Top Engineers – Bill Halverson

Deja Vu – This Classic Records Knockoff Is Not the Answer, But We Have One

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Rock LP badly mastered for the benefit of audiophiles looking for easy answers and quick fixes.

If you bought the Classic Record Heavy Vinyl pressing of Deja Vu, you should know by now how badly Classic Records ripped you off. If you feel disrespected, you should. They took your money and gave you practically nothing of value for it. The right CD (not the current one, that’s for damn sure) is dramatically better sounding than their vinyl reissue.

On the other hand, if you’re not too picky about sound quality and just want to play new records, perhaps because old records are hard to find and often noisy, then fine, the Classic should get that job done for you.

We of course want nothing to do with records like those remastered by Classic Records. We only want to play good sounding records, and most Classic Records, including this title, are definitely not good sounding, not by our standards anyway.

Records Are in a Sorry State – Here’s What You Can Do About It

It’s a sad state that we currently find ourselves in, but is it really any different than it used to be? Audiophiles used to like half-speeds, they used to like Japanese pressings, they used to like direct to disc recordings with questionable sound and even more questionable music.

Now they like SACDs, Heavy Vinyl and 45s. If you ask me it’s the same old wine in a different bottle.

The path out of that morass is exactly the path we have taken and charted for everyone, free of charge.

With our approach to finding the best sounding records, cleaning them the way we do, playing them against each other the way we do, using the sound improving devices and equipment we recommend, we know you can succeed. If we can do it you can do it.

Letters and Commentaries for Deja Vu

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young

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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young / 4 Way Street

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all FOUR sides – hard to find this one quiet nowadays, so fans should take note than not many unscratched copies are going to make it to the site
  • The “naked” sound of the real thing – the real voices and the real guitars and the real everything else, in a way that would never happen again
  • Bill Halverson worked his magic, but only the best pressings let his genius shine the way it does here
  • 4 1/2 stars: “4 Way Street, released in April of 1971: a live double-LP set, chock-full of superb music distilled down from a bunch of nights on that tour that more than fulfilled the promise of the group.”
  • Rolling Stone raves that “Crosby, Stills. Nash, and Young are all performers of unquestionable talent, and mostly because they stay out of each others’ way, 4 Way Street must surely be their best album to date.”

If you want to hear Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young rock out live in your listening room, this copy will let you do it. It’s not easy to find good sound on even one side of this album, let alone all four! (more…)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Listening in Depth to So Far

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More Commentaries and Letters for So Far

This is a very difficult record to find with proper mastering (and good vinyl, ouch!). It seems that all of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s albums are that way. The average domestic pressing rarely even hints at how well recorded this band really was (and the imports are even worse — we’ve never heard one that didn’t sound dubby, veiled and compressed).

In my experience not even one out of ten LPs sounds right; I put the figure at one out of twenty. Most of them are shrill, dull, grainy, flat, opaque, harsh and in varying degrees suffer from every other mastering and pressing malady known to man.

But the best ones have some tracks in superb sound. When you hear the Hot Stampers for records like this you will simply be AMAZED. If you’ve ever heard a really good If Only I Could Remember My Name, an album that CAN be found with proper mastering, that should give you some idea of how good the first two albums can sound.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Déjà Vu

When you get a good copy of this album, this song sounds like it was lifted right off of a Hot Stamper copy of Deja Vu itself. It’s so rich and Tubey Magical you’d swear it couldn’t get any better. Huge amounts of deep bass. Acoustic guitars that ring for days. Midrange magic to die for. Not many of them sound this way, unfortunately.

If I could indulge in some more MoFi and Half-Speed bashing for a moment, the bass “solo” at the end of this song is a great test for bass definition. The notes are relatively high, and it’s easy for them to sound blurred and wooly. The MoFi, like virtually all Half-Speed mastered records, has a problem with bass definition. If you own the MoFi, listen for how clearly defined the notes are at the end of this track. Then play any other copy, either of So Far or Deja Vu. It’s a pretty safe bet that the bass will be much more articulate. I know how bad the MOFI is in this respect. Rarely do “normal” records have bass that bad.

