Top Engineers – Roy Halee

Simon & Garfunkel / Bookends

More Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Bookends

  • Our hottest copies have lovely midrange magic on the guitars and voices as well as plenty of studio ambience on most tracks, especially the simpler, more folky ones
  • An album that has become much tougher to come by, especially copies that play as well as this one does
  • Top 100, 5 stars – side two alone has four all time classics: Fakin’ It, Mrs. Robinson, A Hazy Shade of Winter and At the Zoo
  • If you’re a fan of this phenomenal folk duo, this early domestic pressing of their 1968 classic belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The best copies of Bookends and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme are a sonic step up in class from anything else these two guys ever released. If you’re looking for the Ultimate Audiophile Simon & Garfunkel record, you just can’t do better than a killer Hot Stamper pressing of either title.

This album has exceptional bass as well as lovely midrange magic on the guitars and voices. There’s plenty of studio ambience on most tracks, especially the simpler, more folky ones.

Do you know how hard it is to find a clean copy of this record? I’ll bet we look at 50 every year and probably buy no more than a few, which, after cleaning and going into a shootout may or may not sound good or have audiophile quality surfaces. (more…)

Simon and Garfunkel / Bridge Over Troubled Water – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the Music of Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Bridge Over Troubled Water

Sonic Grade: C

What do the best Hot Stamper copies give you?

They’re the ones with textured strings in the orchestral arrangements.

The string tone on the average copy is hard and steely.

The Classic 200 gram pressing suffers from a case of somewhat steely strings. When the strings are blasting away at the end of the title song, you want to be able to hear the texture without the strings sounding shrill and edgy.

This is no mean feat, for the record or the stereo.

Here are some of the other records we’ve discovered are good for testing string tone and texture.

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Simon and Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

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Reviews and Commentaries for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

  • Especially smooth, present, breathy vocals – this is the sound we love here at Better Records
  • Having played them by the hundreds, we’ve found that midrange presence and resolution are precisely what go missing on The Modern Heavy Vinyl Reissue
  • A longtime Better Records Top 100 album and a Demo Disc for Tubey Magical voices and guitars
  • 4 1/2 stars: “[I]t is an achievement akin to the Beatles’ Revolver or the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, and just as personal and pointed as either of those records at their respective bests.”

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Listening in Depth to Still Crazy After All These Years

More of the Music of Paul Simon

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Paul Simon (and Art Garfunkel)

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Still Crazy. Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

As exceptionally well-produced, well-engineered Pop Albums from the ’70s, the very best copies can proudly hold their heads high. Wait a minute. Our last commentary noted what a mess most of the pressings of this album sound like, with so much spit and grain. Have we changed our minds? Well, yes and no, and as usual we make no excuses for having changed our minds. We call it progress.

Yes, most copies are still a mess, but No, some copies now sound far better than we ever thought possible.

As we noted in our previous commentary for the Hot Stamper Still Crazy (back in 2005!), when we first dropped the needle on side one of another copy of this record, we were shocked to hear how spitty, grainy and transistory sounding the album was. We could hardly believe that a mainstream pop album by Paul Simon could sound this bad. It was pure spitty DISTORTION with ZERO midrange magic. A CD would sound better. Even Graceland, a famously compressed, phony, digital sounding album wouldn’t sound this bad!

A bad copy you say? Maybe they don’t all sound bad on side one, but there sure are a lot of them that do. Two tracks in particular — in fact, the two biggest tracks on side one — have fairly bad sound on almost any copy you play: Still Crazy and 50 Ways…

The True Tests for Side One

What separates the mediocre-to-bad-sounding average copy from a Hot Stamper is how well mastered those two songs are. In other words, if you get those two tracks right — breathy vocals, sounding smooth and sweet, with the sibilance under control, supported by good solid bass — the whole side is going to be good, maybe even as good as it gets.

We noted previously that:

“… side two on every copy is better sounding than side one. Why this is I have no idea. It’s not as though they recorded all of side one’s tracks together and they didn’t come out as well. That’s not the way it’s done. The order of the tracks is determined long after they are recorded and mixed. But the songs on side two are consistently more open and sweeter, with silkier, more delicate background vocals and a more natural timbre to Paul’s voice. He sounds less like a transistor radio and more like a person.”

That turned out to still be generally true, but there were some exceptional sounding sides twos in this batch, so we can’t say that side two is always worse, just most of the time.

There is no substitute for having multiple clean copies and shooting them out. Every copy I played was original — no Nice Price junk, no bad imports, no throwaways. Good copies are the rare exception on this album — sad, but true. If you have an LP of this one, see how much Still Crazy spits. I’ll bet it spits like crazy; most of them do.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Still Crazy After All These Years

The toughest test of them all. If this song sounds good, you are 90% of the way there.

My Little Town

This track was supposed to be a hit single and has the radio mix to prove it, and it WAS a hit, but it’s not exactly as pleasing to the audiophile ear as the other songs on the side.

I Do It for Your Love
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

This track often has some midrange hardness and more of a dry, transistory quality than others on side one, that is of course unless you happen to be playing an exceptionally good copy. The better copies also seem to have substantially more ambience. It’s really a quite well recorded song when good mastering lets you hear it right.

On most copies, in the louder parts of the chorus there is also something that sounds like compressor or limiter distortion on the voices. Turns out it’s actually a mastering or pressing issue; on the best copies the loudest vocal parts sound just fine.

