Top Engineers – Howard and Ronnie Albert

Crosby, Stills and Nash – CSN

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  • With KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them throughout, this copy of CS&N’s “comeback” album is doing practically everything right
  • The sound is big and relatively rich, the vocals breathy and immediate, and you will not believe all the space and ambience – which of course are all qualities that Heavy Vinyl records have far too little of, and the main reason we have lost all respect for the bulk of them
  • Includes CS&N classics “Dark Star,” “Just A Song Before I Go,” and “Fair Game”
  • 4 stars: “It has held up remarkably well, both as a memento of its time, and as a thoroughly enjoyable musical work.”


The Allman Brothers – Idlewild South

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  • This early Atco pressing has the energy, body and punch this music needs, with both sides earning INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them
  • Easily the group’s best sounding studio recording and especially impressive on a copy like this
  • Cue up “Midnight Rider” or “In Memory of Elizabeth Read” to hear the Allman Brothers magic in these grooves
  • 5 stars: “The best studio album in the group’s history, electric blues with an acoustic texture, virtuoso lead, slide, and organ playing, and a killer selection of songs, including ‘Midnight Rider,’ ‘Revival,’ ‘Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,’ and ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’…”

Drop the needle on Midnight Rider or In Memory Of Elizabeth Read to hear what this copy can do. You get lots of extension both up top and down low that make the overall sound far more engaging and musical than what you’d hear on most copies.

The copies with fuller, smoother, more natural vocals — and lively guitars — tended to do very well in our shootout.


Crosby, Stills and Nash – You Do the Best You Can with What You’ve Got to Work With

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The founding members of CSN chose the Albert brothers to engineer this 1977 reunion.

Their most famous album is Layla. Ever heard a great sounding Layla? Me neither. Can you hear the sound of Layla in your head? That’s more or less what this album sounds like. There are better and worse Layla’s — we’ve done the shootout many times — just as there are better and worse CSNs, but we have never played amazing Demo Disc pressings of either and I doubt we ever will.

The problem with the sound cannot be “fixed” in the mastering, and here’s how we know: on either side some songs have wonderful sound — the midrange magic, the “breath of life” that makes the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album such a special listening experience — and some don’t.

That’s a recording problem.

It sounds like too many generations of tape were used on songs like Shadow Captain and Dark Star, among others.

But Just a Song Before I Go on side two can sound wonderful: rich, sweet, present and surrounded by lovely studio ambience.

So we listen for the qualities of a specific song that help us pinpoint what the best copies do well and the rest do less well and grade them accordingly, on a curve.

Animals will never sound like The Wall. You do the best you can with what you’ve got to work with.

What to Listen for

  1. Many copies have a tendency to sound dry, so look for the ones that are richer and more full-bodied.
  2. Many copies are opaque and flat, so look for pressings with transparency and depth.
  3. Many copies are lean down low and dull up top, so try to find some with more bass and real top end extension.
  4. And of course you need to find a copy that gets the voices right. CSN’s albums live or die by the quality of their vocals, a subject we’ve discussed on the site at length.

This is how we would approach the problem of finding a top quality CSN, and if you follow our advice, there’s a verg good chance you can find one too.


The Allman Brothers – Eat a Peach

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  • Boasting excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides, this copy was doing just about everything right – reasonably quiet vinyl too for an early Capricorn pressing
  • These superb sides have the immediacy that will put these wild and crazy southern rockers right in your living room
  • The heartfelt radio-friendly songs such as “Melissa” and “Little Martha” keep up the energy and add to the enjoyment factor
  • 5 stars: “The record showcases the Allmans at their peak, and it’s hard not to feel sad as the acoustic guitars of ‘Little Martha’ conclude the record, since this tribute isn’t just heartfelt, it offers proof of Duane Allman’s immense talents and contribution to the band.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this title from 1972 is clearly one of their best
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.


The Allman Brothers – Transparency, Energy, and Whomp

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What do high grades give you for this album? Unbelievably Tubey Magical guitars, huge whomp factor on the bottom end, incredible dynamics and life, shocking transparency and clarity, and the kind of immediacy that puts these crazy southern rockers right in your very own living room. The overall sound is impressively BIG, BOLD, and POWERFUL.

This and Live At Fillmore East are the two monumental albums these guys put out, and they have a lot in common. You know what you’re gonna get with the Allmans: dueling electric guitars, sweet acoustic guitars, energetic drumming, and full-bodied vocals throughout. There’s obviously a lot of exploration — two complete sides are dedicated to the song Mountain Jam — but the heartfelt radio-friendly songs such as Melissa and Little Martha keep up the energy and provide maximum enjoyment factor.

