Labels We Love – Vanguard

Junior Wells – It’s My Life

More Electric Blues

More Soul, Blues, and Rhythm and Blues

  • A superb copy of Junior Wells’ recording from Chicago in ’66 (this is the read deal, folks!) with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound – just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Bigger and bolder, with more bass, more energy, and more of that “you-are-there-immediacy” of a live performance that set the best vintage pressings apart from reissues, CDs, and whatever else might be out there
  • “Cut from the same cloth as Wells’ classic Hoodoo Man Blues LP from the same period, It’s My Life, Baby! captured the Junior Wells-Buddy Guy team in great form, both in the studio and live at Pepper’s Lounge on 43rd Street. This album tends a bit more towards slow blues, including a rare example of Wells’ chromatic harmonica playing on ‘Slow, Slow,’ but there are fine uptempo pieces…”

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Prokofiev / Peter & The Wolf / Rossi – How Does the Narrator Sound?

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

The narrator for this piece almost always sounds like he’s in a sound booth, of varying sound quality to be sure. (Bernstein’s narration is one of the worst in this respect, sounding more like Aqualung than Lennie.) 

Somehow Boris Karloff sounds like he is on stage with the orchestra here. He’s either been recorded on stage, or precisely the right amount and kind of reverb has been added to his voice to match the sound of the hall.

He sounds perfectly integrated with the orchestra, a feat none of the other recordings we played managed to accomplish, and at which most failed badly.

And did I mention that it was made in 1957? You couldn’t even buy it on stereo disc back then!

In addition to the unerringly correct timbre of every instrument in the soundfield, the overall presentation is exceptionally spacious, open and three-dimensional, with an unusually extended top (the lack of which often badly hurts vintage pressings). The bottom goes very deep as well; watch for it when the bass drum comes into play. (Prokofiev sure loved his bass drums — sometimes there are three — and god bless him for it!)

Zero smear as well, something we would not expect from an all-tube 1957 recording, having played them by the hundreds in any given year. (We cannot date the Vanguard label accurately, and we think the cutting amps may be transistor, which usually works out to be the best of both worlds in our experience.)

A Knockout

When you hear the bassoon or clarinet or oboe playing their solo parts on this record you should be knocked out by how real those instruments sound. Man, this is analog at its best. You will have an impossible time finding this piece of music recorded, mastered and pressed with better sound than on this very side one.

That makes this pressing both a superb Demo Disc as well as a top quality Audio Test Disc.

Your Guard Against Phony Hi-Fi sound

As you make changes to your setup, equipment, room, electrical system and who knows what else (we’re hoping you do; it can make all your Hot Stampers even hotter), this record will show you the progress you are making, as well as keep you on the straight and narrow. If you know anything about audio, you know that it’s easy to go off the rails. Happens to the best of us. That’s why it’s essential to have records like this one handy, to help you get back on the right path should some hi-fi-ish sounding something-or-other make itself appealing to you in an unguarded moment (to mix yet another metaphor).

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Country Joe & The Fish – Electric Music For The Mind and Body

More Country Joe and the Fish

More Psych Rock

  • This outstanding pressing on the early Stereolab label boasts Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • The overall sound here is rich, full-bodied and lively, with solid and present vocals, as well as excellent clarity all around
  • A very difficult record to find with good sound and clean surfaces, which is why we rarely have them on the site
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Their full-length debut is their most joyous and cohesive statement and one of the most important and enduring documents of the psychedelic era …”
  • If you’re a fan of Country Joe, a Hot Stamper pressing of their release from 1967 might just belong in your collection.

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in clean shape. Most of them will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG, and it will probably be VG+. If you are picky about your covers please let us know in advance so that we can be sure we have a nice cover for you.


First, a little background on the general sound of Electric Music For The Mind and Body, the band’s debut and an album that is widely considered a true psych masterpiece. Most copies of the album have an unfortunate tendency to be boosted in the midrange, and on top of that they are often veiled and lack space.

Both sides here do a much better job in these areas than most of what we played, which, frankly, was not too good. These sides may not be perfect but they communicate the music well and that counts for a lot in our world.

And to be fair some of the album is actually quite well-recorded, “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine” being probably the best sounding (and best arranged) track on the record.

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Doc Watson – Home Again

More Doc Watson

More Folk Revival Music

Want to find your own shootout winner? Scroll to the bottom to see our advice on doing just that.

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Here is the in-the-room performance intimacy that will surely bring Doc’s music to life in a way you’ve never heard before
  • If you own the veiled, opaque, recessed, ambience-challenged Cisco remaster, you are in for a treat – our Hot Stamper is none of those things!
  • “[H]is most affecting folk-style record, with unexpectedly warm vocals matched to the quiet virtuosity of his playing. [The album] features Watson performing lively, achingly beautiful renditions of popular folk standards. All are played with very imposing dexterity by Watson, joined by his son Merle and Russ Savakus on upright bass.

This vintage Vanguard stereo 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 any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, tubey sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). (more…)

Vivaldi / The Four Seasons / I Solisti di Zagreb – Reviewed in 2012

More of the Music of Antonio Vivaldi

More Hot Stamper Violin Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for The Four Seasons

Folks, we have some good news for those of you who have been waiting for one of the best sounding, most beautifully performed Four Seasons ever recorded. THIS IS IT! White Hot on both sides, I can’t say the sound is better than the White Hot Shaded Dog pressing we heard in our recent shootout. It’s certainly different, and one could easily make the case for either. Of course one’s taste enters into the calculation, so choosing a clear winner is simply not possible with markedly superior pressings such as these.

Let’s just say that this small ensemble recording is as close to perfect as any we have ever heard. The harpsichord is especially good on the Vanguard recording, better than the RCA I would venture. Its placement in the soundfield is subtly natural, precisely the way one would expect to hear it in performance.

