Top Engineers – Phil Ramone

Astrud Gilberto – Windy

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout, making this one of the best copies to ever hit the site
  • Forget whatever Heavy Vinyl imposter is in print – this vintage Verve stereo pressing has the kind of High-Rez Tubey-Magical Midrange that will bring Astrud’s soft samba music to life in your very own listening room
  • “… Windy nevertheless proves one of Astrud Gilberto’s most consistent and sublime efforts, artfully straddling the division between Brazilian bossa nova and American sunshine pop.” 

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Jobim and Ramone – These Strings Are a Tough Test

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Reviews and Commentaries for Antonio Carlos Jobim

Credit engineer Phil Ramone for correctly capturing the sound of every instrument here: the guitars, piano, flutes, strings, drums, percussion instruments — everything has the natural timbre of the real thing. I used to think this recording erred on the bright side, but not the Hot Stamper copies. They are tonally Right On The Money.

When the balance lacks lower midrange the sound gets lean, which causes the strings to seem brighter than they really are, a not uncommon problem with some of the pressings we heard.

We had quite a batch of these to play, including imports, originals, reissues (all stereo), and one lone mono, which was so ridiculously bad sounding we tossed it right out of the competition and into the trade pile.

For those of you playing along at home, we are not going to be much help to you here in finding your own Hot Stampers. Every version had strengths and weaknesses and all are represented in the three listings we are putting up today.

The sound of this side one blew our minds — no other copy could touch it. So open and airy, yet with real weight to the piano and a clear and strong bass line, this copy did EVERYTHING right. The strings are very much part of the ensemble on this album, and getting good string tone, with just the right rosiny texture, the least amount of smear, freedom from shrillness or hardness — this is not easy to do. On the strings, this copy KILLED.

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The Band – Rock Of Ages

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  • A superb vintage Capitol pressing of Rock of Ages with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all FOUR sides
  • The best copies are surprisingly TRANSPARENT – just listen to all the “room” around the vocals on these four sides
  • With tracks from their first four albums, as well as a few handpicked favorites (“Don’t Do It”), not to mention killer horn charts on 11 songs, this is a superb overview of the group’s uniquely rootsy rock
  • A classic double live album with a consistently well-arranged and energetically performed set of songs – if you could only have one album by The Band, wouldn’t it have to be this one?
  • 4 stars: “It could be argued that it captured the spirit of the Band at the time in a way none of their other albums do.”

The performances are uniformly excellent, and the live five-piece horn section adds a lot to the fun and energy of the music. (The same can be said for Little Feat’s live album, Waiting for Columbus. We’ve been offering Hot Stampers on that album for years; it’s the best way to hear the band at their best, outside the studio.)

There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals, in-your-listening-room presence, and plenty of rock and roll energy.

All four sides here are just plain bigger, richer, clearer and smoother than the other copies we played. The energy level is off the charts. This is The Band playing live at the peak of their powers. Hearing this outstanding pressing should be unlike anything you have experienced before, unless you saw them back in the day, some fifty years ago, and how many of us can honestly say we did? (“Honestly” being the operative word there.)

It should go without saying that this is music that belongs in any popular music collection. My favorite song here is “I Don’t Want To Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes.” It’s The Band at their best — LIVE.

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Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

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  • The sound is big, warm and full-bodied – it’s much more present and clear, and not nearly as harsh or gritty as far too many of the copies we played were
  • Great songs including “Kodachrome,” “Loves Me Like a Rock,” “Was a Sunny Day” (and you probably know most of the other 7)
  • 5 stars: “Retaining the buoyant musical feel of Paul Simon, but employing a more produced sound, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon found Paul Simon writing and performing with assurance and venturing into soulful and R&B-oriented music.”
  • If you’re a Paul Simon fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of his from 1973.
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Most pressings don’t have anywhere near this kind of openness and transparency — and they don’t have this kind of richness or warmth either. It’s a real treat to hear these great songs finally get the sound they deserve.

On most pressings, Simon’s voice is a spitty, gritty mess — sure it’s present, but where is the sweetness and warmth? Well, as a copy like this proves, more of those qualities made it to the tape than you might think

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Paul Simon – One-Trick Pony

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Singer Songwriter Albums

  • One-Trick Pony is back with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Notably richer and livelier than every other pressing we played, with plenty of Tubey Magic and good weight down low
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, presence and energy on this copy than anything else around, and that’s especially true for whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently being foisted on an unsuspecting record buying public
  • “Tasty licks abound from the fretwork of Eric Gale, Hiram Bullock, and Hugh McCracken, and the rhythm section of Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, and Richard Tee is equally in the groove. This is the closest thing to a band album Simon ever made, and it contains some of his most rhythmic and energetic singing. . .”
  • If you’re a Paul Simon fan, a killer copy like this of his album from 1980 belongs in your collection

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Paul McCartney and Wings – Ram

  • This vintage pressing of McCartney’s 1971 Classic boasts outstanding sound and exceptionally quiet vinyl on both sides
  • A copy like this is a real audiophile treat – here is the rich, warm, clear, natural and lively sound you want for Ram   
  • Many of the man’s most memorable songs are here: Too Many People, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, Monkberry Moon Delight, Heart Of The Country and more
  • 5 stars: “These songs may not be self-styled major statements, but they are endearing and enduring, as is Ram itself, which seems like a more unique, exquisite pleasure with each passing year.”

