Top Engineers – George Massenburg

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

(more…)

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…)

Little Feat – Hoy-Hoy Promo Sampler – “The sound quality can be shockingly better than the original Hoy Hoy album.”

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  • An amazing Triple Plus side two and a Double Plus side one
  • This is the Big Rock Sound we love, huge and punchy with tons of space and a big bottom end
  • Knockout Demo Disc Rock and Roll sound and then some

It may contain only a handful of tracks from the album, but folks, STUNNING SOUND doesn’t BEGIN to do justice to this EP. I would state categorically that there is not a single rock record on the TAS List that can hold a candle to it in terms of live-rock-in-your-living room blasting power. This is one of the most AMAZING DEMO DISCS of All Time. If it were an album I would put it on a Top Ten Best Sounding Rock and Pop List (if we had such a thing).

It’s really not fair to judge the Harry’s List by records like this, which have never been the man’s forte. We, on the other hand, know these kinds of records about as well as anyone, and to prove it we would love to send you this copy.

And do you know how we discovered it? We had a couple of these promos lying around, and after shooting out the Hot Stamper Hoy-Hoys, we figured what the hell, throw one of them on just for fun. To our shock and dismay, it blew the doors off our BEST Hot Stamper pressings song for song. As good as those album sides sound, the EP took the same material to an ENTIRELY NEW LEVEL of sonic splendor.

This EP may only hold four songs, but each is a Demo Disc Track of the highest order: Gringo (edited version) and Over The Edge for side one; Teenage Nervous Breakdown and Rock and Roll Doctor for side two. (more…)

How Exactly Is This an Audiophile Record?

 

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Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

Not having played this record in more than a decade, it’s interesting to hear this Mobile Fidelity pressing with much better equipment than was previous available to me. The first thing I noticed was the amazing transparency of the recording, no doubt the reason audiophiles have always liked it.

Next on the list, and a bit of a surprise, is the correct tonality — this record is tonally right on the money, something Mobile Fidelity rarely achieves. This MoFi was mastered by Jack Hunt, not Stan Ricker, which may explain why the top end is more correct than usual.

Third and last is George Massenburg’s approach to this recording, which, to be charitable, is not to my liking. Let’s just say he prefers a certain artificiality to his sound that does little for me.

Of course, not all audiophiles will agree with me about this. Some audiophiles actually like this kind of sound. They like the sound of Graceland. They like the sound of The Well. They like the sound of Patricia Barber’s albums. They like a lot of recordings I don’t like.

When I speak highly of a recording or pressing, my prejudices and preferences are spelled out for all to see. There should be little doubt that the sound of this album is not to my taste, but for those of you who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will probably like.

Earth, Wind & Fire – Spirit

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  • Insanely good sound throughout with each side earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades  
  • Both of these sides are doing everything right — big, clear, tubey, sweet ANALOG sound; we played it good and loud and it was ROCKIN’!
  • 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
  • “… the soul powerhouse didn’t let anyone down (either commercially or creatively) on the outstanding Spirit, which boasted hits ranging from the optimistic “On Your Face” and the passionate funk classic “Getaway” to the poetic ballad “Imagination”… even if one didn’t take EWF’s calls for unity, hard work, self-respect, and faith in God to heart, they had no problem with their solid grooves.” 

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. Getaway is killer on this copy.

There may in fact be a few too many multi-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 some of the mixes (which is no doubt 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 end of the 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 can. It’s the same process no matter who does it, and who else does it at this scale but us? It may not take a village, but it at least takes a sizeable crew to sort through a dozen or more copies of the same album time and time again.

Fortunately we did manage to find copies in which the sound was big, wall to wall as we like to say, and on the best of them the presence of the vocalists puts them right in front of you. For the most part you can clearly make out each of the voices that make up the harmonically-complex choruses. What a sound! Nobody harmonizes better than these guys, partly because no other band has anyone remotely as talented as the preternaturally gifted Philip Bailey to sing the superhuman falsetto parts the way he does.

For audiophiles who like to play their music loud, the sound on the best copies can be GLORIOUS! (more…)