Top Artists – Traffic

Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

This White Hot Stamper side one is OUT OF THIS WORLD — the new KING for this album! We played a huge number of pressings — Pink Labels, United Artists originals and reissues — and this side one was completely UNMATCHED. What put it in a league of its own? BIG ENERGY for one thing. Side one of this copy was jumping out of the speakers in a way that took us completely by surprise. We had a dozen clean copies, that’s 24 sides, and this was the only one that showed us just how lively and clear that side one master tape must be.

What to Listen For – Side One

We learned something new this time around, and we learned it by simply playing an amazingly transparent copy that made it clear — for the first time — exactly what Winwood was doing on the piano with his left hand. There are two musical figures that alternate: one, involving the lower notes, which tend to be blurry, obscured and murky on most pressings, followed by two, the right-handed higher notes, which are usually much more clear and audible in the mix.

Out of the twelve copies we played no other copy let us “see” the bass notes of the piano so clearly and correctly. Next time you want to compare different pressings of Barleycorn, pay special attention to the lower notes of the piano on Glad. It is our contention, backed by mountains of evidence of course, that no two copies of the album will get that piano sound the same.

Flute and Snare

The resolving power of this side one is off the charts. The flute (a major element of the music if you know the album well) is airier than ever before. Chris Wood’s sax, which is all over the record, and beautifully recorded I might add, sounds amazing as well, with more body and harmonic texture than we heard on practically any other copy. Note how little processing there is to the sound of his horns and woodwinds; how real they sound. This is unusual to say the least in the world of pop records.

The snare drum sound is powerful, with a good meaty thwack that really drives the music. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Countdown to Ecstasy, Katy Lied and John Barleycorn

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

Hey Tom, 

Guys, seriously, all three copies, completely out of control !! Unbelievable difference in sound, outstanding!!!!

Thank you.

Alonso,

It was our pleasure! Now you know what Hot Stampers are all about — the sound you can’t find any other way.

Best, TP


Countdown to Ecstasy


Katy Lied


John Barleycorn Must Die

Traffic – The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

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

HOLY COW! Side one of this British Island Sunray pressing BLEW THE DOORS off the competition in our big shootout. It took the music to an entirely new level for us, so we awarded it the very rare grade of A++++ — that’s four pluses, my man!

You are not going to believe how tubey magical this side one is. I guarantee you have never heard this band sound this amazing on record or your money back.

Side two lacks a little extension up top, but it’s still rich, warm, sweet, and above all, NATURAL. It’s open and transparent with three-dimensionality to the soundfield. We rate it A+ – A++, which means it delivers a good deal of magic. (more…)

Traffic – Mr. Fantasy

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

This early Pink Label import pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, making this one of the best copies to hit the site in many years, if not THE best.

We used to think that The Best of Traffic had better sound, but in a head to head comparison with this very copy, we were proved WRONG.

Big, full-bodied and lively, with huge amounts of space and off the charts Tubey Magic, the sound here is Hard to Fault.

This is one of the best sounding Traffic records ever made. Musically it’s hit or miss, but so is every other Traffic record, including my favorite, John Barleycorn. The best songs here are Heaven Is In Your Mind, Dear Mr. Fantasy, and Coloured Rain. The first of these is worth the price of the album alone, in my opinion. It’s a wonderful example of late ’60s British psychedelic rock. (more…)

Traffic – Mr. Fantasy – Our Shootout Winner from 2006

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

This British Sunray Label pressing has THE BEST SOUND I’VE EVER HEARD FOR THIS ALBUM! None of the Pink Label originals that we played had the deep, powerful, punchy bass that this pressing has, coupled with an extended, sweet top end.

This is one of the best sounding Traffic records ever made. Musically it’s hit or miss, but so is every other Traffic record, including my favorite, John Barleycorn. The best songs here are Heaven Is In Your Mind, Dear Mr. Fantasy, and Coloured Rain.

The first of these is worth the price of the album alone, in my opinion. It’s a wonderful example of late ’60s British psychedelic rock.  (more…)

Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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

This British Island Pink Label John Barleycorn has MASTER TAPE SOUND on THE BEST SIDE TWO WE’VE EVER HEARD! It’s also the only British copy we played that could hold its own with our best domestics on side one.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that every Pink Label copy is going to sound like this one. We played British copies that didn’t sound nearly as good as our better domestic late label pressings — some of which sounded surprisingly good and will be making it to the site soon.

