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Three New Audiophile LP Reissues that Really Deliver! Iconic Albums from The Cars, CSNY and Joni Mitchell

04-08-2024 | By Robert S. Youman | Issue 132

The Cars, Candy-O. Rhino High Fidelity Series (33 RPM)

The Cars first album entitled The Cars, was released in 1977 on the Reprise label and was a huge success, with a long list of hit singles and a tremendous amount of attention by the press. Their second album entitled Candy-O was released in 1978, also on the Reprise label, and actually delivered greater sales than the first. The two big hits from Candy-O include "Let's Go" and "It's All I Want To Do." Candy-O peaked at Number 3 on the Billboard 200 and continues to be a big seller even today! The album is also famous for its cover art by Alberto Vargas, who was known for his paintings of pin-up girls from Esquire and Playboy magazines.

Band members included the following:

  • Ric Ocasek - rhythm guitar, vocals
  • Elliot Easton - lead guitar, backing vocals
  • Benjamin Orr - bass, vocals
  • Greg Hawkes - keyboards, percussion, sax, backing vocals
  • David Robinson - drums, percussion

In my humble opinion, the production value for this reissue, and for that matter all of the Rhino High Fidelity Series reissues, is simply outstanding for the $40 list price. This series is one of the true bargains in the industry. This includes a 180 gram vinyl LP pressed at Optimal Media, a heavy weight gatefold jacket, a distinctive OBI with important production information, and all cut by the highly respected Kevin Gray from the original master tapes. You also get an exclusive insert of backstories and commentary by the original producer Ray Thomas Baker. This is a limited numbered edition at 5000.

I found that the overall musical feel of this release was not much different than the first album. Both are fantastic efforts by the band. The Cars are something of a pop-oriented new wave band, as the song writing is very highly skilled, with a touch of superficial style and symbolic humor. There is an abundance of drive and upbeat energy on this second album, as even more room is provided for Elliot Easton to spread his wings and display his amazing guitar solos. Easton is a highly underrated musician and song writer, and his talents really shine on Candy-O!

I have an original pressing and the MOFI for comparison. Cut by George Marino, the OG has outstanding sound quality with plenty of dynamics and inner detail. Some might argue that the bass quality is the best of the three as the authority and weight provided is extremely tight and deep. The MOFI is also impressive, with something of a slightly softer and more organic feel than the OG. Depending on your system and listening room, I can understand why the MOFI could be the pressing of choice. Cut by Shawn Britton, I found myself very pleased with the overall presentation. If this was my one and only copy, I would be one very happy camper!

In some ways, the Rhino High Fidelity cuts the cloth somewhere in between and has the best of both. Kevin Gray has raised his magic wand once again. The Rhino also has an impressive amount of visceral impact and drive, but with additional layers of natural harmonics and tone. Drums and percussion seem to explode more clearly out of a deep dark background. Instruments are more three dimensional and sound more realistic. There is a wonderful amount of exciting splash in the highs, but I found no edge or sibilance. Again, at this price point for a single LP audiophile reissue, I am amazed at the value provided. Another gem by Kevin Gray and the Rhino team!

Crosby, Stills and Nash (Self-Titled). The 75th Anniversary of Atlantic Records Series (45 RPM)

Released in 1969 on the Atlantic Records label, Crosby, Stills & Nash (sometimes referred to as "The Couch Album"), was the first studio album by the trio and foundation of the group which included David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash (CSN). Neil Young officially joined the group (CSNY) for their second album entitled Déjà Vu, which was released in 1970. The first album provided two hits with "Marrakesh Express" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." The album itself peaked at Number 6 on the Billboard 200 and had sales of over 4,000,000.

