Top Engineers – George Massenburg

Linda Ronstadt – Lush Life

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  • An outstanding copy of Ronstadt’s 1984 release with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides were doing everything right — clean, clear, full-bodied and dynamic with wonderfully breathy vocals and a solid bottom end
  • “What’s New illustrated that Linda Ronstadt was no longer interested in contemporary pop, and since it was a surprise success, there was no reason not to repeat the formula on Lush Life. Working again with Nelson Riddle, Ronstadt runs through several pop standards — ‘When I Fall in Love,’ ‘Sophisticated Lady,’ ‘Falling in Love Again,’ ‘It Never Entered My Mind’…”

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Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Truly a Country Rock Masterpiece

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  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them, this copy was giving us KILLER sound for Linda Ronstadt’s Best Album
  • Both sides here are rich, full-bodied and warm, with harmonically rich guitars and real immediacy to Linda’s heartfelt vocals
  • A Must Own Classic, the best album Ms Ronstadt ever made, and a True Country Rock Masterpiece virtually without peer
  • 5 stars: “What really makes HLAW a breakthrough is the inventive arrangements that producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt, and the studio musicians have developed. …[they] help turn Heart Like a Wheel into a veritable catalog of Californian soft rock, and it stands as a landmark of ’70s mainstream pop/rock.”

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 46 years by my calculation, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on the album. Folks, we heard it for ourselves: the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here on practically every song.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing. (more…)

Earth, Wind and Fire – Gratitude

Earth, Wind and Fire

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  • A superb sounding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all four sides
  • My personal favorite EWF song of all time is here on side four, Can’t Hide Love, and on that same side you can find Sing a Song, Gratitude and Celebrate
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Gratitude brilliantly captures the excitement EWF generated on-stage at its creative peak… Neither hardcore EWF devotees nor more casual listeners should deprive themselves of the joys of the live versions of “Shining Star” and “Yearnin’ Learnin’.”

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Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris – Trio

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  • An outstanding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides, proof positive that Trio is a surprisingly well-recorded album – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Big, rich, smooth, and sweet, how did George Massenburg pull off this kind of analog sound in 1987?
  • We don’t know, but we do know good sound when we hear it, and we heard exceptionally good sound on this copy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…that rare example of an all-star collaborative effort that truly shows everyone involved to their best advantage, and it ranks with the best of all three headliners’ work.”

*NOTE: On side two, a mark makes 4 soft ticks during the intro to Track 5, Farther Along.

With three brilliant and accomplished singers harmonizing in the studio you can imagine that faultless midrange tonality is key to the best copies, and you would be right.

Some copies had the girls’ sounding a bit dark and veiled. Some had them a bit thin and bright. The Goldilocks Principle comes into play here as it does in so many of our shootouts: the best copies find the right balance of richness and clarity. (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…)

Little Feat’s Hoy-Hoy Rocks

Little Feat Albums with Hot Stampers

Little Feat Albums We’ve Reviewed

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Hoy-Hoy.

The recording quality of many of these songs is OUT OF THIS WORLD, as good as any rock record I can think of. Although Waiting For Columbus is arguably the best sounding live rock ‘n roll album ever made, some of the tracks on this album are every bit as good or BETTER. (And the promo EP is practically in a league of its own for sound!)

Little Feat’s studio recordings rarely did justice to the band’s energy and drive. With so many live tracks, this is the album that really shows the band at their enthusiastic best. If I were going to choose one Little Feat album to own, it would be hard to argue with this one musically, and sonically the stuff here just can’t be beat — if you are lucky enough to own a copy with Hot Stampers for all four sides, no mean feat.

A Quick Overview

Side one has two amazing sounding live cuts, as good as it gets and that’s no lie.

Side two starts out with Lonesome Whistle, one of the five best songs this band ever committed to tape.

Highlights on side three include Framed and Gringo, both with superb sound.

