Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

The Rolling Stones / Exile On Main Street – A Good Test for Grit and Grain

More Rolling Stones

More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

The best copies will tend to have the qualities detailed below, and the more abundant these qualities are on any given pressing, the higher its grade will be.

Yes, it is a science, an empirical one, which can only be carried out by the use of strict protocols and controls, but it sure ain’t rocket science. All you need is the system, the room, the records, the time and the will to do the painstaking critical listening required to carry out the task.

It can be done, but you could spend a lifetime meeting audiophiles of the vinyl persuasion and never run into a single one who has made the effort more than a handful of times.

To be honest, shootouts are a bitch. If you aren’t getting paid to do them the way we are, finding the motivation to devote the time and energy required to do them right — not to mention the piles of copies of each record you will need — is daunting to say the least.

So, back to the question: what to listen for? (more…)

Spirit / The Family That Plays Together – The Hit Can Be Rough

More Spirit

More Psychedelic Rock

xxxxx

This is a review from our first shootout, 2013. I had been playing the album since 1968, but by 2013, a mere 45 years later, we had the cleaning technologies and the stereo system to finally get the album to sound right, to us anyway.

This is, again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the beast for those of us who constantly make improvements to our playback and critically listen to records all day.

 

We get asked about this classic album a lot, but until recently we were not convinced that we’d ever be able to find a great sounding copy. We built up a huge stack of copies and finally took the plunge; I am pleased to report that even though you’ll never hear a copy of this album that screams “Demo Disc”, you can certainly find ones that communicate the music well if you clean and play enough of ’em.

This is a record I grew up with and like to think I know well. I’m a big fan of the band. I have almost never heard this record sound good at all, which is why you’ve never seen a Hot copy on the site. We’ve finally managed to find a few good copies — it wasn’t easy.

The sound isn’t too dissimilar from what you get on a good Jefferson Airplane record. It’s crazy psychedelic ’60s music with a LOT going on, and I’m guessing it was pretty hard to get the raw power of this band onto tape.

Side one rates A++ to A+++ and side two is close behind at A++. A copy with grades like these gives you bigger, fuller, more open sound as well as more energy and presence. Importantly, there’s more separation between the various instruments here, a feature that really allows you to make sense of the music and appreciate everything that’s going on. This copy is more open and transparent than the typical pressing by a mile.

The first track on side two is a step down from the rest sonically, I’m afraid. And there are times on the album where you can hear some grit and distortion, but trust us — that’s on the tape, and any steps taken after the fact to remove it would rob the instruments of their natural texture. We all enjoy rich, smooth sound, but it’s not worth losing musical information. This record may not sound perfect, but it sounded right to our ears, and most copies just plain don’t. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac / Bare Trees – Listening in Depth

More Fleetwood Mac

Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac

xxxxx

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Bare Trees. Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Child of Mine

A real rocker from Danny Kirwan. If the electric piano is rich on your copy and you have some top end and space you are probably off to a very good start.

The Ghost
Homeward Bound
Sunny Side of Heaven

A wonderfully poignant, even melancholy instrumental track by Bob Welch. Not sure if that’s him on guitar but the playing is beautiful. The high point of side one.

Side Two

This is where most of the best music on Bare Trees can be found. We like every song on this side.

Bare Trees

If this song doesn’t get your blood pumping, you need to turn up the volume another click or two. There is tremendous energy and joy in this song, and it needs to be played loud to get those feelings across.

Sentimental Lady
Danny’s Chant
Spare Me a Little of Your Love

This is a tough track to get right. The Brit is smoother and sweeter, which works on this song. Bad copies can sound hard on Christine’s vocals as well as the chorus.

Dust

One of my all time favorite Fleetwood Mac songs. On a good copy this track sounds so sweet. The texture to the voices is right on the money — neither grainy nor dull.

