Pleasure And Pain Ben Harper & Tom Freund

This album was produced and recorded by George Cardas in one take on March 15, 1992 in Upland, California using a Cardas Differential Microphone, a Cardas Hexlink Golden 5-C Cable, and a Studer A-80 Tape Recorder.  It is indisputably one of the ultimate vinyl reference recordings of late, and I must  confess that I’ve been remiss on my review since I added it to my vinyl collection.

Why?…  Well, every time I throw this gorgeous slab of heavy weight vinyl on my turntable it mis-tracks.  So, I suppose I’ve planted my head firmly in the sand since I’ve gone to such great lengths in setting up my turntable that it pains me to hear mis-tracking, no matter what recording.  And this is the only record I’ve ever heard mis-track.  Does this mean there’s something wrong with the recording?  Umm… a tempting deduction but unfortunately not the case.  Rather, there is so much right about this recording that even my finely tuned turntable/tonearm/cartridge combination can’t quite handle it.  Keep in mind that the tonearm was chosen specifically for the demanding compliance requirements of the best phono cartridge I’ve ever heard, the Denon 103R moving coil (The formidable Denon 103 vs. 103R low output moving coil phono cartridges – is there really a difference?)….  And, I’ve gone to painstaking lengths to isolate the my chosen Denon direct turntable properly (Denon DP-790W turntable review).  So the observed mis-tracking isn’t due to oversight.

Fact is, this recording has such extraordinary dynamic range that it will certainly find the Achilles heel in any fully analog system.  It only mis-tracks on a couple songs, and even then only on very brief transients, and the rest of the time it’s one of the most amazing recordings you’ll ever hear.  It has such presence that if you close your eyes you would swear Ben Harper is in the room with you, plucking his guitar and serenading with amazing harmonizing vocals.

So, to be honest, I had been avoiding this recording (and review) until I could solve the mis-trackng.  After some tweaking of stylus force and anti-skating I’m finally listening to it tracking perfectly as I write this.   Yes, this recording is so amazing that I need to recalibrate my tonearm and cartridge for it!  But it’s so worth it, and my tonearm settings will go back to where they were for the rest of my vinyl collection as soon as I lift the needle.

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