Labels We Love – Warners

Eric Clapton – Money and Cigarettes

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  • Money and Cigarettes makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A superb pressing, with lovely richness and warmth, good space, separation between the instruments, and real immediacy throughout
  • ” Eric Clapton’s first album for Warner Bros. is an unexpected show of renewed strength after a debilitating illness and too many sleepy records… the simple, unaffected blues power at work here is surprising and refreshing.”

The one real flaw in the recording is the amount of compression the engineer used — it’s a bit heavy-handed. This is after all a radio-friendly pop album, so no surprise there.  (more…)

Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris – Trio

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  • An outstanding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides, proof positive that Trio is a surprisingly well-recorded album – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Big, rich, smooth, and sweet, how did George Massenburg pull off this kind of analog sound in 1987?
  • We don’t know, but we do know good sound when we hear it, and we heard exceptionally good sound on this copy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…that rare example of an all-star collaborative effort that truly shows everyone involved to their best advantage, and it ranks with the best of all three headliners’ work.”

*NOTE: On side two, a mark makes 4 soft ticks during the intro to Track 5, Farther Along.

With three brilliant and accomplished singers harmonizing in the studio you can imagine that faultless midrange tonality is key to the best copies, and you would be right.

Some copies had the girls’ sounding a bit dark and veiled. Some had them a bit thin and bright. The Goldilocks Principle comes into play here as it does in so many of our shootouts: the best copies find the right balance of richness and clarity. (more…)

Little Feat – Dixie Chicken – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

White Hot Stamper sound on side two — yes, it is possible, and this very copy is Proof with a capitol P. Most copies of this album sound like cardboard, especially the later pressings on the palm tree and tan labels. To get the best sound you need originals of this album, and Warner Brothers green label originals are getting pretty darn hard to find as more and more collectors and audiophiles are coming to the realization that the unending stream of heavy vinyl reissues flooding the market leaves a lot to be desired. (Our desire for them is at zero as we no longer bother to order the stuff.)

Folks, this is no demo disc by any means, but the later pressings strip away the two qualities that really make this music work and bring it to life: Tubey Magic and Big Bass. This side two has both in SPADES.

Listen to how breathy and transparent the chorus is on the first track. Now layer that sound on top of a fat and punchy bottom end and you have the formula for Little Feat Magic at its funky best. This is the sound they heard in the control room, of that I have no doubt, and it is all over this side two. No side of any copy we played was better.

This is A Triple Plus As Good As It Gets Little Feat Sound, the best we have ever heard for any of the early albums.

That WB Sound

Side one earned a grade of A+ to A++. It lacked the top end that lets the sound open up in the choruses, a very common problem with early WB pressings which have a marked tendency to be dull. (We know; we’ve played them by the hundreds, from Deep Purple to the Doobie Brothers to America to Van Morrison and scores of others too numerous to mention. There are ten dull WB pressings for every one that’s bright. )

The bass is excellent and the piano really sounds right on Dixie Chicken, but when you flip the record over you will hear what it could have sounded like (and practically never does).

The MoFi

We’ve never bothered to order one. This is an album about rhythm. Half-Speed mastered records have bad bass and consequently lack rhythmic drive. Why would anyone want to half-speed master an album such as this? The obvious answer is not that it’s a good idea, but, if it’s the only idea you have, because you are in the half-speed mastering business, then half-speed master is precisely what you are going to do.

Good idea or bad idea, it’s the one idea you have. As the old saying goes, if all you have is a hammer everything looks olderlike a nail.warn (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk – Some of Our Favorite Twisted Melodic Pop

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Tusk For Sale

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  • A MONSTER pressing that simply cannot be beat – all four sides (well, almost) earned our highest sonic grade of Triple Plus (A+++)
  • Staggering Demo Disc Quality sound on the more highly produced tracks, of which there are plenty spread across these two discs
  • The power of the bottom end is especially impressive on all the sides (and John McVie kills it on bass as usual)
  • 5 stars: “Because of its ambitions, Tusk failed to replicate the success of its two predecessors … yet it earned a dedicated cult audience of fans of twisted, melodic pop.” Twisted melodic pop? Sign me up!

This copy is absolutely KILLER, with the kind of transparency, space and openness you simply cannot find on most copies. When the soundstage is as wide and three-dimensional as it is here, it’s amazing how much more SENSE the music starts to make.

And the clarity is not the phony “audiophile” kind that’s the result of too much treble. The tonality is correct throughout, and there’s no lack of richness or warmth to the sound. They just don’t get any better. (more…)

The Dynamic Energy of Neil Young and His Crazy Pals – They’re LIVE in the Studio

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More on Zuma

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Hot Stampers are all about finding those rare and very special pressings that manage to represent the master tape at its best.

Notice I did not say ACCURATELY represent the master tape, because the master tape may have faults that need to be corrected, and the only way to do that is in the mastering phase.

I can tell you without fear of contradiction that fidelity to the master tape should never be, and rarely is, the goal of the mastering engineer.

