Records that Are Good for Testing Energy

The Poll Winners – Straight Ahead

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  • This superb collaboration has KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Musically, this is by far our favorite Poll Winners record – these guys got back together after 15 years and were eager to prove that they still had their youthful exuberance, and even better chops, which they did have and did prove!
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Kessel in particular is heard in excellent form… Overall this is the best all-around recording by The Poll Winners and is easily recommended to bop fans.”

These guys play with more spunk here than on any other album of theirs I’ve heard. And you have to love those ’70s leisure suits they’re wearing on the cover. I remember my commentary when this record was around, mentioning that Roy DuNann had lost none of his engineering skills in the intervening years either.

This is a very dynamic recording, one of his best. You almost never hear cymbals sound this good on an RVG Blue Note, that’s for sure. The bass definition on this record is amazing — you can really hear Ray Brown pulling and bending the strings of the instrument. He’s tearing it up. (more…)

Michael Jackson / Thriller – Thoughts on Thriller, Circa 2006

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Reviews and Commentaries for Thriller

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

This pressing has a side two that is so amazing sounding that it COMPLETELY CHANGED my understanding and appreciation of this album. The average copy is a nice pop record. This copy is a MASTERPIECE of production and engineering.

After playing a bunch of these we noticed some recurring shortcomings on most of the pressings. Either they lacked extension on the top end or they lacked bass definition and weight, or both. When this copy hit the table, the first thing we noticed was that the top end was Right On The Money and the bottom end was also Right On The Money. Not surprisingly, the middle fell right into place.

It ended up having the most ambience, the most transparency, the most resolution, the most dynamic contrasts, the most presence — in short, it had more of EVERYTHING than any copy we’ve ever heard. The lesson to be learned there may be that when the extremes are somehow properly transferred to the vinyl, the middle will take care of itself. Since the extremes seem to be the hardest thing to get right, at least on this record, that might explain why so many copies don’t quite cut the mustard.

Side one fits perfectly into this theory. The bottom end is MEATY with plenty of punchy, solid bass, but the top end is lacking a bit of extension compared to the very best. The result is that there’s a trace of hardness in the vocals that shouldn’t be there. If you can add a dB or two of extreme highs, EVERYTHING will sound right on side one. It all comes back to life.

I remember twenty years ago playing Thriller and thinking they were all so transistory, spitty, and aggressive sounding. Well, I didn’t have a Triplanar tonearm, a beautiful VPI table and everything that goes along with it back then. Now I can play this record. I couldn’t back then. All that spit was simply mistracking. The record is no different, it just sounds different now. In other words, this record is a great test. If you can play this record, you can play practically anything.

Elvis Costello / Armed Forces – A True Demo Disc from 1979

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish, this early UK pressing will show you just how good sounding Elvis’s Best Recording can be
  • Some of the biggest, boldest rock sound ever recorded
  • A Top 100 Demo Disc, and just amazing here – every track is Elvis at this best
  • 5 stars: “In contrast to the stripped-down pop and rock of his first two albums, Armed Forces boasted a detailed and textured pop production… However, the more spacious arrangements — complete with ringing pianos, echoing reverb, layered guitars, and harmonies — accent Costello’s melodies… It’s a dense but accessible pop record and ranks as his third masterpiece in a row.”

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

I would say the sound of the rhythm section of this album ranks up there with the very best ever recorded. Beyond that, the musical chops of this band at this time rank with the very 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.

Virtually every other pressing of this record I’ve ever played sounds pale and washed out compared to the good British early pressings. It almost makes you wonder what happened to the tape; it seems as if this tape wasn’t used to make any records after this batch was pressed, it’s that big of a difference! (We have found surprisingly good British second pressings before but they are never competitive with the likes of these early ones.) (more…)

The Beatles – Revolver

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  • An outstanding British pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – mostly quiet vinyl too
  • Here is the space, energy, presence clarity and massive bottom end you had no idea were even possible on Revolver
  • 14 amazing tracks including Taxman; Eleanor Rigby; Here, There and Everywhere; Yellow Submarine; Good Day Sunshine; Got To Get You Into My Life and Tomorrow Never Knows (!)
  • 5 stars: “Even after Sgt. Pepper, Revolver stands as the ultimate modern pop album and it’s still as emulated as it was upon its original release.”

Want to be blown away by Beatles sound you never imagined you would ever have the chance to experience for yourself? Drop the needle on Taxman on this very side one — that’s your ticket to ride, baby! We were knocked out by it and we guarantee you will be too. (more…)

Love / Self-Titled – Killer Sound from Bruce Botnick

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  • A superb sounding stereo original of Love’s first album, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • A classic from 1966, a combination of proto-punk and psychedelia featuring My Little Red Book, Hey Joe and more
  • The first Love album is without a doubt the punchiest, liveliest, most POWERFUL recording in the Love catalog
  • Engineered by none other than Bruce Botnick, here is the kind of massive bottom end weight and energy that we like to call WHOMP
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Love’s debut is both their hardest-rocking early album and their most Byrds-influenced…”

Some of you may not know this music, but it’s a true Must Own Psychedelic Gem from the ’60s, a record no rock collection should be without, along with other groundbreaking albums from the ’60s such as Surrealistic Pillow, The Doors’ debut, the first Spirit album and too many others to list.

