Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

Michael Jackson / Thriller – Thoughts on Thriller, Circa 2006

More Michael Jackson

Reviews and Commentaries for Thriller

xxxxx

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.

Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Does Bernie Ever Get Bored?

More Linda Ronstadt

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Linda Ronstadt

xxx

Years ago we wrote:

One thing we noted with interest while doing this shootout was how compressed the first track is. When the chorus comes in, and Linda seems to be singing louder — should be singing louder, with a substantial coterie of vocalists backing her up — the volume is actually lower. In the verse immediately following you can hear that not only is she singing louder, but the amount of dynamic contrast in her voice is greater. Go figure.

The compression also means that that song will never sound the way we would wish it to. But that doesn’t mean it won’t sound good. It means it will sound good in more of a radio-friendly way. On a good copy, one with relatively little grain and plenty of bass, the music can still be very enjoyable, and that includes a Number One Pop Hit like “You’re No Good.”

Do we still see things this way? Well, yes and no. It’s not exactly that we were wrong, but that better cleaning and better playback (all that revolutions in audio stuff) have now allowed us to hear that some copies are actually much more dynamic on this track than others. Quite dynamic in fact.

Think about it. Bernie Grundman is going to cut this record many, many times, maybe more times than he wants to. Is he always going to apply exactly the same amount of compression to each cutting, or is he going to experiment a bit and see what works better over time? Or maybe he just learned a thing or two as he went along.

Which is pretty much what we do when playing copy after copy. The best pressings show us precisely what it is they are doing when they actually work. We can’t know that in advance; we’re learning on the job so to speak. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt / Don’t Cry Now – What to Listen For

More Linda Ronstadt

xxxxx

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

Her vocals on both sides can be very DYNAMIC, but only the best copies will present them with no hint of STRAIN or GRAIN, two problems that make most pressings positively painful to listen to at the loud volumes we prefer.

Linda really belts it out on this album — face it, it’s what she does best — and only the rarest copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing.

Another key to recognizing the best copies is the fact that they tend to be highly resolving. Two places to check:

Note how breathy her voice is in the quiet passages. Only the least smeared, most transparent copies reproduce that breathy quality in her voice

Next check out the tambourine on Silver Threads and Golden Needles. If the sound is delicate, not gritty or transistory, you have yourself a winner in the resolution department. (more…)

Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

More Paul Simon

More Singer Songwriter Albums

xxxxx 

  • An outstanding copy of Simon’s second solo album, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is big, warm and full-bodied – it’s present and clear, never harsh or gritty the way so many are
  • Great songs including Kodachrome, Loves Me Like a Rock, Was a Sunny Day (and you probably know most of the other 7)
  • 5 stars: “Retaining the buoyant musical feel of Paul Simon, but employing a more produced sound, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon found Paul Simon writing and performing with assurance and venturing into soulful and R&B-oriented music.”

Most pressings don’t have anywhere near this kind of openness and transparency — and they don’t have this kind of richness or warmth either. It’s a real treat to hear these great songs finally get the sound they deserve.

On most pressings, Simon’s voice is a spitty, gritty mess — sure it’s present, but where is the sweetness and warmth? Well, as a copy like this proves, more of those qualities made it to the tape than you might think. (more…)

Roxy Music / Siren – The Atco Pressings Are the Only Game in Town

More Roxy Music

More Five Star Albums Available Now

xxxxx

  • You’ll find insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides of this early pressing of Roxy’s Art Rock classic from 1975
  • The sound here is richer, with much less transistory grain, and more of the All Important Tubey Magic than most other copies we played
  • Some of Bryan Ferry’s strongest and most consistent songwriting – Love Is The Drug, End of the Line, Sentimental Fool and more
  • 5 stars: “Abandoning the intoxicating blend of art rock and glam-pop that distinguished Stranded and Country Life, Roxy Music concentrates on Bryan Ferry’s suave, charming crooner persona for the elegantly modern Siren.”

Siren is one of our favorite Roxy albums, right up there with the first album and well ahead of the commercially appealing Avalon. After reading a rave review in Rolling Stone of the album back in 1975 I took the plunge, bought a copy at my local Tower Records and instantly fell in love with it.

As is my wont, I then proceeded to work my way through their earlier catalog, which was quite an adventure. It takes scores of plays to understand where the band is coming from on the early albums and what it is they’re trying to do. Now I listen to each of the first five releases on a regular basis. Even after more than thirty years the band’s music never seems to get old. That seems to be true of a lot of the records from the era that we offer on our site. Otherwise, how could we charge so much money for them?

Imports? Not So Fast

The British and German copies of Siren are clearly made from dubbed tapes and sound smeary, small and lifeless.

To be fair, Siren has never impressed us as an exceptionally good sounding recording. Like other middle period Roxy, records such as Country Life and Manifesto (the albums just before and after), it simply does not have Demo Disc analog sound the way For Your Pleasure, Stranded or the eponymous first album do (the latter two being the best sounding in their catalog).

One would be tempted to assume that the import pressings of Siren would be better sounding, the way the imports of the first four Roxy albums are clearly better sounding. There has never been a domestic Hot Stamper pressing of any of those titles and, since we never buy them or play them, there probably never will be.

But in the case of Siren it’s the imports that are made from dubs. It may be a British band, recorded in British studios with a British producer, but the British pressed LPs are clearly made from sub-generation tapes, whereas the domestic copies sound like they’re made from the real masters.

Go Figure. And another thing: when it comes to records, never assume.

