Month: April 2016

Previn Plays Up a Storm for Contemporary

 

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Bells Are Ringing

I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak all the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you are should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was.

Tambourine and Piano

The piano sounds uncannily lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom. I can’t think of any record off the top of my head that gets a better piano sound than this one.

Listen to the tambourine on the third track on side one. Shelly Manne messes about with lots of percussion instruments on this album and all of them are recorded to perfection.

Not to leave Red Mitchell out, check out the bass; it’s deep and note-like throughout the album.

Side One

Rich and Tubey Magical in the best way, because it’s still clear and spacious.

Side Two

Tight, deep bass and an extended top, with a solid piano in between, this side is hard to fault.

Better Than a Dream, the second track on this side, has one of the best sounding jazz pianos I have ever heard. My notes say “you cannot record a piano any better” and I stand behind that statement one hundred percent.

There is not a modern reissue on the face of the earth that can hold a candle to the sound of this record. For any of you out there who doubt my words please take this record home and play it against the best piano jazz recordings you own. If it doesn’t beat them all we are happy to pay the domestic shipping back. Even our much vaunted 45 RPM pressing of The Three (some do not present the listener with a piano that sounds as real as the one on this side two.

More Contemporary Records

 

 

Home Audio Exercises for Made In Japan, That’s The Way of the World, Fragile, Chabrier’s Orchestral Music and Bizet’s Carmen Fantasie

 



Deep Purple – Made In Japan
What to Listen For

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.
We’ve raved about a number of live albums over the years. Some of the better sounding ones that come readily to mind (in alphabetical order) are Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, David Live, Johnny Cash At San Quentin, Donny Hathaway Live, The Jimi Hendrix Concerts, Performance – Rockin The Fillmore, Live Wire – Blues Power, Waiting For Columbus, Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out and Live at Leeds. I would be proud to have any of them in my collection.

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Earth, Wind & Fire – That’s The Way of the World
What to Listen For

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.
We’re pretty sure that the first track on side one, Shining Star, is made from a dub, a common occurrence with planned hit singles. The rest of the songs on side two are a step up in class; when you play the side, see if you don’t hear some veiling and smearing.These are problems we hear in the sound of practically all the Heavy Vinyl pressings that, let’s be honest, we waste our time auditioning, which leads us naturally to conclude that they are not really made from master tapes, but high quality analog dubs or high-rez digital masters. Some of course sound better than others, but none will ever sound the way this copy does.

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Yes – Fragile
Listening in Depth
Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with plenty of advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Fragile.
EDDIE OFFORD took charge of Yes’s engineering starting with Time and a Word (1970) and we are very lucky that he did. Although his masterpiece is surely ELP’s first album, both The Yes Album and Fragile are so amazingly well recorded they clearly belong at the top of any list of All Time Great Sounding Rock Albums.

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Chabrier / Orchestral Music / Ansermet
What to Listen For


Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.
On many copies the strings are dry, lacking Tubey Magic. This is decidedly not our sound, although it can easily be heard on many London pressings, the kind we’ve played by the hundreds over the years. If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange that so many moving coils have these days, you will not notice this tonality issue nearly as much as we do. Our 17D3 is ruler flat and quite unforgiving in this regard.

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Bizet & Saint-Saens / Carmen Fantasie
This Is Why You Must Do Shootouts

Ricci’s playing of the Bizet-Sarasate Carmen Fantasie is OUT OF THIS WORLD. There is no greater performance on record in my opinion, and few works that have as much Audiophile Appeal. Which is why I’ve had a copy of this record in my own collection for about fifteen years marked “My Demo Disc”. But this copy KILLED it. How could that be?
It just goes to show: No matter how good a particular copy of a record may sound to you, when you clean and play enough of them you will almost always find one that’s better, and often surprisingly better. Shootouts are the only way to find these kinds of records. Nothing else works. If you’re not doing shootouts (or buying the winners of shootouts from us) you simply don’t have top quality copies in your collection, except in the rare instances where you just got lucky. In the world of records luck can only take you so far. The rest of the journey requires effort.

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Living Stereo Tubey Magical Sound from 1958

This copy is WHITE HOT!

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As much as I like Fjeldstad’s Peer Gynt on Decca/London with the LSO, I have to say that Odd Gruner-Hegge (love that first name!) and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra turn in the better of the two performances. To these ears theirs is more lyrical; it flows more naturally both within and between the individual movements.

