Top Artists – Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon – Live and Learn

xxxxx

When we said this album was not the sonic equal of Teaser and the Firecat or Tea for the Tillerman, boy, We Was Wrong and then some. Read all about it in this White Hot Stamper copy review below.

It’s been about a year since we last found Hot Stampers of this album, and having made a number of improvements to the stereo over that time, I’m here to report that this album got a WHOLE LOT BETTER, better than I ever imagined it could get. Mona Bone Jakon now ranks as a DEMO DISC of the highest order, every bit the equal of Teaser and Tea.

To think that all three of these records came out in one fifteen month period is astonishing. The only other artists to have produced music of this calibre in so short a time would have to be The Beatles, and it took four of them to do it.

Which is not what we used to think, as evidenced by this paragraph from a previous Hot Stamper listing.

This album is one of Cat’s top four titles both musically and sonically. Tea and Teaser are obviously in a league of their own, but this album and Catch Bull At Four are close behind. The music is WONDERFUL — the best tracks (including I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light) rank right up there with anything from his catalog. Sonically it’s not an epic recording on the scale of Tea or Teaser, but with Paul Samwell-Smith at the helm, you can be sure it’s an excellent sounding album — on the right pressing.

That last line is dead wrong. It IS an epic recording on the scale of Tea and Teaser. This copy proves it! Now that we know just how good this record can sound, I hope you will allow me to borrow some commentary from another classic Cat Stevens album listing, to wit:

Right off the bat I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folk-pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.

When you hear I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on a Hot Stamper copy you will be convinced, as I am, that this is one of the greatest popular recordings in the history of the world. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one. (more…)

Cat Stevens Testimonial – One of the Best Recordings in My 10K LP Collection

xxxxx

Roger is up to his old tricks again, doing shootouts with our Hot Stampers and all the great pressings he already owns, in this case putting our humble Brown Label A&M domestic LP up against the legendary Pink Label Island British Import and a couple of MoFis. We’ll let Roger tell his own story, since by now we all know he does it as well as anyone.

Hi Tom,

Just a note on another hot stamper shootout I recently did, this time on Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman. It was interesting comparing itto the regular MFSL half-speed, the MFSL UHQR pressing, and a UK Pink Island 3U pressing, which was my all-time champ.

The regular MFSL was up first and I now remember why I don’t like this pressing: the guitars are entirely too bright, forward, and stand too proud of the rest of the mix, completely overwhelming the other instruments and voices.

When I had a detail-challenged stereo 25 years ago I recall thinking that MFSL really improved the detail on the guitars and the highs were more crystalline, but with a vastly improved stereo I can see what MFSL was doing in artificially hyping the details.

After taking this ear-bleeding pressing off my turntable and replacing it with the UHQR, I was actually relieved that the UHQR was not as annoying as the regular half-speed, although the UHQR had its faults also. The tonal balance was weird, thin and bright, and dynamics were suppressed, the worst of the four pressings I had. Also, the bass on both MFSL versions, as you often say, was an amorphous blob with little dynamics, speed, and extension.

Sometimes I wish I kept my old crappy stereo to see if I could now tell what it was that made these audiophile pressings so attractive then. (more…)

Cat Stevens / Tea For The Tillerman – Live and Learn

xxxxx
xxxxx

A blast from the past from 2006.

I have to admit that I was dead wrong when I said that the best copies of this album were the Brown Label A&M pressings. I see now how I made this error. We played four pink label copies and our best A&M LP is only better than three of them.

But it sure isn’t better than this one! I’ve heard a good dozen or so Pink Labels and this is the first one that ever blew my mind. I thought I knew this record, but this copy changes everything.

Our White Hot Stamper Commentary from 2006 (more…)

Acoustic Sounds Was Selling This “Tas List” Record Back in the ’90s

[This commentary was written circa 2001. The record above came out in 1986]

I remember 15 years ago when Acoustic Sounds was selling the then in-print 25th Anniversary Island pressing (7U, as I recall) for $15, claiming that it was a TAS list record. If you’ve ever heard that pressing, you know it has no business going anywhere near a Super Disc List. It’s mediocre at best and has virtually none of the magic of the good originals.

I refused to sell it back in those days, for no other reason than it’s far from a Better Sounding Record. I don’t like misrepresenting records and I don’t like ripping off my customers.

That pressing was a fraud and I was having none of it.

