Top Engineers – Val Garay

James Taylor – Dad Loves His Work – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

This Hot Stamper original Columbia is THE KING, the Best Sounding Copy we have ever played — the sound was OUT OF THIS WORLD! In fact, side two went so far beyond what we’ve come to expect from this album that we had to award it the rare Four Plus (A++++) grade.

The soundstage and depth on our Hot Stamper copies is HUGE — this is without a doubt the most spacious recording by James Taylor we’ve ever heard. If you want your speakers to disappear, replaced by a huge studio full of musicians playing their hearts out, this is the album that can do it. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Heart Like a Wheel

 

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Heart Like a Wheel

and click on this link to the

Classic Tracks

entry for the album to read about it in real  depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Heart Like a Wheel.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold. (more…)

Val Garay Rocks the Sound of JT

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

JT

 

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The good copies REALLY ROCK on a song like Honey Don’t Leave L.A. or I Was Only Telling A Lie, yet have lovely, sweet transparency and delicacy on the ballads such as Another Grey Morning or There We Are.

Just turn up the volume and play the opening to Honey Don’t Leave L.A. — this is James Taylor and his super tight studio band at the peak of their powers. Russ Kunkel hits the drum twice, then clicks his sticks together so quickly you can hardly notice it, then goes back to the drums for the rest of the intro. On a superb copy like this one, the subtleties of his performance are clearly on display. (Until copies like this one came along, we had never even noticed that stick trick. Now it’s the high point of the whole intro!)

Sound Equals Music

As audiophiles we all know that sound and music are inseparable. After dropping the needle on a dozen or so copies, all originals by the way, you KNOW when the music is working its magic and when it’s not. As with any pop album there are always some songs that sound better than others, but when you find yourself marvelling at how well-written and well-produced a song is, you know that the sound is doing what it needs to do. It’s communicating the Musical Values of the material.

The most important of all these Musical Values is ENERGY, and boy do the best copies have it!

Val Garay Is The Man

VAL GARAY is the man behind so many of our favorite recordings: James Taylor’s JT (a Top 100 title), Simple Dreams (also a Top 100 title), Andrew Gold, Prisoner In Disguise, etc. They all share his trademark super-punchy, jump-out-the-speakers, rich and smooth ANALOG sound. With BIG drums — can’t forget those. (To be clear, only the best copies share it. Most copies only hint at it.) (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Prisoner In Disguise – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

Val Garay (JT, Simple Dreams) does it again! Both sides of this Asylum pressing have SUPERB SOUND, and side one I would go so far as to say has MASTER TAPE SOUND.

Side one is simply OFF THE CHARTS. It’s super-transparent; the clarity is amazing, and from the moment the needle hits the groove you hear the kind of stunning immediacy that brings Linda right INTO your listening room! This is EXACTLY the kind of sound a pop record is supposed to have. This copy gives it to you big time, on both sides.

The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that was pretty much nonexistent on the other copies we played. Drop the needle on Many Rivers To Cross and check out the amazing sound of the organ, coming from the back of the room. Only the highest resolution copies give you that kind of depth to the soundfield. (more…)

Donald Byrd – Stepping Into Tomorrow

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  • Donald Byrd’s 1975 release makes its Hot Stamper debut with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom 
  • Byrd’s trumpet sounds wonderful here, with just the right amount of bite – credit must go to Val Garay and Dave Hassinger (among others), two of our favorite engineers working at The Sound Factory
  • 4 stars: “… maybe some of those who sniffed at the straightforward nature of some of the rhythms and riffing were won over by the supreme layering of the many components (the way in which “Think Twice” lurches forward, peels back, and gathers steam is nothing short of heavenly), not to mention some deeply evocative playing from Byrd himself.”

(more…)

James Taylor – JT – Our Shootout Winner from Way Back in 2007

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

SUPERB SOUND FROM START TO FINISH! Both sides have MASTER TAPE SOUND. With six plusses between the two sides it sure doesn’t get much better than this copy!

And don’t think we’re kidding about turning up your volume and rockin’ out to songs like Honey Don’t Leave L.A. and I Was Only Telling a Lie. Those are real rock songs and they show that old JT can rock with the best of them when he wants to. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

This original Capitol Orange Label LP has TWO SUPERB sides, with side two earning our top grade of A+++ for its White Hot sound! And side one was nearly as good at A++ to A+++. These are the highest grades we are awarding to any copy on the site, folks. It doesn’t get any better. The sound is uncharacteristically smooth, sweet, clear and Tubey Magical, light years from the grungy grit and grain that plagues most copies of Heart Like a Wheel.

Things are different since our last big shootout back in 2009. We learned a lot about the record and have added plenty of new commentary to back it up. If you’re a fan check it out.

Let’s be honest: the average copy of this album is an audio disaster. Those of you who love this album as much as we do are going to be shocked when you hear how wonderful it can sound. We bet you never imagined it could be this good, and we happily back up that bet with a full money back guarantee!

This shootout was no small project — we dropped the needle on more than a DOZEN copies.This is the only one to earn better than a Super Hot Stamper grade (A++) on both sides. I’ve been playing this album for years, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on HLAW. On top of that it’s also full-bodied, lively, and super-transparent. The vocals are breathy and full with incredible immediacy. Folks, the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Living In The USA

More Linda Ronstadt

Living In The USA

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Both sides here are rich and smooth yet still clean and clear, precisely the kind of sound we’ve come to expect from the team of Val Garay and Peter Asher in the ’70s. The bass is deep and punchy, the keyboards tubey rich, and the whole of the ensemble displays both energy and conviction on this top quality batch of songs.

Check out the best of them, tracks that still get airplay today: Back in the U.S.A.; Just One Look; Alison; All That You Dream; Oh Baby Baby; Blowing Away and Love Me Tender. That’s a lot of great songs on one album! (more…)

Andrew Gold – What’s Wrong With This Picture? (2015)

More Andrew Gold

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

The best copies of Gold’s sophomore release are incredibly rich, sweet and Tubey Magical. They also have tons of deep punchy bass and wonderfully breathy vocals.

If you own many Asylum records, you know this title is yet another example of classic Asylum Analog. Think of the sound of the Eagles first album and you won’t be far off.

AAndrew Gold is another talented popster who got little respect from the critics, or the public for that matter. His music has a lot of the same qualities as Buddy Holly’s: simple catchy tunes about love, with clever lyrics and tons of hooks. He covers one of Holly’s songs on this very album. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – The Middle of the Midrange Is Key

More Linda Ronstadt

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Here’s what we learned when doing our recent shootout: many copies sounded like they were half-speed mastered. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a lot of things. In this case, these half-speed sounding ones had a little something phony added to the top of Linda’s voice, they had a little bit of suckout right in the middle of the midrange, the middle of her voice, and they had an overall diffuse, vague quality, with sound that lacked the SOLIDITY we heard on the best pressings. 

These hi-fi-ish qualities that we heard on so many copies reminded us of the audiophile sound we decry at every turn. We’ve played literally hundreds and hundreds of MoFi’s and other half-speed mastered records over the course of the last twenty years, and one thing we know well is THAT SOUND.

But think about it. What if you only had one copy of the album — why would you have more than one anyway? — and it had that Half-Speed Sound? You’d simply assume the recording had those qualities, assuming you could even recognize them in the first place. (Let’s face it, most audiophiles can’t, or all these companies would have gone out of business and stayed out of businesss, and their out of print records would sell for peanuts, not the collector prices they bring on ebay and audiophile web sites.) (more…)