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Commentary Overview

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We discuss practically anything that concerns recordings or their reproduction here for those who want to collect better sounding records and hear them at their best.

For further reading, be sure to check out our On The Record blog.


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Ambrosia - One Eighty

A Little Soft Rock Never Hurt Anybody, Right?

  (Item #: ambrooneei_soft_rock) 
by Warner Brothers LP

Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings.

One Eighty has an excellent mix of rock songs and softer pop ballads. The last track, Biggest Part Of Me, no matter how many times you may have heard it on the radio is an exceptionally well-produced (designed?) piece of songcraft that will tug at anyone's heartstrings, anyone who has a heart that is (if I may quote the title of the best song Burt Bacharach ever wrote). On a big audiophile system it should be both powerful and emotional.

More Ambrosia

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Gabor Szabo with Gary McFarland - Gypsy ’66

Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

  (Item #: szabogypsy_speakers_corner) 
by Speakers Corner

Sonic Grade: B?

Probably -- we haven't played a copy in years -- one of the better Speakers Corner jazz albums.

They cut a very good version of this album on Heavy Vinyl back in 2002, which we recommended at the time.

Our Hot Stamper pressings will of course be dramatically more transparent, open, clear and just plain REAL sounding, because these are all the areas in which heavy vinyl pressings fall short, with very few exceptions.

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Roxy Music

Rhett Davies, Yanick Etienne and the Making of Avalon

  (Item #: roxymavalo_avalon) 
by EG Records LP

I consider Roxy Music to be one of the greatest Art Rock bands in the history of the world. The general public and most audiophiles would no doubt cast their vote for AVALON as the band's masterpiece. (The long and involved story of the making of the album can be seen below.) I much prefer their eponymous first album, Stranded, Country Life and Siren to the more "accessible" music found on Avalon. To be fair, that's splitting hairs, because any of those five titles are absolute Must Own Albums that belong in any serious popular music collection.
More Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music

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Frank Sinatra - All The Way

Our Shootout Winner from 2016

  (Item #: sinatallth_2016) 
by Capitol Records

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This vintage '60s Capitol pressing was our clear winner, with Triple Plus sound on both sides. It has the all the Tubey Magic one could ask for, allowing Sinatra's rich baritone to work its magic on every phrase. As you can well imagine, finding clean, scratch-free '60s Sinatra records like this one, in stereo no less, is no walk in the park.

This group of singles and B-sides was recorded from 1957 to 1960 - it contain some of Sinatra's better known songs arranged by Nelson Riddle.

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Ted Heath - Shall We Dance

Our Shootout Winner from 2016

  (Item #: heathshall_2016) 
by London LP

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

One of the best sounding records we have ever played, the Gold Standard for Tubey Magical Big Band. Both sides are huge, rich, weighty and dynamic like few records you have ever heard. Three elements create the magic here: Kingsway Hall, Kenneth Wilkinson and the Decca "Tree" microphone setup.

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The Fleetwood Mac You Don't Know

Future Games

  (Item #: fleetfutur_know) 
by Reprise LP

Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning records.

Danny Kirwan is the guy who really takes control on Future Games. Some of the best songs this band ever did are here, many of them written by Kirwan. The opening track on side one, Woman Of A Thousand Years, and the opening track on side two, Sands Of Time, are both his and set the tone for the whole side, which is folky, ethereal and extended. The best of these pop songs don't seem to follow any of the standard pop conventions of verse verse chorus. They seem to wander on a journey of discovery. In that way they remind me a little bit of 20th century French classical music, or some of the longer tracks from Neil Young's Zuma.

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London Orchestral Records from the '70s

And the Problem of Opacity

  (Item #: straualsos_6978) 
by London LP

Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning records.

The average copy of this 1976 recording has that dry, multi-miked modern sound that the '70s ushered in for many of the major labels, notably London and RCA. How many Solti records are not ridiculously thick and opaque? One out of ten? If that. We're very wary of records recorded in the '70s; we've been burned too many times.

And to tell you the truth we are not all that thrilled with most of what passes for good sound on Mehta's London output either. If you have a high-resolution system these recordings, like those on Classic Heavy Vinyl we constantly criticize, leave a lot to be desired.