Side four has a live version of the song Two Trains, another one of their best recordings, followed by China White, the story of Lowell’s feelings toward cocaine. Dead at 33, rock and roll lost a giant when drugs brought him low. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Get Closer

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  • Superb sound on both sides of this Asylum pressing from 1982 with each earning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades, right up there with our Shootout Winner
  • Engineering prowess provided by Val Garay and George Massenburg, which means the sound is full-bodied, dynamic and lively, with plenty of bottom end punch
  • “Linda Ronstadt’s voice has never sounded better than it does on Get Closer… [her] ringing soprano vibrates with clarity and authority on the record’s best songs…” Rolling Stone, 4 Stars

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Lowell George – Thanks I’ll Eat It Here

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  • An amazing sounding copy and the first to hit the site in many years; Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from the first note to the last
  • We’re huge fans of this album and a copy like this lets the natural quality of the recording shine through
  • “Lowell’s style is so distinctive and his performances so soulful, it’s hard not to like this record if you’ve ever had a fondness for Little Feat.” — All Music, 4 1/2 stars

This kind of recording quality was abandoned decades ago, but there was a time — I’m old, I remember it — when engineers actually tried to produce recordings with this kind of rich, sweet, thoroughly analog sound. 1979, the year of this album’s release, is right at the tail end of it. Why do you think so much of our Hot Stamper output covers the decade that stretched from the late ’60s to the late ’70s? Only one reason — that’s where some of the best sound can be found. (It’s a bit like Willie Sutton’s famous answer to why he robbed banks: “because that’s where the money is”.)

Which is taking the long way round in saying that this recording has a healthy dose of analog Tubey Magic, in places maybe even a bit too much, as the sound can sometimes get too thick and overly rich, like a cake with too much frosting.

The best copies keep that wonderful analog smoothness and freedom from artificiality, adding to it the life and energy of classic rock and roll. Yes, you can have it all — rich analog sound that jumps out of the speakers! Just listen to those horns on Honest Man — that is the sound we are looking for on an album like this. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

The sound is EXTRAORDINARILY rich, smooth, full-bodied and natural on both sides. We have never heard What’s New sound like this.

With two White Hot sides this pressing gets two critically important elements of the recording more right than any copies we have ever heard: the strings in the orchestra, and, even more importantly for obvious reasons, Linda’s voice. Both sides give you a much more natural sounding Linda than you have ever heard. She’s fuller, sweeter, breathier, less spitty (some tracks more than others) and just plain less artificial than any others we played.

We’ve criticized the engineer George Massenburg on this site in the past, but with this copy we almost want to take it all back.

What he gets right on this recording is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with various jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio. The sound stretches far to Linda’s left, far to her right, as well as back far behind her in a huge semi-circle. She is of course singing in a vocal booth, with her vocal placed front and center in the soundstage.

As an aside, George Massenburg went on to record the Trio album with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. The analog sound he produced was shockingly rich, smooth and sweet — and in 1987 no less! (more…)

Earth, Wind & Fire – I Am

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this excellent EWF title from 1979; exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • If you like Pop Music, Soul Music, or EWF’s groundbreaking hybridization of the two, you have to love these classic albums from the ’70s
  • “Maurice White makes music whose quality is as high as its market appeal, as accessible as it is innovative…” – Rolling Stone

Every track Maurice White ever produced was a testimony to his deep understanding and prodigious talent for crafting the perfect pop song, complete with arrangements for nine pieces as tight as the matching sequined suits the band wore. Fortunately for us analog types, EWF was an audiophile-oriented band, producing some of the best sounding ’70s multi-track recordings of the day. After the Love Is Gone is killer on this copy.

There may in fact be a few too many tracks, causing the typical copy of the record to get strident and congested in the loud vocal passages, contributing to the somewhat hot upper mids in most of the mixes (which may be the fault of George Massenburg, whose engineering on even his best days tends to be somewhat sparkly).

Even though we are not in the business of selling typical copies — what we offer are very good ones at the very least, and superb ones at the upper ends of our price range — we should be clear that these problems can be heard to some degree on even the best copies we auditioned.

What we are looking for is sound that is as rich, smooth, sweet, and tonally correct as we can find. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it really can’t be anyway. It just has to be the best we can find after going through a big pile of copies, because if we can’t find it I don’t know how anyone else could. It’s the same process no matter who does it, and who else does it but us? (more…)