Our Top 100 Rock and Pop List

Linda Ronstadt – Rockin’ Out on Simple Dreams

More Linda Ronstadt

More Simple Dreams

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

Clearly this is one of Linda’s best albums, and I would have to say, based on my fairly extensive experience with her recorded output, that it is in fact THE BEST SOUNDING record she ever made. I love Heart Like a Wheel, but it sure doesn’t sound like this, not even on the Triple Plus copies that win our shootouts. 

Kudos once again must go to VAL GARAY, the man behind so many of our favorite recordings: James Taylor’s JT (a Top 100 title), Andrew Gold, Prisoner In Disguise, etc. (more…)

The Old 80/20 Rule in Action (But It’s Actually More Like 90/10)

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Ambrosia’s first album does exactly what a Test Disc should do. It shows you what’s wrong, and once you’ve fixed it, it shows you that it’s now right.

We audiophiles need records like this. They make us better listeners, and they force us to become better tweakers. You cannot buy equipment that will give you the best sound. You can only tweak the right equipment to get it.

At most 20% of the sound of your stereo is what you bought. At least 80% is what you’ve done with it. Based on my experience I would put the number closer to 90%. (more…)

Audiophile Wire Testing with Jethro Tull and His Friend Aqualung

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… who seems to have a rather nasty bronchial condition…

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Like Heart’s Little Queen album, Aqualung presents us with a Demo Disc / Test Disc that really puts a stereo through its paces, assuming it’s the kind of stereo that’s designed to play an album like Aqualung.

Not many audiophile systems I’ve run across over the years were capable of reproducing the Big Rock Sound this album requires, but perhaps you have one and would like to use the album to test some of your tweaks and components. I used it to show me how bad sounding some of the audiophile wire I was testing really was.

Here’s what I wrote:

A quick note about some wire testing I was doing a while back. My favorite wire testing record at the time (2007)? None other than Aqualung!

Part One

Here’s why: Big Whomp Factor. Take the whomp out of Aqualung and the music simply doesn’t work, at all. To rock you need whomp, and much of Aqualung wants to rock.
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Shoot Out The Lights – Loud Versus Live

Shoot Out The Lights

 

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Here’s a thought: if 180 gram records are supposed to be an improvement over the original pressings, why is it that they NEVER sound Big and Bold like this pressing? And I do mean never; I’ve played hundreds of them over the years and have yet to hear this kind of sound on any of them. At this point I would have to conclude that it is simply not possible.

If you have big speakers, a large listening room and like to play your records loud, there is no modern reissue that will ever give you the thrill that a record like this can. (Of course, to fully appreciate the effect it obviously helps if you have a White Hot Stamper copy to play.)

Loud Versus Live

I’ve seen Richard Thompson on a number of occasions over the years, and as loud as my stereo will play, which is pretty darn loud, I could never make his guitar solos 20 dB louder than everything else, because it’s not on the record that way. That’s why live music can’t be duplicated properly in the home: the dynamic contrasts are much too great for the typical listener or his stereo.

Having said that, when you actually do turn this record up, way up, you get the feeling of hearing live music, and that’s not easy to do! Only the best recordings, in my experience, can begin to give you that feeling. We discuss this subject in a number of commentaries under the heading of Turn Up Your Volume.
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McCartney’s Must Own Masterpiece with White Hot Stamper Sound

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The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. It sounds like it’s recorded live in the studio, but of course that’s impossible, because Paul plays practically all the instruments himself! It just goes to show how good a multi-track studio recording can sound when done well.

What the best sides of this McCartney Classic from 1970 have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl import pressings like this one offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with the guitars and drums having the correct sound for this kind of recording
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we listed above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Looking For The McCartney Magic? Look No Further (more…)

“NEVER would I have thought a single record could make this kind of difference…”

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Dan, our letter writer, is a new convert to the world of Hot Stampers. Although his system is modest by his own admission, the sound he was able to conjure up in his living room was “…a revelation…”
A good Dark Side can have that effect on you.

Hi Tom,
I received this DSOTM yesterday…

First I played the 180gm 25th anniversary release, so I listened to the first side. While it didn’t necessarily ‘grab’ me, I sat through and listened, with the assumption that I really needed to get a feel for this to do a somewhat critical A/B listening experience.

