Top Artists – Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens Asks How Do You Like Your Congas: Light, Medium or Heavy?

 

stevetease_congamania_1227123333

During the shootout for this record a while back we made a very important discovery, a seemingly obvious one but one that nevertheless had eluded us for the past twenty plus years (so how obvious could it have been?). It became clear, for the first time, what accounts for the wide disparity in ENERGY and DRIVE from one copy to the next. We can sum it up for you in one five letter word, and that word is conga.

The congas are what drive the high-energy songs, songs like Tuesday’s Dead and Changes IV. Here is how we stumbled upon their critically important contribution.

We were listening to one of the better copies during a recent shootout. The first track on side one, The Wind, was especially gorgeous; Cat and his acoustic guitar were right there in the room with us. The transparency, tonal neutrality, presence and all the rest were just superb. Then came time to move to the other test track on side one, which is Changes IV, one of the higher energy songs we like to play.

But the energy we expected to hear was nowhere to be found. The powerful rhythmic drive of the best copies of the album just wasn’t happening. The more we listened the more it became clear that the congas were not doing what they normally do. The midbass to lower midrange area of the LP lacked energy, weight and power, and this prevented the song from coming to LIFE the way the truly Hot Stampers can and do.

Big Speakers

For twenty years Tuesday’s Dead has been one of my favorite tracks for demonstrating what The Big Speaker Sound is all about. Now I think I better understand why. Big speakers are the only way to reproduce the physical size and tremendous energy of the congas (and other drums of course) that play such a big part in driving the rhythmic energy of the song.

In my experience no six inch woofer — or seven, or eight, or ten even — gets the sound of the conga right, from bottom to top, drum to skin. No screen can do it either. It’s simply a sound that large dynamic drivers reproduce well and other speaker designs do not reproduce so well.

Since this is one of my favorite records of all time, a true Desert Island Disc, I would never want to be without a pair of big speakers to play it, because those are the kinds of speakers that play it well. (more…)

Time Capsule of Commentaries for Our First Hot Stampers for Teaser and the Firecat – 2005 to 2006

xxxxx

This Hot Stamper listing from 2006 is a Time Capsule of Commentaries of sorts; it contains write-ups from 2006, 2005 and 2002 all rolled into one. Out of sheer laziness we used to leave the old commentary in the listings, sort of like building the new city on the ruins of the old. For those who don’t mind excavating through the Hot Stamper thoughts of the past, please read on. 

Notes from August 2006

DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND of the HIGHEST ORDER!

(For pop music anyway.) Before I get into the sound of this record, let me preface my remarks by saying this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made two records which belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folky pop, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.

For years I have been telling people that one day I would put up on the Web site some Hot Stamper copies of Cat Stevens’ greatest albums. Today is that day.

Last night I listened to at least fifteen of the best pressings of this album that I had available to me — we’re talking some heavy hitters here, all top quality British and American original pressings — and even though this pressing didn’t take top honors (that distinction belongs to the $500 copy we put up) — it was clearly at the top of the pack.

This is an Original Island Sunray pressing. As good as the best domestic originals are, none of them could compete with the amazing British copies that I played. I can’t explain it, but that’s the way it worked out. (more…)

Cat Stevens / Catch Bull At Four – Yes, Sometimes There Is Only One Set of Magic Stampers

xxxxx

 

As is sometimes the case, there is one and only one set of stamper numbers that consistently wins our Catch Bull At Four shootouts. We stumbled upon an out-of-this-world copy of the right pressing about two years ago, a copy took the recording to a level we had no idea could even be possible. (We were going to give it Four Pluses, and probably should have, but cooler heads prevailed.)

Since then we have had many copies come in, but none that could compete with the Magic Stamper pressings. And the best part of this story is that, no, the best stampers are not 1U, or 2U, or even 3U. In other words they are far from the stampers found on the earliest pressings. That’s one reason it took us so long to discover them, because they are much less commonly found than pressings with the earlier stampers. By the time these later pressings were mastered, pressed and released, the album’s biggest selling days were over. For all we know this cutting may have been done just to keep the record in print, possibly undertaken many years after its initial release.

Who knows? Who cares? What difference does it make?

Well, it does serve to make a point near and dear to our hearts: that the idea (and operational premise of most record collectors) that the Original Is Always Better is just a load of bunk. It might be and it might not be. If you want better sounding records you had better open your mind to the idea that some reissues have the potential to sound better than even the best original pressing of the album.

