Top Engineers – Rhett Davies

Dire Straits – Dire Straits

xxxxx

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides of this UK pressing of the band’s brilliant debut
  • One of the best sounding rock records ever made, with rich, sweet, smooth mids; prodigious amounts of bass; superb transparency and clarity; and a freedom from hi-fi-ishness and a lack of distortion like very few rock records we have ever heard
  • Rhett Davies knocked this one out of the park – it’s a Top 100 title, a member of the Tubey Magical Top Ten, and our favorite by the band for both sound and music
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Knopfler also shows an inclination toward Dylanesque imagery, which enhances the smoky, low-key atmosphere of the album… the album is remarkably accomplished for a debut, and Dire Straits had difficulty surpassing it throughout their career.”

*NOTE: On side one, a mark makes 3 moderate pops followed by 8 light ticks at the beginning of Track 1, Down to the Waterline. On side two, a mark makes 11 light ticks on Track 1, Sultans of Swing.

Rhett Davies is one of our favorite engineers. He’s the man behind Taking Tiger Mountain, 801 Live and Avalon to name just a few of his most famous recordings, all favorites of ours of course.

The man may be famous for some fairly artificial sounding recordings — Eno’s, Roxy Music’s and The Talking Heads’ albums come to mind — but it’s obvious to us now, if it wasn’t before, that those are entirely artistic choices, not engineering shortcomings.

Rhett Davies, by virtue of the existence of this album alone, has proven that he belongs in the company of the greatest engineers of all time, right up there with the likes of Bill Porter, Ken Scott, Stephen Barncard, Geoff Emerick, Glyn Johns and others we could mention. (more…)

Brian Eno – Before And After Science

xxxxx

  • This outstanding copy of Before And After Science on the Island Black Label boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Here you will find that rare combination of silky highs and deep low end, with huge amounts of space in the middle, three qualities among many that make this album an especially magical listening experience
  • I know whereof I speak- I must have played this album at least two hundred times in the 43 years that have passed since I first bought a copy
  • If you’re a fan of Art Rock or Prog Rock or just like something a little different, this is an album that belongs in your collection
  • 5 stars: “Despite the album’s pop format, the sound is unique and strays far from the mainstream. The music on Before and After Science at times resembles Another Green World (“No One Receiving”) and Here Come the Warm Jets (“King’s Lead Hat”) and ranks alongside both as the most essential Eno material.”

*NOTE: On side one, a mark makes 1 loud stitch followed by 1 moderate pop one-quarter inch from the end of Track 3, Kurt’s Rejoinder. On side two, a mark makes 1 moderate, then 1 moderately light, stitch a quarter inch from the end of Track 1, Here He comes.

Side one, the rock side, strongly relies on its deep punchy bass to make its material come to life and rock (or should we say art rock?). Eno’s vocals are clear and present with virtually no strain. Phil Collins’ drumming is energetic and transparent and perfectly complemented by Percy Jones’ simultaneously acrobatic and hard-driving bass work. (more…)

Talking Heads – Remain In Light – A Tough Title to Play

xxxxx

This is a record that’s going to demand a lot from the listener, and we want to make sure that you feel you’re up to the challenge. If you don’t mind putting in a little hard work, here’s a record that will reward your time and effort many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process (especially your VTA adjustment, just to pick an obvious area most audiophiles neglect).

A word of caution: Unless your system is firing on all cylinders, even our hottest Hot Stamper copies — the Super Hot and White Hot pressings with the biggest, most dynamic, clearest, and least distorted sound — can have problems . Your system should be thoroughly warmed up, your electricity should be clean and cooking, you’ve got to be using the right room treatments, and we also highly recommend using a demagnetizer such as the Walker Talisman on the record, your cables (power, interconnect and speaker) as well as the individual drivers of your speakers.

This recording ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale. Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment.

It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be.

It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too.

As we’ve said before about these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring an audio system to its knees.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this demands, when you drop the needle on the best of our Hot Stamper pressings, you are going to hear some amazing sound .

Brian Eno – His First Four Albums Are Best on Import, Right? – Well, Almost…

xxxxx

[This commentary is quite old. You should take it with a grain of salt.]

The domestic pressings of Before And After Science are typically grainy and hard sounding — hardly competitive with the smoother British Polydors. But our best Hot Stamper pressing isn’t an import; it was made right here in the good old U. S. of A.

Say what? Yes, it’s true. We were SHOCKED to find such hot stamper sound lurking in the grooves of a domestic Eno LP. It’s the One and Only. In thirty plus years of record playing I can’t think of any domestic Eno LP that ever sounded this good.

Now hold on just a minute. The British pressings of Eno’s albums are always the best, aren’t they?

For the first three albums, absolutely. But rules were made to be broken. This pressing has the knockout sound we associate with the best British originals of Eno’s albums, not the flat, cardboardy qualities of the typical domestic reissue.

Kinda Blind Testing

Since the person listening and making notes during the shootouts has no idea what the label or the pressing of the record is that he is evaluating — this is after all a quasi-scientific enterprise, with blind testing being the order of the day — when that domestic later label showed up at the top of the heap, our jaws hit the floor.

