Records that Sound Best on the Right Domestic Pressing

Badfinger / Straight Up – What to Listen For

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Badfinger

More of Our Favorite Minimally-Processed-Sounding Albums

The best sides have the kind of PRESENCE in the midrange that most copies can’t begin to reproduce. The sound on the right pressings just JUMPS out of the speakers, which is exactly what the best copies are supposed to (but rarely) do. 

This is Power Pop, plain and simple. The basics are what count: punchy drums, grungy guitars, present vocals, clear but full bass lines — just the meat and potatoes of rock, no fancy sauces.

For this music to work, all the elements need to be in balance, with correct timbre for the relatively few instruments that make up the arrangements.

Opacity, smear or grit instantly destroy the whole point of having a straightforward production, which is to be able to have all the parts laid out cleanly and clearly.

The idea is to get the production out of the way and just let the music speak for itself.

The truly Hot Stampers remind you of the kind of basic rock and roll record that really knows how to rock. Back in Black comes instantly to mind. Black Dog off Zep IV. This is the sound you want your Straight Up to have. The title of the album is the key to the sound. No fancy packaging, just the band, Straight Up.

From 2007 to 2010 and Beyond

In 2007 we wrote: “Having played more than half a dozen copies of this record during the shootout I can tell you that the most common problem with Straight Up is grainy, gritty sound. Most copies of this record are painfully aggressive and transistory.”

With improvements to cleaning and playback,  I would say that’s not actually true in 2010.

There is some grit to the sound to be sure, but like most records from the era, veiling and smearing are what really hold most copies back.

Good copies of this record, ones that are mastered properly and pressed on “good” vinyl, sound a lot like a stripped down version of Abbey Road, which is what they’re supposed to sound like. That’s clearly the sound Badfinger and their producers George Harrison and Todd Rundgren (with some help from the Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick* ) were aiming at.

You will also hear some influences from All Things Must Pass and McCartney’s first. The music owes a lot to both The Beatles as well as Harrison and McCartney as individuals. What’s not to like? Catchy pop songs with grungy guitars — it’s ear candy when the sound is good, and the sound is very good here.

British Porky Prime Cut?

We had an original British pressing in our shootout, unbeknownst to me as it was playing of course. And guess where it finished: dead last. The most thick, congested, crude, distorted, compressed sound of ALL the copies we played. We love the work of Porky, Pecko et al. in general, but once again this is a case where a British Band recorded in England sounds best on domestic vinyl. (McCartney on Apple is the same way.)

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Respighi / Pines of Rome / Reiner – Our Favorite for Performance and Sound

More music conducted by Fritz Reiner

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With two Double Plus (A++) sides, this Shaded Dog pressing of Reiners’s excellent 1960 recording had the glorious Living Stereo sound we were looking for
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • There were only three performances with audiophile quality sound in our shootout, and the Shaded Dog pressings not only had the best performances, but the sound that the team of Mohr/Layton managed to achieve was second to none
  • In other words, Harry was right to put this on his TAS Super Disc list – it really is a super disc
  • If you know anything about these works, you know that have tons of top and bottom end, and it is the rare pressing that can capture both
  • The texture and harmonic overtones of the Living Stereo strings are near perfection – as we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity Reiner and the CSO brought to these difficult and demanding works so many years ago
  • There are roughly 150 orchestral recordings that we think offer the discriminating audiophile the best combination of Superior Performances with Top Quality SoundThis record has earned a place on that list.

This shootout has been at least five years in the making, and the case could be made that something like fifteen is closer to the truth. Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand — close to a dozen different performances, I think — and found them all wanting, save three: this one (which is still on the TAS List), a Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with low end whomp and weight. On these works both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

We never did find something better. Our best Shaded Dog ended up winning the shootout. The best RCA pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton nailed it — in 1960!

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud, and both the Pines and the Fountains get very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing. Still, with the best copies going head to head with each other, Reiner had more of all the qualities we were looking for.

