Top Engineers – Al Schmitt

Hot Tuna – Hot Tuna

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• Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides make this the best sounding Hot Tuna we have ever played
• If you like the kind of music Brits such as John Renbourn, Stefan Grossman, Bert Jansch and the like were making back in the ’60s this should be right up your alley
• Live, all acoustic, mostly Blues and Rags, this is about as far from the Jefferson Airplane as you can get
• 4 Stars: “Kaukonen remained the accomplished fingerpicking stylist he had been before joining the Airplane, while Casady dispensed with the usual timekeeping duties of the bass in favor of extensive contrapuntal soloing, creating a musical conversation that was unique. The result was less an indulgence than a new direction.”

Top quality sound for both sides of Hot Tuna’s classic debut album. It’s the best Hot Tuna Hot Stamper to ever hit the site for a good reason — it’s hard to come by clean copies of this stuff, and even when you do most copies don’t sound all that good.

Schmitt and Zentz

A pair of big names behind the recording managed to achieve some of the better live sound of the day. I refer of course to none other than Al Schmitt, producer (and winner of 23 Grammy Awards to date), and Allen Zentz, engineer (who later went on to found Allen Zentz Mastering and Recording). (more…)

Dave Mason – Headkeeper

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  • An excellent copy with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the best sound Dave Mason ever managed, so let’s give credit where credit is due, to the amazing engineer Al Schmitt
  • If you’re a Dave Mason fan this is one of the better albums he’s put out and it deserves a place in your collection
  • “The spare, acoustic solo performance of “Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving” heard here, for example, makes the undistinguished full-band studio version instantly obsolete. And the live version of “World In Changes” is one of the best pieces of early ’70s rock, period.”

This is some of the best sound Dave Mason ever managed, so let’s give credit where credit is due, to the amazing Al Schmitt. He recorded and mixed this album and he sure knocked it out of the park.

We know his work well; he happens to have engineered many albums with SUPERB SOUND: Aja, Hatari, Breezin’, Late for the Sky, Toto IV – the guy’s won 13 Grammies, which ought to tell you something.

Side one of the album is recorded in the studio, side two live from the Troubador. Many of the songs on side one would be recorded again by Mason, and not as well in most cases. Mastered at Artisan (where Kevin Gray got his start) by none other than the owner, Bob MacLeod, this record got the A Team treatment from start to finish. (more…)

Dave Mason – Alone Together – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Alone Together appears to be criminally underrated as music nowadays, having fallen from favor with the passage of time. It is a surely a MASTERPIECE that belongs in any Rock Collection worthy of the name. Every track is good, and most are amazingly good. There’s not a scrap of filler here. The recording by Bruce Botnick (mix by Al Schmitt) is hard to fault as well.

1970 was a great time in music. Tea for the Tillerman, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Moondance, Sweet Baby James, Tumbleweed Connection, After the Goldrush, The Yes Album, McCartney, Elton John, His Band And Street Choir, Deja Vu, Workingman’s Dead, Tarkio, Stillness, Let It Be — need I go on?

Even in such illustrious company — I defy anyone to name ten albums of comparable quality to come out in any year — Alone Together ranks as one of the best releases of the year.

The Sound

We struggled for years with the bad vinyl and the murky sound of this album. Finally, with dozens of advances in playback quality and dramatically better cleaning techniques, we have now managed to overcome the problems which we assumed were baked into the recording. I haven’t heard the master tape, but I have heard scores of pressings made from it over the years. I confess I actually used to like and recommend the Heavy Vinyl MCA pressing. Rest assured that is no longer the case. Nowadays it sounds as opaque, ambience-challenged, lifeless and pointless as the rest of its 180 gram brethren. (more…)

Toto – IV – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume. 

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this is one of the BEST SIDE TWOS WE’VE EVER HEARD! Africa sounds HUGE on this copy. With a soundfield this BIG and 3-D, it’s easy to see how this copy rated so high. Side one is no slouch either, rating A double plus for having a PUNCHY bottom end, and tons of rock energy. Big speaker sound all the way.

The good ones make you want to turn up the volume; the louder they get the better they sound. Try that with the average copy. When playing mass-produced pop music like this, more level usually means only one thing: bloody eardrums.

With a soundfield this BIG and 3-D, it’s easy to see how this copy rated so high. Side one is no slouch either, rating A double plus for having a PUNCHY bottom end, and tons of rock energy. Big speaker sound all the way.

If more records sounded like this we would be out of business (and the CD would never have been invented). Thankfully we were able to find this TOTO-ly Tubey Magical copy and make it available for our customers who love the album. (I may have been lukewarm on this music before, but now I LOVE it!)

This was our third shootout for Toto and it’s always fun. Great songs, and even the non-super-hot-stampers were full of energy and enjoyble as hell (within reason). It’s obvious why Toto IV was a Platinum Record. What’s not to like? (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Don’t Cry Now – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

WOW! This White Hot Stamper Asylum pressing has TWO AMAZING A+++ SIDES — better than every other copy we played it against. Side one is huge, rich and full. The sound is absolutely jumpin’ out of the speakers and Linda’s vocals are wonderfully present and breathy. Side two is every bit as good. It’s nice and clear with a great top end, present vocals and lovely sounding pianos.

