Top Engineers – Hugh Padgham

Phil Collins – Face Value

More Phil Collins

  • An early UK copy of Phil Collins’ killer solo debut with superb Double (A++) sound from start to finish
  • The recording quality of this album is still analog and can be excellent, thanks to hugely talented engineer and producer Hugh Padgham (Peter Gabriel, Genesis, The Police, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, etc.)
  • We’ve tried his other albums, but nothing we’ve played has struck us as being remotely as well recorded as his debut
  • 5 stars: “. . . Collins’ most honest, most compelling work. He went on to become a huge star, with loads more hits, but Face Value stands as his masterpiece and one of the finest moments of the ’80s musical landscape.”
  • If you’re a fan of Phil’s, this has to be seen as a Top Title from 1981 that belongs in your collection
  • It’s without a doubt his best sounding album, and, to our way of thinking, his only essential one
  • The sound may be heavily processed, but that kind of sound works surprisingly well on the best sounding pressings (played at good, loud levels on big dynamic speakers in a large, heavily-treated room, of course)

Song after song, Collins’ songwriting and musicianship shine with this breakout record, the first and clearly the best of all his solo albums. The sound on the best copies, like this one, is VIBRANT, with SUPERB extension on the top, PUNCHY BASS, and excellent texture on the drums and percussion, as well as spacious strings and vocals.

There may be some hope for Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982), but Phil’s third album, 1985’s No Jacket Required, is digital and ridiculously processed sounding. I suppose not many albums from 1985 weren’t, but it’s still an unfortunate development for us audiophile types who might’ve wanted to enjoy these albums but are just not able to get past the bad sound.

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What to Listen For on English Settlement

Hot Stamper Art Rock Albums Available Now

More Demo Discs for Bass

For Big Production Rock Albums like English Settlement there are some obvious problem areas that are often heard on at least one or two sides of practically any copy of this four sided album.  

With so many heavily-produced instruments crammed into the soundfield, if the overall sound is at all veiled, recessed or smeared — problems common to 90+% of the records we play in our shootouts — the mix quickly becomes opaque, forcing the listener to work too hard to separate out the elements of musical interest.

Exhaustion, especially on this album, soon follows.

Transparency, clarity and presence are key.

Note that none of the British copies we played was thin and anemic. The domestic copies are made from dubs and can’t begin to compete.

Almost all had plenty of Tubey Magic and bottom end, so thankfully that was almost never a problem.

They did however tend to lack top end extension and transparency, and many were overly compressed. There is plenty of tube compression being used in both the mixing and mastering, but most of the time it is working its magic to keep the bass big, punchy and loud. 

Zeppelin Too

Robert Ludwig used humungous amounts of tube compression on this album, and we’re glad he did. All that massive compression is at least partly responsible for it being one of the Ten Best Sounding Rock Records Ever Made.

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 make sense of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “…I am surprised at how muddy the bass sounds on the new one.”

Reviews and Commentaries for Ghost in the Machine

More of the Music of Sting and The Police

One of our good customers had this to say about a record he read about on the blog, the Nautilus pressing of Ghost in the Machine.

Hey Tom,   

Did you write something about the Nautilus record… I thought so, but I couldn’t find it.

[This Ghost in the Machine link will take you to it.]

This is one of my favorites from my teenage years and so I decided to do my own little test… Sterling vs. Nautilus vs. half speed abbey road reissue… it feels pretty clear the Sterling is tops with Nautilus close but I am surprised at how muddy the bass sounds on the new one. And just how tamped down the record sounds. Which is I guess your point.

Geoff

Geoff,

You now know a great deal more about this album than most of the audiophiles expressing their opinions on audiophile forums.

You conducted a shootout, something most of them can’t be bothered to do.

You should not be surprised about muddy bass on half-speed mastered records, they all have it.

And tamped down? Tell me about it. Compressed and lifeless are two qualities the audiophile record can be guaranteed to deliver. How these companies get away with producing one shitty remaster after another is beyond me. They’ve been making this junk for more than forty years and they’re still making it.

Welcome to the upside-down world of the modern audiophile record. The worse they sound, the more audiophiles seem to like them.

Your shootout provided you with a good lesson to learn right from the start. It has set you on a better path.

Try this experiment: Take four or five UK pressings, clean them up and then compare them to any of the ones you played — the sound should be night and day better. And, after doing that shootout, one of the four or five would be a truly Hot Stamper pressing.

Those are what we sell. We save you all that work and expense and give you a better record than you could probably find on your own, but if you want to do your own shootouts, we have lots of advice on this very blog to help you do that. (more…)

Hall and Oates – H2O

More Hall and Oates

  • A stunning copy of this Hall and Oates classic from 1982 with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two, mated with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on side one – mostly quiet vinyl too
  • It’s lively, open, and natural – the voices of the two leads sound especially full-bodied, real and tonally correct from top to bottom, which is pretty much all you need to earn top grades in a shootout
  • Much more consistent than most of their releases, this one boasts three killer hits including Maneater, Family Man and my All Time Favorite by the band, One on One
  • 4 stars: “Private Eyes solidified Hall & Oates’ status as one of the most popular acts in America in the early ’80s, and…… with 1982’s H2O, they capitalized on its success, delivering an album that turned out to bigger than its predecessor, as it climbed higher on the charts and launched three Top Ten singles…”

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The Police – Ghost in the Machine

Reviews and Commentaries for Ghost in the Machine

More Sting and The Police

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides, this vintage UK pressing sounds rich, smooth and sweet – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the band’s most sophisticated hits: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, Invisible Sun, Spirits In The Material World, and more
  • Hugh Padgham took over engineering duties for Ghost and The Police’s next album, resulting in a dramatic improvement in the quality of their recordings
  • “This album has more variety than the menu in a Bangkok brothel. In particular, Sting’s voice has taken on a new depth and fresh maturity. The opening song, ‘Spirits In The Material World’, may have what sounds like a dumb title, but the song is a dream of close harmonies and nicely understated drums.” Record Mirror

If you’re looking for big hits, this is the album for you. I mean, get three tracks in and you’ve already heard Spirits In The Material World, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic and Invisible Sun — not a bad way to get things started!

