Top Artists – Paul Simon (with or without) Garfunkel

Letter of the Week – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme and Dark Side of the Moon

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

Hey Tom, 

I absolutely love my Hot Stamper of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, and of Dark Side of the Moon, and so many others that you have sold to me.

I find myself just playing the same side over and over, never tiring of the music. Which is something I never do with a CD….. no matter with a Reimyo CD player, or CEC TL-1X with Audiologic DAC, or even Acoustic Arts DAC, which actually sounds pretty good, but still fatiguing, and missing the immediacy and soul of a good LP — and in addition to sounding better, there is just something about having an original copy made back when the music was fresh and newly released, putting me back in my college years, and somehow linking up the past to the present.

The music is living there in those grooves, even better now because I can actually hear the music with a decent system. I don’t think many record players back in 1972- 1978 could begin to do these records justice.

Thanks so much for all the great music – makes my years of developing and investing in my stereo worthwhile. (more…)

Paul Simon – Graceland – When Clarity Is King

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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 Graceland

We regularly do shootouts for Graceland. Having played so many copies over the years we’re become quite familiar with the range of sound on the album, what constitutes good, better and best, and we understand precisely what qualities the premier copy must have in order to win one of our shootouts. 

Above all the thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It has many other good qualities as well: It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals.

The better copies have all these qualities to some degree, but the one thing a good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s especially good about the sound of Graceland. (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of Bookends.

Musically side two is one of the strongest in the entire Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre (if you’ll pardon my French). Each of the five songs could hold its own as a potential hit on the radio, and no filler to be found whatsoever. How many albums from 1968 can make that claim? 

The estimableROY HALEE handled the engineering duties. Not the most ‘natural” sounding record he ever made, but that’s clearly not what he or the duo were going for. The three of them would obviously take their sound much farther in that direction with the Grammy winning Bridge Over Troubled Water from 1970.

The bigger production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.

The Wrecking Crew provided top quality backup, with Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano and keyboards.

(more…)

Letter of the Week – Bridge Over Troubled Water and the Real Bookends

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

Hey Tom, 

I just listened to Bridge over Troubled Water that arrived while I was on my trip to India. It was really spectacular. I have heard this music a zillion times over the last 40 years but it never ever once sounded like this. Amazing. I have to get Bookends and PSRT also. 

John R.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Bookends

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends – Save the Life of My Child Is One Tough Test

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of Bookends.

The big production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

(But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.)

Save the Life of My Child — A Tough Test

I used to think this track would never sound good enough to use as an evaluation track. It’s a huge production that I had heretofore found all but impossible to get to sound right on even the best original copies of the album. Even as recently as ten years ago I had basically given up on reproducing it right.

Thankfully things have changed. Nowadays, with carefully cleaned top copies at our disposal and a system that is really cooking, virtually all of the harmonic distortion in the big chorus near the opening has disappeared. It takes a very special pressing and a very special stereo to play this song. That’s precisely what makes it a good test! (more…)

1A, or Is 1B Better? – Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

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Before we go any further, I have a question: Why are we guessing?

I received an email recently from a customer who had gone to great pains to do his own shootout for a record; in the end he came up short, with not a lot to show for his time and effort. It had this bit tucked in toward the end:

Some of [Better Records’] Hot Stampers are very dear in price and most often due to the fact that there are so few copies in near mint condition. I hate to think of all the great Hot Stampers that have ended up in piles on the floor night after night with beer, Coke, and seeds being ground into them.

Can you imagine all the 1A 1B or even 2A 2B masters that ended up this way or were just played to death with a stylus that would be better used as a nail than to play a record!

As it so happens, shortly thereafter I found myself on Michael Fremer’s old website of all places, where I saw something eerily similar in his review for the (no doubt awful) Sundazed vinyl. I quote below the relevant paragraphs. (more…)

Paul Simon – Graceland – What to Think When the New Version Is Completely Unrecognizable?

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from? Having played at least 50 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded very much like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can’t say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing?

Well, in favor of that proposition I guess you could say it sounds less like a CD now. On the other side of the ledger, it now sounds a great deal more like a bad LP.

We listen to piles of pressings of Graceland regularly. We know what the album generally sounds like, the range from bad to good, and we know what qualities the very best copies must have in order to win one of our shootouts.

Above all the one thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals. The best of the best copies have all these qualities, but the one quality any good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s good about the sound of the record. Without clarity the music doesn’t even work.

The new version has been “fixed”. It got rid of all that pesky grit and grain and CD-like sound from the original digital mix by heavy-handedly equalizing them away.

Cut the top, cut the upper mids, boost the lower mids and upper bass and voila – now it’s what Graceland would have sounded like had it been all analog from the start, AAA baby!

Or at least analog for those who don’t know what good analog sounds like. (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel’s Wednesday Morning, 3 AM – The Right 360 Pressing Is King

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

We played a big stack of copies recently and ran into all kinds of problems. Some were dull, some were spitty, many were smeared, and far too many were gritty.

The later pressings didn’t solve any of these problems. In fact, none of the Red Label copies we’ve ever played sounded good enough on either side to merit a Hot Stamper grade. If you want good sound for this album, 360 stereo pressings seem to be the only way to go. The mono pressings we played were painfully bad. (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Muddy MoFi Water

 

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

Pure mud. One of the worst versions ever made. (The CBS Half-Speed is actually quite good by the way.)

Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme – A Demo Disc for Tubey Magical Voices and Guitars

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  • A stunning Triple Plus (A+++) side two backed with a solid Double Plus (A++) side one – a remarkably good sounding early pressing
  • This Columbia 360 is incredibly big and present, with excellent clarity, wonderfully breathy vocals and low levels of spit (the result of clean cutting)
  • A Demo Disc for Tubey Magical voices and guitars, as well as a longtime Better Records Top 100 album
  • 4 1/2 stars Allmusic: “[I]t is an achievement akin to the Beatles’ Revolver or the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, and just as personal and pointed as either of those records at their respective bests.”

More superb sound from the legendary CBS 30th street studios in New York!

Turn up the volume, turn down the lights, and you’ll have one of the best — if not THE best — folk duos of All Time performing right there in your listening room for you. The sound is open, spacious, and transparent with breathy vocals and unusually low levels of spit. The strings are more dynamic than we’re used to hearing and the bottom end has a really nice weight to it. (more…)