Top Engineers – Dave Hassinger

Little Feat / The Last Record Album – A Great Test for Smaller Speakers and Screens

Don’t Try to Play The Last Record Album on Any System that Looks Like This

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The piano on track three of side two, Somebody’s Leavin’, should sound rich and full and solid, yet percussive. Rarely does it sound right, which is what makes it a good test for side two.

Most copies of this album are ridiculously dull and compressed. The band itself sounds bored, as if they don’t believe in their own songs. But it’s not their fault. Whose fault it is is never easy to fathom; bad mastering, bad tapes, bad vinyl, bad something else — whatever it is, that thick, lifeless sound turns this powerfully emotional music into a major snooze-fest. 

The best copies have the kind of transparency that allows you to hear the space around all the instruments. Most copies have a bad case of “cardboard drums;” even the best copies have a bit of that sound. But when you have one of the high-rez copies spinning, the sound of the drums doesn’t call attention to itself. It may not be the BEST drum sound you ever heard, but it’s a GOOD drum sound, and in a lot of ways you could argue that it’s the RIGHT drum sound. It’s rich and fat, a perfect match for the sound of the album as a whole.

A True Test

Now if you have mini-monitors or screens, some of that sound won’t come through nearly as well as it might with another speaker, a big dynamic one for example. To our way of thinking, this is the kind of record that one should bring to one’s favorite stereo store to judge their equipment. They can play Famous Blue Raincoat; they do it all day long. But can they play The Last Record Album and have it sound musical and involving?

This is a much tougher test, one that most systems struggle to pass. Leaner and cleaner — the kind of audiophile sound I hear everywhere I go — is simply not going to work on this album, or Zuma, or Bad Company, or the hundreds of other classic rock albums we put up on the site every year. There has to be meat on those bones. To switch metaphors in the middle of a stream, this album is about the cake, not the frosting.

Keep that in mind when they tell you at your local audio salon that the record you brought in is at fault, not their expensive and therefore “correct” equipment. I’ve been in enough of these places to know better. To mangle another old saying, if you know your records, their excuses should fall on deaf ears.


MORE RECORDS THAT ARE GOOD FOR TESTING THESE SAME QUALITIES

Records that Are Good for Testing Ambience, Size and Space 

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass and Whomp 

Records that Are Good for Testing Compression 

Records that Are Good for Testing Transparency 

The Rolling Stones – Out of Our Heads

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  • This is one of the best copies to ever hit the site — as good as we’ve ever heard with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • These British sides impressed us with their Tubey Magical, fairly natural sound
  • With top engineers like Dave Hassinger and Glyn Johns one would hope for better sonics, but this is as good as it gets as far as we know
  • 4 1/2 stars: “In 1965, the Stones finally proved themselves capable of writing classic rock singles that mined their R&B/blues roots, but updated them into a more guitar-based, thoroughly contemporary context. The first enduring Jagger-Richards classics are here…”

Like the really good Decca version of Aftermath, this record has amazing transparency, rich bass and relatively little distortion compared to other versions we have played. Also, like Aftermath, some songs sound much better than others. That’s just the way old Stones record are. Part of this album was recorded in Hollywood and part of it was recorded in Chicago — that may explain some of the variation in the quality of the sound.

By the way, stick with true stereo on this album; the mono pressings — at least the ones we played — aren’t worth anybody’s time (scratch that: any audiophile’s time). (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Living In The USA

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  • This Shootout Winning copy has Triple Plus (A+++) Demo Disc Linda Ronstadt sound throughout, and some of her biggest hits to boot!
  • Both sides are rich, Tubey Magical and spacious – Linda’s vocals on Alison are breathy and present like nothing else we played
  • Smokey Robinson’s “Ooh Baby Baby” with blistering sax work by David Sanborn has to be the highlight of the album for us

Do you have a copy that’s hard and lean in the midrange, lacking in bass down low and Tubey Magic everywhere else? We do too, more than one in fact.

Ah, but the good copies are rich, smooth, sweet and clear, precisely the kind of sound we’ve come to expect from the team of Val Garay and Peter Asher in the ’70s. The bass is deep and punchy, the keyboards tubey rich, and the whole of the ensemble displays both energy and conviction on this top quality batch of songs.

Check out the best of them, tracks that still get airplay today:

  1. Back in the U.S.A.
  2. Just One Look
  3. Alison
  4. All That You Dream
  5. Oh Baby Baby
  6. Blowing Away
  7. Love Me Tender

That’s a lot of great songs on one album! (more…)

Listening in Depth to Aftermath – The First in a String of Must Own Stones Albums

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More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

Lady Jane, Under My Thumb and Mother’s Little Helper are three of the best sounding tracks on side one — all three are lively and solid here. On side two Out of Time and I Am Waiting are especially well recorded.

DAVE HASSINGER rightly deserves the credit for the best sounding early Stones album — this one.

Although some songs sound amazing, not every track is well recorded. We just have to accept that the Stones are not The Beatles when it comes to the consistent quality of the earliest recordings. That said, a strong copy like this one paired with the great music on this album will certainly deliver a lot of pleasure to audiophile Stones fans.

