Top Engineers – Glyn Johns

Leon Russell and the Shelter People – His Best Sounding Album?

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  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) from first note to last on this original British pressing 
  • Engineered by Andy and Glyn Johns, this is his best sounding album, especially on a copy that sounds as good as this one does
  • No other Leon Russell album has the richness, the sweetness, and the Tubey Magic of this, his second album from 1971
  • “Russell practically invented what might as well be called Okie rock — with that shit-kicker Gospel sound, heavy on Baptist-revival piano and chorus [a template Elton John found more than a little useful for his first ten albums or so] – and it gets as good on this album as you’ll ever hear.”

Stranger in a Strange Land, which leads off side one, might just be the best song the man ever wrote. What a joy it is to hear it sound so big and powerful.

Domestic Vs. Import

The domestic pressings of Leon Russell and the Shelter People that we’d auditioned over the years always seemed flat, dry, and closed-in. We know that sound well; it’s the sound you hear on records that have been made from dubbed tapes (and it’s the hallmark of the modern Heavy Vinyl reissue, truth be told). It bores us to tears, and had us questioning what we could possibly have seen in the album in the first place. What happened to the glorious sound of early ’70s analog we were expecting to find? (more…)

Let It Be – John’s Really Digging a Pony. Are You?

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What blew our minds about the Shootout Winning side one we played recently was how outrageously big, open and transparent it was on the song Dig a Pony. As the song started up the studio space seemed to expand in every direction, creating more height, width and depth than we’d ever experienced with this song before. 

But there is no studio space; the song was recorded on Apple’s rooftop. The “space” has to be some combination of “air” from the live event and artificial reverb added live or later during mixing. Whatever it is, the copies with more resolution and transparency show you a lot more of “it” than run-of-the-mill pressings do (including the new Heavy Vinyl, which is so airless and compressed we gave it a grade of F and banished it to our Shame Hall). 

In addition, Ringo’s kit was dramatically more clear and present in the center of the soundfield just behind the vocal, raising the energy of the track to a level higher than we had any right to believe was possible. The way he attacks the hi-hat on this song is crazy good, and the engineering team of Glyn Johns and Alan Parsons really give it the snap it needs.

These are precisely the qualities that speed and transparency can contribute to the sound. If you have Old School vintage tube equipment, these are two of the qualities you are most likely living without. You only need play this one track on faster, better-resolving equipment to hear what you’ve been missing.

On the line after “All I want is you”, the energy of “Everything has got to be just like you want it to” should make it sound like The Beatles are shouting at the top of their lungs. If you have the right pressing they really get LOUD on that line.

The Beatles: Rock Band

On the better pressings the natural rock n’ roll energy of a song such as Dig A Pony will blow your mind. There’s no studio wizardry, no heavy-handed mastering, no phony EQ — just the sound of the greatest pop/rock band of all time playing and singing their hearts out.

It’s the kind of thrill you really don’t get from the more psychedelic albums like Sgt. Pepper’s or Magical Mystery Tour. You have to go all the way back to Long Tall Sally and Roll Over Beethoven to find the Beatles consistently letting loose the way they do on Let It Be (or at least on the tracks that are more or less live, which make up about half the album).

Further Reading

Other recordings that we have found to be especially Tubey Magical can be found here.

Transparency, the other side of the Tubey Magical coin, is also key to the better pressings of this album as well as many of our other favorite demo discs.

The entries linked here may help you gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding Hot Stampers.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

Our Approach to Audio

Over the years we have put literally thousands of hours into our system and room in order to extract the maximum amount of information, musical and otherwise, from the records we play, or as close to the maximum as we can manage. Ours is as big and open as any system in an 18 by 20 by 8 room I’ve ever heard. (I can’t compete with bigger rooms and higher ceilings; it’s a glorious sound but custom room additions are just way out of our budget.)

It’s also as free from colorations of any kind as we can possibly make it. We want to hear the record in its naked form; not the way we like it to sound, or want it to sound, but the way it actually does sound. That way, when you get the record home and play it yourself, it should sound the way we described it.

If too much of the sound we hear is what our stereo is doing, not what the record is doing, how can we know what will it sound like on your system? We try to be as truthful and as critical as we can when describing the records we sell. Too much coloration in the system would make those tasks much more difficult, if not downright impossible.

Click here to read more about our playback equipment.

Who’s Next – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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WHO’S NEXT 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.

