Records that Are Good for Testing String Tone and Texture

Electric Light Orchestra / On the Third Day – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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This White Hot Stamper Side Two is proof positive that the master tape used to cut the album back in 1973 was right here in the good old U. S. of A. The sound is positively JUMPING out of the speakers, like nothing you’ve ever heard before from this band — especially if you have a British pressing of the album. The sound has real life to it, unlike the sound on the import pressings of the album. Once you’ve played a good domestic pressing such as this one, it’s obvious that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers.

We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our shootout and they all sucked. We always buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that sound the best, the domestic pressings time and again sounding as though they were mastered from dub tapes. But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British. Live and learn I guess. (more…)

Elton John – Elton John

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  • Stunning DEMO DISC sound throughout – Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and close to that on the first
  • An original UK pressing with sound this good is a Must Own for all right thinking audiophile record lovers, not just Elton John fans
  • No modern record ever sounded like this – these sides are HUGE, with sound that positively jumps out of the speakers
  • Some of the most remarkable string arrangements (and Tubey Magical string sound) ever recorded for a pop album
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Even with the strings and choirs that dominate the sound of the album, John manages to rock out on a fair share of the record. …Elton John remains one of his best records.”

Folks, if you’re looking for Classic Rock that still appeals to sophisticated adults forty plus years after it came out, this is the album for you. It’s one of the four Classic Elton John records (five if you count GYBR) that belong in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection.*

It’s full of analog Tubey Magic — the richness, sweetness, and warmth are nothing short of stunning. The transparency, clarity, texture, dynamics, energy, spaciousness, and three-dimensionality of this recording are really something to be heard. The piano has real weight, the vocals are breathy and full, and the string tone is some of the best we have ever heard on a pop album.

Drop the needle on Border Song. When it hits the big “Holy Moses” chorus, you can pick out and follow all the different voices. The sound of the harp on Sixty Years On is positively sublime. (more…)

Beethoven – String Quartet Opus 130 / Grosse Fuge / Quartetto Italiano

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

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  • This wonderful Philips recording makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • This is a superb recording – big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic, and is guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of chamber music you own
  • This copy showed that it had the balance of clarity and sweetness we were looking for in the tone of the violins, viola and cello
  • Above all, the recording sounds natural and real, and with Shootout Winning sides, this pressing was the most natural and most real of all the copies we played

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Electric Light Orchestra – On the Third Day

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  • This outstanding copy of the band’s third studio album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • This domestic LP is proof that the master tape used to cut the album in 1973 was right here in the good old U.S. of A.
  • “Electric Light Orchestra’s third album showed a marked advancement, with a fuller, more cohesive sound from the band as a whole and major improvements in Jeff Lynne’s singing and songwriting.”
  • “The ELO’s blending of rock drums, pop violins, a semiclassical feel in the sweep of these same violins, the midrange colors of the cello, and a vocal blend that reminds one of the Beatles in their sophisticated studio days, makes up all the key elements in their music.”

Once you’ve played a good domestic pressing, it’s obvious that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports make it sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers.

We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our first big shootout in 2010 and they all sucked. We always buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that sound the best, the domestic pressings time and again sounding as though they were mastered from dub tapes.

But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British. Live and learn I guess. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

The sound is EXTRAORDINARILY rich, smooth, full-bodied and natural on both sides. We have never heard What’s New sound like this.

With two White Hot sides this pressing gets two critically important elements of the recording more right than any copies we have ever heard: the strings in the orchestra, and, even more importantly for obvious reasons, Linda’s voice. Both sides give you a much more natural sounding Linda than you have ever heard. She’s fuller, sweeter, breathier, less spitty (some tracks more than others) and just plain less artificial than any others we played.

We’ve criticized the engineer George Massenburg on this site in the past, but with this copy we almost want to take it all back.

