Top Engineers – Rhett Davies

Bryan Ferry / Boys And Girls – Key Tracks for Critical Listening

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The song Valentine, the second track on side two, is a key test for that side. Note how processed Ferry’s vocals are; on the best copies they will sound somewhat bright. The test is the background singers; they should sound tonally correct and silky sweet.

If Ferry sounds correct, they will sound dull, and so will the rest of the side. That processed sound on his vocal is on the tape. Trying to “fix” it will ruin everything. (You can be pretty sure that whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing has been made for this album that they tried to fix the hell out of it. Doubtless the result is not a pretty one. It rarely is.)

On the top copies the lead on the very next track, Stone Woman, is tonally right on the money. These two tracks, two of the best on the album, together make it easy to know if your copy is correct in the midrange.

Track two: background vocals.

Track three: lead vocal.

What could be easier?

Key Listening Test for Both Sides

The quality of the percussion is critical to much of the music here. There’s tons of it on Boys and Girls, even more than on its predecessor Avalon, and unless you have plenty of top end, presence and transparency, all that percussion can’t work its magic to drive this rhythmic music.

How About the British Pressings?

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Roxy Music – Avalon

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  • This excellent UK pressing boasts Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Copies that are exceptionally transparent, with three-dimensional depth and a wide soundstage, present this music the way it was meant to be heard
  • Credit Rhett Davies with creating the sonic space to allow the singers, instruments and subtle studio effects to be balanced and integrated from front to back, side to side and top to bottom
  • 5 stars: “Ferry was never this romantic or seductive, either with Roxy or as a solo artist, and Avalon shimmers with elegance in both its music and its lyrics.”

Records like Avalon get people (often known as audiophiles) to spend wads and wads of money in pursuit of expensive analog equipment good enough to bring this wonderful music to life in their very own listening rooms.

The 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.

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.

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.

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801 / 801 Live – None Rocks Harder

A Member of the Prestigious “None Rocks Harder” Club

Reviews and Commentaries for 801 Live

The best Island copies of this album ROCK HARDER than practically any record we’ve ever played. If you have the system for it, this one will bring a Live Art Rock concert right into your living room!

This is a BIG SPEAKER record. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at fairly loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It’s right at the top of the list of my Favorite Albums — a Desert Island Disc if ever there was one. I stumbled across it more thirty years ago and I’ve loved it ever since. It all started when a college buddy played me the wildly original Tomorrow Never Knows from the album and asked me to name the tune. Eno’s take is so different from The Beatles version that I confess it took me an embarrassingly long while to catch on.

Click here to see more titles that have earned a place on our None Rocks Harder List

Adventures in Music and Sound

Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno were founding members of Roxy Music.

AMG calls Roxy Music the “most adventurous rock band of the early ’70s” and I’m inclined to agree with them.

Roxy are certainly one of the most influential and important bands in my growth as a music lover and audiophile, joining the ranks of Supertramp, Ambrosia, 10cc, Steely Dan, Yes, Bowie and countless others, musicians and bands who seemed to me dedicated to exploring and exploding the conventions of popular music.

My equipment was forced to evolve in order to be able to play the scores of challenging recordings issued by these groups in the ’70s.

You could say that the albums of Roxy Music and others informed not only my taste in music but the actual stereo I play that music on. I’ve had large scale dynamic speakers for the last four decades, precisely in order to play records like this, the kind of music I fell in love with more than forty years ago.

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801 – 801 Live

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  • 801 Live IS BACK and rocks harder than ever on this early Island import copy with excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We shot out a number of other imports and this one had the presence, bass, and dynamics that were missing from most of the other copies we played, not to mention that LIVE ROCK and ROLL ENERGY that old records have and new records don’t
  • Recorded at Queen Elisabeth Hall in September 1976 – one of only three gigs the group (a side project of Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera) did over a two-month period
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This album marks probably one of the last times that Eno rocked out in such an un-self-consciously fun fashion, but that’s not the only reason to buy it: 801 Live is a cohesive document of an unlikely crew who had fun and took chances. Listeners will never know what else they might have done if their schedules had been less crowded, but this album’s a good reminder.”

801 Live ranks near the top of the list of my All Time Favorite Albums — a Desert Island Disc if ever there was one.

I stumbled across it decades ago and have loved it ever since. (It started when a college buddy played me the wildly original “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the album and asked me to name the tune. Eno’s take is so different from The Beatles version that I confess it took me an embarrassingly long while to catch on.)

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?

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Talking Heads’ Masterpiece – More Songs About Buildings and Food

More of the Music of Talking Heads

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of More Songs.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

I don’t think these guys (and gal) ever put together a better group of songs. The ultimate pressings of Little Creatures go a step further sonically, but the best copies of this one can sound incredible, if not quite Demo Disc worthy.

We’re huge fans of late ’70s / early ’80s Art Rock and New Wave music, and these guys are obviously some of the best in the biz. I’d be hard pressed to name another act from the era who put out so many good records.

