Top Artists – Cat Stevens

Letter of the Week – “The WHS stamper just pulled you into those songs, so you could feel every little dynamic shift and tonal change…”

More of the Music of Steely Dan

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently. [The bolding has been added by us.]

Hey Tom,   

A friend and I just did a shootout of 16 copies of Aja, plus one of your White Stampers, which easily trounced them all (including some DJ 12″ singles from the album) [1], and in exactly those areas that you cover in some of the WTLF descriptions you have for that album. Just a great big, open and lovely-sounding record–what a thrill!. And thanks very much for those notes–they help clarify the critical listening process.

We also listened to 16 copies of Tea for the Tillerman. Among those (UK pink rims, German, Japanese, and many US labels) were two excellent early brown label A&M pressings, which I saved for the end of the shootout.

And we had the Analogue Productions 33 rpm pressing, which has been a big disappointment since I first heard it. [2] Those two original A&Ms both sound so much more natural, with more delicacy, extension, air, presence and energy than the AP version. My listening buddy said they sounded as if they were cut at 45 rpm; and neither of us really expected your White Hot UK pink-rim pressing could be a significant improvement over those.

But, as good as those are, it was also obvious that your WHS brought the music several steps closer. The A&M brown labels both added some thickness and over-emphasized the low range of his voice–which (until we heard your WHS) was a pleasant coloration.

But as you frequently mention, the biggest issue, once you’ve heard a great copy, is how much more energy and flow the music has. The WHS stamper just pulled you into those songs, so you could feel every little dynamic shift and tonal change that the musicians were bringing to the table. It allowed that music to breathe in a way I’ve never heard before. What a record!

The BIG thing your Hot Stampers do is present the music in a perfectly balanced way–no frequency range is emphasized, which also means none are compromised. I think this is why you can always turn up the volume on a Hot Stamper. If you’ve got a bad mastering or bad pressing, at some point, turning up the volume only make parts of the recording more unlistenable. Turning up a Hot stamper makes it a bit louder, sure. But it also brings you further into the studio, and closer to the music–and that’s we really want, right?

Ivan

Ivan,

Quite a shootout! I see you learned a lot. That’s what shootouts are for, to teach you what the good copies do well that the other copies do not do so well. As you well know, going deep into the sound the way you did is a thrill, one we get to enjoy on a regular basis. Maybe not every day — not every record is as good as Tea for the Tillerman – but multiple times a week. It’s what make the coming to work every day fun for those of us on the listening panels.

Thanks for your letter.

P.S.

[1] I remember playing those Aja 12″ records back in the ’80s. I never thought they were all that good sounding. DJ appeal, not audiophile appeal.

[2] We couldn’t stand the AP pressing either, as you may have guessed by the title of our review: Tea for the Tillerman – This Is Your Idea of Analog? It’s the poster boy for records with No Tubey Magic Whatsoever.

Without Tubey Magic you might as well be playing a CD. The well known reviewer who has so many nice things to say about this pressing — I quote him at length in my review — apparently cannot hear that the new Heavy Vinyl pressing sounds more like a CD than the actual CD of Tea for the Tillerman does.

This champion of analog is single-handedly guilty of more reviewer malpractice than anybody I can think of this side of Julian Hirsch, so it should come as no surprise to anyone — especially anyone who reads this blog — that the Heavy Vinyl Tillerman is yet another in a very long line of records he has been dead wrong about.

If your goal is to promote vinyl, at the very least you should know better than to do it with a record as lacking in analog virtues as this one is. We listed them chapter and verse in our lengthy review. We had no trouble identifying and calling them out, and we frankly still don’t understand why so many analog devotees have such a difficult time with the kind of in-depth critical listening that shows up the faults of junk vinyl such as this misguided remaster.

And just in case you are wondering, I happen to know that the Sterling mastered CD from many decades ago sounds better, because I still own mine and play it in the car from time to time.

If you are stuck in a Heavy Vinyl rut, we here at Better Records can help you get out of it. We did precisely that for these folks, and we can do it for you.