Thoughts on a Grey Day (more…)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Self-Titled

xxxxx

  • Wow – Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish for the band’s debut and vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find
  • These sides are exceptionally low-distortion, solid, dynamic, with the neutral tonality completely missing from the current spate of reissues
  • Featuring classics such as I Put a Spell on You, the extended-length jam Susie Q (8:37, perfect for Underground Radio), The Working Man, Porterville and more
  • 4 stars: “CCR’s self-titled debut album was gloriously out-of-step with the times, teeming with John Fogerty’s Americana fascinations. … the band’s sound is vibrant, with gutsy arrangements that borrow equally from Sun, Stax, and the swamp.”

It’s unlikely you will be demonstrating your system with this record, but you may find yourself enjoying the hell out of it for what it is — an early example of Roots Rock that still holds up today.

This is an album that’s nearly impossible to find with excellent sound and clean surfaces. This is one of the best copies we’ve managed to come across. (more…)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Pendulum

More Creedence Clearwater Revival

More Roots Rock LPs

xxxxx

  • This Fantasy stereo pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Bigger and bolder, with more bass, more energy, and more of that “you-are-there-immediacy” of ANALOG that set the best vintage pressings apart from reissues, CDs, and whatever else you care to name
  • 4 stars: “John Fogerty spent time polishing the production, bringing in keyboards, horns, even a vocal choir. His songs became self-consciously serious and tighter, working with the aesthetic of the rock underground — Pendulum was constructed as a proper album, contrasting dramatically with CCR’s previous records, all throwbacks to joyous early rock records where covers sat nicely next to hits and overlooked gems tucked away at the end of the second side.”

This copy will surely beat any pressing you put it up against. This will be especially true if you put it up against the Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl from years back, which will sound thick, opaque, airless and congested next to a properly mastered Fantasy pressing (deep groove or otherwise) such as this one. (more…)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – “I’ve listened to it numerous times and it just does not have that sound stage I was expecting.”

More Creedence Clearwater Revival

More Roots Rock LPs

xxxxx

A customer recently contacted us after making his first purchase and being disappointed with the White Hot Stamper pressing we had sent him.

Hi,

Wondered who I can talk to about this record that I purchased. I’ve listened to it numerous times and it just does not have that sound stage I was expecting.

I am not looking for a refund. In fact, I refuse a refund. However, I would appreciate the opportunity to speak to someone about the factors that make this a “White Hot Pressing.”

I’m sure you need to understand what amplifier, speakers, setting, etc. I am using. Without Going into the details, I have a McIntosh amplifier and Focal 936 speakers. I know how much of a difference equipment makes in the sound of a record.

I love to hear amazing records, some of which I have in original pressings I purchased when they were released and can truly feel it when there is something special about the record. This one does not seem to have it to me, but I am interested in finding and purchasing one from you that gives that amazing feeling.

Please let me know if there is someone I can speak to about finding that record.

Thank you,
Sanjay

I replied with an overwhelming amount of information (and opinions!) designed to help Sanjay understand more about records, as follows:

Sanjay,

Tom here. Let me see if I can help.

The first thing I would need to know is what version of the album do you have that you think sounds better, or, if not better, comparable?

[He had no other pressing, not surprising as our White Hot copies are almost impossible to beat.]

Assuming you don’t have a better copy — we would be very surprised if you did — we would say that it’s likely there are two factors at play:

White Hot does not mean amazing Demo Disc sound. It means the best sound we can find for this recording, relative to the others we play. In other words, the best there is within the limitations of the recording.

We can’t fix the recording, we can only find you the best available pressing. If you were expecting more, something along the lines of Dark Side of the Moon, then I understand your disappointment. (more…)

Gary Wright / The Dream Weaver – A Good Test for Gritty, Grainy Sound

More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

xxx

  • A Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two (for the classic title track)
  • Big, rich and full-bodied with lovely texture to the synths and relatively little grit – crucially important to the best copies
  • Only the second Triple Plus copy to hit the site since 2015 – pressings with this kind of sound are tougher to come by than you might imagine
  • 4 Stars: “Backed with only drums and a wide assortment of keyboards, Gary Wright crafted instantly recognizable tunes such as the title cut and “Love Is Alive,” which caught on and remain staples of classic rock stations around the U.S. … Dream Weaver hasn’t lost any of its magic over time.”

