Top Artists – Carole King

Carole King – Tapestry

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Reviews and Commentaries for Tapestry

  • This vintage Ode pressing boasts outstanding grades from start to finish
  • Big, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, yet still clean, clear and open – finally, the dark veil obscuring the sound of most copies has been lifted
  • This album is clearly Carole’s masterpiece – it’s loaded with great songs, and they all sound solid and correct here, two qualities which are critically important to the sound of the album
  • 5 stars: “…an intensely emotional record, the songs confessional and direct; in its time it connected with listeners like few records before it, and it remains an illuminating experience decades later. A remarkably expressive and intimate record, it’s a work of consummate craftsmanship.”

Audiophile sound is not easy to find on Tapestry. As we’ve been saying for twenty years, most copies are either dull and murky or edgy and thin, and on half the ones that do sound good, the vinyl is noisy.

On a copy like this, though, the sound gets out of the way and lets you focus on the MUSIC — and make no mistake, the music on this album is as good as it gets from Carole King.

We went nuts for this album during our big shootout. Since most of the time we’re playing testosterone-fueled, raging classic rock, it was a nice change of pace for us — and certainly easier on our poor eardrums. Our man JT makes an appearance playing acoustic guitar on a number of tracks, most notably You’ve Got A Friend, and his pals Russ Kunkel and Danny Korstchmar turn up too, with Kootch handling most of the electric guitar duties.

Carole returned the favor, playing the piano and singing on Taylor’s wonderful but underappreciated Mud Slide Slim album.

What’s surprising, if you haven’t played this album in a while, is how good non-hit tracks like “Home Again” can be. But there aren’t many of those non-hits on this album, and that’s a good thing; almost every song was a hit or received a lot of radio play. The quality of the material is that good.

What We’re Listening For on Tapestry

Transparency and Richness

One quality that we had no trouble recognizing on the better copies was transparency. The more transparent copies made it possible to hear through the mix to Carole’s piano, which is usually placed toward the back of the mix. There it serves to underpin the music, playing more of a supporting role than a leading one, very unlike the piano on a Joni Mitchell album for example.

The best copies let you easily follow Carole’s playing all the way through every song, from start to finish, no matter how quiet her part or how far back in the mix she may be placed.

If the pressing has a thinner sound (here are some examples of thin sounding records), obviously it becomes easier to pick up on the percussive nature of the instrument and “see” it more clearly. However, a thin piano tone on this album is the kiss of death. The best copies allow you to hear the full range of notes — including those played with the left hand — and for that, you need both richness and transparency.

This is a tricky balancing act; rarely in our experience do any two copies find precisely the same balance throughout an entire side.

Tough Sledding with Tapestry

There’s a reason you don’t see Tapestry Hot Stampers on the site very often. Folks, take it from us, even in Mint Minus Minus condition it ain’t that easy to find them. People loved Tapestry — it was Number One on the Billboard 200 for fifteen straight weeks, which is still the record for a female solo artist, and charted for more than 300(!).

It’s a classic and it got played to death. Furthermore, the Ode vinyl the originals were pressed on was never all that quiet to begin with. We probably look at twenty or thirty for every one we find that’s not scratched or worn out. So this exceptional copy, with no scratches that play and no groove damage to speak of, is nearly unheard of. Sound-wise, our copies will trounce any copy you’ve ever heard, or your money back.

The Reissues Won’t Get You There

The CBS Half Speed is ridiculously bright — can you imagine a worse way to present this intimate music?

Bernie Grundman’s heavy vinyl pressing isn’t terrible, but it isn’t all that musical and never really comes to life. We dropped the needle on it for a few moments and were bored to tears.

Quite a number of our customers have written us about our Hot Stamper pressings of Tapestry, and their letters can be found here.

The Washington Post article that Geoff Edgers wrote includes a video of a little shootout we did for Tapestry, using, without my knowledge, the MoFi, a Hot Stamper and a regular reissue of the album. In the video you see me describe the sound for the first go around, more of a warmup than a real shootout.

When we went back and played each of the pressings again, the differences were much more pronounced. The MoFi still sounded like a CD, the current Columbia reissue was still no better than passable, and the Hot Stamper became even better sounding than it had been earlier, with sound the other two could not begin to offer. You can see that it took me a few minutes to get deep into the sound, but once I was there, it turned out to no contest. The Hot Stamper showed us just how good Tapestry could sound.