The Three Keys: Transparency, Energy, and WHOMP

A great copy like this one really lets everything that’s great about this music come through. You can easily pick out each of the musicians and follow their contributions over the course of the songs. The huge WHOMP factor throughout kicks up the excitement factor and sets the foundation for the extended guitar jams to work their Southern bluesy magic. The top end extends beautifully to bring out all the ambience and spaciousness of the Fillmore. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Layla

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The best copies of Layla are Tubey Magical, energetic, and tonally balanced. Most importantly, they sound RIGHT. You get the sense that you are hearing the music exactly as the band intended. The best sounding tracks have presence, clarity, and transparency like you have never heard — that is, unless you’ve gone through a pile of copies the way we did.

Like Blind Faith or Surrealistic Pillow, this is no demo disc by any stretch of the imagination, but that should hardly keep us or anyone else from enjoying the music, and now we have the record that lets us do it.

That’s not to say it’s going to blow your mind sonically from start to finish. This ain’t Tea For The Tillerman, to say the least. Many tracks can sound amazing, but a few (such as the title track) may leave you cold. It’s yet another hit and miss Tom Dowd production, much like Wheels of Fire and Disraeli Gears.

Allow me to point the way to the tracks that we think have the best sound on each side.

Side One

I Looked Away
Bell Bottom Blues

One of the better sounding tracks on the album. If you’re going to critically make judgments about the sound of this or any other side one, Bell Bottom Blues is probably your best bet. It’s usually less dry, richer and bigger than the other tracks on this side, with notably more correct vocal reproduction.

Keep On Growing
Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down And Out)

Side Two

I Am Yours

One of the better sounding tracks on the album. The notes for Bell Bottom Blues above apply. The best copies have superb Tubey Magical grungy guitar tone and energy to spare — they can really rock.


Derek and the Dominos – Layla

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  • Some of our favorite Clapton songs are here: Bell Bottom Blues, Tell The Truth, Little Wing, Layla and Have You Ever Loved A Woman? just to name a few
  • One of the most difficult albums to find audiophile sound for, but a lot easier for us now that we know what pressings can actually sound good
  • Clapton’s greatest album: “But what really makes Layla such a powerful record is that Clapton, ignoring the traditions that occasionally painted him into a corner, simply tears through these songs with burning, intense emotion.”

Outstanding sound for all four sides of this classic album. Unless you plan on playing a very big pile of copies you will be hard-pressed to find a copy with sound like this. (more…)

Stephen Stills / Manassas – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

Our first Hot Stamper shootout for Manassas produced a number of good sounding sides on the original pressings, but we held back our highest sonic grade because even the best of the best still had problems. Most copies we played were a disaster: grungy, veiled, no real top end, grainy, stuck in the speakers, tubby bass — these and other problems were all too common. When a double album sounds like this it makes for a very long day.

After playing four or five bad sounding copies we almost threw in the towel. Everyone kept asking me: Does this record ever sound good?

I said I thought it did, I thought I heard a good copy or two when we listened to them in our preliminary rounds, but hey, maybe I was wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.

But then a copy like this one came along, and we got down to the serious business of going through them all, trying to find the few that had the qualities this one did.

What were we listening for exactly? An absence of all the bad qualities mentioned above would be the easiest answer. Once you find a copy without the nasty grit and the grain so many of them have you quickly start to key into the lovely ambience that the best copies have, you start to notice the tubey magic, the richness and sweetness, the extension up top, the kind of transparency that lets you hear into the soundfield and pick out all the players — pretty much the same kinds of things you’re always looking for in a Hot Stamper pressing, except in this case you just had to be willing to look a whole lot harder. (more…)

Aretha Franklin – Young, Gifted and Black

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This Atlantic pressing is a MONSTER, easily one of the best we’ve ever played, and unusually quiet to boot. You will have a very tough time finding a copy with even one side this good, let alone two. The music, of course, is top notch — and it’s even better when you don’t have bad sound or crappy vinyl getting in the way. I imagine the Queen Of Soul herself would be very impressed with the way she sounds on this White Hot Stamper pressing.  

This WONDERFUL album of Aretha’s is very possibly her most consistent from the period, but it’s sure a tough nut to crack sonically. So many copies are smeary, recessed and lifeless you’d think you were playing a heavy vinyl reissue, not a real Atlantic original. And no matter how hard you try, there just do not seem to be any copies with quiet surfaces and clean inner grooves. (more…)

Derek and the Dominos – Remastering the Remaster (and Keeping It a Secret)

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NEWSFLASH! [circa 2010]

Noticing that this title had recently come back into print, and remembering that we used to like the SVLP of Layla, we decided to order a current copy of the album from Simply Vinyl.

Soon enough it came in, we played it, and we were pretty shocked to hear that the damn thing sounded just plain AWFUL.

Was I wrong about it before? Only one way to know. I pulled out my old Review Copy from way back when it first came out and sure enough that early pressing sounded dramatically BETTER than the new one. The stampers were completely different of course; someone had remastered it recently and ruined it.

The earlier SVLP pressing, though no award winner by any means, was at least a good record. This new pressing was nothing but a piece of crap.  (more…)