Top Engineers – John Haeny

Linda Ronstadt / Don’t Cry Now – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy.

Her vocals on both sides can be very DYNAMIC, but only the best copies will present them with no hint of STRAIN or GRAIN, two problems that make most pressings positively painful to listen to at the loud volumes we prefer.

Linda really belts it out on this album — face it, it’s what she does best — and only the rarest copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing.

Another key to recognizing the best copies is the fact that they tend to be highly resolving. Two places to check:

Note how breathy her voice is in the quiet passages. Only the least smeared, most transparent copies reproduce that breathy quality in her voice

Next check out the tambourine on Silver Threads and Golden Needles. If the sound is delicate, not gritty or transistory, you have yourself a winner in the resolution department. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Don’t Cry Now

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  • A STUNNING copy of Don’t Cry Now with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • The transparency and vocal presence here are wonderful – the piano is solid and Linda’s vocals are breathy and heartfelt
  • We love her emotionally powerful interpretations of Desperado, Sail Away and Neil Young’s achingly sublime I Believe in You
  • She really belts it out on this album – it’s what she does best – but only the best copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing
  • Rolling Stone raves it’s “the Ronstadt album for which we’ve been waiting.”

A key to recognizing the best copies is the fact that they tend to be highly resolving. Two places to check:

Note how breathy her voice is in the quiet passages. Only the least smeared, most transparent copies reproduce that breathy quality in her voice.

Next check out the tambourine on Silver Threads and Golden Needles. If the sound is delicate, not gritty or transistory, you have yourself a winner in the resolution department. (more…)

Judy Collins – Wildflowers

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  • Judy Collins superb 1967 release finally returns to the site after many years with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this Gold Label original stereo pressing
  • The sound is rich, sweet and open, with Judy’s voice especially clear and breathy – if you’re not quite sure what Tubey Magic is all about, the sound of this pressing will show you just how Tubey Magical the real deal can be
  • There is plenty of wonderful music on this album, including two of best songs Judy ever recorded (in our opinion), Michael from Mountains and Since You Asked, as well as two of Leonard Cohen’s best-penned tunes
  • “Soothing. Unique. Natural. These are clear adjectives used best when describing the style and grace of Judy Collins and her album Wildflowers. Her blend of folk and meditative music paints a tapestry of soft, nurturing colors that transcends the mind of the listener and seeks one’s soul.”

The first three songs on side one alone are worth the price of the album, three of the best Judy ever recorded. Joni Mitchell’s Michael from Mountains is one of the best songs on her debut album; Judy sings it with comparable taste and skill. Since You Asked is Judy’s own composition, her first to be recorded in fact. In this writer’s opinion, it’s the best song she ever wrote, “as good as it gets” as we like to say. And of course, Leonard Cohen’s Sisters of Mercy is one of his many masterpieces and brilliant in all respects as performed here.

Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance that year by the way. (more…)

Judy Collins – Sometimes the Hits Are Mastered from Sub-Generation Tapes, and There’s Not Much You Can Do About It

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Both Sides Now, the Top Ten hit that finally put Judy on the map, is clearly made from a copy tape and doesn’t sound as good as the songs that follow it on side two. Hey, it happens, and I suspect it happens more often than most audiophiles think. I would wager that back in the day most people who bought this album never even noticed.

One thing I’ve noticed about audiophiles over the years: they’re like most people. The difference of course is that they call themselves audiophiles, and audiophiles are supposed to care about sound quality.

They may care about it, but are they capable of recognizing it? Are they capable of listening critically?  Critically enough to notice dubby sound when they hear it?

Or to notice that one side of a record often sounds very different from another?

Or that some reissues sound better than the originals of the album?

Or that there is no correlation between the country that a rock band comes from and the country that made the best sounding pressings of their albums?

The embrace of one third-rate Heavy Vinyl pressing after another by the audiophile community has rendered absurd the pretense that their members ever developed anything beyond the most rudimentary critical listening skills.

