Top Engineers – Bill Schnee

The Sheffield Track Record – Who in His Right Mind Thinks This Is a Super Disc?

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The Sheffield Track Record

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame Pressing.

This is a Minty looking Sheffield Lab LP of Rock Instrumental Tracks For Audio Component Testing and Evaluation. Harry Pearson calls this absolutely the best sounding rock record ever made.

We cannot agree with HP as to the recording quality of this album. The sound is surprisingly compressed, and the music is every bit as lifeless as the sound.

The Sheffield Drum Record

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

This Minty looking Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP has AMAZING SOUND. We played it against other pressings we had and this was clearly the winner. It’s lively, with a wonderfully extended top and bottom. We rate it about A++ – A+++ on both sides. 

The record features improvisations from Jim Keltner (one of the all-time great session drummers) and Ron Tutt (Elvis Presley’s studio drummer). The album is a member of the famous TAS list.

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues – Volume III – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND on both sides of this AMAZING Hot Stamper! This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for this title. The sound doesn’t get any better than this, with CLARITY and that JUMP OUT OF THE SPEAKERS quality we desire from a Hot Stamper. 

We just finished a big shootout of this album [in 2009!] and this Flower label pressing was the undisputed champion. Many copies of this album tend to sound a bit thin and somewhat bright. On this copy, the sound is rich, full, and tonally correct from top to bottom. The horns sound especially wonderful.

What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tamborines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around. That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Thoughts on a Direct to Disc Recording – Side One Vs. Side Two

I’ve Got The Music In Me

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In our last shootout this White Hot Stamper tied for the best side two we have ever heard! In the final round it simply came down to the fact that the other copy was a little more clear, this one is a little richer. They were both so amazing we couldn’t decide which we preferred so we gave them both White Hot Stamper grades.

In our experience this rarely happens. Most of the time one side of one of the records in the shootout will show itself to be the clear winner, doing everything (or almost everything; there is no such thing as a perfect record) right. When you play enough copies, eventually you run into the one that shows you how the music wants to be heard, what kind of sound seems to work for it the best. The two side twos we liked were variations, and fairly subtle ones at that, on a theme — a little richer here, a little clearer there, but both SO GOOD!

Side two fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few — very few — direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, most copies of this title were quite good. Few didn’t do most things at least well enough to earn a Hot Stamper grade. This has not been the case with many of the Sheffield pressings we’ve done shootouts for in the past. Often the weaker copies have little going for them. They don’t even sound like Direct Discs! (more…)

Dave Grusin – Discovered Again – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

This Sheffield Direct to Disc pressing has AMAZING SOUND! Out of the six copies we played, this was the White Hot Stamper WINNER of our shootout with the kind of life and musical energy simply not to be found on the average Sheffield copy.

The typical direct to disc pressing of Discovered Again leaves much to be desired. Two areas are especially lacking as a rule: the top end tends to be rolled off, and there is a noticeable lack of presence, which can easily be heard in the drum sound: the snare sounds like it’s covered with a towel on most copies of this album. Wha’ happen?

Who knows? Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which no doubt affect the sound. The album is cut on two different lathes — M (Master) and S (Slave), and pressed in two different countries: Japan and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the acetate and many, many stampers made from those mothers. (I saw one marked stamper number 15!)  (more…)

Steely Dan – Gaucho – Listening In Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Gaucho, the last of the Must Own Steely Dan albums. 

Of all the great albums Steely Dan made, and that means their seven original albums and nothing that came after, there are only three in our opinion that actually support their reputation as studio wizards and recording geniuses.

Chronologically they are Pretzel Logic, Aja, and Gaucho. Every sound captured on these albums is so carefully crafted and considered that it practically brings one to tears to contemplate what the defective DBX noise reduction system did to the work of genius that is Katy Lied, their best album and the worst sounding. (Those cymbal crashes can really mess with your mind if you let them. To get a better picture of the DBX sound just bang two trash can lids together as close to your head as possible.)

The first two albums can sound very good, as can Royal Scam, but none of those can compete with The Big Three mentioned above for sonics. A Hot Stamper copy of any of them would be a seriously good sounding record indeed. (more…)

Steely Dan – Gaucho – Taking a Stand for the Last Good Dan

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  • Amazing Triple Plus (A+++) sound from beginning to end for the last of Steely Dan’s insanely well recorded Classic Seven Albums
  • This copy offers tons of ambience, amazing richness, you-are-there immediacy, tight bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic
  • 4 stars in the AMG, 4 1/2 in Rolling Stone, and one of their Three Best Sounding Albums – a true Must Own
  • “Despite its coolness, the music is quite beautiful. With its crystalline keyboard textures and diaphanous group vocals, ”Gaucho” contains the sweetest music Steely Dan has ever made.” New York Times

What do these high grades give you for this album? Mindblowing, DEMO QUALITY, Steely Dan Magic, baby! Tons of ambience, amazing richness, ‘you are there’ immediacy, note-like bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic. The bottom end is punchy, and even on this, their most laid-back album, the bass and energy let these songs come alive like they never have before. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Carly Simon’s Second Best Album – No Secrets

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Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For 

The immensely talented engineer ROBIN GEOFFREY CABLE worked his audio magic on this album. You may recall that he recorded a number of the greatest sounding rock records of all time, Elton John’s self-titled second album and Tumbleweed Connection, both in 1970, as well as this album and Nilsson Schmilsson in 1972, with Richard Perry producing. 

One more note: having your VTA set just right is critical to getting the best out of this album. The loudest vocal parts can easily strain otherwise. Once you get your settings dialed in correctly, a copy like this will give you the kind of rich, sweet sound that brings out the best in this music. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Aja (Includes Free Cisco Debunking Tool)

Aja

 

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

Our track commentary for the song Home at Last makes it easy to spot an obvious problem with Cisco’s remastered Aja: This is the toughest song to get right on side two. Nine out of ten copies have grainy, irritating vocals; the deep bass is often missing too. Home at Last is just plain unpleasant as a rule, which is why it’s such a great test track.

Get this one right and it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there on out.
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Ringo – A Classic Richard Perry Production


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2017

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy would be hard to beat
  • The sound was huge, rich, Tubey Magical, smooth and – gulp! – natural in a way that no other copy was
  • The big hits are here: Photograph, You’re Sixteen, Oh My My and many, many more
  • “Ringo’s best and most consistent new studio album, Ringo represented both the drummer/singer’s most dramatic comeback and his commercial peak.”

See all of our Ringo Starr albums in stock

This copy had the top and bottom that was missing from most of the pressings we played. It also had tremendous energy throughout, especially noticeable on a song like Photograph.

Like Nilsson Schmilsson, an amazing Richard Perry production with much the same amazing sound, the bad copies are really just awful — veiled, smeary, compressed, rolled off up top and leaned out down low. It’s a big studio pop production with a lot going on; when it doesn’t work it really doesn’t work. Thankfully, on some copies it does, and this is one of those. (more…)