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The Beatles on Vinyl – An Audiophile Wake Up Call

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Beatles Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Beatles

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This commentary was written about 15 years ago. Unlike some of the things I used to say about records and audio, every word of this commentary still holds true in my opinion.

The sound of the best pressings of The Beatles — when cleaned with the Walker Enzyme fluids on the Odyssey machine — are truly revelatory.

So much of what holds their records back is not bad mastering or poor pressing quality or problems with the recording itself. It’s getting the damn vinyl clean. (It’s also helpful to have high quality playback equipment that doesn’t add to the inherent limitations of the recordings.)

Know why you never hear Beatles vinyl playing in stereo stores or audio shows?*

Because they’re TOO DAMN HARD to reproduce. You have to have seriously tweaked, top-quality, correct-sounding equipment — and just the right pressings, natch — to get The Beatles’ music to sound right, and that’s just not the kind of stuff they have at stereo stores and audio shows. (Don’t get me started.)
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Jethro Tull – Aqualung

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Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

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  • Jethro Tull’s fourth studio album finally returns to the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them on both sides
  • The vinyl is quite good on side one, but side two is its usual crackly self in the quieter passages — at least no marks play
  • The sound is KILLER from start to finish – big, punchy, present, tubey and bursting with Rock and Roll energy
  • A Better Records Top 100 title that still floors us on the better copies, with sound that will jump right out of your speakers (which is exactly the sound the modern Heavy Vinyl pressings cannot give you)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… one of the most astonishing progressions in rock history… the degree to which Tull upped the ante here is remarkable… Varied but cohesive, Aqualung is widely regarded as Tull’s finest hour.”

Folks, for hard-rockin’, Tubey Magical, ’70s Arty Proggy Rock in ANALOG, it just does not get much better than Aqualung. You need the right pressing to bring it to life though, and this one is certainly up to the task. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

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Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

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  • Insane Rock and Roll ENERGY like nothing you have ever heard – the sound is exceptionally full-bodied, smooth and solid, making it possible to get the volume up good and high where it belongs
  • Here are the Rock and Roll Classics that reign supreme to this very day – Black Dog, Rock & Roll, Stairway to Heaven, When the Levee Breaks, every one sounding better than you’ve ever heard them or your money back
  • 5 stars: “Encompassing heavy metal, folk, pure rock & roll, and blues, Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album is a monolithic record, defining not only Led Zeppelin but the sound and style of ’70s hard rock.”

It is a positive THRILL to hear this record rock the way it was meant to. If you have big speakers and the power to drive them, your neighbors are going to be very upset with you when you play this copy at the listening levels it was meant to be heard at.

You’d better be ready to rock, because this copy has the ENERGY and WHOMP that will make you want to. Zep IV demands loud levels, but practically any copy will punish you mercilessly if you try to play it at anything even approaching live levels.

I never met John Bonham, and it’s probably too late now, but I imagine he would feel more than a little disrespected if he found out people were playing his music at the polite listening levels many audiophiles prefer. The term “hi-fidelity” loses its meaning if the instruments are playing at impossibly low levels. If the instruments could never be heard that way live, where exactly is the fidelity? (more…)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Listening in Depth to So Far

More Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Records in Stock

More Commentaries and Letters for So Far

This is a very difficult record to find with proper mastering (and good vinyl, ouch!). It seems that all of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s albums are that way. The average domestic pressing rarely even hints at how well recorded this band really was (and the imports are even worse — we’ve never heard one that didn’t sound dubby, veiled and compressed).

In my experience not even one out of ten LPs sounds right; I put the figure at one out of twenty. Most of them are shrill, dull, grainy, flat, opaque, harsh and in varying degrees suffer from every other mastering and pressing malady known to man.

But the best ones have some tracks in superb sound. When you hear the Hot Stampers for records like this you will simply be AMAZED. If you’ve ever heard a really good If Only I Could Remember My Name, an album that CAN be found with proper mastering, that should give you some idea of how good the first two albums can sound.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Déjà Vu

When you get a good copy of this album, this song sounds like it was lifted right off of a Hot Stamper copy of Deja Vu itself. It’s so rich and Tubey Magical you’d swear it couldn’t get any better. Huge amounts of deep bass. Acoustic guitars that ring for days. Midrange magic to die for. Not many of them sound this way, unfortunately.