All four movements are performed with great spirit, and other than a sour note right at the start — listen for it! — the playing is of the highest quality. I prefer the performance — slightly — to the famous RCA. 

It should be noted that this is only the second time we have heard a good pressing of this Vanguard title. Normally the vinyl is abysmal — not just noisy, but grainy and lacking in top end. (You can listen for the sound of the vinyl itself on the lead-in grooves before the music starts.) This pressing is an absolute FLUKE. It gets all the sound of the tape onto the vinyl in a way that we have never heard before and would not have thought possible. But, as we never tire of saying, hearing is believing! (more…)

Haydn / Symphonies 100 & 101 – Reviewed in 2010

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

The New York Times review for these performances called them “matchless” and we see no reason to disagree! With Super Hot Stamper sound for No. 100, “Military”, we’re confident you will have a very hard time finding better sound and music from Haydn than is found on this original Black Label Vanguard Stereophonic Demonstration Disc.

Side one, containing Symphony No. 100, “Military”, is smooth and rich and full of tubey magic, the kind of analog sound that has not been recorded for more than thirty years. Because the top end is not boosted and phony like most audiophile pressings, you can play a record like this at much more realistic levels without fatigue or harshness.

Try that with the average Reference or Telarc.

The sound is a bit distant, mid-hall we would call it, but wide and full of depth the way these vintage recordings often are.

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Joan Baez – One Day At A Time

More Joan Baez

More Pure Folk Recordings

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this was one of the better copies we played in our recent shootout- exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy that’s this well balanced, big and lively, with Joan reproduced as solid and as real as only the best vintage vinyl pressings can present her
  • Continuing her foray into country folk, Baez collaborated with a host of greats on this album, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Pete Seeger, Steve Young, Willie Nelson and more
  • 4 1/2 stars: “One Day at a Time… was also startlingly new and daring at the time. Today it seems like no big deal, but in 1970 very few singers coming out of the folk scene as Baez did were reaching out to Willie Nelson (“One Day at a Time”) and even the Rolling Stones (“No Expectations”) for repertory, much less putting them on the same album with music by old leftist composers like Earl Robinson (“Joe Hill”), and then interspersing those songs with traditional country numbers.”

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Khachaturian and Kabalevsky – Suites from Gayne and The Comedians

More Classical records 

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard either of these works sound remotely as good as they do here
  • Yes, these are not the performances audiophiles have long known about from their inclusion on the TAS Super Disc List – these are actually BETTER performances, with better sound in almost every possible way
  • The Comedians in Living Stereo may have more hall, but the performance is lackluster and stilted compared to the energy and precision Golschmann brings to the work
  • The TAS List Khachaturian on London/Decca is a good record, but frankly it has never impressed us as much as it impressed HP, and now with this Vanguard you can hear just how good this exciting, glorious music can sound, with a performance that is every bit as good or better than the composer’s own

There is an interesting story behind this album.

I collected this title for a decade or more after hearing a really good sounding copy a long time ago, probably fifteen or twenty years ago now that I think about it.

I then proceeded to pick them up whenever I saw them in my local shops. I might have found one every two to three years in audiophile playing condition.

After having them cleaned, one day a few years back I sat down and played them all.

To my chagrin only one copy had the White Hot Stamper sound I knew was on the record, the copy I had played so long ago. The others were good, probably Super Hot, but the real thing takes the recording to another level.

Only one had the right stampers, and all the rest of the also-rans had different stampers.

And when I went looking online I could find no copies with the stampers I knew to be the best.

This is that copy. There is nothing else like it. Not sure when we will ever see its like again. (more…)

Country Joe and The Fish / I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin-To-Die – This Reissue Wins Our Shootouts

More Country Joe & The Fish

(not as shown)

  • You’ll find Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it – As Good As It Gets in our experience – on both sides of this copy of the band’s sophomore release
  • The best pressings with this label (you’ll find out when the record arrives!) are the biggest, most open, most clear, and the least compressed, which makes them especially energetic and fun
  • Finding clean copies of Country Joe’s albums is no walk in the park, but here’s one, and it sounds great too
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Country Joe & the Fish’s second album, “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die”, is quite similar to their first in its organ-heavy psychedelia with Eastern-influenced melodic lines…”

Some copies we played had more Tubey Magical sound, but that quality comes at a price. Those pressings tend to be crude, with gritty vocals and a noticeable lack of transparency and space.

In other words, they sound pretty much like an old record.

This pressing, on the other hand, gives you much more of what sounds to me like the Master Tape, with less of the bad mastering equipment and bad vinyl coming between you and the music.

We have added some moderately helpful Title Specific advice at the bottom of the listing for those of you want to find your own Hot Stamper pressing

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Vivaldi / The Four Seasons / I Solisti Di Zagreb / Janigro

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This superb Vanguard recording of one of our favorite performances of the work boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • This pressing has all the qualities that make analog so involving and pleasurable — the warmth, the richness, the naturalness, and above all the realism
  • The sound here has the power to transport you completely, with solid imaging and a real sense of space, qualities that allow us to forget we are in our listening rooms and not in the concert hall

Folks, we have some good news for those of you who have been waiting for one of the best-sounding, most beautifully performed Four Seasons ever recorded. Let’s just say that this small ensemble recording is as close to perfect as any we have ever heard. The harpsichord is especially good on the Vanguard recording, better than the RCA I would venture. Its placement in the soundfield is subtly natural, precisely the way one would expect to hear it in performance.

All four movements are performed with great spirit, and other than a sour note right at the start — listen for it! — the playing is of the highest quality. I prefer the performance — slightly — to the famous RCA. (more…)