Top Artists – Joni Mitchell

Dopey Record Theories – Putting Bad Ideas to the Test

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Court and Spark

Below we discuss some record theories that seem to be making the rounds these days.

It started with a stunning White Hot Stamper 2-pack that just went up on the site..

I implored the eventual purchaser to note that side two of record one has Joni sounding thin, hard and veiled. If you look at the stampers you can see it’s obviously cut by the same guy (no names please!), and we’re pretty sure both sides were stamped out at the same time of day since it’s impossible to do it any other way. What accounts for the amazing sound of one side and the mediocre sound of its reverse?

If your theory cannot account for these huge differences in sound, your theory is hopelessly, fundamentally flawed. Need we bother to note the rather important, one might even say all-important, fact that it has no practical value in the first place: how is anyone to know at what specific time of day a record was pressed? Or how many copies had come off the stamper ahead of it?

Can anything be more ridiculous than the ad hoc, evidence-free theory of some audiophile record collector desperately searching for a reason to explain why records — even the sides of the same record — sound so different from one another? (more…)

Listening in Depth to Joni Mitchell – Blue

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Listening in Depth

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The main reason it’s so difficult to find a good sounding pressing of this record is that most copies have a tendency towards hardness, shrillness and aggressiveness. There is a great deal of mid- to high-frequency information in this recording, and the problems arise when you take all that energy and try to stamp it into a piece of domestic vinyl.

If the vinyl wasn’t good on the day they pressed the record, it doesn’t matter how good the mastering is. The result is grain and grunge. Since Joni pushes her voice hard into her higher registers on many of these songs it’s often enough to make you leave the room. At the very least you would have to turn down the volume.

That’s on the copies that are mastered right! The copies that are mastered with thin and aggressive sound to start with can only get worse. Those are the rule, not the exception.

Breathy Vocals and Hot Stampers

The best copies bring out the breathy quality to Joni’s voice, and she never sounds strained. They are sweet and open, with good bass foundation and transparency throughout the frequency range.

The best pressings (and our better playback equipment) have revealed nuances to this recording — and of course the performances of all the players along with it — that made us fall in love with the music all over again. Of all the tough nuts to crack, this was the toughest, yet somehow copies emerged from our shootouts that made it easy to appreciate the sonic merits of Blue and ignore its shortcomings.

Hot Stampers have a way of doing that. You forget it’s a record; it’s now just Music. The right record and the right playback will bring this music to life in a way that you cannot imagine until you hear it. That is our guarantee on Blue — better than you ever thought possible or your money back. (more…)

Turntable Set Up Advice – Using Court and Spark

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Court and Spark.

There are loud vocal choruses on many tracks, and more often than not at their loudest they sound like they are either breaking up or threatening to do so. I always assumed it was compressor or board overload, which is easily heard on Down to You. On the best copies there is no breakup — the voices get loud and they sound clean throughout.

This assumes that your equipment is up to the job. The loudest choruses are a tough test for any system.

Setup Advice

If you have one of our hottest Hot Stampers, try adjusting your setup – VTA, Tracking Weight, Azimuth, Anti-Skate (especially! Audiophiles often overlook this one, at their peril) — and note how cleanly the loudest passages play using various combinations of settings.

Keep a yellow pad handy and write everything down step by step as you make your changes, along with what differences you hear in the sound. You will learn more about sound from this exercise than you can from practically any other. Even shootouts won’t teach you what you can learn from variations in your table setup. And once you have your setup dialed in better, you will find that your shootouts go a lot smoother than used to. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – For The Roses

Joni Mitchell – For The Roses

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame and a Forgotten Rock Classic.

This is probably the most underrated Joni Mitchell album, both in terms of sonics and music. It seems that everyone wants a great copy of Blue or Court And Spark, but this album ranks right up there with them and does not deserve to be overlooked.

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Let’s face it, we love Blue (1971) but most pressings suffer from a raft of sonic problems, as does Ladies of the Canyon (1970).

Court and Spark (1974) is up at the top up the list as well, but Roses (1973) seems to have more recording purity. Perhaps the engineers saw this as an opportunity to address the problems with Blue, the album that preceded it.

By the time Joni had fully indulged her jazzier inclinations with Court and Spark some of the recording quality had been lost in the quest for slicker production values for which that album is known. The complexity of the instrumentation required more multi-tracking and overdubbing, and as good as that record can sound on the best copies, in a head to head matchup with For the Roses the latter would probably win, and probably by no more than a nose.

The White Hot Pressings virtually eliminate the shortcomings of all the titles mentioned above, but boy are they hard to find, which accounts for how rarely they show up on the site. (more…)