Top Engineers – Alan Parsons

Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish, this mind-blowing recording is guaranteed to rock your world
  • The transparency, the clarity, the energy, the power – it’s all here on these very special import pressings
  • Just listen to how clear the clocks are on Time, how breathy the vocals are on Breathe, how textured the synthesizers are and how silky the top end is from the beginning of the album all the way to the powerful finish
  • A Top 100 album (Top Ten actually) and Demo Disc to rival the most amazing sounding records of all time
  • 5 stars: “…what gives the album true power is the subtly textured music… no other record defines [Pink Floyd] quite as well as this one.”

This vintage import pressing has the presence, the richness, the size and the energy you always wanted to hear on Dark Side — AND NOW YOU CAN! (more…)

The Pareto Effect in Audio – The 80/20 Rule Is Real

Hot Stampers of Ambrosia Available Now

Commentaries and Letters for Ambrosia’s Debut

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Ambrosia’s first album does exactly what a Test Disc should do. It shows you what’s wrong, and once you’ve fixed it, it shows you that it’s now right.

We audiophiles need records like this. They make us better listeners, and they force us to become better audio tweakers.

You cannot buy equipment that will give you the best sound. You can only tweak your equipment to get it.

At most 20% of the sound of your stereo is what you bought. At least 80% is what you’ve done with it. (Based on my experience I would put the number closer to 90%.)

This is known as the Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule, The Law of the Vital Few and The Principle of Factor Sparsity, illustrates that 80% of effects arise from 20% of the causes – or in lamens terms – 20% of your actions/activities will account for 80% of your results/outcomes.

The Pareto Principle gets its name from the Italian-born economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), who observed that a relative few people held the majority of the wealth (20%) – back in 1895. Pareto developed logarithmic mathematical models to describe this non-uniform distribution of wealth and the mathematician M.O. Lorenz developed graphs to illustrate it.

Dr. Joseph Juran was the first to point out that what Pareto and others had observed was a “universal” principle—one that applied in an astounding variety of situations, not just economic activity, and appeared to hold without exception in problems of quality.

In the early 1950s, Juran noted the “universal” phenomenon that he has called the Pareto Principle: that in any group of factors contributing to a common effect, a relative few account for the bulk of the effect. Juran has also coined the terms “vital few” and “useful many” or “trivial many” to refer to those few contributions, which account for the bulk of the effect and to those many others which account for a smaller proportion of the effect. — Juran

This Is One of The Records That Did It For Me

Perhaps hearing Dark Side was what made you realize how good a record could sound. Looking back on it over the last thirty years, it’s clear to me now that this Ambrosia album, along with a score of others, is one of the surest reasons I became an audiophile in the first place, and stuck with it for so long. What could be better than hearing music you love sound so good?

It’s clearly an album we are obsessed with. We have written extensively about 50 of them to date. It is our contention that to be any good at this hobby, you have to become obsessed with well-recorded albums and work out the consequences of those obsessions for yourself. We wrote about it here. An excerpt:

As a budding audiophile I went out of my way to acquire any piece of equipment that could make these records from the ’70s (the decade of my formative music-buying years) sound better than the gear I was then using. It’s the challenging recordings by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as well as scores of other pop and rock artists like them, that drove my pursuit of higher quality audio, starting all the way back in high school.

And here I am — here we are — still at it, forty years later, because the music still sounds fresh and original, and the pressings that we find get better and better with each passing year.

That kind of progress is proof that we’re doing it right. It’s a good test for any audiophile. If you are actively and seriously pursuing this hobby, perhaps as many as nine out of ten non-audiophile pressings in your collection should sound better with each passing year.

As your stereo improves, not to mention your critical listening skills, the shortcomings of some of them will no doubt become more apparent. For the most part, however, with continual refinements and improvements to your system and room, vintage pressings will continue to sound better the longer you stay active in the hobby.

That’s what makes it fun to play old records: They just keep getting better!

(more…)

Expanding Space Itself on The Dark Side of the Moon

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

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A few years back we played a copy with all the presence, all the richness, all the size and all the energy we ever hoped to hear from a top quality pressing of Dark Side of the Moon. It did it ALL and then some. The raging guitar solos (there are three of them) on Money seemed to somehow expand the system itself, making it bigger and more powerful than I have ever heard. Even our best copies of Blood Sweat and Tears have never managed to create such a huge space with that kind of raw power. This copy broke through all the barriers, taking the system to an entirely new level of sound.

