Top Engineers – Ken Scott

Supertramp – Crime of the Century – Loud Levels and Big Woofers

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Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

The bass on the best copies is AWESOME. Playing a Hot Stamper copy at loud levels with big woofers will have your house quaking. Add to that the kind of ENERGY that the better pressings have in their grooves and the result is an album guaranteed to bring most audiophile systems to their knees, begging for mercy. 

This is The Audio Challenge that awaits you. If you don’t have a system designed to play records with this kind of SONIC POWER, don’t expect to hear Crime of the Century the way Ken and the boys wanted you to. The album wants to rock your world, and that’s exactly what our Hot Stamper pressings are capable of doing.

The typical Brit copy is dull, and that quality just takes all the magic out of the recording. The three dimensional space and clarity of the recording rely heavily on the quality of the top end. The MoFi, on the best copies, shows you what is missing from the typical Brit, domestic or other import LP. This is what impressed me back in the ’70s when I bought my MoFi. It was only years later that I realized what was missing and what was wrong. (more…)

Mary Hopkin – Post Card

Mary Hopkin – Post Card

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

This British original pressing has a White Hot side two and a nearly White Hot side one. Side two is unbelievably huge and open in a way that no other side of any copy could touch. It’s taken us close to ten years to find enough clean copies with which to do this shootout. Engineered by Ken Scott, Donovan’s “Lord of the Reedy River” is simply amazing on this copy.    (more…)

Elton John – Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player

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

The tonality here is rich, tubey and warm. It doesn’t get thick or murky as many copies have a tendency to do.

The amazing engineer KEN SCOTT (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century, Truth, Birds of Fire) is the man responsible for the sound here.

The kind of Tubey Magical richness, smoothness and fullness he achieved at Trident in the early ’70s as well as here at a certain French country estate have never been equaled elsewhere in our opinion. (more…)

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

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All Things Must Pass

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

To say that this one has been a long time coming would be an understatement! FINALLY, an incredible sounding copy of All Things Must Pass. Stunning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on all six sides (!).  

It’s also worth mentioning that this is one of the nicer boxes we’ve come across for this title. It’s the thicker box which has stood the test of time a little better than the narrower version. Those are usually in pretty poor shape and we should know because we have a bunch of problematical boxes sitting right here. (more…)

America’s Debut – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

TUBEY MAGICAL practically MASTER TAPE SOUND on side one! A good sounding copy of this album is a real treat; a superb sounding copy like this one is an EXPERIENCE! We’ve been playing this album for years but I cannot recall a copy with a more extended top end than the ones here. The transparency is off the charts. Side one is natural, relaxed, musical, sweet, tonally correct from top to bottom and overflowing with Tubey Magic.

These green label Warner Brothers originals — like most records — are sonically all over the map. The biggest problem these pressings suffer from is a lack of extreme top to provide harmonics for the guitars. On the average copy the guitars are veiled and dull.

Equally problematic is smear, the loss of transient information. The best copies have guitars that are being played by fingers, with the subtle plucking of same naturally followed by the note produced. So many copies just present you with the note. You don’t really notice what’s missing until you hear a good pressing and suddenly you are aware of the players and their fingers making these sounds. This is one of the main qualities that we listened for to separate the winners from the also-rans. (more…)

Listening for Harmonically Correct Acoustic Guitars on America’s Debut

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo fidelity. As it says below, most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. They often sound veiled and dull, and on a copy with a bit too much top end they will have an unnatural hi-fi-ish sparkle.

(This kind of sparkle can be heard on practically every record Mobile Fidelity made in the ’70s and ’80s. Tea for the Tillerman, Sundown, Year of the Cat, Finger Paintings, Byrd at the Gate, Quarter Moon in a 10 Cent Town — the list would be very long indeed, and these are just the records with prominent acoustic guitars!) 

The key song on side one that we use to test is Three Roses. There are three sonically-separated individuals each playing six string acoustic guitars, and when this side is cut right the guitars sound just gorgeous: sweet, with all their harmonic structures intact. (It’s also my favorite song on side one.) (more…)

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

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  • A huge and powerful UK pressing of Supertramp’s Masterpiece, offering outstanding Double Plus (A++) quality sound or BETTER on both sides
  • Ken Scott engineered this one to have Cinerama-sized height, width and depth to rival the best albums you’ve ever heard
  • Clearly their Magnum Opus, a great leap forward and a permanent member of our Rock & Pop Top 100 Album List – fairly QUIET vinyl too
  • “The tuneful, tightly played songs, pristine clarity of sound, and myriad imaginative sound effects, helped create an album that Sounds magazine likened to ‘Genesis, The Beach Boys… a smattering of [Pink] Floyd.'”

