The Doobie Brothers – Toulouse Street

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  • A killer original Green Label pressing with amazing Tubey Magical Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides  
  • Two of our favorite engineers – Stephen Barncard & Donn Landee – worked their magic here, and they really knocked it out of the park
  • Back in the ’70s I had no idea that any pressing could be this punchy in the bass, this dynamic in the choruses, yet still have smooth, sweet vocals (partly because I heard it on crap equipment at Pacific Stereo)
  • 4 stars: “…it all still sounds astonishingly bracing 30 years later; it’s still a keeper, and one of the most inviting and alluring albums of its era.”

This vintage WB pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Another Passenger and Honky Chateau

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,  

I want to say a big THANK YOU for the Hot Stampers you sent to me. Wish You Were Here is maybe the best sounding record I’ve ever heard (as you know I have a lot of Hot Stampers). I’m so amazed and lucky – I can’t describe it. The copy sounds out of this world with soooo well-defined bass, stunning clarity, warmth and richness, immediacy, astonishing transparency… It murders my old copy. Another Passenger and Honky Chateau are also Demo Discs of the highest order. 

Erik S.

Another Passenger

Honky Chateau

Wes Montgomery – The Alternative Wes Montgomery – Reviewed in 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Milestone Two-Fer LP with EXCELLENT sound has 14 unreleased alternate versions of songs recorded in a variety of settings by guitarist Wes Montgomery during his period with Riverside. In many cases, the versions here are dramatically different from the versions that appear on his original albums.  (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Straight, No Chaser

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Side two of this 360 pressing from 1967 is nearly White Hot — what a recording! If you want to hear just how good Monk’s great big rich piano sounds, look no further. 

Rudy Van Gelder, eat your heart out. This is the piano sound Rudy never quite managed. Some say it’s the crappy workhorse piano he had set up in his studio. Others say it was just poorly miked. Rather than speculating on something we know little about (good pianos and the their miking) let’s just say that Columbia had the piano, the room and the mics to do it right as you can easily hear on this very record. (more…)

Elvis Presley – From Elvis in Memphis – MoFi Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B-? C+?

Another MoFi LP reviewed. 

I first heard From Elvis in Memphis the way I heard so many albums back in the late ’70s and early ’80s: on the Mobile Fidelity pressing. I was an audiophile record collector in 1981 and if MoFi was impressed enough with the sound and the music to remaster it and offer it to their dedicated fans, of which I was clearly one, then who was I to say no to an album I had never heard? (Soon enough I would learn my lesson about MoFi’s A&R department. The MoFi release of Supersax Plays Bird, a record that had virtually nothing going for it, was the last time I took their advice.)

Turns out they did a pretty good job on the Elvis album though, not that I would have any way to know — back then it would not even have occurred to me to buy a standard RCA pressing and compare it to my half-speed-mastered pressed-in-Japan, double-the-price-of-a-regular LP. A decade or thereabouts later it would be obvious to me that MoFi had fooled around with the sound and that the right real RCA pressing would be more correct and more natural (but probably not as quiet of course).

Generic Audiophile LP Bashing

The most serious fault of the typical Half-Speed Mastered LP is not incorrect tonality or poor bass definition, although you will have a hard time finding one that doesn’t suffer from both.

It’s Dead As A Doornail sound, plain and simple, a subject we discuss in greater depth here.

And most Heavy Vinyl pressings coming down the pike these days are as guilty of this sin as their audiophile forerunners from the ’70s and ’80s. The average Heavy Vinyl LP I throw on my turntable sounds like it’s playing in another room. What audiophile in his right mind could possibly find that quality appealing? But there are scores of companies turning out this crap; somebody must be buying it. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Van Morrison

Van Morrison

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,    

The Van Morrison blew me away. The difference between a 1 [Hot Stamper A+] or 2 [Super Hot Stamper A++] and the WHS 3 [White Hot Stamper A+++] is staggering. I have consistently been amazed at the improvement with the 3+ copies. Just when I don’t think it can get better a 3+ copy shows me how wrong I am.
My listening is improving as well, or more accurately I’m getting spoiled.

Mike H.

Andre Previn & His Pals – Gigi

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  • A KILLER sounding original Black Label Stereo pressing with Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last    
  • If you have never heard an All Tube Analog piano trio recording by Roy DuNann from the Golden Age of Tape, you are really in for a treat with this phenomenal sounding LP
  • Exceptionally (I’m tempted to write impossibly) quiet vinyl throughout – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “André Previn’s ten records for Contemporary during 1957-1960 were among the finest jazz recordings of his career… Best known among the songs are “I Remember It Well” and “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” but the trio also uplifts and swings the other lesser-known tunes.”

This vintage Contemporary Black Label pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak my stereo and many of those that were owned by friends. 

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Wellthings have certainly changed.

I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you are should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)

Haydn / Symphonies 59 & 81 – The Best on Record

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

These are THE BEST HAYDN SYMPHONIES I have ever heard on disc. Folks, until I heard Dorati and the Festival Chamber Orchestra perform these pieces I never knew there could be this much FIRE in Haydn’s music. (Please excuse the pun; the 59th Symphony is entitled “Fire”.)

