Top Engineers – Robin Geoffrey Cable

Elton John – These Strings Are a Tough Test

More of the Music of Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Elton John’s Self-Titled Second Album

What’s especially remarkable about this album is the quality of Paul Buckmaster‘s string arrangements. I don’t know of another pop record that uses strings better or has better string tone and texture. Strings are all over this record, not only adding uniquely interesting qualities to the backgrounds of the arrangements but actually taking the foreground on some of the songs, most notably Sixty Years On.

When the strings give in to a lovely Spanish guitar in the left channel (which sounds like a harp!) just before Elton starts singing, the effect is positively glorious. It’s the nexus where amazing Tubey Magical sound meets the best in popular music suffused with brilliant orchestral instrumentation. Who did it better than The Beatles and Elton John? They stand alone.

Correct string tone and texture are key to the best-sounding copies. The arrangements are often subtle, so only the most transparent copies can provide a window into the backgrounds of the songs that reproduce the texture of the strings.

Without extension on the top, the strings can sound shrill and hard, a common problem with many pressings and one that positively ruins any chance of musical involvement.

Without a good solid bottom end the rockers (“Take Me to the Pilot”) don’t work either of course, but you can even hear problems in the lower strings when the bass is lightweight.

String tone on a pop record is a tough nut to crack, even more so on a record like this where the strings play such a prominent role. It’s the rare copy that allows you to forget the recording and lets you just enjoy the music.

For that you really need a Hot Stamper.

These Are Some of the Qualities We’re Listening For in Our Shootouts for Elton’s Eponymous Second Album

There are probably closer to a dozen, but some of the more important ones would be:

Ambience, Size and Space

High Frequency Extension

Midrange Congestion 

Midrange Presence

Smear

String tone and texture

Transparency 


Extraordinary Engineering

There are three amazing-sounding Elton John records on our Top 100 list, one of them engineered by the estimable Robin Geoffrey Cable, Trident Studios’ house engineer in 1972. His work on this album and Tumbleweed Connection marks him as one of the All-Time Greats in my book. Madman Across the Water, the album to follow, seems to be a more difficult recording to master properly. That said, the best copies — we call them White Hot Stampers – are very nearly as good sounding as the two titles mentioned above.

*The others are, in order of quality: Tumbleweed Connection (#1), Honky Chateau (#2), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (#3) and Madman Across the Water (#5).

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Elton John – Self-Titled

More Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Elton John’s Second Album

  • This is an original UK pressing with superb sound — it’s a Must Own album for all right thinking audiophile record lovers, not just Elton John fans
  • No modern record has ever sounded like this – these sides are HUGE, with sound that positively jumps out of the speakers
  • Some of the most remarkable string arrangements (and Tubey Magical string sound) ever recorded for a pop album
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Even with the strings and choirs that dominate the sound of the album, John manages to rock out on a fair share of the record. …Elton John remains one of his best records.”

Folks, if you’re looking for Classic Popular Music that still appeals to sophisticated adults fifty-plus years after it came out, this is the album for you. It’s one of the four Classic Elton John records (five if you count GYBR) that belong in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection.

(The others are, in order of quality: #1) Tumbleweed Connection, #2) Honky Chateau, #3) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road , and #4) Madman Across the Water.)

It’s full of analog Tubey Magic — the richness, sweetness, and warmth are nothing short of stunning. The transparency, clarity, texture, dynamics, energy, spaciousness, and three-dimensionality of this recording are really something to be heard.

The piano has real weight, the vocals are breathy and full, and the string tone is some of the best we have ever heard on a pop album.

Drop the needle on Border Song. When it hits the big “Holy Moses” chorus, you can pick out and follow all the different voices. What sounds like a harp on Sixty Years On is actually a Spanish Guitar. Whatever it is, it’s positively sublime on the best pressings.

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Carly Simon – No Secrets

More Carly Simon

  • An early Elektra pressing of Carly Simon’s classic 1972 album with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Warm, sweet, rich, present and full-bodied, with much less strain on the vocals than many other copies we played
  • “You’re So Vain” was the big hit off of this one, a classic Richard Perry production with huge size and space
  • Five weeks at Number One and 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic, “. . . it wasn’t only Simon’s forthrightness that made the album work; it was also Richard Perry’s simple, elegant pop/rock production, which gave Simon’s music a buoyancy it previously lacked. “
  • If you’re a Carly Simon fan, this title from 1972 is probably her best album, and for non-fans, a good place to start
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

No Secrets is a bit of a tough nut to crack. Due to the mixture of folky pop songs, big production numbers and potential AM radio hit singles, it has to be cut just right to get every track to sound the way the artists (Carly Simon and studio cats), producer (Richard Perry) and engineers (Robin Geoffrey Cable and Bill Schnee) intended.