Stephen Barncard Does It Again

Listen to this song and compare it to anything on the Barncard-engineered first solo LP by David Crosby. That is the sound of Barncard’s engineering — open, spacious, rich, sweet; tons of deep bass; absolutely no trace of phony eq on vocals; acoustic guitars that ring for days — the man is a GENIUS. Thank god he was involved with music of this quality. If only more of the LP pressings did a better job of revealing the exquisite beauty of the recordings themselves. (I suppose that burden must be carried by the few Hot Stamper copies we can dig up.) (more…)

Cream – Goodbye

  • A stunning British pressing with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two (where you can find the amazingly good sounding song “Badge”) mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • The low end speed and energy on this copy are crazy good – it’s like a Cream concert in your listening room
  • The best pressings, the ones that are full-bodied and smooth, let you crank the levels and reproduce the album good and loud the way it was meant to be heard
  • 4 stars: “The live music on the whole is better than that on Wheels of Fire, capturing the trio at an empathetic peak as a band.”

When you get a good copy of this album you’re sure to hear what we heard — that this is truly one of the great live rock albums (with a bit of studio material on side two as well). This copy has the Big Rock Sound that we go crazy for at Better Records. The best pressings, the ones that are full-bodied and smooth, let you crank the levels and reproduce the album good and loud the way it was meant to be heard.

When it’s all working, you’re front and center for a fiery Cream concert with these guys delivering one heckuva performance. And where else are you gonna get that these days? (more…)

Crosby, Stills & Nash on Nautilus – The Most Bloated, Ill-Defined, Overblown Bass in the Sad, Sordid History of Half-Speed Mastering

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and a Half-Speed Mastered Disaster if there ever was one.

An audiophile record dealer (of course; who else?) once raved to me about Crosby Stills and Nash on Nautilus. I said “What are you talking about? That version sucks!” He replied “No, it’s great. Helplessly Hoping sounds amazing.” 

Now one thing I know about the Nautilus is that although it is wonderfully transparent in the midrange, it may very well take the cake for the most bloated, out of control bass in the history of Half Speed mastering. What song on that album has almost no bass, just lovely voices in the midrange? You guessed it. Helplessly Hoping.

The Nautilus got one track right, and ruined the rest. Using that track for comparison will fool you, and when it comes time to play a side of the album, you will quickly hear what a disaster it is.

Or maybe you won’t. Who else harps on bad Half-Speed Mastered bass outside of those of us who write for this blog? I don’t recall ever reading a word about it. This does not reflect well on the bass response of the modern audiophile stereo.

More Crosby, Stills and Nash

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young


Some Relevant Commentaries

A Technological Fix for a Non-Existent Problem (more…)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young / So Far – Listening in Depth

Hot Stamper Pressings of So Far Available Now

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening 

For example, on Find the Cost of Freedom the best copies have DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND. You could say everything that needs to be said about the beauty of analog with this one track alone. It’s not even two minutes long, but it’s two really wonderful minutes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the height of their powers. The voices should sound as sweet and as silky as any CSN three part (four part?) harmony you have ever heard. This song rivals Helplessly Hoping for vocal blend.

More Crosby, Stills and Nash

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Déjà Vu

When you get a good copy of this album, this song sounds like it was lifted right off of a Hot Stamper copy of Deja Vu itself. It’s so rich and Tubey Magical you’d swear it couldn’t get any better. Huge amounts of deep bass. Acoustic guitars that ring for days. Midrange magic to die for. Not many of them sound this way, unfortunately.

If I could indulge in some more MoFi and Half-Speed bashing for a moment, the bass “solo” at the end of this song is a great test for bass definition. The notes are relatively high, and it’s easy for them to sound blurred and wooly. The MoFi, like virtually all Half-Speed mastered records, has a problem with bass definition. If you own the MoFi, listen for how clearly defined the notes are at the end of this track. Then play any other copy, either of So Far or Deja Vu. It’s a pretty safe bet that the bass will be much more articulate. I know how bad the MOFI is in this respect. Rarely do “normal” records have bass that bad.

