Top Engineers – Bill Halverson

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Deja Vu – A Classic Records Ripoff of a True Classic

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP badly mastered for the benefit of credulous audiophiles.

If you bought the Classic Record Heavy Vinyl pressing, you should know by now how badly Classic Records ripped you off.

On the other hand, if you’re not too picky about sound quality and just want to play new records, perhaps because old records are hard to find and often noisy, then fine, the Classic should get that job done for you. (more…)

Graham Nash / David Crosby – Listening in Depth

More by C, S, N and/or Y

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

This album has some of the BEST SOUND Crosby and Nash ever recorded, but you’d never know that listening to the average pressing. You need plenty of deliciously rich Tubey Magic if this music is going to work, and on that count this copy certainly delivers.

BILL HALVERSON was the engineer for this album, the man behind the first CSN album and many others.

We asked ourselves: Where in the world did all the midrange magic we were hearing on Graham Nash / David Crosby come from?

On a song like Where Will I Be the sound is so unbelievably transparent, open and intimate, it sounds like an outtake from David Crosby’s first album, one of the ten best sounding rock records ever made. How did Bill Halverson learn how to record as well as Stephen Barncard all of a sudden?

This Copy Is Killer

When you drop the needle on side one, you’ll know very quickly why we went so crazy for it — especially if you’ve been playing the kind of copies that we tend to run into, with veiled, hard, gritty voices — the kiss of death for a record that lives or dies by its vocal reproduction. (This is true for all CSN albums of course.)

This one is a whole different story, with wonderful clarity (listen to the acoustic guitar transients throughout) and silky sweet vocals. It’s got the kind of weight down low and extension up top needed to give the midrange the space — the room, if you like — to present itself properly and not get lost in the mix. The transparency is incredible, with richness and sweetness you have never heard on this album, guaranteed or your money back!

Side two is quite good. The vocals are not quite as clear and present, not as “breathy”, as they are on side one. We took a lot of points off for that; the rest of the sound is actually quite good. A very good side two and an amazing side one — this copy has a lot going for it.

Forgotten Sound

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These records are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Southbound Train

This song would be right at home on Graham Nash’s first album, a desert island disc for me. This gets side one off to a great start.

Whole Cloth
Blacknotes
Strangers Room
Where Will I Be?

The best sound on side one, and a great test track. When the chorus of voices really starts pushing the meter, most copies will run into harmonic distortion trouble. Only the truly Hot Stampers manage to keep the loudest parts of the song clean and clear.

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Listen for the attack of the snare; so many copies have that cardboardy drum sound we have to put up with on albums from this era, but the best ones get a nice crisp attack to the snare that really sells it.

Side Two

Frozen Smiles
Games
Girl to Be on My Mind
The Wall Song
Immigration Man

Love the music. The sound… uh, not so much. Still, the best copies tend to minimize the distortion and maximize the sweetness and richness.

Bill Halverson – One of Our Favorite Engineers

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More of Our Favorite Engineers

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BILL HALVERSON is one of our favorite recording and mixing engineers.

Not long ago we wrote that when all the elements are working together, the music on Steve Stills’ first album is positively AMAZING. Until I hear something better, I’m going to have to call this Halverson’s Engineering Masterpiece. Yes, on the best copies it’s that good. 

STOP THE PRESSES.

We have now heard something even better, an album from earlier in the same year in fact, Deja Vu. You can read all about it HERE.

Many can be found in our Rock and Pop Top 100 List of Best Sounding Albums with the Best Music (limited to titles that we can actually find sufficient copies of with which to do our Hot Stamper shootouts).

More Engineers, Producers and Arrangers

 

Graham Nash and Better Days – A Good Reason to Get into Audio

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This is one of the records that convinced me that I should enthusiastically and actively pursue high quality home audio – that I should devote the time, energy and money into improving my system so that I could play records like Songs for Beginners louder and get them to sound clearer. 

I had such inexpressibly deep feelings while listening to the album that I knew I had to do everything in my power to make it sound as good as possible. And the song that really did it for me on the album was Better Days.

I was originally thinking of calling this commentary “Why I Became an Audiophile”, but I quickly realized that being an audiophile — a lover of sound — doesn’t necessarily involve buying lots of expensive audio equipment or searching out recordings with higher fidelity.

No, being an audiophile simply means you love good sound. Where you find it — at clubs, at home, in the concert hall or the car — makes no difference whatsoever.

