Top Engineers – Stephen Barncard

David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name…

More David Crosby

More Hippie Folk Rock

  • The ultimate Hippie Folk Rock Demo Disc – both sides are shockingly transparent, with huge amounts of bass, silky highs, in-the-room vocals and TONS of Tubey Magic
  • 4 1/2 stars: ” If I Could Only Remember My Name is a shambolic masterpiece, meandering but transcendentally so, full of frayed threads. Not only is it among the finest splinter albums out of the CSNY diaspora, it is one of the defining moments of hungover spirituality from the era.”
  • If you’re an audiophile, this is a Demo Disc from 1971 that no record collection comprising Top Quality Recordings should be without
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

Here it is, folks… a TRUE ROCK DEMO DISC! A White Hot Stamper copy such as this will show you why we’ve long considered it one of the All Time Top Ten Rock Albums for Sound and Music. You will not believe how Tubey Magical and three-dimensional this album can be when you have a pressing with this kind of sound. The harmonic complexity and extension on the acoustic guitars are absolutely stunning!

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording? (We do applaud his decision not to add the Classic pressing of this title to the list, the way he did with so many other Classic pressings that have no business on anything called a Super Disc list.)

You Don’t Have to Be High to Hear It

When you drop the needle on this record, all barriers between you and the musicians are removed. You’ll feel as though you’re sitting at the studio console while Crosby and his no-doubt-stoned-out-of-their-minds Bay Area pals (mostly Jefferson Airplaners and Grateful Deads, see list below) are laying down this emotionally powerful, heartfelt music.

The overall sound is warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied… that’s some real ANALOG Tubey Magic, baby! And the best part is, you don’t have to be high to hear it. You just need a good stereo and the right pressing. (more…)

Deja Vu – This Classic Records Knockoff Is Not the Answer, But We Have One

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Rock LP badly mastered for the benefit of audiophiles looking for easy answers and quick fixes.

If you bought the Classic Record Heavy Vinyl pressing of Deja Vu, you should know by now how badly Classic Records ripped you off. If you feel disrespected, you should. They took your money and gave you practically nothing of value for it. The right CD (not the current one, that’s for damn sure) is dramatically better sounding than their vinyl reissue.

On the other hand, if you’re not too picky about sound quality and just want to play new records, perhaps because old records are hard to find and often noisy, then fine, the Classic should get that job done for you.

We of course want nothing to do with records like those remastered by Classic Records. We only want to play good sounding records, and most Classic Records, including this title, are definitely not good sounding, not by our standards anyway.

Records Are in a Sorry State – Here’s What You Can Do About It

It’s a sad state that we currently find ourselves in, but is it really any different than it used to be? Audiophiles used to like half-speeds, they used to like Japanese pressings, they used to like direct to disc recordings with questionable sound and even more questionable music.

Now they like SACDs, Heavy Vinyl and 45s. If you ask me it’s the same old wine in a different bottle.

The path out of that morass is exactly the path we have taken and charted for everyone, free of charge.

With our approach to finding the best sounding records, cleaning them the way we do, playing them against each other the way we do, using the sound improving devices and equipment we recommend, we know you can succeed. If we can do it you can do it.

Letters and Commentaries for Deja Vu

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young

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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Listening in Depth to So Far

More Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Records in Stock

More Commentaries and Letters for So Far

This is a very difficult record to find with proper mastering (and good vinyl, ouch!). It seems that all of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s albums are that way. The average domestic pressing rarely even hints at how well recorded this band really was (and the imports are even worse — we’ve never heard one that didn’t sound dubby, veiled and compressed).

In my experience not even one out of ten LPs sounds right; I put the figure at one out of twenty. Most of them are shrill, dull, grainy, flat, opaque, harsh and in varying degrees suffer from every other mastering and pressing malady known to man.

But the best ones have some tracks in superb sound. When you hear the Hot Stampers for records like this you will simply be AMAZED. If you’ve ever heard a really good If Only I Could Remember My Name, an album that CAN be found with proper mastering, that should give you some idea of how good the first two albums can sound.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Déjà Vu

When you get a good copy of this album, this song sounds like it was lifted right off of a Hot Stamper copy of Deja Vu itself. It’s so rich and Tubey Magical you’d swear it couldn’t get any better. Huge amounts of deep bass. Acoustic guitars that ring for days. Midrange magic to die for. Not many of them sound this way, unfortunately.

