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Jennifer Warnes Shootout - Famous Blue Raincoat, The Hunter, and The Well

07-17-2018 | By Robert S. Youman | Issue 98

Jennifer Warnes

This was a fun project. The original genesis was realized from dozens of emails from various readers over the last twelve months in response to some of my most recent hardware reviews. When trying to explain a point or what they were hearing in their own system, the references were often a track from one of these three Jennifer Warnes' titles. This included references to CD, SACD, and vinyl formats.

I thought it was odd, if not a coincidence at first, but the emails and references kept coming and it triggered my curiosity and next step. There was obviously an interest from these readers and probably many more for these recordings. Yes, they are used as standard demonstrations at most shows and dealerships and might be "ho hum" for many, but I for one never tire of this music. I am a rock n roller at heart with a growing appreciation for jazz and classical, yet this music provides an intriguing mix of all genres for me. I love the arrangements, Jennifer's voice and style, and the sound quality is absolutely terrific.

So, after some thought and discussion with a few audiophile buddies, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to have a shoot out and compare the many releases and re-issues. So many are familiar with these recordings that it might also generate plenty of opinions and insight beyond our findings and thus help with the entire project.

Thank You

I want to thank several of my local and remote friends who contributed some of their own collections and helped out in this evaluation. A simple idea morphed into a very enjoyable two nights of great music, Chicago style deep dish pizza, and a multitude of local craft beers. Yep, Chicago style deep dish pizza is even better the second night around!

And yes, yes, I know. Get a life Bob! Regardless, the whole process and experience was highly enjoyable and very insightful—especially if you admire this music.

Review System

  • Sonus Faber Stradivari Loudspeakers
  • REL No. 25 Reference Subwoofers
  • Devialet 1000 Pro Integrated Amplifier
  • Pass Labs INT250 Integrated Amplifier
  • Pass Labs XP-15 Phono Preamp
  • VPI Avenger Plus Turntable
  • VPI JMW 12-3DR Tonearm with Nordost Reference Cable
  • van den Hul  Crimson XGW Stradivarius Moving Coil Cartridge
  • Esoteric K-01X SACD/CD Player
  • Aurender N10 Music Server
  • Synergistic Research Element CTS Cable throughout
  • Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE Power Conditioner
  • Rix Rax Hoodoo Component Rack
  • Magico QPod Footers

Caveat Emptor

System synergy and personal taste are critical when evaluating high-end audio products and both audiophile and non-audiophile recordings. This review is based on my subjective requirements, my subjective ears, my specific system, and my specific listening room. This combination is only one data point of many that exist out there for these components and recordings. Please consider my comments and analysis accordingly.


Throughout this article I will use the term "pressing" for both original releases and re-issues for all three formats. Though often used as a term for LPs, I am not sure that it is appropriate for CDs and SACDs. Never the less, I was hoping to simplify things by using this term extensively. 

Also, let me state upfront that all of the Jennifer Warnes pressings evaluated throughout this article sounded just fabulous. Not a dog amongst them. There were differences, as we point out below, but not a reason to chuck what ever you have and restock your library. Again, this includes CD, SACD and LP formats. 

Though we received many contributions from many sources, it was still difficult if not impossible to get copies of everything out there. There are new pressings and discontinued pressings on all three formats from many different labels around the world. Therefore, personal experience and comments from readers would be greatly appreciated on anything mentioned or not mentioned here.

Just to be clear, the listening and evaluation process was not all that sophisticated. I know that this will disappoint many, but again, the main objective was to just have some fun and not get overly serious. No, we did not use any kind of formal blind ABX comparison. 

Also, as you can tell from the long list of pressings, it would have been impossible to listen to each from beginning to end when comparing. We focused on three cuts from each title and we bounced back and forth between two or three pressings when we needed additional confirmation. Track selections are listed below for each title.

In my hardware reviews, I typically like to discuss specific tracks and then dig even deeper with the sound of specific instruments and vocals for comparison. I took a shot for the same in this article, but it just got too monotonous with so many sources. Instead, I tried to just provide some higher level comments on the sound in general for each pressing. I hope that this will be acceptable.

One additional note to help avoid confusion between labels. There is a connection between Jennifer Warnes, Cisco Music, Impex Records, and Elusive Disc that should be explained. Cisco Music closed their doors in 2008. Impex Records (short for Import Export Records) was established with the same Cisco Music management team in 2010. Impex Records and Elusive Disc joined forces in late 2016 in order to expand the label. This allowed Elusive Disc to handle all the distribution and marketing and allowed Impex Records to focus on titles, production, and quality control.

