Top Engineers – Rhett Davies

Roxy Music – Rhett Davies, Yanick Etienne and the Making of Avalon

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I consider Roxy Music to be one of the greatest Art Rock bands in the history of the world. The general public and most audiophiles would no doubt cast their vote for AVALON as the band’s masterpiece. (The long and involved story of the making of the album can be seen below.) I much prefer their eponymous first album, Stranded, Country Life and Siren to the more “accessible” music found on Avalon. To be fair, that’s splitting hairs, because any of those five titles are absolute Must Own Albums that belong in any serious popular music collection.   (more…)

801 Live – It’s All About the Bass (Except for that One Time When It Wasn’t)

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What’s especially interesting about this copy is that we went crazy for it even though it did not have the best bass of the copies we played, which, as you will see below, clearly contradicts what we had previously written. We thought that the copies with the best bass had the best everything else too, but that was not what we heard this time around.

THIS copy got the music to work its magic, and it did it with most, but not all, of the bass of the best. Not sure how to explain it. Rules were made to be broken maybe?  (more…)

Dire Straits – Dire Straits – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2011

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Dire Straits – Dire Straits

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

The best side one we’ve ever heard, so freakishly impressive that we awarded it the rare A++++ (Four Plus) grade! On top of that, side two earned an A++ grade and the vinyl plays unusually quietly — solid Mint Minus throughout. This is probably the best Dire Straits album (certainly our favorite) and definitely their best sounding album; on a copy like this one it has the power to BLOW YOUR MIND. Water Of Love, Down To The Waterline and Six Blade Knife are all STUNNING on this pressing.  (more…)

Phil Manzanera – Diamond Head

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Diamond Head

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  • This KILLER pressing of Phil Manzanera’s debut album boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Two stunning sides – Demo Disc quality sound barely begins to describe the size and power of this recording
  • This album is an amazing SONIC BLOCKBUSTER, with sound that will positively leap out of your speakers
  • A shockingly well-recorded album from the ultra-talented Rhett Davies – this is his Engineering Masterpiece

The wind is at your back here because this is one seriously well-recorded album. If this copy doesn’t wake up your stereo nothing will.

Like its brother, 801 Live, this album is an amazing sonic blockbuster, with sound that positively leaps out of the speakers. Why shouldn’t it? It was engineered by the superbly talented Rhett Davies at Island, the genius behind Taking Tiger Mountain, the aforementioned 801 Live, Avalon, Dire Straits’ first album and many many more. (more…)

Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy

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

This is Eno’s Masterpiece as well as a Desert Island Disc for yours truly. On the right pressing this is a Twisted Pop Demo Disc like nothing you have ever heard. If you have a big speaker and the kind of high quality playback that is capable of unraveling the most complicated musical creations, with all the weight and power of live music, this is the record that will make all your audio effort and expense worthwhile.

That’s the kind of stereo I’ve been working on for forty years and this album just plain KILLS over here.

Art Rock

That being said, it may not be the kind of thing most music loving audiophiles will be able to make much sense of if they have no history with this kind of Art Rock from the ’70s. I grew up on Roxy Music, 10cc, Eno, The Talking Heads, Ambrosia, Supertramp, Yes and the like, bands that wanted to play rock music but felt shackled by the chains of the conventional pop song. This was and still is my favorite kind of music. (more…)

Roxy Music – Manifesto

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Manifesto

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  • A killer copy of Manifesto, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • Big, rich and lively throughout – the Tubey Magic on this early UK pressing will show you just how good this Rhett Davies’ recording can sound
  • This one may have won our shootout, but it has some minor condition issues, so we’re keeping the price down  
  • “The songs ending each side fade out with real grace and leave you hanging, wanting more — drenched in a romance out of reach.” Rolling Stone

Good pressings of Manifesto are hard to come by — this kind of rich, full-bodied, musical sound is the exception, not the rule. And there’s actual space and extension up top as well, something you certainly don’t hear on most pressings. (more…)

Dire Straits – Phonogram Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Half Speed debunked.  

This has to be one of the worst sounding copies of Dire Straits’ first album we have ever played. There are plenty of bad sounding pressings of this album around — most of the domestic copies we’ve auditioned over the years were pretty awful — so we really can’t give it an F. (The 10cc title from this same series wasn’t half bad, FYI; certainly not the joke this pressing is.) 

801 Live – None Rocks Harder

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The best Island copies of this album ROCK HARDER than practically any record we’ve ever played. If you have the system for it, this one will bring a Live Art Rock concert right into your living room!

It’s right at the top of the list of my Favorite Albums — a Desert Island Disc if ever there was one. I stumbled across it more thirty years ago and I’ve loved it ever since. It all started when a college buddy played me the wildly original Tomorrow Never Knows from the album and asked me to name the tune. Eno’s take is so different from The Beatles version that I confess it took me an embarrassingly long while to catch on.

Sometime last year I noted on the site that I had finally figured out how to tell the good pressings from the not-so-good ones. I had been focussing on the wrong things in the shootouts I had done over the last few years, and in that I have the feeling I was not alone. This seems to be a fairly common Major Audiophile Pitfall that we all get stuck in on occasion. (more…)

Roxy Music – Flesh + Blood

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  • Two incredible sides, each rating a Triple Plus (A+++) — rich, smooth, spacious sound
  • Credit as always goes to the brilliant engineering of Roxy’s go-to guy, Rhett Davies
  • Flesh + Blood from 1980 is the precursor to Avalon, with much the same style and sound
  • Some of Roxy’s best material and biggest hits are here, on exceptionally quiet British vinyl too

The British Original Polydor Super Deluxe pressings are the only way to go on this album. No domestic pressing or other import in our experience has ever been better than passable; we know, we’ve been cleaning and playing them for more than thirty years.

This British LP is cut by one of my favorite mastering houses in England, which no doubt accounts for the excellent sound. The estimable Robert Ludwig cut the domestic pressings. Unfortunately for us Americans it sounds to us like they gave him a dub tape to master from. (The same thing happened on Avalon by the way.)

This is a transitional album. Some of it sounds like Avalon (Oh Yeah, Over You, etc) and some of it sounds more like their earlier material. It may not be as consistent as Avalon but it’s well worth owning for its best songs (listed below) and highly recommended for fans of the band. 

Best Tracks

Standout tracks on side one include In the Midnight Hour / Oh Yeah / My Only Love

Standout tracks on side two include Over You / Eight Miles High / Rain, Rain, Rain (more…)

Bryan Ferry – Boys and Girls

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  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this classic Ferry album from 1985 
  • This copy was super big, full and lively with plenty of presence and bottom end weight
  • On this record, bigger bass and punchier drums make all the difference in the world
  • “Instead of ragged rock explosions, emotional extremes, and all that made his ’70s work so compelling in and out of Roxy, Ferry here is the suave, debonair if secretly moody and melancholic lover, with music to match…”

Excellent sound and quiet vinyl on both sides! If you’ve spent any time with this album, you will be blown away by how great both sides of this copy sound.

Key Listening Test

The song Valentine, the second track on side two, is a key test for that side. Note how processed Ferry’s vocals are; on the best copies they will sound somewhat bright. The test is the background singers; they should sound tonally correct and silky sweet. If Ferry sounds correct, they will sound dull, and so will the rest of the side. That processed sound on his vocal is on the tape. Trying to “fix” it will ruin everything. (more…)