Top Engineers – Rhett Davies

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

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[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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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. 

Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

This album is all about sound, pure sound itself if you will: the sound of the instruments, their textures, and the textures of the soundscape Eno has created for them.

With the subtle harmonics of Eno’s treated sounds captured onto vinyl intact, the magic of the experience far exceeds just another batch of catchy songs with clever arrangements. It truly becomes an immersive experience; sounds you’ve never heard in quite that way draw you into their world, each sound more interesting than the next.

Only these British originals sound like they are made from fresh master tapes on rich, sweet tubey-magical, super high resolution cutting equipment.



In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

(Which, by the way, is BRILLIANT from the opening guitars of Burning Airlines to the never-ending chirping crickets of The Great Pretender. I mean that literally: on these early British pressings the run-out groove has the sound of the crickets embedded in it so that the crickets chirp until you pick up the arm, much in the same way that Sgt. Pepper has sound in the run-out groove at the end of A Day In The Life.)

Burning Airlines Give You So Much More

Pure Pop for Now People. Listen to all those multi-layered harmonies! They’re sweet as honey, and only the best British copies get them to sound that way. You can make out practically every voice. This is what we mean by Midrange Magic. (more…)

Roxy Music – Rhett Davies, Yanick Etienne and the Making of Avalon

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I consider Roxy Music to be one of the greatest Art Rock bands in the history of the world. The general public and most audiophiles would no doubt cast their vote for AVALON as the band’s masterpiece. (The long and involved story of the making of the album can be seen below.) I much prefer their eponymous first album, Stranded, Country Life and Siren to the more “accessible” music found on Avalon. To be fair, that’s splitting hairs, because any of those five titles are absolute Must Own Albums that belong in any serious popular music collection.   (more…)

Dire Straits – Dire Straits – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2011

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

The best side one we’ve ever heard, so freakishly impressive that we awarded it the rare A++++ (Four Plus) grade! On top of that, side two earned an A++ grade and the vinyl plays unusually quietly — solid Mint Minus throughout. This is probably the best Dire Straits album (certainly our favorite) and definitely their best sounding album; on a copy like this one it has the power to BLOW YOUR MIND. Water Of Love, Down To The Waterline and Six Blade Knife are all STUNNING on this pressing.  (more…)