Top Producers – Peter Asher

Linda Ronstadt – Get Closer

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  • Superb sound on both sides of this Asylum pressing from 1982 with each earning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades, right up there with our Shootout Winner
  • Engineering prowess provided by Val Garay and George Massenburg, which means the sound is full-bodied, dynamic and lively, with plenty of bottom end punch
  • “Linda Ronstadt’s voice has never sounded better than it does on Get Closer… [her] ringing soprano vibrates with clarity and authority on the record’s best songs…” Rolling Stone, 4 Stars
  • If you’re a fan of the lovely Linda Ronstadt, looking especially fetching on the cover in her red dress, a killer copy of her album from 1982 might just need a home in your collection

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James Taylor / One Man Dog – A Personal Favorite and Forgotten Gem

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Which of these copies has Hot Stampers?

That’s easy – just check the notes!

Of course this is far too many copies to have in one shootout, so some quick and dirty triage is the only way to get this group down to a manageable number, typically ten to twelve.

  • Big, rich and solid on both sides, with an especially relaxed, musical quality – it also has the transparency and clarity that most of the copies we played could not offer
  • There is not a false note to be found on side one: it’s brilliant from start to finish and side two is almost as good – we love the Abbey Road-like medley that makes up most of it
  • “Taylor turns in his best singing performance, running through the songs with fire, force, and enthusiasm, the qualities most notable by their absence on earlier recordings.” Rolling Stone

Play Chili Dog here, one of our favorite tracks, and note not only the clarity and spaciousness, but the PUNCH and LIFE of the music. This song is supposed to be fun. The average compressed dull copy only hints at that fact.

Then skip on down to the hit at the end of the side, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, another favorite track for testing. There’s a lot of bass in the mix on this track, but the best copies keep it under control. When it gets loose and starts blurring the midrange, the vocals and guitars seem “blocked”. The best copies let you hear all that meaty bass, as well as into the midrange.

One Man Dog, like many early WB pressings, has a tendency to be dull and opaque. (Most side twos have a real problem in that respect.) When you get one like this, with more of an extended top end, it tends to come with much more space, size, texture, transparency, ambience and openness.

Of course it does; that’s where much of that stuff is, up high. Most copies don’t have nearly enough of it, but thankfully this one does.

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this recording. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings). (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – The Middle of the Midrange Is Key

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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 that use this approach to mastering would have gone out of business and stayed out of business, and their out of print records would sell for peanuts, not the collector prices they bring on ebay and audiophile web sites.) (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – An Album You Need to Hear

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Reviews and Commentaries for Heart Like a Wheel

We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

The list is purposely wide-ranging. It includes some famous titles (Tumbleweed Connection, The Yes Album), but for the most part I have gone out of way to choose titles from talented artists that are less well known (Atlantic Crossing, Kiln House, Dad Loves His Work), which simply means that you won’t find Every Picture Tells a Story or Rumours or Sweet Baby James on this list because masterpieces of that caliber should already be in your collection and don’t need me to recommend them.

Which is not to say there aren’t some well known masterpieces on the list, because not every well known record is necessarily well known to audiophiles, and some records are just too good not to put on a list of records we think every audiophile ought to get to know better.

Out of the thousands of records we have auditioned and reviewed, there are a couple of hundred that have stood the test of time for us and we feel are deserving of a listen. Many of these will not be to your taste, but they were to mine.

Heart Like A Wheel

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 48 years by my calculation, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on the album. Folks, we heard it for ourselves: the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here on practically every song.

A Must Own Pop Record

Linda’s Masterpiece, and a recording that should be part of any serious Popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

Linda Ronstadt – Lush Life

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  • An outstanding copy of Ronstadt’s 1984 release with Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Getting the strings to sound sweet and rosiny, not smeary and hard, is no mean feat, but it’s the kind of thing the better Hot Stamper pressings are guaranteed to give you on any of Linda’s American Songbook period albums
  • “What’s New illustrated that Linda Ronstadt was no longer interested in contemporary pop, and since it was a surprise success, there was no reason not to repeat the formula on Lush Life. Working again with Nelson Riddle, Ronstadt runs through several pop standards — ‘When I Fall in Love,’ ‘Sophisticated Lady,’ ‘Falling in Love Again,’ ‘It Never Entered My Mind’…”

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Listening in Depth to James Taylor’s Forgotten Classic – Mud Slide Slim

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of James Taylor

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

Mud Slide Slim has some of Taylor’s strongest material: You’ve Got a Friend; You Can Close Your Eyes; Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox, and one of his best and most underrated, Love Has Brought Me Around.