(You may of course not be aware that you are stuck in a rut. Few audiophiles are. The best way out of that predicament is to hear how mediocre these modern records sound compared to the vintage Hot Stampers we offer. Once you hear the difference, your days of buying newly remastered releases will most likely be over. Even if our pricey curated pressings are beyond your budget, you can avail yourself of the methods we describe to find dramatically superior killer pressings on your own.)


Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

Reviews and Commentaries for Tea for the Tillerman

Listening in Depth to Mona Bone Jakon

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Mona Bone Jakon

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 genre. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one. 

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.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Lady d’Arbanville

This track will always be a little bright. It was supposed to be a hit song, and hit songs are frequently mixed a little bright.

Maybe You’re Right
Pop Star
I Think I See the Light (more…)

Cat Stevens / Teaser & The Firecat – Two Tracks Are Key

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

Just ran across the following in an old listing. We’re nothing if not consistent here at Better Records!

And if you are ever tempted to pick up one of those recently remastered versions on heavy vinyl, don’t do it. There is simply no one alive today making records that sound like these good originals. Not to these ears anyway. We may choose to indulge ourselves in the audacity of hope, but reality has to set in sooner or later. After thirty years of trying, the modern mastering engineers of the world have nothing to show for their efforts but a pile of failures. The time to call it quits has come and gone. Let’s face facts: when it comes to Teaser and the Firecat, it’s the Real Thing or nothing.

If you’re looking for an amazing Demo Quality Rock Recording, you’ve come to the right place.

If you want a timeless Classic Rock Record, it’s here too.

They just don’t know how to make them like this anymore. Those of you waiting for audiophile vinyl reissues with the kind of magic found on these originals will be in your graves long before it ever comes to pass.

Analogue Productions tried and failed — more than once — to produce a good sounding Heavy Vinyl pressing of Tea for the Tillerman.

You can be sure there is little chance they would have better luck with Teaser and the Firecat.

(more…)

Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon

More Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Mona Bone Jakon

  • This copy of Cat Stevens’ brilliant third album will be very hard to beat
  • So transparent, open, and spacious, nuances and subtleties that escaped you before are now front and center
  • When you play “I Wish, I Wish” and “I Think I See The Light” on this vintage pressing, we think you will agree with us that this is one of the greatest Folk Rock albums of them all
  • One of the most underrated titles on the site – you owe it to yourself to see just how good the album that came out right before Tillerman can be when it sounds this good
  • 4 stars: “A delight, and because it never achieved the Top 40 radio ubiquity of later albums, it sounds fresh and distinct.”
  • 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. Red Clay is a good example of a record most audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a fan of Folky Pop, this Cat Stevens album from 1970 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

So many copies excel in some areas but fall flat in others. This side one has it ALL going on — all the Tubey Magic, all the energy, all the presence and so on. The sound is high-rez yet so natural, free from the phony hi-fi-ish quality that you hear on many pressings, especially the reissues on the second label.

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 Folk Pop recordings that are as good but we know of none that are better.

Mike Bobak was the engineer for these sessions from 1970. He is the man responsible for some of the best sounding records from the early ’70s: The Faces’ Long Player, Rod Stewart’s Never a Dull Moment, The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One, (and lots of other Kinks albums), Carly Simon’s Anticipation and more than his share of obscure English bands (of which there seems to be a practically endless supply).

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this album. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with the richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and remasterings). (more…)

Cat Stevens – Tea For The Tillerman on A&M

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Tea for the Tillerman

  • This superb Brown Label A&M pressing of TFTT – The Pinnacle of British Folk Rock from 1970 – earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • It was mastered by the same guy who cut the British pressings – Lee Hulko – and we guarantee the sound will hold its own against any copy you’ve ever played
  • The emotional power of the songs is communicated completely – we can assure you the experience will be like playing the album for the first time (so this is your chance!)
  • 5 Stars on Allmusic, a stunning Demo Disc, and a permanent member of the Better Records Top 100

Hearing this Hot Stamper is a PRIVILEGE that affords the listener insight into Cat Stevens’ music that is simply not possible any other way. The emotional power of these songs is communicated so completely through our better copies that we can assure you the experience will be like playing the album for the first time.