How did the famous 1S/1S pressing fare? No idea. I haven’t seen one in twenty years. It may be better than the White Hot copy we are offering here. I certainly would not make the mistake of saying what it sounds without having played it. If someone has one and wants to send it to me to audition, I would love to give it a spin.

Some recordings we played lacked transparency, as well as the relaxed sense of involvement that eases one’s ability to be tricked into thinking “you (really) are there.”

The famous 1977 Maazel recording for Decca, which was on the TAS List for a long time, suffered from a bad case of multi-miking and the transparency issue mentioned above. What do you expect from 1977?

This is, of course, the knock on the Modern Heavy Vinyl Pressing — where is the transparency? The space? The three-dimensional depth? If your stereo can reproduce these qualities — a big if, since even as recently as twenty years ago mine could not — you should have given up on these opaque and airless frauds years ago.

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The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet

More Rolling Stones

  • An outstanding vintage London pressing of this surprisingly well-recorded Stones album from 1968, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound throughout and fairly quiet vinyl, all things considered
  • The long lost Tubey Magic of these early pressings has them sounding better than we ever thought possible with the audio equipment of the day
  • This is exactly the way you want Beggars Banquet to sound and it sure doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it
  • One of a select group of Rolling Stones Must Own titles we prize above all others – Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed round out the trio
  • 5 stars: “Basic rock & roll was not forgotten, however: ‘Street Fighting Man’… was one of their most innovative singles, and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’… was an image-defining epic.”
  • If you’re a Stones fan, this vintage pressing of their 1968 classic belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • No Expectations, the second song on the first side, is one of the greatest Demo Tracks for Tubey Magical Guitar Reproduction we know of. The next year, Glyn Johns would pull off another acoustic guitar recording of that quality with Love in Vain on Let It Bleed.

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Audiophile Wire Testing with Jethro Tull and His Friend Aqualung

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

… who seems to have a rather nasty bronchial condition…

[This commentary is from 2008 or so I’m guessing. Still holds up though.]

Like Heart’s Little Queen album, Aqualung presents us with a Demo Disc / Test Disc that really puts a stereo through its paces, assuming it’s the kind of stereo that’s designed to play an album like Aqualung.

Not many audiophile systems I’ve run across over the years were capable of reproducing the Big Rock Sound this album requires, but perhaps you have one and would like to use the album to test some of your tweaks and components. I used it to show me how bad sounding some of the audiophile wire I was testing really was.

Here’s what I wrote:

A quick note about some wire testing I was doing a while back. My favorite wire testing record at the time (2007)? None other than Aqualung!

Part One

Here’s why: Big Whomp Factor. Take the whomp out of Aqualung and the music simply doesn’t work, at all. To rock you need whomp, and much of Aqualung wants to rock.

Part Two

But not all of it. Some of it is quite pretty, so you must make sure to preserve the breathy flutes and recorders, and the delicate harmonics in the strummed acoustic guitar parts. That’s more or less the job of the top end; the whomp is the bottom end’s job. There’s no real mystery to either of those sonic elements.

Part Three

But the third and most important quality Aqualung has that makes it an ideal test disc is the honky midrange it has in places, especially in the “singing through a telephone” break in the middle of the title track. Why is this important?

Simply because many audiophile wires lean out the lower midrange and boost the upper midrange, which adds “clarity” and “detail” to the sound. (Detail can be a trap, something we discuss here.)

It’s not always easy to tell that that’s what’s really happening if you play the typical audiophile test record (whatever that may be. I don’t use them but I suspect there might be others that do.) On Aqualung that extra boost in the voice is positively ruinous. It already has a little problem there, so if that problem gets worse, it’s easy to spot.

Phony Audiophile Sound

The phony “presence” of most audiophile wire is exactly what Aqualung helps to guard against, because Aqualung doesn’t need any more presence.

It needs rich, full-bodied, punchy sound, with plenty of weight from 250 Hz on down. These are qualities found in few audiophile interconnects or speaker wires in my experience.