This customer, along with a number of others, talks about a similar experience he had with one of our Hot Stamper pressings.

A real shootout, like the one that produced this very copy, would have involved 6-10 early domestic pressings, since those are the only ones that sound good to us these days.

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Letter of the Week – “…as if I were sitting in that Southern California recording studio all those years ago.” 

More of the Music of Carole King

More of the Music of The Eagles

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

Hey Tom, 

First a short thank you. I was slow in ordering a record I needed for an audiophile’s friend’s birthday this week, and you guys got it to me. There is a personal service aspect of your team that just adds to the quality of the product. As to that…..

This morning I went to my record collection looking for the right one to listen to with morning coffee at the start of a beautiful Friday. I came across the very first Hot Stamper I ever purchased from you. A copy of Carol King’s Tapestry. I remember the nervousness I felt when making that first “investment”…. Have to tell you, it sounds even better today. The dynamic range, the lingering cymbal clash, the clarity of James Taylor’s acoustic guitar…as if I were sitting in that Southern California recording studio all those years ago. 

BTW… I had a very cool experience last week. My boss is friends with a guy who’s name is Herb Tobin. Herb bought an ocean front house in a small berg north Miami called Golden Beach back in 1982. He bought it from a Miami recording studio that use to be called Criteria, later changing their name to the current The Hits Factory. My boss arranged for us to have lunch with Mr. Tobin on my birthday. By now, you no doubt have guessed the address….461 Ocean Blvd. Not only did Eric Clapton stay there and was so inspired at the turning point in his life that time meant he named the album, and used the image looking back from the beach at the back of the house in 1974 as the album cover. The Eagles also stayed there while recording Hotel California.

We met Mr. Tobin out for lunch and he told me many stories of all the strange, and some unwelcome visitors he has had since 1982. One most welcomed visitor was in the 1990’s he got a call from Clapton’s agent and Eric wanted to bring his wife by and show her the house. They ended up having lunch out on the back patio, where the palm tree is on the album cover. Eric autographed 10 records for Mr. Tobin that day and he had 4 left plus one he had framed. My boss made arrangements with Mr. Tobin in advance and he gave me one…. I am having it framed. I have always loved that record, since ’74. Not looking for agreement, but I have never been able to warm up to any of the Cream, Derek and the Dominos, etc. and anything after what are for me the 4 best (461; Backless; No Reason to Cry; and There’s One In Every Crowd), is simply not my cup of tea. But 461 for me is not only Clapton’s best work, it is one of my top 10 albums of all time. Something totally authentic about it.

Wanted to share a little with you of the impact all your good work makes. (more…)

Better Record’s Record Collecting Axiom Number One

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – The Fundamentals

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

In an old commentary for a shootout we did for Carole King’s Tapestry album, we took shots at both the CBS Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile pressing and the Classic Heavy Vinyl Audiophile pressing, noting that both fell far short of the standard set by the Hot Stamper copies we had been playing (and enjoying the hell out of) for years.

axiom-definition-screenshotThis finding (and scores of others just like it) prompted us to promulgate the first two axioms of audiophile record collecting.

Better Records Record Collecting Axiom Number One

The better your stereo gets, the fewer Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered pressings you will choose to play, or own for that matter.

This assumes a fact not in evidence: that audiophiles get rid of their bad sounding records.

It has been my experience that the reverse is actually more often the case. Most audiophiles seem to like to hang on to their audiophile pressings, even the bad sounding ones. Why they do this I cannot for the life of me understand.

To me a bad sounding audiophile record is a record that has no business being played and should either be tossed or sold, with any proceeds from the sale applied to the purchase of good records — you know, like the ones found on this site.

Click here to read Better Record’s Record Collecting Axiom Number Two.

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Carole King / Tapestry – CBS Half-Speed Reviewed

More of the Music of Carole King

Reviews and Commentaries for Tapestry

The CBS Half Speed is brighter and thinner than the good sounding pressings we sell — can you imagine a worse way to present this often intimate music?  

I had a much darker and less revealing system in 1980 than I do now. Pretty much everybody had a system that suffered from those afflictions. I thought my system was a near-perfect State of the Art dreadnaught that did everything right. Obviously I didn’t know how much there was to learn.