Balance is key to getting all the tracks to sound their best. Many copies we played were too dull or too bright, but the tonality here is Right On The Money. The clarity and detail are superb; just listen to Embrace Me, You Child on side two — you can really hear the rosiny texture of the strings as they are bowed.

The best copies such as this one are always transparent, natural and musical. The top end is wonderfully extended, balancing a BIG bottom end with lots of deep, well-defined bass. The drums are punchy and dynamic and the cymbals can sound amazing — just listen to how extended the crashes are on You’re So Vain on side one.

One more note: having your VTA set just right is critical to getting the best out of this album. The loudest vocal parts can easily strain otherwise. Once you get your settings dialed in correctly, a copy like this will have the kind of rich, sweet sound that is obviously the right one for this music.

We’re big fans of Another Passenger, the album she cut in 1976 with Ted Templeman producing. If you like Carly, you should definitely check that one out. (more…)

Elton John – Just the Right Amount of Tubey Magic Is the Key

More of the Music of Elton John

More Titles Only Offered on Import Vinyl

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elton John

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on the best copies of Madman. For those of you who’ve experienced top quality analog pressings of Meddle or Dark Side of the Moon, or practically any jazz album on Contemporary, whether played through tubes or transistors, that’s the luscious sound of Tubey Magic, and it is all over the album.

The problem is that most British copies — the only ones that have any hope of sounding good in our experience — don’t have all the Tubey Magic that can be heard on the best copies. They are simply not as rich, tubey, and LUSH as the best that we’ve played.

This is the one quality that separates the winners of the shootout from the copies that came in second or third. Lushness isn’t the only thing to listen for of course. The rich copies can’t be too rich, to the point of being murky and muddy.

Achieving just the right balance of Tubey Magical Madman Sound with other qualities we prize such as space, clarity, transparency and presence is no mean feat.

It’s the rare copy that will do well in all these areas, and even our best Shootout Winning sides will have to compromise somewhere. There is always a balance to be struck between richness and clarity, with no copy able to show us the maximum amounts of both that we know are possible.

You’ll Know

Having said all that, it has been our experience that one copy in the shootout will make clear what the ideal blend of all the elements is — the right balance of Tubey Magic, clarity, space, weight, top end and much, much more.

When you find yourself lost in the music of Madman because the copy playing has the right sound, it shouldn’t be all that hard to recognize it. When the record is not only doing what it’s supposed to do, but doing more than you ever expected it could do, with more energy, more dynamics, more bass, more clarity, on a stage that’s wider, taller and deeper than you thought it could be, that’s when you know you have reached the highest level of sound.

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Elton John and the Tubey Magical Top Ten

More Records with Exceptionally Tubey Magical Sound

Reviews of Tubey Magical Demonstration Quality Discs

The Tubey Magical Top Ten

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on Tumbleweed Connection. For those of you who’ve experienced top quality analog pressings of Meddle or Dark Side of the Moon, or practically any jazz album on Contemporary, whether played through tubes or transistors, that’s the luscious sound of Tubey Magic, and it is all over Elton John’s Masterpiece, Tumbleweed Connection

Ranked strictly in terms of Tubey Magic, I would have to put this album on our list of Most Tubey Magical Rock Recordings of All Time, right up there with, in no particular order:

This has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a Top Ten spot on our Top 100 list. Engineered by Robin Geoffrey Cable at Trident, there is no other Elton John recording that is as big and powerful as Tumbleweed.

Carly Simon / No Secrets – Listening in Depth

More of the Music of Carly Simon

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Carly Simon

Balance is key to getting all the tracks to sound their best. Many copies we played were too dull or too bright.

One more note: having your VTA set just right is critical to getting the best out of this album. The loudest vocal parts can easily strain otherwise.

Once you get your settings dialed in correctly, a copy like this will give you the kind of rich, sweet sound that brings out the best in this music.

Two Points

Listen to Embrace Me, You Child on side two — on the best copies you can really hear the rosiny texture of the strings as they are bowed.

The cymbals too can sound amazing — listen to how extended the crashes are on You’re So Vain.

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Elton John / Self-Titled – In Audio, We Live and Learn, Or At Least We’re Supposed To

More of the Music of Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Elton John’s Self-Titled Second Album

A classic case of Live and Learn.

Scroll down to read what we learned from our from a while back. To illustrate how the game is played we’ve copied some of the previous commentary into this listing to show the change in our understanding from 2004 to about 2010 or so, which is when all this was probably written.

