Top Artists – Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello – King of America

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More Records We Sell Only on Import Vinyl

  • This F-Beat import pressing of Elvis’s brilliant 1986 release boasts seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides are clean, clear, and lively with plenty of bottom end and lots of space around all of the instruments
  • Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is only one highlight among many – these are some of his best songs
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Stripping away much of the excess that cluttered Punch the Clock and Goodbye Cruel World, Elvis Costello returned to his folk-rock and pub rock roots with King of America, creating one of his most affecting and personal records … one of his masterpieces.”

Even though the album was recorded right here in the states, the domestic copies are clearly made from dubs, sounding quite a bit more opaque, vague, closed-in, flat and dry than most of the British pressings we played. Like most Costello albums on domestic vinyl, they should be avoided.

Of course I and all my friends, at least the ones who were into Elvis at the time, had a copy with exactly this kind of mediocre sound and we liked it just fine. Now, thirty-six years on, I couldn’t sit through that kind of sound with a gun to my head.

Setting higher standards for yourself — consciously or unconsciously, the process works both ways — is an important aspect of becoming a more critical listener. Many of the Heavy Vinyl audiophile remasters sound “opaque, vague, closed-in, flat and dry” next to the best Hot Stamper pressings, but if you’ve never heard one, how would you know what you’re missing?

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Letter of the Week – “For the next three hours, I spun disc after disc, to their delight.”

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

Reviews and Commentaries for Deja Vu

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

  Hey Tom, 

Story for you — last Saturday evening, a designer of a new world-famous tonearm, the owner of an elite high-end audio salon in California and I met for dinner with a well-known reviewer for one of the big audiophile rags, then went back to one of their houses to listen to records I had been asked to bring.

About 90% of the two dozen records I had selected were White Hot Stamper versions of classic rock staples.

For the next three hours, I spun disc after disc, to their delight.

Particular faves included Elvis Costello’s “My Aim Is True,” Led Zeppelin II, 10CC’s “The Original Soundtrack,” CSNY’s “Deja Vu,” and Chicago’s first LP.

Bill

Bill,

That sounds like a great way to spend an evening, playing killer copies of world class Demo Disc recordings! Would loved to have been there.

Without exception, these are five of our most beloved records, records we have been obsessed with since we first heard them growing up all those years ago. (The links you see have extensive commentaries for all five.)

And of course we will never read a word about Hot Stampers, from this or any other demonstration, in a big audiophile rag. We are bad for their business. Their record selling advertisers would throw a fit. They know what we have to say about their shoddy products.

I guess there is something attractive about having the best sounding records and keeping it amongst the few music loving audiophiles who are “in the know.”

Thanks for your letter!

TP


Reviews and Commentaries for Chicago Transit Authority

Reviews and Commentaries for The Original Soundtrack

Reviews and Commentaries for My Aim Is True

Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom

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More 5 Star Albums

  • Geoff Emerick engineered, creating a unique sound – a sound which only works if you have the right pressing
  • This dense, darkly serious album contains some of the best songs EC ever wrote – the last of his True Classics
  • Allmusic 5 Stars: “Essentially, the songs on Imperial Bedroom are an extension of Costello’s jazz and pop infatuations on Trust. Costello’s music is complex and intricate, yet it flows so smoothly, it’s easy to miss the bitter, brutal lyrics.”
  • If you’re an Elvis Costello fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1982 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1982 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Six of Elvis’s first seven albums received a Five Star rating from Allmusic, the exception being Almost Blue, and we generally would agree with that assessment (although Get Happy should probably also get Four Stars, not Five).

Which is to say that Elvis Costello is a brilliant artist whose albums work as albums, a fact that is in danger of being lost in a world of single-song downloads and greatest hits packages. We record-playing audiophiles are inclined to start at the beginning of a side and let it flow through to the end, and that is clearly the best way to appreciate and enjoy the work of this very gifted man.

Check out the Tracklist below to see a sample of some of the lyrics to a few of the songs on the album.

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Elvis Costello – Trust

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More Top 100 Titles

  • Trust is back on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides of this original UK import pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This copy has Demo Disc sound guaranteed to knock you right out of your listening chair
  • The clarity and transparency allow you to appreciate subtleties in the high end even when the bass and drums are really POUNDING
  • 5 stars: “…their most ambitious and eclectic album to date… Costello & the Attractions demonstrate their musical skill and savvy by essentially sticking to the direct sound of their four-piece band. In the process, they recorded, arguably, their most impressive album, one that demonstrates all sides of Costello’s songwriting and performing personality without succumbing to pretentiousness.”
  • 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. Trust is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

This copy has The Big Sound that lets this music REALLY ROCK. There’s a TON of low-end on this record; regrettably, most copies suffer from either a lack of bass or a lack of bass definition. I can’t tell you how much you’re missing when the bass isn’t right on this album. It’s without a doubt THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT of the sound on this album.

When the bass is right, everything falls into place, and the music comes powerfully to life. When the bass is lacking or ill-defined, the music seems labored; the moment-to-moment rhythmic changes in the songs blur together, and the band just doesn’t swing the way it’s supposed to.

