Top Artists – Carole King

Better Record’s Record Collecting Axiom Number Two

More Entries in Our Critical Thinking Series

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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.

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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Carole King / Tapestry – “… I felt the earth move under my feet with this record …”

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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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Better Record’s Record Collecting Axiom Number One

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – The Fundamentals

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In an old commentary for a shootout we did for Carole King’s Tapestry album, we took shots at both the CBS Half-Speed Audiophile pressing and the Classic Heavy Vinyl pressing, noting that both fell far short of the standard set by the Hot Stamper copies we’d discovered over the years. This finding from many years ago (and scores of others just like it) prompted us to promulgate the following axiom of audiophile record collecting, which we are calling:

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 so 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 on our site. (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry

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Reviews and Commentaries for Tapestry

  • This KILLER copy of King’s beloved Tapestry earned top honors – Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • 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 Kootch turn up too, with Kootch handling most of the electric guitar duties.

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. (more…)

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

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. (more…)

Carole King – Music

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  • KILLER sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades  
  • The vocals are present and breathy, the piano and bass clear, not smeary or murky — this one was doing it all right!
  • “… time has shown this album to be one of her finest… her songwriting is still in peak form, and there are many highlights including “It’s Gonna Take Some Time” (also made into a hit by the Carpenters) and “Song of Long Ago” (with backing vocals by James Taylor).” – All Music, 4 Stars

KILLER Triple Plus (A+++) on both sides for this, shall we say “problematical” recording. Perhaps “challenging” is a better term. Either way, finding good sounding copies of this album was a real pain. Most pressings were shockingly bad. We had been thinking that Tapestry was the tough nut to crack in her catalog. Not even close. This one is five times as hard. So many copies were murky, smeary and veiled that we almost gave up. Fortunately there were a few copies that shone brightly above the rest and this copy was one of them! (more…)

Tapestry Testimonial – … A Drastic Improvement to My Music Collection …

Our good customer Owais purchased our hottest Hot Stamper Tapestry and wrote to tell us that even his wife agreed that the premium that he paid for it was money well-spent.

I am very pleased with all of my purchases from you. In particular, the Carole King ‘Tapestry’ was breathtaking! You weren’t wrong when you claimed that Side One was the world’s best sounding version.

I have had so many different versions of this album, both in analogue and in digital form, and nothing even comes close. This is my wife’s favourite album of all time and even she had to admit that the premium that I paid for it was money well-spent. 

A big thank you for drastically improving the quality of my music collection!! (more…)

Carole King / Tapestry – Classic Records Reviewed in the ’90s

Sonic Grade: C

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic LP, but I remember it as being fairly good. [I doubt I would like it now.]

At the time we wrote:

It’s a little rolled off on the top, but it’s a good rolled off, because brightening it up would make it sound modern and wrong. It’s rich and full of body, especially the piano, the way modern recordings almost never are.

Musically it’s hard to fault as well. What’s surprising, if you haven’t played this album in a while, is how good a non-hit track like “Home Again” can be. But there aren’t many of those on this album because almost every song was a hit or received a lot of radio play; the quality of the material is that good.

Heavy Vinyl and the Loss of Transparency (more…)

Letter of the Week – Tapestry, 461 Ocean Boulevard and Hotel California “…as if I were sitting in that Southern California recording studio all those years ago.” 

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…)

Carole King / Tapestry – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Notice how the third track on side two, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, which Carole wrote when she was only eighteen and which became a big hit for The Shirelles, is actually the best sounding song on the entire album.

I have a theory that this song was recorded toward the end of the sessions, and the reason it sounds so good is that it took them until then to figure out how to do it. This is no Demo Disc by any means. The recording itself seems to have shortcomings of every kind from track to track. Perhaps as they made their way through the sessions they were learning from their mistakes, mistakes that no one could go back and fix without starting all over again, and by the time they got to this track they had it all figured out. Of course that is just a guess, nothing but speculation on my part. Regardless of the cause, see if you don’t hear what I’m talking about. 

What to Listen For (WTLF)

One of the most telling qualities that the best copies displayed is the ability to hear through the mix to Carole’s piano, which is often placed toward the back of the mix, underpinning the music, not playing a prominent role. The best copies really let you follow her all the way through every song, no matter how quietly she is playing or how far back in the mix she may be. If the pressing has a thinner sound, obviously it’s easy to pick up on the percussive nature of the instrument. The trick is to hear the full range of notes, and for that you need fullness and transparency. (more…)