Of course this is nothing but bad news for the average audiophile collector, who simply does not have the time or money to go through the hassle of buying, cleaning and playing every damn pressing he can get his hands on.

But good news for us, because we do. (more…)

Traveling Back in Time with Cat Stevens on Mobile Fidelity…

xxx

to Hear It on Vintage Equipment

Our good customer Roger wrote us a letter years ago about his MoFi TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN, in which he remarked, “Sometimes I wish I kept my old crappy stereo to see if I could now tell what it was that made these audiophile pressings so attractive then.”

It got me to thinking. Yes, that would be fun, and better yet, it could be done. There are actually plenty of those Old School systems still around. Just look at what many of the forum posters — god bless ’em — are running. They’ve got some awesome ’70s Japanese turntables, some Monster Cable and some vintage tube gear and speakers going all the way back to the ’50s.

With this stuff you could in effect travel back in time, virtually erasing all the audio progress of the last 30 years. Then you could hear your MoFi Tea for the Tillerman sound the way it used to when you could actually stand to be in the same room with it.
(more…)

Cat Stevens – Tea For The Tillerman – A Hall of Fame Pressing from 2004!

xxxxx
xxxxx

We’ve learned a lot about this record in the last thirty years or so. Here is what we thought we knew back in 2004.

This is a superb sounding original Brown Label A&M pressing. If you didn’t know better you might think you were listening to a Pink Label copy: it’s that good! In fact, having just played a Pink label Island 3U/3U original, I’m going to say that this pressing actually sounds better on side one than that famous import. This will no doubt shock many of you. But I have known of a better sounding brown label domestic pressing for close to 10 years.

But what surprised me in this case was that these particular stampers are different from the domestic original that I discovered all those years ago. This is an entirely new finding. Dropping the needle on side one of this record and hearing the delicate strumming of the guitar and the smoothness and sweetness of the vocals, I knew immediately that I was hearing a Hot Stamper. A VERY Hot Stamper. Listening to it all the way through a few times and playing some other copies convinced me that indeed it was As Good As It Gets. On side one anyway.

Side two is excellent, but the bass is not quite as well defined and there is a slight loss of transparency in comparison to the best copies I have heard. The song Father and Son can be a bit sibilant. On the ultimate copies the sibilance is under control. This one has a little more of that sibilance than the best stampers I have heard. It’s not bad, but it’s not the equal of the best pressings.

Another track I like to play on side two is Into White. With this song, you hear into the music on the best copies as if you were seeing the live musicians before you. The violinist is also a key element. He’s very far back in the studio. When he’s back where he should be, and the sound of the wood of his violin and the rosin on the strings is still clearly audible, without any brightness or edginess to artificially create those details, you know you are hearing the real thing. 

This is, I hope it goes without saying, one of the greatest rock records of all time, music that belongs in any collection. I’ve been playing this album for 30 years and I can honestly say I’ve never once been tired of hearing it. I get tired of hearing bad copies.

I become absolutely incensed when I have to play the Mobile Fidelity version of this album, because what they did to this record is a travesty. If you want to know what the guitars on this album are NOT supposed to sound like, play the MOFI. And if you want to hear an even worse version, play the UHQR.

Letter of the Week – Tea for the Tillerman and Santana

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

I have listened to my copy the day it arrived. I’m not very good at describing the sound of an album, that’s why I love reading your commentaries, because it accurately describes what I actually hear.

The HS Tillerman is now my reference album where I test all improvements/adjustments I make in my system or my turntable. All the Hot Stamper copies I have bought from you really beat all other copies I have.

A good example is my Hot Stamper Santana.The instruments sound tonally right, distinctly separate from each other. There is no harshness on the top end and the bass is tight and defined.

I had five copies of the album before I got my HS copy, all are”360″ including a WLP copy. None of the five came close to the sound of my Hot Stamper. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Tea for the Tillerman

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

Just a note on another Hot Stamper shootout I recently did, this time on Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman. It was interesting comparing itto the regular MFSL half-speed, the MFSL UHQR pressing, and a UK Pink Island 3U pressing, which was my all-time champ.

Well, I found out why another of your customers proclaimed Tea to be his new reference recording when I heard the US A&M Hot Stamper pressing. Wow! I was astonished at how much better this version was. I have never heard this pressing sound quite like this. There was a huge wall of sound and instruments and voices had real body, bass was absolutely titanic, and dynamics made me wonder whether my speakers would be damaged. This thing is a monster, one of the best recordings in my 10,000 LP collection.

