Top Producers – Jimmy Iovine

The Pretenders – Get Close

More of The Pretenders

More Women Who Rock

  • Get Close returns to the site with INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them throughout this vintage WEA import pressing
  • These sides are energetic, clear and full-bodied, with Chrissie Hynde’s vocals front and center where they belong
  • If all you know are audiophile or domestic pressings, you should be prepared for a mind-blowing experience with this German-pressed copy
  • It takes years to get a shootout for this album going – three to five is my best guess, so get while the gettin’s good if you’re as big a fan of the album as we are
  • “Hynde’s voice is in great form throughout, and when she gets her dander up, she still has plenty to say and good ways to say it; ‘How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?’ is a gleefully venomous attack on the musically unscrupulous; ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ is a superb pop tune and a deserved hit single; and the Motown-flavored ‘I Remember You’ and the moody ‘Chill Factor’ suggest she’d been learning a lot from her old soul singles.”

Get Close has long been a personal favorite of mine. Side one starts off with a bang with “My Baby,”” one of the best tracks this band ever recorded. Of course at this point it’s hard to call The Pretenders a band as it is pretty much Chrissie Hynde’s show. She continues to mature as a songwriter, and the arrangements and production value are excellent as well, with heavy hitters such as Steve Lillywhite, Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine involved.

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers / Long After Dark – What the Best Pressings Get Right

More of the Music of Tom Petty

Energy and rock and roll rhythmic drive are of course paramount on any Tom Petty album.

Many copies were brighter than ideal, which is nothing new for Petty’s body of work but not the sound we find most pleasing.

Some copies in our shootout were dark and small; we took serious points off for both of these shortcomings.

The climaxes of the songs should be as uncompressed and uncongested as possible to earn our higher grades. When the music gets loud it should stay tonally correct and undistorted, and not all copies can do that, not at the serious levels we like to play our records.

Choruses Are Key

Watch out for too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression or distortion, there will be too many upper midrange elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space, resulting in congestion and a loss of clarity.

With the more solid-sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich. Above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments and voices comfortably, without piling them on top of one another as so often happens. Consequently, the upper midrange “space” does not get overwhelmed with musical information.

Also watch for edge on the vocals, which is of course related to the issues above. Most copies have at least some edge to the vocals — the band wants to really belt it out in the choruses, and they do — but the best copies keep the edge under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull, or smeary.

The highest quality equipment, on the hottest Hot Stamper copies, will play the loudest and most difficult-to-reproduce passages with virtually no edge, grit, or grain, even at very loud levels.

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Stevie Nicks – The Wild Heart

More Stevie Nicks

More Fleetwood Mac

  • This outstanding early Modern Records pressing boasts Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • The spacious size, vocal presence, bottom end weight and (relative) warmth throughout are exactly the sound you want for The Wild Heart
  • Features a host of stellar guest musicians, including Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Steve Lukather (Toto), and even Prince, though he wasn’t credited on the album
  • 4 stars: “The Wild Heart sold to the faithful — it made the Top Ten, sold over a million copies, and spawned three Top 40 hits… if you loved Bella Donna, you would like The Wild Heart very much.”

It’s easy to spot the good-sounding copies. They’re big and rich, not thin nor harsh. They open up on the top end and go down deeper on the bottom. They’re smooth and full-bodied in the midrange. Stevie’s vocals are breathy and present. The energy of her performance drives the music the way you want it to.

In short, the best copies demonstrate the sound one could expect to hear on a good Tom Petty album. Nothing surprising there; this album, like Petty’s, was produced and engineered by the same teamJimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus. They’ve made some great records together, Damn the Torpedoes being the best of the batch for sonics.

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Stevie Nicks – Speculate Shmeculate

More Hot Stamper Pressings of Albums with Stevie Nicks Performing

More Entries in Our Critical Thinking Series

The sound of the typical copy can best be summed up in three words: thin, hard and bright.

When the sound is thin or hard or bright, the fun factor of this mainstream rock drops to zero.

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around and Leather And Lace both sound great on the radio, why not on Warners vinyl?

We sure can’t blame Sheffield Labs, the original cutting house: all the copies we played — good, bad and otherwise — were originals and mastered by them.

Could it be the vinyl?

It could. It could be a lot of things, but speculating about them doesn’t really get us or you anywhere, so I’m going to stop doing it and just say we played a big pile of records and heard a lot of unpleasant sound. If you have the record you probably know what I mean.

Our Approach

In order to do the work we do, our approach to audio has to be fundamentally different from that of the audiophile who listens for enjoyment. Critical listening and listening for enjoyment go hand in hand, but they are not the same thing.

The first — developing and applying your critical listening skills — allows you to achieve good audio and find the best pressings of the music you love.

