Older Reviews – Rock and Pop

Average White Band / Self-Titled

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More Soul, Blues and R&B Albums with Hot Stampers

Having done this shootout a number of times since we first discovered a hot sounding copy all the way back in 2007, it’s hard to imagine this music sounding any better than this very copy. It’s smooth, sweet, airy, open, spacious and ALIVE. The best sounding songs here truly have Master Tape Sound.

We’ve been playing this record for years, but until finding a very Hot copy back in 2007 we had no idea what a sonic monster it could be. The typical copy tends to be smeary, with sour horns and not very much energy.

The overall sound on both sides is lively and energetic with superb transparency. The bass is deep, rich, and tight — just what this funky music demands. The brass sounds wonderful — it has just the right amount of bite and you can really hear the air moving through the horns.

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Led Zeppelin – In Through The Out Door

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  • You’ll find solid excellent sound on both sides of this outstanding copy of Zep’s final release
  • It’s all here: huge amounts of rock-solid bass, grungy guitars, breathy, natural vocals, and jump out of the speakers presence and energy
  • Fool In The Rain and All My Love are two of the best, and best sounding, tracks on the album
  • “The album’s opening number, ‘In the Evening,’ with its stomping rhythms and heavy, staggered riffs, suggests that Zeppelin haven’t deviated from their course, but by the time the rolling shuffle of ‘South Bound Suarez’ kicks into gear, it’s apparent that they’ve regained their sense of humor.”
  • If you’re a Zep fan, this title from 1979 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1980 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This may not be Zep’s best album, but there are some great songs here, and the music really works when the sound is this good. (more…)

Al Stewart – Year Of The Cat

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  • Boasting Double Plus (A++) sound throughout, this pressing is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other copy of Year of the Cat you’ve heard
  • With engineering by Alan Parsons, the top pressings are every bit the Audiophile Demo Discs you remember
  • The best sides have Tubey Magical acoustic guitars, sweet vocals, huge amounts of space, breathtaking transparency, and so much more
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A tremendous example of how good self-conscious progressive pop can be, given the right producer and songwriter — and if you’re a fan of either prog or pop and haven’t given Al Stewart much thought, prepare to be enchanted.”

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Lincoln Mayorga – Listen for Strained and Blary Brass

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings with Hot Stampers

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blary, or glary if you like. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tambourines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day is because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around (or so we thought). That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Are All MoFis Created Equal? A Pair of Pink Floyd LPs Proved They Aren’t

Pink Floyd Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Dark Side of the Moon

[This commentary was written more than ten years ago. Still true though.]

Many audiophiles are still under the misapprehension that Mobile Fidelity, with their strict “quality control”, managed to eliminate pressing variations of the kind we discuss endlessly on the site.

Such is simply not the case, and it’s child’s play to demonstrate how false this way of thinking is, assuming you have these four things: good cleaning fluids and a machine, multiple copies of the same record, a reasonably revealing stereo, and two working ears.

With all four the reality of pressing variations for ALL pressings is both obvious and incontrovertible.

The discussion below of a Hot Stamper Pair of Dark Sides may shed light on some of the issues involved.

Remember Classic Records Comparison Packages?

This is our first Hot Stamper Comparison Package.

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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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Heart / Little Queen – How Wide and Tall Is Your Copy? Compared to What?

More of the Music of Heart

This is a Classic Rock Demo Disc to beat practically anything you could throw at it. Love Alive and Barracuda on this copy will deliver the full Rock and Roll Power of your system. If you’ve got The Big Sound, this is the record that will truly show it off.

You get HUGE meaty guitars, BIG bass, a smooth top end, full-bodied vocals, incredible rock energy and dynamics, loads of richness and incredible transparency.

Wide and Tall

A key quality we look for in Hot Stamper copies of Little Queen is Wide and Tall Presentation. What exactly does that mean you ask? The best copies, the ones that really jump out of the speakers, tend to present some (usually high frequency) information higher and more forward than others. This is not hard to miss.

When you’re playing ten or fifteen copies of the same side of the same album and suddenly a cymbal crashes higher and more clearly than all the others did in the part of the track you are testing, you can’t help but notice it. Wow! How did that get there? Once you hear it you start to listen for it, and sure enough the next copy won’t do it, nor will the next. Maybe the one after that one gets about halfway there, the cymbal crashes higher than normal but not as far as the one that really showed you how high was up.

And of course it all ties in with our Revolutionary Changes in Audio commentary. If you’ve been making steady improvements to your system, or have better cleaning technologies, or better room treatments, or cleaner electricity, maybe ALL the Little Queen pressings do it now. They might ALL do something they never did before, and in fact they SHOULD be doing things better now.

Our last shootout was a while back; many, many parts of the chain have undergone improvement. During this shootout we heard things in the recording we never heard before. This is the point of all this audio fooling around. It pays off, if you do it right. You have musical information waiting to be unlocked in your favorite recordings. It isn’t going to free itself. You have to do the work to set it free. Do it our way or do it some other way, but do it. You, more than anyone else, will be the one to get the benefit.

Biggest Problems Noted Recently

With continual improvements to the stereo in the year or so since we last did this shootout, the goal of which is to get the stereo out of the way of the sound of the record, we noted that many copies suffer from a degree of dryness and hardness. This lack of richness is most easily recognized by the lack of studio ambience in what seems to be a pretty dead studio. Play any good All Tube recording from the ’50s or ’60s and you will hear exactly what a record like this doesn’t do. But those other records don’t rock like this one either.

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

More of the Music of David Bowie

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 would happen now.

A classic case of Live and Learn.

Some domestic pressings do end up having low level 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…)

The Doobie Brothers – Stampede

More of The Doobie Brothers

More Recordings Engineered by Donn Landee

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy has a lot going for it – exceptionally quiet vinyl for the most part too
  • These sides are rich and full, with punchy bass and plenty of rockin’-down-the-highway Doobies energy – thanks Donn Landee, you da man
  • Contains contributions from such guest musicians as Maria Muldaur, Ry Cooder, and Curtis Mayfield
  • Allmusic 4 1/2 stars: “The Doobie Brothers’ rootsiest album to date, Stampede was virtuoso soulful countrified rock of a gritty nature, crossing over into blues as well as reaching back to a raw, traditional rock & roll sound…”

The average copy of this album is compressed and congested, recessed and veiled, grainy and thin; in other words, it sounds like an old Doobie Brothers album. It takes a copy like this one to show you just how good the Master Tape must be.

And if we hadn’t had plenty of copies to play with, we would never have found this one. (more…)

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

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More Psychedelic Rock

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…)