If I could indulge in some more MoFi and Half-Speed bashing for a moment, the bass “solo” at the end of this song is a great test for bass definition. The notes are relatively high, and it’s easy for them to sound blurred and wooly. The MoFi, like virtually all Half-Speed mastered records, has a problem with bass definition. If you own the MoFi, listen for how clearly defined the notes are at the end of this track. Then play any other copy, either of So Far or Deja Vu. It’s a pretty safe bet that the bass will be much more articulate. I know how bad the MOFI is in this respect. Rarely do “normal” records have bass that bad.

Stephen Barncard Does It Again

Listen to this song and compare it to anything on the Barncard-engineered first solo LP by David Crosby. That is the sound of Barncard’s engineering — open, spacious, rich, sweet; tons of deep bass; absolutely no trace of phony eq on vocals; acoustic guitars that ring for days — the man is a GENIUS. Thank god he was involved with music of this quality. If only more of the LP pressings did a better job of revealing the exquisite beauty of the recordings themselves. (I suppose that burden must be carried by the few Hot Stamper copies we can dig up.) (more…)

Albeniz / Suite Espanola / De Burgos – Such a Dynamic Recording

More of the music of Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

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  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Suite Espanola sound remotely as good as it does on this amazing London pressing
  • The orchestral power on display is positively breathtaking – few recordings we know of are this DYNAMIC and EXCITING
  • Wilkie’s Decca Tree recording is overflowing with the kind of clear, spacious, realistic sound that can only be found on the best vintage vinyl LPs
  • Performances and sound like no other – De Burgos’s Suite Espanola is practically in a league of its own

Wow, is this record ever DYNAMIC! I would put it right up there with the most dynamic recordings we have played over the course of the last twenty five years. It also has tons of DEPTH. The brass is at the far back of the stage, just exactly where they would be placed in the concert hall, which greatly adds to the realism of the recording.

Note that careful VTA adjustment for a record with this kind of dynamic energy is a must. Having your front end carefully calibrated to this record is the only way to guarantee there is no distortion or shrillness in even the loudest passages.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Clear castanets.

Big bass drum thwacks.

Crescendos that build to intense climaxes.

We Was Wrong (Already?)

The last time we did this shootout we noted:

The strings may not be quite as sweet as the best earlier Londons, but the trade off is well worth it when you hear a record with this kind of LIFE and so little distortion. Rich strings (or as rich as they can be in 1969, a good ten years after the amazingly Tubey Magical recordings of the ’50s).

This time around we heard plenty of Tubey Magic on our Shootout Winning pressing. Did we find a hotter one than last time? Are we doing a better job of bringing out that quality during playback?  Would this pressing hold its own against another recording made in Kingsway Hall a decade earlier?

Yes. No. Maybe? Who really knows?

We will leave it to the lucky customer who ends up with this killer copy to tell us. (more…)

Jimi Hendrix – Band of Gypsys

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More Rock Classics

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  • Truly exceptional sound – these Ludwig-mastered Capitol Orange Label pressings are the only way to fly
  • Tons of bass, smooth vocals, and an overall freedom from distortion characterize the overall sound of both sides, and that’s unusual, because most copies of this record are just plain dreadful
  • Trust me on this one – you’re going to have a difficult and (and expensive!) adventure trying to find a great sounding copy of this one on your own
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Although he could be an erratic live performer, for these shows, Hendrix was on — perhaps his finest performances… not only an important part of the Hendrix legacy, but one of the greatest live albums ever.”

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Big Speakers, Loud Levels and More Power to the Orchestra

Pressings that Need to Be Reproduced on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

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Recordings that Sound Their Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels 

More Exceptionally Dynamic Demo Disc Recordings 

The darker brass instruments like tubas, trombones and french horns are superb here. Other Golden Age recordings of the work, as enjoyable as they may be in other respects, do not fully reproduce the weighty quality of the brass, probably because of compression, limiting, tube smear, or some combination of the three.

The brass on this record has a power like practically no other. It’s also tonally correct. It’s not aggressive. It’s not irritating. It’s just immediate and powerful the way the real thing is when you hear it live. That’s what really caught my ear when I first played the recording.

