Top Engineers – Andy Johns

Jethro Tull / Stand Up – Listening Track by Track

Reviews and Commentaries for Stand Up

Hot Stamper Pressings of Jethro Tull’s Albums Available Now

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Stand Up.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

If British Blues Rock is your thing, then Stand Up is a record that definitely belongs in your collection.

Side One

A New Day Yesterday

This is one of my favorite Jethro Tull songs of all time. (This and To Cry You a Song from Benefit are pretty darn hard to beat.) Clive Bunker’s drumming is incredibly energetic; it drives the song to levels few bands could ever hope to reach. It reminds me of the kind of all-out ASSAULT on the skins you hear in the work of Dave Grohl and John Bonham. Bunker is a highly underrated player; his bandmates Barre and Cornick don’t get the respect they deserve either, for reasons that I’ll never understand. They’re about as good as it gets in my book. (more…)

Stephen Stills – Self-Titled

More Stephen Stills

  • With outstanding sound throughout, this copy of Still’s superb debut is doing just about everything right
  • Love the One You’re With and Sit Yourself Down are to die for, but there’s really not a bad track on the album
  • A triumph of engineering for Bill Halverson and Andy Johns – this and Deja Vu are the very definition of Big Production Rock
  • A member of our Top 100 and a Rock Demo Disc on big speakers at loud levels
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Listening to this album three decades on, it’s still a jaw-dropping experience, the musical equal to Crosby, Stills & Nash or Déjà Vu, and only a shade less important than either of them.”

When we say it’s getting harder and harder to find clean copies of albums such as this in the bins of our local record stores, we are not kidding. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

More Led Zeppelin

A Member of the Prestigious “None Rocks Harder” Club

  • 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.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this title from 1971 is clearly one of their best, and one of their best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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?

How on earth is a speaker system like this one going to reproduce the 22 inch (or more!) kick drum of John Bonham?

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Jethro Tull – Big Speakers, Loud Levels and Plenty of Bass Work Their Magic

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Hot Stamper Pressings of British Blues Rock

It’s common for pressings of Stand Up to lack bass or highs, and more often than not the copies that we play in our shootouts, shootouts which are strictly limited to import pressings on Island or Chrysalis, lack both.

The bass-shy ones tend to be more transparent and open sounding — of course, that’s the sound you get when you take out the bass.

90 plus percent of all the audiophile stereos I’ve ever heard were bass shy, no doubt for precisely that very reason: less bass equals more detail, more openness and more transparency. Go to any stereo store or audiophile show and notice how bright the sound is. (Yet another good reason not to go to those shows. We stopped decades ago.)

Just what good is a British Classic Rock Record that lacks bass? It won’t rock, and if it don’t rock, who needs it? You might as well be playing the CD. (The average CD of Stand Up — I have a couple of them — is terrible, but the MoFi Gold CD is superb in all respects.)

The copies that lack extreme highs are often dull and thick, and usually have a smeary, blurry quality to their sound. When you can’t hear into the music, the music itself quickly becomes boring. Most Island pressings suffer from these shortcomings.

If I had to choose, I would take a copy that’s a little dull on top as long as it had a meaty, powerful, full-bodied sound over something that’s thinner and more leaned out. There are many audiophiles who can put up with that sound — I might go so far as to say the vast majority can — but I am not one of them.

(more…)

Advances in Playback Technology Are More Than Blind Faith

More of the Music of Eric Clapton

More of the Music of Steve Winwood

Reviews and Commentaries for Blind Faith’s Debut

In a 2007 commentary for the Hot Stamper pressing of Blind Faith we noted that:

When it finally all comes together for such a famously compromised recording, it’s nothing less than a THRILL. More than anything else, the sound is RIGHT. Like Layla or Surrealistic Pillow, this is no demo disc by any stretch of the imagination, but that should hardly keep us from enjoying the music. And now we have the record that lets us do it.

The Playback Technology Umbrella

Why did it take so long? Why does it sound good now, after decades of problems? For the same reason that so many great records are only now revealing their true potential: advances in playback technology.

