A List of Records that Are Usually Noisy

Stevie Wonder – Innervisions

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Hot Stamper Pressings of Innervisions Available Now

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this is an all around killer pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the funkiest audiophile-quality discs money can buy, but you need a copy that sounds as good as this one to make that case
  • The key qualities are richness, warmth, Tubey Magic, and clarity, and here you will find a healthy dose of all four
  • “Stevie Wonder applied his tremendous songwriting talents to the unsettled social morass that was the early ’70s and produced one of his greatest, most important works, a rich panoply of songs addressing drugs, spirituality, political ethics, and what looked to be the failure of the ’60s dream — all set within a collection of charts as funky and catchy as any he’d written before.”

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Stevie Wonder singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)

Lena Horne & Gabor Szabo – Now That’s What a Real Drum Kit Sounds Like!

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records are just too consistently noisy for us to offer to our audiophile customers no matter how good they sound.

We have a section for records that tend to be noisy, and it can be found here.

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This is the most realistic drum kit I have heard on a non-jazz album in my life. The drum sound on the first track is exactly the sound we all know from hanging around small clubs and our friends’ garage bands. There is simply no audible processing on any part of the kit. The drums are centered behind the vocals and lead instruments, with what sounds like to me the barest of miking, surrounded by just the right amount of unbaffled studio space.

When the drums come in on the first track on side one you will hear immediately what I mean. The third track on side two has especially good drums as well. The vocals on that third track, Message to Michael, are some of the most natural on the album as well. Lena can strain a bit on some songs in the loudest passages, but on others she can belt it out and stay clean all the way to the top. Listen track by track to hear how well she holds up when the bigger choruses come in.

As music lovers and audiophiles this was a truly marvelous discovery for us years ago. True, we’ve known about the album for a long time, but as a practical matter it’s been impossible to find enough clean copies to do a shootout — until now of course.

Dave Sanders, a name I — and no doubt most audiophiles — was not familiar with, brilliantly engineered the album as well as other favorites of ours, including Szabo’s 1969, Gilberto’s Windy and McFarland’s Does The Sun Really Shine On The Moon? It’s hard to find a recording he did that isn’t full of Tubey Magic, huge studio space and right-on-the-money instrumental timbres. (more…)

Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life

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  • This outstanding copy of Stevie Wonder’s epic double album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Here you will find Tubey Magical Richness, as well as the kind of immediacy and transparency that few copies have – all qualities essential to getting the best sound from Stevie’s Magnum Opus 
  • A true musical genius (according to Eddie Murphy) here joins forces with other legends including Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and Deniece Williams
  • 5 stars: “…Stevie Wonder’s longest, most ambitious collection of songs… that — just as the title promised — touched on nearly every issue under the sun, and did it all with ambitious (even for him), wide-ranging arrangements and some of the best performances of Wonder’s career. “

Double albums are usually very tedious work for us, but this one had us smiling and tapping our feet all the way through to the end of the last side. I’m sure you don’t need a rundown of why this is such a great album, but the 5 star AMG review is an excellent read for those who want to be reminded. (Click on the tab above.) (more…)

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains The Same – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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FREAKISHLY GOOD LIVE ZEP SOUND! This Swan Song LP is just full of the Zep Magic — super lively and full-bodied with a whole lotta WHOMP. Bonzo’s drum sound is LARGER THAN LIFE on this copy. Three of the four sides here rate ABOVE A++. 

We’ve never heard a copy of this album sound anywhere near amazing before. Most of the copies we’ve played sound like bad, second-generation bootleg cassettes. We still pick them up every time we see them — hey, it’s Zep, man — but we weren’t sure we’d ever hear a decent copy. We dropped the needle on this one and were SHOCKED at how hard it rocked. Inspired, we pulled out all of our clean copies, — as we imagined, none of them came anywhere close to this monster!

How big is the difference between our top dog here and the rest of the pack? Our second place winner had four and a half pluses between the four sides — this one has NINE PLUSES. Furthermore, no other side on ANY other copy we play rated higher than A++, while this one rates above A++ on three sides. Talk about a landslide! (more…)

Julie London – Julie Is Her Name

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More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

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  • Julie’s debut finally arrives on the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early Liberty pressing will put Julie in the room with you – more than anything else, it lets her performance come to life
  • The naturalness of the presentation puts this album right at the top of best-sounding female vocal albums of all time
  • 4 stars: “Her debut is her best, a set of fairly basic interpretations of standards in which she is accompanied tastefully by guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Ray Leatherwood.”

Listen to how rich the bottom end is on Barney Kessel’s guitar. The Tubey Magic here is off the charts. Some copies can be dry, but that is clearly not a problem on this one.

To take nothing away from her performance, which got better with every copy we played. Julie’s rendition of Cry Me a River may be definitive.

If only Ella Fitzgerald on Clap Hands got this kind of sound! As good as the best copies of that album are, this record takes the concept of intimate female vocals to an entirely new level. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

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  • A Sticky Fingers like you’ve never heard — amazing Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • Finally, with the best vintage pressings we can hear the power and the beauty of this truly superb recording
  • A landmark Glyn Johns / Andy Johns recording, our favorite by the Stones, a Top 100 Title (of course) and 5 stars on Allmusic (ditto)
  • Q magazine said this was “the Stones at their assured, showboating peak … A magic formula of heavy soul, junkie blues and macho rock.”
  • 5 stars: “With its offhand mixture of decadence, roots music, and outright malevolence, Sticky Fingers set the tone for the rest of the decade for the Stones.”

