Sonic Grade: F
Way too bright!
Today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making as a budding audiophile more than thirty years ago. Heavy Viny, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads, each with a track record progressively more dismal than the next?
Our Story Begins
One Man Dog has long been a favorite James Taylor album of mine. It didn’t catch on too well with the general public when it came out but it caught on just fine with me. I used to play it all the time. As a budding but misguided audiophile back in the early ’70s, I foolishly bought the import pressing at my local record store, The Wherehouse, assuming it would sound better and be pressed on quieter vinyl. The latter may have been true, probably was true, but the former sure wasn’t. Turns out even the average domestic original is far better sounding, but how was I to know?
Compare and Contrast? What For?
Back in those days it would never have occurred to me to buy more than one copy of a record and do a head to head comparison to see which one would sound better. I approached the subject Platonically, not scientifically: the record that should sound better would of course sound better, so why waste time testing?
Later on in the decade a label by the name of Mobile Fidelity would come along claiming to actually make better sounding pressings than the ones the major labels put out, and — cluelessly — I bought into that nonsense too. (To be fair, sometimes they did — Touch, Waiting for Columbus and American Beauty come to mind, but my god, Katy Lied, Year of the Cat and Sundown have to be three of the worst sounding records I’ve ever played in my life.) (more…)
Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.
There is one obvious and somewhat bothersome fault with this new pressing, an EQ issue. Anybody care to guess what it is? Send us an email if you think you know. Hint: it’s the kind of thing that sticks out like a sore thumb, the kind of obvious EQ error I can’t ever recall hearing on an original.
Our Heavy Vinyl Review
This Warner Brothers 180g LP is the BEST SOUNDING Heavy Vinyl reissue to come our way in a long long time. Those of you who’ve been with us for a while know that that’s really not saying much, but it doesn’t make it any less true either, now does it? Let’s look at what it doesn’t do wrong first.
It doesn’t sound opaque, compressed, dry and just plain dead as a doornail like so many new reissues do. It doesn’t have the phony modern mastering sound we hate about the sound of the new Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it.)
The new Sweet Baby James actually sounds like a — gulp — fairly decent original.
Vocal reproduction is key to the best sounding copies of Sweet Baby James as it is on so many Folkie Pop Rock albums from the era.
To find a copy where Taylor’s vocals are front and center — which is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet, tonally correct and Tubey Magical is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off. (more…)
The soundstage and depth on our Hot Stamper copies is HUGE — this is without a doubt the most spacious recording by James Taylor we’ve ever heard. If you want your speakers to disappear, replaced by a huge studio full of musicians playing their hearts out, this is the album that can do it. But of course there’s a lot more to the sound of the best copies than a big soundstage. Tonality is key. (more…)
One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:
As a new comer to your business, and to the entire concept of “Hot Stamper” records, I was naturally skeptical. Many of us have invested in a wide variety of vinyl that simple failed to live up to expectations. Initially I was going to order one and only one record from you, and test your bold promises. Instead, I ended up ordering a nice variety to truly put it to the test… investing a couple thousand dollars on faith. In short, I am now your customer for life.
As a point of reference, my system includes a pair of Wilson Audio Alexia powered by 2 mono-block McIntosh tube Amps and a Mc-tube preamp. Most importantly, a Brinkmann mag drive turntable with a Sumiko low output moving coil cartridge. So, not the world’s best system, but enough to discern what is to follow.
I ordered the following:
* Carole King Tapestry, ((White Hot Pressing)
* The Doobie Brothers, What Were Once Vices (White Hot Pressing)
* James Taylor, Sweet Baby James (White Hot Pressing)
* Paul McCartney, McCartney (Super Hot Pressing)
* Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy (Super Hot Pressing)
* Steely Dan, Countdown to Ecstasy (Super Hot Pressing)
* Donald Fagen, The Nightfly (White Hot Pressing)
I warmed up my amps with the tuner for an hour or so and then sat and listened to some of my other records and reacquainted myself with the music from my system. First up was “What Were Once Vices…”. It was immediately apparent that I was getting a range as wide, if not wider than anything I had ever heard from my stereo. Then when I got to the last song on side one, “Road Angel” the guitar and drum interplay in the instrumental jam completely blew me away. Midway through I took the volume from loud to louder, and it exposed nothing but pure, sweet rock and roll. Literally gave me goose bumps.
I then listened to “Countdown to Ecstasy” and in this instance I owe a clean original copy, so I put it to the test. Back to back. I did not have to go past “Bodhisattva” to know it was no-contest. If I had to apply a percentage, something like 20% more music comes from the Hot Stamper, and this (like all of my orders) is one of my all time favorite albums. (more…)
This is soft rock at its best, made up primarily of love songs, and helped immensely by the harmonically-gifted backing vocals of Graham Nash and David Crosby.
Rolling Stone notes that “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”
To be honest, the recording of Gorilla itself cannot compete with the likes of Sweet Baby James or JT, both of which are Top 100 Titles. It can be a good sounding record, not a great one, certainly not in the same league as those two. (more…)
This White Hot Stamper is GUARANTEED to BLOW YOUR MIND, as James himself so famously sings on Steamroller here, and you can be sure that he never heard it sound any better on playback than it does here. This is truly Master Tape Sound — transparent, present and Tubey Magical, the kind of sound that only the best pressings from the era can lay claim to. If you’ve got the stereo to play it, this record may become your new favorite Demo Disc. Yes, it’s that good. (more…)
Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:
This is one of our favorite James Taylor albums here at Better Records, a Forgotten Classic from 1981. It’s the last album written and performed by this hugely talented man that bears much resemblance to the quality of his early work. It’s steeply, steeply downhill after DLHW. (Case in point: His specials for PBS of the last few years are a positive cure for insomnia, with every song slowed down and all the energy drained from the material.)
But he still had fire in his belly when he made this one — one listen to Stand and Fight is all the evidence you need; the song rocks as hard as anything the guy ever did. And it’s got plenty of cowbell, always a good sign. (more…)
Mud Slide Slim has some of Taylor’s strongest material: You’ve Got a Friend; You Can Close Your Eyes; Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox, and one of his best and most underrated, Love Has Brought Me Around. If you’ve got a top copy of the album, this song, the leadoff on side one, can really rock. It’s yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.
In-Depth Track Commentary
Love Has Brought Me Around
One of my all-time favorite James Taylor tracks. When you get a good copy, this music comes ALIVE! This is not your typical sad sack, touchy feely James Taylor song. This song ROCKS!
You’ve Got a Friend
Listen to Carole King’s piano. On the best copies the transparency allows her playing to be heard so clearly. Her style is unmistakable. (more…)