Audio has finally reached the point where the magic in Blind Faith’s grooves is ready to be set free.

What exactly are we referring to? Why, all the stuff we talk about endlessly around here. These are the things that really do make a difference. They change the fundamentals. They break down the barriers.

You know the drill. Things like better cleaning techniques, top quality front end equipment, Aurios, better electricity, Hallographs and other room treatments, amazing phono stages like the EAR 324p, power cables; the list goes on and on. If you want records like Blind Faith to sound good, we don’t think it can be done without bringing to bear all of these advanced technologies to the problem at hand, the problem at hand being a recording with its full share of problems and then some.

Without these improvements, why wouldn’t Blind Faith sound as dull and distorted as it always has? The best pressings were made more than thirty years ago [thirty? make that fifty]; they’re no different. What has to change is how you clean and play those pressings.

The Good News

The good news is that the technologies we recommend really do work. Now Blind Faith, the record, can do what it never could before: sound so good you can find yourself totally lost in the music. The best copies, played back properly, make you oblivious to the album’s sonic problems because, for the most part, they really weren’t the album’s problems, they were, to some extent, your problems.

They were mostly post-groove; you just didn’t know it. This is how audio works. The site is full of commentary discussing these issues. Rest assured that no matter how good you think your stereo sounds now, it can get better if you want it to, and that’s good news if you’re a fan of albums like Blind Faith.

Of course, let us not forget the old Garbage In, Garbage Out rule. You must have a good pressing if you want this album to sound good, and that’s precisely where we and our famous Hot Stamper Pressings come in.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Record Playback Advice 

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Jethro Tull – Stand Up

More Jethro Tull

More British Blues Rock

  • An outstanding UK import LP with solid Hot Stamper sound or BETTER from start to finish — exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is a True Tull Classic – my favorite by the band – and a VERY tough record to come by with this kind of sound and surfaces this quiet, as quiet as any copy we have ever played
  • Both of these sides give you richness, Tubey Magic, clarity and resolution few copies can touch – these are the Hot Stampers, folks
  • “Stand Up! has great textural interest, due, in part, to a more sophisticated recording technique, in part to the organ, mandolin, balalaika, etc., which Anderson plays to enrich each song. The band is able to work with different musical styles, but without a trace of the facile, glib manipulation which strains for attention.”

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These UK pressings are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here. We must give thanks to the brilliant engineer Andy Johns.

This record is the very definition of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made that sound like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is of course a CD of this album, quite a few of them I would guess, but those of us with a good turntable could care less.

If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage All Tube Analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

(more…)

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III

More Led Zeppelin

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin III

  • Huge, Tubey Magical and lively, with solid weight down low and lots of space around all the instruments, this copy is guaranteed to rock like nothing you have ever heard
  • Since I’ve Been Loving You, Gallows Pole, Tangerine and That’s the Way are just a few of the tracks that have truly Demo Disc sound
  • 5 stars: “On their first two albums, Led Zeppelin unleashed a relentless barrage of heavy blues and rockabilly riffs, but Led Zeppelin III provided the band with the necessary room to grow musically. While there are still a handful of metallic rockers, III is built on a folky, acoustic foundation that gives the music extra depth.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this classic from 1970 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Drop the needle on Since I’ve Been Loving You and turn it up good and loud. Robert Plant will be right there between your speakers, and your jaw will be on the floor!

Cue up Tangerine on side two for a taste of rich, sweet, Tubey Magical Analog Sound. The acoustic guitars are lush and delicate, the bass is deep and well-defined, and the vocals are completely natural and free from bad mastering or phony EQ. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Led Zeppelin IV

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

A Member of the Prestigious “None Rocks Harder” Club

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of RLJ.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

We always have a great time doing Zep IV shootouts. It’s one of those all-too-rare cases where amazing music and amazing sonics coexist on the same slab of vinyl. You just need to find the right slab, a proposition that turns out to be much harder than it sounds.

