Top Producers – Paul Rothchild

The Doors / The Soft Parade – What Happens When the Gold Label Doesn’t Have the Best Sound on Both Sides?

It gets marked the sonic grade it earned.

If a Big Red E label pressing sounded better to us on side two, if it somehow managed to sound better than any of our Gold Label originals, then it would earn the top grade on side two.

Here is how we described a killer copy we had not long ago:

With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side two and a Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy is practically as good as it gets. The sound on this Gold Label pressing is incredibly powerful — big, rich, full-bodied, present and lively. It’s HUGE, RICH, and FULL-BODIED, exactly the way it should be.

But note that side two was clearly not as good as side one. Even the best early pressings cannot be relied on to get both sides right. The pressing above is proof. We discuss the issue in the commentary below.

What are the sonic qualities by which a Pop or Rock record — any Pop or Rock record — should be judged?

Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, spaciousness, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, three-dimensionality, and on and on down the list.

When we can hear a good many of the qualities mentioned above on the side we’re playing, we provisionally award it a Hot Stamper grade. This grade is often revised over the course of the shootout, as we come to more fully appreciate just how good some of the other copies are.

Once we’ve been through all our side ones, we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner. Other copies have their grades raised or lowered depending on how they sounded relative to the shootout winner.

Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides of each pressing match up.

That’s why the most common grade for a White Hot Stamper pressing is Triple Plus (A+++) on one side and Double Plus (A++) on the other.

Finding the two best sounding sides from a shootout on the same LP does happen, but it sure doesn’t happen as often as we would like (!) There are just too many variables in the mastering and pressing processes to ensure that level of consistency.

But some pressings pull it off, triumphing over all comers and winning the shootout for both sides. These very special Triple Triple pressings have their own section, separate from our White Hot Stamper pressings. If you want the ultimate in audiophile sound for any particular title, this is where you will find it.

At the time of this writing there were about four times as many records with one White Hot side as there were records with White Hot Stamper sound on each side.

Record shootouts may not be rocket science, but they’re a science of a kind, one with strict protocols we’ve developed over the course of many years to ensure that the sonic grades we assign to our Hot Stampers are as accurate as we can make them.

The result of all our work speaks for itself. We guarantee you have never heard this music sound better than it does on our Hot Stamper pressing — or your money back.

Hot Stampers of The Soft Parade

Letters and Commentaries for The Soft Parade

(more…)

The Doors / Waiting For The Sun – Don’t the DCC Pressings All Sound Different Too?

I recently had a chance to listen again to this DCC pressing for the first time in many years. I was putting it up on ebay to sell and dropped the needle to check the sound. I can’t say I liked what I heard. Knowing the record as well as I do, I could her that the DCC was clearly to be brighter in the midrange.

When I went back to read what I had said about the DCC years ago, I saw that I had described that copy the same way. You can read it for yourself. Our old review follows.

We rate the DCC LP a B Minus

We used to like the DCC pressing of this Doors album. Now… not so much. It’s a classic case of Live and Learn.

Keep in mind that the only way you can never be wrong about your records is simply to avoid playing them. If you have better equipment than you did, say, five or ten years ago, try playing some of your MoFi’s, 180 gram LPs, Japanese pressings, 45 RPM remasters and the like. You might be in for quite a shock.

Of course the question on everyone’s mind is, “How does this Hot Stamper copy stack up to the famous DCC pressing?” After all, the DCC was the one we were touting all through the ’90s as The One To Beat.

Well, to be honest, the DCC is a nice record, but a really special original copy like this one throws a pretty strong light on its faults, which are numerous and frankly quite bothersome. The top end on the copy I played was a touch boosted, causing a number of problems.

For one, the cymbals sounded slightly tizzy compared to the real thing, which had a fairly natural, though not especially extended, top end.

But the real problem was in the midrange. Morrison sounded thinner and brighter, more like a tenor and less like a baritone, with a somewhat hi-fi-ish quality added to the top of his voice. Folks, I hate to say it, but if someone had told me that the record playing was half-speed mastered, I probably would have believed it. I detest that sound, and the DCC pressing bugged the hell out of me in that respect.