Along with this album, More Songs About Buildings And Food, Fear Of Music, and Little Creatures are all works of genius. ’77 is full of good ideas, but it doesn’t sound like a fully realized work of art the way the next four albums did.

Key Test Tracks

With Our Love turned out to be one of the better tests for side one. The picking of the rhythmic guitar in the intro told us just about everything we needed to know about smear, veiling and resolution. On most copies the instrument is simply blurry, the notes mashed together. When you get a copy with its transients intact, resolving properly and clearly right there in front of you, you have the makings of a Hot Stamper side one.

My other test track for side one was Warning Signs. This is a great track for evaluating transparency and bass. On the average copy you’d never know how much ambience exists around the drums. Hint: it’s a lot.

Our favorite copies have a fair amount of WHOMP down low, giving the bass guitar that rich, beefy sound that we’re simply crazy for here at Better Records. Once you’ve heard a copy with well-defined, note-like bass, nothing less will do.

Artists Only

A great test track for side two is Artists Only. The guitars in the intro section are almost unbearable to listen to on most copies. I recognize that I am somewhat sensitive to harsh high frequencies, but I’m literally in pain when I listen to an overly compressed, overly midrangy copy. There’s got to be a better way!

Wait, there is. Find a copy that actually has a sweet top end. It makes all the difference.

Take Me to the River

One of the best sounding tracks on the album is the awesome cover of Al Green’s Take Me To The River. Most copies are very skimpy with the amount of bottom end information you get.

Pay attention to the opening before the keys start. The best pressings give you texture on the bass that you won’t find on most. When everything’s working right you’ll also hear ambience around the organ that’s nowhere to be found on the average pressing.

The bass should be tight, punchy, and fairly deep. We 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 some copies the bass has the kind of power that brings a song like Take Me To the River to heights you probably never imagined it could go.

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Dire Straits’ First Album / A Tour de Force by Rhett Davies – We Knew It Back in 2007

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This Vertigo British pressing of Dire Straits’ wonderful debut has ABSOLUTELY THE BEST SOUND for this album we have ever heard. Folks, this one just can’t be beat. AGAIG is our shorthand for As Good As It Gets, and that’s an understatement when it comes to the sound of this copy. It blew the doors off every record we put up against it; every Vertigo pressing, regardless of country of manufacture or era. If you’re looking for The World Champion, this copy holds the title and is very unlikely to be giving it up any time soon.

Rhett Davies is one of our favorite recording engineers, 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.

His Masterpiece Discovered

Well, we just have to say that until something better comes along, THIS IS HIS MASTERPIECE. It has to be one of the best sounding rock records ever made, with Tubey Magic mids, prodigious bass, transparency to beat the band, and freedom from hi-fi-ishness and distortion like few rock recordings you have ever heard.

This album is every bit as good and may in fact be even a bit better in some areas, principally as regards dynamics and energy. It is a very special recording of incredible size and power. Still, we’re pretty sure most people would rather have a good copy of Dire Straits’ debut.

So, to be fair, let’s say the man is responsible for two of the best sounding records we know of. Two masterpieces in other words.

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 pressing alone, has proven that he belongs in the company of the greatest engineers of all time, along with the likes of Bill Porter, Ken Scott, Stephen Barncard, Geoff Emerick and others too numerous to mention.

We Want To Rock

What separates the best Brits from the merely good ones? In a word, ENERGY. The best copies make this band sound like they are on fire, ready to go head to head with the world, fiercely proud of the new sound they’ve created. The not-so-good copies make Dire Straits sound the way Dire Straits usually does — laid back and well under control, perhaps even a bit bored with the whole affair. The best copies show you a band that wants to rock with the best of them, and can.

Demo Disc Sound

Both sides here are OFF THE CHARTS — no copy came close, and none may ever! It’s got all of the punch, all of the energy, and all of the tubey magic that you could ever ask for. The vocals, the bass, the guitars — all PERFECTION. The overall sound is rich, full, smooth, sweet, super transparent, and tonally correct from top to bottom. The presence and immediacy on this copy are UNCANNY and UNMATCHED.

Water Of Love and Sultans of Swing have the kind of Demo Disc sound that will have your audiophile friends drooling and turning green with envy. We can’t all afford $100,000 turntables, but when you have a record that sounds this good, you don’t need one! This record makes it sound like you have 100k in your rig, whether you do or not.

A Big Speaker Record

Let’s face it, this is a BIG SPEAKER recording. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It demands to be played LOUD. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended if you play it at moderate levels.

This is the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Stereo Systems driving Big Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound that I can enjoy. Anything less is just not for me. (more…)

Bryan Ferry – Another Time, Another Place

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  • Triple Plus (A+++) on side two, Double Plus (A++) on side one, this is one of the best copies to ever hit the site
  • The British Island originals are the only way to go, and this one just plain trounced most of the others we played
  • Tubey Magical, rich, smooth, sweet – everything that we listen for in a great record is on display for everyone to hear
  • Allmusic: “Ferry and company, plus various brass and string sections, turn on the showiness enough to make it all fun.”

