Top Engineers – Dave Hassinger

The Rolling Stones – Mono or Reprocessed Stereo?

More of the Music of The Rolling Stones

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments

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

So much for believing what you read on album covers.

This Sonny Rollins pressing of Tenor Madness says it too has been remastered into stereo, but you would have a hard time hearing any left-right information coming from your speakers. On headphones, maybe, but speakers? Unlikely.

Even when a record has been been reprocessed from mono into stereo, it can still sound very good. Not the best, mind you, but good enough to easily wipe the floor with anything pressed by any audiophile label that we’ve ever heard of, and we’ve heard pretty much all of them.


Mono, Stereo, Reprocessed Stereo, We’ve Played Them All!

Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

Mono or Stereo? Stick with Mono

Mono or Stereo? Stick with Stereo

Mono Reprocessed into Stereo – Good and Bad

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The Rolling Stones / Through The Past Darkly Has Surprisingly Good Sound

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More Compilation Albums with the Potential for Very Good Sound

This is a Decca In The Box Blue Label LP with EXCELLENT SOUND! Some of the tracks here sound WONDERFUL, but even more surprisingly, none of them sound bad the way so many Stones compilations do.

Virtually nowhere on this record can you find shrill, thin, edgy, typical compilation Stones sound.

Playing songs like ‘She’s a Rainbow’ or ‘Dandelion’ on this album is so refreshing and enjoyable because they really sound the way you want to hear them. They have that rich and sweet analog quality that’s usually lost on later and/or digital versions.

The best sounding tracks on side one are track two; track three (silky vocals and deep bass); track five (big sound — a bit bright but ALIVE and tons of fun); and track six.

The best sounding tracks on side two are track two (as good as it gets); track four (the same); and track six, with plenty of cowbell. Side two is characterized by perfect top to bottom tonality and lots of energy.

“The U.K. version of this album was a bit odder yet more rewarding than its American counterpart. Apart from the superior sound, the major difference lies in the range of songs…” – AMG (more…)

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow

More of the Music of the Jefferson Airplane

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of the Jefferson Airplane

  • This outstanding stereo copy of the band’s sophomore release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) from first note to last
  • It’s the rare copy of this ’60s Psych Classic that has this kind of freedom from grit and distortion – it’s also swimming in Tubey Magic, the glorious sound of vintage analog vinyl, found on the real thing and, let’s be honest, nowhere else
  • An incredibly difficult album to find with audiophile sound, but this pressing has the goods and will is guaranteed to beat – and by a large margin – whatever you throw at it
  • 5 stars: “Every song is a perfectly cut diamond … a groundbreaking piece of folk-rock-based psychedelia that hit — literally — like a shot heard round the world…”

Check out the breathy vocals on “Today” — now THAT is what we call the magic of vintage analog!

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Linda Ronstadt – Hasten Down The Wind

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Hot Stamper Pressing on the Asylum Label

  • A vintage Asylum pressing that earned outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them from first note to last
  • This copy is doing pretty much everything right, particularly on side two — huge, rich and lively, with Linda’s vocals reproduced to near perfection
  • “Her big but pretty voice is a stunning instrument for expressing feelings, particularly intense feelings that require a slightly understated delivery… a fine album that begs closer inspection than, I fear, many of us are willing to give to Linda Ronstadt’s art. Like the best moments of the preceding nine, though, the best moments of Hasten Down the Wind will be with us a long, long time.”
  • If you’re a fan of the lovely Ms Ronstadt, her 1976 release is surely one that belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1976 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

The sound is rich, smooth, full-bodied and natural on both sides. In other words, this is Classic Analog from the ’70s, recorded by none other than Val Garay, one of our favorite engineers.

Most pressings of this album have quite obvious problems. If you own the record see if you don’t notice some of them on your own copy.

Some have a phony boosted top end, a subject we have discussed on Linda’s records before.

Some are just too fat and Tubey. Perhaps the result of too much Aphex Aural Excitement?

Some are thick, some are thin, some are too clean, some are not clean enough, every sonic issue you can imagine can be heard on this album if you have enough copies to play, and we had plenty.

We know that this copy is about as correct as can be. We know because we cleaned and played it and listened to it critically in comparison to other copies, and we did it all by ourselves. (Of course we did. There’s really no other way to do it.)

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James Taylor – JT

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More of Our Favorite Artists’ Best Sounding Albums

  • This STUNNING copy of Taylor’s breakthrough album from 1977 boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • 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!
  • This and Sweet Baby James are the man’s best recordings, and his best albums too, but he has so many great albums that it almost seems unfair to him to point that out
  • 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.”

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Donald Byrd – Stepping Into Tomorrow

  • Donald Byrd’s 1975 release makes its Hot Stamper debut with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom 
  • Byrd’s trumpet sounds wonderful here, with just the right amount of bite – credit must go to Val Garay and Dave Hassinger (among others), two of our favorite engineers working at The Sound Factory
  • 4 stars: “… maybe some of those who sniffed at the straightforward nature of some of the rhythms and riffing were won over by the supreme layering of the many components (the way in which “Think Twice” lurches forward, peels back, and gathers steam is nothing short of heavenly), not to mention some deeply evocative playing from Byrd himself.”

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The Rolling Stones – Self-Titled

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More Titles that Sound Best in Mono

  • 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
  • If you’re a fan of the early Stones, their debut from 1964 belongs in your collection.

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.

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Little Feat – A Great Test for Smaller Speakers and Screens

Don’t Play This Album on Any System that Looks Like This One

More Unsolicited Audio Advice

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.


The KEF speakers you see pictured retail for $8,999. Yes, you read that right.

Roughly 2% of my record collection might play just fine on them. Perhaps less than 2%. Either way, I don’t want to find out.

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 some of the songs on 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.

You should keep that in mind when they tell you at your local audio salon that the record you brought with you 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

More Rolling Stones

More Rock Classics

  • 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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More Women Who Rock

  • 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…)