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Peter Gabriel Names a Third Record After Himself

More Peter Gabriel

More Art Rock Records

  • It’s been quite a few years since our last shootout – finding clean, quiet, early pressings of this album has been especially difficult for many years and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier
  • A Must Own for Gabriel fans, this album is widely considered his breakthrough work as a solo artist
  • Listen closely and you’ll recognize Phil Collins’ now-signature (but at the time revolutionary) drum sound on several of the tracks, including “Intruder,” one of the best tracks on the album
  • 5 stars: “Generally regarded as Peter Gabriel’s finest record, his third eponymous album finds him coming into his own, crafting an album that’s artier, stronger, more song oriented than before.”
  • If you’re a fan, this is a Peter Gabriel classic from 1980 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1980 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

With this, his third release, Gabriel established himself as a true force in the rock world. (more…)

XTC – English Settlement

More XTC

More New Wave

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on all FOUR sides of this early Virgin UK import pressing – impossibly quiet vinyl too
  • Side two boasts the best condition grade we give out, Mint Minus, and the other three sides play close to it – you won’t find another record on the site with vinyl this quiet!
  • You won’t believe how good this record sounds – on a Big System with lots of firepower down low, this is a sonic tour de force, a MONSTER Demo Disc
  • The first three sides of this copy have huge amounts of open studio space and that Tubey Magical, rich, fat, dense, bass-heavy British Rock Sound we love, and the fourth isn’t far behind in all those areas
  • It has taken YEARS to get this shootout going – what happened to all the clean British pressings? They have disappeared over the last five years it seems
  • 4 stars: “There are plenty of pop gems – ‘Senses Working Overtime’ stands as one of their finest songs — but the main focus seems to be the more expansive sound…the textural sound of the album is quite remarkable.”

This is an AMAZINGLY well-recorded album, with huge amounts of open studio space and that Tubey Magical, rich, fat, dense British Rock Sound. That sound isn’t easy to reproduce, but this copy absoluely nails it. Nothing else in our shootout came close to it!

If you have big speakers and the room to play to play them good and loud , this is quite the sonic tour de force.

Credit Hugh Padgham, producer and engineer, who’s worked with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Genesis, The Police, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Those bands recorded music that makes good use of Padgham’s trademark sound: wall-to-wall, deep, layered, smooth, rich and stuffed to the gills. XTC, with Padgham’s help, have here produced a real steamroller of an album in English Settlement.

The big hit on this album is one that most audiophiles will probably know: “Senses Working Overtime.” Even over the radio you can hear how dense the production is. Imagine what it sounds like on an original British pressing with Hot Stampers, played on a modern audiophile rig. Simply put, IT ROCKS.

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The Police – Synchronicity

More Police

More Sting

  • This stunning pressing of the band’s final studio album boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • Clearly better than every other pressing we played – when you can hear it sound this good you may just come to appreciate how good the music is
  • Every Breath You Take and Wrapped Around Your Finger are amazingly big, rich and Tubey Magical here
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Few other albums from 1983 merged tasteful pop, sophistication, and expert songwriting as well as Synchronicity did, resulting in yet another all-time classic.”

This music can have real Rock and Roll POWER — if you’re lucky enough to own a pressing with the energy of the master tapes inscribed in its grooves. Some have it and some don’t.

Welcome to the world of analog, where no two copies sound the same and most are nothing special. (No two covers of this album look the same either. Get a pile of them out and see if you can find two that match. It’s not easy.) (more…)

Phil Collins – Hello, I Must Be Going!

More Phil Collins

  • As Good As It Gets Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish for Collins’ second studio album – exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • This is the last of the albums Phil recorded in analog, and of course the sound is big and rich – you will not believe all the space and ambience on this copy
  • Includes Phil’s killer version of the Supremes’ classic, “You Can’t Hurry Love”
  • 4 stars: “… the album is still a winning follow-up that shows Collins to be in full control of songwriting and production. It may be a shade less impressive than Face Value, but that was a hard act to follow. 

Fortunately, the recording quality of this album is still analog and can be excellent, thanks to hugely talented engineer and producer Hugh Padgham (Peter Gabriel, Genesis, The Police, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, etc.). (more…)

The Police – Ghost in the Machine on Nautilus Vinyl

Reviews and Commentaries for Ghost in the Machine

More of the Music of Sting and The Police

And to think we used to actually like the sound of the Nautilus pressings! They suffer from all the same shortcomings other Nautilus and similar half-speeds suffer from: the kind of pretty but lifeless and oh-so-boring sound that we describe in listing after listing. 

Three of the Best, Or So We Thought

I just did shootouts with three of the best Nautilus Half-Speeds: Heart, The Police’s Ghost in the Machine, and Little Feat. None of them sound like the real thing, and especially disappointing was one of my former favorites, the Little Feat album.

On the title track the Nautilus is amazingly transparent and sweet sounding. There are no real dynamics or bass on that track, so the “pretty” half-speed does what it does best and shines. But all the other tracks suck in exactly the same way Night and Day does. Cutting the balls off Little Feat is not my idea of hi-fidelity.

We put audiophile beaters up for sale every week. Each and every one of them is a lesson on what makes one record sound better than another. If you want a wall full of good sounding records, we can help you make it happen. In fact it will be our pleasure. Down with audiophile junk and up with Better Records. (more…)