Month: September 2016

This Is the Kind of Thing You Notice When You Play Scores of Copies of the Same Album

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If you have a copy or two laying around, there is a very good chance that side two will be noticeably thinner and brighter than side one. That has been our experience anyway, and we’ve been playing batches of this album for well over a decade. To find a copy with a rich side two is rare indeed.

More Hall and Oates

Most copies lack the top end extension that makes the sound sweet, opens it up and puts air around every instrument. It makes the high hat silky, not spitty or gritty. It lets you hear all the harmonics of the guitars and mandolins that feature so prominently in the mixes.

If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, is full of TUBEY MAGIC, and has consistently good music, look no further.

As Good As It Gets

Until I picked up one of these nice originals I had no idea how amazing the record could sound. For an early ’70s multi-track pop recording it’s about as good as it gets. It’s rich, sweet, open, natural, smooth most of the time — in short, it’s got all the stuff audiophiles like you and me LOVE.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

On the better copies practically every track on this side will have killer sound.

When the Morning Comes
Had I Known You Better Then
Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)
She’s Gone
I’m Just a Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like a Man)

Side Two

Abandoned Luncheonette

In our experience only the best copies (and the best stereos) can make sense of this track.

Lady Rain

Wall to wall, floor to ceiling multi-track ANALOG MAGIC.

Laughing Boy
Everytime I Look at You

The FUNKIEST Hall and Oates track ever. Bernard Purdie on the drums! And who’s that funky rhythm guitarist with the Motown Sound? None other than John Oates hisself. If you hear echoes of Motown throughout this record, you’re hearing what we’re hearing. Who doesn’t love that sound? (If we could only find real Motown records that sound like this one…)


Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

We have a large number of entries in our Listening in Depth series.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

McCartney’s Must Own Masterpiece

McCartney

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We have been touting McCartney’s first solo album for more than a decade. Ever read a word about it in an audiophile context elsewhere? Of course you haven’t! The audiophile world doesn’t know and doesn’t care about great albums like this one, but we at Better Records LIVE for albums with sound and music of this caliber. It’s a permanent resident of our Top 100 List for a reason: no other solo album by a Beatle can touch it.

As for surface issues, we wish we could find them quiet, but that is simply not an option, especially considering how dynamic the recording is. We’ve used every trick in the book to try to get copies of this album to play Mint Minus, but it’s not usually in the cards. Maybe I’m Amazed, in particular, seems to be noisy on nine copies out of every ten. If you’re looking for a copy without any surface noise, you’re probably better off tracking down the DCC Gold CD, which is actually quite good.

But no CD is ever going to sound like our record, not now, not ever. This is where I simply can’t understand how the typical audiophile can make the tradeoff for flat, average sound with quiet vinyl — the sound of these Heavy Vinyl reissues that have sprouted up all over the place, each one worse than the last — and the wonderful, but slightly noisy, sound to be found on the best originals.

Of course the obvious answer is that it is simply too much work to find enough original copies to clean and play in order to come across that needle in a haystack: the Hot Stamper pressing.

See all of our Paul McCartney albums in stock

The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. It sounds like it’s recorded live in the studio, but of course that’s impossible, because Paul plays practically all the instruments himself! It just goes to show how good a multi-track studio recording can sound when done well.

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The Real Stars of Windy

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See all of our Association albums in stock

The sound of the sixties will fill your room like never before — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with layers upon layers of depth. You would be very hard pressed to find a pop rock recording from 1967 that sounds as good as a Hot Stamper Insight Out. (Sgt. Pepper comes to mind, but what else?) Can you imagine the Mamas and the Papas or The Jefferson Airplane with this kind of rich, sweet, open, textured, natural, tonally correct sound quality?

The midrange is pure Tubey Magic! If you have the kind of system that brings out that quality in a recording, you will go wild over this one. In fact it’s so good, it made me appreciate some of the other songs on the album which I had previously dismissed as filler. When you hear them sound this good, you can actually enjoy them.

Hal, Joe and Bones

The real stars of Windy (and the album itself) are Hal Blaine and Joe Osborne, the famous session drummer/ bass player team, who create the driving force behind these songs. Osborne’s web site puts Windy front and center as the first track demonstrating what a top rhythm section can do for a pop song. This whole album can be enjoyed simply for the great drum and bass work, not to mention the sound that both of those instruments are given by the pop recording master Bones Howe.

He produced and engineered the show here; Bones is a man who knew his way around a studio as well as practically anybody in the ’60s. He’s the one responsible for all the tubey magic of the recording. That’s his sound. Those of you who appreciate that sound will find much to like here.

Bouncing Tracks

Never My Love is clearly the best sounding track on the album. Those of you with better front ends will be astonished at the quality of the sound. Windy also sounds excellent, but I hear some sub-generation harmonic distortion, probably caused by bouncing down some of the tracks to make room for others.

This is the era of the four track machine, and when four of the tracks are used up they are bounced down to one track, making available three new tracks. Some of the albums from this era — the Mamas and the Papas come to mind — have multiple bounces, three and four deep, which accounts for the distortion that you hear all through their recordings. The two-track finished master might have upwards of five tape generations or more on some instruments or vocal parts.

We Do The Work So You Don’t Have To

Let’s face it: if you find this record in a record store it’s going to be $10 or less, which is what we paid for most of the copies here. But they’re usually noisy and dull sounding. You really have to work at it to find a copy that sounds like this one. Or, better yet, pay us to do that work for you by just buying this one.

