Top Artists – Ambrosia

Ambrosia – Self-Titled


  • Spectacular Prog Rock sound explodes on this copy of the band’s phenomenally well-recorded debut album, mixed by none other than Alan Parsons – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big Whomp Factor here – the bottom end is huge and punchy on this copy, like nothing you’ve heard
  • “Its songs skillfully blend strong melodic hooks and smooth vocal harmonies with music of an almost symphonic density.”
  • A permanent member of our Top 100 and, on big speakers at loud levels, a Rock Demo Disc of the Highest Order
  • 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. Ambrosia’s debut is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this classic from 1975 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Folks, this LP is nothing short of a Sonic Spectacular. For that reason alone it would get a strong recommendation, but the music is so good that the brilliant sound is best seen as a bonus, not the sole reason to own the album.

These sides have the kind of energy that few titles can lay claim to. Put this one up against your best Dark Side of the Moon. Unless you bought a High Dollar copy from us, I’d say there’s almost no chance that this album won’t reduce it to vinyl rubble. (We talk about how similar the recordings are below.) (more…)

Ambrosia – Obsession Is the Best Predictor of Audio Evolution

AMBROSIA is an album we admit to being obsessed with.

It is our contention that to reach the most advanced levels of audio, you have to do two things.

Firstly, you must become obsessed with getting your favorite albums to sound their best, and,

Secondly, you must then turn your obsession with those albums into concrete action.

What kind of action? Finding better sounding pressings and improving your stereo and room.

We wrote about it here. An excerpt:

As a budding audiophile, I went out of my way to acquire any piece of equipment that could make these records from the ’70s (the decade of my formative music-buying years) sound better than the gear I was then using. It’s the challenging recordings by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as well as scores of other pop and rock artists like them, that drove my pursuit of higher quality audio, starting all the way back in high school.

And here I am — here we are — still at it, forty years later, because the music still sounds fresh and original, and the pressings that we find get better and better with each passing year.

That kind of progress is proof that we’re doing it right. It’s a good test for any audiophile. If you are actively and seriously pursuing this hobby, perhaps as many as nine out of ten non-audiophile pressings in your collection should sound better with each passing year.

As your stereo improves, not to mention your critical listening skills, the shortcomings of some of them will no doubt become more apparent. For the most part, however, with continual refinements and improvements to your system and room, vintage pressings will sound better and better the longer you stay active in the hobby.

That’s what makes it fun to play old records: The sound just keeps getting better!

Ambrosia Checks Off Three Big Boxes for Us

It’s a Must Own record.

It’s a Rock and Pop Masterpiece.

And it’s a Personal Favorite of mine.

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Ambrosia – Life Beyond L.A.

More Ambrosia 

More Prog Rock

  • This copy had the most energy, the punchiest bass, and the biggest, most immediate, most powerful presentation of any copy in our shootout
  • The sound is solid and rich, the vocals breathy and immediate, and you will not believe all the space and ambience – which of course are all qualities that Heavy Vinyl records have far too little of, and the main reason we have lost all respect for the bulk of them
  • “[The album] marked a bit of a move away from their lush arrangements and introduced a more raw, aggressive progressive rock / jazz influence.”

This White Hot Stamper Ambrosia LP was a THRILL to hear, especially at the volumes at which we played it! The transparency and openness were off the charts, and unmatched by any other copy in our shootout. We’re big fans of this band here at Better Records — we love their take on complex, Big Production Rock.

It’s also yet another example of the value of taking part in the myriad revolutions in audio. If you never want your prized but sonically-challenged records to sound any better than they do right now, this minute, don’t bother to learn how to clean them better, play them back better or improve the acoustics of your room. No one can make you do any of those things. The only reason you might have for doing them is that it will allow you to enjoy more of your favorite music with much better sound. Is that a good enough reason? If you’re on this site I’m guessing it is.

That’s the reason we do it. We want records like this one, which didn’t start sounding good until about 2005, and now sound MUCH better than we ever thought they could, to keep getting better and better. Why shouldn’t they?

And these improvements we talk about so much have allowed us to enjoy records we could never fully enjoy before because they never really sounded all that good to us. Now they do, and they will keep getting better, as more and more developments come along in all areas of analog reproduction.

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Ambrosia – Right at the Top of Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ambrosia

You can play hard-to-reproduce records all day long if your system is tuned up and working fine. Ours has to be, all day, every day. The shootouts we do require that everything is working properly or we simply couldn’t do them.

But you can’t play this record on such a system without retesting everything, because this is the Single Most Difficult to Reproduce Recording I know of.

