Labels We Love – Ode

Spirit / The Family That Plays Together – The Hit Can Be Rough

More Spirit

More Psychedelic Rock

xxxxx

This is a review from our first shootout, 2013. I had been playing the album since 1968, but by 2013, a mere 45 years later, we had the cleaning technologies and the stereo system to finally get the album to sound right, to us anyway.

This is, again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the beast for those of us who constantly make improvements to our playback and critically listen to records all day.

 

We get asked about this classic album a lot, but until recently we were not convinced that we’d ever be able to find a great sounding copy. We built up a huge stack of copies and finally took the plunge; I am pleased to report that even though you’ll never hear a copy of this album that screams “Demo Disc”, you can certainly find ones that communicate the music well if you clean and play enough of ’em.

This is a record I grew up with and like to think I know well. I’m a big fan of the band. I have almost never heard this record sound good at all, which is why you’ve never seen a Hot copy on the site. We’ve finally managed to find a few good copies — it wasn’t easy.

The sound isn’t too dissimilar from what you get on a good Jefferson Airplane record. It’s crazy psychedelic ’60s music with a LOT going on, and I’m guessing it was pretty hard to get the raw power of this band onto tape.

Side one rates A++ to A+++ and side two is close behind at A++. A copy with grades like these gives you bigger, fuller, more open sound as well as more energy and presence. Importantly, there’s more separation between the various instruments here, a feature that really allows you to make sense of the music and appreciate everything that’s going on. This copy is more open and transparent than the typical pressing by a mile.

The first track on side two is a step down from the rest sonically, I’m afraid. And there are times on the album where you can hear some grit and distortion, but trust us — that’s on the tape, and any steps taken after the fact to remove it would rob the instruments of their natural texture. We all enjoy rich, smooth sound, but it’s not worth losing musical information. This record may not sound perfect, but it sounded right to our ears, and most copies just plain don’t. (more…)

Spirit – The Family That Plays Together

More Spirit

More Psychedelic Rock

xxxxx

  • The band’s sophomore release finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • A very difficult album to find with good sound and audiophile quality surfaces
  • Both sides have presence, size and space we guarantee you have never heard on this album in all your born days
  • I Got A Line On You was the big hit and it really rocks on this copy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “On this, the second Spirit album, the group put all of the elements together that made them the legendary (and underrated) band that they were. Jazz, rock & roll, and even classical elements combined to create one of the cleanest, most tasteful syntheses of its day.”

This is a record I grew up with and like to think I know well. I’m a huge fan of the band. For audiophiles the first album and Clear are better recordings. This one has its problems, but so does Twelve Dreams and that album belongs in any rock collection worthy of the name.

The sound on the better copies isn’t unlike a good Jefferson Airplane record. It’s crazy psychedelic ’60s music with a LOT going on, and I’m guessing it was pretty hard to get the raw power of this band onto tape. (more…)

Spirit – The Stereo Rocks

xxxxx

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

We love this album around here, and on a White Hot copy like this the sound is amazing! Presence and clarity up top, weight and punch down low, and plenty of Tubey Magic in the middle — this copy gives you everything you need! If you’re a fan of guitar-driven psychedelic rock, this album is right up there with the best of the genre.

This copy, especially the As Good As It Gets side two, gives you the wall to wall width and layered studio depth like you will not believe, the kind of space you hear on engineering classics like Dark Side of the Moon and A Space in Time.  

Fired Up

Want a glimpse into the kind of energy the band was generating in the studio? Drop the needle on Fresh Garbage, the opening track, and you will hear this band come alive in a way you probably never imagined you’d ever hear them. It’s positively startling how immediate and lively the sound is here.

This is the band at their best, fired up and ready to show the world that The Doors are not the only SoCal rock band who have innovative ideas about rock music and the performing chops to pull them off, not to mention the studio wizards who managed to get their Sgt. Pepper-cum-jazzy electric piano conceptions down on tape with State-of-the-Art ’60s Rock sound quality. (It just now occurred to me that Mechanical World is Spirit’s takeoff on A Day in the Life. Play it and see if you don’t agree.) (more…)

Spirit – The Mono Rocks

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame, not for the best Hot Stamper stereo copies, but for this amazing MONO. 

This killer pressing from 2010 has almost EVERYTHING you want from this ’60s Psych Pop Masterpiece — the energy, presence and sheer rock and roll POWER made a mockery of every stereo copy we played.

Want a glimpse into the kind of energy the band was generating in the studio? Drop the needle on Fresh Garbage, the opening track of this amazing mono pressing, and you will hear this band come alive in a way you never imagined you’d ever hear them.

It’s positively startling how immediate and powerful the sound is here.

