Top Engineers – Stephen Barncard

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 cymbals 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 number of copies of the album over the years surely know that side one has a marked tendency to be much 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.

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!

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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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 – Cowboy Movie Is a Key Track

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 best 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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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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Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey

More Van Morrison

More Tupelo Honey

  • Two super sides – both are chock full of Vintage Vinyl Tubey Magic
  • Wild Night and the title track sound wonderfully rich and full-bodied, with the warmth and naturalness that distinguishes a merely good sounding LP from a truly Super Hot Stamper
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic and featuring some of Stephen Barncard’s best engineering – this is Analog Sound at its best
  • “Tupelo Honey is in one sense but another example of the artist making increased use of the album as the unit of communication as opposed to merely the song or the cut. Everything on it is perfectly integrated.”

There are actually real dynamics on this recording, which really helps kick up the life force of the music. Just listen to the energetic build-up during Wild Night — that’s how it would happen in a live setting, and that’s the way we want to hear it at home as well.

If you’ve been stuck with the average copy of any of the classic albums Van put out in the ’70s you would have no way of knowing just how well-recorded some of them are. (more…)

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

Letters and Commentaries for Deja Vu

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young

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.

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