Morrison has one of the richest and most distinctive voices in the history of rock. When it doesn’t sound like the guy I’ve been listening to for close to forty years, something ain’t right.

The bottom end was also a tad boosted — not in the deep bass, but more in that area around 100-200 cycles, causing the sound to be overly rich. None of the originals we played had anything like it, so I’m pretty sure that’s a bit of added EQ Hoffman introduced for reasons known best to him.

Not So Fast There, O Hot Stamper Guru

But wait a minute — don’t all records sound different? Is it really fair to paint his version with such a broad brush on the basis of having played only one copy?

Of course not. Perhaps other copies sound better. (Maybe they sound worse. Think about that.) So here’s our offer to you, dear customer: We absolutely guarantee our Hot Stamper copies will handily beat the DCC pressing or your money back. We’ll even pay the return domestic shipping if for some reason you are not 100% satisfied with the sound of our Hot Stamper. Now there’s an offer you can’t refuse, for any one of you who love the album and have a wad of money burning a hole in your pocket.

More of The Doors

More Psych Rock

(more…)

The Doors / Waiting For the Sun

More of The Doors

More Psych Rock

  • The sound is present, lively and tonally correct, with Jim Morrison’s baritone reproduced with the weight, presence, space and depth all but missing from the reissues
  • It’s tough (not to mention expensive) to find these early Gold Label pressings with this kind of sound and reasonably quiet vinyl
  • “Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore were never more lucid… This was a band at its most dexterous, creative, and musically diverse …”

Here is THE BIG SOUND that makes Doors records such a thrill to play. Morrison’s vocals sound just right here — full-bodied, breathy and immediate. The transparency makes it possible to easily pick out Bruce Botnick’s double tracking of Morrison’s leads.

For a thrill just drop the needle on Not To Touch The Earth. Halfway through the song the members have sort of a duel — Robbie Krieger wailing on the guitar in one channel, Ray Manzarek pounding on the keyboards in the other, and John Densmore responding with drum fills behind them. On the average copy, the parts get congested and lose their power, but when you can easily pick out each musician, their part will raise the hair on your arms. It’s absolutely chilling, and it will no doubt remind you why you fell in love with The Doors in the first place. Who else can do this kind of voodoo the way that they do?

Check out the piano on Yes The River Knows on side two (such an underrated song!) or the big snare thwacks on Five To One to hear that Hot Stamper magic. The overall sound is airy, open, and spacious — you can really hear INTO the soundfield on a track like Yes The River Knows. The opaque quality that so many pressings of this album suffer from is nowhere to be found here. Not only that, but you will not believe how hard these sides rock. (more…)

The Doors – Self-Titled

More of The Doors

More Top 100 Rock and Pop Albums

  • An outstanding copy of the band’s debut with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – we guarantee you’ve never experienced The Doors like this!
  • The sound is incredibly big, rich and spacious, with a rock solid bottom end and energy that puts the lie to the modern veiled, lifeless reissue
  • Only the right Gold Label originals can win a shootout, and few of them are not going to have condition issues, but the two here are fairly minor all things considered
  • A must-own album “whose nonstop melodicism and dynamic tension would never be equaled by the group again, let alone bettered.”
  • 5 stars: “A tremendous debut album, and indeed one of the best first-time outings in rock history, introducing the band’s fusion of rock, blues, classical, jazz and poetry with a knockout punch.”

Superb sound on this copy of the Doors self-titled classic! You won’t believe how good the sound is here — big and rich with plenty of bottom end and an energy level that’s really something to hear! Thanks, Bruce Botnick, you da man!