Once you have a good stereo and a good record to play on it, your enjoyment of recorded music should increase dramatically.

A great sounding record on a killer system is a thrill.

A Heavy Vinyl mediocrity, played back on what passes for so many audiophile systems these days — regardless of cost — is, to these ears, an intolerable bore.

If this sounds arrogant and elitist, so be it.

We set a higher standard. Holding our records to that higher standard allows us to price our records commensurate with their superior sound and please the hell out of the people who buy them.

For those who appreciate the difference, and have resources sufficient to afford them, the cost is reasonable. If it were not we would not grown to have a staff of ten doing the work we do. We would have gone out of business years ago. Businesses that do not satisfy the needs of their customers do not stay in business for long.*

Hot Stampers are not cheap. If the price wasn’t more than justified by the better sound quality and quieter surfaces, who in his right mind would buy them? We can’t really be fooling that many audiophiles, can we?

Some folks think the whole Hot Stamper thing is hogwash, a case of mass hysteria, a psychological syndrome that does exist and cannot be ruled out as a possibility. Maybe our customers are as delusional as most forum posters think they are.

Keep in mind that virtually none of the folks who write about us have ever heard one of our records, so that should help you decide how much confidence you should put in whatever explanations they might have to offer.

We think the best way to understand their skepticism is through the prism of cognitive dissonance. Here is an excerpt from our much longer piece on the subject:

This whole Hot Stamper thing makes no sense. It’s not possible. Your customers are wrong. They are deluding themselves. You guys are the ones who are suffering from cognitive bias, not me. You hear what you want to hear on these old records and you ignore what’s good about the new ones.

I’m pretty sure that must be what’s going on. How can everybody else be wrong and somehow you get to be right? That’s really absurd. You should be ashamed of yourself for ripping off gullible audiophiles who are too stupid to realize that what you are selling is the worst kind of snake oil. Either that or false hope. You’re cynically preying on those who have more money than sense and laughing all the way to the bank. That’s on you. There’s a sucker born every minute, and that’s why you will never run out of customers. Hah!

Fair enough. Well said. You figured out this whole thing must be a scam. Awesome. Good job.

As a bonus, you’ve just saved yourself a huge amount of work and avoided a lot of mental anguish. You proved yourself right without lifting a finger. (Well, you did some typing, so I guess that counts as lifting a finger. But it sure was easier than playing a record and critically listening to it. That sh*t is hard.)


Now that all that Hot Stamper stuff is out of the way, please allow me to point you toward the one book that explains all the problematical thinking we humans constantly engage in, this one.

In my experience, no other book explains more about audio and the audiophiles who pursue it, myself included. I guarantee that if you read this book you will never be the same. It is that eye-opening.

Kind of like playing your first Hot Stamper. Nothing is ever the same again. Even if it is a scam.

*Those in the business of making Heavy Vinyl pressings these days are giving some portion of the public what it wants, the portion of the record-loving public that doesn’t have very good playback equipment or especially well-developed critical listening skills. If you have either, you should have given up on the stuff a long time ago.

In 2007 we found ourselves in such a place and we’ve yet to have any doubts concerning the mediocrity of those records. When we play Heavy Vinyl pressings these days we are often dumbfounded, at a loss to understand their appeal, but twenty years ago we liked many of them just fine, so who are we to talk?


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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Dire Straits / Making Movies – Forget the Dubby Domestic Pressings

More Dire Straits

Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

  • Guaranteed to be a huge improvement over anything you’ve heard, this Brit is big, punchy, and full-bodied with excellent presence – Mark Knopfler’s leads really soar
  • Romeo and Juliet comes to life the way you want it to here, and the song Solid Rock lives up to its title
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Making Movies is helped by a new wave-tinged pop production, which actually helps Knopfler’s jazzy inclinations take hold … ranks among the band’s finest work.”

The music really comes together, especially if you’ve been playing a sub-generation domestic pressing, which is the only kind Warners made as far as we know. (The first album is the same way of course.) Here you will find richer mids, sweeter highs, more energy and some real punch down low. (more…)

Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna

Albums with Stevie Nicks Performing

  • This STUNNING pressing earned Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them on both sides
  • Both sides are punchy, big and clear, with plenty of hard rockin’ energy – exactly what you would expect from the team of Shelly Yakus and Jimmy Iovine
  • Two of her biggest hits are here (and they still hold up): Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around and Leather And Lace
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Equally engaging are less exposed tracks like the haunting ‘After the Glitter Fades.’ Hit producer Jimmy Iovine wisely avoids over-producing, and keeps things sounding organic on this striking debut.”

It’s easy to hear what the good pressings are doing. They’re big and rich, never thin nor harsh. They open up on the top end and go down deeper on the bottom. They’re smooth and full-bodied in the midrange. Stevie’s vocals are breathy and present. The energy of her performance drives the music the way you want it to.