Take the clocks on Time. There are whirring mechanisms that can be heard deep in the soundstage on this copy that I’ve never heard as clearly before. On most copies you can’t even tell they are there. Talk about transparency — I bet you’ve NEVER heard so many chimes so clearly and cleanly, with such little distortion on this track. (more…)

The Alan Parsons Project – I Robot

More Alan Parsons

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  • An outstanding early UK pressing of I Robot with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • The overall sound is clean, clear and transparent – many copies tend to be overly smooth, but this one has the kind of clarity that allows the natural textures of the instruments to come through
  • 4 1/2 stars: “. . . that sense of melody when married to the artistic restlessness and geeky sensibility makes for a unique, compelling album and the one record that truly captures mind and spirit of the Alan Parsons Project.”

If you’re a fan of this album who has been playing a typical copy, or — even worse — one of the MoFi versions, you are sure to be impressed with the kind of sound this superb copy delivers. You get a strong, solid bottom end setting the foundation, which is exactly what you need to make a funky tune like I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You come to life. (more…)

Ambrosia – Self-Titled

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  • Spectacular Prog Rock sound explodes on this copy of the band’s phenomenally well-recorded debut album, mixed by none other than Alan Parsons – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • With Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on side one, and outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on side two, this copy was delivering the goods for Ambrosia’s ambitious Masterpiece
  • Big Whomp Factor here – the bottom end is huge and punchy on this copy
  • A Better Records All-Time Favorite and Top 100 Demo Disc: “Its songs skillfully blend strong melodic hooks and smooth vocal harmonies with music of an almost symphonic density.”

Folks, this LP is nothing short of a Sonic Spectacular. For that reason alone it would get a strong recommendation, but the music is so good that the brilliant sound is best seen as a bonus, not the sole reason to own the album.

These sides have the kind of energy that few titles can lay claim to. Put this one up against your best Dark Side of the Moon. Unless you bought a High Dollar copy from us, I’d say there’s almost no chance that this album won’t reduce it to vinyl rubble. (We talk about how similar the recordings are below.)

What the Best Sides of Ambrosia Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1975
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on Ambrosia’s Debut

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Ambrosia’s first album occupies a special place in my collection for two reasons. For starters, musically it’s my All Time Favorite Album, bar none. If I could take only one record with me to my desert island, this is the album I would take, no question about it. My love and esteem for this record have not diminished a bit in the last forty plus years. However, I did learn one very special lesson from a big shootout we did back in late 2008 which I would like to share with you…

What We Learned Circa 2008

When you sit down to play ten or twelve copies of an album, one right after the other, sonic patterns are going to emerge from that experience, patterns which would be very likely to pass unnoticed when playing one copy against another copy or two over the course of the twenty minutes it would take to do it.

The pattern we perceived was simply this: About one or two out of that group of a dozen will have punchy, solid, rich, deep bass. (There is tons of bass on the recording so recognizing those special copies is not the least bit difficult if you have a full-range speaker and a properly treated room.)

About one or two copies really get the top end right, which is easily heard when the cymbals splash dynamically, with their harmonics intact, extending high about the rest of the soundfield. (Fewer copies have an extended top end compared to those with tight punchy bass by the way. Like so many Mastering Lab tube-mastered records from the era, most copies tend to be somewhat smooth.)

Think about it: if you do your home shootouts with three or four or five copies of an album, what are the chances that

  1. You will detect this pattern?
  2. Or that you will run into the one copy that does it all?

This is precisely the reason we have taken the concept of doing comparisons between pressings to an entirely new, practically unheard of level. It’s the only way to find the outliers in the group, the “thin tails” as the statisticians like to call them. These very special White Hot pressings are the kind of game-changing records that more than makeup for all the hassle and expense of good analog. They can take your stereo, and your listening experience, to a place no other records can.

I remember doing a big shootout with this title many years ago, back in the mid ’90s if memory serves. I had four different stamper numbers for side one (AS, AS-1, AS-1A, AS-1B) and four different stamper numbers for side two (BS, BS-1, BS-1A, BS-1B), and of course they all sounded different. Surprisingly, when I discovered what the Hot Stampers were and checked my own personal copy against them, they matched. I had started off with the best sounding version! Had I bought one of the not-so-hot sounding copies I might not have ever gotten into this record the way I did. It was pure luck that the copy I started out with turned out to have the best sound.

