speakers-disappear

James Taylor / Dad Loves His Work – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the Music of James Taylor

More Personal Favorites

This Hot Stamper original Columbia is THE KING, the Best Sounding Copy we have ever played — the sound was OUT OF THIS WORLD! In fact, side two went so far beyond what we’ve come to expect from this album that we had to award it the rare Four Plus (A++++) grade.

We no longer give Four Pluses out as a matter of policy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t come across records that deserve them from time to time.

Even recordings that are as heavily processed as this one. We don’t have a problem with that approach when it works as well as it does here. Mud Slide Slim this is not. It’s also 1981, not 1971. We prefer the recordings from 1971, undeniably the Golden Age for rock and pop recording quality[1], but we know that to expect the sound of the ’70s in 1981 would simply be setting oneself up for disappointment.

Those days are gone, as are the amazing sounding pressings that came out then, and nobody, repeat nobody, pressing records today can figure out how they did it.

The soundstage and depth on our best Hot Stamper copies is HUGE — this is without a doubt the most spacious recording by James Taylor we’ve ever heard. If you want your speakers to disappear, replaced by a huge studio full of musicians playing their hearts out, this is the album that can do it.

But of course there’s a lot more to the sound of the best copies than a big soundstage.

Tonality is key.

As usually happens in these shootouts, we learned that there’s so much more to this album than just great songs. What really makes this music work on the best copies was the result of two qualities we found were in fairly short supply:

(1) Correct Tonality

Most copies have a phony MoFi-like top end boost in the 10k region that we found irritating as hell. The longer we listened the less we liked the copies that had that boost, which adds a kind of “sparkle” to cymbals and guitars that has no business being there.

Now if you’re a MoFi fan and you like the boosted highs that label is famous for, don’t waste your money buying a Hot Stamper copy from us. Our copies are the ones with the correct and more natural-sounding top end. The guitars will sound like real guitars and the voices will sound like real voices.

(2) Lower Midrange and Bottom End Weight

When the vocals sound thin, bright and phony, as they do on so many copies of this album (partly no doubt the result of the grainy crap vinyl Columbia is infamous for) that hi-fi-ish sound takes all the fun out of the music. Many tracks have background vocals and big choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, with the full lower midrange weight that that image implies.

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, causing Taylor and crew’s voices to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

Transparency and That Feeling of Reality

Transparency is always a big deal on pop recordings such as this. Of course this has to be a multi-miked, multi-tracked, overdubbed pop record — they don’t make them any other way — but it doesn’t have to FEEL like one.

When you get a good copy it feels like all these guys are live in the studio. They may have their own mics, and are certainly being placed artificially in the soundfield to suit the needs of the track (kick drum here, hand-claps over there), but the transparency of the killer pressings makes them sound like they are all in the same room playing together, clearly occupying their own share of the space in the studio.

This is one of our favorite Taylor albums here at Better Records. It’s the last album by the man that bears any resemblance to the genius of his early work. It’s steeply, steeply downhill after DLHW. (Case in point: His specials for PBS of the last few years are a positive cure for insomnia, with every song slowed down and all the energy drained from the material.)

But he still had fire in his belly when he made this one — one listen to Stand and Fight is all the evidence you need; the song rocks as hard as anything the guy ever did. (And it’s got plenty of cowbell, always a good sign.)

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Letter of the Week – “I was immersed. Thank you.”

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

Dear Sir,

You know when everything is just right? The record, the equipment, the space between your ears. The speakers disappear, the room, even yourself? And the only thing left is the music?

It doesn’t happen that often these days, but it did for me listening to side one of your UK Revolver. I was immersed. Thank you.

My Reply 

Fantastic to hear, we love when that happens, to us and to anybody else of course. It’s the same high that gamblers get from winning big, and it keeps us audiophiles going until the next time it call comes together that way.

Our best to you, and thanks for your support since 2003!

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Letter of the Week – “You can’t hear the speakers; the sound fills the entire room, including the back walls.”

