Top Artists – David Bowie

David Bowie – The Man Who Sold The World – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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The sound is rich and full, just the way the Brits like it. The heavy compression that both Bowie and Scott favor works its magic at every turn, adding fatness and richness and lovely harmonics to the guitars and the drums.

Not many Bowie albums from his “classic” period sound good on domestic vinyl, nothing I know of before Diamond Dogs with the exception of this album and the occasional copy of Space Oddity. Strangely enough, from then on practically every one of Bowie’s albums sounds best on domestic vinyl, all the way through to Let’s Dance, after which we more or less check out — don’t know those albums well and don’t plan on finding out more.

Ah but here, here we have some truly prime period Bowie, recorded, mastered and pressed with Top Quality sound!

Side One

Mick Ronson’s guitars are wonderfully clear. The vocals can get a bit hot on the first track (as is often the case), but by track two the sound has settled in and is rich and smooth, just the way we like it. Very present and lively vocals are a strong point.

Side Two

Listen to the big bass, richness and Tubey Magic of the third track — that is some Ken Scott studio wizardry at play.

Note that the second track seems to be where Alice Cooper found his “sound.” More power to him I say. You could get away with ripping off Bowie in 1970; nobody bought this album in the states, which is why it’s so damn rare and expensive.

And the reason there are so many bootlegs. Practically every copy of ebay is a bootleg.  They sound terrible by the way. (more…)

David Bowie – Space Oddity – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

One of the reasons the song “Space Oddity” sounds so amazing is that it was produced by none other than Gus Dudgeon, the man behind all the best Elton John records. It has Paul Buckmaster doing the string arrangements as well. His work on Elton’s self-titled album is awe-inspiring; we know of none better. (more…)

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust – MoFi Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C-

The MoFi pressing is decent, probably better than the average domestic copy I suppose. The colorations and the limitations of their cutting system make it painful for me to listen to it though, especially the sloppy bass and compression. You can do worse but you sure can do a lot better.

MoFi did two of the greatest Bowie albums of all time, Ziggy and Let’s Dance, and neither one can hold a candle to the real thing. If you want to settle for a pretty poor imitation of either or both of those albums, stick with your MoFi. If you want to hear the kind of Demo Disc sound that Bowie’s records are capable of, try a Hot Stamper

David Bowie – Let’s Dance – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade: D

The MoFi pressing is decent, probably better than the average domestic copy I suppose, but c’mon, this album is about punchy bass and drums. Since when does any half-speed mastered LP have punchy bass and drums? Blurry blobby bloated bass and drums is more like it. Compressed too.

MoFi did two of the greatest Bowie albums of all time, Ziggy and Let’s Dance, and neither one can hold a candle to the real thing. If you want to settle for a pretty poor imitation of either or both of those albums, stick with your MoFi. If you want to hear the kind of Demo Disc sound that Bowie’s records are capable of, try a Hot Stamper, And keep a weather eye out — they sell fast.

David Bowie – The Lodger – Our Shootout Winner from Way Back

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

White Hot Stampers for Lodger discovered — this wasn’t easy, folks! We’ve been trying to find a great sounding Lodger for years but it’s taken us until now, which should tell you just how tough it is to get a killer copy of this album. This one has the best side one we’ve ever heard and a strong side two to boot.

Side one has the correct balance of elements, just what we were looking for. It’s rich and smooth but not overly so, it’s got a nice top end but never gets aggressive, and it’s got a serious bottom end but never gets too thick or bloated. There’s lots of texture and body to the synths, which really brings Eno’s contributions to life in a way that didn’t happen on most copies. The vocals are clean and clear with good presence. We gave it an A+++.

Side two is clean, clear, natural and balanced. The vocals sound right and the bass is tight and punchy. Side one gives you a little more in the way of energy and presence, but this is still one of the stronger side twos we’ve heard in all these years. We rated it A+ to A++. (more…)

David Bowie – Pin-Ups – Forget the Original British Pressings

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

We just finished our biggest-ever shootout for this fun Bowie album and this one was DRAMATICALLY better than most other copies. We played copies from all over the world — England, Germany, France, Canada, and the good ol’ USA — and heard all kinds of bad sound.

So what were the worst copies we heard? Hands down it was the British Originals, believe it or not. They tend to be dull, thick, and lifeless — not a good match for this punky, energetic material. [We have since found some very good sounding Brit originals but, that said, to date they have never won a shootout.]

On the other side, many of the other copies we heard were bright and grainy. It’s very tough to find a copy that strikes a balance, but we finally managed to dig up a handful that did the job. (more…)

David Bowie – Low – Our Shootout Winner from Long Ago

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

[This is an old listing that we ourselves are fairly skeptical of. We present it as more of a historical document than a guide to finding good sound on Low.]

This is the first Hot Stamper copy of Low to ever hit our site, and it’s a darn good one — especially on side one, where all the “pop” songs are found. We just had a huge shootout for this album featuring all the copies we’ve picked up over the years, and this domestic (!) pressing shocked us by blowing away our Brit copies on side one.

If you aren’t interested in the instrumental Bowie/Eno synth-heavy soundscapes that fill side two, this is THE copy to own.

I’ve said it on the site numerous time, but I spent a good portion of the ’70s playing art-rock records like Taking Tiger Mountain, Crime Of The Century and Deceptive Bends. I remember being blown away when Low came out, and it was a blast to hear how good a Hot Stamper pressing can sound on a highly-evolved stereo system today. Side one of this album features the more traditional (not really the right word, but I digress) Bowie rockers like Sound and Vision and Be My Wife, while side two sounds more like the instrumental synth music of Kraftwerk or Eno. (more…)

David Bowie – Station To Station

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Here’s an amazing White Hot Stamper copy of one of the toughest nuts to crack in the whole Bowie catalog! Full, punchy and present with a wide open soundstage and super dynamics, this is exactly the right sound for this material. This is dense, difficult music, and the typical pressing just can’t do it justice! Bowie fans, I’m sure you’ll agree this has been a long time coming.