Last but not least, Jennifer Warnes has personally worked directly with Cisco Music and Impex Records since 2000. Jennifer has approved all masters for all her US pressings including those from Cisco and Impex. Along with Bernie Grundman's support (see below), this helps to explain the consistent superb results from both Cisco and Impex and why so many of their pressings are included here.

Jennifer Warnes, Famous Blue Raincoat: The Songs of Leonard Cohen


  • CD - Cypress Records YD 0100
  • CD - Private Music 01005-82092-2
  • CD - Attic (Canada) ACD 1227
  • CD - Cisco 20th Anniversary 24K Gold Edition GCD8011-2
  • CD - Impex 20th Anniversary 24K Gold Edition IMP8301
  • CD - Classic Records/Rock The House Gold RTH 5052
  • LP - Cypress Records 661 111-1
  • LP - Attic (Canada) LAT 1227
  • LP - Classic Records/Rock The House RTH 5052 - 1
  • LP - Cisco CLP7060-45
  • LP - Impex Records IMP6021

Tracks Evaluated 

  • Track 1 "First We Take Manhattan"
  • Track 2 "Bird On A Wire"
  • Track 4 "Joan of Arc"


Famous Blue Raincoat: The Songs of Leonard Cohen was Jennifer Warne's sixth studio album and was released in 1986 on the Cypress label. It was produced by C. Roscoe Beck and Jennifer Warnes. Several Engineers are listed for various original and re-issue productions including Charlie Paakari, Csaba Pelocz, Steve Postell, Paul Brown, Steve Strassman, Tim Boyle, Bill Youdelman, Frank Wolf, and Larry Brown. Bernie Grundman is credited for all mastering. This is quite a list of industry superstars and probably explains the fantastic sound from even the very first release.

Famous Blue Raincoat was clearly intended as a heartfelt tribute to Leonard Cohen by Jennifer Warnes who actually toured as one of his backup singers in the 1970s and provided backup vocals on several of his albums. Guest artists included Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Lindley, Robben Ford, Vinnie Colaiuta, Russell Ferrante, and a host of many more of the finest studio musicians available at that time. Van Dyke Parks contributed to the arrangements and Leonard Cohen himself provided additional vocals on the song "Joan of Arc".

Again, when considering the CD format, there are dozens of early pressings and labels from around the world. Our focus was primarily on the US releases and those current availability in both new and used marketplaces. Of special note, we were able to purchase both the Cisco and Impex 20th Anniversary 24K Gold pressings as sealed new copies. We were also able to obtain the Classic Records' Rock The House Gold pressing which is said to be of very limited production and availability. From my limited research, it seems that an SACD version of Famous Blue Raincoat was never released.

Lets get right to the brass tacts. The domestic CD pressings from Cypress Records and Private Music were just fine, but we found the Attic pressing from Canada to be our favorite from the original releases at hand. Slightly more open with a touch of warmth and musicality that was subtle, but noticeable.

Of the three audiophile CD pressings from Cisco, Impex, and Classic Records, there was definitely a step up in sound quality. The Impex and Cisco were indistinguishable from each other as expected since they were pressed at the same plant. Extremely open and fast with slightly more weight in the low end, both were very impressive. 

The Classic Records Gold provided the most intriguing combination of results and created a split in the final voting. Not quite as dynamic and three dimensional as that from Cisco and IMPEX, it did have more of an analogue sound with a certain sense of roundness and purity that was very attractive. Maybe it was the sound or maybe it was the limited production, but several listings of the Classic Records Gold can be found on eBay in the $200 to $300 range. Ouch!

Moving on to vinyl, the Cypress and Attic (Canada) pressings represented themselves well. From a strictly nit picking perspective, surface noise was slightly higher than the audiophile pressings and there was a certain edge to the sound that probably would not be noticed if you hadn't heard the other alternatives. In my rig, I still preferred them over all the CD pressings—even the gold CDs. Just a more relaxed and natural sound despite the slight edge mentioned above.

The Cisco, Impex, and Classic Records' LP pressings were more difficult to define and differentiate. In this case, the Classic Records' pressing was similar to the Cypress and Private Music pressings. It had a quieter surface noise but was ultimately not the preferred choice. 

It was the 45 RPM Cisco vs. the 33 RPM Impex pressings that generated the most discussion and again split the vote. Consensus was established that these two were the top choices of all the CDs and LPs for sound quality, but the debate continued across both nights.

I am a big fan of 45 RPM LPs and my preference for the Cisco 45 RPM held strong. I found that an addictive if not realistic rendition of proper timbre, tone and weight made it my favorite. IMHO, harmonics were to die for. But, that was a lone vote. The other panel members preferred the Impex 33 RPM. More speed, more transparency, more air, and three dimensional holographic like imaging does have its appeal. Different strokes for different folks.

