Labels We Love – RCA

David Bowie / Heroes – It Took Ages to Break the Sound Barrier (Because the Conventional Wisdom Turned Out to Be So Wrong))

Our intuition that the British originals would sound the best turned out to be incorrect.

In the audiophile record collecting world, intuitions have a bad track record, but more than a few audiophiles — many of whom are addicted to sharing their “record knowledge” on audiophile forums — seem to be unaware of this fact.

Taking a page from one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, we’ve opted to use a more scientific approach to discovering the best sounding record pressings, and we encourage you to do likewise. 

We pioneered the evidence-based approach to finding the best sounding pressings, and, like all good scientists, we shared it with everyone. Some in the audiophile community have taken it to heart, but most have chosen to put their faith in reviewers, forum posters, common sense and logic. None of these produce consistently good results, but those who use these methods are loathe to doubt them and only rarely if ever learn the error of their ways.

Once a decision has been made and a specific pressing acquired, you could call it door number three I suppose, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias immediately kick in to justify the result, and soon enough the game is over. The prize has been won. It’s the best prize ever. It does everything right, everything you hoped for.

Behind door number three was not the best sounding copy of the record. You don’t have the best sounding pressing (well, you might, but if you did it would be entirely the result of chance, since you carried out no experiments), but as long as you think you do, and, like most audiophiles, you play records only for yourself, and purely for enjoyment, you have no way of  discovering where on the spectrum of worst to best your choice would sit. As long as you think you have the best, you have the best. How could there ever be any evidence offered to the contrary?

Making an effort to prove yourself wrong is surely the key to making progress in this hobby. Nothing will do more to improve the quality of your record collection, of that we are convinced.

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Elvis Presley / From Elvis in Memphis

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elvis Presley

Of the handful of Elvis albums to ever make it to the site this is clearly the critics’ favorite, and one listen will tell you why. This is the album that single-handedly revived Elvis’ fortunes, setting the stage for his record-breaking series of shows in Las Vegas doing pretty much the type of music he had recorded for it. The next year he would go on tour for the first time since 1957 (!).

Of the handful of Elvis albums to ever make it to the site this is clearly the critics’ favorite, and one listen will tell you why. This is the record that single-handedly revived Elvis’ fortunes, setting the stage for his record-breaking series of shows in Las Vegas performing pretty much the type of music he had recorded for it. The next year he would go on tour for the first time since 1957!

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Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship – Blows Against The Empire

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Reviews and Commentaries for The Jefferson Airplane

  • Paul Kantner’s debut solo album finally arrives on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this album from 1970, this is the way to go
  • “…the first use of the ‘Starship’ billing, predating the formation of the group with that name by four years.”
  • 4 stars: “Kantner employed often dense instrumentation and complex arrangements, but there were enough hooks and harmonies to keep things interesting. Blows eventually went gold, and it was even nominated for a science fiction award usually reserved for novels.”

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David Bowie / Low

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More Five Star Albums Available Now

  • This British pressing (not original by the way – this one is better!) plays about as quietly as any we can find, which makes it a very special pressing indeed
  • Huge amounts of studio space can be heard on this copy, along with the Tubey Magical richness only the best UK copies offer
  • 5 stars: “Though a handful of the vocal pieces on Low are accessible — “Sound and Vision” has a shimmering guitar hook, and “Be My Wife” subverts soul structure in a surprisingly catchy fashion — the record is defiantly experimental and dense with detail, providing a new direction for the avant-garde in rock & roll.”
  • If you’re a fan of the man, this is a Top Title from 1977 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1977 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

I’ve mentioned it on the site numerous times: I spent a good portion of the ’70s playing Art Rock records like Taking Tiger Mountain, Siren, Crime Of The Century, Deceptive Bends and scores of others. I remember being blown away when Low came out, and with this shootout we had a blast hearing just how good a killer Hot Stamper UK pressing can sound on the much more highly-evolved stereo system (equipment, room, set-up, tweaks, electricity, etc.) we have today.

It’s difficult to find a pressing that gets both sides of this album right, perhaps in part because the two sides are so different. Side one of this album features the more traditional (not really the right word, but it will have to do) Bowie rockers like Sound and Vision and Be My Wife, while side two sounds more like the instrumental synth music of Kraftwerk and Eno.

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Harry Nilsson / Harry – Try the DCC, It’s Excellent

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Reviews and Commentaries for Harry Nilsson

We have not done a shootout for this album in many years, but the music is so good we think everyone deserves a chance to hear it, so pick up the Hoffman-mastered CD and enjoy the hell out of it until we can find you a killer Hot Stamper pressing of the album. Hoffmann did a great job, as he did on so many of the DCC discs. (The Heavy Vinyl LPs are another matter entirely of course.) The CD sound is excellent and it will probably cost you about a tenth of what we will charge for the vinyl.

This forgotten gem sank like a stone in 1969, but time has treated this album well; it still holds up. The production is superb throughout. Judging by this early Nilsson’s album, it appears he was already a pro in the studio, as well as an accomplished songwriter, and, more importantly, the owner of one of the sweetest tenors in popular music, then or now.