Live and Learn, Part One

These domestic original pressings have the very same stamper numbers as the British pressings. It appears that the metalwork was produced in England and shipped to America for pressing on domestic vinyl. What’s strange is that the American pressings are consistently brighter than the British pressings. Why this should be is a mystery, but I have a theory to explain it. The British stampers are used to make British LPs on that lovely see-through purple vinyl, and I’m guessing that that compound is a little smoother sounding than the vinyl that Uni uses. Either that or there is some other way that Uni produces their records so that they end up being brighter, even using the exact same stampers as the British ones.”

Partly true. We have five British copies in stock, and the reason they don’t sound as good probably has less to do with British vinyl and more to do with the fact that the British ones we have are not the stampers we like the best. The domestic pressings with our favorite stampers have more highs and better highs and just plain sound better to us now.

Notice how I completely contradict myself below, yet both listings were up on the site all this time and nobody, especially me, seems to have noticed.

Live and Learn, Part Two

These original British pressings, with the lovely see-through purple vinyl, are the only good sounding versions of this album that I have ever heard. As you can imagine they are extremely difficult to come by in clean condition.

What is there to say about such a bald-faced turnabout? Simple. We make our judgments based on the records we have on hand to play. When better pressings come along, or our equipment improves to the point where we can appreciate other pressings, we will happily and unhesitatingly report what we hear.

There is not now, nor can there ever be, an absolutely correct answer to the question, “Which is the best version of Record X?”

All knowledge is provisional. We do the best we can, and we think we do it better than anybody else. That said, we keep our minds and our ears open to new and better pressings whenever they come our way. (If the remastered Blue had sounded good, I would have been perfectly happy to say so and sell them to all our customers like crazy. But that was not to be, not for any reason other than the record just didn’t sound right to us. Maybe someday I will come to appreciate it more — can’t say I won’t — but I’m sure not holding my breath until then.)

Elton John / Tumbleweed Connection


  • A KILLER copy of Elton John’s classic with top on both sides of this original DJM pressing
  • The sound here is richer, with much less transistory grain, and more of the All Important Tubey Magic than every other copy we played
  • An incredible recording and longtime member of our Top 100 — our pick for Elton’s very best music and sound
  • 5 stars: “….their most ambitious record to date… A loose concept album about the American West… draws from country and blues in equal measures…”
  • If you’re an Elton John fan, this is a classic from 1970 that belongs in your collection
  • We consider this Elton John album a Masterpiece. It’s a recording that should be part of any serious popular Music Collection.
  • Others that belong in that category can be found here.

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Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s Co-Masterpiece – Tumbleweed Connection

More Records with Exceptionally Tubey Magical Sound

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on this recording. For those of you who’ve experienced top quality analog pressings of Meddle or Dark Side of the Moon, or practically any jazz album on Contemporary, whether played through tubes or transistors, that’s the luscious sound of Tubey Magic, and it is all over Tumbleweed Connection

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Elton John / Madman Across The Water – Lush Sound Is Crucial

  • An outstanding copy of Madman with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • A ridiculously tough album to find with the right sound and reasonably quiet surfaces – which is why we so rarely have them on the site
  • The last of the classic albums Elton recorded at Trident, the best of which have more Tubey Magic than anything that came after
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic: “The record remains an ambitious and rewarding work, and John never attained its darkly introspective atmosphere again.”

This Madman is guaranteed to blow your mind.

The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that of the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Beatles (of course) and far too many others to list. This is some of the best high production value rock music of the ’70s.

It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted. Of course, as it turns out, recording technology only got worse as the decade wore on, and during the ’80s the sound of most Big Rock records went off a cliff.

Madman Is Lush

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on the best copies of Madman. For those of you who’ve experienced top quality analog pressings of Meddle or Dark Side of the Moon, or practically any jazz album on Contemporary, whether played through tubes or transistors, that’s the luscious sound of Tubey Magic, and it is all over the album.

The problem is that most British copies — the only ones that have any hope of sounding good in our experience — don’t have all the Tubey Magic that can be heard on the best copies. They are simply not as rich, tubey, and LUSH as the best that we’ve played.

This is the one quality that separates the winners of the shootout from the copies that came in second or third. Lushness isn’t the only thing to listen for of course. The rich copies can’t be too rich, to the point of being murky and muddy. Achieving just the right balance of Tubey Magical Madman Sound with other qualities we prize such as space, clarity, transparency and presence is no mean feat.

It’s the rare copy that will do well in all these areas, and even our best Shootout Winning sides will have to compromise somewhere. There is always a balance to be struck between richness and clarity, with no copy able to show us the maximum amounts of both that we know are possible. (more…)