Clean copies of this album — heck, clean Bowie records in general (at least for the most part) — are getting harder and harder to find. You can find British copies on eBay if you’re willing to be patient and drop some dough, but most of them don’t sound right. The typical domestic pressing ain’t much better but copies with certain stampers can be excellent. The bad news is that copies with the very same stampers can sound awful too, so the only way to find a good one is to clean and play a number of pressings and hope to get lucky. (Or you could buy one of our Hot Stampers and save yourself the struggle!). (more…)

David Bowie – Let’s Dance

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

With Let’s Dance the name of the game is ENERGY, and boy does this copy have it! Both sides have the deep, punchy bass and sweet, extended highs that Bowie’s music needs to come ALIVE. With that big bass and smooth top end this is one record you can turn up GOOD and LOUD without fear of fatique. On a big pair of dynamic speakers you will really get your money’s worth from the best Hot Stamper pressings. 

Compression? No Thank You!

Most copies we came across during our extensive shootout were painfully compressed and thin. Sure, they could convey some of the enormous energy of this recording, but the highs always ended up being brittle and edgy. Subsequently the vocals would lose presence and the whole operation turned smeary. When this happens, tracks like “Modern Love” turn the joy of the music into boredom and even outright misery.

But the good ones boggle the mind, they practically defy understanding. How did they get that much punchy note-like bass onto a piece of vinyl, not to mention all those silky sweet highs? (more…)

David Bowie – David Live – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

More David Bowie

More David Live

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

The best copies have Live Rock and Roll Energy like you will not believe. The band is ON FIRE. These are the A List players of the day and they gell like a band that’s been together for years. The sonic treats include multiple horn players (David Sanborn KILLS on almost every track, and the baritone sax and oboe are rendered beautifully ) and multiple percussionists, all-male chorus background vocals, the seering fuzzed-out guitar leads of Earl Slick, piano and Mellotron by Mike Garson, the amazing Herbie Flowers on bass — the list goes on.

Why the critics don’t give this album the respect it so obviously deserves is completely beyond me.

One of the two GREATEST LIVE ROCK AND ROLL RECORDS ever made. The other top live album is of course Waiting For Columbus, and the two have much in common. Most importantly, the songs played live on both albums are CONSISTENTLY better than their studio versions. (This is especially true on the Little Feat album. Little Feat was not a studio band and their live arrangements (with the Tower of Power horns!) just murder the studio ones.)

But back to David Live. Have you ever heard a good sounding Diamond Dogs? But David Live is FULL of great sounding material from the album. 1984 is much better here than on the original album. Rebel Rebel, Sweet Thing and Rock & Roll With Me also come alive in performance. They rock!

Bad Pressings, or Were They?

Like the Crime of the Century listing we did today, this album has been tried and tried, coming up short over and over again. I’m a big fan so no matter how many times we failed we just kept at it. All we were hearing was grain, grit, and surface noise — we could not get the sound we were looking for on even the best Robert Ludwig original pressings, and the British pressings were even worse, with smeary, drab, dub-tape sound. But thank goodness things change. As we wrote for COTC:

Things Have Changed

As we never tire of saying, in audio THINGS CHANGE. With better cleaning technologies, better playback, better all the other stuff we talk about on the site, records that used to be practically impossible to get to sound right can suddenly — if years of hard work and experimentation can be considered “sudden” — start to come alive and show us the MAGIC that’s been locked away for all this time inside their grooves.

Who can say what allowed David Live to take its rightful place among the best recorded live concert albums in the world? It’s there now and we are glad it is.

AGAIG Side One! The Blanket Has Been Lifted.

This side is AS GOOD AS IT GETS! I have been listening to this record for more years than I care to think about and let me tell you this copy is KILLER! No other copy had a side one that was more clean and clear, more open up top, or more rich. It’s EVERYTHING YOU WANT on this album. The top end is sweet and extended; gone is the grit and grunge of the past. (Where it went I don’t know or care.)

This was the most transparent side one we heard in our shootout. You hear the sound bouncing off the back wall of the Philadelphia Theatre and hear crowd noises and off-mike band members that you never heard before. With all the rock and roll WHOMP, vocal textures, and you-are-there presence, this side handily took Top Honors.

Side Two

With this side you are getting 3-D sound — it’s wall-to-wall! The sweetness of Bowie’s voice really sets this one apart. All of the vocals — lead and background — are breathy and present. There is plenty of extension on both ends here as well. It was very close to the best we heard.

Side Three

This side was really hard to beat. It is breathy and textured with highs that extend beautifully. The bass is well defined and tight; you can follow every note. Whoever cut this bad boy cut it very clean; there’s no grit and the clean cutting results in separation of the instruments that is truly superb. Everyone is arrayed three dimensionally on the stage, not an easy effect to achieve on a live recording. But here it is.

Side Four

This A Double Plus side four has amazing transparency; the soundstage is wide and clear. The vocals are breathy and warm with a nice silky top. It doesn’t have all of the whomp of the best, but the mids and highs are correct and the energy is really lively.


Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

Click on this link to find more records and commentary about the low end whomp factor we discuss above.

Transparency, the other side of the Tubey Magical Richness coin, is key to the better pressings of this album as well as many of our other favorite demo discs.

This is another example of a record that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Here are more records that will help you avoid listening for phony detail when evaluating equipment or tweaking your system.

The most important advice on the site can be found under the heading The Four Pillars of Success.

Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and directly address in this commentary from way back in 2005.

Here are more entries in our ongoing Shootout Advice series.