Sadly, the Dunning-Kruger effect, the best explanation for the sorry state of audio these days, means they simply don’t know how little they know and therefore see no reason to doubt their high opinions of themselves, their equipment and their acumen.

Progress in audio is possible, but only if you know that you are not already at the top of the mountain. You should recognize that you have a lot of serious climbing to do.

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Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Truly a Country Rock Masterpiece

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  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them, this copy was giving us KILLER sound for Linda Ronstadt’s Best Album
  • Both sides here are rich, full-bodied and warm, with harmonically rich guitars and real immediacy to Linda’s heartfelt vocals
  • A Must Own Classic, the best album Ms Ronstadt ever made, and a True Country Rock Masterpiece virtually without peer
  • 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.”

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 46 years by my calculation, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on the album. Folks, we heard it for ourselves: the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here on practically every song.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing. (more…)

Rita Coolidge – It’s Only Love

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Fans of Linda Ronstadt’s ’70s music are going to find a lot of Tubey Magical sound to like here – spending some time with Rita and getting reacquainted with her albums is just the kind of thing that makes record collecting fun
  • John Haeny, the principal engineer for Rita and hubby Kris Kristofferson during the ’70s, in fact worked on some of Linda’s albums, as well as those by Judy Collins, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Little Feat and many others

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Bonnie Raitt / Sweet Forgiveness – Bonnie’s Best?

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy will be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Full-bodied and warm, with harmonically rich guitars as well as real immediacy to Bonnie’s heartfelt vocals, this is the classic sound of Seventies Rock
  • The sound is big, bold, clear, rich and dynamic, which wouldn’t mean anything if the music weren’t good, but this actually happens to be Bonnie’s best album in our opinion, with Home Plate a close runner-up

I learned recently that Jack Haeny is one of the two engineers on this album, which goes a long way toward explaining the excellent ’70s analog sound. He worked on The Pretender, Don’t Cry Now, and many of the early and quite wonderful sounding albums Judy Collins did for Elektra in the earlier part of the decade. This guy knows sound.

(A good copy of The Pretender is an amazing Demo Disc that will put 99% of all the rock records you’ve ever played to shame. But the truly Hot Stamper pressings are few and far between, so most audiophiles have no idea how well recorded that album is. The piano is HUGE.) (more…)

Judy Collins – Judith – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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White Hot A+++ sound on side two of this 2-pack, with Shootout Winning sound. Great material including The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns. Another 2-pack that proves our case – the good sides here are wonderful, the bad sides plainly awful. The engineer for Judith is Phil Ramone, who went on to win the Grammy the following year for Still Crazy After All These Years. (more…)

John Sebastian – John B. Sebastian

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  • KILLER sound throughout for this original Reprise pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it
  • “Freed from the confines of a four-piece band, he stretched further on his debut solo album… an eclectic but low-key introduction to the solo career of a former group member whose band was known for more elaborate productions, and all the more effective for that. ” – All Music

This Shootout Winner was clearly better than every other copy we played. It’s big, full-bodied and rich; in other words, it has that classic 1970 analog rock sound that we love. Bruce Botnick and his brother are two of the many engineers on the project, along with John Haeny, the man who recorded his share of legendary albums, some of our favorites by Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins, Linda Ronstadt and others. (more…)

Rita Coolidge – The Lady’s Not For Sale

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  • Rita Coolidge’s superb third album arrives with superb Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from first note to last
  • Fans of Linda Ronstadt’s ’70s music are going to find a lot of Tubey Magical sound to like here – this is a simply wonderful example of the kind of album that makes record collecting fun
  • John Haeny, the principal engineer for Rita and hubby Kris Kristofferson during the ’70s, in fact worked on some of Linda’s albums, as well as those by Judy Collins, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Little Feat and many others
  • “… a fine mixture of covers and originals that manages to showcase her fine vocal abilities as well as show off an impressive array of friends.”

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