Top Engineers – Bill Halverson

Detail on Crosby, Stills and Nash – Holy Grail or Audio Trap?

More of the Music of Crosby, Stills and Nash

Reviews and Commentaries for Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Debut

More Crosby / More Stills / More Nash

Detail may be the Holy Grail to some audiophiles, but detail can be a trap we all too easily fall into if we are not careful.

Tonal balance is the key. Without it no judgments about detail have any real value. 

One example: As good as the Classic Heavy Vinyl pressing is, the guitar at the opening of Helplessly Hoping tells you everything you need to know about what’s missing. The guitar on the better Hot Stamper domestic copies has a transparency and harmonic integrity that cannot be found on Classic’s version.

The Classic gets the tonal balance right, but their guitar doesn’t have the subtlety and harmonic resolution of the real thing.

I’m laboring here to avoid the word detail, since many audiophiles like bright, phony sounding records because of all their wonderful “detail.” Patricia Barber’s albums come to mind.

The MoFi guys and the CD guys often fall into this trap.

Get the sound tonally balanced first, then see how much detail you have left.

Detail is not the end-all and be-all of audio. Those who think it is usually have systems that make my head hurt.

But most people will never know what they’re missing on Helplessly Hoping, because they will never have an amazing sounding copy of this album. The hot copies are just too rare.


THIS RECORD IS GOOD FOR TESTING

Midrange Congestion 

Midrange Presence 

Midrange Tonality

Transparency 

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars 

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young / 4 Way Street

More David Crosby

More Stephen Stills

More Graham Nash

More Neil Young

  • An outstanding pressing with Double Plus (A++) grades 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
  • This live album gives you 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…)

Graham Nash / David Crosby – Listening in Depth

More of the Music of David Crosby

More of the Music of Graham Nash

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

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

This album has some of the BEST SOUND Crosby and Nash ever recorded, but you’d never know that playing the average pressing. You need plenty of deliciously rich Tubey Magic if this music is going to work, and on that count this copy certainly delivers.

BILL HALVERSON was the engineer for this album, the man behind the first CSN album and many others.

On a song like Where Will I Be the sound is so unbelievably transparent, open and intimate, it sounds like an outtake from David Crosby’s first album, one of the ten best sounding rock records ever made.

Listen to the three-dimensional quality of the piano on the first track of side two. Skip to the second track and you will hear some of the best bass to be found on the side. The song is not about the bass, obviously, so we hasten to point out the vocals and harmonies — the sine qua non of any CSN or Y record — are Truly Right On The Money as well.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Southbound Train

This song would be right at home on Graham Nash’s first album, a desert island disc for me. This gets side one off to a great start.

Whole Cloth
Blacknotes
Strangers Room
Where Will I Be?

The best sound on side one, and a great test track. When the chorus of voices really starts pushing the meter, most copies will run into harmonic distortion trouble. Only the truly Hot Stampers manage to keep the loudest parts of the song clean and clear.

Page 43

Listen for the attack of the snare; so many copies have that cardboardy drum sound we have to put up with on albums from this era, but the best ones get a nice crisp attack to the snare that really sells it.

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Crosby, Stills and Nash – Self-Titled

More of the Music of David Crosby

 More of the Music of Stephen Stills

More of the Music of Graham Nash

  • An INSANELY GOOD copy of CS&N’s debut album with superb sound from start to finish
  • The sound is big and rich, the vocals breathy and immediate, and you will not believe all the space and ambience
  • We love the album, but it is a cryin’ shame, as well as an indisputable fact, that few were mastered and pressed well, and that includes none of the originals in our experience
  • The reason you have not seen this title on the site for many, many years is simply that it is has become nearly impossible to find copies with the right stampers in audiophile playing condition
  • But the sound is GLORIOUS, hence the price
  • 5 stars: “…the harmonies are absolutely timeless, and the best material remains rock-solid. A definitive document of its era.”
  • This is a Must Own Hippie Folk Rock Masterpiece from 1969 that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1969 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Although millions of copies of this album were sold, so few were mastered and pressed well, and so many mastered and pressed poorly, that few copies actually make it to the site as Hot Stampers, let alone a killer White Hot Stamper like this one.