You probably know by now just how tough it is to find audiophile quality sonics on this album. Far too many copies just leave us cold, but the best pressings, whether British or domestic, are so good, and so much fun at the loud volumes we employ, that it ends up being worth all the time, trouble and expense it takes to wade through the vinyl dreck to find them.

But the best copies are so good, and so much fun, that it was definitely worth the trouble. Because the best copies ROCK, and 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.

Side One

Black Dog

The key to both of the first two tracks is to find a copy with a solid bottom end. Next look for an extended top end, easily heard on all the splashing cymbals.

Now listen for a tonally correct Robert Plant. The copies with lots of top will typically have him sounding too bright. The copies with little in the way of high frequency extension will have him sounding veiled and dull.

One out of ten copies (with potentially good stampers) will get all three right: the top, the bottom and his voice. When you hear it you know it immediately, but you sure do have to go through a lot of copies before you have much of a chance of hearing it!

Rock and Roll

“[Rock and Roll] was a little tough to record because with the hi-hat being so open and [Bonham] hitting it that hard it was difficult to control. But I managed somehow or another.”

Andy Johns

“The best copies prove once and for all that these are some of most up-front, lively and above all real sounding rock cymbals ever put on tape.”

Tom Port

(more…)

Blind Faith – Self-Titled

More Eric Clapton / More Steve Winwood

Reviews and Commentaries for Blind Faith

  • From the moment we dropped the needle and heard all that fluffy, correct-sounding tape hiss, we knew we were in for a treat – the sound on both sides is punchy, open, spacious, big, bold, and ALIVE!
  • If you doubt this record can sound as good as you remember from back in the day, assuming you are an old goat like me, this pressing will be a revelation
  • 4 stars: “Blind Faith’s first and last album, more than 30 years old and counting [we are up to 52 now], remains one of the jewels of the Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Ginger Baker catalogs. . . it merges the soulful blues of the former with the heavy riffing and outsized song lengths of the latter for a very compelling sound unique to this band.”
  • If you’re a Classic Rock fan, this band’s debut from 1969 is an absolute Must Own, especially when it sounds as good as this copy does
  • The complete list of titles from 1969 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Here is the Blind Faith you’ve been waiting for: Tubey Magical, Transparent, full of Life and Energy — dear friends, it’s all here. And the vinyl is some of the quietest we’ve ever heard for this album.

Sick of buying one harsh, thin, distorted, veiled, closed-in, smeary LP after another in a vain attempt to find a copy that reminds you of why you LOVED this record so much when it came out back in 1969?

(Assuming you’re as old as I am; we had the 8 track tape that could play in the car and the house — music was so convenient back then. Of course I had the domestic original vinyl – I was 15 years old, I had never seen an import record in my life.)

This is no audiophile made-from-the-master-tape snake oil. This is the real thing. This copy is guaranteed to blow the bad memories of all those other versions you’ve owned in the past right out of your memory banks.

A short list of the pretenders: the MoFi LP and Gold CD, the Simply Vinyl LP, the new Heavy Vinyl version if there is one, and anything else that comes out from here until the end of time.

Face it: It’s all JUNK compared to a record like this.

Why mince words? We’ve played all those records (except for the bad ones that have yet to be pressed of course). (more…)

Led Zeppelin / Led Zeppelin II

More Led Zeppelin

A Top Ten Title

  • An INCREDIBLE copy of Zep II with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish, just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • We are doing the shootout for this album soon, so if you are looking for a Shootout Winning copy, please let us know now so that we can hold one for you
  • This pressing may be the QUIETEST Robert Ludwig pressing we have ever played, with no marks and no Inner Groove Damage (which is almost always present on “Thank You”)
  • The seller charged us a pretty penny for this copy, and he was right to do so — we just never find them with audiophile surfaces such as these
  • Years ago we gave up on everything but these killer RL (and SS) pressings, because nothing else can hold a candle to them
  • With copies selling for $1000+ on ebay, sometimes $3000+, we’re forced to pay big bucks for Zep II these days, but if any album is worth it, it’s this one

(more…)