And the reality is that no matter how hard I worked or how much money I spent, I would never be able to get very far so one simple reason: most of the revolutions in audio had not yet come to pass. It would be at least another thirty years of constant improvements until I would have anything like the system I do now.

Those Stone Age Stereos of the Seventies were better suited to the audiophile pressings being made to play on them, the ones put out by the likes of CBS and Mobile Fidelity. However, as bad as our stereos were back then, even in 1980 when this album came out I could hear it was too bright.

If my Mobile Fidelity records sounded fine to me in 1980, and they did, I was a huge fan and true believer, and this CBS record sounded too bright, I’m figuring it would ridiculously bright played back on my much more revealing stereo today.

What Are the Chances?

The chances of there being Hot Stamper Half-Speed Mastered pressings of Tapestry may be vanishingly small, but we can’t say the number is zero. There could be some, but considering how bad an idea Half-Speed Mastering is, would they have much chance of beating our Hot Stampers?

As a practical matter I would have to say the chances are zero.

If you are still buying modern pressings, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered Records.

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Letter of the Week – “Listening to my very first Hot Stamper purchase was by far the most significant event in my life as an audiophile.”

Reviews and Commentaries for Tapestry

More Hot Stamper Testimonial Letters

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased back in 2017 [the bolding of the text has been added by us.]

Hey Tom, 

Listening to my very first Hot Stamper purchase was by far the most significant event in my life as an audiophile. I discovered the Better Records website way back in 2007, but being a hardcore skeptic I didn’t purchase anything until almost two years later. Although I agreed with the premise that different pressings have varying degrees of sound quality, I simply could not believe that any record could sound so much better to justify the prices. Frankly, I thought that the buyers of these records were folks with more money than sense.

What finally drove me to purchase my first Hot Stamper was my attempt to find a decent copy of Carole King’s Tapestry album. I had decided to try the Better Records approach and gathered half a dozen copies, as well as the Classic heavy vinyl reissue that I had read good things about. Talk about an exercise in futility. Despite a thorough cleaning with Disc Doctor, no copy sounded significantly better than any of the others. However, Better Records just happened to have a 1+ copy of Tapestry on sale for $75 at the time, so I decided to take the plunge and buy it, even though I still thought the price was outrageous.

What followed next absolutely stunned and amazed me. Although I was prepared to shoot out the Hot Stamper against my own copies, I knew within the first minute of play that it would be totally unnecessary. The Hot Stamper sounded like a completely different recording. I cannot stress this enough. Everything sounded much, much more lifelike and REAL, as if I was listening to the performance inside the recording studio, instead of sitting outside hearing it through the walls. Of particular note was the fact that I could hear the personality in Ms. King’s voice, with all the attendant subtle inflections and timbre; she sounded like a real person, not just a recording of one. The $75 price was suddenly transformed into a real bargain, and the skeptic in me died completely. (more…)

Listening in Depth to James Taylor’s Forgotten Classic – Mud Slide Slim

More of the Music of James Taylor

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of James Taylor

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

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

Side One

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 clearly. Her style is unmistakable. (more…)

Better Record’s Record Collecting Axiom Number Two

More on Thinking Critically About Records

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

In an old commentary for a shootout we did for Carole King’s Tapestry album, we took shots at both the CBS Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile pressing and the Classic Heavy Vinyl Audiophile pressing, noting that both fell far short of the standard set by the Hot Stamper copies we’d discovered over the years.

This finding (and scores of others just like it) prompted us to promulgate the following axioms of audiophile record collecting. (Axiom Number One can be found here.)

Which leads us to Better Records Record Collecting Axiom Number Two

No two records sound the same.

If that weren’t true we’d be out of business. It is in fact the very foundation of our business. We wrote a commentary with that idea firmly in mind under the heading Identical Stampers + New Vinyl = Different Sound?, which goes into that subject in more detail.

axiom-definition-screenshot

And it’s equally true for Half-Speeds — they’re records, right? — so we have a few entries in our We Was Wrong. section about those rare copies that actually have sounded good to us over the years.

For example, the chances of there being exceptionally good sounding CBS Half-Speed Mastered pressings of Tapestry may be vanishingly small, but we can’t say the number is zero. There could be some, but considering how bad the idea of Half-Speed Mastering is, would they have much chance of beating our Hot Stampers? As a practical matter I would have to say the chances are zero.