Both sides have that rare combination of silky highs and deep low end that make any record magical. Side one, the rock side, strongly relies on its deep punchy bass to make its material come to life and rock (or should we say art rock?). Eno’s vocals are clear and present with virtually no strain. Phil Collins’ drumming (how did these guys get together? We forget that Collins was in the proggy Brand X) is energetic and transparent and perfectly complemented by Percy Jones’ simultaneously acrobatic and hard-driving bass work. (more…)

Roxy Music – Flesh + Blood

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

The British Original Polydor Super Deluxe pressings are the only way to go on this album. No domestic pressing or other import was better than passable; we know, we played them. The British LP is cut by one of my favorite mastering houses in England, which no doubt accounts — at least partly — for the excellent sound.

The estimable Robert Ludwig cut the domestic pressings. Unfortunately for us Americans, it sounds to us like they gave him a dub tape to master from. (The same thing happened on Avalon by the way.)

This is a transitional album. Some of it sounds like Avalon (Oh Yeah, Over You, etc) and some of it sounds more like their earlier material. It may not be as consistent as Avalon but it’s well worth owning for its best songs (listed below) and highly recommended for fans of the band. (more…)

Talking Heads – Remain In Light – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

HOT STAMPERS DISCOVERED AT LAST! We’ve been trying to find a great sounding copy of this album forever, and this is the week we finally succeeded. It takes an exceptional pressing to get all the elements correct — the funky bottom end; the processed, multi-tracked vocals; the Brian Eno production weirdness and so on.

This is a brilliant album but a typically problematic record. Most copies get some things right but fail miserably in other areas. There are smeary copies that can’t deliver the punchy bottom you need, grainy copies that make the vocals painful to listen to, and plenty of copies that are just too dark or flat sounding for anyone to enjoy. Note that the first track on both sides will sound the worst. The sound gets better, though, as you get further into the album. (more…)

801 Live – It’s All About the Bass (Except for that One Time When It Wasn’t)

xxxxx

What’s especially interesting about this copy is that we went crazy for it even though it did not have the best bass of the copies we played, which, as you will see below, clearly contradicts what we had previously written. We thought that the copies with the best bass had the best everything else too, but that was not what we heard this time around.

THIS copy got the music to work its magic, and it did it with most, but not all, of the bass of the best. Not sure how to explain it. Rules were made to be broken maybe?  (more…)

Roxy Music – Avalon – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This British original EG Super DeLuxe pressing of Avalon has White Hot Stamper sound on BOTH sides. We guarantee you have never begun to hear this music sound this clear, open and present. Right from the start the synths on track one were breathy and floating on a bed of cool studio air — we knew this side was going to be awesome, and of course the more we played it the better it got. Nothing could touch it.

By the time we got to side two and heard its sonic equal we knew we had the Shootout Winner in hand. With quiet import vinyl, this copy sets a standard not one out of fifty Avalons could hope to meet.

This album rewards a stereo with many of the qualities that audiophiles prize most highly when selecting equipment — spaciousness, transparency, clarity, detail, depth, soundstaging, speed, high frequency extension, and the like. Those qualities are important but not enough for big speaker rock and roll guys like us, but on this record they are key to reproducing the best of what Avalon has to offer.

We would add to that list presence and energy, along with warmth, fullness and lack of smear on the transients. Whomp and rock and roll power do not seem to play much part in separating the best from the rest, although it’s nice when the bottom end is big and solid.

That said, the copies that are exceptionally open, clear and big present this music the way it was meant to be heard. The mix is as dense as any we know. Only the best copies have the ability to show you everything that’s on the tape. Credit must go to the amazingly talented Rhett Davies for creating the space to put so many instruments and sounds in.

Side One

A+++. The vocals are full and rich yet the percussion is delicate and clear, surrounded by so much space. My notes read “Wow! Just right!”. Nothing could touch it. (more…)

Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

THE BEST SIDE ONE WE’VE EVER HEARD — BAR NONE! I will stop short of awarding it more than three pluses, because the recording certainly has its share of limitations, but never before have we heard these songs sound so BIG, BOLD and ALIVE! Side two is darn good as well, rating a very strong A++. If you thought you’d never hear a truly great pressing of this album, here’s the copy that will prove you wrong!

This side one does it all. We’re crazy about this album — we’ve done this shootout many times and found some really exceptional copies, but I don’t remember ever hearing a side one quite like this. The top end is extended and sweet, the bottom end is big and punchy, and the overall sound is as rich and full-bodied as you could expect from this zany art-rock. Side two misses just a bit of the energy of side one, but it’s still much better than the average copy.

The vocals have the kind of presence that put David Byrne right there in your living room, and not under a blanket or behind the speakers as on a majority of pressings we’ve played.

You’ve got to play a whole lot of copies to find one with this kind of energy, clarity, and high resolution. The kick drum is really punchy, the synths and organ sound incredible, and the vocals sound just right.

The bass on this copy is the best we’ve heard for More Songs — tight, punchy, and as deep as it’s ever gonna get. We sure wouldn’t mind if some of the tracks were mixed with a bit more punch to the bottom end, but far be it from us to tell Brian Eno and Rhett Davies how to do their jobs! At least on this copy, the bass has the kind of power that brings a song like Take Me To A River to heights you probably wouldn’t have imagined before. (more…)

Talking Heads – Remain In Light on Ridiculously Bad Rhino Vinyl

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

The Rhino Heavy Vinyl reissue of this album was Dead On Arrival the minute it hit my turntable. No top, way too much bottom, dramatically less ambience than the average copy — this one is a disaster on every level.

Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino touts their releases as being pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl.” However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.