Mercury bring the kind of recording energy and presence to this music that I have frankly never heard before. Credit must go to both Dorati and his players.

His tempi are fast and sprightly throughout, and the smaller orchestra allows the players to zig and zag with the musical changes much more quickly than would be the case with a larger and more inertia-bound group.

The FCO are so technically proficient and so light on their feet that Dorati was able to push them to dizzying heights of performance. For the first time I can honestly say that Haydn’s music really works — it’s wonderful!

(If you’ve ever heard Previn conducting Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with the L.A. Phil from 1990 you will know what I mean. In his (their) hands the work is so lively it’s hard to hear it performed by anyone else. Bad digital sound but it’s worth it to hear the piece played with such gusto.)

Dorati and Haydn

As you may know, Dorati recorded all the symphonies of Haydn for London/Decca. Having played some of them I can tell you they certainly do not sound like this! (Perhaps my copies were not the best, but how many copies of these records can be found nowadays? Not enough to do shootouts with, that’s for sure.)

This recording is not your typical dry, bright, nasaly, upper-midrangy Merc, on side one especially. Here the sound is rich and smooth like a good London, with a big stage and lovely transparency. We graded it A++ to A+++ — side two had more texture to the massed strings than this side one, so we downgraded it half a plus. In virtually every other way it was SUPERB!

Side Two

A touch of that Mercury brightness can be heard on this side, but it is well under control at normal listening levels. The strings are textured and lively, the orchestra is just bursting with enthusiam for this music and the recording captures it all! A++ to A+++, again, superb, and priced accordingly.

Wikipedia for Symphony No. 59

The symphony has long been popularly known as the Feuer or Fire symphony. As with most other monikers attached to Haydn’s symphonies, the name itself did not originate with the composer. For a long time, the attributed title was thought to refer to the fiery nature of the composition, particularly the rather unusually spirited first movement (marked Presto, a tempo indication more typical of final movements) and the brief but energetic last movement, which features prominent horn fanfares and corruscating runs on the strings. However, there is nothing particularly distinguishing about any of the movements that would make it more impassioned than other symphonic compositions by Haydn during this period.

The work is in standard four movement form and scored for two oboes, two horns, continuo (bassoon, harpsichord) and strings.

Presto, 4/4 
Andante o piu tosto Allegretto, 3/4 
Menuet e Trio, 3/4 
Finale: Allegro

The opening movement starts off energetically on an upbeat followed by octave drop. Following the initial outburst, the music dramatically relaxes and comes to a full stop. This was a technique he used to an even greater effect in his 48th symphony from about the same time period.[4] The relaxation also appears at the end of the movement giving the listener the quiet curtain raising music that often occurs at the end of an opera overture.[5]

In the slow movement, the winds are silent for most of the movement — leaving the listener to expect that the movement is scored for strings alone. These expectations are quelled when full orchestration enters for the second theme in the recapitulation.[5]

Haydn rarely used the same meter for consecutive movements as he did with the inner two movements in this work. There are melodic links between these movements as well as both start with the same sequence of pitches. The second theme of the slow movement is also alluded to.[5]

The finale begins with a horn call followed by a response in the oboes and at the end of the exposition it is the strings and oboe that have a dialogue. Haydn uses a similar horn call is used to start the finale of his 103rd symphony over twenty-five years later.[5] Following a brief development, the return of the horn call is only hinted at in the strings in the start of the recapitulation which then follows in a relatively straightforward manner. The horn call in its proper instrumentation is saved for the movement coda.[5]

Wikipedia for Symphony No. 81

It is scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and strings.

Andante, 6/8 
Menuetto and trio: Allegretto, 3/4 
Finale: Allegro ma non troppo, 2/2

In the first and third movements, Haydn explores “ambiguities of tonality … which eventually reach their peak of subtlety” of the first movement of Symphony No. 94.[2] The first movement begins “with an unusual and exciting pedal point … [and] uses a subsidiary subject that appears like a cordial greeting to the newly won friend [Mozart].”[3] The pedals and dissonances point to Mozart’s K. 465.[4]

The second movement is a siciliano theme with three variations.[5] The variations are for the most part strophic and straightforward with the exception of a minor-key interlude in the center of the movement between the first and second variations. The final variation contains the fullest orchestration with pizzicato accompaniment and serves to recapitulate the movement.[6]

Letter of the Week – Chicago II

Chicago II

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

Received my Chicago 2 Hot Stamper last night. Played side 4 A+++ first. Didn’t expect it to sound so amazing. Reminded me of my Miles Davis Kind of Blue where you say zero distortion, zero compression. No shrillness, no muffled vocals just clear music. All instruments come through with clarity. Relatively quiet too. And this goes for most of the 4 sides of the album. I played the hell out of my CTA and Chicago 2 back in the day when they came out. Never sounded anything like this. Thanks for a super record.

Steve E.