If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1966 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. This Gold Label pressing is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

This IS the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. Of course there’s a CD of this album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable and a good collection of vintage vinyl have no need of it. (more…)

The Who – Who’s Next

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  • An outstanding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout and vintage vinyl that’s about as quiet as we can find it
  • This pressing is every bit as quiet as our recent White Hot Stamper which went for $749, and the sonic grades are nearly the same, only one half plus lower on one side
  • This British Track pressing is guaranteed to blow your mind with its phenomenal sound — check out the BIG, BOLD, Rock ’em, Sock ’em bottom end energy
  • Compare this to any Heavy Vinyl (or other) pressing and you will hear in a heartbeat why we think The Real Thing just cannot be beat
  • 5 stars: “This is invigorating because it has. . . Townshend laying his soul bare in ways that are funny, painful, and utterly life-affirming. That is what the Who was about, not the rock operas, and that’s why Who’s Next is truer than Tommy or the abandoned Lifehouse. Those were art — this, even with its pretensions, is rock & roll.”

(more…)

Unsolicited Audio Advice – In the Market for New Speakers? See How Well They Handle the Energy of Far More Drums

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Reviews of Recordings Made at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio

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The drum solo Joe Morello lets loose on Far More Drums is one of the best on record. I was playing that very song recently and it occurred to me that it is practically impossible for a screen or panel speaker of any design to reproduce the sound of those drums properly, regardless of how many subs you have.

Most of the music is not in the deeper bass anyway. It’s the whack of instruments whose energy is in the lower midrange and midrange that a screen speaker will struggle with. A good large-driver dynamic speaker fed by fast electronics can handle the energy in that range with ease.

This is precisely the right album to take with you next time you head to your local stereo store to audition speakers. It will help clarify the issues. Screen speakers do many things well, but drums are not one of them in my experience.

If drums are important to you, do yourself a favor and buy a dynamic speaker, the bigger the better. (more…)

Heart / Dreamboat Annie – What to Listen For

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On the best copies the music just JUMPS out of the speakers. There is so much more LIFE to this recording than I ever thought possible, and only the best pressings let that energy come through. In a nutshell those are the ones that earn the name Hot Stamper. 

Dreamboat Annie is yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Allow me to borrow some of the commentary from our Abraxas Hot Stamper (the necessary changes having been made).

This is a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the big room, big speakers, and the power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house.

When the boys behind Heart (superb musicians all) let loose with some of those Zep-like monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.)

Big and full, clear and present, with full extension in both directions, this album can really ROCK — but only on the right copy. If you’re an audiophile who loves classic rock, you just haven’t lived until you’ve heard Magic Man and Crazy On You on a White Hot Stamper pressing. (more…)

801 Live – When Clarity Obscures the Point

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Some audiophiles get worked up listening for details in their favorite recordings. Is that where the music is – in the details? Lots of details come out when one copy is brighter than another.

Brighter ain’t necessarily better. Most of the time it’s just brighter. 

This album isn’t about clarity. It’s about the sound of a live Rock and Roll concert. It’s about the raw power of one of the most phenomenal rhythm sections ever to be captured in performance.

Next time you try out some audiophile wire or a new tweak, play this record to make sure you haven’t lost the essential weight and power of the sound. This album doesn’t care about your love of detail. It wants you to feel those bass notes going right through you. If the new wire can’t get that right, it’s got to go.

Our Hot Stamper Commentary for 801 Live Circa 2007

This is a one of my All Time Favorite records — a Desert Island Disc if there ever was one. I treasure this album. And I just now finally figured out how to tell the good ones from the not-so-good ones. I confess I was listening for the wrong things in the shootouts I was doing over the last few years, and in that I have the feeling I was not alone. I think this is a fairly common Major Audiophile Pitfall that we all get stuck in on occasion.

In this case I was trying to find a more transparent copy, one with more shimmer to the cymbals and air around the instruments. The first track is a little opaque and I wanted to be able to hear into the music better. I tried many import and domestic copies, but none of them seemed to have the particular qualities I was looking for. They all sounded different, but I could not for the life of me find one that sounded clearly better. (more…)

The Doors – Strange Days

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  • An outstanding copy of the band’s sophomore release, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • This vintage pressing is well balanced, yet big and lively, with such wonderful clarity in the mids and highs as well as deep punchy bass and a big open and spacious soundfield
  • Demo Quality sound for so many classics: When The Music’s Over, Moonlight Drive, Love Me Two Times and more
  • “… if The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club and The Beach Boys had Pet Sounds, then The Doors’ answer was Strange Days… It’s the perfect introduction to a perfectly strange album.”

CONDITION NOTES:

  • On side one, a mark makes 5 moderately loud pops, followed by 15 moderately light and 5 light stitches. Another mark makes 4 light ticks, followed by 3 very light ticks during track 3, Love Me Two Times.

If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1967 All Tube Analog sound can be, this copy will can do just that.

It’s spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it. (more…)