Top Engineers – Al Schmitt

Jackson Browne / Late for the Sky – Lovin’ That Rich, Smooth Asylum Sound

More Jackson Browne

More 5 Star Albums

  • This outstanding pressing of Browne’s third album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This one was bigger and bolder, with more Tubey Magical richness on Jackson’s voice, than most of what we played
  • We love the rich, smooth, natural sound that Asylum was known for, and this copy has a healthy dose of each of those qualities
  • It’s getting harder and harder to find these in good condition these days – the man has a lot of fans, and they prefer to hear him on vinyl
  • 5 stars from AMG and Rolling Stone calls it the “quintessential Browne album,” saying the “… open-ended poetry achieves power from the nearly religious intensity that accumulates around the central motifs; its fervor is underscored by the sparest and hardest production to be found on any Browne album yet… as well as by his impassioned, oracular singing style.”
  • If you’re a fan of the man, this title from 1974 is clearly one of his best, and one of his best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here. (more…)

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

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

Hot Stamper Pressing on the Asylum Label

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:

  1. Note how breathy her voice is in the quiet passages. Only the least smeared, most transparent copies reproduce that breathy quality in her voice
  2. 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.

Side One

The vocals on side one are often recessed and a bit dark on this album.

Linda’s Problems in the ’70s

The most common problem with these Ronstadt records from the ’70s is grainy, upper-midrangy sound. 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.

Every copy we played had problems on the last track of side one, Don’t Cry Now. Linda is singing at the top of her lungs practically from beginning to end, so both cutting the record and playing back the record would be difficult. The result is that there will usually be some coarsening of her vocal.

Some copies had the same problem on side two for I Believe in You, but not all.

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Hot Tuna – Self-Titled

More Folk Rock

• 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 / It’s Like You Never Left – Key Tracks

More of the Music of Dave Mason

The first track on side one has huge bass and is very rich.

Check out the sweet vocals on the second song and the Tubey Magical richness of track three.

On side two note how big the piano sounds, and how much space surrounds it.

Then in comes the solid snare; followed by rich, meaty horns; breathy, silky vocals and big guitars.

This album is very well recorded and you don’t need a pair of golden ears or a state-of-the-art system to hear it — assuming you have a great copy like this one.

If you don’t have a good copy of the album, no amount of money spent on stereo equipment is going to get this album to sound the way it should.

I Was a Fan in ’73

I was a big fan of this album when it came out in 1973. I 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 this world, I own hundreds of them — 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…)

Dave Mason – It’s Like You Never Left

More Dave Mason

More Folk Rock

  • It’s Like You Never Left finally returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish on this original Columbia stereo pressing
  • Mason’s comeback got help from Graham Nash, Stevie Wonder and George Harrison
  • There’s good extension up top and down low, with plenty of meaty bass and silky highs
  • “Mason is perhaps one of the most creative forces, lyrically, musically and vocally, in pop today.” — Billboard, 1973
  • Thank Al Schmitt for delivering top quality sound on this 1973 recording
  • If you’re a Dave Mason fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of his from 1973.
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

I was a big fan of this album when it came out in 1973. I 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 this world, I own hundreds of them — 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…)

Linda Ronstadt – Don’t Cry Now

More Linda Ronstadt

Asylum – A Label We Love

  • 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.”
  • If you’re a Linda Ronstadt fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of hers from 1973.
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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…)

George Benson – Breezin’

More George Benson

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

  • Breezin’ finally returns to the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • Tubey Magical richness and plenty of note-like bass are two of the important qualities that separate the winners from the also-rans, but smooth, grain-free, present vocals for Masquerade are a big part of the best pressings too, so make that three important qualities
  • This copy will blow the doors off your old copy or any MoFi pressing — guaranteed!
  • It’s got all the elements this smooth masterpiece needs to come to life today, almost 40 years later if you can believe it
  • There’s tons of energy, strong presence, excellent bass and a huge soundfield with real depth
  • You hear right into the music, something that is only possible on the most transparent copies
  • If like us you’re a fan of Jazz Guitar, this is a killer album from 1976 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1976 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This album features the huge hit “This Masquerade” and lots of other strong material as well. Benson is at the top of his game, with blazing guitar lines accompanied by his scat vocals at many times. No one else ever did music like this so well again, in our humble opinion.

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

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

The story of our recent shootout is what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the beast for those of us who constantly make improvements to our playback and critically listen to records all day.

Courtesy of Revolutions in Audio

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. 

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.

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Dave Mason – Mostly Bad Vinyl and Mostly Murky Sound

More of the Music of Dave Mason

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Dave Mason

Some records are consistently too noisy to keep in stock no matter how good they sound.

This is one of them. We have a section for records that tend to be noisy, and it can be found here.

We struggled for years with the bad vinyl (on the original colored vinyl pressings, those are the ones that have the potential to win shootouts) and the murky sound of this album.

Finally, with dozens of advances in playback quality and dramatically better cleaning techniques, we have now [circa 2012] 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.

You want to keep what is good about a Tubey Magical analog recording from The Golden Age of Rock while avoiding the pitfalls so common to them:

  • poor resolution,
  • heavy compression,
  • thickness,
  • opacity,
  • blubber,
  • compromised frequency extremes,
  • lack of space and
  • lack of presence.

How’s that for a laundry list of all the problems we hear on old rock records, old classical records, and old jazz records. All records really.

What record doesn’t have at least some of these faults? Not many in our experience. A copy with few or none of these problems would do very well in our Hot Stamper shootouts indeed.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Only You Know and I Know
Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving
Waitin’ on You
Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave

Side Two

World in Changes
Sad and Deep as You
Just a Song
Look at You, Look at Me

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

Alone Together contains an excellent batch of melodically pleasing songs, built on a fat bed of strumming acoustic guitars with tasteful electric guitar accents and leads. Mason’s vocals are embellished with harmonies from Rita Coolidge, Claudia Lennear, and Delaney & Bonnie.

Besides the well-known semi-hit “Only You Know and I Know,” and which was also a number 20 hit for Delaney & Bonnie, highlights include the bouncy gospel-inflected “Waitin’ on You” and the banjo-bejeweled “Just a Song.” “Look at You Look at Me” and the wonderfully wah-wahed “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” are reminiscent of Mason’s former band, Traffic, whose drummer, Jim Capaldi, is among the all-star cast assembled here.

Alone Together represents Dave Mason at his peak… everything comes together perfectly.

Billboard

Mason with help from friends Jim Capaldi and Leon Russell proves his mastery of the rock idiom once and for all. The lyric content and music content of every song catches the senses of the listener and creates excitement. There is no doubt about the power of this album, and it should prove a top chart item.

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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