Stephen Barncard Does It Again

Listen to this song and compare it to anything on the Barncard-engineered first solo LP by David Crosby. That is the sound of Barncard’s engineering — open, spacious, rich, sweet; tons of deep bass; absolutely no trace of phony eq on vocals; acoustic guitars that ring for days — the man is a GENIUS. Thank god he was involved with music of this quality. If only more of the LP pressings did a better job of revealing the exquisite beauty of the recordings themselves. (I suppose that burden must be carried by the few Hot Stamper copies we can dig up.) (more…)

Graham Nash and Better Days – A Good Reason to Get into Audio

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Reviews and Commentaries for Songs for Beginners

This is one of the records that convinced me that I should enthusiastically and actively pursue high quality home audio, That I had to devote the time, energy and money into improving my system so that I could play records like Songs for Beginners louder and get them to sound better. 

I had such inexpressibly deep feelings while listening to the album that I knew I had to do everything in my power to make it sound as good as possible.

And the song that really did it for me on the album was Better Days.

I was originally thinking of calling this commentary “Why I Became an Audiophile,” but I quickly realized that being an audiophile — a lover of sound — doesn’t necessarily involve buying lots of expensive audio equipment or searching out recordings with higher fidelity.

No, being an audiophile simply means you love good sound. Where you find it — at clubs, at home, in the concert hall or the car — makes no difference whatsoever.

Songs for Beginners couldn’t make me an audiophile; I already was one. It did, however, make me a more dedicated audio enthusiast. It’s precisely the kind of record that rewards the 40 plus years I’ve put into this hobby, trying to get it and hundreds, now thousands, of other wonderful records to sound their best. (more…)

Cream – Live Cream

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More Live Recordings of Interest

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  • An outstanding copy of Live Cream, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Super lively and clear with the kind of bass that most pressings simply don’t have in our experience
  • 4 stars: “Foreground and background seem to dissolve as all three musicians take charge, using the full range of their instruments. And where Bruce goes with his bass, especially on ‘Sweet Wine,’ is every bit as rewarding as the places that Clapton’s guitar takes us; and Ginger Baker’s playing is a trip all its own. Performances like this single-handedly raised the stakes of musicianship in rock.”

Cream were certainly no slouches in the musicianship department, and this live performance captures them at the peak of their powers!

When you get a good copy of this album you’re sure to hear what we heard — that this is truly one of the great live rock albums (with a bit of studio material on side two as well). This has the Big Rock Sound that we go crazy for at Better Records. The best pressings, the ones that are full-bodied and smooth, let you crank the levels and reproduce the album good and loud the way it was meant to be heard.

When it’s all working, you’re front and center for a fiery Cream concert with these guys delivering one heckuva performance. And where else are you gonna get that these days?

Over the last twelve years that we’ve been doing our Hot Stamper thing we’ve heard scores of Cream albums; we know their music well, and they are hard to beat when playing live.live (more…)

Stephen Stills – Self-Titled

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER 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
  • 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…)

Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners

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Reviews and Commentaries for Songs for Beginners

  • With two amazing Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, this original pressing has the analog magic in its grooves
  • We love the All Analog Tubey Magical sound of the recording, especially on a copy as rich and full-bodied as this one
  • Arguably the best of the solo CSN albums – a founding member of our Top 100 Rock and Pop List and, with grades like these, a True Demo Disc
  • 4 1/2 stars: “From the soaring “I Used to Be a King” through the gossamer “Simple Man” to the wah-wah-laden “Military Madness,” the record is filled with gorgeous melodies, flawless singing, and lyrical complexities that hold up decades later.”

When you hear Chicago here you will not believe how cinematic the sound is! It’s everything we love about analog and then some.

Most of the credit must go to the team of recording engineers, led here by the esteemed Bill Halverson, the man behind all of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young albums. Nash was clearly influenced by his work with his gifted bandmates, proving with this album that he can hold his own with the best of the best. Some songs (We Can Change The World, Be Yourself) are grandly scaled productions with the kind of studio polish that would make Supertramp envious. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better.

Others (Sleep Song, Wounded Bird) are quiet and intimate. Their subtlety is highlighted by the big productions surrounding them. This is the rare album in which every aspect of the production, from the arrangements to the final mix, serves to bring out the best qualities in the songs, regardless of scale. (more…)