Top Engineers – Al Schmitt

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

More Linda Ronstadt

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For 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.

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. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Don’t Cry Now

More Linda Ronstadt

Reviews and Commentaries for Linda Ronstadt

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  • A STUNNING copy of Don’t Cry Now with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • The transparency and vocal presence here are wonderful – the piano is solid and Linda’s vocals are breathy and heartfelt
  • We love her emotionally powerful interpretations of Desperado, Sail Away and Neil Young’s achingly sublime I Believe in You
  • She really belts it out on this album – it’s what she does best – but only the best copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing
  • Rolling Stone raves it’s “the Ronstadt album for which we’ve been waiting.”

A 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. (more…)

Al Schmitt – One of Our Favorite Producer / Engineers

Al Schmitt Engineered / Produced Albums with Hot Stampers

More of Our Favorite Producer-Engineers

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Al Schmitt is one of our favorite engineers and producers.  Click here to find more blog reviews and commentaries for his albums.

FURTHER READING

Top Engineers – Alan Parsons (16)

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Neil Young – On The Beach

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  • A KILLER early pressing of this Neil Young Classic with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • The title track has that live-in-the-studio sound we love about Zuma, but in this case it sounds like it was recorded at three in the morning in a room full of pot smoke
  • 5 stars on Allmusic: “…where Time Fades Away was embattled and Tonight’s the Night mournful, On the Beach was savage and, ultimately, triumphant… he was saying goodbye to despair, not being overwhelmed by it.”

Folks, we don’t find too many Hot Stamper copies of this great album, so don’t assume that another one will pop right up once this one goes. This album may not be as well-known as Harvest or After The Gold Rush, but it’s every bit as worthy of a place in your collection — especially when it sounds this good!

Prime Time For Neil Young

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the string of superb studio albums Neil released from 1970 to 1976. I mean, look at these titles: After The Gold Rush, Harvest, On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night, and Zuma. Not a dog in the lot, to say the least. I can’t think of anyone else besides Led Zep (first five titles) and The Beatles (pick ’em!) who put out at least this many killer albums consecutively. We consider each of those albums a work of genius, and we can proudly claim to have found copies of each with the sonic credentials necessary to bring you these masterpieces at their absolute best — exactly the way you want to hear them.

That Live In The Studio Sound

On the best copies, the title track is OUT OF THIS WORLD. It’s got that live-in-the-studio sound we recognize and love from Zuma, but in this case it sounds like it was recorded at three in the morning in a room full of pot smoke! When you play a Hot Stamper copy, the soundfield is HUGE — big, wide, and deep — and there’s lots of space around each of the instruments. You will not believe all the studio ambience, and you can probably catch a contact high from it! (Results may vary.) (more…)

Dave Mason – Alone Together on MCA Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing. 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.

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. 

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 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. (more…)

Dave Mason – It’s Like You Never Left

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout for this excellent Dave Mason title from 1973
  • Both of these sides are super clean, clear, present and musical with superb clarity and tons of bottom end weight — a huge step up from most copies
  • Mason’s comeback got help from Graham Nash, Stevie Wonder and George Harrison
  • “Mason is perhaps one of the most creative forces, lyrically, musically and vocally, in pop today.” — Billboard, 1973

I was a big fan of this album when it came out in 1973, used to play it all the time in fact. Now I hear why – it’s big and rich with a solid bottom end and a smooth, sweet top, perfect for the big but not especially sophisticated speakers (the Fulton J System) I had back in the day.

This album has the kind of sound that the typical CD just doesn’t want anything to do with. Not that the Compact Disc couldn’t pull it off — there are good sounding CDs in the world — but it doesn’t seem to want to even try.

Graham Nash helps out on vocals on tracks one, two and five on the first side. Stevie Wonder plays a lovely harmonica solo on The Lonely One on side two, and George Harrison guests on guitar on If You’ve Got Love, the third track on side one. (more…)

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…)

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…)

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…)