Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • An extremely tough album to find with the kind of big, spacious, Tubey Magical sound this pressing offers
  • Clean, clear and open are nice qualities to have, but the richer, smoother, more natural sounding copies are the ones that win our shootouts
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…he was never more in tune with his audience: Still Crazy topped the charts, spawned four Top 40 hits, and won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Vocal Performance.”
  • If you’re a Paul Simon fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of his from 1975.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The overall sound here is big and rich. You get texture to the instruments (check the strings in the title track) but a smooth quality to the vocals instead of the grit and strain you hear on most copies. There’s extension up top and weight down low. (more…)

Joe Walsh – So What

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  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the only way to go
  • Includes a couple of classic tracks, notably Welcome to the Club and a remake of Turn to Stone
  • You’ll hear most of the Eagles playing on this one, produced and engineered by the redoubtable Bill Szymczyk
  • “So What sees Walsh in top form as a guitarist. Most of the nine tracks feature solos of unquestionable quality in his usual rock style.”

We were impressed with how rich and punchy this copy sounded after hearing dozens of dry, thin, lifeless pressings over the years. Once we had heard at least one copy sound good we proceeded to gather up every LP we could get our hands on and make this shootout happen.

Unfortunately, most of what we ended up playing had the kind of mediocre sound we had been suffering through for decades. The best copies had real energy, surprising dynamics, and lots of that ’70s Tubey Magic we love so much and never tire of talking about. (It’s also a sound that you will have a very hard time finding on most Heavy Vinyl pressings being made these days, as you doubtless know.)

The best pressings have (relatively; this is still Joe Walsh album we’re talking about) rich, warm guitars and vocals, supported by tight, punchy bass. Most copies were far less energetic and dynamic than this one. Excellent transparency as well.

All in all, this is pretty much as good as it gets for Joe Walsh in 1974. The very next year he would become an Eagle and help those boys knock it out of the park with Hotel California. (more…)

Neil Young – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

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One of Our Favorite Titles from 1969


  • This outstanding copy of Neil’s second studio album boasts superb Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • The best tracks have that Live-in-the-Studio quality Neil is famous for (of which Zuma is the best example), with minimal processing and maximum ENERGY
  • Includes some of Neil Young’s most beloved classics: “Cinnamon Girl,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” and “Down by the River” just to name three
  • 5 stars: “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was breathtakingly different when it appeared in May 1969, both for Young and for rock in general, and it reversed his commercial fortunes….”

Although not quite in the league with the best of the best — the likes of Gold Rush, Harvest, or Zuma, all titles we have a devil of a time keeping in stock — the best sounding tracks here are a rough guide to what was to come as Neil and his producer, David Briggs, got better and better until they were As Good As It Gets by the time they got around to After the Gold Rush in 1970 (for which they seem to get no credit, outside of Better Records’ raves for the album of course).

We absolutely love the Live-in-the-Studio quality that only the best pressings of this album can give, with minimal processing and maximum energy. Man, with a good copy played back on a big pair of speakers this album can ROCK like nobody’s business. Nine minutes of “Down by the River”? A ten minute long version of “Cowgirl in the Sand”? “Cinnamon Girl”? We are so there!

This kind of musical, natural sound is not easy to come by. If you own any copy of the album you know what we mean. (more…)

Eagles – One Of These Nights

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  • On an exceptionally good sounding copy such as this one, the soaring guitar solo of the title track really comes alive – assuming you have it turned up GOOD and LOUD
  • Lyin’ Eyes and Take It To The Limit sound the way they should – we guarantee you have never heard them sound remotely as good as they do here
  • 4 stars: “…a lyrical stance — knowing and disillusioned, but desperately hopeful — had evolved, and the musical arrangements were tighter and more purposeful. The result was the Eagles’ best-realized and most popular album so far.”

Another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

What to listen for you ask? Dynamic, soaring guitar solos! On the best copies the guitar solos are the loudest parts of some songs, which, as everyone who’s ever been to a rock concert knows, is exactly what happens in live rock music.

This is one of the toughest Eagles albums to find with good sound. This album may never sound quite as good as Hotel California or the self-titled debut, but there are some wonderful songs here and a Hot Stamper like this brings them to life in a way most pressings cannot hope to do.

The best copies are richer and sweeter. When you turn them up, they really come to life. When you play the better sides at Rock Music Volumes they really ROCK. When a copy is cut really clean, as the best ones are, the louder you play them the better they sound. They’re tonally correct at loud levels and a bit dull at what we would call “audiophile” levels. That’s the way it should be. (more…)

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

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More Five Star Albums Available Now

  • 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 anything.