This is what makes it such a great test disc; to call it a challenge doesn’t begin to convey the difficulty of playing a record that places such heavy demands on a system.

Which means I had to retweak a lot of my table setup to make sure it was 100% right, by ear. Getting the VTA right on this record is absolutely critical to its reproduction

(None of those silly setup tools for us here at Better Records. You can hear when it’s right and if you can’t then you need to keep at it until you can.)


A Must Own Rock Record

This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Rock Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

It also ranks fairly high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale. Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment.

Unless your system is firing on all cylinders, even our hottest Hot Stamper copies — the Super Hot and White Hot pressings with the biggest, most dynamic, clearest, and least distorted sound — can have problems .

Your system should be thoroughly warmed up, your electricity should be clean and cooking, you’ve got to be using the right room treatments, and we also highly recommend using a demagnetizer such as the Walker Talisman on the record, your cables (power, interconnect and speaker) as well as the individual drivers of your speakers.

This is a record that’s going to demand a lot from the audio enthusiast, and we want to make sure that you feel you’re up to the challenge. If you don’t mind putting in a little hard work, here’s a record that will reward your time and effort many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process.

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How Novel Patterns Emerge During Shootouts

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ambrosia

When you sit down to play ten or twelve copies of an album, one right after the other, patterns in the sound are going to emerge from that experience, patterns which would be very likely to pass unnoticed when playing one copy against another or two over the course of the twenty or thirty minutes it would take to do it.

In the case of this album, the pattern we perceived was simply this: About one or two out of that dozen or so will have punchy, solid, rich, deep bass. (There is a huge amount of bass on the recording so recognizing those special copies is not the least bit difficult if you have a full-range speaker and a properly treated room.)

About one or two copies really get the top end right, which is easily heard when the cymbals splash dynamically, with their harmonics intact, and they extend high about the rest of the soundfield (just the way they do in live music).

Fewer copies have an extended top end compared to those with tight punchy bass by the way.

Like so many Mastering Lab tube-mastered records from the era, most copies tend to be somewhat smooth.

Only one copy had both the best bass and the best highs. All the other copies fell short in one or both of these areas.

Think about it: if you do your home shootouts with three or four or even five copies of an album, what are the chances that:

1. You will detect this pattern? Or,
2. That you will run into the one copy that does it all?

This is precisely the reason we have taken the concept of doing comparisons between pressings to an entirely new level.

It’s the only way to find the outliers in the group, the “thin tails” as the statisticians like to call them. (More on outliers here.)

These very special White Hot Stamper pressings are the kind of game-changers that more than make up for all the hassle and expense of seriously good analog.

They can take your stereo, and your listening experience, to a place no other records can.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Hot Stamper Testimonial Letters

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

To Find the Most Elusive Hot Stamper Pressings, “Press On!”

ambrosiasomewhereMore of the Music of Ambrosia

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ambrosia

Sage Advice from Calvin Coolidge

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Calvin Coolidge

If you substitute “finding Hot Stamper pressings” for the words “the human race” you will surely appreciate the point of this commentary.

Our story today revolves around the first Hot Stamper listing we have ever done for Ambrosia’s second — and second best — album. It took us a long time to find the right pressing.

Do you, or any of the other audiophiles you know, keep buying the same album over and over again year after year in hopes of finding a better sounding copy?

We do — have been for more than twenty years as a matter of fact — and here’s why.

Around 2007 I stumbled upon the Hot Stampers for this record — purely by accident of course, there’s almost no other way to do it — and was shocked — shocked — to actually hear INTO the soundfield of the recording for the first time in my life, this after having played copy after frustratingly opaque copy for roughly thirty years.

Yes, the stereo got better and that helped a lot. Everything else we talk about helped too. But ultimately it came down to this: I had to find the right copy of the record. Without the right record it doesn’t matter how good your stereo is, you still won’t have good sound. Either the playback source has it or it doesn’t.

It’s not what’s on the master tape that matters; it’s what’s on the record. (more…)

The Pareto Effect in Audio – The 80/20 Rule Is Real

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ambrosia

Ambrosia’s first album does exactly what a Test Disc should do. It shows you what’s wrong, and once you’ve fixed it, it shows you that it’s now right.

We audiophiles need records like this. They make us better listeners, and they force us to become better audio tweakers.

You cannot buy equipment that will give you the best sound. You can only tweak your equipment to get it.

At most 20% of the sound of your stereo is what you bought. At least 80% is what you’ve done with it. (Based on my experience I would put the number closer to 90%.)