Chad probably didn’t even know the difference. When you don’t know much about records, you can say all sorts of things and not get called out for them. Audiophiles are a credulous bunch and always have been. They still believe the same nonsense that I foolishly believed back in the ’80s (and even as late as 2000).

Over the last twenty years we’ve figured a few things out. Most of what we learned you can read right here on this blog.

We’re still waiting for most of the audiophile community to catch up with us. Excessive amounts of credulity make it hard for audiophiles to approach audio problems scientifically. They believe things that are easily disproven, but when you want to believe as badly as most audiophiles do, why make the effort to find out whether what you believe is true or not?

Cat Stevens Asks How Do You Like Your Congas: Light, Medium or Heavy?

 

stevetease_congamania_1227123333

During the shootout for this record a while back we made a very important discovery, a seemingly obvious one but one that nevertheless had eluded us for the past twenty plus years (so how obvious could it have been?). It became clear, for the first time, what accounts for the wide disparity in ENERGY and DRIVE from one copy to the next. We can sum it up for you in one five letter word, and that word is conga.

The congas are what drive the high-energy songs, songs like Tuesday’s Dead and Changes IV. Here is how we stumbled upon their critically important contribution.

We were listening to one of the better copies during a recent shootout. The first track on side one, The Wind, was especially gorgeous; Cat and his acoustic guitar were right there in the room with us. The transparency, tonal neutrality, presence and all the rest were just superb. Then came time to move to the other test track on side one, which is Changes IV, one of the higher energy songs we like to play.

But the energy we expected to hear was nowhere to be found. The powerful rhythmic drive of the best copies of the album just wasn’t happening. The more we listened the more it became clear that the congas were not doing what they normally do. The midbass to lower midrange area of the LP lacked energy, weight and power, and this prevented the song from coming to LIFE the way the truly Hot Stampers can and do.

Big Speakers

For twenty years Tuesday’s Dead has been one of my favorite tracks for demonstrating what The Big Speaker Sound is all about. Now I think I better understand why. Big speakers are the only way to reproduce the physical size and tremendous energy of the congas (and other drums of course) that play such a big part in driving the rhythmic energy of the song.

In my experience no six inch woofer — or seven, or eight, or ten even — gets the sound of the conga right, from bottom to top, drum to skin. No screen can do it either. It’s simply a sound that large dynamic drivers reproduce well and other speaker designs do not reproduce so well.

Since this is one of my favorite records of all time, a true Desert Island Disc, I would never want to be without a pair of big speakers to play it, because those are the kinds of speakers that play it well. (more…)

Time Capsule of Commentaries for Our First Hot Stampers for Teaser and the Firecat – 2005 to 2006

xxxxx

This Hot Stamper listing from 2006 is a Time Capsule of Commentaries of sorts; it contains write-ups from 2006, 2005 and 2002 all rolled into one. Out of sheer laziness we used to leave the old commentary in the listings, sort of like building the new city on the ruins of the old. For those who don’t mind excavating through the Hot Stamper thoughts of the past, please read on. 

Notes from August 2006

DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND of the HIGHEST ORDER!

(For pop music anyway.) Before I get into the sound of this record, let me preface my remarks by saying this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made two records which belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folky pop, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.

For years I have been telling people that one day I would put up on the Web site some Hot Stamper copies of Cat Stevens’ greatest albums. Today is that day.

Last night I listened to at least fifteen of the best pressings of this album that I had available to me — we’re talking some heavy hitters here, all top quality British and American original pressings — and even though this pressing didn’t take top honors (that distinction belongs to the $500 copy we put up) — it was clearly at the top of the pack.

This is an Original Island Sunray pressing. As good as the best domestic originals are, none of them could compete with the amazing British copies that I played. I can’t explain it, but that’s the way it worked out. (more…)

Cat Stevens / Catch Bull At Four – Yes, Sometimes There Is Only One Set of Magic Stampers

xxxxx

 

As is sometimes the case, there is one and only one set of stamper numbers that consistently wins our Catch Bull At Four shootouts. We stumbled upon an out-of-this-world copy of the right pressing about two years ago, a copy took the recording to a level we had no idea could even be possible. (We were going to give it Four Pluses, and probably should have, but cooler heads prevailed.)

Since then we have had many copies come in, but none that could compete with the Magic Stamper pressings. And the best part of this story is that, no, the best stampers are not 1U, or 2U, or even 3U. In other words they are far from the stampers found on the earliest pressings. That’s one reason it took us so long to discover them, because they are much less commonly found than pressings with the earlier stampers. By the time these later pressings were mastered, pressed and released, the album’s biggest selling days were over. For all we know this cutting may have been done just to keep the record in print, possibly undertaken many years after its initial release.