Reviews and Commentaries for Close to the Edge

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

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

Hey Tom, 

A good friend of mine came over today to take a look at my cartridge setup now that it is properly burned in. I was still getting some brightness in the right channel and we found that the cartridge was not seating properly in the groove. A few adjustments and now perfection!

My litmus test, Yes Close to Edge now sounds absolutely unbelievable! You can’t hear the speakers; the sound fills the entire room, including the back walls.

As you stated, everyone should own a copy of this record to determine if their setup is correct.

I went through several of my hot stampers and I feel like I am in audio heaven now.

Morning Has Broken also sounds amazing; Piano definition, Cat’s voice, etc. Another 3D sound extravaganza!

Finally, I had a chance to compare Led Zeppelin 4 (your hot stamper vs. my 200g Classic).

Before the cartridge tweaking I was hard pressed to tell the difference.

Now that the stylus is properly seated in the groove, with the Hot Stamper I can hear more detail in Jimmy’s guitar, more airiness in Robert’s voice and just an overall more listenable experience.

The entire soundstage is about 3 feet higher than the Classic version.

Well, I am spoiled again and loving it!!

Thanks again
Rob

Rob,

Glad to hear your turntable is working better. As you say, differences between Hot Stampers and Heavy Vinyl pressings are not much more obvious, and that’s a good thing. We think audiophiles should learn to do all these sorts of things for themselves, and have written about it at some length:

Tweaking and Tuning Are Essential to Improving Your Critical Listening Skills

My friend Robert Brook has gone into in even more detail on his blog:

Turntable Set Up Guide Part 1: Why You Need to Do It Yourself


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Revolutions in Audio, Anyone?

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Perez Prado – Prez

More Titles on Living Stereo

More Exotica

  • With Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation like you will not believe – this copy is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience
  • The driving, syncopated, heavily percussive arrangements add immensely to the fun, with the timbre of every scratcher and drum rendered in glorious Technicolor sound 
  • This is Vintage All Tube Analog at its best – the magic hidden in the grooves of the record really comes through on this pressing.

This SUPERB sounding copy of Prez has a lot in common with the other Living Stereo / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Henry Mancini, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Ted Heath, Martin Denny and a handful of others. Talk about making your speakers disappear, these records will do it! (more…)

Ted Heath – Swings In High Stereo

More Ted Heath

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ted Heath

  • Kingsway Hall, Wilkinson and the Decca Tree add up to Audiophile Quality Big Band sound, on this copy anyway
  • Heath and his group play with all the energy and verve essential to this joyful Big Band music – he really does swing in high stereo
  • We consider Ted Heath’s early London recordings to be some of the best sounding big band albums ever recorded

This album has DEMO DISC SOUND like you will not believe. Just listen to Heath’s arrangement of Big Ben, the second track on side two, for Audiophile Quality Big Band sound the likes of which you may have never heard. (more…)

Eric Dolphy – Out To Lunch

A SUPERB JAZZ DEMO DISC on unusually QUIET vinyl! Blue Note fans, take notice — this is a VERY special pressing!

Folks, Out To Lunch is one of the ultimate Blue Note titles for both music and stereo sound, and I don’t think you could find another pressing of the album that sounds this good and plays this quietly no matter how many you played, realistically speaking of course. If you’ve been watching our better Blue Note offerings, you probably know that this is the first Hot copy to ever make it to the site. And what a way to start off — both sides earned A+++ grades.

Dolphy’s debut for Blue Note is an absolute KNOCKOUT musically, and the quality of the sound on this pressing was everything we could have ever hoped for — more, really — (which is not a bad definition of a White Hot Stamper LP when you come to think about it). It’s 100% guaranteed to blow your mind.

This is an amazing album — All Music Guide calls it “Dolphy’s magnum opus, an absolute pinnacle of avant-garde jazz in any form or era” and we think that hits it right on the head.

Thankfully, for us audiophiles the sound on the better pressings can be stunning. The trick of course is finding those copies, and it’s a tough enough job that we’ve never been able to get any Hot Stamper copy up on the site until now. For the fellow who snaps this bad boy up, I am positive this White Hot Stamper will prove well worth the wait. (more…)