More orchestral music conducted by Georg Solti

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The Joe Cocker You Don't Know

With A Little Help From My Friends

  (Item #: cockewitha_2016) 
by A&M LP

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and Cocker's MASTERPIECE of White Soul.

We just finished our first shootout in over FIVE years for the album and were SHOCKED by how amazing the best copies can sound, even better than we remember them from last time around. Turn this one up good and loud and you’ll have Joe Cocker in all his raspy glory belting out With A Little Help From My Friends right in your very own listening room!

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The Supertramp You Don't Know

Even In The Quietest Moments

  (Item #: supereveni_know) 
by A&M LP

After discovering killer Hot Stampers for Even In The Quietest Moments we feel the album can hold its own with any of Supertramp's classic '70s releases, from Crime of the Century all the way through to Breakfast in America.

Our White Hot stamper pressings showed us some of the best Supertramp sound we have ever heard on any of their albums, which is saying a lot. Supertramp is one of the most well-recorded bands in the history of pop music. KEN SCOTT recorded the two albums that came before this one, Crime and Crisis, and he knocked the two of them out of the park.

Even in the Quietest Moments

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Willie Dixon - I Am The Blues

What to Listen For

  (Item #: dixoniamth_wtlf) 
by Columbia Records

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

It was pretty easy to separate the men from the boys in this shootout. A quick drop of the needle on each side would immediately answer our number one question: "How BIG is the sound?" The copies that lacked top end extension or heft in the bottom end were just too uninvolving. This is the BLUES, baby -- you think it's supposed to sound small and distant?

Another problem we ran into on many copies was excessive smoothness. When a copies was overly rich or smeary, it usually lacked the "gritty" feel that music like this should have.

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Tears For Fears - The Seeds Of Love

A Near Perfect Pop Masterpiece

  (Item #: tearsseeds_2016) 
by Polygram Records LP

The band's MAGNUM OPUS, a Colossus of Production to rival the greatest Prog, Psych and Art Rock recordings of all time. (Whew!)

When it comes to Genre Busting Rock I put this album right up at the top of the heap, along with several other landmark albums from the Seventies: Roxy Music's first, The Original Soundtrack, Crime of the Century, Ambrosia's first two releases, The Yes Album, Fragile, Dark Side of the Moon and a handful of others.

The Seeds Of Love is clearly the band's masterpiece, and being able to hear it on a White Hot Stamper pressing is nothing short of a THRILL.

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Paganini / Violin Concertos 1 & 2

Expensive Heavy Vinyl Trash

  (Item #: paganvioli_outrage) 
by Heavy Vinyl Audiophile Reissue

Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning (usually old) records.

Had I paid good money to buy this pressing in the hopes of hearing the supremely talented Yehudi Menuhin of 1961 tear it up on Paganini's legendary first two concertos, I can tell you one thing: I would be pissed.

Where is the outrage in the audiophile community over this kind of trash? I have yet to see it. I suspect I will grow quite a bit older and quite a bit greyer before anyone else notices just how bad this record sounds. I hope I'm proven wrong.

More of the music of Niccolò Paganini

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Offenbach & Chopin / Gaite Parisienne & Les Sylphides

Reverse Your Polarity

  (Item #: offengaite_rd_2016) 
by Readers Digest

This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

Amazing in every way! The top end of this record is clear, clean and correct. No other copy sounded like this one on the first side. When you hear all the percussion instruments -- the tambourines, triangles, wood blocks and what-have-you -- you know instantly that they sound RIGHT.

The overall sound is very different from many of the other recordings of the work that we have offered in the past. Rather than smooth, rich and sweet, the sound here is big and bold and clear like nothing we have ever played.

More of the music of Jacques Offenbach

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Dire Straits - Love Over Gold

What to Listen For

  (Item #: diresloveo_wtlf) 
by Warner Brothers LP

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Telegraph Road does something on this copy that you won't hear on one out of twenty pressings: It ROCKS. It's got ENERGY and DRIVE.

Listen to how hard Allan Clark bangs on the piano on side one -- he's pounding that piano with all his might. No other copy managed to get the piano to pop the way it does here, clear and solid. Wow, who knew? Maybe this is the reason HP put the record on the TAS Super Disc List. (I rather doubt he's ever heard a copy this good but who's to say?)