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Elvis Costello / Punch The Clock – Bass and Horns Are Key to the Best Imports

Hot Stamper Pressings of Elvis’s Albums Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elvis Costello

More Personal Favorites

The bottom end is as punchy, well-defined and powerful as they come. There’s plenty of low-end on this record; regrettably most copies suffer from either a lack of bass or a lack of bass definition. I can’t tell you how much you’re missing when the bass isn’t right on this album. (Or if you have the typical bass-shy audiophile speaker, yuck.) When the bass is lacking or ill-defined, the music seems labored; the moment-to-moment rhythmic changes in the songs blur together, and the band just doesn’t swing the way it’s supposed to.

The bass, along with the horn sound, are the two key elements to getting a good copy of this record. The horns are often compressed, making them lose their bite and smearing them together.

On some copies you can pick out the trombones and on some copies you can’t; you just hear Horns because the individual instruments are smashed into a congested mess. This is Elvis’ Motown Album; the horns are what bring the music to life. They’re what make this album fun.

On this copy, you get the full-on bottom end WHOMP you paid for, with no loss in control. You can clearly follow Bruce Thomas’s bass lines throughout the songs, a real treat for any music lover. (He and Elvis don’t get along, hence the end of the Attractions as his backing band. I guess we should be thankful for the nine albums on which they were together; many of them are Desert Island Discs for me.)

Not only that, but the drums have real body and resonance, a far cry from the wimpy cardboard drums so many rock records have. Listen to the drum sound on Charm School. Man, those are some BIG FAT PUNCHY DRUMS. Very reminiscent of Bowie’s Let’s Dance. The drum sound on that album is some of the best we’ve ever heard, bar none.

Right out of the gate, Let Them All Talk is lively and full of energy. Elvis’ vocals have all the presence and clarity you could hope for. Since the drums are such a driving force for the Attractions, you have got to have room and spaciousness around them. This copy showcases the percussion with weight down low and harmonics on the cymbals.

The female background singers are clear, another tough test.

It should be noted that this is not an easy record to reproduce well. Everything needs to be working at its best to bring this recording to life, especially in the range of 200 cycles and under, an area where most audiophile systems are at their weakest. If you’ve got power to spare down there, this one will really rock.


WHAT TO LISTEN FOR

Bass and Whomp

Smear

Transparency Vs Opacity


Further Reading

We’ve identified a number of Demo Discs for Bass on the site, and there are surely many more to come.

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Elvis Costello / Girls Girls Girls – Skip It on Vinyl (But Get the Brilliant 2 CD Set)

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elvis Costello

Years ago we had a British Import Demon Records 2 LP set that sounded decent — better sound than you’d find on any domestic copy — and the songs, spanning the period from 1976 to 1986, are GREAT! 

But the CD has much better sound than any vinyl I have yet to hear.

Buy the CD, it’s one of the best compilations — of any artist’s music — I know of.

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Elvis Costello / Spike

  • This early import pressing showed us a Spike we never knew existed — so much energy and presence to the sound, it came jumping out of the speakers and simply refused to mind its manners. Elvis should be proud. Why don’t more records sound like this?
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus

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Advice on Elvis Costello’s Recordings

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Hot Stamper Pressings of Elvis’s Albums Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Elvis Costello

TRUST is one of my two favorite Elvis Costello albums, along with My Aim Is True. Both are Must Owns in my book.

I remember loving the sound of my old Brit copy from twenty years back, even to the point of agreeing with Michael Fremer when he put it on his top 40 rock album list. Now I know better: that most of them leave something to be desired, especially down low.

Did I have good one? Did he? Who can say? Everything is different, and revisiting old sonic favorites can sometimes be a bit of a shock.

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Elvis Costello / My Aim Is True

Hot Stampers of My Aim Is True Available Now

Letters and Commentaries for My Aim Is True

  • The sound is lively, punchy, and powerful – with all due respect, it should MURDER whatever copies you may have
  • A massive step up sonically from most domestic pressings, early or otherwise, and guaranteed to handily beat the imports as well
  • 5 stars: “A phenomenal debut, capturing a songwriter and musician whose words were as rich and clever as his music.”

Yes, it’s lively and has that driving punk rock bass, but what sets this copy apart from the average pressing is the top end — it’s extended, silky and correct. As a consequence, the vocals end up being much more present and natural, with almost none of the grit and spit common to most of the copies anyone is ever likely to come across. (more…)

Elvis Costello – More Heavy Vinyl Trash from Rhino

Hot Stampers of My Aim Is True

Letters and Commentaries for My Aim Is True

Sonic Grade: D

I’m embarrassed to say we used to like the Rhino Heavy Vinyl version, and in our defense let me tell you why: it was (for the most part) tonally correct, fairly low distortion, and had tight punchy bass.

Boy, Was We Ever Wrong. Now it sounds positively CRUDE and UNPLEASANT next to the real thing — if by “the real thing” you mean an honest to goodness properly mastered, properly pressed copy (also known as a Hot Stamper). Kevin Gray’s crude cutting system did this album no favors.

The average copy of this record is aggressive and unpleasant.  The British pressings are mud.

You either have to work very hard to find a good domestic pressing (which means buying, cleaning and playing lots and lots of them), or you have to luck into a good one by accident. (more…)