Records that Sound Best in Stereo, not Mono

Andre Previn & His Pals – Gigi

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  • A KILLER sounding original Black Label Stereo pressing with Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last    
  • If you have never heard an All Tube Analog piano trio recording by Roy DuNann from the Golden Age of Tape, you are really in for a treat with this phenomenal sounding LP
  • Exceptionally (I’m tempted to write impossibly) quiet vinyl throughout – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “André Previn’s ten records for Contemporary during 1957-1960 were among the finest jazz recordings of his career… Best known among the songs are “I Remember It Well” and “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” but the trio also uplifts and swings the other lesser-known tunes.”

This vintage Contemporary Black Label pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak my stereo and many of those that were owned by friends. 

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Wellthings have certainly changed.

I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you are should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)

The Mastersounds – Swinging With The Mastersounds

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  • The Mastersounds’ 1960 release finally arrives on the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side two and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one – exceptionally quiet Red Vinyl too   
  • These sides are doing everything right — full, clear, and solid, with the Tubey Magical Midrange that can only be found on recordings from this era
  • If you’re a fan of the Modern Jazz Quartet, you may feel as I do that the Mastersounds’ Montgomery brothers on vibes and bass play this kind of smooth jazz much better than the often-sleepy MJQ
  • “Swinging With the Mastersounds is accurately titled; its six tracks are all standards, and all are taken at a gentle, loping tempo and spin out sweetly…”

This reissue is spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s and ’80s. We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 35+ years ago, not the generally opaque, veiled and lifeless mastering so common today. (more…)

Ray Charles – Have a Smile With Me

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout
  • The richness in the vocals and the wonderfully Tubey Magical sound makes this copy especially impressive
  • It’s not easy to find a Ray Charles record from the Sixties that plays this quietly: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • AMG writes, “…He elevates the material with soulful vocals and good arrangements, particularly when the Raeletts back him up (as they do on half the tracks).”

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top (to keep the female backup singers, the Raelets. sweet and clear) did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record. We know, we hear practically all of them whenever we sit down to do one of these shootouts. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – It’s Monk’s Time

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It’s Monk’s Time

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This may be the best sounding Thelonious Monk album to ever hit the site. We can thank the brilliant Columbia engineers for their service to one of the authentic geniuses of jazz.

And if you own the Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl reissue, please buy this copy and hear what you’ve been missing.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Lulu’s Back In Town
Memories Of You
Stuffy Turkey

Side Two

Brake’s Sake
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Shuffle Boil

AMG Review

It’s Monk’s Time (1964) contains some of the best — if not arguably the best — studio sides that the pianist cut during his final years as a recording musician…

From four sessions in early 1964, It’s Monk’s Time gathers four quartet and two solo sides, presenting the pinnacle of what these musicians offered stylistically as well as from the standpoint of presentation.

There is sense of mischievous playfulness in Monk’s nimble keyboard work, especially notable on the beautifully off-kilter unaccompanied opening to “Lulu’s Back in Town,” and the same practically impish quality also drives the solo performance on “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”

Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um – Our Shootout Winner from 2018

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This freakishly good 360 beat our best 6 Eye Stereo original, not to mention every other pressing in our shootout as well – darn quiet too. Another amazing 30th Street Studio recording by the legendary Fred Plaut – if you like Kind of Blue, here’s another album with that sound (same year, same studio, same engineer).

This is one of the better sounding copies from our most recent shootout. We were lucky enough to acquire a few clean LPs over the course of the last year, and this was far and away better than most copies.

A Jazz Masterpiece from Charlie Mingus

What the best sides of this 1959 album have to offer is clear for all to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl domestic pressings like this one offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1959
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the keyboards, guitars and drums having the correct sound for this kind of recording
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now

Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Vintage Vinyl

This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot 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 Magical 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.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Charles Mingus playing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Better Get It in Yo’ Soul 
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat 
Boogie Stop Shuffle 
Self-Portrait in Three Colors
Open Letter to Duke

Side Two

Bird Calls 
Fables of Faubus 
Pussy Cat Dues 
Jelly Roll

AMG 5 Star Rave Review!

Charles Mingus’ debut for Columbia, Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist’s talents and probably the best reference point for beginners. While there’s also a strong case for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady as his best work overall, it lacks Ah Um’s immediate acccessibility and brilliantly sculpted individual tunes… It simply isn’t possible to single out one Mingus album as definitive, but Mingus Ah Um comes the closest.

Fred Plaut and the Legendary CBS Studios

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

Recording Studio

Having been a church for many years, it had been abandoned and empty for sometime, and in 1949 it was transformed into a recording studio by Columbia Records.

“There was one big room, and no other place in which to record”, wrote John Marks in an article in Stereophile magazine in 2002.

The recording studio had 100 foot high ceilings, a 100 foot floorspace for the recording area, and the control room was on the second floor being only 8 by 14 feet. Later, the control room was moved down to the ground floor.

“It was huge and the room sound was incredible,” recalls Jim Reeves, a sound technician who had worked in it. “I was inspired,” he continues “by the fact that, aside from the artistry, how clean the audio system was.”