Most pressings of this album tend to err in one of two ways: either they get hard and gritty in the upper mids, or they’re smeary and dull.

Our best copies get the balance right — plenty of texture on the keyboards and drums, with vocals that still have presence and breathiness — and not too much grit.

Keyboards and More Keyboards

An all-keyboard pop record like this was a rarity at the time. The only other instruments besides drums (and one track with guitar) are keyboards. Every song is layered with multi-tracked clavinets, organs, and Moogs — it was a remarkable feat in 1975 to create an album with nothing but keys. Listen to the title track, the most dynamic song on the record, and you will hear just how well all of those stacked keyboards and synths work together. (Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life borrowed a page or two from Gary’s solo debut here.) (more…)

Paul Simon – Graceland

More Paul Simon

Hot Stamper Pressings of Graceland Available Now


xxxxx

  • A KILLER copy of Paul Simon’s 1986 release with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Richer, smoother yet still very clear and highly resolving, in precisely the way so few copies are
  • Guaranteed to trounce the well-reviewed but nevertheless AWFUL Heavy Vinyl LP in every way, or your money back and the shipping is on us
  • There’s a delicate, extended top end on this pressing that simply does not exist on the new reissue
  • 5 stars: “An enormously successful record, Graceland became the standard against which subsequent musical experiments by major artists were measured.”

(more…)

Joe Jackson / Jumpin’ Jive – Get Rid of Grit and Grain The Right Way

More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

xxx

Jumpin’ Jive is one of the clearest examples of an album where it is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to make sure your stereo is running on good electricity before you make any attempt to play it. This is the kind of recording — bright, full of energy — that will bring most stereo systems to their knees. Of course, when you play a good copy and it really sounds good, it’s a record that rewards all the time and effort you’ve put into your system.

So much of the aggressiveness, grit and grain that we hear in immediate, high-energy recordings such as this are really the fault of the electricity feeding the stereo, not the fault of the record or even the equipment used to play it.

Now it should be noted that this recording has a ton of high frequency information that will be difficult to reproduce on most systems. If you leave a lot of appliances and electronic devices plugged in around the house when you listen to your stereo, you can forget ever hearing this record right. The grit and grunge caused by polluted electricity will make this record practically unlistenable, at the levels we listen at anyway. (At lower levels most of the garbage is masked, one reason no doubt that audiophiles rarely turn their stereos up to anything approaching live levels.) 

So do as we do: unplug everything you can get your hands on before you sit down to listen. Make sure your tubes (if you have tube equipment) are nice and warm too. (more…)

The Eagles – The Typical Domestic Pressing of On The Border Sucks, and Here’s Why

More Eagles

More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

eagleonthe_polarity_1187294511

This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity on some songs.

The domestic copies of On The Border have many tracks in reversed absolute phase, including and especially Midnight Flyer, a lifelong favorite of mine. The front and center banjo will positively tear your head off; it’s bright, sour, shrill, aggressive and full of distortion. Don’t look at me — that’s what reverse polarity sounds like!

I’ve known for some time that domestic pressings of On The Border have their phase reversed — just hadn’t gotten around to discussing the issue because I wasn’t ready to list the record and describe the phenomenon.

A while back [January 2005, time flies] I happened to play a copy of One Of These Nights and was appalled by the dismal quality of the sound. Last night I put two and two together. I pulled out both Eagles records and listened to them with the phase reversed. Voila! (On The Border is a favorite record of mine, dismissed by everyone else, but loved by yours truly.)

[I don’t think One of These Nights has its polarity reversed anymore, although some copies may.]

I’m of the opinion that a very small percentage of records have their absolute phase reversed. Once you’ve learned to recognize the kind of distortion reversed polarity causes, you will hear recordings that may make you suspicious, and the only way to know for sure is to switch the positive and negative, wherever you choose to do so. 

With the help of our EAR 324 Phono Stage the phase is reversible with the mere touch of a button, a wonderful convenience that we have grown to love, along with the amazingly transparent sound of course. (Hard to imagine living without either at this point.) (more…)