A Very Special Pressing

On this copy you will find the best sounding side of any Stones album ever made. Nothing in our last few shootouts could touch it. We kept it as reference copy for a year or two, but decided that it would be better if someone enjoyed it rather than have it sit on a shelf in our stockroom.

We used to give a side like this Four Pluses, but we decided not to do that anymore, so the grade you see in the listing is Three Pluses. Make no mistake, these are the best sounding Three Pluses on the site right now, bar none.

Sure, it’s a lot of money for a record with condition issues. However, since almost every copy of Sticky Fingers has condition issues of some sort, they should be more acceptable here than they might be were they found on a different title.

Those of you who want to acquire one of the best copies of Sticky Fingers we’ve ever played — better than the last ten or fifteen we auditioned, and we only buy the ones with stampers that have Shootout Winning potential — may find the price not too out of line with the quality of the goods once the needle hits the groove. (more…)

Burt Bacharach – Casino Royale

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  • A superb original stereo copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally QUIET vinyl for this album too
  • A record that has its share of problems, but if you’ve got the system for it (huge, heavily tweaked, fast, free from obvious colorations and capable of tremendous resolution), this copy is sure to impress  
  • A TAS List favorite that sounds amazing on a the right early pressing and dramatically better than any Heavy Vinyl reissue that’s we know of
  • “The more recognizable and certainly more straightforward side of Bacharach is here, too, on the Dusty Springfield smash ‘The Look of Love.’ This is one of Bacharach’s best soundtracks…”

The space is big and the sound relatively rich (although the sound does vary quite a bit from track to track). The vocals have notably less hardness than most and the orchestra is not as brash as it can be on so many of the copies we audition. Huge amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies, and critical to The Look of Love. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD. (more…)

Donovan – The Hurdy Gurdy Man – “Donovan’s hardest-rocking hit”

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The 1968 sound here is GLORIOUS — rich, sweet, Tubey Magical and very, very Analog.

Side one is where you will find The Hurdy Gurdy Man and it is crazy good sounding here. No wonder: Hurdy Gurdy was engineered by Eddie Kramer and produced by none other than John Paul Jones.

Donovan records tend to be hit or miss affairs, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could not find a bad track on either side of the album. Most are in fact quite wonderful.  Both Yellow Label Epics and Orange Label Epics fared well in our shootout.

Some of these tracks may remind you more than a little of Pentangle. Danny Thompson, that band’s amazingly talented and unusually well recorded double bassist, just happens to be the bass player on the album. Go figure. Tony Carr does most of the drumming as he has on many of Donovan’s albums from the period. Needless to say, the rhythm section is first rate.

Song Review

“Hurdy Gurdy Man” was undoubtedly Donovan’s hardest-rocking hit, though mystical folk-rock was still at the core of this 1968 number five hit single.

Certainly it started in as gentle a frame of mind as the typical Donovan song, with a hypnotic wordless vocal hum which reached back to the very roots of Celtic folk music, sounding like a prayer from a devotional ritual. The hum was then joined by a gentle acoustic guitar strum, and when Donovan began singing lyrics, set to one of his more beguiling tunes, some slight distortion made it sound as if his voice was traveling through time. When he got to the latter part of the verse, though, the hard rock bass, drums, and guitar piled on like gangbusters.

(more…)

You Know What’s Shocking About This Dionne Warwick Record?

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Do Again

Some records are just too consistently noisy to offer to our audiophile customers no matter how good they sound.

We have a section for records that tend to be noisy, and it can be found here.

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What’s shocking about a record like this is the fact that the instruments you hear behind and to the side of Dionne Warwick are REAL instruments, and for the most part they are not really being processed much, they are simply being recorded. How many times do you hear a pop album with sound like that? Rarely in our case, and we play them by the hundreds.

Just played a Linda Ronstadt album that she did with Nelson Riddle — you know the one —  and I can tell you one thing, the sound of that album and this one are on opposite sides of the recording spectrum in terms of naturalness. On a scale of one to a hundred, Linda scores about a two, and Dionne scores 90, maybe more. It’s a JOY to hear a record with this kind of sound.

Play this one for your audiophile friends who own and respect the recordings of Dianna Krall, Patricia Barber and the like. Be sure to squeeze in the phrase “Boy, they don’t make ’em like they used to…” whenever there is a pause in the music or conversation.

You might also want to ask them if they think the invention of digital reverb was such a good idea after all.

If they’re good analog buddies, ones that you want to keep being your buddies, you might not want to say anything at all. Just keep quiet and let their own ears shame them. This is the kind of record that can do it. (more…)

Sibelius – Symphony No. 2 / Barbarolli

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

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  • An outstanding copy of the best Sibelius Second Symphony on vinyl we know of – solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • One listen to this famous Wilkinson recording and you’ll see why it’s one of the most lauded RDG titles in all of their illustrious canon
  • “The Second Symphony has retained an extraordinary popularity for its individualistic tonal language, dark wind coloring, muted string writing, simple folk-like themes, and distinctly “national” flavor that are all Sibelian to the core.”

A truly extraordinary recording mastered beautifully but pressed on vinyl that has never been known for its quiescence (if I can get by with that ten-cent word).

The strings are clear and textured, yet rich and full-bodied. The bottom is big and weighty. The horns are tubey and full-bodied and never screech through even the most difficult passages. (more…)