Both sides of this record are just as rich and relaxed as you would expect. The balance is correct, which means the top is there as well as the bottom, with good vocal presence throughout. (more…)

Rhett Davies Is One of Our Favorite Engineers

More Recordings Engineered by Rhett Davies

More of Our Favorite Engineers

RHETT DAVIES is one of our favorite producers and recording / mixing engineers.

Click on the link to find our in-stock Rhett Davies engineered or produced albums.

Davies recorded some of our favorite albums of all time and we want to pay tribute to this unsung hero, a man who has brought so much joy and pleasure to audiophiles through albums like those listed below.

Many can be found in our Rock and Pop Top 100 List of Best Sounding Albums with the Best Music (limited to titles that we can actually find sufficient copies of with which to do our Hot Stamper shootouts).

AMG Biography

Born in London in 1950, Rhett Davies’ father Ray Davies (not to be confused with the same-named Kinks member) was one of the U.K.’s top trumpet players and mentored his son on the instrument. Young Rhett also listened to the family record collection, which included releases from Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, and Burt Bacharach. He once met the composer at a session for the movie soundtrack to What’s New Pussycat.

After doing some hitchhiking and opening a record shop, Davies became a recording studio intern/engineer at Island Studios. His first full session was on Brian Eno’s 1973 LP, Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy). An appreciative Eno granted Davies a royalty on that album and his subsequent innovative releases with Davies. The two pioneered the “playing the studio like an instrument” concept: tape loops in pop music and using a rhythm box to lay down the beat during basic recording, then adding a live drummer later.

In 1990, Rhett Davies left the music business to pursue other business interests, while still privately creating music.

Select Discography

1973 – Genesis – Selling England by the Pound (Engineer/Asst. Engineer)
1974 – Robert Palmer – Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley (Engineer)
1974 – Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (Engineer)
1975 – Eno – Another Green World (Producer, Engineer)
1975 – Phil Manzanera – Diamond Head (Engineer)
1975 – Fripp/Eno – Evening Star (Engineer)
1975 – Camel – Snow Goose (Engineer)
1976 – 801 – 801 Live (Engineer)
1976 – Camel – Moonmadness (Producer, Engineer)
1976 – Roxy Music – Viva! (Engineer)
1977 – Brian Eno – Before and After Science (Producer, Engineer)
1977 – Phil Manzanera/801 – Listen Now (Keyboards, Hammond Organ, Engineer)
1977 – Camel – Rain Dances (Producer) 
1978 – Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music for Airports (Engineer)
1978 – Dire Straits – Dire Straits (Engineer)
1978 – Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food (Engineer)
1979 – Roxy Music – Manifesto (Engineer)
1980 – Roxy Music – Flesh + Blood (Producer, Engineer)
1981 – King Crimson – Discipline (Producer)
1982 – Roxy Music – Avalon (Producer, Engineer, Mixing)
1982 – King Crimson – Beat (Producer)

Roxy Music / Flesh and Blood – The Polydor Super Deluxe UK Pressings Are the Only Way to Fly

The British Original Polydor Super Deluxe pressings are the only way to go on this album. No domestic pressing or other import in our experience has ever been better than passable; we know, we’ve been cleaning and playing them for more than thirty years.

This British LP is cut by one of my favorite mastering houses in England, which no doubt accounts 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 comes highly recommended for fans of the band. 

Best Tracks

Standout tracks on side one include In the Midnight Hour / Oh Yeah / My Only Love

Standout tracks on side two include Over You / Eight Miles High / Rain, Rain, Rain

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Dire Straits Debut from 1977 – Energy Is the Key to the Best Pressings

Reviews and Commentaries for Dire Straits’ Debut

Hot Stampers of the First Album Available Now

What separates the best copies from the merely good ones? In a word, ENERGY. The best copies make this band sound like they are on fire, ready to go head to head with the world, fiercely proud of the new sound they’ve created.

The not-so-good copies make Dire Straits sound the way Dire Straits usually does — laid back and well under control, perhaps even a bit bored with the whole affair. The best copies show you a band that wants to rock with the best of them, and can.

Back in 2007 or thereabouts we wrote about this subject after playing a particularly lively copy of Revolver:

At the risk of being definitive about things that are better left ill-defined, I would say that the Number One quality we look for in a pressing is that element of Life or Energy. We can put up with many shortcomings, including even some tonality problems, but when a record fails to convey the spirit and enthusiasm of the musicians, it’s pretty much over.

Water Of Love and Sultans of Swing on a Hot Stamper copy have the kind of Demo Disc sound that will have your audiophile friends drooling and turning green with envy. We can’t all afford $100,000 turntables, but when you have a record that sounds this good, you don’t need one! This record makes it sound like you have 100k in your rig, whether you do or not.

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