Listening in Depth

Listening in Depth to Electric Light Orchestra – A New World Record

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As a result of Jeff Lynne’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production approach, it will be the rare copy that provides enough transparency and resolution to bring out all the elements in these incredibly dense mixes, strings included. But when you find a copy that does, what a THRILL it is. This is the band’s MASTERPIECE in my humble opinion. For audiophiles ELO on LP doesn’t get any better.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Tightrope

Both sides start off with a uptempo rocker, and this side’s is Tightrope.

Watch your string tone. If it’s shrill or grainy you are going to find yourself in trouble on practically every song on A New World Record — they all have strings and lots of them.

You need richness in the lower mids, harmonic extension up top, and just plain highly resolving sound if the strings are going to sound right in the mix.

Note that sometimes the highs get better on a record as it plays. Check to see if you don’t have more top end by the second track, or even halfway through this one. Happens to us all the time. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Brewer & Shipley – Tarkio

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This Bay Area Hippie Folk Rock has a lot in common with The Grateful Dead circa Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty (the latter recorded by the same engineer, Stephen Barncard), and like those superbly well-recorded albums, it lives or dies by the reproduction of its acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies.

Analog richness, sweetness and Tubey Magic are elements absolutely indispensable to the sound of these recordings. Without them you might as well be playing a CD. (Some of the reissue pressings actually do sound like CDs and are not part of the shootouts for this album anymore. Who wants a record that sounds like a CD? They may be pressed on vinyl but they’re no less an embarrassment to analog for it. As you can imagine we feel the same way about most of the Heavy Vinyl records being made today. They’re just embarrassing.)

The best pressings, on the other hand, are everything that’s good about the analog medium — smooth, sweet, relaxed and involving. You had best have a fast cartridge and not overly rich electronics to get the most out of this one. The richness on this record is already baked-in; no need to add more.

In-Depth Track Commentary (more…)

Listening in Depth to Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

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The Brit copies may take top honors for side one (“sweetness, openness, tubey magic, correct tonality, presence without aggressiveness, well-defined note-like bass, extended airy highs”) but the Hot Stamper Cotillion copies KILL on side two. They really ROCK, with greater dynamic contrasts and seriously prodigious bass, some of the best ever committed to vinyl.

The Brits tend to be a bit too “pretty” sounding. They’re too polite for this bombastic music. This music needs the whomp down below and lots of jump factor to work its magic.

The Brits are super-low distortion, with a more open, sweeter sound, especially up top, but the power of the music is just not as powerful as it can be on these very special Cotillions.

This Cotillion on side one is a rare gem indeed, one of the best domestics we’ve ever heard. It’s not quite as smooth and sweet as some, but it’s every bit as good in most other areas, and better in the bass. The Cotillion pressings of this album have bass that puts 99% of all the rock records in the world to shame. (And 100% of the half-speed mastered records!)

This is a case where, to get the ultimate sound, you not only need two copies, you need two copies made in different countries!

Not Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

The organ that opens side two is always going to break up a tiny bit. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. In fact, if it DOESN’T break up for you, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that either your copy or your stereo is too smooth. We played somewhere between two and three dozen copies this week, and you just can’t find a hot copy without at least a hint of distortion on the organ. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Chicago Transit Authority

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The average copy of this album is an unmitigated DISASTER. The smeary brass alone is enough to drive anyone from the room. To a list of its faults you can confidently add some or all of the following: 1) blobby, blurry, out of control bass; 2) opaque veiled mids; 3) rolled off highs, or no highs, whichever the case may be, common to virtually every pressing you find 4) plain old distortion; and, last but not least, 5) the kind of compressed, lifeless sound that manages to make this groundbreaking album boring — and that’s not easy to do.

The music ROCKS! It’s the crappy records Columbia pressed that suck.

360 or Red Label

In our most recent shootout we found that both can be good. We tended to prefer sides three and four on Red Labels in general — none of the 360s we played had the same kind of low end weight for I’m A Man.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Introduction
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

A tough one right off the bat. If you have an aggressive sounding copy you’ll know it pretty quick. Grit and grain in the vocal on this track will have you running for the nearest exit. Conversely, you still need presence without smear or the brass won’t have the bite of the real thing, and a Chicago album without good brass is pretty pointless.

They really put their best foot forward with this cut — a true sing-along anthem. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Billy Joel – 52nd Street

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We heard some amazing sound coming from the grooves of 52nd Street, but let’s give credit where credit is due — the recording and mastering engineers involved with this album. Jim Boyer and Ted Jensen can both take great pride in the SUPERB work they have done here.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The first two tracks on side one really tell you everything you need to know about the sound of the side. It’s all about balance.

Big Shot

Big Shot is a big, balls-out rock song that packs a lot of punch. Typically the problem you run into is compression. When you get too much compression, the top end becomes pinched and shrill. You can hear this on Billy Joel’s vocals in the verses and in the guitar solo during the outro. Most copies make those squealing guitar notes rip your head off. The best copies give you a full-bodied Billy Joel; if he doesn’t sound right, what’s the point? Next!

Also, listen to the cymbal crashes throughout the song. They should really sound like cymbals and not like someone making explosion noises through a walkie-talkie. (Believe me, this analogy hurts me too, but they can really sound god-awful on some pressings.) (more…)

Listening in Depth to Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

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You really get an understanding of just how much of a production genius Jimmy Page was when you listen to a copy of Houses with the kind of resolution and transparency found on our best copies. To take just one example, just listen to how clearly the multi-tracked guitars can be heard in the different layers and areas of the soundstage. On some songs you will have no trouble picking out three, four and even more guitars playing, each with its own unique character.