We wish that weren’t the case — we love the album — but the copies we know to have the potential for Hot Stamper sound are just not sitting around in the record bins these days, making this a very special copy indeed!

(Whatever you do, don’t waste your money on the Joe Gastwirt-mastered CD. It couldn’t be any more awful. And his Deja Vu is just as bad.)

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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…)

Crosby, Stills and Nash / Replay – Listening in Depth

More of the Music of Crosby, Stills and Nash

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening (112 Strong as of 2022)

We stopped doing shootouts for this album many years ago after running into too many mediocre-at-best if not downright awful sounding copies. These notes are from about ten years ago.

Replay is a very handy record for setting your VTA. The end of Shadow Captain has loud vocals and punchy bass, which are a bit difficult to reproduce. (Forget trying to get this song to sound good if you don’t have an exceptionally good copy.) 

The next song is To The Last Whale, which starts with Nash and Crosby’s multitracked voices in a big hall. With the correct VTA, their voices should sound silky and sweet. If your arm is too far down in the back, they will get a bit dull. Too high, and they will lose that breathy, “fluffy” quality.

And once you get their voices to sound just right, make sure the ending of Shadow Captain is still punchy and dynamic.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Carry On 

A crappy remix, with added guitar, ugh. (more…)

Eric Clapton – Self-Titled

More Eric Clapton

More Debut Albums of Interest

  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish on this early UK Polydor pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Man, what a revelation to hear this old favorite sound so rich and open – you’ll have a VERY difficult time finding one that sounds this good lying around in your local record store’s bins, that’s for sure
  • Spaciousness, richness and freedom from grit and grain are key to the best pressings, and here you will find all three
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Throughout the album, Clapton turns out concise solos that de-emphasize his status as guitar god, even when they display astonishing musicality and technique.”

This is not your usual Clapton album, and that’s a good thing because most Clapton albums are full of filler. Not so here — almost every song is good, and many are superb.

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America – Homecoming

More America

More Hippie Folk Rock

  • An outstanding copy of America’s second album, boasting Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the most tubey, warm acoustic guitar reproduction you could ever ask for – this is the sound of real analog!
  • AMG raves; “The songs here are tighter and more forthright… The sound quality is clear and bright; the colorful arrangements, while still acoustic guitar-based, feature more electric guitar and keyboards. The performance quality is more assured, among the most urgently committed the group would ever put on vinyl. This top-flight album is a very rewarding listen.”

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this recording. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings).

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo reproduction quality. Most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. And when the guitars are perfection, the voices and all the other instruments tend to be right as well.

Let’s face it: they just don’t know how to make acoustic guitars sound like this anymore. You have to go back to 49 year old records like this one to find that sound. (more…)

Cream – Wheels Of Fire

More Cream

  • Cream ROCKS on this insanely good UK import with KILLER Shoutout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on sides three and four
  • The power and energy of the live sides is off the charts, since off the charts is the kind of sound that wins shootouts — punchy, open, and spacious with bass and whomp you have never experienced for this music, guaranteed
  • Everything you’d want sonically from a live Cream recording is present on sides three and four – big-time presence, tons of life, tonal correctness, and loads of tubey magic
  • 4 stars: “…Clapton is at a peak here, whether he’s tearing off solos on a 17-minute “Spoonful” or goosing “White Room” toward the heights of madness. But it’s the architect of “White Room,” bassist Jack Bruce, who, along with his collaborator Peter Brown, reaches a peak as a songwriter…. [I]n many ways Wheels of Fire is indeed filled with Cream’s very best work, since it also captures the fury and invention (and indulgence) of the band at its peak on the stage and in the studio, but as it tries to find a delicate balance between these three titanic egos, it doesn’t quite add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. But taken alone, those individual parts are often quite tremendous.
  • If you’re a fan of Clapton and the band, this RSO UK import from 1968 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

It’s exceptionally difficult to find even decent sounding copies of this album. We’ve played SCORES of original domestic copies, original imports, and all kinds of reissues over the years, and it’s very rare to find a copy that sounds this good on all four sides. (more…)

Cream – Live Cream

More Cream

More Live Recordings of Interest

  • 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.”
  • If you’re a Cream fan, this live classic from 1970 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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 18 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. (more…)