The only other time that I can recall such a lucky break happened to me with Deja Vu. in the mid-’90s I got hold of an original looking domestic copy of Deja Vu that had absolutely breathtaking sound. I had never heard a copy that sounded even remotely that good. To this day I can picture the listening room where it was playing and almost hear the amazing sound in my head. I went back to my personal record shelf, pulled out my copy — which I hadn’t played in years — and sure enough it had the same stamper numbers!

Only later did I find out how rare those stampers are. I used to demo my stereo with the song Carry On in the early ’80s, using — gulp — the MoFi. You sure can’t demo your stereo with the typical domestic copy of Deja Vu, which is a real piece of crap 95% of the time. This must explain why people are not rioting over the bad sound of the Classic 200 gram LP. The version they have must be even worse.

The Old 80/20 Rule in Action (But It’s Actually More Like 90/10)

Ambrosia’s first album is exactly what a Test Disc should be. It shows you what’s wrong, and once you’ve fixed it, it shows you that it’s now right. We audiophiles need records like this. They make us better listeners, and they force us to become better tweakers. You cannot buy equipment that will give you this kind of sound. You can only tweak the right equipment to get it. At most 20% of the sound of your stereo is what you bought. At least 80% is what you’ve done with it.

There is no question that this band, their producers and their engineers sweated every detail of this remarkable recording. They went the distance. In the end, they brought in Alan Parsons to mix it, and Doug Sax to master it. The result is a masterpiece, an album that stands above all others. It’s not prog. It’s not pop. It’s not rock. It’s Ambrosia — the food of the gods.

The one album that I would say it most resembles is Dark Side of the Moon. (Note the Parsons connection.) Like DSOTM, Ambrosia is neither Pop nor Prog but a wonderful mix of both and more.

The Record that Did It for Me

Perhaps hearing Dark Side was what made you realize how good a record could sound. Looking back on it over the last thirty years, it’s clear to me now that this album, along with a handful of others, is one of the surest reasons I became an audiophile in the first place, and stuck with it for so long. What could be better than hearing music like this sound as good as this copy sounds?

Fun fact: Burleigh Drummond, the original and continuing drummer for the band, is my neighbor right here in Thousand Oaks.

Billboard Magazine Gets It

Ambrosia is one of the few groups that has mastered the technique of being both far-out galactic in scope of vision and mainstream AM commercial in execution… There is an unusual dreamlike quality that pervades its work. The songs seem to be reaching the listener direct from some strange and beautiful realm of the unconscious. It is an experience rare in popular music today, or at any time.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise. Must Own Rock Record

We consider this album a Masterpiece.

It’s a Demo Disc Quality recording that should be part of any serious Rock Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

Billboard Magazine Gets It

Ambrosia is one of the few groups that has mastered the technique of being both far-out galactic in scope of vision and mainstream AM commercial in execution… There is an unusual dreamlike quality that pervades its work. The songs seem to be reaching the listener direct from some strange and beautiful realm of the unconscious. It is an experience rare in popular music today, or at any time.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Nice, Nice, Very Nice

Once you know this record well, you can easily tell if you have a good side one within the first minute of this song. Side one has a tendency to be somewhat bright and even aggressive in places. This problem is further exacerbated by the typical copy’s lack of bass. The best copies have incredibly tight, punchy bass at the beginning of this song, and plenty of it. Phenomenal bass. Demo Disc quality bass.

If that’s not what you hear, you know you will soon be in for more problems. The vocals need to start out smooth, because they get brighter later on. Missing bass or added brightness are sure signs of trouble ahead. The lines “I wanted all things to make sense/ so we’d be happy instead of tense” will be aggressive on copies that are not tonally correct. And copies without tons of bass are not tonally correct, because the recording has tons of bass. It’s essential to the music. Any stereo incapable of providing the power in the lower octaves demanded by this recording is going to make a real mess of this one.

Time Waits for No One

Room shaking deep bass can be heard (and felt!) on the best copies, somewhere in the 20 hertz range. (The deep bass in my house can best be heard in the kitchen; bass seeks the most solid walls that intersect, and that must be where they are, cause it sure sounds good in there.)