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Tchaikovsky / Concerto for Violin & Orchestra / Oistrakh

Not Too Big to Fail

  (Item #: tchaivioli_mhs_wtlf) 
by Domestic LP

Side two of this copy from our 2016 shootout provides a clear example of the effect known as the "The Violin That Ate Cincinatti."

Yes, it may be oversized, but it's so REAL and IMMEDIATE and harmonically correct in every way that we felt more than justified in ignoring the fact that the instrument could never sound in the concert hall the way it does here -- unless you were actually playing it (and even then I doubt if it would be precisely the same sound -- big, but surely quite different).

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

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John Klemmer - Straight from the Heart

Listening for the Tubey Magic

  (Item #: klemmstrai_wtlf) 
by Nautilus Audiophile Pressing

The best copies give you dynamics and immediacy like you have rarely heard outside of the live event. Hell, this record IS live; it's live in the studio. It's a direct to disc recording, what else could it be?

There is simply nothing in the way of the music. If you have the system for it, you can recreate the live sound of this session in a way that few other recordings would ever allow you to do.

This copy had one quality not heard on most of the others: Tubey Magic. The sound is rich and full-bodied, practically free of grit and grain - this is the kind of sound one hears occassionally on the best tube equipment and practically nowhere else. Of course this is an all-transistor affair, but tubey sound is what ended up on the record, so go figure.

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Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage

Keeping the Players Together

  (Item #: hancomaide_wtlf) 
by Blue Note LP

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Freddie Hubbard on this album is nothing short of astonishing. I remember one time playing around with the stereo, listening for different effects as I made minor changes in the tracking weight, the VTA, adjustments to the Hallographs, and the like, and at one point, I noticed that the ensemble seemed to be really coherently connected. Each of the players was balanced with the others.

It was a striking effect and it made me realize that musical values can often be overlooked while chasing after audiophile effects of one kind or another. When I heard the ensemble come together, it made me appreciate this album even more.

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Barbra Streisand - Guilty

Bab's Best and Most Underrated (By Too Many Audiophiles Anyway)

  (Item #: streiguilt_fame) 
by Columbia Records

This ain't no zombie audiophile BS, the kind of sleep-inducing reverb-drenched trash that passes for "female vocals" in bad audio showrooms around the globe. (Paging Diana Krall.) This is Barbra and The Bee Gees at the peak of their Pop Powers. It just doesn't get any better.

This is THE BEST ALBUM Babs ever made, and you can take that to the bank. It's also one of the best sounding, if not THE best sounding of her later Monster Pop Productions. Can't say for sure as I haven't played all that many. Her first album is a true Demo Disc as well, but that one's all about the Tubey Magical '60s Columbia era, the Golden Age of Natural Sound, a world away from Guilty and its layers and layers of tracks. Having said that, there are multi-tracks and then there are multi-tracks.

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Frank Sinatra - My Kind of Broadway

Our Shootout Winner from 2016

  (Item #: sinatmykin_2016) 
by Reprise LP

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Sinatra set very high standards for his repertoire, his musicians, his arrangements and most of all, his performances. I find no evidence to support the contention that any of the above are lackluster or second-rate on My Kind of Broadway.

If you have any doubts, go to youtube, pull up the album and take a listen to some of the tracks. We can't find a bad one and we would be surprised if you could either. There are lots of great ones in fact.

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Buffalo Springfield - Last Time Around

Listening for Tubey Magic Down Low

  (Item #: buffalastt_wtlf) 
by Atco LP

On even the best copies there's a bit too much Tubey Magic in the bass regret to say. Tubbiness and bloat were par for the course. This may explain why so many copies have rolled off bass; the engineer cut the bass because he heard how tubby it was and figured no bass is better than bad bass.

Which of course is not true. Cutting the bass leans out and "modernizes" the sound, making the voices sound thin and dry. This pretty much ruins everything on this album just the way it ruins everything in practically every modern recording I hear. Having your bass under control on the playback side isn't easy -- in fact it's probably the hardest thing to achieve in audio -- but it can be done, and with good bass control the slightly wooly bass is just part of the sound you learn to accept.

More Buffalo Springfield

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