The thing we liked the best about this copy was the presence of the vocals. This was the only copy that seemed to put a living, breathing Steve Winwood right between our speakers.

Side one is stunning — super rich and so full-bodied. All of the elements really come together here making this a very musical copy. The drums are punchy; the vocals are textured, breathy, and very transparent; and the sax sounds Right On The Money. There’s plenty of deep, well-defined bass allowing the jam in Freedom Rider to REALLY ROCK! We rate side one an A++ — one of the better British side ones we’ve ever heard.

Side two is even better — it’s the new ALL-TIME CHAMP for this album. The voices are sweet and natural with lots of ambience and virtually no strain. The acoustic guitar is Right On The Money in the best tradition of Tea for the Tillerman, both silky and full-bodied. If you love tubey magical analog, you’re going to ABSOLUTELY FLIP when you drop the needle on this copy! This is big, bold Master Tape Sound — we rate side two an A+++, As Good As It Gets. (more…)

Traffic – Best of Traffic – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Best of Traffic

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

This Island British Pink Label pressing has SOME OF THE BEST TRAFFIC SOUND YOU’LL EVER HEAR! We’ve been flipping out over Hot Stamper copies of this greatest hits comp for ages for a very simple, yet likely shocking, reason — the sound on the best copies can be BETTER than the best original pressings! How can that be you ask, dumbfounded by the sheer ridiculousness of such a statement? Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you. Follow me over the jump to find out. 

It’s a dirty little secret in the record biz that sometimes the master for the anticipated Hit Single (or singles) is pulled from the album’s final two track master and used to make the 45, the thinking being that the 45 is what people are going to buy, or, having heard it sound so good on the radio, cause them to buy the album. One way or another, it’s the single that will do the selling of Traffic’s music. (more…)

Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die – Listening in Depth

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More John Barleycorn Must Die

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of John Barleycorn Must Die.

The toughest test on side two is the first track, Stranger to Himself. Getting the voices right is practically impossible. If the voices are full, smooth, yet breathy and clear, you have that rare copy that actually gets the midrange right. Not many do.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Glad

The last portion of this track has some really interesting percussion and organ effects. Traffic were trying to break out of the standard pop song format by letting this song wander into psychedelic territory for a few minutes at the end. It’s now become my favorite part of the song.
The reason you want to pay close attention to this part is because it helps you to judge the transparency, immediacy, and top end extension for the whole side. It should be amazingly clear and open-sounding. On too many pressings, the percussion instruments are blurred and lost in the mix. On a Hot Stamper copy they’ll be right in front of you, allowing you to appreciate the interplay among the musicians as they contributed their various parts. (more…)

Traffic – Mr. Fantasy – Where’s the Bass?

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More Mr. Fantasy

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This Pink Label Original Island pressing has amazingly sweet, open, extended and transparent mids and highs. It has two major shortcomings: a lack of bass, and a fair amount of surface noise. If you can add a few dB around 50 cycles and can put up with some surface noise and scratches, you are guaranteed to hear some wonderful sound in the best tubey Island tradition. 

Side two sounds better than side one; it has more bass and therefore is more tonally correct.

Traffic – The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

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The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

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  • This is an outstanding Island Sunray domestic pressing offering spacious Tubey Magical Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Low Spark is clearly one of the best sounding Proggy/Arty Rock records ever made – the space it recreates in your listening room is HUGE 
  • A Better Records Top 100 album and a real Demo Disc on a pressing that sounds as good as this one does
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The commercial and artistic apex of the second coming of Traffic… The standout was the 12-minute title track, with its distinctive piano riff and its lyrics of weary disillusionment with the music business. “

After doing the shootout for John Barleycorn recently, a record we love in spite of its problematic sound, this album was truly a breath of fresh air. I can honestly and enthusiastically say that the sound we heard on the best pressings was OUT OF THIS WORLD. This album is a permanent member of our Rock And Jazz Top 100, that’s how good it is. (more…)