Songs for Beginners couldn’t make me an audiophile; I already was one. It did, however, make me a more dedicated audio enthusiast. It’s precisely the kind of record that rewards the 40 plus years I’ve put into this hobby, trying to get it and hundreds, now thousands, of other wonderful records to sound their best. (more…)

Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners Remixed on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: D

Another Classic Records LP debunked. 

I’ve listened to Nash’s first solo outing countless times over the last thirty years, even more than Crosby, Stills and Nash’s first album. As I was listening to the Classic pressing I recall thinking “Wow, I don’t remember that sound being there; this version is so much better I can hear things I never heard before!” Well, owners of this album (all five of you) will certainly hear things you never heard before, because some of the tracks on this album have been remixed and some of the instruments re-recorded! How about them apples!

Both the snare and the kick drum on some songs are clearly too “modern” sounding for anything recorded in 1971; they’d be right at home on Nirvana, for Pete’s sake. Sometimes the vocal tracks are different—probably alternate takes I would think, as Graham obviously can’t sing like he did thirty years ago to even attempt a re-recording.

Our Old Commentary from the mid-2000s

I haven’t played this record in a long time — years in fact. During that time there have been dramatic improvements in my analog playback. I’m guessing that if I played this Classic Record now I would hear what I hear on almost all of them — less midrange magic than the best originals, some boost on the top, and maybe a bit too much bottom, and a slightly dry bottom at that.

Those of you with really magical originals are encouraged to hang onto them and pass on this Classic. As those do not grow on trees, if you want a good pressing of this album, the Classic may be just the ticket. If you find a hot original, you will have a benchmark against which to judge it.

One Helluva Well-Recorded Album (more…)

Some of the Best Live Rock Sound Ever Recorded

Cream Goodbye 

 

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When you get a good side one of Goodbye you’ll have no trouble hearing why we think it’s one of the Best Sounding Live Rock Albums of all time.

Goodbye has the Big Rock Sound that we go crazy for here at Better Records. The best pressings, the ones that are full-bodied and smooth, let you crank the levels and reproduce the album good and loud the way live rock music is meant to be heard.

It’s clearly one of BILL HALVERSON‘s Engineering Triumphs, along with Deja Vu and Steve Stills’ first album (now that’s a trio!). Live Rock Music on record just does not sound better than a White Hot Stamper side one of Goodbye. (more…)

Wheels of Fire and its Glaring Lack of Bass

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It’s EXCEPTIONALLY difficult to find even decent sounding copies of this album. We’ve played SCORES of original domestic copies, original imports, and all kinds of reissues — trust me, most of them would make you cringe.

When you get a good copy, this music is AWESOME! For ’60s power trio hard rock, you just can’t do much better than the studio material.

White Room, Sitting On Top Of The World, Politician, Born Under A Bad Sign — this is the very essence of Classic Blues Rock. Unfortunately, the typical copy barely hints at the potential of this recording, and the audiophile pressings are even worse. (The DCC Gold CDs are especially bad in our opinion; they sound nothing like the good pressings we’ve played over the years.)

Where’s The Bass?

Most early pressings you find these days are thrashed beyond belief. We used to pick up every clean Plum & Gold label copy we’d find back in he day, but no more. We gave up. The Cream magic was just plain missing from the early domestic pressings. The problem is simple: a glaring lack of bass.

Let’s think about that. Cream is a power trio. The music absolutely demands a solid, weighty bottom end. Sacrifice the bass and the sound is just too lean to rock.

We can sum up the sound of the whomp-less copies in a word: fatiguing. As is always the case, some copies sound better than others, but none could give us the kind of bass that we were hoping for. (more…)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – 4 Way Street

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Our Latest Shootout Winner

  • An honest to goodness Top Copy, with two Triple Plus (A+++) sides and two Double Plus sides – this is about as good as it gets, folks
  • If you want to hear Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young rock out live in your listening room, this is the pressing that can do it
  • Bill Halverson did a great job but you have to work your tail off to find a copy that does his brilliant engineering justice. Sad, isn’t it?
  • Rolling Stone raves that “Crosby, Stills. Nash, and Young are all performers of unquestionable talent, and mostly because they stay out of each others’ way, 4 Way Street must surely be their best album to date.”

If you want to hear Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young rock out live in your listening room, this copy will let you do it. It’s not easy to find good sound on even one side of this album, let alone all four! (more…)