Top Engineers – Roy Halee

Blood Sweat and Tears – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade – MoFi: D

We found a Hot Stamper copy for one of our best customers a while back and he wrote an incisive commentary which may be of interest to you. To see the results of his comparison between the Direct Disc Labs Half-Speed, the MOFI Anadisq, his original domestic pressing, and the Hot Stamper he bought from us, check out his letter.

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[I want to thank Roger Lawry for his extensive commentary on the BS&T’s second album. His critical listening skills are obviously quite well developed, especially since he agrees with me about what is the best sounding BS&T — the one I sold him! I will be adding some caveats in places to clarify a few issues, but basically Roger’s assessment is right on the money. I added the underlining below for emphasis.]

Hi, Tom:

I listened to 3 versions of the BS&T record and here is what I found (I wrote up a little review–you can use it on your website or laugh and delete it, whatever). (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

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  • An insanely good 360 Label pressing of this Simon & Garfunkel classic, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The sound is here is As Good As It Gets — big, lively, open and clear with Tubey Magical richness that only these good early pressings can show you
  • The toughest Simon & Garfunkel album to find with excellent sound and reasonable surfaces — no contest 
  • 5 stars: “Perhaps the most delicately textured album to close out the 1960s from any major rock act… the songs matched the standard of craftsmanship that had been established on the duo’s two prior albums”

Both sides here KILLED every other copy we played. The overall sound is tubey and lush with a strong bottom end. The strings on the title track actually have some texture, and Cecilia really comes to life. There’s not as much spit or grit as you’d get on most copies, and the sound is far more musical and enjoyable than you would expect to hear, especially if you own a reissue on the red label or an audiophile reissue of any kind. These sides have an extra measure of presence and an extra degree of clarity, the kind of thing that makes them White Hot.

So many copies of this album sound wrong in so many ways, it would be impossible to list them all here. Suffice it to say, a Hot Stamper copy has to pass a lot of tests before we’re willing to vouch for it, and this copy passed those tests with flying colors. For starters, the vocals aren’t too spitty, the guitars don’t sound grainy, and the bottom end isn’t lean. Add in some of the silkiest, breathiest voices we’ve heard for this album and this Super Hot Stamper is sure to please. (more…)

Bloomfield-Kooper-Stills – Super Session – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Man’s Temptation, track 3 on side one, has got some seriously bright EQ happening (reminiscent of the first BS&T album), so if that song even sounds tolerable in the midrange you are doing better than expected.

Clean Cutting

What you get with this copy is some of the most transparent, lowest distortion, cleanest cutting we’ve ever heard. This copy is high-rez like you will not believe, with an unusually extended top end on both sides.

Turn It Up

Most copies are far too bright and phony sounding to turn up loud; the distortion and grit are just too much at higher volumes. On a copy like this, with more correct tonality and an overall freedom from distortion, you can TURN IT UP and LET IT ROCK.

Season of the Witch sounds amazing at loud levels on this copy, with its big build-ups and quiet breakdowns. It is nothing less than a thrill to just let it blast away at the levels we were listening at. The band is RIGHT THERE.

Side One

A++, big and clear with absolutely ZERO smear! The bass is solid and tight, and there’s more transparency here than on the typical pressing. So good!

Side Two

We awarded this side a rare A++++ grade, reserved for the kind of sound that makes us completely rethink the possibilities of a recording! Super spacious and three-dimensional with an amazingly extended top end, this absolutely blew away everything else in our shootout. Rich and Tubey Magical with incredible energy and no smear at all, this is doing everything we want it to. AMAZING! (more…)

Paul Simon – Graceland – When Clarity Is King

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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 Graceland

We regularly do shootouts for Graceland. Having played so many copies over the years we’re become quite familiar with the range of sound on the album, what constitutes good, better and best, and we understand precisely what qualities the premier copy must have in order to win one of our shootouts. 

Above all the thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It has many other good qualities as well: It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals.

The better copies have all these qualities to some degree, but the one thing a good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s especially good about the sound of Graceland. (more…)

Blood Sweat and Tears – The 30 Second Spinning Wheel Test

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This test is found in the track commentary for side two of our Hot Stamper listings for the album. If you think you have a hot copy, see if yours does what our best copies can.

We also think that a record like this — a dynamic, full-spectrum recording, not overly concerned with detail — makes a much better Test Disc than the kind most audiophiles seem to prefer. Patricia Barber it is not. If you’re in the market for new speakers, take this record — or one like it — with you to the audition. Any speaker that can play this record properly deserves your consideration, or at the very least your respect. In my experience not many speakers have what it takes to do this album justice.

The Blood, Sweat and Tears Spinning Wheel Test  (more…)

Paul Simon – Graceland – What to Think When the New Version Is Completely Unrecognizable?

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from? Having played at least 50 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded very much like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can’t say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing?

Well, in favor of that proposition I guess you could say it sounds less like a CD now. On the other side of the ledger, it now sounds a great deal more like a bad LP.

We listen to piles of pressings of Graceland regularly. We know what the album generally sounds like, the range from bad to good, and we know what qualities the very best copies must have in order to win one of our shootouts.

Above all the one thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals. The best of the best copies have all these qualities, but the one quality any good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s good about the sound of the record. Without clarity the music doesn’t even work.

The new version has been “fixed”. It got rid of all that pesky grit and grain and CD-like sound from the original digital mix by heavy-handedly equalizing them away.

Cut the top, cut the upper mids, boost the lower mids and upper bass and voila – now it’s what Graceland would have sounded like had it been all analog from the start, AAA baby!

Or at least analog for those who don’t know what good analog sounds like. (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Muddy MoFi Water

 

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

Pure mud. One of the worst versions ever made. (The CBS Half-Speed is actually quite good by the way.)

Roy Halee Is One of Our Favorite Engineers

More of Our Favorite Engineers

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ROY HALEE is one of our favorite producers and recording / mixing engineers. Check out our supply of Roy Halee engineered or produced albums, along with some of our famous commentaries.  

Many can be found in our Rock and Pop Top 100 List of Best Sounding Albums with the Best Music (limited to titles that we can actually find sufficient copies of with which to do our Hot Stamper shootouts).

Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

Thinking About Hot Stampers

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A while back we did a monster-sized shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second release, an album we consider THE Best Sounding Rock Record of All Time. In the midst of the discussion of a particular pressing that completely blew our minds — a copy we gave a Hot Stamper grade of A with Four Pluses , the highest honor we can bestow upon it — various issues arose, issues such as: How did this copy get to be so good? and What does it take to find such a copy? and, to paraphrase David Byrne, How did it get here?

Which brings us to this commentary, which centers around the concept of outliers.

Wikipedia defines an outlier this way: “In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.” In other words, it’s something that is very far from normal. In the standard bell curve distribution pictured below, the outliers are at the far left and far right, far from the vast majority of the data which is in the middle.

(more…)

Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water – Classic Records Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

Not Bad, But Hot Stampers Rule 

What do the best copies give you? They’re the ones with textured strings in the orchestral arrangements. The string tone on the average copy is hard and steely. (The Classic 200 gram pressing suffers from a case of slightly steely strings. Play it yourself and see.) When the strings are blasting away at the end of the title song, you want to be able to hear the texture without the strings sounding shrill and edgy. This is no mean feat, for the record or the stereo. (more…)