So as usual, back on the shelf go the expensive MFSL versions, hopefully gaining value but never to be played again. Yes, the Tea Hot Stamper is a new reference, definitely. And a US pressing, go figure.

Roger L.

 

Cat Stevens – Tea For The Tillerman – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2019

xxxxx
xxxxx

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

We award this pressing our very special Four Plus (A++++) grade, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take the recording to a level never experienced by us before, a level we usually had no idea even existed.

It sold for $1200 and was, to our way of thinking, surely worth every penny. One out of ten thousand audiophiles has ever heard Tea for the Tillerman sound this good, maybe fewer. Maybe none.

We estimate that about one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade. You can’t get much more rare than that.

This is one of the few White Hot copies to have been put up on the site over the years. It takes many, many — way too many — copies to find one that sounds like this. When it does, you know it. It ain’t rocket science. This copy is ALIVE with musical energy. (more…)

Cat Stevens – Izitso – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

xxxxx

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

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including THE BEST SIDE TWO WE’VE EVER HEARD! We just finished our first shootout for Izitso, and this was the overall champion with an A++ side one backed with an AGAIG A+++ side two. It’s no Teaser and the Firecat, but there’s enough Cat Stevens magic here to satisy casual fans and die-hards alike. 

It wouldn’t be unfair to call this Stevens’ disco album, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great songs on here. Old Schoolyard is a great uptempo rocker, while Life — on a good copy — is pure audiophle gold. Child For A Day, which closes out side two, is great as well — it sounds like many of the gems from Cat’s earlier albums. The instrumental track Was Dog A Doughnut? (featuring Chick Corea) certainly ain’t our cup of tea, but we imagine some of you will have fun with its synthesized dog barks and its goofy electronic vibe. If you were a fan of Herbie Hancock’s work in the ’80s, you’ll probably get a kick out of all those synths and sequencers. (more…)

Cat Stevens / Teaser & The Firecat – One of Our First Hot Stampers from Way Back (2006)

xxxxx
xxxxx
xxxxx
xxxxx

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

Before we start discussing this record, let’s talk about the price for a moment. I have never put a used rock record on this site at this price. I’ve sold other records directly to my best customers for this kind of money, but this is the first $500 rock record of its kind to go on this website. This is the result of three factors. First, it’s the best sounding copy of this record I have ever heard (on side two anyway). Second, this is Teaser and the Firecat, one of the most important recordings in the history of popular music. Third, it’s amazingly quiet. The confluence of these three factors makes this copy practically unique.

For years I have been telling people that one day I would put up on the Web site some Hot Stamper copies of Cat Stevens greatest albums. Today is that day.

Before I get further into the sound of this record, let me preface my remarks by saying this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made two records which belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folky pop, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.

The above comments were written for the last Hot Stamper which went up early in 2005, and of course, my sentiments have not changed. Not only do I think this record can’t be bettered, I have now found copies that are superior to even the best pressing I had heard back then.

Of course, I own a much better stereo than I did in 2005. I’m now using the DynaVector 17D cartridge, which is more correct than the 20X I had before. Also, I’ve improved phono stages quite a bit, incorporating the EAR 834P (and a very special vintage tube complement which makes ALL the difference in the world) into the system, balancing tubey magic with the speed and dynamics of the best transistor systems.

I’ve been acquiring and evaluating superb copies of this album for a couple of years now, waiting for just the right time and the right stereo to shoot them out with each other. The changes I mention above gave me the confidence to tackle this project. I can tell you in all honesty that I have NEVER heard better sound than I heard last night while doing these comparisons. It is my contention that there is no audiophile pressing on the face of the Earth that can compete with the best sounding original Teaser and the Firecats. Of ANY music. This is a sound I simply don’t experience when playing modern mastered records. There is a magic in these grooves that seems to be impossible to recapture. Perhaps one day I’ll be proven wrong, but that day is not upon us yet. Until then, this is the king.

Last night I listened to at least fifteen of the best pressings of this album that I had available to me — we’re talking some heavy hitters here, all top quality British and American original pressings — and this pressing took top honors. In my opinion, it’s one of a handful of the best records we have EVER put up on the site. It is without a doubt the best sounding record I have ever played. (more…)