Records that Sound Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

John Lennon / Imagine – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – this was one of the better copies to emerge from our most recent shootout
  • These superb UK pressings are rich, weighty and oh-so-tubey – it took us a long time to find the right stampers
  • Two of our favorite engineers worked their magic on this recording – our thanks go to Eddie Offord and Shelly Yakus
  • 5 stars: “…it was only marginally less confessional than its predecessor. Underneath the sweet strings of “Jealous Guy” lies a broken and scared man, the jaunty “Crippled Inside” is a mocking assault at an acquaintance, and “Imagine” is a paean for peace in a world with no gods, possessions, or classes, where everyone is equal… A remarkable collection of songs that Lennon would never be able to better again.”

NOTE: A very small mark near the end of track three, side two, How Do You Sleep?, makes three loud pops.

Both sides here are excellent. capturing the essence of what Lennon and Phil Spector (and let’s not forget Yoko, who also gets a producer credit here) were going for. Copies that sound as good as this one do not grow on trees. If it wasn’t ridiculously difficult to find Hot Stamper pressings of Imagine it certainly would not have taken us until 2015 to offer one. (more…)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young / So Far – Listening in Depth

Hot Stamper Pressings of So Far Available Now

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening 

For example, on Find the Cost of Freedom the best copies have DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND. You could say everything that needs to be said about the beauty of analog with this one track alone. It’s not even two minutes long, but it’s two really wonderful minutes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the height of their powers. The voices should sound as sweet and as silky as any CSN three part (four part?) harmony you have ever heard. This song rivals Helplessly Hoping for vocal blend.

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In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Déjà Vu

When you get a good copy of this album, this song sounds like it was lifted right off of a Hot Stamper copy of Deja Vu itself. It’s so rich and Tubey Magical you’d swear it couldn’t get any better. Huge amounts of deep bass. Acoustic guitars that ring for days. Midrange magic to die for. Not many of them sound this way, unfortunately.

If I could indulge in some more MoFi and Half-Speed bashing for a moment, the bass “solo” at the end of this song is a great test for bass definition. The notes are relatively high, and it’s easy for them to sound blurred and wooly. The MoFi, like virtually all Half-Speed mastered records, has a problem with bass definition. If you own the MoFi, listen for how clearly defined the notes are at the end of this track. Then play any other copy, either of So Far or Deja Vu. It’s a pretty safe bet that the bass will be much more articulate. I know how bad the MOFI is in this respect. Rarely do “normal” records have bass that bad.

Stephen Barncard Does It Again

Listen to this song and compare it to anything on the Barncard-engineered first solo LP by David Crosby. That is the sound of Barncard’s engineering — open, spacious, rich, sweet; tons of deep bass; absolutely no trace of phony eq on vocals; acoustic guitars that ring for days — the man is a GENIUS. Thank god he was involved with music of this quality. If only more of the LP pressings did a better job of revealing the exquisite beauty of the recordings themselves. (I suppose that burden must be carried by the few Hot Stamper copies we can dig up.) (more…)

Gino Vannelli and The Amazing Audio Research SP3A-1 Tube Preamp

Making Audio Progress 

Unsolicited Audio Advice

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Storm at Sunup used to be my favorite Gino Vannelli album. I played it all the time back in the ’70s. It was one of a handful of recordings that made me want to pursue audiophile equipment in the hope that higher quality playback would allow the album to sound even bigger and more exciting.

It was pretty damn big and exciting already, but I wanted more. 

Right around that time I got my first audiophile tube preamp, the Audio Research SP3A-1, which replaced a Crown IC-150. As you can imagine, especially if you know the IC-150 at all well, playing this album through that state-of-the-art tube preamp was a revelation.

From then on there was no looking back. I started spending all my money on better and better equipment and more and more records. That was forty plus years ago and I haven’t stopped yet.

This is also the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Stereo Systems driving Big Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound that I can enjoy. Anything less is just not for me. (more…)

The Band Rock Of Ages – Turn Up Your Volume, Now It Rocks!

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Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Most copies of this album do not have a boosted bottom or top, which means that at normal listening levels — depending on how you define that term — they can sound pretty flat. This is one album that needs to be turned up, obviously not to the levels of a live rock concert, but up about as loud as you can until you can get the bass and the highs to come out. We found ourselves adding more and more level in order to get the sound to come to life, and it was playing pretty loud before the sound was right.  

But it’s SO GOOD when it’s loud. Why the hell would you not want to crank it up and ROCK OUT? (more…)

Humble Pie – What Other Live Rock Record Sounds This Good?

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

And One We Also Just Added to Our Rock & Pop Top 100 List

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One of the best — if not THE best — rock concert albums we have ever heard. Can you imagine if Frampton Comes Alive sounded like this? If you want to hear some smokin’ Peter Frampton guitar work from the days when he was with the band, this album captures that sound better than any of their studio releases, and far better than FCA on even the best copies.

Grungy guitars that jump out of the speakers, prodigious amounts of punchy deep bass, dynamic vocals and drum work — the best pressings of Rockin’ The Fillmore have more firepower than any live recording we’ve ever heard.

Who knew? 