Musical Artists

Many celebrated musical artists from all genres of music used the 30th Street Studio for some of their most famous recordings.

Bach: The Goldberg Variations, the 1955 debut album of the Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, was recorded in the 30th Street Studio. It was an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), the work launched Gould’s career as a renowned international pianist, and became one of the most well-known piano recordings. On May 29, 1981, a second version of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould was recorded in this studio, and would be the last production by the famous studio.

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded almost exclusively at the 30th Street Studio during his years under contract to Columbia, including his album Kind of Blue (1959). Other noteworthy jazz musicians having recorded in this place: Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck.

In 1964, Bob Dylan and record producer Tom Wilson were experimenting with their own fusion of rock and folk music. The first unsuccessful test involved overdubbing a “Fats Domino early rock & roll thing” over Dylan’s earlier, recording of “House of the Rising Sun”, using non-electric instruments, according to Wilson. This took place in the Columbia 30th Street Studio in December 1964. It was quickly discarded, though Wilson would more famously use the same technique of overdubbing an electric backing track to an existing acoustic recording with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”.

Fred Plaut, Engineer Extraordinaire

Frederick “Fred” Plaut was a recording engineer and amateur photographer. He was employed by Columbia Records during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, eventually becoming the label’s chief engineer.

Plaut engineered sessions for what would result in many of Columbia’s famous albums, including the original cast recordings of South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, jazz LPs Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty by Charles Mingus.

Wikipedia


Check out more of our Hot Stamper pressings engineered by Fred Plaut.

Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Columbia Six Eye pressing is THE BEST COPY OF THIS ALBUM WE’VE EVER HEARD! We were lucky enough to acquire a few clean copies over the last few months, and this was the best sounding of them all. It’s got that tubey magical late-’50s jazz sound: the brass is incredibly full-bodied, the bottom end has real weight, and the overall sound is amazingly rich and warm. Clean early pressings of this album go for big bucks in stores and on eBay these days with no guarantee whatsover of good sound. This one isn’t cheap either but at least you know that it’s going to sound wonderful. (more…)

Burt Bacharach – Casino Royale

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  • A superb original stereo copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally QUIET vinyl for this album too
  • A record that has its share of problems, but if you’ve got the system for it (huge, heavily tweaked, fast, free from obvious colorations and capable of tremendous resolution), this copy is sure to impress  
  • A TAS List favorite that sounds amazing on a the right early pressing and dramatically better than any Heavy Vinyl reissue that’s we know of
  • “The more recognizable and certainly more straightforward side of Bacharach is here, too, on the Dusty Springfield smash ‘The Look of Love.’ This is one of Bacharach’s best soundtracks…”

The space is big and the sound relatively rich (although the sound does vary quite a bit from track to track). The vocals have notably less hardness than most and the orchestra is not as brash as it can be on so many of the copies we audition. Huge amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies, and critical to The Look of Love. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD.

What outstanding sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1967
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

A Super Disc, Or Is It?

It’s beyond difficult to find Hot Stamper pressings of this album — heck, it’s hard to find ANY clean copy these days, let alone one that sounds great. Both sides are cleaner and clearer than most pressings yet still as rich and full as you’d want them to be. You won’t see too many copies of this one hitting the site, so if this music is up your alley and you have the stereo to play a seriously difficult recording such as this, you might want to jump right on it.

Having heard the best sounding pressings I now understand why this has been such a highly regarded long-term resident of the TAS Superdisc List. The best copies are SUPERDISCS… while the average copy of this album is anything but. Who could take such harsh, grainy, thin, veiled, compressed sound seriously? What was Harry Pearson smokin’?

I can honestly and truthfully say that until we discovered the Hot Stampers for this album, I never thought this record deserved the praise Harry heaped upon it. Now I do. I once was blind but now I see, or something like that. And by the way, does his copy sound as good as this one? Let’s face it: the late Harry Pearson was simply not the kind of guy who would sit down with five or ten copies and shoot them out.

When you listen to the average pressing of Casino Royale, you get the feeling that you’re hearing a standard-issue, boxy, lightweight, blary ’60s soundtrack. Perhaps you hear some promise in the recording, but it’s a promise that’s unfulfilled by the record on your turntable. This copy will completely redefine what you know about the sound of this music.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top (to keep the string arrangements from becoming shrill) did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we heard them all.

