Top Engineers – George Massenburg

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
  • If you’re a fan of the lovely Linda Ronstadt, looking especially fetching on the cover in her red dress, a killer copy of her album from 1982 might just need a home in your collection

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Earth, Wind & Fire / Can’t Hide Love – The Best Track These Guys Ever Wrote

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, the high point for me on this record is the song “Can’t Hide Love”, the best track this band ever recorded and a work of True Pop Genius. (Check out side four for the best lineup of any side.) Grammy nominated for Best Arrangement For Voices, it’s hard to imagine that another song beat it. The album was of course nominated as well.

The second best thing about this album is that it allows Earth, Wind & Fire to stretch out and incorporate some funky jazz into their music, like on “Sun Goddess”, a song that they recorded with Ramsey Lewis and which doesn’t appear on any other EW&F album. They do a couple of extended saxophone solos on the live stuff that really take the songs to another level. The band is on fire for practically every track here. This and The Greatest Hits Volumes One get you most of what’s great about the band. Both are Must Owns for anyone who likes Big Production Pop, soulful and otherwise.

Old News

A while back I happened to have heard the Joe Gastwirt mastered CD and noted: What a joke! LIFELESS and DULL. This record kills it! If you want to hear this music right you better own this record or one like it, otherwise you are wasting your time. (Of course, since this is a Hot Stamper copy, “one like it” is hard to find. But if you don’t want to buy one from us, get a hold of any LP you can, because this music belongs in your collection.)

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Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, this is without a doubt some of the best sound we have ever heard for What’s New
  • So hugely spacious and three-dimensional, yet with a tonally correct and fairly natural sounding Linda, this is the way to hear it
  • What engineer George Massenburg gets right is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio
  • “…the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania… undid in the mid-60’s.”

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Linda Ronstadt – For Sentimental Reasons

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  • This outstanding pressing of Ronstadt’s 1986 release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Linda is fuller, sweeter, breathier, less spitty (some tracks more than others) and just plain less artificial here than on most of the other pressings we played
  • The final installment of the jazz trilogy that Ronstadt recorded with bandleader and arranger Nelson Riddle
  • “… it is in the hushed intensity of Mr. Riddle’s string arrangements for the album’s ballads that one senses a musician reaching deeply into his soul to make eloquent final statements… The arrangements’ emotional gravity reverberates in Miss Ronstadt’s singing…”

With two outstanding sides, this pressing gets two critically important elements of the recording right: the strings in the orchestra, and, for obvious reasons, even more importantly, Linda’s voice. We guarantee that these sides give you a more natural-sounding Linda than you’ve ever heard, or your money back. (more…)

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

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.

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

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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 

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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Little Feat – Hoy-Hoy

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A Well Recorded Album that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

  • All four sides earned Double Plus (A++) grades for sound – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Our pick for the best sounding Little Feat album – it’s a monster, and a Must Own for any fan of the band
  • “Filled with live performances, obscurities, album tracks, and a new song apiece from Bill Payne and Paul Barrere, Hoy Hoy is a bit scattered, a bit incoherent, a little bewildering, and wholly delightful — a perfect summation of a group filled with quirks, character, and funk, traits which were as much a blessing as they were a curse.”

This is one of the all time TOP Little Feat albums and a longtime personal favorite, but it takes a pressing like this to bring it to life.

As we said last time around, there is not a rock album on the The Absolute Sound’s Super Disc List that can hold a candle to the real Rock and Roll Power of a pressing such as this. 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. The AMAZING sound is guaranteed to blow your mind.

What a Recording!

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!)

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of many of these tracks is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, The Who, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and far too many of our favorites to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

The sides that had sound that jumped out of the speakers, with driving rhythmic energy, worked the best for us. They really brought this complex music to life and allowed us to enjoy the hell out of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy where the music works as music. (more…)

Earth, Wind and Fire – Gratitude

Earth, Wind and Fire

xxxxx

  • 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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Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel

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  • With two outstanding sides, this vintage Capital pressing was giving us the sound we were looking for on Linda Ronstadt’s Best Album
  • “You’re No Good” was the hit but “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “Faithless Love” and “The Dark End of the Street” are every bit as good – and that’s just side one!
  • A Must Own Classic, the best album Ms Ronstadt ever made, and a True Country Rock Masterpiece practically without peer and
  • 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.”
  • If you’re a Country Rock fan, then Linda’s Masterpiece from 1974 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

The list is purposely wide-ranging. It includes some famous titles (Tumbleweed Connection, The Yes Album), but for the most part I have gone out of way to choose titles from talented artists that are less well known (Atlantic Crossing, Kiln House, Dad Loves His Work), which simply means that you won’t find Every Picture Tells a Story or Rumours or Sweet Baby James on this list because masterpieces of that caliber should already be in your collection and don’t need me to recommend them.

Which is not to say there aren’t some well known masterpieces on the list, because not every well known record is necessarily well known to audiophiles, and some records are just too good not to put on a list of records we think every audiophile ought to get to know better.

Out of the thousands of records we have auditioned and reviewed, there are a couple of hundred that have stood the test of time for us and we feel are deserving of a listen. Many of these will not be to your taste, but they were to mine.

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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…)