Although some songs sound amazing, not every track is well recorded. We just have to accept that the Stones are not The Beatles when it comes to the consistent quality of the earliest recordings. That said, a strong copy like this one paired with the great music on this album will certainly deliver a lot of pleasure to audiophile Stones fans.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Mothers Little Helper

Superb! On the best copies this track is so transparent you can feel the cool air of the studio.

Stupid Girl

Somewhat dark and compressed as a rule. (more…)

Dave Hassinger Is One of Our Favorite Engineers

Hot Stamper Pressings of Dave Hassinger’s Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Dave Hassinger’s Recordings

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More of Our Favorite Engineers

“‘Satisfaction’ was [mixed] on four tracks,” Hassinger recalls. “That was a big thing.” He adds:

“When I first arrived at RCA there were three tracks. When it went to four tracks we were all thinking. What are we going to do with the extra track?”

(RCA) wasn’t as funky as Chess obviously but it was more commercial. And (Dave Hassinger) really… he had a good ear, he’d get good sounds, and we experimented with more instruments… And he’d always get good sounds so we’d always get a good take at 3 or 4 shots at a song. 

Bill Wyman

As a staff engineer at RCA’s Hollywood studios in the 1960s, David Hassinger worked on a number of important and classic recordings. The most famous of these, perhaps, are mid-’60s tracks that the Rolling Stones recorded in Hollywood, including the entirety of their 1966 album, Aftermath. They also include, however, the first two Jefferson Airplane albums, along with efforts by Sam Cooke, Love, the Monkees, the Byrds (their first attempt at “Eight Miles High,” re-recorded later for official release), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and others. Hassinger also attempted to establish himself as a producer in the late ’60s, with limited success, most notably with the Electric Prunes and the first Grateful Dead album. (more…)

The Rolling Stones / Out of Our Heads – Mono or Reprocessed Stereo?

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On this London LP, even though it says the record is electronically re-processed into stereo, the songs we heard on side one were dead mono.

So much for believing what you read on album covers. (more…)

James Taylor – JT

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  • This KILLER copy of an exceptionally well-recorded album boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • It’s a superb recording – a member of our Top 100, in fact – but it takes a pressing like this to show you just how BIG and LIVELY it can sound
  • The big hits Your Smiling Face and Handy Man both sound great here – thanks Val Garay!
  • 4 stars: “JT was James Taylor’s best album since Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon because it acknowledged the darkness of his earlier work while explaining the deliberate lightness of his current viewpoint, and because it was his most consistent collection in years.”

(more…)

The Rolling Stones – Between The Buttons on Decca

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Records We Only Offer on Import Vinyl

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  • An outstanding copy with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – one of the better copies from our recent shootout, and pressed on exceptionally quiet vinyl to boot
  • This is classic ’60s Stones sound, courtesy of Dave Hassinger, working in L.A. (RCA) and London (Olympic + Pye)
  • If you’re looking for the ideal combination of Tubey Magical richness and transparency, this British Decca LP in stereo is one of the few that will show it to you
  • 5 Stars – Richie Unterberger hailed it as one of the Rolling Stones’ “strongest, most eclectic LPs” and, according to Robert Christgau, Between the Buttons was “among the greatest rock albums.”

This LP has the British track listing, so don’t pick this one up if you’re looking for great sounding versions of Let’s Spend The Night Together or Ruby Tuesday. A bummer, but the domestic copies sound AWFUL, so what can you do?

Tubey Magic Is Key

This vintage British pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. 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 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…)

The Rolling Stones – Self-Titled

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More Titles that Sound Best in Mono

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Another Great Recording Engineered by Dave Hassinger

  • You’ll find solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last on this outstanding pressing of The Stones’ 1964 release – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness and presence on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true for whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently being foisted on an unsuspecting record buying public
  • This is the real, honest sound of the early, early Stones
  • “The Stones’ debut knocked The Beatles from the chart summit… They were on their way.” – BBC Review

The best word I could use to sum up both the sound and the music on this record is HONEST. If you want to hear how early Rolling Stones records sound when they sound right, this is the ticket. This is the real sound of the early, early Stones.

Probably what any modern engineer would want to do to the album would only end up making it worse. It is what it is and that’s good enough for us. Since the tapes are now more than 60 years old, no modern reissue will sound remotely as good as this one.

The Stones wanted their stuff to sound like the old Blues albums they grew up on and revered, and with that sound in mind you can’t argue that they didn’t succeed here. (more…)

Little Feat – The Last Record Album

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or better on both sides – this is the best studio album the band ever recorded – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The drums are rich and fat and deliciously ANALOG, a perfect match for the sound of the album as a whole
  • Consistently strong songwriting with dramatically more emotionally powerful tracks than their other releases
  • Features great songs like All That You Dream, Long Distance Love, Mercenary Territory and more

The Last Record Album is one of our favorite Little Feat albums. The recording, by the estimable George Massenburg, has many outstanding qualities. Among them is amazing bass; the bass goes REALLY deep in places (Long Distance Love) and it’s big, punchy, rich and well up in the mix throughout the album.

What to Listen For

The problem has always been an overly smooth top end, combined with congestion, smear, and a serious lack of presence. The good news is that if you clean enough copies with the advanced cleaning techniques we’ve developed, and you make enough improvements to your stereo, room, etc., with the right copy you can actually get this album to sound clear AND rich. (more…)