Linda really belts it out on this album — face it, it’s what she does best — and only the rarest copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing

Another key to recognizing the best copies is the fact that they tend to be highly resolving. Two places to check:

Note how breathy her voice is in the quiet passages. Only the least smeared, most transparent copies reproduce that breathy quality in her voice

Next check out the tambourine on Silver Threads and Golden Needles. If the sound is delicate, not gritty or transistory, you have yourself a winner in the resolution department.

NOTE: the balance on side two is slightly off the left on most copies.

Linda’s Problems in the ’70s

The most common problem with these Ronstadt records from the ’70s is grainy, upper-midrangy sound. The average copy of Heart Like a Wheel, the album that followed this one, is pure transistory grain on most copies, making it practically unlistenable.

The average copy of Don’t Cry Now, though not quite as bad as HLAW, shares many of its shortcomings. The smooth copies that still have plenty of presence, life, energy and top end extension are the ones that really get this music sounding RIGHT.

Mobile Fidelity (more…)

Henry Mancini – Our Man In Hollywood – Making More Progress in Audio

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The story of our recent shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

In our previous listings we noted:

This is one of those odd records in which the variation in sound quality from track to track is dramatic. Take the first two tracks on side one — they suck. They sound like your average LSP Mancini album, the kind I have suffered through far too many times. And that means bad bad bad. 

Courtesy of Revolutions in Audio.

But track three boasts DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND and the next one is nearly as good. Listen to that wonderful glockenspiel. It sound every bit as magical as anything on Bang, Baa-room and Harp, and that’s some pretty magical sound in my book!

Same thing happens on side two. Bad sound for the first tracks, then track four sounds great, followed by a pretty good five and a lovely six with a chorus of voices to die for. Go figure.

Is there a copy that sounds good from start to finish? Doubtful.

We’ve made a dozen or more improvements to the system since we last did this shootout, and I’m happy to report that most of the tracks we had trouble with in the past are now sounding very good indeed. Of course the better tracks we noted from years ago are even better, making this a consistently good sounding Mancini record.

One obvious change from the old days is that we now spend a fair amount of time honing in the VTA for every title. That may account for the fact that the first track on side one, which used to be problematical, now sounds wonderful. The value of getting the correct VTA setting — by ear, for every record — cannot be overestimated in our opinion. (more…)

Dave Mason – Alone Together

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  • This outstanding copy of Mason’s Masterpiece boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Listen to how big and rich the dynamic chorus gets on the first track, Only You Know and I Know – what a thrill to hear it like that
  • A killer Bruce Botnick recording – Tubey Magical Analog, smooth and natural, with the whole production sitting on a rock solid bottom-end foundation
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Alone Together represents Dave Mason at his peak… everything comes together perfectly.”

Before I get too far into the story of the sound, I want to say that this album appears to be criminally underrated as music nowadays, having fallen from favor with the passage of time.

It is a surely a masterpiece that belongs in any Rock Collection worthy of the name. Every track is good, and most are amazingly good. There’s no filler here. (more…)

Henry Mancini – Our Man In Hollywood

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

This Minty RCA Living Stereo LP (LSP 2604) has AMAZINGLY Three-Dimensional Tubey Magical Living Stereo Sound on on both sides. Most original LSP pressings, of this or any other LSP title, do not begin to recreate the Studio Wizardry found on this pressing. This wonderful recording rivals the best Chet Atkins and Bob and Rays in all their delicious Cinerama glory.  

Thank Al Schmitt for delivering top quality sound on this all tube 1963 recording! (more…)

Henry Mancini – The Blues and The Beat

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

If you like your large group recordings to have huge three-dimensional space and depth, look no further. This is vintage RCA Living Stereo at its best – transparent, Tubey Magical, big and bold. Let’s give credit where credit is due, to the amazing AL SCHMITT.

We know his work well; he happens to have engineered many albums with SUPERB SOUND: Aja, Hatari, Breezin’, Late for the Sky, Toto IV, as well as some we can’t stand (the entire Diana Krall digital-echo-drenched catalog comes to mind). 

Bold, fun, imaginative takes on jazz standards and other songs, yes, Allmusic is right: this isn’t really jazz, but it sure is jazzy, and with 1960 Hollywood Studios Living Stereo sound you will find yourself lost in these fun arrangements played with style and verve.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Big bass. Both sides have plenty of bottom end on the better copies.

The sound of the saxophone on the second track on side one is so real it may just give you chills.

On the third track take note of the muted horns — that’s cool jazz at its best.

On the first track of side two note how solid and powerful the piano sounds. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Don’t Cry Now – What to Listen For

More Linda Ronstadt

More Don’t Cry Now

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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.

Her vocals on both sides can be very DYNAMIC, but only the best copies will present them with no hint of STRAIN or GRAIN, two problems that make most pressings positively painful to listen to at the loud volumes we prefer.

Linda really belts it out on this album — face it, it’s what she does best — and only the rarest copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing. (more…)