Come to think of it, none of the audiophile wires I’ve tried in the last two or three years [this was 15 years ago] would pass the Aqualung test. (I used different recordings before the recent discovery of the Hot Stamper Aqualung, but the recordings I used all showed up the same problems in wire after wire.)

Wire shootouts are very frustrating. Most wires do wonderful things in some part of the frequency spectrum — that’s why their inventors and proponents love them so much. They are often highly resolving and amazingly transparent.

But what they give with one hand they take away with the other — leaning out the sound, transforming rock records that used to really rock into rock records that kinda rock. When that happens I put them in their fancy boxes and ship them back from whence they came.

An Invitation

Here’s an idea. Next time you want to test some audiophile wire, invite your non-audiophile friends over to hear Aqualung with the new wires. My guess is they’re less likely to be fooled by the wire’s tricks than we audiophiles would be. They’ll know when the music works and when it doesn’t; you’ll be able to see it on their faces.

It’s easy to lose sight of what this hobby is all about when the money and the egos and the “new improved technologies” all get mixed up with the sound.

Fortunately Aqualung doesn’t care about all that crap. That’s why he’s a good guy to keep around.

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Creedence Clearwater Revival – Pendulum

More Creedence Clearwater Revival

More Roots Rock LPs

  • This early Fantasy stereo pressing boast a KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated to an excellent Double Plus (A++) side one
  • Bigger and bolder, with more bass, more energy, and more of that “you-are-there-immediacy” of ANALOG that set the best vintage pressings apart from reissues, CDs, and whatever else you care to name
  • Those of you who are familiar with this record will not be surprised to learn that these shootouts are TOUGH – very few copies are any better than mediocre
  • 4 stars: “John Fogerty spent time polishing the production, bringing in keyboards, horns, even a vocal choir. His songs became self-consciously serious and tighter, working with the aesthetic of the rock underground — Pendulum was constructed as a proper album, contrasting dramatically with CCR’s previous records, all throwbacks to joyous early rock records where covers sat nicely next to hits and overlooked gems tucked away at the end of the second side.”

This copy will surely beat any pressing you put it up against. This will be especially true if you put it up against the Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl from years back, which will sound thick, opaque, airless and congested next to a properly mastered Fantasy pressing (deep groove or otherwise) such as this one. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You

More Rolling Stones

More Rock Classics

  • Boasting superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this vintage copy of the Stones’ 1981 release will be very hard to beat
  • The midrange is both rich and clear, with Jagger’s vocals front and center, exactly where they belong
  • The piano has real weight, the grungy guitars are suitably distorted, and the tonal balance is correct from top to bottom – our classic Hot Stamper sound in a nutshell
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Tattoo You captures the Stones at their best as a professional stadium-rock band… “Waiting on a Friend” and the vigorous rock & roll of the first side make Tattoo You an essential latter-day Stones album, ranking just a few notches below Some Girls.”
  • If you’re a Stones fan, this title from 1981 is one of their better later releases
  • The complete list of titles from 1981 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

In the tradition of other late ’70s / early ’80s Stones albums (Some Girls, Goats Head Soup, It’s Only Rock And Roll), the sound is a bit raw at times, but a copy like this one gives you the kind of energy, body and richness to make for some very enjoyable serious listening.

The sound here is big and rich, with more “meat on the bones” as we like to say. The guitars are chunky and powerful, which exactly the sound you want for a song like Start Me Up, which leads things off here. The best sides have more extension up top and more size to the soundfield as well.

As with any Stones album, don’t expect any sonic miracles. Hot Stampers aren’t going to turn this into Tea For The Tillerman. If you want to hear an amazing sounding Demo Quality record, this ain’t it, but if you love this music and are frustrated with the sound of the typical pressing, I bet you’ll enjoy the heck outta this one. (more…)

Little Feat – Waiting For Columbus

More Little Feat

Reviews and Commentaries for Waiting for Columbus

  • A killer copy of Waiting For Columbus with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on the first THREE sides, and excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on the fourth – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the best sounding live rock and roll sound you will ever hear outside of a concert venue
  • If you want to understand the unique appeal of the band, there’s no better place to start than right here
  • 4 1/2 stars: “There’s much to savor on Waiting For Columbus, one of the great live albums of its era, thanks to rich performances that prove Little Feat were one of the great live bands of their time.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Waiting for Columbus is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

This is an amazingly well-recorded concert, and what’s more, the versions the band does of their earlier material are much better than the studio album versions of those same songs in every case.