This is engineer Ken Scott’s (and the band’s) MASTERPIECE, but the average copy sure can’t get your blood pumping the way this one will. We’ve long recognized that Crime of the Century is a true Demo Disc in the world of rock recordings, a member of our Rock & Pop Top 100 list right from the get go. We admit to being overly impressed with the MoFi back in the ’80s and the Speakers Corner pressing in the ’00s. Our Hot Stamper pressings are guaranteed to handily beat either one and any domestic or import pressing you care to put to the test as well.

When you hear the guitars come jumping out of your speakers on School or Bloody Well Right you can be sure that you’re playing a very special pressing of a very special recording indeed. (Yes, you need both. That’s why we’re here.) (more…)

The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour – Are Your Cellists Digging In?

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Over the last decade I Am The Walrus has evolved into a good test for side one, a fact that came as a complete surprise to me. As I was listening to the various copies in a shootout years ago I noted that the opening cellos and basses in the right channel were often tonally identical from copy to copy, but sounded quite a bit more lively and energetic on some pressings relative to others. Was it EQ? Level? Compression?  

Why so much more passion from the players on some copies and not others?

As I tried to puzzle it out, playing first one copy and then another, it became clear to me what was happening. The cellists and the bassists were just plain digging HARDER into the strings on the best copies. When you see live classical music, the cellists at the front of the orchestra are usually sawing away with abandon when the music is really going. They dig their bows hard into the strings to make them vibrate as loud as possible. To make their instruments heard in the back row it becomes a matter of muscle, of pure physical exertion.

So armed with the copies where the string players are working the hardest, I checked the other tracks. Sure enough, the opening cut, MMT, jumped out of the speakers with the most energy I had heard on any copy. As I went through the tracks one by one, they had the most life of any of the copies I had been listening to. To use a word that was popular at the time, the music was HAPPENING.

This was the final piece to the puzzle. Tonality always comes first. Frequency extension; lack of distortion; rich, powerful bass — these are important qualities as well. But the life of the music is in the micro and macro dynamics, and that is what I had not been paying sufficient attention to in the shootout. That was until I listened to Walrus and heard the players working up a good healthy sweat. Then I knew I had a hot stamper. And when I played the not so hot stampers, the string guys sounded like session musicians picking up a paycheck. Where was their passion? Didn’t they realize they were making a Classic?

If you get the right pressing they sure were!



Further Reading

This recording is quite difficult to reproduce, which means it ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS). Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment. The tutti passages will tear your head off unless you are using a very good cartridge and arm.

In its way, this is an ideal record to gauge how much progress you have made in audio. I remember playing these DG pressings only five to ten years ago and hearing shrill strings, harmonic distortion and many other unpleasant qualities in the sound. With those very same pressings today the sound is dramatically better. This is no accident. It is the result of both hard work and the Revolutions in Audio we discuss on the site.

Here is what I had to say about a Brewer and Shipley album that ranks high on the DOR scale:

I can also tell you that if you have a modest system this record is just going to sound like crap. It sounded like crap for years in my system, even when I thought I had a good one. Vinyl playback has come a long way in the last five or ten years and if you’ve participated in some of the revolutionary changes that I talk about elsewhere on the site, you should hear some pretty respectable sound. Otherwise, I would pass. On the Difficulty of Reproduction scale, this record scores fairly high. You need lots of tubey magic and freedom from distortion, the kind of sound I rarely hear on any but the most heavily tweaked systems, the kind of systems that guys like me have been slaving over for twenty years. If you’re a Weekend Warrior when it comes to stereo, this is not the record for you.

Much like Synchronicity, this is a tough record to get the right sound out of — even if you do have an excellent pressing. It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively.

It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too. As we’ve said before about these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring any audio system that tries to reproduce them to its knees.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this requires, demands even, you are going to hear some amazing sound when you drop the needle on these Hot Stampers.

David Bowie – The Man Who Sold The World

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  • This UK RCA copy is out of this world with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • Big space, breathy vocals, grungy guitars and the Tubey Magic is luscious throughout
  • Pretty darn quiet throughout — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • As it says on the back of the jacket, “Many thanks to our engineer Ken (Scott, one of our favorites).”

Stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides. The sound is rich and full, just the way the Brits like it. The heavy compression that both Bowie and Scott favor works its magic at every turn, adding fatness and richness and lovely harmonics to the guitars and the drums.  (more…)

The Beatles White Album – A True MoFi Disaster

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Sonic Grade: D

Another MoFi LP debunked. 

The last time I played the MoFi I could not believe how ridiculously phony and compressed it was. And to think I used to like their version when it came out back in the ’80s!

Take Yer Blues. The MFSL pressing positively wreaks havoc with all the added bass and top end The Beatles put on this track. The MoFi version is already too bright, and has sloppy bass to start with, so the result on this track is way too much BAD bass and way too much BAD spitty 10k-boosted treble, unlike the good imports, which have way too much GOOD bass and treble. (more…)