Other notable credits include the following:

  • Dallas Taylor - drums on "Pre-Road Downs," "Wooden Ships," "Long Time Gone," and "49 Bye-Byes"
  • Jim Gordon - drums on "Marrakesh Express"
  • Cass Elliot - backing vocals on "Pre-Road Downs"
  • Bill Halverson – engineer
  • David Geffen – direction

Often referred to as a Supergroup, CSN took the music world by storm with their unique harmonies and combination of rock n' roll, blues, folk, and even some elements of jazz composition. As one of the leaders of the "singer-songwriter movement" and the "California sound" in the 1970s, CSN often focused on their own personal experiences and political passions for many of their songs. They were also considered members of the "Laurel Canyon" group of musicians who paved the way for all of the above. This included the likes of The Eagles, Jackson Brown, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, Cass Elliot, Gram Parsons, and many more.

As I have stated several times, I feel strongly that Chad Kassem at Analogue Productions has really found the sweet spot for price and value when it comes to 45 RPM audiophile reissues. For $60, you get two LP's cut at 45 RPM from the original analog master tapes and pressed on 180 gram heavy weight vinyl. Mastering is provided by Bernie Grundman, another one of the true masters! As Chad likes to say, the process is all AAA from beginning to end. The heavy weight gatefold jacket is an excellent reproduction of the OG cover if not of better quality and visual appeal. The rice paper inner sleeve is also a nice touch, along with the loose fitting shrink wrap and easy tear design for removing the album when in play, but also protecting the album when in storage. 

I have several copies of this title for comparison which includes an OG (33 RPM), a Classic Records (33 RPM), and a Nautilus (33 RPM). I should preface all of this by saying that the quality of the sound on the original analog tapes has been said to be somewhat problematic, so expectations should be managed appropriately.

Let's start with the OG, of which I have owned several near mint copies over the years, but the noisy quality of the vinyl has always made it difficult to listen to. The word "mud" comes to mind when evaluating the sound on this pressing. Of course you can sometimes find a few of these in the $5 bin, so it's a nice place to begin if you just want to evaluate the music before making a larger investment.

Next up is the Classic Records, which I remember at the time of purchase as being a complete surprise. I previously purchased the then Classic Records Déjà Vu reissue, and it was pure garbage. For whatever reason, the Classic Records CSN is much better in every way. Compared to the OG, we have improved transparency and some additional dynamics that enhances the presentation greatly. Still not all that you might want, but acceptable. Lastly, we have the Nautilus, which has been my "go to" for many years. The Nautilus has very good extension on both ends, and a considerable amount of inner detail that finally reaches a high level of contentment and pleasure for the listener. A real bargain if you can find it!

I wouldn't say that this new CSN is a total revelation, but to my ears, it provides the best sound quality by a large margin. The better quality vinyl makes a significant difference—flat and quiet, as what we would expect for such an important reissue. As always, I am also confident that the 45 RPM pressing greatly contributes to the better sound quality too. Let's not forget that Bernie Grundman was at the mastering helm, and he has done another wonderful job with another very challenging source.

Finally we have some life and sparkle to this recording! Transparency and dynamics are clearly up a few notches. You can actually feel some weight and roundness to the mids and bass without smearing the detail. Vocals and instruments are nicely delineated and defined rather than hidden behind a wall of sound. I even sense a reasonable amount of three dimensional space and ambiance. I am greatly pleased that we finally have something very special and satisfying when it comes to one of my all time favorite albums. Bravo to Chad, Bernie and the entire 75th Anniversary team!

Joni Mitchell, Blue. Mobile Fidelity UltraDisc One-Step Series (45 RPM)

A true classic by any measure, Joni Mitchell's Blue has a special place in many hearts, and especially with folks from my generation. This was Joni's fourth album and it was released in 1971 on the Reprise label. Blue was written and produced by Joni Mitchell herself, which was just one indication of how personal and intimate these songs truly are.

