Top Engineers – Bill Halverson

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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DEJA VU is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it.

We love the album and we hope you do too. If you have some time on your hands — maybe a bit too much time on your hands — please feel free to check out our commentaries.

This link will take you to all of our other Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young albums.

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Deja Vu. (more…)

Crosby, Stills and Nash Replay – Listening in Depth

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This is another very handy record for setting your VTA. The end of Shadow Captain has loud vocals and punchy bass, which are a bit difficult to reproduce. (Forget trying to get this song to sound good if you don’t have an exceptionally good copy.) 

The next song is To The Last Whale, which starts with Nash and Crosby’s multitracked voices in a big hall. With the correct VTA, their voices should sound silky and sweet. If your arm is too far down in the back, they will get a bit dull. Too high, and they will lose that breathy, “fluffy” quality. And once you get their voices to sound just right, make sure the ending of Shadow Captain is still punchy and dynamic.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Carry On 

A crappy remix, with added guitar, ugh.

Marrakesh Express 

Nothing special.

Just a Song Before I Go 

This song sounds WONDERFUL on the better pressings. One of the best reasons to play this album. It’s probably better here than it is on almost any pressing of the album it comes from: CSN.

First Things First 

This track tends to be aggressive.

Shadow Captain 

This track on the typical pressing of this album will tear your head off. On properly mastered copies, it’s surprisingly smooth and sweet, a quality I never associated with this song before, until I played the Hot Stamper.

To the Last Whale 

This song also sounds WONDERFUL on the better pressings. Another one of the best reasons to play this album.

Side Two

Love the One You’re With 

Nice but a little spitty as a rule.

Pre-Road Downs 

This track tends to sound dull but sometimes it’s magical.

Change Partners 

Nothing special, from a nothing special sounding album, Stills’ second outing (which usually sounds like cardboard).

I Give You Give Blind 

This track can sound quite good on the better pressings, better than almost any pressing of the album it comes from: CSN.

Cathedral 

Nice, and, as with some cuts mentioned above, better than almost any pressing of the album it comes from.

Albert King – Live Wire – Blues Power

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  • An outstanding copy of this Must Own Live Blues album, with Double Plus (A++) sound for both sides
  • Accept no substitutes – no reissue of the album can ever give you the energy, size and you-are-there presence that’s on this disc
  • Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – finding these originals with top quality sound and surfaces this quiet is not getting any easier
  • “Live Wire/Blues Power is one of Albert King’s definitive albums. Recorded live at the Fillmore Auditorium in 1968, the guitarist is at the top of his form throughout the record — his solos are intense and piercing… he makes Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” dirty and funky and wrings out all the emotion from “Blues at Sunrise.””

This is one of the all time great live Blues albums. THIS IS BLUES POWER! (more…)

Detail on Crosby Stills and Nash’s First Album – Holy Grail or Audio Trap?

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Detail may be the Holy Grail to most audiophiles, but detail can be a trap we all too easily fall into if we are not careful. Tonal balance is the key. Without it no judgments about detail have any real value. 

One example: As good as the Classic Heavy Vinyl pressing is, the guitar at the opening of Helplessly Hoping tells you everything you need to know about what’s missing. The guitar on the Hot Stamper domestic copies has a transparency that cannot be found on Classic’s version. The Classic gets the tonal balance right, but their guitar doesn’t have the subtlety and harmonic resolution of the real thing.

I’m laboring here to avoid the word detail, since many audiophiles like bright, phony sound because of all the wonderful “detail.”

The MOFI guys and the CD guys often fall into this trap. Get the sound tonally balanced first, then see how much detail you have left. Detail is not the end-all and be-all of audio. Those who think it is usually have systems that make my head hurt.

But most people will never know what they’re missing on Helplessly Hoping, because they will never have an amazing sounding copy of this song. The hot copies are just too rare.



Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

The most important advice can be found under the heading Hot Stamper Shootouts — 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.

Crosby, Stills & Nash on Nautilus – THE Most Bloated Bass in Half Speed History

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Half Speed debunked.

An audiophile record dealer (of course; who else?) once raved to me about Crosby Stills and Nash on Nautilus. I said “What are you talking about? That version sucks!” He replied “No, it’s great. Helplessly Hoping sounds amazing.” 

Now one thing I know about the Nautilus is that although it is wonderfully transparent in the midrange, it may very well take the cake for the most bloated, out of control bass in the history of Half Speed mastering. What song on that album has almost no bass, just lovely voices in the midrange? You guessed it. Helplessly Hoping.

The Nautilus got one track right, and ruined the rest. Using that track for comparison will fool you, and when it comes time to play a whole side of the album you will quickly hear what a disaster it is.

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

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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.

Page 43

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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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).

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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…)