Holdin’ on to Yesterday

The big hit off the album. Note the pure-left pure-right guitar-violin duet in the break. Turning your balance knob all the way over gives you one without the other, a neat effect, like sitting at the console and bringing up the fader marked “guitar” or “violin”.

Listen for the distortion on the loudest notes of the guitar; it’s on every copy, which means it’s on the tape.

World Leave Me Alone

Side Two

The number of copies that have a Hot Stamper on side one are somewhat more rare than those with a Hot Stamper for side two. Side two is usually smoother; that smoothness is key to making this record sound right on both sides.

Make Us All Aware

One of my all time favorite songs, in waltz time no less. On this track there is a great deal of musical information, which makes it difficult to reproduce on anything but the best equipment. If you do not have a high quality front end and carefully tweaked system this track will be a mess.

The close-miked harpsichord in the instrumental break is a real tracking test as well.

Lover Arrive
Mama Frog

Amazing drums. If you’ve got a speaker with the kind of piston area that can really move air, the drumming on this track will knock you out.

Drink of Water

Truly the Monster Track of the whole affair, complete with massive church organ and large chorus, all recorded in the kind of cinerama sound that few engineers have ever dreamed of — sound that stretches from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, overflowing with drums, guitars and keyboards of every stripe.

No matter how long you’ve been on this audio journey, twenty weeks or twenty years, this song will present the toughest challenge your system will ever have to face, and that is a fact that will hold true from now until the end of time. It doesn’t get any bigger or any better. Or any tougher.

Systems that can play this kind of musical energy are few and far between, but if you’re lucky enough to have built one, this will be the song that validates your hard work and expense. Failure certainly is an option. But don’t lose hope. If your system isn’t up to the challenge, this song will guide you in your pursuit of better sound. When this track sounds right, everything else you play will sound right.

Donald Guarisco Review

Although they would become better known for smooth AOR ballads like “How Much I Feel,” Ambrosia first made their name with this album of progressive rock with a pop music twist. Its songs skillfully blend strong melodic hooks and smooth vocal harmonies with music of an almost symphonic density. Good examples of this crossbreeding are “Drink of Water,” which sounds like the Beach Boys tackling a Pink Floyd space rock epic, and “Nice, Nice, Very Nice,” which utilizes a combination of stately close-harmony vocals and dynamic instrumental breaks to put forth a clever lyric derived from a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

“The complexity of the music is further highlighted by its crystal-clear sonic landscape, mixed by Alan Parsons, which highlights unique touches like the use of a Russian balalaika ensemble and 300-year-old Javanese gongs on “Time Waits for No One.” Despite this prog rock ambitiousness, the group is smart enough to avoid letting their instrumental chops take precedence over their music’s melodic content: They keep their songs succinct and punchy (nothing extends over six-and-a-half minutes) and they infuse tunes like “Lover Arrive” and the radio favorite “Holdin’ on to Yesterday” with a delicate sense of pop songcraft that makes the group’s cinematic sound easy for listeners to assimilate.

“The end result is an album that is intricate enough to please prog rock addicts but catchy enough to win over a few pop fans in the process. Though Ambrosia would go on to score bigger hits later in their career, this is definitely their most cohesive and inspired album.”

Letter of the Week – Ambrosia “Why can’t all records sound this good and why can’t all recording engineers be as great as Alan Parsons?”

One of our good customers wrote to tell me about a Hot Stamper pressing he purchased recently:

  Hey Tom,   

Question: Does Tom Port have any clue as to what the hell he’s doing or selling to the public? That is my question.

Hello Tom, I’m the idiot who spent $399 on your White Hot Stamper of Ambrosia’s first album a few weeks ago. I did an A/B listening test with an A++/A++ copy I bought from you a few years ago. Your website waxes lyrical about the exceptional qualities of this recording; I always thought it was very, very good but not quite the recording you make it out to be!

To perform my listing test, I listened to my A++/A++ side one first. Then listened to the newly purchased A+++/A+++ next. The results? I almost had to call 911 because my jaw hit the floor! THIS was the recording you had written about in the records descriptive comments. This pressing is so holographic I swear I could have stepped into the recording.

Dare I say this is a better recording than Dark Side of the Moon; and yes, I can make such a claim, I purchased an A++/A+++ – A++/A+++ copy from you guys a few years ago. This is what I refer to as Master Tape sound quality. A Holy Grail for audiophiles.

It’s pressings like this that pose the questions: Why can’t all records sound this good and why can’t all recording engineers be as great as Alan Parsons?

