Top Engineers – George Massenburg

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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  • So 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.”
  • Watch for my MoFi review coming later this year – talk about a disaster, that reissue is beyond awful
  • If you’re a Ronstadt fan, this title from 1983 is surely a Must Own. The complete list of titles from 1983 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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.

If all you own is an mediocre sounding pressing or the truly awful Mobile Fidelity from 1983, you are in for a world of better sound with this very record.

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Linda Ronstadt – Get Closer

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More Women Who Rock

  • 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 and Fire – Gratitude

  • A superb copy of this 2-LP set with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all FOUR sides
  • My personal favorite EWF song of all time, “Can’t Hide Love,” sounds INCREDIBLE on this Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side four, where you will also 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 – Lush Life

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  • An outstanding copy of Ronstadt’s 1984 release with Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Getting the strings to sound sweet and rosiny, not smeary and hard, is no mean feat, but it’s the kind of thing the better Hot Stamper pressings are guaranteed to give you on any of Linda’s American Songbook period albums
  • “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 – String Tone and Texture Are Key to the Best Pressings

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

More of the Music of Nelson Riddle

We’ve criticized the engineer George Massenburg 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.

What to Listen for

That’s easy on this album: the strings. When the strings are big and rich, not shrill and thin, that’s a good thing. Rosiny texture means you have a copy with less smear and higher resolution. Harmonics up top means that the top end of your copy is extending properly.

Bottom line: If the strings are bad on this album probably everything else is too.

Here are some records that are good for testing string tone and texture.

Having said that, this is an album of standards sung by a woman with a very recognizable voice. If Linda doesn’t sound right, what’s the point of the record? To hear Nelson Riddle’s well-recorded strings?

The best copies have Linda sounding rich and breathy. Few managed to pull off that particular trick as well as we would have liked. We took major points off for those copies that had her sounding too thin or forced in her upper range.

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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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Earth, Wind, Fire and the Neverending Search for Balance

More of the Music of Earth, Wind and Fire

More Recordings by George Massenburg

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises. As is usually the case when plowing through a big pile of copies, we learned pretty quickly that what makes the sound work is having these two qualities in balance:

1) Richness / Smoothness 
2) Transparency

When the vocals are thin and pinched, as they often are, the resulting edginess and harshness in the midrange take all the fun out of the music. Every track has group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color.

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices (and brass) start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

But richness and fullness are not enough. They must be balanced with TRANSPARENCY.

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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

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

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.

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 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.

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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…)