Honestly, we must return or reject 80% of the copies that come through the door, which should go a long way towards explaining why they hit the site with such irregularity. We know what the best stampers are and have for quite a while. What we have a devil of a time doing is finding anyone selling the album who knows how to grade it properly, especially when it comes to the kind of groove damage that’s common to records played on turntables that lack anti-skate. (more…)

The Doors / The Soft Parade – A Tough Title to Find with Top Sound

  • The sound is incredibly powerful from start to finish – big, rich, full-bodied, present and lively – thanks Bruce Botnick, where would The Doors be without you?
  • Full of great songs: Touch Me, Runnin’ Blue, Wild Child, Wishful Sinful and the amazingly trippy Soft Parade extended suite (with Triple Plus sound no less)
  • “Much like a true “parade” of an English fugue, the song morphs from Morrison’s a capella sermon-like intro to a Baroque ballad to a show tune-like section to the long rock outro, the music masterfully following the flowing, stream of consciousness lyric.” Hell yeah!

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in clean shape. Most of them will have at least some ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. Some will have cut corners. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG, and it will probably be VG+. If you are picky about your covers please let us know in advance so that we can be sure we have a nice enough cover for you.

This Doors pressing (either on the Elektra Gold or Big Red E Label, nothing else would qualify as a Hot Stamper) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.).

Hot Stamper sound is rarely about the details of a given recording. In the case of this album, a Hot Stamper must succeed at recreating a solid, palpable, rich JIM MORRISON singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played over the years can serve as a guide. (more…)

The Doors / Waiting For The Sun – Listening in Depth

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

My favorite of the first three Doors album, this one is imbued with more mystery and lyricism than previous efforts. The album shows them maturing as a band, having smoked large amounts of pot and preparing themselves for the wild ride of their next opus, the ambitious Soft Parade. Actually, as I listen to this album it reminds me more and more of that one. Now that it sounds as good as The Soft Parade, I find I’ve gained a new respect for Waiting for the Sun.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Hello, I Love You
Love Street
Not To Touch The Earth

Listen to the hard rockin’ duel between the keyboards (left channel) and the guitar (right channel) in the middle of the song. Morrison is screaming is head off and Densmore is really slamming on the drums. There’s a HUGE amount of information in the grooves there, and only the best copies will be open and spacious enough to not get a bit congested.

Summer’s Almost Gone

On a Hot Stamper copy, this song is tubey magical analog at its best — warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied.

Wintertime Love
The Unknown Soldier (more…)

The Doors – Strange Days

More of The Doors

xxxxx

  • An outstanding copy of the band’s sophomore release, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • This vintage pressing is well balanced, yet big and lively, with such wonderful clarity in the mids and highs as well as deep punchy bass and a big open and spacious soundfield
  • Demo Quality sound for so many classics: When The Music’s Over, Moonlight Drive, Love Me Two Times and more
  • “… if The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club and The Beach Boys had Pet Sounds, then The Doors’ answer was Strange Days… It’s the perfect introduction to a perfectly strange album.”

CONDITION NOTES:

  • On side one, a mark makes 5 moderately loud pops, followed by 15 moderately light and 5 light stitches. Another mark makes 4 light ticks, followed by 3 very light ticks during track 3, Love Me Two Times.

If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1967 All Tube Analog sound can be, this copy will can do just that.

It’s spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it. (more…)

The Doors – L.A. Woman – Rhino Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

See all of our Doors albums in stock

Reviews of L.A. Woman

doorsla

The Rhino pressing we auditioned from the Doors Box Set was surprisingly good. It’s rich and smooth with an extended top end — tonally correct in other words — and there’s lots of bass. This is all to the good. For the thirty bucks you might pay for it you’re getting a very good record, assuming yours sounds like ours, something we should really not be assuming, but we do it anyway as there is no other way to write about records other than to describe the sound of the ones we actually have on hand to play.

What it clearly lacks compared to the best originals is, first and foremost, vocal immediacy. There’s a veil that Jim Morrison is singing through, an effect which becomes more bothersome with time, as these sorts of frustrating shortcomings have a habit of doing.

A bit blurry, a bit smeary, somewhat lacking in air and space, on the plus side it has good energy and better bass than most of the copies we played. All in all we would probably give it a “B.” You could do a helluva lot worse.

Record Collecting Advice

All the ’70s and ’80s reissues of this album we’ve ever played were just awful, especially those with the date inscribed in the dead wax.