Then I put this Hot Stamper on.

From the very beginning, I heard vocals I never heard before, in my 12 years of listening to this album. There was such a dramatically engaging ‘dreamlike’ flow to the music, that I have never experienced before! The soundstage was so 3-dimensional, the speakers disappeared, and moment after moment, I completely forgot I was sitting in my living room!
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Elvis Costello Arrayed His Armed Forces and Produced His Single Best Sounding Album

More Armed Forces

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We consider Armed Forces to be one of the best sounding rock records ever made, and a copy like this White Hot Shootout Winner is proof enough to back up our claim. The best copies are extremely transparent and silky sounding, but with unbelievably punchy, rock-solid bass and drums.

The sound of the rhythm section ranks with the best we’ve ever heard. Beyond that, the musical chops of this band at this time rank with the best in the history of rock. Steve, Bruce and Pete rarely get the credit they deserve for being one of the tightest, liveliest backing bands ever to walk into a studio or on to a stage.

The song Oliver’s Army on the first side is a perfect example of what we’re talking about. Rock music doesn’t get much livelier than that. Skip on down to Green Shirt for another track that’s as punchy as they come.

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Listening in Depth to Aja (Includes Free Cisco Debunking Tool)

Aja

 

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

Our track commentary for the song Home at Last makes it easy to spot an obvious problem with Cisco’s remastered Aja: This is the toughest song to get right on side two. Nine out of ten copies have grainy, irritating vocals; the deep bass is often missing too. Home at Last is just plain unpleasant as a rule, which is why it’s such a great test track.

Get this one right and it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there on out.
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Dopey Record Theories – Putting Bad Ideas to the Test

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Court and Spark

Below we discuss some record theories that seem to be making the rounds these days.

It started with a stunning White Hot Stamper 2-pack that just went up on the site..

I implored the eventual purchaser to note that side two of record one has Joni sounding thin, hard and veiled. If you look at the stampers you can see it’s obviously cut by the same guy (no names please!), and we’re pretty sure both sides were stamped out at the same time of day since it’s impossible to do it any other way. What accounts for the amazing sound of one side and the mediocre sound of its reverse?

If your theory cannot account for these huge differences in sound, your theory is hopelessly, fundamentally flawed. Need we bother to note the rather important, one might even say all-important, fact that it has no practical value in the first place: how is anyone to know at what specific time of day a record was pressed? Or how many copies had come off the stamper ahead of it?

Can anything be more ridiculous than the ad hoc, evidence-free theory of some audiophile record collector desperately searching for a reason to explain why records — even the sides of the same record — sound so different from one another? (more…)

Cat Stevens Asks: Light, Medium or Heavy on the Congas?

Teaser and the Firecat

 

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During the shootout for this record a while back we made a very important discovery, a seemingly obvious one but one that nevertheless had eluded us for the past twenty plus years (so how obvious could it have been?). It became clear, for the first time, what accounts for the wide disparity in ENERGY and DRIVE from one copy to the next. We can sum it up for you in one five letter word, and that word is conga.

The congas are what drive the high-energy songs, songs like Tuesday’s Dead and Changes IV. Here is how we stumbled upon their critically important contribution.

We were listening to one of the better copies during a recent shootout. The first track on side one, The Wind, was especially gorgeous; Cat and his acoustic guitar were right there in the room with us. The transparency, tonal neutrality, presence and all the rest were just superb. Then came time to move to the other test track on side one, which is Changes IV, one of the higher energy songs we like to play.

But the energy we expected to hear was nowhere to be found. The powerful rhythmic drive of the best copies of the album just wasn’t happening. The more we listened the more it became clear that the congas were not doing what they normally do. The midbass to lower midrange area of the LP lacked energy, weight and power, and this prevented the song from coming to LIFE the way the truly Hot Stampers can and do.

Big Speakers

For twenty years Tuesday’s Dead has been one of my favorite tracks for demonstrating what The Big Speaker Sound is all about. Now I think I better understand why. Big speakers are the only way to reproduce the physical size and tremendous energy of the congas (and other drums of course) that play such a big part in driving the rhythmic energy of the song.
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