This clarity allows you to recognize — perhaps for the first time — the special contribution each makes to the finished song.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song

Check out the guitars — the sound should be warm, sweet and delicate. There are some dead quiet passages in this song that are almost always going to have some surface noise. Most copies start out a bit noisy but almost always get quieter as the music goes along.

Over the Hills and Far Away

This is a great test track for side one. It starts with lovely acoustic guitars before the Monster Zep Rock Chords come crashing in. If both parts of the song sound correct and balanced, you more than likely have a winner. And the bigger the dynamic contrast between the parts the better.

Turn your volume up good and high in order to get the full effect, then stand back and let the boys have at it.

The Crunge (more…)

Listening in Depth to Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson

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Jump Into The Fire is one of the best tests we used for side two. Copies that are too smooth make the “just bass and drums” intro sound thick and smeared. Too bright and the vocals will tear your head off. The “just right” copies rock from the start and never get too far out of control, even when Harry does. The best we can hope for is that the loudest vocal parts stay tolerable. Believe me, it is not that easy to find a copy that’s listenable all the way through, not at the high volume I play the record at anyway!

Again, with Nilsson screaming at the top of his lungs you better have a good copy to get through this track, and even then it’s a bit of a problem.

A tough test for the old stereo, that’s for sure. Make sure your equipment is tuned up and the electricity is good before you get anywhere near a pressing of this album.

Big production pop like this is hard to pull off. Harry did an amazing job, but the recording is not perfect judging by the dozen or so copies I played this week and the scores I’ve suffered through before. Let’s face it: Jump Into The Fire will never be smooth and sweet; neither will Down on side one. But other tracks on this album have DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Gotta Get Up

A tough one right off the bat. If you have an aggressive sounding copy, you’ll know it pretty quick!

Driving Along (more…)

Listening in Depth to Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow

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Before we get into the sound of Surrealistic Pillow, I’d like to point out that Hot Stampers for this title — and the shootouts that allow us to find them — are becoming increasingly rare. I’d be surprised if we can even find enough clean copies to play once a year nowadays. As unfortunate as it may be it is nevertheless a reality. With clean Led Zeppelin RL pressings frequently commanding $1000 and up on ebay, you can be pretty sure we won’t have many of those to sell you in the months and years to come either.

Same with this record. We love it but we just can’t find copies we can shootout, which are limited to those on the original label, in stereo, and neither heavily played or scratched.

On to the sound.

What’s amazing is how much the harmonic distortion in the choruses of She Has Funny Cars on side one changes from copy to copy, even ones that are tonally similiar and have the same stampers. I must confess it’s all a bit of a mystery to me. The distortion can’t all be on the tape if some copies of the record have so much less of it. When you get one with undistorted vocals, it’s almost shocking how much better it sounds than its competition.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

She Has Funny Cars

This one is almost always too bright and can often be quite aggressive. If this track sounds even halfway decent, you have a pretty darn good copy, better than average at the very least.

What’s amazing is how much the harmonic distortion in the choruses changes from copy to copy, even ones that are tonally very similiar and have the same stampers. I must confess it’s a bit of a mystery to me. The distortion can’t all be on the tape if some copies of the record have much less of it. When you get one with undistorted vocals, it’s almost shocking how much better it sounds than its competition.

As a rocker, this track needs good solid bass to anchor the sound. You can hear it right away in the guitars; they should have plenty of body. Too jangly or thin and you are in trouble.

Somebody to Love
My Best Friend
Today (more…)

Listening in Depth to The Rolling Stones – Aftermath

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Lady Jane, Under My Thumb and Mother’s Little Helper are three of the best sounding tracks on side one — all three are lively and solid here. On side two Out of Time and I Am Waiting are especially well recorded.

DAVE HASSINGER rightly deserves the credit for the best sounding early Stones album — this one.

Although some songs sound amazing, not every track is well recorded. We just have to accept that the Stones are not The Beatles when it comes to the consistent quality of the earliest recordings. That said, a strong copy like this one paired with the great music on this album will certainly deliver a lot of pleasure to audiophile Stones fans.

Although some songs sound amazing, not every track is well recorded. We just have to accept that the Stones are not The Beatles when it comes to the consistent quality of the earliest recordings. That said, a strong copy like this one paired with the great music on this album will certainly deliver a lot of pleasure to audiophile Stones fans.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Mothers Little Helper

Superb! On the best copies this track is so transparent you can feel the cool air of the studio.

Stupid Girl

Somewhat dark and compressed as a rule. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Blood, Sweat and Tears

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In my opinion this is the BEST SOUNDING rock record ever made. Played on a BIG SPEAKER SYSTEM, a top Hot Stamper pressing is nothing less than a thrill, the ultimate Demo Disc.

Credit must go to the amazing engineering skills of ROY HALEE. He may not be very consistent (Graceland, Still Crazy After All These Years) but on this album he knocked it out of the park. With the right copy playing on the right stereo, the album has the potential to sound like LIVE MUSIC.

You don’t find that on a record too often, practically never in fact. I put this record at the top of The Best Sounding Rock Records of All Time.

You don’t find that on a record too often, practically never in fact. I put this record at the top of The Best Sounding Rock Records of All Time.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie (1st & 2nd Movements)

The song is always going to be plagued with a certain amount of surface noise. A solo guitar opening on a pop record pressed on Columbia vinyl from the ’60s? A brand new copy would have surface noise, so it’s important to not get too worked up over surfaces that are always going to be problematical.

Smiling Phases
Sometimes in Winter (more…)