How about that awesome Steve Gadd drum part? What pop song relies more on its beat than this one? It’s practically worth the price of the album to hear those drums sound so good.

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Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

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Reviews and Commentaries for Bridge Over Troubled Water

  • It took us years, but we found a few outstanding Columbia 360 label pressings of Bridge Over Troubled Water in audiophile playing condition, and here is an awfully good one
  • This pressing of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic boasts Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • There’s a reason it’s been quite a few years since you’ve seen this title on our site – we have a devil of a time finding lightly-played 360s without marks or significant surface noise, especially for the title track
  • The sound is big, lively, and clear, with the kind of Tubey Magical richness that only the best 360 pressings can offer
  • Surely this is BY FAR the toughest album of theirs to find with top quality sound and decent surfaces
  • This Magnum Opus ended the duo’s collaboration with a ginormous over the top production, which taxed the recording technology of the day and is sure to tax any system that attempts to reproduce it
  • 5 stars: “Perhaps the most delicately textured album to close out the 1960s from any major rock act… the songs matched the standard of craftsmanship that had been established on the duo’s two prior albums”

Hey Guys and Gals, What’s With the High Prices for Common Rock Records?

The reason we never have this record in stock is that our failure rate for the copies we buy is probably between 70 and 80%. Some of those records we pay a hundred bucks for these days, five times what they cost us five or ten years ago. And they are few and far between.

The sound of these sides is a step up from almost everything else we played. The strings on the title track actually have some texture, and “Cecilia” comes to life in a way we guarantee you have never heard before. There’s also much less of the spit and grit that you find on many copies. (Less, but not none, that would be impossible, it’s on the tape.)

The sound is much more musical than you would expect if you own a reissue on the red label or an audiophile pressing of any kind. All our copies are on the 360 label, and none of them are on Heavy Vinyl or Half-Speed Mastered. If it’s not a 360, it’s not a Hot Stamper in our book.

If you own any modern Heavy Vinyl pressing, from the Classic Records version through whatever they are peddling now, you are in for a mind-blowing experience with this Hot Stamper pressing.

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Listening in Depth to Blood, Sweat and Tears

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Reviews and Commentaries for Blood, Sweat and Tears

In my opinion this is the BEST SOUNDING rock record ever made. Played on a BIG SPEAKER SYSTEM, a top Hot Stamper pressing is nothing less than a thrill, the ultimate Demo Disc.

Credit must go to the amazing engineering skills of ROY HALEE. He may not be very consistent (Graceland, Still Crazy After All These Years) but on this album he knocked it out of the park. With the right copy playing on the right stereo, the album has the potential to sound like LIVE MUSIC.

You don’t find that on a record too often, practically never in fact. I put this record at the top of The Best Sounding Rock Records of All Time.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie (1st & 2nd Movements)

The song is always going to be plagued with a certain amount of surface noise. A solo guitar opening on a pop record pressed on Columbia vinyl from the ’60s? A brand new copy would have surface noise, so it’s important to not get too worked up over surfaces that are always going to be problematical.

Smiling Phases
Sometimes in Winter

This shootout taught me a lot about this track. There is a huge amount of bass which is difficult to reproduce; the best copies have note-like, controlled (although prodigious) bass which is a very tough system test.

Having said that, what separates the killer copies from the merely excellent ones is the quality of the flute sound. When you can hear the air going through the flute, and follow the playing throughout the song, you have a superbly transparent copy with all the presence and resolution of the best. If the flute sounds right, Katz’s voice will too. The sound will be Demonstration Quality of the highest order. Want to shoot out two different copies of this album on side one? Easy. Just play this track and see which one gets the flute right.

By the way, we LOVE the version of this song that Sergio Mendes does on Stillness. Eric Katz is a decent singer; the two girls in Brazil ’66 are SUPERB singers. The fact that they are female, that there are two of them and that they can harmonize as beautifully as any two singers you’ve ever heard allows their version of the song to have qualities far beyond the boys in Blood Sweat and Tears. But the BS&T guys make up for it by being REAL JAZZ MUSICIANS. Most of this album is real jazz played by top notch players. No other successful pop album to my knowledge can make that claim. In that sense it’s sui generis. But it’s unique in other ways as well, not just that one.

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John Sebastian Songbook – Somebody Sure Got Hold of Some Awfully Good Tapes

Great sound for some of the biggest hits of The Lovin’ Spoonful, a band I wouldn’t have expected to hear sound good on vinyl if I’d lived to be a hundred, and yet, here it is.

This is one of the rare cases where, in our experience, the hits compilation sounds BETTER than the original records. Why? Who knows? We don’t pretend to have all the answers.

What we do have (that no one else has, if that’s not too obvious) are the records that back up the claims we make for them.

How they came to be that way is anyone’s guess. All we know for sure is that, judging by the best copies of this album, somebody got hold of some awfully good tapes and somebody mastered them with uncanny skill to what sounds to these ears like near perfection. (more…)

Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

More Paul Simon

More Singer Songwriter Albums

 

  • 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 – Still Crazy After All These Years

More Paul Simon

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…)

Roy Halee Is One of Our Favorite Engineers

Roy Halee is one of our favorite producers and recording / mixing engineers.

Check out our supply of Roy Halee engineered or produced albums. 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).

Some of the better Roy Halee recordings we’ve reviewed on the blog can be found here. He made what is, in our opinion, the best sounding rock record of all time, Blood Sweat and Tears Self-Titled second album, which blows our mind to this very day.

More of Our Favorite Engineers

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