Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Presence

Doc Watson – Home Again

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Want to find your own shootout winner? Scroll to the bottom to see our advice on doing just that.

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Here is the in-the-room performance intimacy that will surely bring Doc’s music to life in a way you’ve never heard before
  • If you own the veiled, opaque, recessed, ambience-challenged Cisco remaster, you are in for a treat – our Hot Stamper is none of those things!
  • “[H]is most affecting folk-style record, with unexpectedly warm vocals matched to the quiet virtuosity of his playing. [The album] features Watson performing lively, achingly beautiful renditions of popular folk standards. All are played with very imposing dexterity by Watson, joined by his son Merle and Russ Savakus on upright bass.

This vintage Vanguard stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, tubey sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). (more…)

The Eagles / The Long Run – Five Killer Songs Is Nothing to Sneeze at

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  • This copy has a rockin’ Long Run like you have never heard, earning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on both sides
  • The sound is full, rich and vibrant with impressive punch down low and nice extension up top
  • The best songs prove that the Eagles were still at the height of their powers
  • The first two songs on both sides are practically as good as it gets for mainstream rock from this era – they’re playlist staples of Classic Rock stations from coast to coast to this day
  • “The Long Run is a chilling and altogether brilliant evocation of Hollywood’s nightly Witching Hour, that nocturnal feeding frenzy first detailed by Warren Zevon on his haunting Asylum debut (Warren Zevon, 1976) and the equally powerful Excitable Boy.” Rolling Stone

The last song on side two, The Sad Cafe, is also a standout. Others, as they used to say in school, “need improvement.”

But five Killer Eagles songs is nothing to sneeze at. This is an album that belongs in your collection, even if you choose to only listen to the best material on it. (more…)

The Doors – Self-Titled

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  • An outstanding copy of the band’s debut with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – we guarantee you’ve never experienced The Doors like this!
  • The sound is incredibly big, rich and spacious, with a rock solid bottom end and energy that puts the lie to the modern veiled, lifeless reissue
  • Only the right Gold Label originals can win a shootout, and few of them are not going to have condition issues, but the two here are fairly minor all things considered
  • A must-own album “whose nonstop melodicism and dynamic tension would never be equaled by the group again, let alone bettered.”
  • 5 stars: “A tremendous debut album, and indeed one of the best first-time outings in rock history, introducing the band’s fusion of rock, blues, classical, jazz and poetry with a knockout punch.”

Superb sound on this copy of the Doors self-titled classic! You won’t believe how good the sound is here — big and rich with plenty of bottom end and an energy level that’s really something to hear! Thanks, Bruce Botnick, you da man!

Honestly, we must return or reject 80% of the copies that come through the door, which should go a long way towards explaining why they hit the site with such irregularity. We know what the best stampers are and have for quite a while. What we have a devil of a time doing is finding anyone selling the album who knows how to grade it properly, especially when it comes to the kind of groove damage that’s common to records played on turntables that lack anti-skate. (more…)

Simon and Garfunkel / Sounds of Silence – What to Listen For

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Hot Stamper Pressings of Sounds of Silence Available Now

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This album is the proverbial tough nut to crack, a mix of folkie tracks and ambitious big production numbers, all recorded on a four track machine and bounced down maybe just a few too many times along the way. Some got handed a troublesome case of Top 40 EQ — hey, this is 1965, it’s the way they thought pop records should sound.

But many of the best tracks survived just fine. They can sound wonderful, it’s just that they rarely do. This is precisely where we come into the picture.

The key to good sounding pressings of this record is to look for the ones with a top end. Now of course you can’t see the top end when you buy the record. But most of the copies of this album you pick up are going to sound like cassettes. There won’t be much over 8K, and that means hard, harsh, transistor radio sound.

Although the rock tracks certainly come to life and really do sound good on the hottest of the hot copies, the folkie tracks are the real reason to buy these early pressings. They have the Tubey Magic that’s missing from virtually any reissue or digital format version.

Best and Worst Tracks

For the best sounding tracks try Leaves That Are Green on side one, and April Come She Will on side two. 

Keep in mind that the big hit ”Sounds of Silence” will never sound much better than it does in the car. It’s basically the track from their previous album with rock instrumentation added, meaning an electric guitar, a second generation of tape and some extra distortion for good measure.

But on a superb copy, that track can still be surprisingly enjoyable. Not Demo Disc quality, just enjoyable. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Prisoner In Disguise

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  • Insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this copy of Prisoner, the followup to Linda’s Masterpiece, Heart Like a Wheel
  • This is an amazing recording, but it takes a special copy like this one to reveal all the magic that we know must be on the tape
  • 4 1/2 stars – Love Is a Rose, Tracks of My Tears and Heat Wave were hits, but Linda really pours her heart into Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox
  • Andrew Gold (so critical to the success of HLAW) is still heavily involved, along with Emmylou Harris, James Taylor, Lowell George, David Lindley, JD Souther, and of course Peter Asher

The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that was nonexistent on some of the other copies we played. Drop the needle on Many Rivers To Cross and check out the amazing sound of the organ coming from the back of the room. Only the highest resolution copies give you that kind of soundstage depth.

The piano sounds natural and weighty. The fiddle on The Sweetest Gift (played by our man David Lindley) is full of rosiny texture.