That said, from an audiophile point of view, mono does involve a sacrifice — the huge three-dimensional soundstage of the best stereo copies is nowhere to be found here. From a musical or performance point of view this mono cannot be beat; it shows the band at their best, fired up and ready to show the world that The Doors are not the only So Cal rock band who have innovative ideas about rock music and the performing chops to pull off their conceptions, not to mention the studio wizards backing them to get it all down on tape. (more…)

Carole King – Music

xxxxx

  • KILLER sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades  
  • The vocals are present and breathy, the piano and bass clear, not smeary or murky — this one was doing it all right!
  • “… time has shown this album to be one of her finest… her songwriting is still in peak form, and there are many highlights including “It’s Gonna Take Some Time” (also made into a hit by the Carpenters) and “Song of Long Ago” (with backing vocals by James Taylor).” – All Music, 4 Stars

KILLER Triple Plus (A+++) on both sides for this, shall we say “problematical” recording. Perhaps “challenging” is a better term. Either way, finding good sounding copies of this album was a real pain. Most pressings were shockingly bad. We had been thinking that Tapestry was the tough nut to crack in her catalog. Not even close. This one is five times as hard. So many copies were murky, smeary and veiled that we almost gave up. Fortunately there were a few copies that shone brightly above the rest and this copy was one of them! (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner

xxxxx

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

Please note that we do not have a graphic for our chart to indicate the Four Plus grade, since we award it so rarely. Our rating system usually only goes to three pluses, but this side one was so amazing we had to give it a fourth!

This White Hot pressing gives you TRULY KILLER SOUND for this classic album! It’s not easy to find great sound for Tapestry. Most pressings are either dull and veiled, or hard and edgy in the midrange — not exactly the kind of sound we’re after.

This kind of sound is not easy to find on this album. As we said above, the typical copies are either dull and murky or edgy and downright unpleasant, and on half the ones that DO sound good the vinyl is thrashed! On a copy like this, though, the sound gets out of the way and lets you focus on the MUSIC — and make no mistake, this album is a true classic.

We went nuts for this album during our big shootout. Since most of the time we’re playing testosterone-fueled, raging classic rock, it was a nice change of pace for us — and certainly easier on our poor eardrums! Our man JT makes an appearance playing acoustic guitar on a number of tracks, most notably You’ve Got A Friend, and his pals Russ Kunkel and Danny Kootch turn up too, with Kootch handling most of the electric guitar duties.

What’s surprising, if you haven’t played this album in a while, is how good non-hit tracks like “Home Again” can be. But there aren’t many of those non-hits on this album, and that’s a good thing; almost every song was a hit or received a lot of radio play. The quality of the material is that good. (more…)

Spirit / Self-Titled – A Psych Rock Masterpiece (The First of Two)

xxxxx

  • Incredible sound for this psychedelic masterpiece with both sides rating a Triple Plus (A+++)
  • Wall to wall, with layered studio depth like you will not believe, the kind of space you hear on an engineering classic like Dark Side of the Moon
  • The first Triple Triple Shootout Winning copy to hit the site in years, and one of the few that’s quiet enough to enjoy
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic, but in our estimation it deserves at least five – it’s simply one of the All Time Greats from the era

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These Ode pressings are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.

This record is the very definition of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made that sound like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is of course a CD of this album, quite a few I would guess, but those of us with a good turntable could care less. (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry

More Carole King – Tapestry

xxxxx

  • This KILLER copy of King’s beloved Tapestry earned top honors — Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides are big, full and Tubey Magical yet still clean, clear and open – you will hear that the dark veils of most copies have finally been lifted
  • This album is clearly Carole’s masterpiece – it’s loaded with great songs, and they all sound fantastic here
  • 5 stars: “…an intensely emotional record, the songs confessional and direct; in its time it connected with listeners like few records before it, and it remains an illuminating experience decades later.”

Audiophile sound is not easy to find on Tapestry. As we’ve been saying for twenty years, most copies are either dull and murky or edgy and thin, and on half the ones that DO sound good the vinyl is noisy. On a copy like this, though, the sound gets out of the way and lets you focus on the MUSIC — and make no mistake, the music on this album is as good as it gets from Carole King. (more…)

The Piano Stylings of Carole King on Tapestry

More Carole King – Tapestry

xxxxx

One quality that we had no trouble recognizing on the better copies was TRANSPARENCY. The more transparent copies made it possible to hear through the mix to Carole’s piano, which is usually placed toward the back of the mix. There it serves to underpin the music, playing more of a supporting role than a leading one, very unlike the piano on a Joni Mitchell album for example. 

The best copies let you easily follow Carole’s playing all the way through every song, from start to finish, no matter how quiet her part or how far back in the mix she may be placed.

If the pressing has a thinner sound obviously it becomes easier to pick up on the percussive nature of the instrument and “see” it more clearly. However, a thin piano tone on this album is the kiss of death. The best copies allow you to hear the full range of notes — including those played with the left hand — and for that you need both richness and transparency.

This is a tricky balancing act; rarely in our experience do any two copies find precisely the same balance throughout an entire side. (more…)