Fat Man In A Bathtub on this album is out of this world, but you could easily say that about a dozen or more of the tracks on this double album. Which simply means that you will have a very hard time listening to any of the studio versions of these songs once you’ve heard them performed with the kind of energy, enthusiasm and technical virtuosity Little Feat brought to this live show. (I saw them twice with Lowell and they were amazing both times.) (more…)

Tom Petty – Hard Promises

More Tom Petty

  • This vintage copy boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER from top to bottom
  • Recorded at Sound City, home to some of the greatest analog sound ever recorded, this 1981 Backstreet pressing still has plenty of ANALOG magic in its grooves
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…filled with great songwriting, something that’s as difficult to achieve as a distinctive sound… ‘The Waiting’ became the best-known song on the record, but there’s no discounting ‘A Woman in Love,’ ‘Nightwatchman,’ ‘Kings Road,’ and ‘The Criminal Kind,’ album tracks that would become fan favorites… it has a tremendous set of songs and a unified sound that makes it one of Petty’s finest records.”
  • If you’re a fan of Tom Petty and his hard-rockin’ bandmates, this is a classic from 1981 that belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1981 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The album tends to be bright, thin, edgy, pinched and gritty — radio friendly, maybe, but not especially audiophile friendly.

We hate that sound but we are happy to report that some copies manage to avoid it, and this is one of them.

Is that richer, fuller sound the sound of what’s on the master tape or did the mastering engineer “fix” it?

We’ll never know, now will we?

What we can know is the sound of the pressings we actually have to play, and this one is killer.

Recorded by Shelly Yakus at Sound City, Van Nuys and at Cherokee Studios, Hollywood, CA, this vintage Backstreet 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.

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Respighi / Pines of Rome – A Shootout Twenty Years in the Making

More music conducted by Fritz Reiner

Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome

We did a monster shootout for this music in 2021, one we had been planning for more than twenty years. On hand were quite a few copies of the Reiner on RCA; the Ansermet on London; the Maazel on Decca and London (the Decca being on the TAS List), the Kempe on Readers Digest, and quite a few others we felt had at least the potential to sound good.

Allow me to back up a bit.

In the late-’70s, when I first started paying attention to the TAS Super Disc List, I read about the Pines of Rome with 1S stampers. I could never find one, and the Shaded Dogs and Red Seals that I did find never sounded all that good to me.

I know now that I did not have the stereo system back then (equipment, room, etc.) that could reproduce a recording of such difficulty.

In the ’80s, the Mobile Fidelity pressing of the Pines of Rome, like all of their classical releases, without exception, never sounded right to me either.

It was certainly better than the Classic Records release from 1995 of the Reiner Pines. That record was just too harsh sounding, with the shrill strings that Bernie Grundman was cutting on practically every title put out by that awful label. I fell for some of them — I actually raved about Witches’ Brew on Classic back then, an endorsement that mortifies me to this day — but most of their classical records were junk that I was selling for cheap to the audiophiles who fell for the favorable reviews written about Classic Records in the magazines. Some things never change!

In the ’90s, the Decca on Speakers Corner came along and sounded fine to me. Not great, but good enough to sell if you wanted a good, quiet Pines for $30. It might not be fair to blame Speakers Corner for the shortcomings of their pressing, since the vintage Deccas with Maazel we’ve played have pretty much the same problems as the modern heavy vinyl classical LP: smeary strings, and an obvious lack of depth and transparency

In 2006 we played a Red Seal pressing of LSC 2436 that we liked at the time, but that was on a darker and less revealing system. It was a year before we found out about the amazing Walker Enzyme Record Cleaning System, which came along in 2007 and changed everything for us.