The typical domestic pressing is flat, bass-shy and opaque, sounding more like compressed cardboard than analog vinyl. Unsurprisingly, the CD, whether imported or produced domestically, is clean and clear and tonally correct but lacks the warmth and richness of the better vinyl pressings. (more…)

Emmylou Harris – Elite Hotel

More Emmylou Harris

xxxxx

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from top to bottom
  • The best sides are doing most everything right — they’re cleaner, clearer, with better bass, more energy, better midrange presence, and the list goes on
  • 4 1/2 stars: “While Emmylou Harris spent much of her career carrying on the legacy of Gram Parsons, Elite Hotel ranks among her most overt tributes to his genius, thanks to its covers of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘Sin City’ and ‘Wheels,’ along with ‘Ooh Las Vegas’ from the Grievous Angel album.”

It is TOUGH to find great sound for this album, but this copy really nailed it. Emmylou’s voice, obviously the key element, is just wonderful here. Most copies we play have their fair share of problems, but when you get one like this the sonic issues fade into the background, letting you focus on one thing — the MUSIC.

The biggest problems with the typical copy of this album are grit, grain, and break-up on the voices. Every single copy we played had these unfortunate qualities to at least some degree, but the few Hot Stampers we managed to find did enough things right to let the music work well for us. The third track on side one is a good example of this — on just about any copy out there, Emmylou’s voice is going to break-up a bit when she gets loud. We’re used to this when dealing with especially dynamic vocalists such as Emmylou, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and Aretha Franklin. When these ladies start really beltin’ it out, it’s hard to get it on a record cleanly, particularly in the inner grooves.

This copy was cut much cleaner than many of them we played — less grit, less grain, and not too much break-up. As mentioned above, the third track on side one and the inner grooves are always going to be a little rough, but other than that the vocals sound lovely — breathy, sweet and present. The overall sound is clean and clear with good transparency and lots of energy.

The music here is wonderful, one of Emmylou’s finest. She knocks out a wonderful cover of the Beatles’ Here There And Everywhere on side two, and there are also great versions of songs from Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and the great Hank Williams. If you’re a fan of this music, it should be a real treat to hear a copy like this one! (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Don’t Cry Now

More Linda Ronstadt

Reviews and Commentaries for Linda Ronstadt

xxxxx

  • A STUNNING copy of Don’t Cry Now with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • The transparency and vocal presence here are wonderful – the piano is solid and Linda’s vocals are breathy and heartfelt
  • We love her emotionally powerful interpretations of Desperado, Sail Away and Neil Young’s achingly sublime I Believe in You
  • She really belts it out on this album – it’s what she does best – but only the best copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing
  • Rolling Stone raves it’s “the Ronstadt album for which we’ve been waiting.”

A key to recognizing the best copies is the fact that they tend to be highly resolving. Two places to check:

Note how breathy her voice is in the quiet passages. Only the least smeared, most transparent copies reproduce that breathy quality in her voice.

Next check out the tambourine on Silver Threads and Golden Needles. If the sound is delicate, not gritty or transistory, you have yourself a winner in the resolution department. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Truly a Country Rock Masterpiece

More Linda Ronstadt

xxx


xxx

  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them, this copy was giving us KILLER sound for Linda Ronstadt’s Best Album
  • Both sides here are rich, full-bodied and warm, with harmonically rich guitars and real immediacy to Linda’s heartfelt vocals
  • A Must Own Classic, the best album Ms Ronstadt ever made, and a True Country Rock Masterpiece virtually without peer
  • 5 stars: “What really makes HLAW a breakthrough is the inventive arrangements that producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt, and the studio musicians have developed. …[they] help turn Heart Like a Wheel into a veritable catalog of Californian soft rock, and it stands as a landmark of ’70s mainstream pop/rock.”

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 46 years by my calculation, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on the album. Folks, we heard it for ourselves: the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here on practically every song.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing. (more…)

Alice Cooper – School’s Out

More Alice Cooper

xxxxx

  • A stunning sounding copy of Cooper’s 1972 release with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Surprisingly rich and full-bodied, the best copies really ROCK with big bass and punchy drums – just the right Alice Cooper sound
  • The beloved title track remains the most-performed song in his concert history, and the presence on this copy will put the band right there in your listening room
  • 4 1/2 stars: “School’s Out catapulted Alice Cooper into the hard rock stratosphere, largely due to its timeless, all-time classic title track.”

Yet another impossible-to-find record in clean condition with good sound has made it to the site, and those of you who are fans should scoop it up because it takes us about four years to find enough copies to do this shootout. Check back with us in 2024 if this one is sold by the time you get to the end of this sentence!

We had poor luck with the second and third label copies on this AC title. It seems that, unlike so many records we play, the originals are the only way to go on School’s Out. (more…)

Yes – 90125

See all of our Yes albums in stock

xxxxx

  • This outstanding copy of 90125 boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Spacious, solid and dynamic with huge bass and analog richness that’s hard to find on this album
  • There’s tons of life and energy here and the vocals sound just right
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A stunning self-reinvention by a band that many had given up for dead, 90125 is the album that introduced a whole new generation of listeners to Yes… there’s nary a duff track on the album.”

A superb copy with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish. I’m pleased to report that we can now add 90125 to our small list of ’80s albums that can sound excellent on the right pressing. Drop the needle on Owner Of A Lonely Heart and we bet you’ll agree!

So many copies we played were full of that digital grit and grain that we hear on so many records from the era. This one is an entirely different story. It has wonderful analog qualities, with more richness and smoothness than most pressings. (more…)