Which, as a practical matter, means that flat transfers are usually a mistake.

Chesky is famous for boasting that their early remasterings of the Living Stereo catalog were flat transfers. They sure sound flat all right. If there is a more clueless bunch of audiophiles on the planet than the people running Chesky you would have a hard time proving it to me.

But I digress.

Whether we like or dislike the presentation of any given recording is of course a matter of taste. When listening we constantly make judgments about the way we think the recording at any moment ought to sound, based on what we like or don’t like about the sound of recordings in general and how our stereos deal with them. (more…)

The Association – Insight Out

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  • An outstanding pressing of Insight Out, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • The Tubey Magical sound, the lively, tight playing by The Wrecking Crew, not to mention some killer Chart Topping ’60s pop, make this THE Association album to own
  • With this copy the Sound of the Sixties will fill your room like never before – wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with layers upon layers of analog depth
  • These original Gold Label stereo pressings are potentially the best sounding, with the ideal balance of richness and transparency
  • POTENTIALLY – again, the label is no guarantee of top quality sound, only proper cleaning and careful shootouts can do that
  • “The harmonies and choruses are among the most beautifully textured singing in a rock outfit this side of the Beach Boys.”

(more…)

Prince – Purple Rain

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy will be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Prince’s legendary 1984 release here was big and rich, with rock solid energy to beat any pressing you have ever heard
  • Clean and clear and open are nice qualities to have, but rich and smooth are harder to come by on this record – and here they are!
  • 5 stars: “Purple Rain finds Prince consolidating his funk and R&B roots while moving boldly into pop, rock, and heavy metal with nine superbly crafted songs… a stunning statement of purpose that remains one of the most exciting rock & roll albums ever recorded.

The first ten or fifteen seconds of the edge on side one is a bit tickier than the grade.

The best copies, like this one, sound pretty much the way the best copies of most Classic Rock records sound: tonally correct, rich, clear, sweet, smooth, open, present, lively, big, spacious, Tubey Magical, with breathy vocals and little to no spit, grit, grain or grunge.

That’s the sound of analog, and the best copies of The Purple Rain have that sound. (more…)

Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey

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  • Two super sides, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER – both are chock full of Vintage Vinyl Tubey Magic
  • Wild Night and the title track sound wonderfully rich and full-bodied, with the warmth and naturalness that distinguishes a merely good sounding LP from a truly Super Hot Stamper
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic and featuring some of Stephen Barncard’s best engineering – this is Analog Sound at its best
  • “Tupelo Honey is in one sense but another example of the artist making increased use of the album as the unit of communication as opposed to merely the song or the cut. Everything on it is perfectly integrated.”

There are actually real dynamics on this recording, which really helps kick up the life force of the music. Just listen to the energetic build-up during Wild Night — that’s how it would happen in a live setting, and that’s the way we want to hear it at home as well.

If you’ve been stuck with the average copy of any of the classic albums Van put out in the ’70s you would have no way of knowing just how well-recorded some of them are. (more…)

America – Homecoming

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  • An outstanding copy of America’s second album, boasting Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the most tubey, warm acoustic guitar reproduction you could ever ask for – this is the sound of real analog!
  • AMG raves; “The songs here are tighter and more forthright… The sound quality is clear and bright; the colorful arrangements, while still acoustic guitar-based, feature more electric guitar and keyboards. The performance quality is more assured, among the most urgently committed the group would ever put on vinyl. This top-flight album is a very rewarding listen.”

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo reproduction quality. Most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. And when the guitars are perfection, the voices and all the other instruments are right as well. Let’s face it: they just don’t know how to make acoustic guitars sound like this anymore. You have to go back to 40+ year old records like this one to find that sound. (more…)

Little Feat’s Hoy-Hoy Rocks

Little Feat Albums with Hot Stampers

Little Feat Albums We’ve Reviewed

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Hoy-Hoy.

The recording quality of many of these songs is OUT OF THIS WORLD, as good as any rock record I can think of. Although Waiting For Columbus is arguably the best sounding live rock ‘n roll album ever made, some of the tracks on this album are every bit as good or BETTER. (And the promo EP is practically in a league of its own for sound!)

Little Feat’s studio recordings rarely did justice to the band’s energy and drive. With so many live tracks, this is the album that really shows the band at their enthusiastic best. If I were going to choose one Little Feat album to own, it would be hard to argue with this one musically, and sonically the stuff here just can’t be beat — if you are lucky enough to own a copy with Hot Stampers for all four sides, no mean feat.

A Quick Overview

Side one has two amazing sounding live cuts, as good as it gets and that’s no lie.

Side two starts out with Lonesome Whistle, one of the five best songs this band ever committed to tape.

Highlights on side three include Framed and Gringo, both with superb sound.

Side four has a live version of the song Two Trains, another one of their best recordings, followed by China White, the story of Lowell’s feelings toward cocaine. Dead at 33, rock and roll lost a giant when drugs brought him low. (more…)