Labels We Love – Elektra

Queen – The Game – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

Two SUPERB SIDES with side one beating all comers to achieve White Hot Stamper status! Throughout this copy you get solid bass, tubey magic, breathy vocals and BIG BOLD sound!

But watch out: this side one kicks it up to a whole ‘nother level, with BIGGER energy, BIGGER bass and even more PRESENT and breathy vocals from Mr. Mercury. This is without a doubt some of the best sound we have ever heard for Queen, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

When reading the above it’s best to keep this in mind: The Game may be the BEST SOUNDING record Queen ever made. The Dirty Little Secret of Queen’s recorded output is that they are mostly pretty mediocre, and often downright dreadful.

Do you see a lot of them going up on the site? No? Well, there’s a reason for that. As much as people love Queen, we just can’t seem to find pressings that do their music justice. Take A Night at the Opera for example. Is this a good sounding record? I’ve played twenty of them over the last ten years — imports, domestics, the DCC, the MoFi – and NONE of them sounding particularly good to me. Don’t rely on your memory. Pull out your own copy and listen closely; you should hear the distortion and smearing and transistory grain that’s there on all the copies I’ve played. It’s a record that’s trying to sound good but just doesn’t, so far anyway. Hope springs eternal.

[This is no longer true, the Hot Stampers were discovered a few years back!] (more…)

Carly Simon – Anticipation – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

TWO INCREDIBLE SIDES ON QUIET VINYL! We just finished our first big shootout for Anticipation in three years, and here’s the copy that finished at the top of the heap. Both sides have the kind of warm, sweet sound that perfectly conveys the emotional qualtity of Carly’s performance. Drop the needle on the song “I’ve Got To Have You” for some of the best Carly Simon sound you will ever hear — we were blown away!

Note that the first song, the title track, has a bit of a “radio EQ” feel and doesn’t sound as good as the rest. It’s a shame but there’s still a whole lot to like here.

The acoustic guitars sound particularly good on this copy, with just the right balance of pluck and body. The vocals are breathy and full-bodied with extraordinary immediacy. The tonality from top to bottom is Right On The Money. I don’t think you could find a much better sounding copy of this album no matter how hard you tried. We went through a lot of copies to find this one, I can tell you that!

If Those Guitars Sound Familiar… 

When you hear the incredibly lush, highly detailed acoustic guitars on this record, you won’t be surprised to find out that the album was produced by Mr. Paul Samwell-Smith, who handles the same duties on Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser And The Firecat. You’ll hear his signature sound all over this album, particularly on the track I’ve Got To Have You. That’s not to say that we’d put this recording on the same level with those audiophile knockouts, but the richness and the sweetness of the midrange on the best copies is exactly what you’d expect from the team of Samwell-Smith and Carly Simon. (We wish the drums had a little more punch, but that’s just our inner rock-and-roller speaking!)

AGAIG! (more…)

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – East-West

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on this Gold Label stereo pressing of the band’s sophomore release – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • It’s tough to find an original with good sound and audiophile surfaces – a copy that plays this quietly is almost unheard of!
  • Big and full-bodied with a huge bottom end – Elektra was killing it in ’66
  • 5 stars: “… it was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s greatest achievement… East-West captures a great group in high flight as the bandmembers join together in something even more remarkable than their estimable skills as individuals would suggest, and its importance as a nexus point between rock, blues, jazz, and world music cannot be overestimated.”

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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…)

The Butterfield Blues Band – Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smilin’

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  • A KILLER sounding copy and first to ever hit the site — Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • “Decades later, the album still sounds like a fresh blend of Americana music, with a soundscape reminiscent of Phil Spector’s wall of sound… Butterfield shows up as a much stronger songwriter on this album too. He has credits in over half of the nine compositions, all of them well crafted.”

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Bread – Manna

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  • Manna finally returns to the site after more than 6 years with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Tubier, more transparent, more dynamic, with that “jumpin’ out of the speakers” quality that only The Real Thing (an old record) ever has
  • A superb album, featuring one of the strongest rockers the band ever recorded, “Let Your Love Go”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… this is a record that is laid-back and even tempered, which isn’t a bad thing — it results in a fine listen, especially since the group’s songwriting remains at the high standard instituted on that first Bread album.”

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Bread and Elektra on Vinyl – Balancing Richness and Tubey Magic with Transparency, Clarity and Speed

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Bread.

Manna has the clear signature of Elektra from the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s unmistakably ANALOG, but that double-edged sword cuts both ways. Richness and Tubey Magic (the kind you had in your old ’70s stereo equipment) often comes at the expense of transparency, clarity, speed and transient information (the things your ’70s equipment probably had more trouble with).

We heard a lot of copies that were opaque, smeary and dull up top, so the trick for us (and for those of you doing your own shootouts) is to find a copy with the resolving power and transparency that will cut through the thickness. (more…)

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – In My Own Dream

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  • An outstanding copy of the band’s 1968 release with solid Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides
  • Like most of the group’s albums on these early pressings, the sound is full-bodied and smooth, with prodigious amounts of bottom end
  • Notable as the last Butterfield record with original members Mark Naftalin and Elvin Bishop who both moved on to solo ventures after its release
  • “More to the point, this album represented a new version of the band being born… there was a widely shared spotlight for the players, and more of a jazz influence on this record than had ever been heard before from the group…The playing is impressive…”

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Love – Da Capo – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

ONE OF THE BEST SIDE ONES WE’VE EVER HEARD on unusually quiet vinyl! Since side two is just one long track that we just can’t get too worked up about, this is EXACTLY the kind of copy we’d want to own. We had a chance to shootout a handful of copies recently and didn’t hear anything that could compete with side one of thie Elektra Gold Label Original Pressing. We are HUGE fans of Love and side one has three of our favorite songs by the band: Stephanie Knows Who, Orange Skies and Seven & Seven Is. Get ready to rock out with this one! (more…)

Judy Collins – Judy Collins #3

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, this pressing will be very hard to beat – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too  
  • The “breath of life” is alive and well on these old LPs, the best reason for the truly serious audiophile to stay committed to analog
  • “Having established herself as one of the foremost interpreters of traditional material, Collins did the same for contemporary folk songwriters on this album, which mixed standards with pristine covers of compositions by Dylan, Pete Seeger and Shel Silverstein. With Jim (Roger) McGuinn arranging and playing second guitar and banjo, this album, which included a fine version of Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” had a clear (if overlooked) influence on the folk-rock he pioneered with the Byrds.”

We had a devil of a time finding clean, quiet, good sounding copies of this album. The mono pressings, which are far more common than the stereo pressings, didn’t sound right to us, and everything produced after the Big Red E label era is a joke, which leaves the Folksinger label pressings from 1963 and the Gold Label pressings from 1965. Both can be good. This LP was by far the quietest we played, which makes it very special indeed. (more…)