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…)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River

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  • An essential, Must Own for every Classic Rock collection, this LP includes some of the band’s biggest hits: Green River and Bad Moon Rising, Lodi, Wrote a Song for Everyone and plenty more
  • 5 stars “If anything, CCR’s third album Green River represents the full flower of their classic sound initially essayed on its predecessor, Bayou Country. One of the differences between the two albums is that Green River is tighter, with none of the five-minute-plus jams that filled out both their debut and Bayou Country, but the true key to its success is a peak in John Fogerty’s creativity.”

(more…)

The Traveling Wilburys / Volume One – Learning the Record, Any Record

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Many of the pressings we played o f Volume One suffered from too much compression and a phony hi-fi-ish quality on the vocals. We knew there had to be great copies out there somewhere, so we kept dropping the needle until we found a few good men. Here is what we had to say about a killer copy we ran into during that process.

We heard a lot of copies with a spitty, gritty top end, but this one is smooth like butter and sweet like candy. Side two is nearly as good but doesn’t have quiet the same energy factor. It’s still dramatically better than most copies out there.

Now that we’ve discovered these Hot Stampers, the sound is finally where we want it to be. Until this week, we were convinced that these songs sounded better on the radio. (That’s what tons of compression and FM bass boost will do for you.)

Learning the Record

For our recent shootout we had at our disposal a variety of pressings we thought would have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that other pressings do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given copy reproduces those passages.

The process is simple enough. First, you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we never pretended it was. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection.

The problem is that unless your a crazy person who bought multiple copies of the same album there is no way to know if any given copy is truly Hot Stamper. Hot Stampers are not merely good sounding records. They are the copies that win shootouts. This is a fact that cannot be emphasized too strongly.

As your stereo and room improve, as you take advantage of new cleaning technologies, as you find new and interesting pressings to evaluate, you may even be inclined to start the shootout process all over again, to find the hidden gem, the killer copy that blows away what you thought was the best.

You can’t find it by looking at it. You have to clean it and play it, and always against other pressings of the same album. There is no other way.

For the more popular records on the site such as the Beatles titles we have easily done more than twenty, maybe even as many as thirty to forty shootouts.

And very likely learned something new from every one. (more…)

Joe Walsh – The Smoker You Drink…

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  • A superb copy of Walsh’s sophomore release with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • This copy has Walsh sounding clear and present, with much less grit to his vocal
  • The bass is tight and punchy, with real weight to the bottom end
  • More importantly than all of those, Joe’s guitars are meaty, grungy and huge – that guitar sound is the sine qua non of Classic Riff Rock, and this copy delivers plenty of it
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get features some of the most remembered Joe Walsh tracks, but it’s not just these that make the album a success. Each of the nine tracks is a song to be proud of. This is a superb album by anyone’s standards.”

(more…)

Joe Walsh – But Seriously, Folks…

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  • A hard album to find with sound like this AND quiet surfaces, but here one is@
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness and presence on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true for whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently being foisted on an undiscerning record buying public
  • 4 1/2 stars: “As far as studio albums go, But Seriously Folks is Joe Walsh’s most insightful and melodic… The album’s introspective outlook glides through rejuvenation (‘Tomorrow,’ ‘Over and Over’), recapturing the simple pleasures of the past (‘Indian Summer’), mid-career indecision, and a melancholy instrumental.”

(more…)

Bizet-Shchedrin / Carmen Ballet Suite – Testing for Shrill, Gritty Strings

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

This Angel Melodiya pressing of Bizet’s Carmen, rearranged by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin for strings and 47 percussion instruments, has two incredible sides. Demo Quality Sound barely begins to do it justice. If you have the system to play it, this copy is a KNOCKOUT.

But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce. You better have everything working right when you play this one — it’s guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. Speed, resolving power and freedom from distortion are what this record needs to sound its best. Is your system up to it? There’s only one way to find out.

And if you have any peaky audiophile wire or equipment in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this. More than anything this is a record that rewards your system’s neutrality.

Testing

This is a superb Demonstration disc, but it is also an excellent Test disc. The sound of the best copies is rich, full-bodied, incredibly spacious, and exceptionally extended up top. There is a prodigious amount of musical information spread across the soundstage, much of it difficult to reproduce.

Musicians are banging on so many different percussive devices (often at the far back of the stage, or, even better, far back and left or right) that getting each one’s sonic character to clearly come through is a challenge — and when you’ve met it, a thrill. If you’ve done your homework, this is the kind of record that can show you what you’ve accomplished.

On the best copies the strings have wonderful texture and sheen. If your system isn’t up to it (or you have a copy with a problem in this area), the strings might sound a little shrill and possibly grainy as well, but I’m here to tell you that the sound on the best copies is just fine with respect to string tone and timbre. You will need to look elsewhere for the problem. (more…)