Around 2010 we played what we thought was a fairly good sounding London with Ansermet conducting, but by 2016 that recording was no longer competitive. A nice old record, but the world is full of nice old records. We had set our sights on a Hot Stamper pressing of a great recording with a performance to match. It would take us another six years of wandering in the wilderness before we were finally able to find what we were looking for.

Cut to 2016

In 2016 we we began a serious survey of the recordings we had on hand, close to a dozen different performances I think, and found them all wanting, save three: this one (which is still on the TAS List), a Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite), and a London with Kertesz.

The Prevatelli on London you see pictured was very compressed. When the music is supposed to get loud at the end of the Pines, it never does!  If more vintage Londons had sound as bad as the three or four copies we had on hand (it’s a fairly common used record, now I know why), we would happily admit that going the Heavy Vinyl route is a good idea.

And there certainly are a lot of bad vintage pressings — we should know, we’ve played them by the hundreds — but they pale up against the number of bad Modern Heavy Vinyl pressings.

Distortion

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with low end whomp and weight. On these works both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

We never did find something better. Our best Shaded Dog ended up winning the shootout. The best RCA pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton nailed it — in 1960!

What to Listen For

So many recordings had screechy strings and sour horns. When the music would get loud, and both the Pines and the Fountains get very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing. Still, with the best copies going head to head with each other, Reiner’s recording had more of all the qualities we were looking for.

How did the famous 1S/1S pressing fare? No idea. I haven’t seen one in twenty years. It may be better than the White Hot copy we are offering here. I certainly would not make the mistake of saying what it sounds without having played it. If someone has one and wants to send it to me to audition, I will love to give it a spin. 

Some recordings we played lacked transparency, as well as the relaxed sense of involvement that eases one’s ability to be tricked into thinking “you (really) are there.”

The famous 1977 Maazel recording for Decca, which was on the TAS List for a long time, suffered from a bad case of multi-miking and the transparency issue mentioned above. What do you expect from 1977?

This is of course the knock on the Modern Heavy Vinyl Pressing – where is the transparency? The space? The three-dimensional depth? If your stereo can reproduce these qualities — a big if, since even as recently as twenty years ago mine could not — you should have given up on these opaque and airless frauds years ago. 

Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

This album is especially Difficult to ReproduceDo not attempt to play it on anything but the highest quality equipment.

Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable / arm / cartridge setup. The Pines of Rome would be a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.

One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as these two tones poems. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has bought you.

It has been my experience that cheap tables (anything under $1k I would guess) more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this. If you have one of those, this is probably not the record for you.

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Black Sabbath / Self-Titled – Can’t Keep ‘Em in Stock

More Black Sabbath

Reviews and Commentaries for Black Sabbath

  • With solid Double Plus (A++) sound throughout, this excellent copy ROCKS like nothing you’ve heard
  • MASSIVE, powerful and spacious throughout – this original pressing is big, rich and solid like you won’t believe
  • This is one of the few copies we’ve found in a long time that has no bad repeating marks – many of the copies we buy are close to unlistenable on a modern audiophile turntable
  • The best copies are stunning Demo Discs – crank it up good and loud and if you have the right system for it you can be sure your audiophile friends will never forget it
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic and one of the best sounding hard rock recordings from the era, or, to be honest, from any era
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Red Clay is a good example of a record most audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a Sludgy Rock fan, this debut album from 1970 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here
  • We think this is the band’s best sounding album. Roughly 150 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group (sounds like a Grammy Awards category, doesn’t it?) can be found here.

Top 100

Back in 2018 we wrote:

This title will surely make the cut next time we update our Top 100 Rock and Pop List. I would go so far as to say that the best copies of this album have sound as good or better than anything I’ve heard all year, and that’s an awful lot of great sounding records, hundreds and hundreds of them.

It did in fact make the Top 100, but to what end? We never have this title in stock! They are just too hard to find in audiophile playing condition.

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