Top Engineers – Keith Olsen

Buckingham Nicks – Buckingham Nicks – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

TWO WHITE HOT A+++ SIDES! The overall sound is UNBELIEVABLY rich, sweet, open, spacious, and transparent. Most copies suffer from a seriously bloated bottom end, but the bass on this one is nice and tight. The other big problem with the typical copy is a harsh top end, but the highs here are much sweeter and never aggressive.

Those of you who read our commentary for Commoner’s Crown will recognize this bit, lifted practically whole from the listing. The British Sound? This record has it in spades:

The sound is rich and full in the best tradition of English Rock, with no trace of the transistory grain that domestic rock pressings so often suffer from. The bass is deep, punchy, full up in the mix and correct. There’s plenty of it too, so those of you with less than well controlled bass will have a tough time with this one.

But never fear; it’s a great record to tweak with and perfect for evaluating equipment.

Things have changed as we never tire of saying here at Better Records, but in a way you could say they have stayed the same. This used to be a demo disc, and now it’s REALLY a Demo Disc. You will have a very hard time finding a record with a punchier, richer, fuller, better-defined, dare I say “fatter” bottom end than the one found on both these sides.

Notice how there is nothing — not one instrument or voice — that has a trace of hi-if-ishness. No grain, no sizzle, no zippy top, no bloated bottom, nothing that reminds you of the phony sound you hear on audiophile records at every turn. Silky-sweet and tubey-magical, THIS IS THE SOUND WE LOVE.

We Love The Music Too Of Course

We really enjoy this album here at Better Records. It’s a wonderful preview of things to come for these two. Check out the wonderful early version of Crystal. On the best copies, it is warm, rich, and sweet — just like it is on the best copies of the Fleetwood Mac self-titled LP. In fact, many parts of this album bring to mind the best of ’70s Fleetwood Mac. Fans of the self-titled LP and Rumours are going to find A LOT to like here.

What We’re Listening For

There are a couple of qualities that set that Top Copies apart. The biggest problem with this record is sound that gets too fat and too rich. There has to be transparency to the sound that lets us listen into the studio. When Stevie is singing, almost always double-tracked by the way, Lindsay is often doing harmony vocals well behind her, double-tracked as well. You want to be able to hear PAST her all the way back to him and hear exactly what he’s doing. Most copies don’t let you do that.

The other problem is smeary guitar transients. The multi-tracked acoustic guitars tend to be rich and sweet on practically every copy you can find; this is not the problem. When they lack transient information, the right amount of “pluck”, they also tend to lack harmonic information, the overtones of the notes. Put those two together and you get a blobby mass of smeared guitars overlaid onto one another — not an irritating sound, but not a pleasing one either.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Crying In The Night
Stephanie
Without A Leg To Stand On
Crystal
Long Distance Winner

Side Two

Don’t Let Me Down Again
Django
Races Are Run
Lola (My Love)
Frozen Love

AMG Review

While it will be hard to find, this lone album cut by a young and ambitious (and still romantically attached) Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham a short two years before joining Fleetwood Mac is well worth digging out for your turntable… Buckingham Nicks is an engaging listen and served as a proving ground of sorts for both artists’ songwriting chops and for Buckingham’s skills as an emerging studio craftsman. Crisp, ringing acoustic guitars and a bottom-heavy rhythm section (using the talents of Waddy Watchel, Jim Keltner, and Jerry Scheff) framed the pair’s songs in a sound something akin to FM-ready folk-rock. Lesser known tracks like the glistening opener, “Crying in the Night,” from Nicks and Buckingham’s lonely-guy lament, “Without a Leg to Stand On,” are on a par with their later mega hits.

Foreigner – Double Vision

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

The fullest, richest, smoothest, most energetic and clearest copy we played in our shootout by far – this is how good the album can sound! This one has the clarity and energy that let this music come to life. The sound was jumping out of our speakers.

