Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey

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More Tupelo Honey

  • Two super sides – both are chock full of Vintage Vinyl Tubey Magic
  • Wild Night and the title track sound wonderfully rich and full-bodied, with the warmth and naturalness that distinguishes a merely good sounding LP from a truly Super Hot Stamper
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic and featuring some of Stephen Barncard’s best engineering – this is Analog Sound at its best
  • “Tupelo Honey is in one sense but another example of the artist making increased use of the album as the unit of communication as opposed to merely the song or the cut. Everything on it is perfectly integrated.”

There are actually real dynamics on this recording, which really helps kick up the life force of the music. Just listen to the energetic build-up during Wild Night — that’s how it would happen in a live setting, and that’s the way we want to hear it at home as well.

If you’ve been stuck with the average copy of any of the classic albums Van put out in the ’70s you would have no way of knowing just how well-recorded some of them are. (more…)

Michael Jackson – Off The Wall

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Reviews and Commentaries for Off the Wall

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this MJ classic with some of the most heartfelt, emotional and powerful music he ever recorded
  • Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, more relaxed and more ANALOG than any other Michael Jackson album
  • We’re constantly blown away by just how good the best copies of Off the Wall sound – what a recording!
  • Clearly MJ’s best sounding release – 5 stars: “This was a visionary album … part of a colorful tapestry of lush ballads and strings, smooth soul and pop, soft rock, and alluring funk.”

As consistently brilliant as Thriller may be musically — it is the biggest selling album of all time after all [scratch that, the Eagles Greatest Hits just took the top spot away from Thriller recently] — speaking strictly in terms of sonics the sound of the best copies of Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, and more ANALOG than Thriller.

Thriller is clearly more aggressive and processed-sounding than Off the Wall. The Girl Is Mine or Human Nature from Thriller would fit just fine anywhere on Off the Wall, but could the same be said for Beat It or Thriller? Just thinking about them you can hear the artificiality of the sound of both those songs in your head. Think about the snare that opens Beat It. I’ve never heard a snare sound like that in my life. Practically no instrument on Off the Wall has that kind of overly processed EQ’d sound.

Normally when you have a copy with plenty of presence, it can be somewhat sibilant in places. Sibilance is hardly a problem here. For some reason this copy has all the highs, but it’s cut so clean it practically doesn’t spit at all. Even on the song I Can’t Help It, which normally has a problem in that respect. Since that’s my favorite song on this album, and probably my favorite MJ song of all time, hearing it sound so good was a revelation. (more…)

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Disaster from Classic Records… Zep IV

It wasn’t that long ago that I thought the Classic 180 and then 200 gram pressing was the king on this title. In late 2006 I wrote:

“You can hear how much cleaner and more correct the mastering is right away…”

Folks, I must have been out of my mind.

No, that’s not quite fair. I wasn’t out of my mind. I just hadn’t gotten my system to the place where it needed to be to allow the right original pressings to show me how much better they can sound.

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

A classic case of Live and Learn

More Led Zeppelin on Classic Records Reviewed

Our EAR 324 phono stage and constantly evolving tweaks to both the system and room are entirely responsible for our ability to reproduce this album correctly. If your equipment, cleaning regimen, room treatments and the like are mostly “old school” in any way, getting the album to sound right will be all but impossible. Without the myriad audio advances of the last decade or so you are just plain out of luck with a Nearly Impossible to Reproduce album such as this.

All of the above are courtesy of the phenomenal Revolutions in Audio that have come about over the last twenty years or so.

It’s what progress in audio in all about.

The exact same 200 gram review copy now [this was written about ten years ago] sounds every bit as tonally correct as it used to, and fairly clean too, as described above, but where is the magic?

  • The heavy vinyl pressing is lifeless and boring.
  • All the subtleties of both the music and the sound are missing.
  • More than anything else the Classic sounds crude.

You can adjust your VTA until you’re blue in the face, nothing will bring the dead-as-a-doornail Classic LP to life.

Relatively speaking of course. For twenty eight bucks (when it was in print) could you buy something better? Probably not. (Now it’s $100+ on ebay and at that price you are definitely not getting your money’s worth.)

The average IV is really a piece of junk. And if you don’t have at least $10k in your front end (with phono), forget it. It takes top quality equipment to bring this album to life, and you better be prepared to go through a large number of copies to find a good one.

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad.


Bob Dylan – Empire Burlesque

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  • A truly KILLER pressing of Empire Burlesque, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too – folks, this one is As Good As It Gets!
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness, 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
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Say what you want about Empire Burlesque — at the very least, it’s the most consistent record Bob Dylan has made since Blood on the Tracks, even if it isn’t quite as interesting as Desire. However, it is a better set of songs, all deriving from the same place and filled with subtle gems… this is as good as Dylan gets in his latter days.”