Maximum Volume

Now if you like to play records at 70 db, little of the following discussion will make much sense. There are some dumb ideas floating out there in Audiophile land, but playing music at quiet levels surely has to be one of the dumbest. You Want to Turn The Volume DOWN? Are You Out of Your Mind?

Anybody who plays a record like Who’s Next at moderate levels should be taken out and hosed down. How do you think Townsend went deaf, by playing his music too softly? He played his music LOUD because that’s the way he wanted you to hear it. Moon beats the hell out of his drums because he likes the sound of drums beaten HARD. If you don’t have the stereo to play this record right, don’t make excuses and DON’T make up bizarre theories about volume levels in the home. You’re not fooling anybody with those kinds of rationalizations. If your speaker distorts that’s your problem, pal. Don’t lay that trip on me.

Some of us have done our homework and take pride in what we’ve managed to accomplish. We’ve been challenging ourselves and our systems with records like Who’s Next and Aqualung for thirty years. We know how good these records can sound on systems that have what it takes to play them. If you’re not going to turn up the volume, don’t waste your money on a good Track pressing. Buy the Classic; at 70 db it will probably sound good enough for you. Spend the money you save on wine and cigars.

Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs And Englishmen

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  • An outstanding copy with all four sides earning Double Plus (A++) grades
  • The overall sound is rich and tubey, with driving energy and most of the top end and clarity that’s missing from many we played 
  • What it most reminds me of is Ray Charles doing a choice set of modern pop classics, mixing it up by off-handedly throwing in a few hits of his own
  • “… its content was exciting, and its sound, a veritable definition of big-band rock with three dozen players working behind the singer, was unique.” – 4 1/2 Stars

One thing we learned from our shootout was the how important TRANSPARENCY is to the enjoyment of this music. Of course this has to be a multi-miked, multi-tracked, overdubbed pop record — they don’t make them any other way — but it doesn’t have to FEEL like one.

The Feeling of Reality

When you get a good copy it feels like all these guys and gals are live on stage. They may have their own mics, and are certainly being placed artificially in the soundfield to suit the needs of the track (singers here, drummer there), but the transparency of the better pressings makes them sound like they are all on the same stage singing and playing together. You hear their grunts and laughter way back in the mix, just as if you were at the concert. (more…)

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…)

The Rolling Stones – Out of Our Heads – Mono or Stereo?

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On this London LP, even though it says the record is electronically re-processed stereo, the songs we heard on side one were dead mono.

So much for believing what you read on album covers. (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…)

The Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! – Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018

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  • Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it for both sides of this stunningly good sounding copy
  • This shootout winning copy gives you superb energy and presence, plus full-bodied tonality and lots of punch down low
  • An essential Stones album — live rock and roll doesn’t get much more fun than this
  • Allusic 4 1/2 stars: “Often acclaimed as one of the top live rock albums of all time”

See all our Rolling Stones albums in stock

From the moment we dropped the needle on side one, we were SHOCKED by the presence, the clarity, and the energy — and that’s just talking about the sound of the audience! About a minute after the music got going, we had to collect our jaws off the floor. No other copy we had heard could have led us to believe we would hear this album sound THIS amazing. (more…)

Let It Be on Heavy Vinyl – The Gong Rings Once More

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At the end of a recent shootout for Let It Be (June 2014) we decided to see how the 2012 Digitally Remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing would hold up against the 12 (yes, twelve!) British copies we had just finished critically auditioning.

Having evaluated the two best copies on side two, we felt we knew exactly what separated the killer copies (White Hot) from the next tier down (Super Hot). Armed with a vivid memory of how good the music could sound fresh in our minds, we threw on the new pressing. We worked on the VTA adjustment for a couple of minutes to get the sound balanced and as hi-rez as possible for the thicker record and after a few waves of the Talisman we were soon hearing the grungy guitar intro of I’ve Got a Feeling.
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The Real Eagles Sound Comes From the Real Eagles Master Tape

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The Eagles first album

At one time this was my single favorite Demo Disc. A customer who bought one of these once told me it was the best sounding record he had ever heard in his life. I don’t doubt it for a minute. It’s certainly as good as any rock record I have ever heard, and I’ve heard some awful good ones.

The Real Sound Comes from the Real Master Tape

There’s an interesting story behind this album, which I won’t belabor here. One listen to a later reissue or Heavy Vinyl pressing or Greatest Hits and you’ll know I speak the truth when I say that the tape used to cut this pressing was never used again to cut any other. It is GONE. LOST FOREVER. Most copies of this album are mediocre at best, and positively painful to listen to once you’ve heard the right pressing, the one cut from the real tape.
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