Emmylou Harris, dueting here with Linda, sings beautifully.

All in all, you will find truly Demonstration Quality Sound on the best copies. (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…)

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire

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  • An outstanding original CBS Orange Label British pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • If you were to own only one Fusion record, you could hardly do better than Birds of Fire
  • It’s hard to think of another record that rocks as hard, and it’s not even a real rock record!
  • Clearly one of the All Time Greats in the world of Jazz/Rock, as well as the band’s Masterpiece – 5 stars

This is the band at the peak of their powers and, no pun intended, ON FIRE. This may be jazz, but it’s jazz that wants to rock. And on this copy, it rocks like you will not believe. The louder you play it the better it sounds.

Birds of Fire is one of the top two or three Jazz/Rock Fusion Albums of All Time. In my experience, few recordings within this genre can begin to compete with the Dynamics and Energy of the best pressings of the album — if you have the Big Dynamic system for it.

It’s hard to think of another record that rocks as hard, and it’s not even a real rock record! We find ourselves playing albums like Houses of the Holy and Zep II and Dark Side of the Moon for hour upon hour, with dozens of copies to get through, and we do it on a regular basis. If anybody knows Big Rock Sound, it’s us. But can we really say that those albums rock any harder than this one? Birds of Fire is to Jazz what Zep II is to Rock — the ultimate statement by a band at the absolute top of their game.

We tried doing a shootout for this album in 2008 and failed miserably. At that time, not that long ago when you think about it, there was no way we could get this music to play so loud, so cleanly, and with such correct tonality, from the deepest bass to the highest highs, complete with the wild swings in dynamics that the recording captures so well.

The Audio Revolution Is Alive and Well and making progress all the time.

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Bad Company – Straight Shooter

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  • This outstanding pressing of Straight Shooter boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from first note to last
  • If you’re playing this one good and loud you’ll feel like you’re in the room with the boys as they kick out these classic riff-driven jams
  • Take it from us, it is not easy to find a copy that’s as right as this one, with the weight, balance and energy this music needs to rock
  • 4 stars: “Vocalist and songwriter Paul Rodgers wrote two acoustic-based rock ballads that would live on forever in the annals of great rock history: ‘Shooting Star’ and the Grammy-winning ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love.'”

The sophomore jinx is nowhere to be found on this album. In fact, you could make a pretty good case that this is actually a better album than their debut. The best pressings of this Bad Company classic have ROCK ENERGY that cannot be beat. (more…)

Doc Watson / Home Again – Another Dog from Cisco Records

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Folks, if you made the mistake of buying the Cisco Heavy Vinyl reissue of this album that came out in the early 2000s, you are in for treat if you are able to grab one of our Hot Stamper pressings.

Instead of Doc and his bandmates playing from behind a thick curtain at the back of your sound room, they can now be heard where they should have been all along: front and center between your speakers!

The difference between a truly outstanding vintage pressing and this Modern Mockery of Analog could not be more striking.

We never got around to putting the Cisco pressing in our Hall of Shame (300+ strong!). There are just not enough hours in the day…

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The Doors – L.A. Woman – Rhino Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

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Reviews of L.A. Woman

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The Rhino pressing we auditioned from the Doors Box Set was surprisingly good. It’s rich and smooth with an extended top end — tonally correct in other words — and there’s lots of bass. This is all to the good. For the thirty bucks you might pay for it you’re getting a very good record, assuming yours sounds like ours, something we should really not be assuming, but we do it anyway as there is no other way to write about records other than to describe the sound of the ones we actually have on hand to play.

What it clearly lacks compared to the best originals is, first and foremost, vocal immediacy. There’s a veil that Jim Morrison is singing through, an effect which becomes more bothersome with time, as these sorts of frustrating shortcomings have a habit of doing.

A bit blurry, a bit smeary, somewhat lacking in air and space, on the plus side it has good energy and better bass than most of the copies we played. All in all we would probably give it a “B.” You could do a helluva lot worse.

Record Collecting Advice

All the ’70s and ’80s reissues of this album we’ve ever played were just awful, especially those with the date inscribed in the dead wax.

Remastering Out Too Much of the Good Stuff

What is lost in the newly remastered recordings so popular with the record collecting public these days ? Lots of things, but the most obvious and irritating is the loss of transparency.

Modern records tend to be small, veiled and recessed, and they rarely image well. But the most important quality they lack is transparency. Almost without exception they are opaque. They resist our efforts to hear into the music.

We don’t like that sound, and like it less with each passing day, although we certainly used to put up with it back when we were selling what we considered to be the better Heavy Vinyl pressings from the likes of DCC, Speakers Corner, Cisco and even Classic Records.

Now when we play those records they either bore us to tears or frustrate us with their veiled, vague, lifeless, ambience-challenged presentation.

It was sometime in 2007 when we turned a corner. The remastered Blue on Rhino Heavy Vinyl came out and was such a mediocrity that we asked ourselves “Why bother?” That was all she wrote.

We stopped selling those third-rate remasters and dedicated ourselves to finding, cleaning, playing and critically evaluating vintage pressings, regardless of era or genre of music.

The result is a website full of great sounding records that should find special appeal with audiophiles who set high standards, who own good equipment and who have well-developed critical listening skills.