Jennifer Warnes, The Hunter


  • CD - Private Music 01005-82089-2
  • CD - Cisco 24K Gold Edition GCD 8012-2
  • CD - Impex 24K Gold Edition IMP8303
  • CD - Sony K2HD CSON3480K2N
  • SACD - Sony 88875181862
  • LP - Private Music (Germany) 211 974
  • LP - Cisco CLP 7063-1
  • LP - Impex IMP 6007

Tracks Evaluated

  • Track 1 "Rock You Gently"
  • Track 8 "Way Down Deep"
  • Track 9 "The Hunter"


Jennifer Warnes, The Hunter was released in 1992 (five years after Famous Blue Raincoat) on the Private Music label and was produced by Jennifer Warnes, Roscoe Beck, and Elliot Scheiner. Engineering was provided by Csaba Petocz, Tim Boyle, Steven Strassman, Paul Brown, Larry Brown, Frank Wolf, and several more. Mastering was provided by Bernie Grundman.

The Hunter entices if not embraces an interesting selection of covers and original material that should easily satisfy even the most discerning listeners. Of the three titles, this is my favorite. For me, there is a definite emotional connection with the song selection and the very creative if not unique arrangements. Another key for me is that Jennifer's voice never sounded better. Full, rich, and warm—quite alluring by most standards.

Music contributions include songs penned by Todd Rundgren, The Waterboys, Donald Fagen, and Leonard Cohen. Another distinguished collection of guest artists provided some very serious musical support including Richard Thompson, Robben Ford, David Lindley, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jorge Calderón, and dozens more.

Comparing the CD and SACD alternatives was challenging as the sound quality was consistently very good but there were some differences. The original Private Music CD pressing took residence at the back end of our rankings with slightly understated dynamics and a sound stage that did not extend well beyond the speakers like the other options. 

Surprisingly, the Sony SACD did not stand out as expected considering the higher sampling rate and word length. I would characterize the sound as middle of the pack with a nice level of transparency and extension, but it still fell short of the Sony K2HD, Cisco, and Impex pressings. As we all know, format does not always dictate sound quality.

Like our findings for Famous Blue Raincoat, we all agreed that the Cisco and Impex 24K Gold Special Edition CDs were identical in performance for The Hunter. Pressed at the same plant, this was expected. Both sounded very close to the best of the LP pressings with an extremely broad and deep soundstage and an analogue like smoothness and musical presentation. Always a first rate-choice, Cisco and IMPEX continued their admirable record of success and extremely impressive batting average.

The Sony K2HD CD was the real eye opener. We never saw it coming. Highs had a liquidity and sweetness that belied the format. Mids had extraordinary bloom and palpability. Jennifer sounded more seductive and tangible than ever. Bass performance in terms of weight and slam were the most impressive over all the CD, SACD, and LP options for The Hunter.

Moving on to vinyl was a tough one to call. All three LP pressings were superb from almost any perspective. Liquid and relaxed with a timbral purity that was easy to recognize, we could all happily live with any of the LP alternatives. Surface noise was still a slight issue with the original Private Music pressing from Germany, but by every other frame of reference, it was difficult if not impossible to identify the differences between the three LPs and declare a clear winner. However, despite our love for vinyl, there was no argument from the panel. The Sony K2HD stood out based on bass performance alone.

Jennifer Warnes, The Well


  • CD - The Music Force SD8960
  • CD - Cisco 24K Gold Special Edition GCD 8012
  • CD - Impex 24K Gold Special Edition IMP 8303
  • SACD - Cisco SCD2034
  • LP - Cisco CLP 7009
  • LP - Impex IMP6001-45

Tracks Evaluated

  • Track 1 "The Well"
  • Track 2 "It's Raining"
  • Track 7 "Invitation To The Blues"


Jennifer Warnes' The Well was released in 2001 after a nine-year pause from her previous studio album The Hunter. Engineers included Bill Lane, Bruce Ablin, Koji Eqwa, Steve Genowik, Stuart Rawley, and Will Donovan. Mastering was provided by Bernie Grundman who as you could guess by now has a special if not mentor like relationship with Jennifer Warnes. Bernie has mastered and provided counsel on almost all of her studio recordings throughout her career.

The Well includes Jennifer's own material but also several covers from Billie Joel, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Arlo Guthrie, and Allen Toussaint. Like the other titles, the list of elite studio musicians who supported this effort seems endless. This just reaffirms that Jennifer Warnes continues to be greatly respected and loved by her peers. There have been several reissues of The Well over the years but not to the extent of Famous Blue Raincoat and The Hunter. For this reason, I strongly feel that The Well is the most underrated of the three titles under study here and has as much if not more to offer.