They can’t beat the best originals, properly cleaned. They can beat uncleaned originals and reissues. There might be some copies that sound better than the mediocre Classic Records pressing, which is tonally fine but suffers from the basic issues most of Bernie Grundman’s remastered records suffer from.

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Letter of the Week – “… I felt the earth move under my feet with this record …”

More of the Music of Carole King

Reviews and Commentaries for Tapestry

This letter came in many years ago. Please to enjoy.

Our good customer Roger (and, if he keeps this up, a future editor-at-large) recently purchased the cheapest Hot Stamper Tapestry ($150) from our mailing. As is his wont, he proceeded to do his own shootout with the CBS Half-Speed. We told him in our listing it wasn’t any good, but we’re glad to see he didn’t take our word for it.

There is no substitute for hearing a record on your own stereo, good or bad. (The record, not the stereo.)

Hi Tom,

I heard your Carole King Tapestry Hot Stamper over the weekend and compared it to the CBS half-speed version. I always thought CBS did a pretty good job on this record, at least as compared to a standard US pressing I had, and I avoided buying hot stampers because of this.

So I didn’t expect much when I put this on my turntable, but it was obvious within the first, oh, 2-3 seconds that the hot stamper completely eclipsed the half-speed. I don’t think even a 1/4 speed or 1/100 speed would have sounded like this record. Instruments were startlingly immediate and stood out from the mix, whether it was pianos arrayed in space with weight and body, or the drum rim shots in It’s Too Late, or guitars, or even Carole’s voice. I was amazed, I mean amazed, at the fireworks display type bass on Home Again and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.

I definitely felt the earth move under my feet with this record–it is rare to hear this kind of bass on any recording, no less a pop record. I used to pride myself on not being a bass whore, but I admit I am hopelessly in love with the kind of bass heard on this record. If you like transparent soundstaging you will love this record and there is tons of detail, but not the type of hyper-detail that will drive you screaming from your room.

I have heard the songs on this record literally thousands of times but never like this. And this was the cheap $149 version. Fabulous!

Roger

Roger, thanks as always for the insightful review. We haven’t liked the Half-Speed since the Classic came out more than a decade ago. Although it’s tonally much more correct, the Classic Records pressing just doesn’t cut it, in more ways than I care to recount. This commentary gets at some of it.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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Mud Slide Slim – Is He in a Booth or Isn’t He?

More of the Music of James Taylor

Reviews and Commentaries for Mud Slide Slim

Midrange Presence is tough to come by on Mud Slide; most of the time JT’s voice is recessed, dark, veiled and has a slightly hollow quality. To find a copy where his vocals are front and center — which of course is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet and tonally correct is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off. Out of the dozens of copies we played in our most recent shootout few had the midrange we were looking for and knew existed. 

One thing we noticed this time around was that for some tracks James’ vocals are recorded in a booth and for others they are not. Listen to the first track — there is no ambience, no room around his voice whatsoever. He’s in a padded booth, and they sure padded the hell out of it. Now play Long Ago and Far Away on side two. No booth! Lots of studio space around the vocal. MUCH more natural acoustic.

We don’t have the luxury of playing every track on both sides for these shootouts. We pick two or three songs that have specific qualities we know to look for and play them on every copy. (Shootouts like this almost always involve at least a dozen pressings, sometimes more, and it’s impossible to keep them all straight with more copies than that.)

So here’s a potentially fun exercise — assuming you find this sort of thing fun — that we thought about doing but just don’t have the time to devote to at present, with so many other shootouts waiting in the wings. Take your own copy, assuming you have at least a decent one, and play each track listening for only one thing: does James sound like he is in a booth, or does he sound like he is in an open space in the studio? If you have the typical original WB pressing you will probably not be able to get very far and will be quickly tempted to give up, the frustration of a murky midrange being more than most of us audiophiles can bear.

But maybe you have a good copy; the possibility certainly exists. And if you find much success with this exercise we encourage you to drop us a line, we will be more than happy to print it.

Letter of the Week – “Listening to the copies I purchased from you felt like I had never heard them before.”

More of the Music of Blood, Sweat and Tears

More of the Music of Carole King

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

  Hey Tom, 

BTW, given my age, I have probably heard Carole King’s Tapestry and Blood Sweat & Tears – BST a hundred or more times each. Listening to the copies I purchased from you felt like I had never heard them before. Absolutely incredible. Thank you.