Top Engineers – Henry Lewy

Joni Mitchell / Court And Spark – The DCC LP Is Not Bad!

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Sonic Grade: B

Steve’s version is very musical; it’s rich and natural sounding, which of course makes it very enjoyable. You can do a lot better but you sure can do a lot worse.

Opaque, veiled, lifeless, dull sound is the norm for Court and Spark — most copies are dead as a doornail. If they’re not dead, they’re likely to be thin and gritty.

The DCC is a big improvement over the average domestic pressing. (The original Brit imports are fairly competitive with the DCC; the later Brits with the K catalog numbers suck as a rule.)

The Nautilus Half-Speed is pretty but lifeless, like so many of their pressings (and Half-Speed Mastered records in general). I would grade it about a C. Don’t waste your money. Keep buying originals until you find a good one.

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David Crosby – What? No Classic Records LP on the TAS Super Disc List?

More of the Music of David Crosby

TAS List Super Discs with Hot Stampers

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

We applaud TAS’s decision not to add the Classic pressing of this title to the list, the way they foolishly have with so many other Classic pressings that have no business being on anything called a Super Disc list.

Dark Side Ones

Those of you who’ve played a number of copies of the album over the years surely know that side one has a marked tendency to be much darker and duller than side two. Finding a good side one is five times harder than finding a good side two. If your copy sounds recessed and lacks extension up top, don’t feel bad. Most of them do.

(By the way, the first track has that “home recording” sound and always sounds weak compared to the rest of this album. Don’t expect any wonders. As a wannabe hit single, peaking at #95 on the charts, it may even be sourced here from a dub of the real master tape. That shit happens.)

Your Reward Awaits You

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, records like this are the reward for owning the right stereo equipment and having it properly tweaked. There is no way in the world I could have played this album 20 years ago remotely as well as I can now. It only makes me appreciate the music even more.

You Don’t Have to Be High to Hear It

When you drop the needle on this record, all barriers between you and the musicians are removed. You’ll feel as though you’re sitting at the studio console while Crosby and his no-doubt-stoned-out-of-their-minds Bay Area pals (mostly Jefferson Airplaners and Grateful Deads, see list below) are laying down this emotionally powerful, heartfelt music.

The overall sound is warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied… that’s some real ANALOG Tubey Magic, baby! And the best part is, you don’t have to be high to hear it. You just need a good stereo and the right pressing.

Listening Test

One of our key test tracks for side one is Cowboy Movie, and one thing that separated the best pressings from the lesser ones was the sound of the hand claps. It’s a dense mix and they are not easy to hear, but on the best copies there is audible echo and ambience around them, with a richer “flesh on flesh” quality to their sound. Not many pressings had it, and the ones that did tended to do most other things well also. Which is what makes it a good test!

Barncard’s Masterpiece

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the superbly talented recording engineer on this project, Stephen Barncard (American Beauty, Deja Vu, Tarkio, etc.). This album is without a doubt his masterpiece. It fully deserves its standing as one of the Ten or Twenty Best Sounding Rock Recordings of All Time.

Here are some Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

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Neil Young – Harvest

More Neil Young

Reviews and Commentaries for Harvest

  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides, this STUNNING vintage copy of Neil’s undeniable classic is guaranteed to be the best you’ve ever heard
  • Apologies for the high price, but it has been years since we found a copy this nice, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying
  • It’s practically impossible to find an early pressing with sound this good and vinyl that plays as quietly as this
  • Scratches are the rule, not the exception, but thankfully this copy has none
  • A Top 100 album and a sublime recording no audiophile should be without
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…the love songs and the harrowing portrait of a friend’s descent into heroin addiction, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” remain among Young’s most affecting and memorable songs.”
  • If you’re a Neil Young fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1972 is clearly one of his best
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

When you have this kind of open, extended top end, the grit, grain and edge just disappear, leaving you with a clear, Tubey Magical sound that’s way beyond anything you have ever heard (or we give you your money back). Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the string of superb studio albums Neil released from 1970 to 1976.

Just look at these titles:

After The Gold Rush,

Harvest,

On The Beach,

Tonight’s The Night, and

Zuma.

I can’t think of anyone else besides Zeppelin (first six titles) and The Beatles (you pick ’em!) who put out this many killer albums consecutively. We consider each of those albums a work of profound creativity, and we can proudly claim to have found copies of each with the sonic credentials to bring these masterpieces to life.

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David Crosby – Cowboy Movie Is a Key Track

More of the Music of David Crosby

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of David Crosby

Note how Crosby’s voice is “chesty” on the best sounding copies. Some make him sound like he’s all mouth and no diaphragm. When his voice is full-bodied and solid, that’s when he sounds more like a real person and less like a pop recording of a person. All credit must go to Stephen Barncard.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, not exactly a tough call if you ask us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording? 