If I could indulge in some more MoFi and Half-Speed bashing for a moment, the bass “solo” at the end of this song is a great test for bass definition. The notes are relatively high, and it’s easy for them to sound blurred and wooly. The MoFi, like virtually all Half-Speed mastered records, has a problem with bass definition. If you own the MoFi, listen for how clearly defined the notes are at the end of this track. Then play any other copy, either of So Far or Deja Vu. It’s a pretty safe bet that the bass will be much more articulate. I know how bad the MOFI is in this respect. Rarely do “normal” records have bass that bad.

Stephen Barncard Does It Again

Listen to this song and compare it to anything on the Barncard-engineered first solo LP by David Crosby. That is the sound of Barncard’s engineering — open, spacious, rich, sweet; tons of deep bass; absolutely no trace of phony eq on vocals; acoustic guitars that ring for days — the man is a GENIUS. Thank god he was involved with music of this quality. If only more of the LP pressings did a better job of revealing the exquisite beauty of the recordings themselves. (I suppose that burden must be carried by the few Hot Stamper copies we can dig up.) (more…)

The Grateful Dead – American Beauty

More Grateful Dead

A Proud Member of Our Rock & Pop Top 100

One of Our Favorite Albums from 1970

  • With two Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is doing pretty much everything we want American Beauty to do – unusually quiet vinyl too
  • The acoustic guitars are magical on this copy, and you won’t believe how wonderfully breathy and sweet these guys’ voices sound
  • American Beauty is one of Stephen Barncard’s greatest recording achievements – the richness and clarity are really something here
  • A 5 Star Top 100 album – “A companion piece to the luminous Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty is an even stronger document of the Grateful Dead’s return to their musical roots. American Beauty remains the Dead’s studio masterpiece.”

We managed to find enough clean early pressings to get this always fun shootout going once again, and this copy took top honors. This is an amazingly well-recorded album — and a member of our Top 100, of course — but it takes a special copy to let the recording’s qualities shine the way this one does!

All the Elements Come Together for Once

All of the elements necessary to take this music to an entirely new level are here, my friends: smooth, sweet vocals; rich, meaty bass; an open and airy top end; top-notch presence and so forth. The sound is so spacious and transparent that you can easily pick out each of the instruments and follow them over the course of the songs.

You could choose any track you wanted to and find lovely sound here, but I’d recommend Ripple and Attics Of My Life for starters. Most copies suffer from a glaring lack of highs, but just listen to the ride cymbals on this one to find out that the top end is still alive and well here. (more…)

Crosby / Nash – Whistling Down The Wire

More David Crosby

More Graham Nash

  • Whistling Down the Wire returns with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • These sides were noticeably richer than many of the copies we played, which generally tended to be lean and dry
  • We played a big pile of these, but finding the Tubey Magical, spacious, sweet ANALOG sound we were after was not easy
  • Fortunately this copy showed us that it indeed was possible to get the clear, breathy vocals necessary to bring out the wonderful harmonies these two are so rightly famous for

(more…)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young / So Far – Listening in Depth

Hot Stamper Pressings of So Far Available Now

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening 

For example, on Find the Cost of Freedom the best copies have DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND. You could say everything that needs to be said about the beauty of analog with this one track alone. It’s not even two minutes long, but it’s two really wonderful minutes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the height of their powers. The voices should sound as sweet and as silky as any CSN three part (four part?) harmony you have ever heard. This song rivals Helplessly Hoping for vocal blend.

More Crosby, Stills and Nash

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Déjà Vu

When you get a good copy of this album, this song sounds like it was lifted right off of a Hot Stamper copy of Deja Vu itself. It’s so rich and Tubey Magical you’d swear it couldn’t get any better. Huge amounts of deep bass. Acoustic guitars that ring for days. Midrange magic to die for. Not many of them sound this way, unfortunately.

If I could indulge in some more MoFi and Half-Speed bashing for a moment, the bass “solo” at the end of this song is a great test for bass definition. The notes are relatively high, and it’s easy for them to sound blurred and wooly. The MoFi, like virtually all Half-Speed mastered records, has a problem with bass definition. If you own the MoFi, listen for how clearly defined the notes are at the end of this track. Then play any other copy, either of So Far or Deja Vu. It’s a pretty safe bet that the bass will be much more articulate. I know how bad the MOFI is in this respect. Rarely do “normal” records have bass that bad.