I remember this album being dismissed as lightweight back in the day and I may have even felt the same to be honest. Heck, compared to Abbey Road and The White Album, the very same thing could be said about most of McCartney’s albums.

McCartney isn’t out to blow you away with high-production value rock here, apart from Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. He’s making some lovely pop music with his wife and sharing it with the world. And what’s so wrong with that? (more…)

Chicago – Chicago VI

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  • An outstanding copy of Chicago VI, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The sound of the brass on any Chicago album is key and these sides have the horns sounding clear and really jumping out of the speakers
  • VI was propelled to the top of the charts for five full weeks by two of the band’s best tracks: “Just You ‘n’ Me” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”
  • 4 stars: “Chicago VI is an undeniably strong effort – supported at the time by its chart-topping status…”

The background vocals on these sides are breathy and clear, a far cry from the typically smeary, dark voices we heard on most of the pressings we played, all originals in this case.

More often than not the brass lacks bite and presence, but these sides had the Chicago horns leaping out of the speakers. What is a Chicago record without great horns? Without that big bold sound you may have something, but it sure ain’t Chicago.

The sound of the brass on any Chicago album is key — it has to have just the right amount of transient bite yet still be full-bodied and never blary. In addition, on the best of the best pressings you can really hear the air moving through the horns.

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Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years

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More Pure Pop Recordings

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • An extremely tough album to find with the kind of big, spacious, Tubey Magical sound this pressing offers
  • Clean, clear and open are nice qualities to have, but the richer, smoother, more natural sounding copies are the ones that win our shootouts
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…he was never more in tune with his audience: Still Crazy topped the charts, spawned four Top 40 hits, and won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Vocal Performance.”
  • If you’re a Paul Simon fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of his from 1975.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The overall sound here is big and rich. You get texture to the instruments (check the strings in the title track) but a smooth quality to the vocals instead of the grit and strain you hear on most copies. There’s extension up top and weight down low. (more…)

Billy Joel – The Stranger

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  • With solid Double Plus (A++) sound, this pressing of Joel’s 1977 breakthrough album (thanks Phil!) is outstanding from top to bottom – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Tonally correct, solid, open, clear, with plenty of hard-rockin’ energy and present vocals, what’s not to like?
  • The Stranger, Only the Good Die Young, Vienna, Just The Way You Are, Movin’ Out, She’s Always A Woman – some of Joel’s strongest songwriting can be found right here
  • 4 1/2 stars: “None of his ballads have been as sweet or slick as “Just the Way You Are”; he never had created a rocker as bouncy or infectious as “Only the Good Die Young”; and the glossy production of “She’s Always a Woman” disguises its latent misogynist streak… Joel rarely wrote a set of songs better than those on The Stranger, nor did he often deliver an album as consistently listenable.”

We recently completed a shootout for the album and this was one of the better copies we heard. After playing a stack of mediocre Strangers, we are completely confident in saying that you’ll have a very hard time finding a copy that sounds this good.

The Stranger is chock full of some of Joel’s biggest hits, including Just The Way You Are, Movin’ Out, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, Only The Good Die Young and She’s Always A Woman. AMG raves about this one (4 1/2 stars) and it’s easy to see why — this is the kind of pop music that still sounds fresh 40 years (!) after it was recorded and might just be good for another forty years. (more…)

Kenny Loggins / Celebrate Me Home – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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This WHITE HOT Stamper side one shows you just how good this record can sound, which is surprisingly good, considering how many copies of the album are just plain awful. Finally, most of the grit, grain and transistory opacity have fallen away, leaving in its place the rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical ’70s sound one would expect. 

As obvious as it may sound (especially to anyone on this site), the master tape is a whole lot better than the average copy of the record would have you think. This side one is proof positive. And side two is nearly as good, earning a solid Super Hot stamper grade of A++. Without a doubt this is by far the best copy of the album we have ever heard.

It’s also the only Loggins solo album that I’ve ever liked; it was actually a favorite of mine back in the day. I’ve owned this very copy for more than twenty years (bought it in 1988 according to the price sticker). Seems like a good time to send it on its way to find a new home. (more…)