reviewer opined on his website that Fragile “was never a very good recording to begin with… cardboardy, compressed and somewhat cloudy and distant.”

Perhaps his old copy sounded like that, or maybe it sounded like that on his stereo, but I can assure you that if you have the system designed to play a  for iour Hot Stampers sure don’t. The typical pressing of Fragile can be painful — smeary and dull with plenty of distortion. If you know the magic stamper numbers and you spend the time to clean and play enough copies, you’re bound to hear some serious magic.

Of course, that’s a lot of work, and some people are probably too busy typing out lists of their pricey equipment to be bothered with such things.

Evolution

My equipment was forced to evolve in order to be able to play the scores of challenging recordings issued by Yes and other groups in the ’70s. You could say that the albums of Yes informed not only my taste in music but the actual stereo I play that music on.

I’ve had large scale dynamic speakers for the last four decades, precisely in order to play records like this, the kind of music I fell in love with fifty years ago.

Hot Stamper Pressings with Big, Clear Choruses Available Now

Testing for Big, Clear and Lively Choruses

Foreigner – What’s Good About the Sound of Their Albums?

As I’m sure you know, there is a Mobile Fidelity Half-Speed Mastered version of this album currently in print, and an older one from the days when their records were pressed in Japan (#1-052).

We haven’t played the latter in years. As I recall it was as lifeless and sucked-out in the midrange as most of the other MoFis of that period, notably The Doors (#051) and Trick of the Tail (#062).

What’s key to the sound of Foreigner’s records?

Obviously, the big one would have to be ENERGY, a subject we have discussed at length here on the site.

Next would be punchy BASS, followed by clear, PRESENT vocals.

Those would be the big three.

But those are qualities that are almost never found on Half-Speed Mastered Records!

The remastering of those records usually leaves them lifeless and compressed, with sloppy bass and recessed vocals.

For some reason, audiophiles — including the audiophiles who produce them — like that sound.

We do not. In fact we can’t stand it. Which is why we will not be auditioning MoFi’s remastered pressing. If you are feeling adventurous (and have $30 to throw away) and want to do the shootout for yourself, please let us know how it went.

The sound of the best pressings were jumping out of our speakers. Have you ever heard a Half-Speed do that?

Almost never, and we’ve played them by the hundreds.

More Foreigner

More Rock Classics


FURTHER READING

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Helplessly Hoping to Get the VTA Right

More Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

More Commentaries and Letters for So Far

This listing from 2005 (!) contains commentary about VTA adjustment using the track Helplessly Hoping from a Hot Stamper pressing of CSN’s So Far. It would not be long before we went with the much more accurate and revealing 17D, which took us to another level, documented here.

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song that has a lot of energy in the midrange and upper midrange which is difficult to get right. Just today (4/25/05) I was playing around with VTA, having recently installed a new Dynavector DV-20x on my playgrading table (a real sweetheart, by the way), and this song showed me EXACTLY how to get the VTA right.

VTA is all about balance. The reason this song is so good for adjusting VTA is that the guitar at the opening is a little smooth and the harmony vocals that come in after the intro can be a little bright. Finding the balance between these two elements is key to getting the VTA adjusted properly.

When the arm is too far down in the back, the guitar at the opening will lose its transparency and become dull and thick. Too high in the back and the vocals sound thin and shrill, especially when the boys all really push their harmony. The slightest change in VTA will noticeably affect that balance and allow you to tune it in just right.

To be successful, however, there are also other conditions that need to be met. The system has to be sounding right, which in my world means good electricity, so make sure you do this in the evening or on a weekend when the electricity is better.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is that you need a good pressing of this song, and those don’t grow on trees. The vast majority of CSN’s first album and the vast majority of So Far’s are junk. Trying to get them to sound right is impossible, because they weren’t mastered right in the first place. But if you’re one of the lucky few who has a good pressing of Helplessly Hoping, try tweaking your VTA adjustment and see if you aren’t able to dial it in even better than before.

Since the Classic heavy vinyl version is also excellent, it too can be used to set VTA. But of course you are setting VTA for a thicker record, which means you will need to note where the setting is for thick and thin vinyl respectively and make sure that the VTA is correct for each.

As good as the Classic Record is, the guitar at the opening of Helplessly Hoping tells you everything you need to know about what’s missing. The guitar on the Hot Stamper domestic copies has a transparency that cannot be found on Classic’s version. The Classic gets the tonal balance right, but their guitar doesn’t have the subtlety and harmonic resolution of the real thing.

(I’m laboring here to avoid the word detail, since many audiophiles like bright, phony sound because of all the wonderful “detail”. The MOFI guys and the CD guys often fall into this trap. Get the sound tonally balanced first, then see how much detail you have left. Detail is not the end-all and be-all of audio. Those who think it is usually have systems that make my head hurt.)

But most people will never know what they’re missing on Helplessly Hoping, because they will never have an amazing sounding copy of this song. The hot copies are just too rare.


Yes – The Yes Album

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Yes Album Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Yes Album

  • You haven’t begun to hear the weight, energy and space of Yes’s brilliant third album until you’ve played one of our Hot Stamper copies
  • On the right system, at the right volume (very loud), this very record is an immersive experience like practically no other – I’ve Seen All Good People here will surely blow your mind
  • A Top 100 Album and the band’s best sounding record if you ask us (although Fragile can sound absolutely amazing too, just not as smooth and rich)
  • “Organist Tony Kaye, guitarist Steve Howe and bass player Chris Squire play as though of one mind, complementing each other’s work as a knowledgeable band should.”
  • A permanent resident of our Top 100 Rock and Pop List — no other album by the band is as well recorded
  • If you’re a Prog Rock or Art Rock fan, this is a classic from 1970 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Drop the needle on this bad boy and you will find yourself on a Yes journey the likes of which you have never known. And that’s what I’m in this audiophile game for. The Heavy Vinyl crowd can have their dead-as-a-doornail, wake-me-when-it’s-over pressings that play quietly. I couldn’t sit through one with a gun to my head.

With the amazing Eddie Offord at the board, as well as the best batch of songs ever to appear on a single Yes album, they produced both their sonic and musical masterpiece — good news for audiophiles with Big Speakers who like to play their records loud.

These guys — and by that I mean this particular iteration of the band, the actual players that were involved in the making of this album — came together for the first time and created the sound of Yes on this very album, rather aptly titled when you think about it. (more…)