Who knows? Who cares? What difference does it make?

Well, it does serve to make a point near and dear to our hearts: that the idea (and operational premise of most record collectors) that the Original Is Always Better is just a load of bunk. It might be and it might not be. If you want better sounding records you had better open your mind to the idea that some reissues have the potential to sound better than even the best original pressing of the album.

Of course this is nothing but bad news for the average audiophile collector, who simply does not have the time or money to go through the hassle of buying, cleaning and playing every damn pressing he can get his hands on.

But good news for us, because we do. (more…)

Traveling Back in Time with Cat Stevens on Mobile Fidelity…

xxx

to Hear It on Vintage Equipment

Our good customer Roger wrote us a letter years ago about his MoFi TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN, in which he remarked, “Sometimes I wish I kept my old crappy stereo to see if I could now tell what it was that made these audiophile pressings so attractive then.”

It got me to thinking. Yes, that would be fun, and better yet, it could be done. There are actually plenty of those Old School systems still around. Just look at what many of the forum posters — god bless ’em — are running. They’ve got some awesome ’70s Japanese turntables, some Monster Cable and some vintage tube gear and speakers going all the way back to the ’50s.

With this stuff you could in effect travel back in time, virtually erasing all the audio progress of the last 30 years. Then you could hear your MoFi Tea for the Tillerman sound the way it used to when you could actually stand to be in the same room with it.
(more…)

Cat Stevens – Tea For The Tillerman – A Hall of Fame Pressing from 2004!

xxxxx
xxxxx

We’ve learned a lot about this record in the last thirty years or so. Here is what we thought we knew back in 2004.

This is a superb sounding original Brown Label A&M pressing. If you didn’t know better you might think you were listening to a Pink Label copy: it’s that good! In fact, having just played a Pink label Island 3U/3U original, I’m going to say that this pressing actually sounds better on side one than that famous import. This will no doubt shock many of you. But I have known of a better sounding brown label domestic pressing for close to 10 years.

But what surprised me in this case was that these particular stampers are different from the domestic original that I discovered all those years ago. This is an entirely new finding. Dropping the needle on side one of this record and hearing the delicate strumming of the guitar and the smoothness and sweetness of the vocals, I knew immediately that I was hearing a Hot Stamper. A VERY Hot Stamper. Listening to it all the way through a few times and playing some other copies convinced me that indeed it was As Good As It Gets. On side one anyway.

Side two is excellent, but the bass is not quite as well defined and there is a slight loss of transparency in comparison to the best copies I have heard. The song Father and Son can be a bit sibilant. On the ultimate copies the sibilance is under control. This one has a little more of that sibilance than the best stampers I have heard. It’s not bad, but it’s not the equal of the best pressings.

Another track I like to play on side two is Into White. With this song, you hear into the music on the best copies as if you were seeing the live musicians before you. The violinist is also a key element. He’s very far back in the studio. When he’s back where he should be, and the sound of the wood of his violin and the rosin on the strings is still clearly audible, without any brightness or edginess to artificially create those details, you know you are hearing the real thing. 

This is, I hope it goes without saying, one of the greatest rock records of all time, music that belongs in any collection. I’ve been playing this album for 30 years and I can honestly say I’ve never once been tired of hearing it. I get tired of hearing bad copies.

I become absolutely incensed when I have to play the Mobile Fidelity version of this album, because what they did to this record is a travesty. If you want to know what the guitars on this album are NOT supposed to sound like, play the MOFI. And if you want to hear an even worse version, play the UHQR.

Letter of the Week – Tea for the Tillerman and Santana

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

Hey Tom,   

I have listened to my copy the day it arrived. I’m not very good at describing the sound of an album, that’s why I love reading your commentaries, because it accurately describes what I actually hear.

The HS Tillerman is now my reference album where I test all improvements/adjustments I make in my system or my turntable. All the Hot Stamper copies I have bought from you really beat all other copies I have.

A good example is my Hot Stamper Santana.The instruments sound tonally right, distinctly separate from each other. There is no harshness on the top end and the bass is tight and defined.

I had five copies of the album before I got my HS copy, all are”360″ including a WLP copy. None of the five came close to the sound of my Hot Stamper. (more…)