Month: May 2016

The Doors – L.A. Woman – Rhino Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

doorslaSonic Grade: B

The pressing we auditioned from the Doors Box Set was surprisingly good. It’s rich and smooth with an extended top end — tonally correct in other words — and there’s lots of bass. This is all to the good. For the thirty bucks you might pay for it you’re getting a very good record, assuming yours sounds like ours, something we should really not be assuming, but we do it anyway as there is no other way to write about records other than to describe the sound of the ones we actually have on hand to play.

What it clearly lacks compared to the best originals is, first and foremost, vocal immediacy. There’s a veil that Jim Morrison is singing through, an effect which has a tendency to become more bothersome with time, as these sorts of frustrating shortcomings have a habit of doing.

A bit blurry, a bit smeary, somewhat lacking in air and space, on the plus side it has good energy and better bass than most of the copies we played. All in all we would probably give it a “B.” You could do a helluva lot worse. All the ’70s and ’80s reissues of this album we’ve ever played were just awful, especially those with the date inscribed in the dead wax.

See all of our Doors albums in stock

Rock of the Westies — Rockin’ Like No Other

john_rocko_rocks_1267812441

Another in the long list of Great Albums That You Probably Don’t Know. This record is SHOCKINGLY better than I remember from years back. It’s a knockout, with a great bunch of Elton rockers that still hold up forty years later. It’s much more like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road than it is the two albums that preceded it, Caribou and Captain Fantastic. To these ears it’s a return to form after two misfires.

Caribou is just not a good album on any level; my grade for it would be something in the D range. Captain Fantastic is decent, something along the lines of a B minus: third tier, worth a listen from time to time but not a Must Own by any stretch.

Contrast those two with Rock of the Westies, which clearly deserves to be considered a Must Own, right behind Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, at the bottom of the top tier or atop the second and well ahead of Madman Across the Water and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. (more…)

Phil DeLancie Digital or George Horn Analog?

peppetoday_ojc_1441117461We’ve wanted to do Art Pepper Today for more than a decade, but the original Galaxy pressings were just too thick and dark to earn anything approaching a top sonic grade. Thirty years ago on a very different system I had one and liked it a lot, but there was no way I could get past the opaque sound I was now hearing on the more than half-dozen originals piled in front of me.

So, almost in desperation we tried an OJC reissue from the ’90s. You know, the ones that all the audiophiles on the web will tell you to steer clear of because it had been mastered by Phil DeLancie and might be sourced from digital tapes.

Or digitally remastered, or somehow was infected with something digital somehow.

Well, immediately the sound opened up dramatically, with presence, space, clarity and top end extension we simply could not hear on the originals. Moreover, the good news was that the richness and solidity of the originals was every bit as good. Some of the originals were less murky and veiled than others, so we culled the worst of them for trade and put the rest into the shootout with all the OJCs we could get our hands on.

Now, it’s indisputable that Phil DeLancie is credited on the jacket, but I see George Horn’s writing in the dead wax of the actual record, so I really have no way of knowing whether Mr Delancie in fact had anything to do with the copies I was auditioning. They don’t sound digital to me, they just like other good George Horn-mastered records I’ve heard from this period.

And of course we here at Better Records never put much stock in what record jackets say; the commentary on the jackets rarely has much to do with the sound of the records inside them in our experience.

And, one more surprise awaited us as we were plowing through our pile of copies. When we got to side two we found that the sound of the Galaxy originals was often competitive with the best of the OJCs. Which means that there’s a good probability that some of the original pressings I tossed for having bad sound on side one had very good, perhaps even shootout winning sound on side two.

This is a lesson I hope to take to heart in the future. I know very well that the sound of side one is independent of side two, but somehow in this case I let my prejudice against the first side color my thinking about the second. Of all the people who should know better…

More Art Pepper

 

Vince Guaraldi / Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus – Keeping the Players Together

guarajazzi_wtlf_1406113104

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises, here discussing the importance of transparency, ambience and resolution.

The arrangement of the players is straightforward, with the bass hard left, drums hard right (with leakage well to the left on the cymbals, but that’s another story), and Guaraldi on piano in the center. (The first track of side two reverses this arrangement; why I have no idea.)

Here’s the crazy thing about this recording: The best copies really connect up — tie together — the space each of the players is in. I heard it during the shootout, and I can’t recall if it actually happened more than once or twice, but I know I heard it. They are all live, they are all on the same soundstage, but on most copies you would hardly know it.

They sound like they are playing in booths, the ambience never extending very far in any direction. The best copies have so much ambience that one player’s space extends all the way to the edge of the other player’s space. The effect, though rare, is nothing less than magical.

The piano is solid, mostly clear and not hard. Not many copies present the piano this way — correctly in other words. The amazing snare of Colin Bailey in the right channel is LIVELY and fun like you’ve never heard before.

There is no sacrifice in fullness, richness or Tubey Magic in the presentation, and that is the right sound for this music.

No Breakup on the Piano

I would be willing to bet that 90% or more of all the early pressings still in playable condition have some breakup on the piano. The old arms and carts of the day simply could not track the groove the way modern arms and carts can, and ended up damaging the record.

We are happy to report that this copy has no breakup on the piano at all.

The best copies bring out the contribution of the bass player better, the bass being essential to the rhythm of the music. On some, the bass is so tight and note-like you can see right into the soundstage and practically watch Monte Budwig play.

See all of our Vince Guaraldi albums in stock

 

Expanding Space Itself on The Dark Side of the Moon

Dark Side of the Moon

pinkfdarks_1603_1_1123544238

Recently we played a copy with all the presence, all the richness, all the size and all the energy we ever hoped to hear from a top quality pressing of Dark Side of the Moon. It did it ALL and then some. The raging guitar solos (there are three of them) on Money seemed to somehow expand the system itself, making it bigger and more powerful than I have ever heard. Even our best copies of Blood Sweat and Tears have never managed to create such a huge space with that kind of raw power. This copy broke through all the barriers, taking the system to an entirely new level of sound.

Take the clocks on Time. There are whirring mechanisms that can be heard deep in the soundstage on this copy that I’ve never heard as clearly before. On most copies you can’t even tell they are there. Talk about transparency — I bet you’ve NEVER heard so many chimes so clearly and cleanly, with such little distortion on this track. (more…)