This is known as the Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule, The Law of the Vital Few and The Principle of Factor Sparsity, illustrates that 80% of effects arise from 20% of the causes – or in laymens terms – 20% of your actions/activities will account for 80% of your results/outcomes.

The Pareto Principle gets its name from the Italian-born economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), who observed that a relative few people held the majority of the wealth (20%) – back in 1895. Pareto developed logarithmic mathematical models to describe this non-uniform distribution of wealth and the mathematician M.O. Lorenz developed graphs to illustrate it.

Dr. Joseph Juran was the first to point out that what Pareto and others had observed was a “universal” principle—one that applied in an astounding variety of situations, not just economic activity, and appeared to hold without exception in problems of quality.

In the early 1950s, Juran noted the “universal” phenomenon that he has called the Pareto Principle: that in any group of factors contributing to a common effect, a relative few account for the bulk of the effect. Juran has also coined the terms “vital few” and “useful many” or “trivial many” to refer to those few contributions, which account for the bulk of the effect and to those many others which account for a smaller proportion of the effect. — Juran

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Letter of the Week – “Why can’t all records sound this good…?”

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ambrosia

One of our good customers wrote to tell us about a Hot Stamper pressing he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

Question: Does Tom Port have any clue as to what the hell he’s doing or selling to the public? That is my question.

Hello Tom, I’m the idiot who spent $399 on your White Hot Stamper of Ambrosia’s first album a few weeks ago. I did an A/B listening test with an A++/A++ copy I bought from you a few years ago. Your website waxes lyrical about the exceptional qualities of this recording; I always thought it was very, very good but not quite the recording you make it out to be!

To perform my listing test, I listened to my A++/A++ side one first. Then listened to the newly purchased A+++/A+++ next. The results? I almost had to call 911 because my jaw hit the floor! THIS was the recording you had written about in the records descriptive comments. This pressing is so holographic I swear I could have stepped into the recording.

Dare I say this is a better recording than Dark Side of the Moon; and yes, I can make such a claim, I purchased an A++/A+++ – A++/A+++ copy from you guys a few years ago. This is what I refer to as Master Tape sound quality. A Holy Grail for audiophiles.

It’s pressings like this that pose the questions: Why can’t all records sound this good and why can’t all recording engineers be as great as Alan Parsons?

So, back to my original question. Does Tom Port know what the hell he is doing or selling to the public?

Yes Tom, I’d say absolutely, 100% you know what you are doing and I’m the happiest idiot on this Earth. Keep up the great work, Tom, and thank you and your staff for the incredible service you provide.

Todd N.

Dear Todd,

Thanks for your letter. I’m positively blushing!

Seriously, the right vintage pressing, on the right stereo, can take the enjoyment of music to a level far beyond that of anything experienced by the audiophile of today, stuck in the rut of the Heavy Vinyl Reissue. (more…)

Ambrosia – Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them on both sides of this truly phenomenal ’70s Big Rock Production – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The best sides have the trademark Alan Parsons sound, with huge amounts of space in the studio, and the kind of musical energy that made the first Ambrosia album (which he mixed) such a joy to play
  • This band, their producers, and their engineers sweated every detail of this remarkable recording
  • “There is an unusual dreamlike quality that pervades its work. The songs seem to be reaching the listener direct from some strange and beautiful realm of the unconscious. It is an experience rare in popular music today or at any time. ” – Billboard

Alan Parsons produced this album, and at its best, it is truly a Demo Disc — if you have the system to play it.

This album needs lots of space and a big, wide, open soundstage if it’s going to work, and the best sides deliver that sound. It’s a rare copy that manages to have real presence and top end without getting too edgy; on the good ones, the bass is big, solid and punchy and the energy is superb. (more…)

Ambrosia / One Eighty – A Little Soft Rock Never Hurt Anybody, Right?

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ambrosia

 

Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings. 

I’m glad to say I’m not the kind of snob who looks down his nose at a good soft rock hit. (I’m a snob in other ways of course; who isn’t?) I don’t mind admitting I enjoy the hell out a good Hall & Oates jam, and I positively love Bread. Ambrosia can and does hold their own with the best of these soft-rockers. And they usually sound better doing it.

One Eighty (recorded on 1/80, get it?) kicks off with a real rocker: Ready, which is a great name for an opening track and really gets the album off to a high-energy start. Side two opens with my favorite track on the album, Livin’ On My Own. I actually used to demonstrate my system with it: the bass is huge, way up in the mix and really punchy. Additionally there are powerful multi-tracked vocal harmonies in the chorus that are wall-to-wall, surprisingly dynamic, yet sweet (all things considered; this is a modern recording after all). (more…)