Stephen Barncard Does It Again

Listen to this song and compare it to anything on the Barncard-engineered first solo LP by David Crosby. That is the sound of Barncard’s engineering — open, spacious, rich, sweet; tons of deep bass; absolutely no trace of phony eq on vocals; acoustic guitars that ring for days — the man is a GENIUS. Thank god he was involved with music of this quality. If only more of the LP pressings did a better job of revealing the exquisite beauty of the recordings themselves. (I suppose that burden must be carried by the few Hot Stamper copies we can dig up.) (more…)

Crosby, Stills and Nash – Daylight Again

Hot Stampers of Crosby, Stills and Nash

Commentaries and Letters for Crosby, Stills, Nash and (sometimes) Young

xxxxx

  • This outstanding copy of Daylight Again (the last good record these guys would ever make) earned solid Double Plus (A++) sonic grades – relatively quiet vinyl too
  • This is the embodiment of the Classic CSN sound we love – rich, full-bodied, warm, punchy, dynamic and clear 
  • Steven Barncard, one of our favorite recording engineers, no doubt deserves most of the credit
  • Allmusic on Wasted on the Way and Southern Cross: “Both were extracted as singles and became among the best-known tracks not only on Daylight Again, but also in the post-’60s CSN canon.”

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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu

Letters and Commentaries for Deja Vu

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young

  • A stunning Shootout Winning copy that is guaranteed to blow your mind – Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two
  • The sound is HUGE — lively, present and rich in a way that nothing you’ve heard can compete with
  • One of our all time favorite albums at Better Records and one that almost never sounds THIS good
  • 5 stars: “…this variety made Déjà Vu a rich musical banquet for the most serious and personal listeners, while mass audiences reveled in the glorious harmonies and the thundering electric guitars…”

If you play this copy at serious levels and have the kind of full range system that’s both loud and clean like live music, we guarantee you will be nothing less than gobsmacked at the size and power of the music on this album, the band’s inarguable masterpiece.

Both sides here are super high-resolution, tonally perfect, Tubey Magical and ALIVE. The vocals are silky and sweet with very little strain or grain (a very common problem in the loudest choruses). The highs are extended, the bass is deep and punchy, and the overall clarity is breathtaking.

Just listen to the guitars during the solos — you can really hear the sound of the pick hitting the strings. The rhythm guitars sound meaty and chunky like the best sounding copies of Zuma and After The Gold Rush. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Masterpiece: Deja Vu

DEJA VU is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it.

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

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Crosby / Nash – Wind on the Water

More David Crosby

More Graham Nash

xxxxx

  • Insanely good sound from start to finish for this ABC pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • These sides were noticeably richer than most of the copies we played, which generally tended to be lean and dry
  • We played a big pile of these, but finding the Tubey Magical, spacious, sweet ANALOG sound we were after was not easy
  • Fortunately this copy showed us that it indeed was possible to get the clear, breathy vocals necessary to bring out the wonderful harmonies these two are so rightly famous for
  • “Wind on the Water has an instant classic, lived-in sound and is a definite must-have.” – All Music, 4 Stars

Music Does the Driving

As a budding audiophile I went out of my way to acquire any piece of equipment that could make these records from the ’70s (the decade of my formative music-buying years) sound better than the gear I was then using. It’s the challenging recordings by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as well as scores of other pop and rock artists like them, that drove my pursuit of higher quality audio, starting all the way back in high school.

And here I am — here we are — still at it, forty years later, because the music still sounds fresh and original, and the pressings that we find get better and better with each passing year.

That kind of progress is proof that we’re doing it right. It’s a good test for any audiophile. If you are actively and seriously pursuing this hobby, perhaps as many as nine out of ten non-audiophile pressings in your collection should sound better with each passing year. As your stereo improves, not to mention your critical listening skills, the shortcomings of some will be revealed, but for the most part, vintage pressings should sound better each time you play them with continual refinements and improvements to your system, room and cleaning techniques.

That’s what makes it fun to play old records: They just keep getting better!

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