As I’m sure you know, there is a Mobile Fidelity Half-Speed Mastered version of this album currently in print, and an older one from the days when their records were pressed in Japan (#052).  (more…)

Grateful Dead – Terrapin Station

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Terrapin Station

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  • This original pressing earned Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it throughout – you’ll have a hard time finding a copy that sounds any better than this!
  • Produced by Keith Olsen of Fleetwood Mac fame, it’s no surprise that the recording quality is quite a bit better than most of the records they had been making at the time
  • Pretty darn quiet throughout, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus, as quiet as we can find them
  • “Terrapin Station offers a few choice glimpses of the band doing what it does best. While the most prominent example is the album’s extended title suite, there are a few others such as the cover of the Rev. Gary Davis gospel-blues “Samson and Delilah” and a resurrection of the Martha & the Vandellas hit “Dancin’ in the Streets.” 

Most Dead studio albums after Workingman’s Dead are full of filler, but this one actually has some good songs: the extended title song suite, the hard-rockin’ Passenger (note the similarities to Fleetwood Mac’s Station Man), and the darkly funky Estimated Prophet. The cover of Dancin’ In The Streets may have earned this album the epithet of Disco Dead, but it’s actually a good bit of fun if you don’t take it too seriously. (more…)

Pat Benatar – Crimes of Passion

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  • This impressive Double Plus (A++) copy is ROCKIN’ with Sound City Classic Rock energy like you will not believe
  • Credit engineer Keith Olsen, the man behind the Buckingham Nicks album and the even-more-amazing Fleetwood Mac self-titled release
  • All kinds of big hits can be found on this one, including Benatar classics such as Treat Me Right, You Better Run and Hit Me With Your Best Shot
  • “Benatar avoids the synth-happy trends of the early ’80s and delivers a hard rocking ten-song session of power pop tempered with a few ballads for balance.”

Credit for the sound must go to the brilliant engineer Keith Olsen, the man behind the amazing sounding Fleetwood Mac self-titled release from 1975. Is there a better sounding Fleetwood Mac album? I certainly can’t think of one. 

The man knows Big Rock sound as well as anyone in the business. The two recordings mentioned above and our Crimes of Passion here have too much in common for it to be a mere coincidence. All three have tons of bass (which is the sine qua non of live rock music), huge size and scope, richness, Tubey Magic, a smooth top and last but not least, hard-rockin’ energy. (more…)

Foreigner Double Vision – MoFi Half-Speed Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

There is a Mobile Fidelity Half-Speed Mastered version of this album currently in print, and an older one from the days when their records were pressed in Japan (#052).

We haven’t played the latter in years; as I recall it was as lifeless and sucked-out in the midrange as some other famous MoFis of that period, notably The Doors (#051) and Trick of the Tail (#062). Is there any doubt that the new MoFi will be every bit as bad or worse? (more…)

Listening in Depth to Fleetwood Mac’s Self-Titled Album from 1975

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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 (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

So few copies we ran across in our shootout had that “jump out of the speakers” sound we knew was possible from our previous shootouts of the album. When finally one did, boy did it ever. What a knockout. Hot Stampers? The best copies are on fire!

If you have a big speaker system and have taken advantage of the audio revolutions we discuss throughout the site, this is the kind of record that shows just how much progress you’ve made.

When a record like this blows everything you’ve ever heard out of the water, you are definitely on the right track!

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Monday Morning

This copy is so transparent that it revealed a quality of the recording that we were never aware of before. The songs that Lindsey sings, which tend to be the rockers, have a certain gritty quality to the vocals which is not on any of the other songs, those sung by Stevie Nicks or Christine McVie. It’s not a pressing problem. It HAS to be the way they wanted his vocals to sound. There’s a certain rawness and bite that he seems to be going for, so don’t expect the smoothness and sweetness of the other tracks when playing his.

Warm Ways

Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this. This song is PURE POP PERFECTION. This is our favorite test track for side one. Christine’s voice needs to be present and immediate, while at the same time completely free from grain or artificial EQ. On the best copies she is breathy and sweet. In case you haven’t noticed, these are not qualities you hear often in the songs Christine sings lead on. Most of her vocals are veiled and farther back in the mix. Stevie Nicks tends to get better sound for some reason, don’t ask me why. Just listen to the sound of the vocals on Landslide; McVie never gets that kind of presence and immediacy. (more…)