Joy

The Oslo Phil also gives me more of a sense that they are feeling the joy in the playing of these works; I do not get quite the same feeling from the LSO. As we worked our way through more and more Living Stereo copies, the Oslo Phil.’s enthusiasm and love for the music became recognizably stronger, and, as one would expect, more agreeable and involving.

Our preference for this performance is of course a matter of taste; we cannot be sure you will feel the same. No doubt you have a version of the Fjeldstad on hand for comparison purposes, perhaps the Speakers Corner pressing (which we used to like quite a bit), but any will do. I expect that playing a handful of select movements from the two performances back to back will show this one to be superior.

To be fair, both are superb. A sizable group of other recordings were auditioned, but we found no others that were comparable in terms of both sound and performance.

The Sound

In comparing the sound I would call it a toss-up, perhaps with the tie going to the Fjeldstad. The Decca is bigger and clearer, but has some aspects to the miking that strike me as infelicitous. The brass in places seems to jump out and call attention to itself, which never happens on the RCA. Although less of a Demo Disc, the sound of the Gruner-Hegge performance was slightly more involving, or is it the performance that draws you in? As usual, separating the sound of the music from the music itself is no easy task, if it is even possible at all. (more…)

A Killer Kind of Blue — We Guarantee You’ve Never Heard It Sound Like This

Kind of Blue

 

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A knockout copy of one of the most famous albums of all-time, the great Kind Of Blue! This one is absolutely SUPERB, earning our top Triple Plus (A+++) grade for both sides. You will not believe the presence, energy and transparency on this pressing. The brass sounds AMAZING. The bottom end is just right. And the piano is Right On The Money. Folks, I don’t think you could ask anything more from this music than what this White Hot Stamper gives you.

In my opinion, many of the best sounding copies are standard domestic Red Label pressings from the ’70s. I’m fully aware of how outrageous a statement that may sound. But I’ve long known of amazing sounding Kind Of Blue reissues.

Having played scores of different pressings of this record over the years, I think I know this recording about as well as anyone. The tube mastered original Six Eye Stereo copies have wonderful, lush, sweet sound. I’ve heard many of them. The 360s from the ’60s often split the difference — less tubey magical, but cleaner and more correct. The Red Labels are all over the map, ranging from smeary and dull to out of this world. And this copy, my friends, is one of the good ones.

What About The Earlier Pressings?

If you cut it with tubes it will bring out some qualities not as evident on this pressing. But there will be drawbacks as well. It’s a matter of trade-offs. There is no copy that will satisfy everyone, just as there is no speaker or amplifier that will satisfy everyone.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love tubey colorations. I say so all over this site. But there is no way that the qualities of this record exist on those early, tubey cuttings. They simply didn’t have the technology. The technology they did have is wonderful in its own way. And this record is wonderful in its own, very different, way.

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5 Commentaries – From Gino Vannelli to Mozart to Stokowski to Coltrane and Back Again to Gino Vannelli

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Gino Vannelli – Storm At Sunupand The Amazing ARC SP3A-1

(Item #: vannestorm_stereo)
by A&M LP



Storm at Sunup used to be my favorite Gino Vannelli album. I played it all the time back in the ’70s. It was one of a handful of recordings that made me want to pursue audiophile equipment in the hopes that higher quality playback would allow it to sound even bigger and more exciting. It was pretty damn big and exciting already, but I wanted more.
Right around that time I got my first audiophile tube preamp, the Audio Research SP3A-1, which replaced a Crown IC-150. As you can no doubt imagine, especially if you know the IC-150 at all well, playing this album through that state-of-the-art tube preamp was a revelation. From then on there was no looking back. I started spending all my money on better and better equipment and more and more records. That was forty plus years ago and I haven’t stopped yet.

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Mozart / Symphonies No. 40 & 41 / Giulini
Speakers Corner (Reviewed in the ’90s)(Item #: mozarsym40_6225_reviewed)
by Speakers Corner



Sonic Grade: B?

A fairly good Speakers Corner Decca. They released this title on Heavy Vinyl in 1998; it was one of the few Speakers Corner classical recordings we used to carry and recommend.