So, back to my original question. Does Tom Port know what the hell he is doing or selling to the public?

Yes Tom, I’d say absolutely, 100% you know what you are doing and I’m the happiest idiot on this Earth. Keep up the great work, Tom, and thank you and your staff for the incredible service you provide.

Todd N.

Dear Todd,

Thanks for your letter. I’m positively blushing!

Seriously, the right vintage pressing, on the right stereo, can take the enjoyment of music to a level far beyond that of anything experienced by the audiophile of today stuck in the rut of the Heavy Vinyl Reissue. (more…)

The Hollies – Hollies

More of The Hollies

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  • A superb pressing of The Hollies’ 1974 release, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound of this early UK pressing is big, full-bodied and dynamic with Tubey Magic to die for – forget the dry, edgy sound of the domestic LPs, this is the real master tape, baby!
  • The Air That I Breathe is the monster track here, and on these killer British Polydor pressings it’s out of this world thanks to the engineering prowess of none other than Alan Parsons

(more…)

Al Stewart – Time Passages

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  • A stunning Shootout Winning early British pressing – the first “Triple Triple” (A+++) to hit the site in many years
  • Standout tracks include Song on the Radio and Time Passages (an edited version of which made it all the way to #7 on the Pop charts)
  • “… this is exceptionally well-crafted, from Stewart’s songs, where even three-minute songs seem like epics, to Alan Parsons’ cinematic arrangements and productions… one of Al Stewart’s very best albums.” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars

Our Hot Stampers of Year Of The Cat are always a big hit, and this, the 1978 follow-up, shares many of the same qualities. Alan Parsons is a pretty good producer and engineer it turns out. This copy is richer and sweeter than most, with a big, bold, three-dimensional sound that perfectly suits the kind of Big Productions that are his stock in trade. The bigger the better we say! (more…)

Al Stewart – Year Of The Cat – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

For the first time on our site, TRIPLE PLUS MASTER TAPE SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! We play stacks of copies of this one a few times every year, but I don’t recall ever hearing one that sounded so correct from the first song to the last.

Let me tell you — when this album sounds as bad as most copies do, the music just plain does not work. So many copies add a nasty layer of grit to the vocals, and the effect is positively painful. This copy shows you a Year Of The Cat that is just not available on the typical copy, and certainly not on the MoFi pressing either.

This White Hot Stamper is the UNDISPUTED WINNER and Current Heavyweight Champion of our latest Hot Stamper shootout for Al Stewart’s Masterpiece, Year of the Cat. How come more of these don’t turn up on the site? Simple — most copies of this record just plain SUCK. We kept asking ourselves Where is the Famous Alan Parsons’ Dark Side of the Moon Magic that’s supposed to be on this recording? This record was THE Demo Disc in every stereo store in town when it came out back in the day, but we could not find any correlation between that fact and the sound we were hearing on copy after copy. The full, rich sound we knew so well from other Alan Parsons’ productions was simply nowhere to be found.

Until this bad boy copy came along. Folks, here is the True Audiophile Demo Disc Sound you remember. It wasn’t all a dream. It was real! Rich acoustic guitars, tubey-magical sweetness on the vocals, ambience around everything and everyone, huge amounts of space revealed by the breathtaking transparency of this pressing, top and bottom extension completely unlike the average copy. Everything that this album was supposed to do was finally happening when we dropped the needle on this side one. Talk about BIG SOUND, here it was! (more…)

Ambrosia – Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them on both sides of this truly phenomenal ’70s Big Rock Production – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The best sides have the trademark Alan Parsons sound, with huge amounts of space in the studio, and the kind of musical energy that made the first Ambrosia album (which he mixed) such a joy to play
  • This band, their producers, and their engineers sweated every detail of this remarkable recording
  • “There is an unusual dreamlike quality that pervades its work. The songs seem to be reaching the listener direct from some strange and beautiful realm of the unconscious. It is an experience rare in popular music today or at any time. ” – Billboard

Alan Parsons produced this album, and at its best, it is truly a Demo Disc — if you have the system to play it.

This album needs lots of space and a big, wide, open soundstage if it’s going to work, and the best sides deliver that sound. It’s a rare copy that manages to have real presence and top end without getting too edgy; on the good ones, the bass is big, solid and punchy and the energy is superb. (more…)