Listening Test

One of our key test tracks for side one is Cowboy Movie, and one thing that separated the best pressings from the lesser ones was the sound of the hand claps. It’s a dense mix and they are not easy to hear, but on the best copies there is audible echo and ambience around them, with a richer “flesh on flesh” quality to their sound. Not many pressings had it, and the ones that did tended to do most other things well also. Which is what makes it a good test! (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Miles of Aisles

More Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

  • This Joni Mitchell classic boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all four sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Henry Lewy brings the analog richness, smoothness and clarity he achieved on Court and Spark to the recording – it’s some of the best live sound we’ve ever heard
  • Joni reworks some of her best-loved songs for this concert, with five tracks from Blue alone (!), and the new arrangements show us just how vital her early ’70s work has turned out to be
  • “It’s a strong album of her best songs performed mostly informally… Much of the material here is beautiful, replete with the patented Mitchell tension. And a word for engineer Henry Lewy—the sound is terrific, the best reproduced concert album I’ve heard.” Rolling Stone
  • If like us you’re a big Joni Mitchell fan, then this killer live album from 1974 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill

More Sergio Mendes

More Bossa Nova

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Fool on the Hill you’ve heard
  • Sergio’s unique rearrangement of two songs in particular here make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and title trackl
  • Top engineers for A&M, Henry Lewy and Larry Levine, capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of these wonderful female leads – Lani Hall, Karen Philipp and Gracinha Leporace
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Even though he had become thoroughly embedded in the consciousness of mainstream America, Mendes still managed to have it three ways, exposing first-class tunes from little-known Brazilian talent, garnering commercial hits, and also making some fine records.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and the band, this early pressing from 1968 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Two songs in particular make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and The Fool On The Hill. Both of them are given wonderfully original treatments. These songs hold their own against the originals, and that’s saying something.

Sergio took on many of the heavyweights of his day, and most of the time he succeeded in producing a uniquely satisfying version of well-known material. Superb original tracks by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell and others were given the Sergio Mendes latin pop treatment and came out much the better for it.

This vintage A&M pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

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David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name…

More David Crosby

More Hippie Folk Rock

  • The ultimate Hippie Folk Rock Demo Disc – both sides are shockingly transparent, with huge amounts of bass, silky highs, in-the-room vocals and TONS of Tubey Magic
  • 4 1/2 stars: ” If I Could Only Remember My Name is a shambolic masterpiece, meandering but transcendentally so, full of frayed threads. Not only is it among the finest splinter albums out of the CSNY diaspora, it is one of the defining moments of hungover spirituality from the era.”
  • If you’re an audiophile, this is a Demo Disc from 1971 that no record collection comprising Top Quality Recordings should be without
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

Here it is, folks… a TRUE ROCK DEMO DISC! A White Hot Stamper copy such as this will show you why we’ve long considered it one of the All Time Top Ten Rock Albums for Sound and Music. You will not believe how Tubey Magical and three-dimensional this album can be when you have a pressing with this kind of sound. The harmonic complexity and extension on the acoustic guitars are absolutely stunning!

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording? (We do applaud his decision not to add the Classic pressing of this title to the list, the way he did with so many other Classic pressings that have no business on anything called a Super Disc list.)

You Don’t Have to Be High to Hear It

When you drop the needle on this record, all barriers between you and the musicians are removed. You’ll feel as though you’re sitting at the studio console while Crosby and his no-doubt-stoned-out-of-their-minds Bay Area pals (mostly Jefferson Airplaners and Grateful Deads, see list below) are laying down this emotionally powerful, heartfelt music.

The overall sound is warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied… that’s some real ANALOG Tubey Magic, baby! And the best part is, you don’t have to be high to hear it. You just need a good stereo and the right pressing. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Mingus

More Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for Joni Mitchell

  • Mingus finally returns to the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Rich, dynamic and natural, with low end weight, midrange presence and powerful, punchy bass
  • If you’re a fan of Joni’s more adventurous work you’ll find a lot to like here
  • Features “luminaries” including Herbie Hancock and some of Weather Report, who join Mingus in helping Joni bring these jazzy works to life
  • “… Mitchell could not have chosen any finer musicians than the sextet she ultimately incorporated into this work.”

Two of Joni’s more famous late ’70s songs are on here — God Must Be A Boogie Man and The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey. If you like the more adventurous music that Joni produced at different stages of her career, this should make a wonderful addition to your collection. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – An Overview

Joni Mitchell

1968 Song to a Seagull
1969 Clouds
1970 Ladies of the Canyon
1971 BlueTop 100, TAS List
1972 For the Roses – Some of her best sound
1974 Court and SparkTop 100, TAS List, her best sounding recording

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Turntable Testing Using Court and Spark and a Yellow Pad

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

Hot Stamper Pressings of Court and Spark Available Now

There are loud vocal choruses on many tracks, and more often than not at their loudest they sound like they are either breaking up or threatening to do so. I always assumed it was compressor or board overload, which is easily heard on Down to You.

On the best copies there is no breakup — the voices get loud and stay clean throughout.

This assumes that your equipment is up to the job. The loudest choruses are a tough test for any system.

Setup Advice

If you have one of our hottest Hot Stampers, try adjusting your setup – VTA, Tracking Weight, Azimuth, Anti-Skate (especially! Audiophiles often overlook this one, at their peril) — and note how cleanly the loudest passages play using various combinations of settings.

Keep a yellow pad handy and write everything down step by step as you make your changes, along with what differences you hear in the sound.

You will learn more about sound from this exercise than you can from practically any other. Even shootouts won’t teach you what you can learn from variations in your table setup.

And once you have your setup dialed in better, you will find that your shootouts go a lot smoother than they used to.

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