Moderately Helpful Title-Specific Advice

Doc Watson – Home Again

More Doc Watson

More Folk Revival Music

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…)

Phil Manzanera – A Truly Awesome Feat of Engineering by Rhett Davies

More of the Music of Phil Manzanera

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Phil Manzanera

You may recall reading this bit about Rhett Daviesengineering on Dire Straits’ debut:

“…until something better comes along, this is his Masterpiece. It has to be one of the best sounding rock records ever made, with Tubey Magical mids, prodigious bass, transparency and freedom from hi-fi-ishness and distortion like few rock recordings you have ever heard.”

Well, something better has now come along, and it’s called Diamond Head.

It has some of the Biggest, Boldest Sound we have ever heard. Diamond Head isn’t known as an audiophile album but it should be — the sound is glorious — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, and as rich and dynamic as it gets.

It’s clearly a Big Speaker Demo Disc. Play this one as loud as you can. The louder you play it, the better it sounds.

The best copies have Room Shaking Deep Bass with the kind of Whomp that can drive this music to practically unexplored heights.

It’s also transparent, with a large, deep soundfield that really allows you to hear into the music and the studio space in which it was created. The clarity is superb with all the detail and texture one could hope for, but the real kicker is the amount of Energy and Musical Drive that these two sides have going for them.

This is what the Master Tape is really capable of — Mind Bogglingly Good Sound.

Looking for Tubey Magic? Rhett Davies is your man. Just think about the sound of the first Dire Straits album or Avalon. The best pressings of those albums — those with truly Hot Stampers — are swimming in it. (more…)

Paul McCartney’s Must Own Masterpiece

More of the Music of Paul McCartney

More Recordings by Robin Black

The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. It sounds like it’s recorded live in the studio, but of course that’s impossible, because Paul plays practically all the instruments himself! It just goes to show how good a multi-track studio recording can sound when it’s done well.

The recording also has an unprocessed quality which we have always found attractive, with some songs sounding more like demos than finished takes, about as far from Abbey Road as it is possible to get.

In our experience, the real McCartney Magic is only found on the best domestic Apple pressings. We’ve never heard an import that did much for us, and the later CBS issues are hardly worth the vinyl they’re pressed on.

This album, like Unplugged and Band on the Run (and not a whole lot else) is SUPERB from start to finish. At the end of side two you want MORE. I wish I could say that about the rest of his discography.

McCartney Checks Off Some Big Boxes for Us

It’s a Must Own record.

It’s a Rock and Pop Masterpiece.

And it’s a Personal Favorite of mine, one which I have been obsessed with since I first discovered how well recorded the album was sometime in the early ’90s.

The blog you are on now as well as our website are both devoted to very special records such as these.

In my opinion, this is also a record that should be more popular with audiophiles. If you have not heard this classic, check it out.

It is the very definition of a Big Speaker album. The better pressings have the kind of ENERGY in their grooves that are sure to leave most audiophile systems begging for mercy.

This is The Audio Challenge that awaits you. If you don’t have a system designed to play records with this kind of size and power, don’t expect to hear them the way McCartney, engineer Robin Black and anybody else involved in the production wanted you to.

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Listening in Depth to Bare Trees

More of the Music of Fleetwood Mac

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Fleetwood Mac

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…)

Frank Sinatra – Another Kevin Gray Mediocrity

More of the Music of Frank Sinatra

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocals Albums

Sonic Grade: C-

Reprise reissued this album on 180 gram vinyl in 2004.

Our advice: skip this Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity. The originals are far better and not that hard to find.

In fact, the good originals are so good that they can be found in our Vocal Demo Disc section. I’m pretty sure that this run-of-the-mill reissue is nobody’s idea of a Demo Disc.

Mastered by Kevin Gray, this record has what we would call ”modern” sound, which is to say it’s clean and tonally correct, but it’s missing the Tubey Magic the originals are full of.

In other words, it sounds like a CD.

Who can be bothered to play a record that has so few of the qualities audiophiles are looking for on vinyl? Back in 2007 we put the question this way: Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

Also, skip the orange label reissues. We’ve never heard a good one and we stopped buying them a long time ago.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Records are getting awfully expensive these days, and it’s not just our Hot Stampers that seem priced for perfection.

If you are still buying these modern remastered pressings, making the same mistakes that I was making before I knew better, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered LPs.

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your copy. of the album.