What he gets right on this recording is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with various jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio. The sound stretches far to Linda’s left, far to her right, as well as back far behind her in a huge semi-circle. She is of course singing in a vocal booth, with her vocal placed front and center in the soundstage.

As an aside, George Massenburg went on to record the Trio album with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. The analog sound he produced was shockingly rich, smooth and sweet — and in 1987 no less! (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – On the Third Day – The British Imports Are Made from Dubs

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Sonic Grade: F

It’s obvious, or should be, that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers. We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our shootout many years ago and they all sucked.

We tend to buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that often sound the best. Many of the domestic pressings sound as though they were mastered from dub tapes.

But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British. (more…)

Offenbach / Gaite Parisienne / Dorati – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This lovely Mercury Golden Import LP not only has Super Hot Stamper sound on side one, which is where Gaite Parisienne can be found, but it also boasts one of the greatest performances of the piece ever recorded. 

Dorati is surely The Man when it comes to energy, drive and dynamic excitement with this venerable warhorse. He and his Minneapolis Symphony play the hell out of this boisterous music, and luckily for us audiophiles, the Mercury engineers give us Demonstration Quality Sound to go with it.

The original Mercury release of this record (90016) is a shrill piece of trash, as is the Mercury Wing pressing. So many of the early Mercurys were poorly mastered it seems. We audiophiles must wait for reissues (either by Mercury or in this case by Philips once they had bought Mercury) to show us how good the sound of a particular recording might actually be. (Of course what you really need is the right copy to know ultimately how good the recording can be, and to find it you might have to clean and play ten LPs, or more. That’s where we come in.) (more…)

Prokofiev / Scythian Suite & The Prodigal Son – Ansermet – Reviewed in 2006

More Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Scythian Suite & The Prodigal Son – Ansermet

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This is a London Whiteback LP with SUPERB SOUND on both sides. It’s immediate, dynamic, very low distortion, spacious, and relatively sweet.

The bass deserves special mention here. You rarely hear recordings from the ’50s and early ’60s, the kind of LPs that were mastered with tubes of course, having this kind of truly deep punchy bass. As this album was recorded in ’67 and mastered relatively soon thereafter, the cutting equipment capable of inscribing deep bass onto a slab of vinyl was widely available. For this piece of music it’s almost mandatory to get good solid low end.  (more…)

Respighi / Ancient Airs and Dances / Dorati

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

Both sides of this TAS List early Colorback RFR copy have SUPER Hot Stamper sound, so much richer and sweeter and less strident than the typical copy you might find. (I must admit the Mercury approach to sound has not worn as well as I might have hoped. When it comes to the Big Three from the Golden Age, these days we prefer London, followed by RCA, then Mercury.) 

Of course the music is wonderful, with Respighi looking back and paying homage to the music and the musical structures of the past. This is no Pines of Rome. Please see the Ancient Airs and Dances tab above for more on the music.

Side One

A++ Superb Living Presence sound. Listen especially to how textured and natural he cellos sound, as well as the strings in general. Mercury rarely recorded strings properly but here they sound tonally correct, neither nasally nor strident. (more…)

Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin – Balancing the Vocal, Strings and Rhythm

More Billie Holiday

More Lady In Satin

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

The better copies reproduce clearly what to our minds are the three most important elements in the recording — strings, rhythm, and vocal — and, more importantly, the are reproduced properly balanced with one another. 

The monos, as you might expect, balance the three elements well enough, but the problem with mono is that the vocals and instruments are jammed together in the center of the soundfield, layered atop one another.

Real clarity, the kind that live music has in abundance, is difficult if not impossible under the circumstances. Only the stereo pressings provide the space that each of the elements need in order to be heard.

Naturally the vocals have to be the main focus on a Billie Holiday record. They should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and transparent. To qualify as a Hot Stamper, the pressings we offer must be highly resolving. You will hear everything, surrounded by the natural space of the legendary Columbia 30th Street Studio in which the recording was made. 
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