Top Engineers – George Massenburg

Lowell George – Thanks I’ll Eat It Here

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

This kind of recording quality was abandoned decades ago, but there was a time — I’m old, I remember it — when engineers actually tried to produce recordings with this kind of rich, sweet, thoroughly analog sound. 1979, the year of this album’s release, is right at the tail end of it. Why do you think so much of our Hot Stamper output covers the decade that stretched from the late ’60s to the late ’70s? Only one reason — that’s where some of the best sound can be found. (It’s a bit like Willie Sutton’s famous answer to why he robbed banks: “because that’s where the money is.”)

Which is taking the long way round in saying that this recording has a healthy dose of analog Tubey Magic, in places maybe even a bit too much, as the sound can sometimes get too thick and overly rich, like a cake with too much frosting.

The best copies keep that wonderful analog smoothness and freedom from artificiality, adding to it the life and energy of classic rock and roll. Yes, you can have it all — rich analog sound that jumps out of the speakers! Just listen to those horns on Honest Man — that is the sound we are looking for on an album like this. (more…)

Earth, Wind & Fire – Gratitude

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

OFF THE CHARTS SOUND on three out of four sides! Make no mistake: This is BY FAR the best copy of Gratitude we have ever played. No other copy in our shootout was the equal of this bad boy. This copy showed us a Gratitude we had no idea existed. Every once in a while you run across a record that has both sides mastered as good as they can be mastered, and this is very nearly one of those times — for this double album only one side fell short out of four, and that side still rated a very respectable A+ to A++. That’s ten and a half pluses all told. Nice job, Mastering Lab. You did Earth Wind and Fire proud. (more…)

Earth Wind & Fire – The Best Of EWF, Vol. 1 – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This original Columbia LP has AMAZING SOUND on BOTH sides. Side one was right up there with the best we have ever heard. Without ten side ones to play there is very little chance you will be able to beat it. Hell, you might need twenty to find a better side one, but since the first track on the album is Got To Get You Into My Life, you might just have a ball doing it. 

What a song. And it’s not on any other EWF album. Three points to make here: 1) It’s from the real master tape; 2) It happens to have DEMO DISC quality sound, which means: 3) You need this record in your collection. (more…)

Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris – Trio

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Trio

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  • These two sides, each rating a solid Double Plus (A++), are proof positive that Trio is a surprisingly well recorded album
  • Big, rich, smooth, and sweet, how did George Massenburg pull off this kind of analog sound in 1987?
  • We don’t know, but we do know good sound when we hear it, and we heard exceptionally good sound on this copy
  • “…that rare example of an all-star collaborative effort that truly shows everyone involved to their best advantage, and it ranks with the best of all three headliners’ work.”

With three brilliant and accomplished singers harmonizing in the studio you can imagine that faultless midrange tonality is key to the best copies, and you would be right.

Some copies had the girls’ sounding a bit dark and veiled. Some had them a bit thin and bright. The Goldilocks Principle comes into play here as it does in so many of our shootouts: the best copies find the right balance of richness and clarity. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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What’s New

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  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, this is without a doubt some of the best sound we have ever heard for What’s New
  • So hugely spacious and three-dimensional, yet with a tonally correct and fairly natural sounding Linda, this is the way to hear it
  • What engineer George Massenburg gets right is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio
  • “…the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania… undid in the mid-60’s.”

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Linda Ronstadt – For Sentimental Reasons

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For Sentimental Reasons

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  • A superb sounding copy of Ronstadt’s 1986 release with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • Both sides are incredibly clean, clear, full-bodied, and lively with plenty of extension on both ends, we’ve never heard For Sentimental Reasons sound like this!
  • The final installment of the jazz trilogy that Ronstadt recorded with bandleader and arranger Nelson Riddle
  • “… it is in the hushed intensity of Mr. Riddle’s string arrangements for the album’s ballads that one senses a musician reaching deeply into his soul to make eloquent final statements… The arrangements’ emotional gravity reverberates in Miss Ronstadt’s singing…”

Both sides give you a much more natural sounding Linda than you have ever heard. She’s fuller, sweeter, breathier, less spitty (some tracks more than others) and just plain less artificial than any others we played. (more…)

Earth, Wind & Fire – That’s The Way of the World

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  • An outstanding pressing of the band’s 1975 release with solid Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Both sides are open, spacious and transparent, with a huge three-dimensional soundfield and an energy level that’s off the charts
  • Includes EWF classics, Shining Star and, of course, That’s The Way of The World
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Earth, Wind & Fire has delivered more than its share of excellent albums, but if a person could own only one EWF release, the logical choice would be That’s the Way of the World, which was the band’s best album as well as its best-selling. There are no dull moments on World, one of the strongest albums of the 1970s and EWF’s crowning achievement.”

An excellent copy of this funk classic! That’s The Way Of The World starts off with great music that is, apparently, very difficult to reproduce. Most copies make “Shining Star” literally sound like a cassette, and a bad one at that! No highs, no lows, harsh vocals, and no real energy. When you hear it done right, you immediately remember why you love this song – the vocals are warm and present, the bassline is groovin’, and the energy makes you wanna grab someone and dance!

The title track gives you a much better feel for how transparent this copy is — check out the subtle triangle hits. The horns and strings need to be be dynamic and textured, and on this Super Hot Stamper they certainly are. (more…)

How Exactly Is This an Audiophile Record?

 

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Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

Not having played this record in more than a decade, it’s interesting to hear this Mobile Fidelity pressing with much better equipment than was previous available to me. The first thing I noticed was the amazing transparency of the recording, no doubt the reason audiophiles have always liked it.

Next on the list, and a bit of a surprise, is the correct tonality — this record is tonally right on the money, something Mobile Fidelity rarely achieves. This MoFi was mastered by Jack Hunt, not Stan Ricker, which may explain why the top end is more correct than usual.

Third and last is George Massenburg’s approach to this recording, which, to be charitable, is not to my liking. Let’s just say he prefers a certain artificiality to his sound that does little for me. (more…)

Little Feat’s Hoy-Hoy Rocks

Little Feat Albums with Hot Stampers

Little Feat Albums We’ve Reviewed

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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 Hoy-Hoy.

The recording quality of many of these songs is OUT OF THIS WORLD, as good as any rock record I can think of. Although Waiting For Columbus is arguably the best sounding live rock ‘n roll album ever made, some of the tracks on this album are every bit as good or BETTER. (And the promo EP is practically in a league of its own for sound!)

Little Feat’s studio recordings rarely did justice to the band’s energy and drive. With so many live tracks, this is the album that really shows the band at their enthusiastic best. If I were going to choose one Little Feat album to own, it would be hard to argue with this one musically, and sonically the stuff here just can’t be beat — if you are lucky enough to own a copy with Hot Stampers for all four sides, no mean feat.
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