This is one of the better-sounding Dylan records from the ’80s. It’s not exactly Blood on the Tracks, the only Dylan album we think is qualified to be on our Top 100 Rock and Pop List, but it sounds good for a record from this era. (more…)

Styx – Pieces Of Eight

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  • Here is the kind of sound we want on our ELP, Yes and Queen-like multi-layered Proggy Pop Rock – big, full-bodied and lively
  • 4 stars: “Styx’s feisty, straightforward brand of album rock is represented best by ‘Blue Collar Man,’ an invigorating keyboard and guitar rush… reaching number 21, with the frolicking romp of ‘Renegade’ edging in at number 16 only six months later… the rest of the album includes tracks that rekindle some of Styx’s early progressive rock sound, only cleaner. Tracks like ‘Sing for the Day,’ ‘Lords of the Ring,’ and ‘Aku-Aku’ all contain slightly more complex instrumental foundations…”

Who likes their Wall of Sound small and closed-in? Certainly not Big Speaker guys like us. By all accounts this band wanted their records to sound good, or at least as good as their contemporaries (and the bands that inspired them, name-checked above). There’s no shortage of production polish here and on the best pressings, the sound really works. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – Out Of The Blue

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More of our favorite Art Rock Records

  • This outstanding copy of ELO’s seventh studio album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last- exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Lots of hits on this one, Turn to Stone and Mr. Blue Sky among them
  • “The last ELO album to make a major impact on popular music, Out of the Blue was of a piece with its lavishly produced predecessor, A New World Record… Out of the Blue was massively popular and did become the centerpiece of a huge worldwide tour that earned the group status as a major live attraction for a time.”  

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Letter of the Week – “There is an airiness to the recording where the instruments seem to float in a 3D space in the soundstage.”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently. My responses are shown as well.

Hey Tom, 

I wanted to give you my impressions of the hot stamper (vs. the Speakers Corner Decca reissue) before going out of town for a bit.

Crank it up. Sounds really good turned up loud so I knew I was going to be in for a treat. There is an airiness to the recording where the instruments seem to float in a 3D space in the soundstage. I also noticed an improved clarity of the instruments themselves; in particular, the triangles, flute, and strings.

Yes, these differences are obvious to us, because we already have the best pressings, so the heavy vinyl stuff is always wrong or worse in some way that is not hard to hear. Back to back it does not take a pair of golden ears to hear these kinds of differences.

Funny, we discussed this yesterday and as you said, until you compare multiple pressings you might think you already have a great recording. Another big difference I noticed was the tightness and solidity of the bottom end. The Decca seemed to smear the low frequency content compared to the London.

This happens a lot, the smear is everywhere on these newly remastered records but sometimes you can hear it most clearly in one area or another. In this case you heard it most clearly in the bass, but it’s everywhere.

The ONLY thing I miss is the flow of the full ballet. The ballet seems to tell a nice complete story where the suite just gives me the reader’s digest version — sort of a greatest hits if you will, and does not allow one to immerse themselves in the whole experience. Ideally, a hot stamper of the full ballet would be pretty amazing I am guessing.

We can definitely get you the complete ballet at some point, but these shootouts take years to get going.

I would say your best bet is to return the record since it doesn’t seem to be the way you want to hear the music and we can put you on the want list for the next complete version we find.

Do you know if the Suites were recorded separately or were they extracted from the ballet?

Rob

The suites are recorded separately as they have their own program and sheet music to match.

Thanks for your letter!

Best, TP

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to their Heavy Vinyl Counterparts


FURTHER READING

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Tchaikovsky / The Nutcracker – Ansermet (Reviewed in the ’90s)

Sonic Grade: B?

Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

Superb! New records just don’t sound any better! This is the complete Nutcracker Ballet as conducted by Ansermet for Decca, a record that sets a standard of performance and sound that is unlikely ever to be equaled, and almost certainly not to be surpassed.


A Must Own Classical Record (on Vintage Vinyl)

Ansermet breathes life into this ballet as only he can, and the Decca engineering team led by Kenneth Wilkinson do him proud.

It’s an Orchestral Spectacular that should have a place of honor in any audiophile’s collection.

Others that belong in that category can be found here.

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Ry Cooder – Paris, Texas

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  • The sound here is bigger and livelier than any other we played – above all it’s balanced, avoiding the tonality issues we heard on so many other pressings
  • 4 stars: “Suggestive of both the imagery of Wim Wenders’ movie Paris, Texas and the desert itself, Ry Cooder’s score is a peaceful, poetic journey into the soul of an acoustic guitar… a powerful and immensely evocative journey for those whose experience with the material is the album alone.”
  • If you’re a fan of Ry Cooder’s, this classic from 1985 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1985 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Shelly Manne and His Men / At The Blackhawk Vol. 1 – Live West Coast Jazz in 1960 Is Hard to Beat

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More Contemporary Label Jazz

  • This excellent Contemporary Yellow Label stereo pressing features Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • This is West Coast Jazz at its best, and if anyone can capture the realism of a live jazz club, it’s the engineers and producers at Contemporary
  • Each instrument here sounds right – the piano is weighty and percussive; the drums are punchy; and the brass has lovely leading edge transients
  • If you’re a fan of live jazz, this Contemporary from 1960 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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