If you’ve got a top copy of the album, this song, the leadoff on side one, can really rock. It’s yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Love Has Brought Me Around

One of my all-time favorite James Taylor tracks. When you get a good copy, this music comes ALIVE! This is not your typical sad sack, touchy feely James Taylor song. This song ROCKS!

You’ve Got a Friend

Listen to Carole King’s piano. On the best copies the transparency allows her playing to be heard so clearly. Her style is unmistakable. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Can You Hear the Bloated Bass of the DCC Pressing?

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[This review was written many years ago, around 2004 I think. This was one of the first DCC records I did a shootout with up against run-of-the-mill Mastering Lab domestic pressings, only to find, somewhat surprisingly, at least at that time, that the DCC came up short, as you will see in the review below.]

Sonic Grade: C

As much as I admire Steve Hoffman’s work for DCC, on this title the DCC is not as good as the best domestic copies. The best domestic pressings are cleaner, leaner and meaner than the DCC, and just plain more fun.

The DCC sounds thick in the midrange and fat in the bass, although some of that boost in the bass could have been used to the advantage of some of the domestic pressings we played. 1 DB or so at 50-60 cycles would help, but the DCC has a boost in the middle and upper bass that causes the bass to sound bloated next to a properly mastered, properly pressed LP. 

I like rich sounding records just like Steve does, but his version of this title is too rich for my blood. If your system is lean sounding you may prefer the DCC, but we found it less than agreeable over here.

Not sure why so few reviewers and audiophiles notice these rather obvious shortcomings, but we sure do, and we don’t like it when records sound that way. These are records for those who are not sufficiently advanced in the hobby to know just how compromised and wrong they are.

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James Taylor – JT

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  • It’s a superb recording – a member of our Top 100, in fact – but it takes a pressing like this to show you just how BIG and LIVELY it can sound
  • This and Sweet Baby James are the man’s best recordings, and his best albums too, but he has so many great albums that it almost seems unfair to him to point that out
  • The big hits Your Smiling Face and Handy Man both sound great here – thanks Val Garay!
  • 4 stars: “JT was James Taylor’s best album since Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon because it acknowledged the darkness of his earlier work while explaining the deliberate lightness of his current viewpoint, and because it was his most consistent collection in years.”

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James Taylor / One Man Dog – Watch Out for Bass Blockage

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Reviews and Commentaries for One Man Dog

Play Chili Dog here, one of our favorite tracks, and note not only the clarity and spaciousness, but the PUNCH and LIFE of the music. This song is supposed to be fun. The average somewhat compressed and dull copy only hints at that fact.

Then skip on down to the hit at the end of the side, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, another favorite track for testing.

There’s a lot of bass in the mix on this track, but the best copies keep it under control.

When it gets loose and starts blurring the midrange, the vocals and guitars seem “blocked.” The best copies let you hear all that meaty bass, as well as letting you hear into the midrange too.

One Man Dog, like many early WB pressings, has a tendency to be dull and opaque. (Most side twos have a real problem in that respect.) When you get a good, with more of an extended top end, it tends to come with much more space, size, texture, transparency, ambience and openness.

Of course it does; that’s where much of that stuff is, up high. Most copies don’t have nearly enough of it, but thankfully the best copies do.


FURTHER READING

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass and Whomp

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass Definition

Records that Are Good for Testing Energy

Records that Are Good for Testing the Lower Midrange and Mid-Bass

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James Taylor / Sweet Baby James

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Reviews and Commentaries for Sweet Baby James

  • All that lovely echo is a dead giveaway that this pressing has resolution far beyond that of the others you may have heard (and of course the Rhino Heavy Vinyl)
  • Top 100, inarguably a Masterpiece – Fire and Rain and Suite for 20 G (one of JT’s All Time Best) are killer here
  • 5 stars: “Sweet Baby James launched not only Taylor’s career as a pop superstar but also the entire singer/songwriter movement of the early ’70s that included Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and others…”

Vocal reproduction is key to the best sounding copies of Sweet Baby James, as it is on so many Singer Songwriter albums from the era.

To find a copy where Taylor’s vocals are front and center — which is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet, tonally correct and Tubey Magical is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off.

Out of the dozen or more Green Label early pressings we play every year, relatively few have the full complement of midrange magic we know the best copies can have. As a rule of thumb, the hotter the stamper, the better the vocal reproduction on that copy.

Hot Stamper sound is rarely about the details of a given recording. In the case of this album, more than anything else a Hot Stamper must succeed at recreating a solid, palpable, real James Taylor singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)