And if for some reason you disagree with us that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

McDonald and Giles – A Sleeper Prog Album from 1970

Hot Stamper Pressings of Prog Rock Albums Available Now

More Recordings Engineered by Brian Humphries

Brian Humphries engineered the album, and although you may not be familiar with that name, if you’re an audiophile you should get to know his work better, as this guy recorded some amazing sounding albums.

Take a gander at this group:

  • Black Sabbath – Paranoid
  • Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
  • Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die
  • Traffic – The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys 

Two are of course on our Top 100 Rock and Pop List, and all four — five if you count McDonald And Giles — qualify as State of the Art Rock Recordings from the era.

Demo Disc Quality Sound

If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good the best early Island Label recordings can sound, this killer copy should do the trick.

This UK pressing is super spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

This IS the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There may well be a CD of this album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable and a good collection of vintage vinyl could care less.

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Listening in Depth to the White Album

Hot Stamper Pressings of The White Album Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The White Album

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

It’s exceedingly difficult to find audiophile quality sound on The White Album. The Beatles were breaking apart, often recording independently of each other, with their own favorite engineers as enablers, and George Martin nowhere to be found most of the time. They were also experimenting more and more with sound itself, which resulted in wonderful songs and interesting effects. However, these new approaches and added complexity often result in a loss of sonic “purity.”

Let’s face it, most audiophiles like simplicity: A female vocal, a solo guitar — these things are easy to reproduce and often result in pleasing sound, the kind of sound that doesn’t take a lot of expensive equipment or much effort to reproduce.

Dense mixes with wacky EQ are hard to reproduce (our famous Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS) comes into play here), and the White Album is full of that sound, taking a break for songs like Blackbird and Julia.

Some of the Tubey Magic that you hear on Pepper is gone for good. (Play With a Little Help from My Friends on a seriously good Hot Stamper pressing to see what has been lost forever. Lovely Rita would probably work just as well, too.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Looks at the lineup for side one. Is there a rock album on the planet with a better batch of songs?

Having done shootouts for the White Album by the score, we can also say with some certainty that side one is the most difficult side to find White Hot stamper sound for. It’s somewhat rare to find a side one that earns our top Triple Plus (A+++) sonic grade, even when all the other sides do. (Actually what happens more often than not is that we take the best second discs and mate them with the best first discs to make the grades consistent for the whole album. But don’t tell anybody.) (more…)

Squeeze / Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti – A Personal Favorite from 1985

If you’re a fan of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson and a few other lesser-knowns from this era, Squeeze is the band for you. I put them right up there with Elvis Costello and Peter Gabriel in the pantheon of Best British Pop Music Bands of All Time.

Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti has long been a favorite album of mine, a Desert Island Disc if you will, with some of the most powerfully produced, intelligently written and passionately performed songs in the entire Squeeze canon.

There’s plenty of Tubey Magical richness and smoothness on the best British pressings — such as this one — qualities the domestic pressings are sorely lacking, having been mastered from dub tapes. If you want to hear this music right on vinyl, it’s British or nothing, and with one of our Hot Stamper pressings it’s British and everything — everything that’s good about this recording is captured on these sides.

What to Listen For

The overall sound needs to be rich and tubey, not dry, thin or modern.

Clarity and space are nice but not if they come at the expense of the smooth, rich, natural sound of tubes (whether there are tubes in the chain or not).

For more What to Listen For advice on other titles we have auditioned, please click here.

This record sounds best to us this way:

On Big Speakers at Loud Levels 

On the Right Early Pressing 

On the Right Import Pressing

For more modestly helpful title-specific advice, click here.

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Deep Purple – One of the All Time Great Sounding Live Rock Albums

deeppmadei_1606_1152215422More of the Music of Deep Purple

More Live Recordings of Interest

Machine Head Live? That would not be far off, and the fact they brought Martin Birch along with them all the way to Japan in order to engineer a live album that was only supposed to sell to the Japanese market (!) could not have been more fortuitous for us audiophiles.

Machine Head is clearly one of the best sounding hard rock records ever made, and Made In Japan, its successor, sounds more like a top quality studio production than any live album I’ve ever heard. It’s shocking how clean and undistorted the sound is. Equally shocking is the fact that it’s every bit as big and lively as a Hard Rockin’ Live Album should be.

This is a combination the likes of which we hear far too rarely.

We’ve raved about a number of live albums over the years. Some of the better sounding ones that come readily to mind (in alphabetical order) are listed below. Fans of any of these bands can be proud to have a Hot Stamper pressing of any of these albums in their collection.