In short, the best copies demonstrate the sound one could expect on a good Tom Petty album. Nothing surprising there; this album, like Petty’s, was produced and engineered by the same team, Jimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus. They’ve made some great records together, Damn the Torpedoes being the best of the bunch for sonics.

Bella Donna may not reach those exalted heights, but it’s still quite good, especially for 1981. As the decade wore on things went south very quickly, sonically and musically, so we must be thankful that this record came out early in the decade and not much later.

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Back in 2014 This Was the Best Sounding Tom Petty Record We’d Ever Played

More of the Music of Tom Petty

Damn the Torpedoes is the best sounding Tom Petty album we have ever played.

Credit must go to SHELLY YAKUS, someone who we freely admit, now with a sense of embarrassment, has never been one of our favorite engineers. After hearing this beyond-White Hot Stamper side two and a killer copy of Animal Notes we realize that we have seriously underestimated the man, and for that we deeply apologize.

If your Damn the Torpedoes doesn’t sound good (and it probably doesn’t), you sure can’t blame him — the master tape is mind-boggling in its size, weight, power and rock n’ roll energy.

Our 2014 better than White Hot Stamper copy had the kind of sound we never expected to hear on Damn The Torpedoes, an album that’s typically bright, thin, pinched and transistory — radio friendly but not especially audiophile friendly.

Well folks, all that’s changed, and by “all” I don’t necessarily mean all to include the records themselves. This may very well be a record that sounded gritty and pinched before it was cleaned. And our stereo has come a long way in the last five or ten years, as I hope yours has too.

One sign that you’re making progress in this hobby is that at least some of the records you’ve played recently, records that had never sounded especially good before, are now sounding very good indeed. In our case Damn the Torpedoes is one of those records. It’s the best sounding Tom Petty album we have ever played.

Mindblowing On Both Sides

Side two is OFF THE CHARTS! It’s big and rich with excellent presence and tons of energy. I could go on and on here but all you have to know is that it is BY FAR the best sounding side two we have ever heard.

Side one is almost as good, with lots of space around all of the instruments, tons of energy and less congestion than the average copy. The sound is positively jumpin’ out of the speakers.

Note that we no longer give out the A++++ Beyond White Hot Stamper grade for the kinds of pressings that blew our minds, with sound so far superior to any copy we had ever heard that they actually broke our grading scale.

Tom Petty – Hard Promises

More Tom Petty

More of Our Favorite Titles from 1981

  • An impressive copy of this 1981 release, with KILLER nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Recorded at Sound City, home to some of the greatest analog sound ever recorded
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…filled with great songwriting, something that’s as difficult to achieve as a distinctive sound… The Waiting became the best-known song on the record, but there’s no discounting A Woman in Love, Nightwatchman, Kings Road, and The Criminal Kind, album tracks that would become fan favorites… it has a tremendous set of songs and a unified sound that makes it one of Petty’s finest records.”

This one is a huge step up from most of what we played. The album tends to be bright, thin, edgy, pinched and gritty — radio friendly, maybe, but not especially audiophile friendly.

We hate that sound but we are happy to report that some copies manage to avoid it, and this is one of them. Is that richer, fuller sound the sound of what’s on the master tape or did the mastering engineer “fix” it? We’ll never know, now will we? What we can know is the sound of the pressings we actually have to play, and this one is killer. (more…)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Long After Dark

More Tom Petty

  • A STUNNING sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too!
  • Both sides are brimming with Petty’s unique brand of “meat and potatoes” rock and roll
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • Rich and full-bodied with tight bass, and brimming with Petty’s unique brand of straight ahead rock and roll, best exemplified by the radio smash You Got Lucky
  • Rolling Stone raves “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play a finely crafted brand of meat-and-potatoes rock. They shudder to a stop for the occasional ballad or showy guitar figure, but the next surging chorus is never far away. They’ve been honing that sound for five albums now, and Petty has gradually hoisted himself into the company of such masterful travelers of Route 66 as Seger and Springsteen. …overall, Long after Dark is Petty’s most accomplished record.”

Long After Dark boasts the monster rocker You Got Lucky and very good sound considering that the album was recorded in 1982, not an especially good year (or decade) to be recording rock music. (more…)

Patti Smith Group – Easter

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  • An excellent sounding copy with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of Smith’s breakthrough from 1978, this is the way to go
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Easter, produced by Bruce Springsteen associate Jimmy Iovine, was Smith’s most commercial-sounding effort yet and, due to the inclusion of Springsteen’s “Because the Night” (with Smith’s revised lyrics), a Top Ten hit, it became her biggest seller, staying in the charts more than five months and getting into the Top 20 LPs. But Smith hadn’t so much sold out as she had learned to use her poetic gifts within an album rock context.”

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