We didn’t, of course, until not that many years ago (2014 maybe?). But we are in the business of finding these things out. We get paid by our customers to find them the best sounding pressings in the world. It’s our job and we take it very seriously.

Did any audiophile reviewers ever play the album and report on its amazing sound? Not that we are aware of.  Do they have the kind of playback systems — the big rooms, the big speakers, the freedom from compression and artificiality — that are required to get the most from a recording such as this one?

Doubtful. Unlikely in the extreme even. They don’t know how good a record like this can sound because they aren’t able to play it the way it needs to be played.

And when was the last time you read a review of a record that hadn’t just been reissued on Heavy Vinyl? There was a time when audiophile reviewers wrote about exceptional good sounding vintage pressings they had come across. Harry Pearson comes immediately to mind, but there were many others following his lead. Now they it seems none of them can be bothered. More’s the pity.

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Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, making this one of the more enjoyable copies we played in our recent shootout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • It’s not easy to find copies that get both the quieter, acoustic material and the big, rockin’ Crazy Horse stuff right, but this one managed it
  • 5 stars: “His strongest collection since Tonight’s the Night, its obvious antecedent was Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, and, as Dylan did, Young divided his record into acoustic and electric sides while filling his songs with wildly imaginative imagery.”

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Supertramp – Crime of the Century

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Reviews and Commentaries for Crime of the Century

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  • This UK copy of Supertramp’s Masterpiece will be very hard to beat
  • Ken Scott engineered this one to have Cinerama-sized height, width and depth to rival the best rock albums you’ve ever heard
  • Clearly their Magnum Opus, a great leap forward and a permanent member of our Rock & Pop Top 100 Album List
  • “The tuneful, tightly played songs, pristine clarity of sound, and myriad imaginative sound effects, helped create an album that Sounds magazine likened to ‘Genesis, The Beach Boys…a smattering of [Pink] Floyd.'”

CONDITION NOTES: A mark at the start of track two makes about twenty light to very light intermittent ticks, with a few a bit louder.

This is engineer Ken Scott’s (and the band’s) MASTERPIECE, but the average copy sure can’t get your blood pumping the way this one will. We’ve long recognized that Crime of the Century is a true Demo Disc in the world of rock recordings, a member of our Rock & Pop Top 100 list right from the get go.

When you hear the guitars come jumping out of your speakers on School or Bloody Well Right you can be sure that you’re playing a very special pressing of a very special recording indeed. (Yes, you need both. That’s why we’re here.) (more…)

The Pretenders – Learning To Crawl

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  • A superb pressing of the band’s third studio album with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • It takes years to get a shootout for this album going – three to five is my best guess, so get while the gettin’s good if you’re a fan of the most muscular rock album this band ever recorded
  • Both sides of this (very specific) German pressing were richer, clearer and more energetic than virtually any of the others we played
  • With Robbie McIntosh having joined the band, this is first and foremost a guitar rock record – his brilliant, jangly, grungy riffs drive every song
  • 5 stars: “Three albums into her recording career, Chrissie Hynde found herself having to put the past to bed and carve out a new beginning for herself with Learning to Crawl, but she pulled it off with a striking mixture of courage, strength, and great rock & roll; with the exception of the instant-classic debut album, it’s the Pretenders’ finest work.”

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Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains The Same – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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FREAKISHLY GOOD LIVE ZEP SOUND! This Swan Song LP is just full of the Zep Magic — super lively and full-bodied with a whole lotta WHOMP. Bonzo’s drum sound is LARGER THAN LIFE on this copy. Three of the four sides here rate ABOVE A++. 

We’ve never heard a copy of this album sound anywhere near amazing before. Most of the copies we’ve played sound like bad, second-generation bootleg cassettes. We still pick them up every time we see them — hey, it’s Zep, man — but we weren’t sure we’d ever hear a decent copy. We dropped the needle on this one and were SHOCKED at how hard it rocked. Inspired, we pulled out all of our clean copies, — as we imagined, none of them came anywhere close to this monster!

How big is the difference between our top dog here and the rest of the pack? Our second place winner had four and a half pluses between the four sides — this one has NINE PLUSES. Furthermore, no other side on ANY other copy we play rated higher than A++, while this one rates above A++ on three sides. Talk about a landslide! (more…)

Michael Jackson / Thriller – A Top 100 Title

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Reviews and Commentaries for Thriller

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades throughout, this pressing of Michael Jackson’s Masterpiece of Funky Rock Pop will be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is huge – big, wide, deep, and open, with a punchy bottom end and rhythmic energy to spare, as well as cleaner, smoother, sweeter upper mids and a more extended top
  • Billie Jean and Beat It sound out of this world, but that’s not fair, since every track does
  • A Top 100 and 5 Stars on AMG: “This was a record that had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul — expanding the approach to have something for every audience.”

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’80s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of Thriller is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, The Who, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and far too many of our favorites to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

Sound that came Jumping-out-of-the-speakers coupled with driving rhythmic energy were the hallmarks of the best copies. These qualities really brought this complex music to life, gave it room to breathe, and made it possible for us to enjoy the hell out of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music. (more…)