This is, I hope it goes without saying, one of the greatest Folk Rock records of all time, the kind of music that belongs in any collection. I’ve been playing this album for 40 years and I can honestly say I’ve never once tired of hearing it. I do get tired of hearing bad copies.

Cat’s mixes are full of subtle elements that may require many listening sessions over the course of years, even decades, to recognize and appreciate. Consider them an extra reward for having played the record so many times. I’ve played hundreds of copies over the last thirty plus years and never tired of it once. As every music lover knows, the best albums only get better with time.

(more…)

Cat Stevens Wants to Know How You Like Your Congas: Light, Medium or Heavy?

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

During the shootout for this record a while back [the late 2000s would be my guess], 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.

Cat Stevens – The World of Cat Stevens

More Cat Stevens

More Folk Rock

  • Cat Stevens 1970 compilation album returns with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish and British Decca vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find it
  • These sides are doing most everything right — the sound is rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, Cat’s vocals are present, and there is plenty of studio space on the recording
  • Everything you want in a Folky Pop Star recording are here
  • Not an easy record to find in audiophile playing condition with top quality sound – it took us years to get this shootout going

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this recording. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings). (more…)

Cat Stevens – “The dynamic range is almost shocking on my rig.”

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Tea for the Tillerman

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

This letter from our good customer Gary references the Hot Stampers he bought from us and subsequently played for a CD-only audiophile friend with a megabuck stereo. This is his story, followed by my commentary about the sound of Cat Stevens’ music on disc.

The Cat Stevens Hot Stampers are just amazing. The dynamic range is almost shocking on my rig. It’s like a car with the ability to go from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds… It is so cool to turn up the music really loud and still converse with people if you want. The quiet is dead quiet. That is the sign of a good record.

I had a visitor from Chicago with more money in his system than most houses, no vinyl. He is now looking into it. Teaser busted him. I think I might have cried when I heard Father and Son on Tillerman, just beautiful. Thanks and keep up the good work.

Gary, I have a long history of challenging audiophiles who hold that the CDs of those albums do them justice sonically. Prove it I say. The difference between the good LP pressings and the best CDs is NIGHT AND DAY. Anyone playing the CDs of those albums is in the presence of a pale shadow of what’s really on that tape.

We written page after page of commentary on the sound of Cat’s classic recordings, but you sure won’t know what we’re talking about by playing those damn CDs.

If you don’t have a good turntable, just learn to live without this music. You really can’t hear it right on CD, so why even bother?

P.S. A CD-only audiophile with more money than sense? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Most of the ones I’ve met are more in love with the technology than with the music it is supposed to be reproducing. Like most modern audiophile gear, it’s almost always very clean, very clear and very BORING.

Acoustic Sounds Was Selling This Ridiculously Bad “TAS List” Record Back in the ’90s

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 the 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?

It sure is hard to hear what you don’t want to hear.

When your theory is this good, why bother to test it?

(more…)

Cat Stevens – Teaser & The Firecat

  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner
  • If you want to know what the best stampers for this album are, you are more than welcome to buy this copy and read them for yourself
  • This British Island Pink Rim pressing has sides that will rock your world with their size, richness, clarity and ENERGY, the likes of which you may have never experienced on vinyl
  • A Brilliant Classic Folk Rock recording – the right pressings offer Demo Disc Quality sound and then some
  • AMG 5 Stars and a Top 10 (yes, 10, not 100) album – in some ways it’s surely the Best Sounding record Cat Stevens ever made
  • Tuesday’s Dead, Morning Has Broken, Bitterblue, Moonshadow, Peace Train – and that’s just side two! What side of any album has five songs of such quality?

Before I get further 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.

When you hear The Wind, Changes IV, or If I Laugh on this 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…)