With the Beatles – The MoFi Half Speed Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C+

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The Mobile Fidelity pressing of this album has so many problems it would take an hour to describe them all. Suffice it to say, it’s thinner and brighter, with voices that are grittier and grainier. The overall effect is the sinking feeling that you are listening to a cheap reissue and not the real thing. Don’t the Beatles sound better than this? To be fair, some tracks are okay, others a disaster.

If you own the MoFi, play it. Listen to it carefully. Make notes of which songs sound better than others and why. That’s how we spend our days, evaluating the relative merits of various pressings, and it’s that and that alone that has given us the critical listening skills necessary to recognize and appreciate the differences among the records we play.

One of the biggest problems with the average Parlophone copy is just the reverse of the MOFI. They tend to have rolled off highs, which emphasizes the harshness in the upper midrange and causes a loss of transparency. (The best Hot Stamper copies are of course as smooth, sweet, and transparent as they come.) Even with those shortcomings though, I would still rather listen to a typical Parlophone pressing. I wouldn’t be frustrated by the sound of somebody fooling with the EQ and screwing it up. 

Generic Audiophile 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.

Earth, Wind, Fire and the Neverending Search for Balance

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises. As is usually the case when plowing through a big pile of copies, we learned pretty quickly that what makes the sound work is having these two qualities in balance:

1) Richness / Smoothness 
2) Transparency

When the vocals are thin and pinched, as they often are, the resulting edginess and harshness in the midrange take all the fun out of the music. Every track has group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color.

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices (and brass) start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

But richness and fullness are not enough. They must be balanced with TRANSPARENCY. (more…)

Listening for Harmonically Correct Acoustic Guitars on America’s Debut

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo fidelity. As it says below, most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. They often sound veiled and dull, and on a copy with a bit too much top end they will have an unnatural hi-fi-ish sparkle.

(This kind of sparkle can be heard on practically every record Mobile Fidelity made in the ’70s and ’80s. Tea for the Tillerman, Sundown, Year of the Cat, Finger Paintings, Byrd at the Gate, Quarter Moon in a 10 Cent Town — the list would be very long indeed, and these are just the records with prominent acoustic guitars!) 

The key song on side one that we use to test is Three Roses. There are three sonically-separated individuals each playing six string acoustic guitars, and when this side is cut right the guitars sound just gorgeous: sweet, with all their harmonic structures intact. (It’s also my favorite song on side one.) (more…)

Joe Cocker – Joe Cocker (1972)

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  • A Killer Copy of Joe Cocker’s patented Blue Eyed Soul Album, rating an outstanding grade of Double Plus (A++) or close to it on both sides
  • Plays on some of the quietest vinyl we have ever heard for the album, a true Mint Minus throughout!
  • Pardon Me Sir; High Time We Went and Black-Eyed Blues, Midnight Rider; Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and St. James Infirmary – so many of his best songs
  • “With “St. James’ Infirmary,” Joe Cocker has moved into a whole different sphere of musical activity, far distant from the rip-roaring anarchism of the Mad Dogs … This album is, when all be said and done, riddled with meaningful soul.” — Rolling Stone

Great sound for this rockin’ soul album with two live tracks. Just listen to the drums on Black-Eyed Blues — the way the percussion and bass mingle sonically with Alan White’s skins takes this listener right into the room where the magic happened.

Classic Tracks

On side one, three out of five you know or should know: Pardon Me Sir; High Time We Went and Black-Eyed Blues.

On side two, three out of four you know or should know: Midnight Rider; Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and St. James Infirmary.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Solitude 
Where or When 
Mood Indigo 
Autumn Leaves

Side Two

Prelude to a Kiss 
Willow Weep for Me 
Tenderly 
Dancing in the Dark

Depanorama.net

Stunningly beautiful. The band plays perfectly. All the solos are fantastic. This album of romantic ballads is easily in the top 1% in my record collection of several thousand items. Picking highlights is an exercise in futility as every second of this album is wonderful. But don’t miss Duke’s piano with the full band on “Solitude” and in a trio setting on “All The Things You Are.” Ozzie Bailey’s vocal on “Autumn Leaves” is serene and lovely, but when coupled with the violin of Ray Nance, the beauty becomes more than we mere mortals deserve.

The Band’s Second Album – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of The Band’s second album.

The best copies have no trace of phony sound from top to bottom. They’re raw and real in a way that makes most pop records sound processed and wrong. Our best Hot Stampers have plenty of the qualities we look for in The Band. Energy, presence, transparency, Tubey Magic… you name it — you will find it there. The biggest strength of this recording is its wonderful, natural midrange. And tons of bass.

Despite what anyone might tell you, it’s no mean feat to find good sounding copies of this record. There are good originals and bad originals, as well as good reissues and bad reissues. Folks, we’ve said it many times — the label can’t tell you how a record sounds, but there’s a sure way to find out that information. You’ve got to clean ’em and play ’em to find out which ones have Hot Stampers, and we seem to be the only record dealers who are doing that, in the process making unusually good pressings available to you, the music-loving audiophile. (more…)

The Lovin’ Spoonful – Daydream on Sundazed Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: D

The best sounding of the Lovin’ Spoonful records I’ve heard on Sundazed, which means that the others would get an F for sound. Don’t waste your money. I’d be surprised if the CDs weren’t better sounding. (Many Sundazed CDs are actually quite good.) 

 

 

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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DEJA VU is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it.

We love the album and we hope you do too. If you have some time on your hands — maybe a bit too much time on your hands — please feel free to check out our commentaries.

This link will take you to all of our other Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young albums.

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Deja Vu. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Wild Things Run Fast

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this copy has Joni rockin’ like you will not believe
  • Her last great record – fortunately for us audiophiles it’s spacious, open and powerful with present vocals and solid bass
  • Relatively quiet, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus throughout – they don’t come any quieter in our experience
  • “On her first new studio album of original material in five years, Joni Mitchell achieved more of a balance between her pop abilities and her jazz aspirations, meanwhile rediscovering a more direct, emotional lyric approach. The result was her best album since the mid-’70s.”

One of our favorite Joni Mitchell albums and one of the few good reasons to listen to new music in the ’80s. (more…)

Deep Purple – Made In Japan – What To Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

We’ve raved about a number of live albums over the years. Some of the better sounding ones that come readily to mind (in alphabetical order) are Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, David Live, Johnny Cash At San Quentin, Donny Hathaway Live, The Jimi Hendrix Concerts, Performance – Rockin The Fillmore, Live Wire – Blues Power, Waiting For Columbus, Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out and Live at Leeds. I would be proud to have any of them in my collection.

Having just played a stack of copies of Made In Japan I’d put it right up there with the best of the best. In terms of Tubey Magic, richness and naturalness — qualities that are usually in very short supply on live albums — I would have to say that the shootout winning copies of Made In Japan would be very likely to take Top Honors for Best Sounding Live Album of All Time. Yes, the sound is that good.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

The best sides tended to have the same qualities. They were huge, open, clear, transparent, rich, tubey and natural.

And of course they rocked, with startling dynamics, massive amounts of bass and a full-bodied midrange. The better the pressing the more the instruments jumped right out of the speakers. Live in your listening room was the sound we were after, and this copy delivers like nothing you have ever heard.

Machine Head Live? That would not be far off, and the fact they brought MARTIN BIRCH along with them all the way to Japan in order to engineer a live album that was only supposed to sell to the Japanese market (!) could not have been more fortuitous for us audiophiles. (more…)