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David Bowie / Low – A Long Time Ago We Were Surprised to Hear a Domestic Pressing Beat Our Best British LPs

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More Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Better on the Right Reissue

This shootout listing was written sometime around 2008. 

We hadn’t discovered the right imports for this album yet, that would not happen for many more years, hence the error we made in thinking that some especially good sounding domestic copies could win a shootout. Back then they could, but with the right pressings in the mix there is not a chance in the world that could happen now.

A classic case of Live and Learn.

Some domestic pressings do end up having Hot Stampers, but it’s rare. Our best Brits just kill ’em.

Our Old Hot Stamper Commentary

This is the first Hot Stamper copy of Low to ever hit our site, and it’s a darn good one — especially on side one, where all the “pop” songs are found. We just had a huge shootout for this album featuring all the copies we’ve picked up over the years, and this domestic (!) pressing shocked us by blowing away our Brit copies on side one.

If you aren’t interested in the instrumental Bowie/Eno synth-heavy soundscapes that fill side two, this is THE copy to own.

I’ve said it on the site numerous time, but I spent a good portion of the ’70s playing art-rock records like Taking Tiger Mountain, Crime Of The Century and Deceptive Bends. I remember being blown away when Low came out, and it was a blast to hear how good a Hot Stamper pressing can sound on a highly-evolved stereo system today. Side one of this album features the more traditional (not really the right word, but I digress) Bowie rockers like Sound and Vision and Be My Wife, while side two sounds more like the instrumental synth music of Kraftwerk or Eno. (more…)

Chet Atkins / More Of That Guitar Country – Superb Dynagroove Sound from Nashville in 1965

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Chet Atkins

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  • One of Chet’s biggest albums from the ’60s, More Of That Guitar Country, is back in all its guitar-pickin’ glory
  • With two Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy had the sound we were looking for
  • Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — it’s all here
  • Need a refresher course in tubey magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? This record is overflowing with it
  • 4 stars: “The follow-up album to Guitar Country, More of That Guitar Country spawned a bigger hit than anything on its predecessor — or anything in Chet Atkins’ long career for that matter. …[O]ne of Atkins’ least-cluttered, mostly reined-in, and most musical albums of the mid-’60s, searching for good material wherever he can find it, even outside the cloistered world of Nashville.”

We owe a debt of gratitude to Harry Pearson for pointing out to us with his TAS Super Disc List what great recordings Chet Atkins was making back in the ’50s and ’60s, although I’m pretty sure anybody playing those albums would have no trouble telling after a minute or two that a great many of them are very special indeed.

But were audiophiles playing these kinds of records before Harry Pearson came along? Unlikely. In the ’70s he practically single-handedly legitimized vintage pressings of all kinds for audiophiles to search out and enjoy. (more…)

John Denver – Poems, Prayers and Promises

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  • This early Orange Label RCA pressing earned Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • We guarantee that it’s fuller, bigger and clearer than any copy you have ever heard or your money back
  • Superb engineering by Ray Hall— the recording is from 1971 but in some ways it sounds as good as if it had been made in 1961 — high praise in these parts!
  • “… this was at the beginning of a golden period for Denver when his songs would dominate the easy listening airwaves, especially his big hit singles.” – All Music

NOTE: The record has a noticeable dishwarp which we had no trouble playing perfectly.  If your rig struggles with dishwarped records, best to pass on this one. (more…)

Annie Lennox – Diva

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  • This vintage import offers outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER for both sides of this Annie Lennox classic from 1992
  • Dramatically bigger, richer, smoother, more transparent and just more ANALOG sounding than any other copy you’ve heard, guaranteed or your money back
  • “State-of-the-art soul pop, Annie Lennox’s solo debut is sonically gorgeous…” – Rolling Stone
  • “Diva glides with a rich, feminine dignity that stands tall in pop history.” – Slant

By 1992 records like this were only released on import vinyl and typically went out of print soon after they started their descent down the pop charts. I used to sell them back in the day and supplies were extremely limited and unpredictable. And once they were gone they were virtually never reissued. All of those factors conspire to make the cost of acquiring the mintiest pressings from overseas fairly high, and of course the main reason you have never seen the album on our site before.

Be that as it may, we have this copy available and it is not only wonderful sounding but the music is every bit as good as I remember it. (more…)

Vivaldi and The Beatles on RCA Direct Disc – Bad Music & Bad Sound, Like Most Audiophile Albums from the ’70s

Hey, the records being marketed to audiophiles these days may have second- and third-rate sound, but at least now they have good music That’s progress, right?

More of the Music of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

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Sonic Grade: F

An awful Direct to Disc recording. The bad sound and pointless music — this is the kind of crap we newbie audiophiles used to put up with back in the ’70s before we had anything resembling a clue — means that it clearly belongs in only one place on our site: the Hall of Shame,


FURTHER READING

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – 45 RPM Pressings
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