If we start off with the original CD release on The Music Force label, you have an absolute gem and quite a bargain as this pressing is readily available on the used market and for very reasonable prices. The Cisco and Impex CD pressings are very similar in sound with possibly just a tad more dynamic punch and resolution, but from a digital perspective, it is the Cisco Hybrid SACD that really shined.   

I am not huge fan of SACDs as I find the sound quality to be all over the map and in general slightly soft in presentation compared to their CD counterparts. In this case, we get the best of everything that digital can offer. Bass performance is the highlight here with tremendous slam and physicality. Mids and highs have an endless flow and ease with an organic like sense of texture and color. There was a limited production of this pressing and I am not surprised that copies are going from $200 to $300 in the used market.

The Cisco 33 RPM LP exhibited all of the typical analog traits that are opined by analog crazies like me. My copy is extremely flat and noise free which served us well for excellent tracking and musical results. We all agreed that it was preferred over the three CDs above, but it was a tough call when compered to the SACD. Despite the delight realized for the SACD and the 33 RPM LP, it was the Impex 45 RPM pressing that exceeded all our expectations.

The Impex 45 RPM reissue of The Well might just be the best sounding pressing in my entire music collection—regardless of title or format. Extreme sound stage depth and width well beyond the speakers, stunning spatial cues and levels of detail, and last but not least some of the most fleshed out and seductive harmonics that I have ever heard in my listening room. I am told that this three LP box set is now sold out, but I found it on various sites including eBay and Discogs for prices not much higher than the original MSRP. I'd get your credit card out now and make a move before it's too late.

The Winners and Special Mentions

Famous Blue Raincoat

  • Winner - Impex 33 RPM LP
  • Special Mention - Classic Records/Rock The House Gold CD
  • Special Mention - Attic (Canada) CD

As stated above, there was much discussion comparing the the Cisco 45 RPM LP verses the IMPEX 33 RPM LP, but the final vote declared the later as the overall preferred choice. Again, format does not always dictate the winner! Have we not all learned this lesson the hard way? Ugh!

The Classic Records CD deserves a special mention despite current pricing on eBay and Discogs. This is clearly one of the best sounding CDs in my entire collection. Though I only have a half dozen or so Classic Records CD pressings (of various titles), they all seem to get the sound right despite the digital format. Keep an eye on the used market and I definitely recommend pulling the trigger on this one at the right price!

The Attic CD from Canada must also be strongly considered from a sound and value perspective. It should be fairly easy to find for those Jennifer Warnes' newbies who just want an inexpensive way to check out her most popular title.

The Hunter

  • Winner - Sony K2HD CSON3480K2N
  • Special Mention - Private Music (Germany) LP

Though the panel clearly had a love for vinyl, there was no bias when it comes to digital. Ranking the Sony K2HD CSON3480K2N as the top choice for The Hunter was a close call at first but after additional comparisons it was the indisputable winner. Outstanding at all frequencies with bass performance that absolutely rocked the house.

For those looking for value, if you can locate a copy, the Private Music (German) LP pressing can be had for much less than the audiophile CD, SACD, and LP pressings and will provide excellent sound and performance.

The Well

  • Winner - Impex IMP6001-45 LP Box Set
  • Special Mention - Cisco SCD2034 Hybrid SACD
  • Special Mention - The Music Force SD8960 CD

The Impex 45 RPM LP Box Set was probably the best sounding pressing in this entire evaluation of all three titles and all three formats. Still available in the used market and on some new vinyl sites—grab it while you can.

The Impex Hybrid SACD was unique in that only two SACDs (by my limited research) were ever released for Jennifer Warnes, and this pressing is the real deal for sound and presentation. Many members of the panel preferred this SACD over all the CD and LP alternatives for The Well except for the Impex 45 RPM LP.

The original domestic CD release on The Music Force label is another great value for those just checking out the Jennifer Warnes' catalog.

Final Thoughts

On the final night when the head to head competition was over, we sat back and listened to all three winners from end to end. The craft beer continued to flow and it was a very relaxing and enjoyable conclusion to a very interesting analysis and experience. 

Depending on the feedback and interest of our readers, I hope to organize some additional efforts that will focus on some similar audiophile titles that seem to be the staples of the industry. I would also like to take a long look and listen to some favorite non-audiophile titles. After all, it's all about the music... and of course sound quality is just one variable of many. 

Next up might just be Friday Night In San Francisco with Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, and Paco DeLucia. I already have pressings in house from CBS, Phillips, Classic Records, and a few more labels. If we are able to continue this as a series, are there any other suggestions?


Jennifer Warnes just released a new album on the BMG label entitled Another Time, Another Place. This is her first new studio album since The Well was released 17 years ago. Another outstanding group of musicians and engineers (and of course Bernie Grundman for mastering) are listed in the album notes. I have not received my BMG CD copy just yet, but I will keep you posted!