Top Engineers – Stephen Barncard

Listening in Depth to Tarkio

More of the Music of Brewer and Shipley

Reviews and Commentaries for Brewer and Shipley

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

Analog richness, sweetness and Tubey Magic are elements absolutely indispensable to the sound of these recordings. Without them you might as well be playing a CD.

Some of the reissue pressings actually do sound like CDs and are not part of the shootouts for this album anymore. Who wants a record that sounds like a CD? They may be pressed on vinyl but they’re no less an embarrassment to analog for it. As you can imagine we feel the same way about most of the Heavy Vinyl records being made today. They’re just embarrassing.

The best pressings, on the other hand, are everything that’s good about the analog medium — smooth, sweet, relaxed and involving. You had best have a fast cartridge and not overly rich electronics to get the most out of this one. The richness on this record is already baked-in; no need to add more.

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Grateful Dead / American Beauty – An Honest-to-Goodness Killer MoFi LP

More of the Music of The Grateful Dead

Hot Stamper Pressings of Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

Sonic Grade: B+

This is a Mobile Fidelity LP with SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND. The transparency and presence in the midrange is outstanding for a MoFi. This copy does not have the usual midrange suckout that ruins so many of their records.

The bass actually sounds mostly in control on this copy — there’s much less of the typically bloated MoFi bass to be found here.

This is the best sounding Mobile Fidelity American Beauty we have ever heard. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s hugely better than we expected.

Any original Green Label domestic pressing is sure to be better, but sure to be noisier too, so if you must have quiet vinyl, you can do a lot worse than this MoFi.

Which means it belongs on our list of The Best Sounding Mobile Fidelity Records We’ve Ever Played.

FURTHER READING on the subject of Half-Speed Mastering

People sometimes ask us:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

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The Grateful Dead – American Beauty

More Grateful Dead

More Hippie Folk Rock

  • A superb copy of American Beauty with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally 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
  • We completed our most recent shootout just last month (with the top copy going for $899), but with some luck we might get another one going early next year
  • 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 had most of the qualities we were listening for. 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.

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Crosby, Stills and Nash – Daylight Again

Hot Stampers of Crosby, Stills and Nash

More David Crosby / More Stephen Stills / More Graham Nash

  • 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 
  • Stephen 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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The Grateful Dead – Barncard Knocked It Out of the Park with This One

More of the Music of The Grateful Dead

Hot Stamper Pressings of Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

The crowning glory of the Grateful Dead, this is their MASTERPIECE. Albums like this come along once in a band’s life — if they’re lucky. This is the zenith of the Grateful Dead. Workingman’s Dead is a good album. American Beauty is a great one.

If you don’t have a killer copy yet, it’s time to get on the bus. Stephen Barncard is the recording engineer responsible for this album, Deja Vu, Brewer and Shipley’s Tarkio, and a host of other amazingly rich, sweet and natural, mostly acoustic recordings that stand head and shoulders above the bulk of their contemporaries. American Beauty is one of them.

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.

The acoustic guitars sound magical on this one, and I can’t believe how wonderful these guys’ voices sound. The Tubey Magic and immediacy on this copy are going to STUN you.

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 cymbal on this one to find out that the top end is still alive and well here.

Here are some other records we’ve played that can often have No Real Top End.

David Crosby – What? No Classic Records LP on the TAS Super Disc List?

More of the Music of David Crosby

TAS List Super Discs with Hot Stampers

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

We applaud TAS’s decision not to add the Classic pressing of this title to the list, the way they foolishly have with so many other Classic pressings that have no business being on anything called a Super Disc list.

Dark Side Ones

Those of you who’ve played a sufficient number of copies of the album surely know that side one has a marked tendency to be darker and duller than side two. Finding a good side one is five times harder than finding a good side two. If your copy sounds recessed and lacks extension up top, don’t feel bad. Most of them do.

(By the way, the first track has that “home recording” sound and always sounds weak compared to the rest of this album. Don’t expect any wonders. As a wannabe hit single, peaking at #95 on the charts, it may even be sourced here from a dub of the real master tape. That shit happens.)

Your Reward Awaits You

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, records like this are the reward for owning the right stereo equipment and having it properly tweaked. There is no way in the world I could have played this album 20 years ago remotely as well as I can now. It only makes me appreciate the music even more.

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.

Barncard’s Masterpiece

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the superbly talented recording engineer on this project, Stephen Barncard (American Beauty, Deja Vu, Tarkio, etc.). This album is without a doubt his masterpiece. It fully deserves its standing as one of the Ten or Twenty Best Sounding Rock Recordings of All Time.

Here are some Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

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Crosby, Stills and Nash / Replay – Listening in Depth

More of the Music of Crosby, Stills and Nash

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening (112 Strong as of 2022)

We stopped doing shootouts for this album many years ago after running into too many mediocre-at-best if not downright awful sounding copies. These notes are from about ten years ago.

Replay is a very handy record for setting your VTA. The end of Shadow Captain has loud vocals and punchy bass, which are a bit difficult to reproduce. (Forget trying to get this song to sound good if you don’t have an exceptionally good copy.) 

The next song is To The Last Whale, which starts with Nash and Crosby’s multitracked voices in a big hall. With the correct VTA, their voices should sound silky and sweet. If your arm is too far down in the back, they will get a bit dull. Too high, and they will lose that breathy, “fluffy” quality.

And once you get their voices to sound just right, make sure the ending of Shadow Captain is still punchy and dynamic.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Carry On 

A crappy remix, with added guitar, ugh. (more…)

Brewer & Shipley – Do All the Robert Ludwig Mastered Copies Have Hot Stampers?

More of the Music of Brewer and Shipley

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Brewer and Shipley

Even though all the original Pink Label pressings are mastered by Robert Ludwig, they have a marked tendency to be dull, thick and opaque. The sound is just too smooth.

The best copies, however, have the top end and the transparency to let you hear all the guitar harmonics, surrounded by the large acoustic of the studio.

This time around we discovered something new: one specific stamper that seemed to be the only one with the potential for an extended top end. This special stamper did not always fare well; some copies with it were mediocre. We have always found this to be the way with the “right” stampers; they often let us down and sometimes they really let us down hard.

But this stamper, when it was right, had an extension on the top that no other copy could match. (The Robert Ludwig mastered Band second albums are the same way. Most have no top but boy, when they do, the magic you hear is phenomenal.) (more…)

David Crosby – Hand Claps Are Key

More of the Music of David Crosby

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of David Crosby

Note how Crosby’s voice is “chesty” on the better sounding copies. Some make him sound like he’s all mouth and no diaphragm. When his voice is full-bodied and solid, that’s when he sounds more like a real person and less like a pop recording of a person.

All credit must go to Stephen Barncard.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, not exactly a tough call if you ask us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording? 

Listening Test

One of our key test tracks for side one is Cowboy Movie, and one thing that separated the best pressings from the lesser ones was the sound of the hand claps. It’s a dense mix and they are not easy to hear, but on the best copies there is audible echo and ambience around them, with a richer “flesh on flesh” quality to their sound.

Not many pressings had it, and the ones that did tended to do most other things well also.

Which is what makes it a good test! (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

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