Though there were not any individual tracks released as singles, the consensus according to several surveys indicate that some of the more popular songs on the album include "A Case Of You," "Carey," "California," and "The Last Time I Saw Richard." Even with that in mind, every song on this album is very strong and can easily stand on its own as a paragon of distinction and quality. As just one data point, Blue was ranked third in Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time." As an album, it also reached Number 15 on the Billboard 200.

Recorded within a time frame just after her breakup with Graham Nash, and during a complicated relationship with James Taylor, Blue clearly puts all of Joni's emotions on display. She has often been quoted, that during that time she had "no secrets" and "no defenses" to help herself understand her feelings or how to deal with them. In the end, her music seemed to support and guide her through it all. Again, much of this was a clear inspiration to what was eventually realized in Blue.

As with most MOFI One-Steps, you get two 180 gram 45 RPM LPs pressed on MOFI Supervinyl and housed in a deluxe slipcase. The slipcase utilizes the famous front cover photo shot by Tim Considine. Both LPs are stored in special two foil-stamped jackets with a fairly accurate representation of the original graphics and pictures. There is also a new set of in-depth liner notes that provides additional insight and credits. Production will be limited to 12,000 numbered copies.

The final product is cut by Krieg Wunderlich at MOFI and pressed at RTI. Sourced from the original analog master tapes, there is digital step in the cutting process that utilizes DSD 256. I wouldn't make a big deal out of this, as the sound is the key, at least based on my own personal priorities. As many can attest, several of the MOFI One-Steps are the definitive versions of the respective albums.

I have two additional pressings for comparison. I do not have the newest 2022 Rhino pressing cut by Bernie Grundman, but I do have the original 1971 Reprise which was also cut by Bernie. I wish that I had both, as that would have been an interesting comparison of the new verses old Bernie along with his new verses old studio equipment and processes.

I also have the 2007 Rhino mastered by Steve Hoffman and cut by Kevin Grey at AcousTech Audio. I do not have the 2019 Rhino cut by Kevin Gray on his own at Cohearant Audio. Yes, there are several preferred choices out there and it can get quite confusing when the same engineers are utilized on various different pressings. Though it might sound slightly illogical, there are differences in the sound. Some can be explained and some cannot. We won't dive into that here, but it probably does deserve its own article and discussion.

Let's start with the OG. Again we have that same old noisy vinyl issue to deal with from back in the day—even with vinyl that looks like it is in mint condition. This can be especially annoying and disruptive with this album, as most of the tracks are with Joni singing and playing on her own with just a piano or guitar. It requires a quiet background to really concentrate and absorb all the nuance.

Even with this caveat, the original is still very impressive. There is some occasional sibilance within her vocals, and on certain passages the piano can be a bit bright, but there is a wonderfully natural and organic feeling to almost all of the songs. OGs are fairly easy to find and are an excellent value.

In my system, the 2007 Rhino is a clear step up. There is still a slight harshness to the sound on occasion, but the level of detail and transparency is considerably better. I also note a sense of additional three dimensionality to the vocals and instruments along with a slightly wider and deeper sound stage.

Lastly we have the MOFI. The Supervinyl really makes a strong impact here. The dead quiet black background allows the listener to really focus on the music. Instruments and vocals often just pop out of the soundstage and can almost startle you. I have to believe that the 45 RPM pressing is also contributing to a much richer and full bodied presentation.

Sibilance is now better controlled, as her voice is slightly more liquid with an additional touch of bloom and tonal color. I can sense more of a "she is in the room" feeling with the MOFI, which I have never experienced before with this recording. All in all, MOFI has established a new benchmark with this reissue! Congrats to the MOFI team on a real winner!

Caveat Emptor

It cannot be overstated that system synergy and personal taste are critical when evaluating high-end audio products and the music that is presented. These reviews are based on my subjective requirements, my subjective ears, my specific system configuration, and my specific listening room. Please consider my comments and analysis appropriately.

Review System

I have included a comprehensive list of all my components and a description of my listening room. Please click on my name in red above if this information is needed for reference and comparison purposes.