What We’re Listening For on Casino Royale

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Phil Ramone in this case — would have put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Casino Royale Theme (Main Theme)
The Look of Love
Money Penny Goes for Broke
Le Chiffre’s Torture of the Mind
Home James, Don’t Spare the Horses
Sir James’ Trip to Find Mata

Side Two

The Look of Love (Instrumental)
Hi There Miss Goodthighs
Little French Boy
Flying Saucer – First Stop Berlin
The Venerable Sir James Bond
Dream On James, You’re Winning
The Big Cowboys and Indians Fight at Casino Royale / Casino Royal Theme (Reprise)

AMG Review

Bacharach excelled at these kinds of musical cut-ups, but thankfully he used liberal doses of humor and melody to keep the proceedings from turning too rarefied or messy. At times, the humor even turns to camp, as it does with the manic hodgepodge of circus themes, gypsy music, and lounge grind on ‘Home James, Don’t Spare the Horses.’ The more recognizable and certainly more straightforward side of Bacharach is here, too, on the Dusty Springfield smash ‘The Look of Love.’ This is one of Bacharach’s best soundtracks and a good buy for seasoned fans.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

A word of caution: Unless your system is firing on all cylinders, even our hottest Hot Stamper copies — the Super Hot and White Hot pressings with the biggest, most dynamic, clearest, and least distorted sound — can have problems . Your system should be thoroughly warmed up, your electricity should be clean and cooking, you’ve got to be using the right room treatments, and we also highly recommend using a demagnetizer such as the the Walker Talisman on the record, your cables (power, interconnect and speaker) as well as the individual drivers of your speakers.

This is a record that’s going to demand a lot from the listener, and we want to make sure that you feel you’re up to the challenge. If you don’t mind putting in a little hard work, here’s a record that will reward your time and effort many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process (especially your VTA adjustment, just to pick an obvious area most audiophiles neglect).

This recording ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale. Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment.

It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively. It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too.

As we’ve said before about these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring an audio system to its knees.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this demands, when you drop the needle on the best of our Hot Stamper pressings, you are going to hear some amazing sound .


Further Reading

..along these lines can be found below.

This listing will help you to Get the Most Out of Your Hot Stampers.

This listing will help you to Get Rid of Grit and Grain the Right Way.

Here’s a link with advice for setting up your Table, Arm and Cartridge that can be found in a section containing Audio Advice of all kinds.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in The Four Pillars of Success.

Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and directly address in this commentary from way back in 2005.

Ella Fitzgerald – Ella and Basie!

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

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one. On the best pressings, the sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album with big band backup. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a good copy, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably isn’t familiar with, and that’s the best reason to put on an old record. 

On the best copies, the space is HUGE and the sound so rich, with prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record. We know, we heard them all. There is a marked tendency on this recording to have a bit of honk or squawk, but our best copies are free from this problem.

We’re glad to report this copy was doing more of what we wanted it to do than any other we played. And we know a fair bit about Ella’s recordings at this point. As of today we’ve done commentaries for more than a dozen different Ella Fitzgerald albums, and that’s not counting the sixteen (yes, 16!) titles we put in our Hall of Shame.

We’ve searched high and low for her records and played them by the score over the years. We plan to keep a good supply on to the site in the coming years so watch for new arrivals in the Vocal section (linked to the left).

Hardness and Brashness

Want to know what we are on about with all this talk of hardness and brashness? Easy, just play the average copy. Unless you are exceptionally fortunate and chanced upon a properly mastered and pressed and cared for copy, you will hear plenty of both.

It’s one of the main reasons we have such a hard time doing shootouts for Ella’s ’50s and ’60s albums. The other of course is the poor condition most copies are in. Few pressings do not have marks that play or damaged grooves. The record players of the ’50s and ’60s, not to mention their owners, were ruinous on the albums of the day.

Which is simply another reason not to expect another top copy of this album to come to the site any time soon. Give us two or three years or so and we might be able to find another batch with which to do a shootout. In that time we will surely look at fifty copies, buy ten, and end up with five that are worth playing.

Obviously, we wouldn’t bother if the music and sound weren’t so good. When you are lucky enough to find a copy that sounds as good as this one, full of standards from the Great American Songbook, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.

Stereo Vs. Mono

It is our opinion that the mono takes all the fun out of the Quincy Jones’ deliberately wide, spacious orchestral presentation surrounding Ella. Which is too bad: the mono pressings are five times as common as the stereo ones.

Val Valentin Behind the Board

VAL VALENTIN‘s engineering credits run for days. Some high points are of course Ella and Louis and Getz/Gilberto.

Recently we played a copy of We Get Requests by the Oscar Peterson Trio that blew our mind. And we have been big fans of Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley for more than a decade.

Pull up his credits on Allmusic. No one I am familiar with other than Rudy Van Gelder recorded more great jazz and vocals, and in our opinion, Valentin’s recordings are quite a bit more natural sounding than Rudy’s.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Honeysuckle Rose 
‘Deed I Do
Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall
Them There Eyes 
Dream a Little Dream of Me
Tea for Two

Side Two

Satin Doll 
I’m Beginning to See the Light 
Shiny Stockings 
My Last Affair 
Ain’t Misbehavin’ 
On the Sunny Side of the Street

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Surprisingly enough this 1963 LP was the first time (other than a couple songs) that Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie recorded together. The match-up was so logical that it would be repeated many times over the next 20 years.

The Everly Brothers – The Golden Hits…

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More The Golden Hits…

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

Our original Gold Label stereo LP here has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s no doubt missing from whatever 180g reissue has been made from the 50+ year old tapes. As good as that pressing may be, we guarantee that this one is dramatically more REAL SOUNDING. It gives you the sense that Phil and Don are right in the room with you.  (more…)