We knew it sounded good, but up until recently, when we started collecting and playing the better Deccas and Londons, we sure didn’t know it could sound like one of our Hot Stampers!

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Liszt, Enesco, Smetana / Rhapsodies – Stokowski
Classic Records Debunked(Item #: lisztrhaps_debunk)
by Classic Records Heavy Vinyl



Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

The lower strings are wonderful on the original — wall to wall, with that rosiny texture we love. I wrote at the time — this is twenty or so years ago — that the Classic pressing took that rich, dark sound and brightened it up, naturally ruining it in the process. Cellos and double basses just don’t sound like that. On the best pressings of LSC 2471 their timbre is Right On The Money. Of course, that’s is the real thing, not some audiophile rebutchering.

Now if you’re a Classic Records fan, and you like that brighter, more detailed, more aggressive sound, the original is probably not the record for you.


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John Coltrane – Giant Steps
Live and Learn(Item #: coltrgiant_learn)
by Atlantic LP



A classic case of Live and Learn. Previously we had written:

The extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum is what really sets the best copies apart from the pack. All the top end and that deep bottom and simply not to be found on most copies, and never on even the best originals in our experience. The cutters back then just couldn’t cut it.

Now, having heard some amazing originals, we know that the vintage mastering equipment of the day was perfectly capable of getting all the top, all the bottom, and tons of Tubey Magic besides onto the vinyl.

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Gino Vannelli – Powerful People
The Most You Can Hope For(Item #: vannepower_summation)
by A&M LP



Like most of the better audiophile records — from long ago as well as those being produced today — the most you can hope for from these reissues is that they can fix a few problems you might be saddled with on the particular pressing you own.
But if you work at it, the “right” plain old record, properly cleaned and played, will show you sound that the audiophile edition can barely begin to reproduce. Having auditioned by the thousands the kinds of records you see on the site, the reality of this truth is irrefutable to us now, and has been for a very long time. Our customers know exactly what we are talking about; they’ve heard it for themselves. That’s why they keep coming back.

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Eddie Offord Takes Charge

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Fragile

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with plenty of advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Fragile.

EDDIE OFFORD took charge of Yes’s engineering starting with Time and a Word (1970) and we are very lucky that he did. Although his masterpiece is surely ELP’s first album, both The Yes Album and Fragile are so amazingly well recorded they clearly belong at the top of any list of All Time Great Sounding Rock Albums.

In-Depth Track Commentary
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Warners / Rhino 180g EQ Anomaly Test

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Sweet Baby James

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

There is one obvious and somewhat bothersome fault with this new pressing, an EQ issue. Anybody care to guess what it is? Send us an email if you think you know. Hint: it’s the kind of thing that sticks out like a sore thumb, the kind of obvious EQ error I can’t ever recall hearing on an original.

Our Heavy Vinyl Review

This Warner Brothers 180g LP is the BEST SOUNDING Heavy Vinyl reissue to come our way in a long long time. Those of you who’ve been with us for a while know that that’s really not saying much, but it doesn’t make it any less true either, now does it? Let’s look at what it doesn’t do wrong first.

It doesn’t sound opaque, compressed, dry and just plain dead as a doornail like so many new reissues do. It doesn’t have the phony modern mastering sound we hate about the sound of the new Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it.)

The new Sweet Baby James actually sounds like a — gulp — fairly decent original.
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Another 30th Street Studio Knockout

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Columbia 30th Street Studios

Everything that’s good about All Tube Vocal Recordings from the ’50s and ’60s is precisely what’s good about the sound of this record.

The huge studio the music was recorded in is captured faithfully here. The height, width and depth of the staging here are extraordinary. We are not big soundstage guys here at Better Records, but we can’t deny the appeal of the space to be found on a record as good as this.

Transparency and Tubey Magic are key to the sound of the orchestra and you will find both in abundance on these two sides.

Albums such as this live and die by the quality of their vocal reproduction. On this record Mr. Tony Bennett himself will appear to be standing right in your listening room, along with the 38 other musicians from the session (actually they’re probably sitting).

The space of your stereo room will seem to expand in all directions in order to accommodate them, an illusion of course, but nevertheless a remarkably convincing one.