There is a blast of brass at the end of Catacombs that is so big and real, it makes you forget you’re listening to a recording. You hear every brass instrument, full size, full weight. I still remember the night I was playing that album, good and loud of course, when that part of the work played through. It was truly startling in its power. (Back then I had the Legacy Whisper speaker system, the one with eight 15″ woofers. They moved air like nobody’s business. If you want to reproduce the power of the trombone, the loudest instrument in the orchestra, they’re your man.)
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Ry Cooder – Self-Titled

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More Debut Albums of Interest

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this vintage Reprise pressing of Cooder’s debut album from 1970 – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • If you want to hear the brilliant Lee Herschberg’s All Analog Recording skills brought to bear on so many different instruments serving an assortment of sonic textures, this is the copy that will let you do it
  • 4 stars: “Cooder’s debut creates an intriguing fusion of blues, folk, rock & roll, and pop, filtered through his own intricate, syncopated guitar; Van Dyke Parks and Lenny Waronker’s idiosyncratic production… Cooder puts this unique blend across with a combination of terrific songs, virtuosic playing, and quirky, yet imaginative, arrangements.”

The music reminds me a lot of early Little Feat, which is a good thing. The sound is somewhat similar as well, which is to say that it is natural and musical, nothing like the hyped-up hi-fi sound of his TAS-listed album Jazz — and that’s a good thing as well.

There are some great songs here, including My Old Kentucky Home, One Meat Ball and How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live. It may even be his best album. (more…)

Miles Davis / Bitches Brew

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More Jazz Rock Fusion

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  • Stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on sides two and four with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the other two sides
  • These sides are clean, clear, lively and present with tons of space around all of the players; you can hear right in to the soundfield, and you can be sure that there’s a whole lot going on in there
  • It’s not an easy album to find in clean condition, let alone a copy that sounds like this and plays mostly quietly throughout!
  • If jazz-fusion is your bag, sides two and four of this copy will take you on a trip like few other records could
  • “Thought by many to be the most revolutionary album in jazz history, having virtually created the genre known as jazz-rock fusion (for better or worse) and being the jazz album to most influence rock and funk musicians, Bitches Brew is, by its very nature, mercurial.”” – All Music, 5 Stars

The incredible musicianship and Teo Macero’s innovative production each help take these jazz-fusion soundscapes to places most folks had never imagined before. And a copy like this one takes the entire production to a whole new level. I can’t begin to tell you how many crappy copies have hit our table over the years, but after finding this one I’m really glad we never gave up on this album.

I remember buying this record when I was in college and I had a hell of a time trying to make any sense of it. I also bought the first two Weather Report albums and had a hell of a time with those. But then when Sweetnighter came out, which was angular but still accessible, this kind of music started to make sense to me. This is music for those who want to be challenged. It’s as true today as it was 39 years ago when this record came out.

Our favorite track on this album, Miles Runs The Voodoo Down, is found on the A+++ side four, which means the sound for it is OFF THE CHARTS. (more…)

The Grateful Dead – American Beauty

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A Proud Member of Our Rock & Pop Top 100

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One of Our Favorite Albums from 1970

  • With two Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is doing pretty much everything we want American Beauty to do – unusually quiet vinyl too
  • The acoustic guitars are magical on this copy, and you won’t believe how wonderfully breathy and sweet these guys’ voices sound
  • American Beauty is one of Stephen Barncard’s greatest recording achievements – the richness and clarity are really something here
  • A 5 Star Top 100 album – “A companion piece to the luminous Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty is an even stronger document of the Grateful Dead’s return to their musical roots. American Beauty remains the Dead’s studio masterpiece.”

We managed to find enough clean early pressings to get this always fun shootout going once again, and this copy took top honors. This is an amazingly well-recorded album — and a member of our Top 100, of course — but it takes a special copy to let the recording’s qualities shine the way this one does!

All the Elements Come Together for Once

All of the elements necessary to take this music to an entirely new level are here, my friends: smooth, sweet vocals; rich, meaty bass; an open and airy top end; top-notch presence and so forth. The sound is so spacious and transparent that you can easily pick out each of the instruments and follow them over the course of the songs.

You could choose any track you wanted to and find lovely sound here, but I’d recommend Ripple and Attics Of My Life for starters. Most copies suffer from a glaring lack of highs, but just listen to the ride cymbals on this one to find out that the top end is still alive and well here. (more…)