Remastering Out Too Much of the Good Stuff

What is lost in the newly remastered recordings so popular with the record collecting public these days ? Lots of things, but the most obvious and irritating is the loss of transparency.

Modern records tend to be small, veiled and recessed, and they rarely image well. But the most important quality they lack is transparency. Almost without exception they are opaque. They resist our efforts to hear into the music.

We don’t like that sound, and like it less with each passing day, although we certainly used to put up with it back when we were selling what we considered to be the better Heavy Vinyl pressings from the likes of DCC, Speakers Corner, Cisco and even Classic Records.

Now when we play those records they either bore us to tears or frustrate us with their veiled, vague, lifeless, ambience-challenged presentation.

It was sometime in 2007 when we turned a corner. The remastered Blue on Rhino Heavy Vinyl came out and was such a mediocrity that we asked ourselves “Why bother?” That was all she wrote.

We stopped selling those third-rate remasters and dedicated ourselves to finding, cleaning, playing and critically evaluating vintage pressings, regardless of era or genre of music.

The result is a website full of great sounding records that should find special appeal with audiophiles who set high standards, who own good equipment and who have well-developed critical listening skills.

What We Think We Know about The Doors’ Soft Parade Album

This vintage Doors pressing (either on the Elektra Gold or Big Red E Label, nothing else will do) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely reproduce.

Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

This Is One of The Records That Did It For Me

Perhaps hearing Dark Side was what made you realize how good a record could sound. Looking back on it over the last thirty years, it’s clear to me now that this album, along with scores of others, is one of the surest reasons I became an audiophile in the first place, and stuck with it for so long. What could be better than hearing music you love sound so good?

It’s clearly an album we are obsessed with. We have written extensively about 50 of them to date. It is our contention that to be any good at this hobby, you have to become obsessed with well-recorded albums and work out the consequences of those obsessions for yourself. We wrote about it here. An excerpt:

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 of them will no doubt become more apparent. For the most part, however, with continual refinements and improvements to your system and room, vintage pressings will continue to sound better the longer you stay active in the hobby.

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

The Typical Soft Parade LP

The sound of most pressings of The Soft Parade is just plain terrible. The brass that opens side one is often so pinched, compressed, grainy and aggressive it will practically make your hair stand on end. Almost all the post-Big-Red-E reissue LPs sound like they are made from sub-generation EQ’d compressed tape copies, what are commonly called cutting masters. So many reissues have such a similar character that it’s hard to imagine they’re not all sourced from the same bad “master.”

Need I even mention how much better this copy sounds than the recent 180g version from the Rhino Box Set, digitally remastered by Bernie Grundman? That thing is just awful, possibly the worst sounding pressing I have ever heard. The Gold CD Hoffman did for Audio Fidelity would be night and day better. So much for the concept of vinyl superiority. Not with Bernie at the helm anyway.

Add to that the fact that almost every copy you pick up will have a pronounced HONK in the midrange, giving you that not-so-fondly remembered AM radio sound we’ve all gotten used to after hearing copy after incompetently-mastered, pressed-on-cardboard copy. (And the awful Bruce Botnick engineered CDs too; can’t forget those. If you can’t afford the DCC Gold discs for The Doors’ catalog, you are in for some shockingly mid-fi sound.)

(more…)

The Doors – Listening in Depth to The Soft Parade

doorssoftinner

Our shootout from a while back (4/2014) included a minty Gold Label pressing, which did reasonably well, but not great, on side one. Side two however was OFF THE CHARTS and won the shootout on that side handily. The fact that side one wasn’t a knockout is yet more evidence that individual pressings with the same label — even the “right” label — vary dramatically in sound.

The sound of most pressings of The Soft Parade is just plain horrible. The brass that opens side one is so pinched, compressed, grainy and aggressive it will practically make your hair stand on end. Almost all the reissue LPs sound like they are made from sub-generation EQ’d compressed tape copies, what are commonly called cutting masters. So many reissues have such a similar character that it’s hard to imagine they’re not all sourced from the same bad “master.”
(more…)