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Martin Birch Knows How to Get The Big Rock Sound on Vinyl

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More from Martin Birch

When you get a Hot Stamper presssing like this one, Machine Head is a True Rock and Roll Demo Disc. Since our stereo is all about playing these kinds of records, and playing them at good loud levels as nature — and the artists — intended, we had a helluva time with Machine Head.

It had the kind of presence and energy that puts most copies of this album to shame. It’s also amazingly spacious, the result no doubt of it being recorded practically live in the studio. On the best copies you can really hear the sound bouncing off the studio walls, just as you can on the best Zep, AC/DC and Bad Co. albums. You can just tell they are all playing this one live: it’s so relaxed and natural and REAL sounding.

The vocalist is no doubt in a booth, but everyone else seems to be in a lively studio. With lovely extension up top this was a very sweet copy that cried out to be turned up good and loud. The louder we played it the better it sounded!

Domestic Vinyl?

Forget ’em, they’re clearly made from dubs. Some are better than others, but none can compete with the better British pressings such as this one..

With your permission we’d like to “borrow” some of the commentary from the listing we did a while back for Bad Company’s second album, since so much of what’s good about that record is exactly what’s good about this one.

What You Want from the Best Copies

The best pressings give you exactly what you want from this brand of straight ahead rock and roll: presence in the vocals; solid, note-like bass; big punchy drums, and the kind of live-in-the-studio energetic, clean and clear sound. (AC/DC is another band with that kind of live studio sound. With big speakers and the power to drive them YOU ARE THERE.)

I’m guessing that very few people have ever heard this record sound this good. The average copy is really a piece of trash, as is the awful 180 gram version that was recently remastered. This is the way to go.

 

Sowing The Seeds Of Love for Psych

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This Tears for Fears album is a real desert island disc for me. When you get a big, rich, smooth copy such as this one, the short list of problems with the recording don’t interfere with the music. Like good stereo equipment, a good record lets you forget all that audio stuff and just listen to the music as music.

The Seeds Of Love is the band’s masterpiece, and hearing it this way is nothing short of a THRILL.

The sound of most copies is aggressive, hard, harsh and thin. What do you expect? The album is recorded digitally and direct metal mastered at Masterdisk. Most of us analog types put up with the limitations of the sound because we love the music, some of the most powerfully moving, brilliantly written and orchestrated psychedelic pop of the last thirty years. Imagine if the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper/ Magical Mystery Tour phase kept going in that direction. They very well might have ended up in the neighborhood of Sowing the Seeds of Love.

Analog Sound

But wait — both sides here have smooth, sweet, analog richness and spaciousness I didn’t think was possible for this recording. The bass is full and punchy. When it really starts cooking, such as in the louder, more dynamic sections of Woman in Chains or the title cut, it doesn’t get harsh and abrasive like most copies. It’s got energy and life without making your ears bleed.

Art Rock

I have a long history with this kind of Art Rock, stretching all the way back to the early ’70s. I grew up on Roxy Music, 10cc, Eno, The Talking Heads, Ambrosia, Supertramp, Yes and the like, bands that wanted to play rock music but felt shackled by the constraints of the conventional pop song. When I discovered these Arty Rocker bands in my early twenties, they quickly became favorites of mine and remain so to this day.

When it comes to genre busting Psychedelic Art Rock, I put this album right up at the top of the heap, along with several other landmark albums from the Seventies: More Songs About Buildings and Food, Roxy Music’s first, Sheet Music, Crime of the Century, Ambrosia’s first two releases, The Yes Album, Fragile, Dark Side of the Moon and a handful of others.

My equipment was forced to evolve in order to be able to play the scores of challenging recordings issued by these groups and others in the ’70s. Tears For Fears on this and their previous album continue that tradition of big-as-life and just-as-difficult-to-reproduce recordings. You could say that these albums informed not only my taste in music but the actual stereo I play that music on. I’ve had large dynamic speakers for the last four decades, precisely because they do such a good job bringing to life huge and powerful records such as these.

Robbie McIntosh, Guitar God

Check out Robbie McIntosh’s leads on some of these tracks, especially Bad Man’s Song on side one. His work here, as well as with McCartney (Unplugged), and as a member of The Pretenders for two of the best albums they ever made (Learning to Crawl and Get Close) put him in the company of the All Time Greats, unsung though he may be.

And here are some more of our favorite PSYCH ROCK ALBUMS for your viewing pleasure