The albums I would want in my personal collection are noted with an asterisk [*].

  • The Band / Rock of Ages*
  • Harry Belafonte / At Carnegie Hall*
  • David Bowie / David Live*
  • Johnny Cash / At San Quentin
  • Cheap Trick / At Budokan
  • Eric Clapton / Just One Night*
  • Deep Purple / Made in Japan
  • Donny Hathaway / Live*
  • Jimi Hendrix / The Jimi Hendrix Concerts
  • Humble Pie / Performance – Rockin’ The Fillmore
  • Albert King / Live Wire – Blues Power
  • Little Feat / Waiting For Columbus*
  • Lou Rawls / Live!*
  • The Rolling Stones / Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out* 
  • The Who / Live at Leeds*

Having just played a stack of copies of Made In Japan, I’d put it right up there with the best of the best.

In terms of Tubey Magic, richness and naturalness — qualities that are usually in very short supply on live albums — I would have to say that the shootout winning copies of Made In Japan might just take Top Honors for Best Sounding Live Rock Album of All Time. Yes, the sound is that good.

Want to find your own top quality copy?

Consider taking our Moderately Helpful Advice about the pressings that have tended to win shootouts over the years.

In our experience, this record sounds best this way:

On Big Speakers at Loud Levels 

On the Right Early Pressing 

On the Right British Import Pressing 

Watch out for this UK pressing, it sounds as dubby as the domestic pressings do.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Key Tracks for Critical Listening 

Yes, We’re Getting Awfully Close To The Edge…

Hot Stamper Pressings of the Music of Yes Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Close to the Edge

On the Difficulty of Reproduction scale, this record scores fairly high. You need lots of tubey magic and freedom from distortion, the kind of sound I rarely hear on any but the most heavily tweaked systems. The kind of systems that guys like me have been slaving over for thirty years.

If you’re a Weekend Warrior when it comes to stereo, this is not the record for you.

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.

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 .

Even our Hottest Stamper copies can sound problematical unless your system is firing on all cylinders. Your electricity has got to be cooking, you’ve got to be using the right room treatments, and ideally you should be using a demagnetizer such as the Talisman on the record itself, 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’re up to the challenge. If you don’t mind putting in a little hard work, here’s a record that will reward you many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process.

We’d started and abandoned this shootout multiple times in the previous decade; the typical sounding copy was just too painful to listen to, and the better pressings weren’t doing what we had hoped they would. Where was the Tubey Magical analog sound with the HUGE whomp factor that we’d been hearing on the best copies of Fragile and The Yes Album? We just could not find that sound on Close to the Edge.

As futile as our previous attempts were, we decided in 2008 that we would take another stab at it. After all, there had been quite a few changes around here that had the stereo working really well —  the addition of the Odyssey Record Cleaning Machine and Walker Enzyme solution to our cleaning process, the Talisman Magnetic Optimizer, the third pair of Hallographs we added years back, tons of smaller tweaks, and a few other tricks that we’re going to have to leave hidden up our sleeves for now.

The Planets Align

Think about it: This is a highly COMPLEX recording, with HUGE organs, light-speed changes, lots of multi-tracking, and what amounts to an OVERLOAD of musical information. Can you imagine how irritating that would sound on a third-rate copy? We didn’t have to imagine it — we lived through it!

But that’s exactly what made the shootout so rewarding. We had finally gotten the sound we were searching for from Close To The Edge, although it was anything but easy. The toughest peaks to climb are the ones you feel the best standing at the top of, and I have no doubt that many of you will be able to get there, just as we did, as long as you’re willing to work for it. (We humbly suggest you follow our lead. As we like to say, what works for us can work for you.)

If It Doesn’t Blow You Away…

Send it back, we’ll return all your money. We understand that it’s entirely possible that you won’t be able to unlock the magic in the grooves that we were able to hear. (We failed too, remember? More than once in fact.)

We put a lot of time and energy into getting everything just right for our shootouts, and to hear the album sound amazing you’re going to have to do the same. If it doesn’t all come together and our Hot Stamper Close to the Edge leaves you cold, feel free to send it back for a full refund. That’s always our policy, but we wanted to stress it in regards to this album, because it is VERY difficult to reproduce. (Big speakers are pretty much a must on this one as well.)

And it should be noted that there is distortion on the tape. It’s on every LP copy and it’s on the CD too. There are cacophonous passages that have what sounds like board overload, mic preamp overload, tape saturation or some combination of all three.

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