The Master of Tubey Magical Pop Recording, Mr. BONES HOWE.

Original Is Better? Not on Jazz Waltz It Ain’t

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See all of our Shorty Rogers albums in stock

Don’t be put off by the title; these are not some sleepy old-fashioned waltzes. This is swingin’ West Coast jazz at its best. Of course, the arrangements are done in waltz time, but that doesn’t keep them from swingin’.

And the amazingly good sound? Credit Bones Howe, a man who knows Tubey Magic like practically no one else in the world. The Association, The Mamas and the Papas, The Fifth Dimension, and even Tom Waits — all their brilliant recordings are the result of Bones Howe’s estimable talents as producer and engineer.

Original Vs. Reissue

The original Reprise pressing, whether in mono or stereo, has never sounded very good to us. The mono is quite a bit worse than the stereo – no surprise there – but both must be considered poor reflections of the master tape.

We sold one many years ago, describing it this way: “Beautiful Original with decent sound — rich, smooth and sweet.”

Which it was, but from us that’s little more than damning it with faint praise. The Discovery pressing is so much bigger, clearer and livelier it’s almost hard to imagine it and the 1962 Reprise original were both made from the same tape. Something sure went wrong the first time around — I think it’s safe to say at least that much.

Original equals Better? Not for those of us who play records rather than just collect them. Leave the originals for the Jazz Guys. The Hot Stamper reissues are for us Music Loving Audiophiles.

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Our Audiophile Vinyl Scorecard — The Winners and the Losers — Now 141 Strong

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Our Audiophile Vinyl Scorecard — Winners and Losers

Click here to sort the section alphabetically by manufacturer.

We have a section specifically devoted to our favorite pastime here at Better Records, a little something we like to call Debunking The Pseudo-Audiophile LP. The Audiophile’s Choice — the record that will do the best job of communicating the music through its superior sound quality — is almost never going to be the one marketed to him as an Audiophile Pressing. If you find this in any way hard to believe, we encourage you to read on.

This section contains ratings and reviews of some of the Audiophile records that have come our way over the years. The most recent reviews are at the top. Records that have been given poor grades can also be found in our Hall of Shame, in the company of other audiophile pressings we found wanting.

The Ultimate Jazz/Rock Fusion Album

On The Record

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Romantic Warrior is my favorite JAZZ/ROCK FUSION album of all time. As good as the music is, the sound is even better. This is the Jazz/Rock Demo Disc that stands head and shoulders above the rest. In my experience, no record of this kind is more DYNAMIC or has better BASS. Not one. Demo Disc doesn’t begin to do this kind of sound justice.

Simply put, not only is this one of the greatest musical statements of all time, it’s one of the great recording statements. Few albums in the history of the world can lay claim to this kind of POWER and ENERGY.

But the Super Sound has a purpose, a raison d’etre. This is the kind of music that requires it; better yet, DEMANDS it. In truth, the sound is not only up to the challenge of expressing the life of the music on this album, it positively…

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More of the Best Recordings Made in Victoria Hall

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Victoria Hall

Including this amazing Bolero, the best copy we’ve ever heard!

  • Both sides here earned our highest grade of Triple Plus, making this the best copy to ever hit the site
  • Full, rich, spacious, BIG and present, with energetic performances the likes of which you may have never heard
  • Side one has outstanding depth – the snare drum sounds like it’s located at least fifty feet behind the speakers
  • One of the best Ansermet recordings with the Suisse Romande from Victoria Hall – best performances too

Side two sounded so much better than any copy I have ever heard that I was sorely tempted to give it our coveted Four Plus grade, for the kind of sound that breaks all the rules. Cooler heads have since prevailed, but that doesn’t detract in the least from side two of this remarkable pressing, which has by far the best sound for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice I have yet to hear.

We are rarely able to find a quality recording or performance of Bolero or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, so this pressing comes as a welcome addition to the classical offerings on the site.

The sound is clear, with wonderful depth to the stage. As a rule, the classic ’50s and ’60s recordings of Ansermet and the Suisse Romande in Victoria Hall are as big and rich as any you may have ever heard. These recordings may just be the ideal blend of clarity and richness, with depth and spaciousness that will put to shame 98% of the classical recordings ever made.

Side One

Bolero (Ravel)

Tubey and clear, with both the snare and the flute coming from so far back in the hall! OUTSTANDING energy and dynamic power.

Turn it up and it really comes to life like LIVE MUSIC. It’s big, wide and believable. We loved it!

Side Two

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Dukas)

ZERO compression. ZERO distortion when loud. Which means it has ZERO compressor distortion, something not five out of a hundred Golden Age recordings can claim. Nice extended top too.

There is depth and richness to beat the band, as well as clarity and tonal correctness that let you forget the recording and just enjoy the music. This piece is not quite as transparent as the Ravel, but still has earned every one of its Three Pluses.

The timbre of the brass is right on the money. As we have noted before, the brass of the Suisse Romande is some of the best to have ever been committed to analog tape.

Again, this side had OUTSTANDING energy and dynamic power the likes of which we have never heard.

La Valse (Ravel)

Boasting some of the best sound of the three works we played on this copy. Again, with that wonderously huge hall adding a sense of space that will allow your speakers to disappear. The performers are not too close, which is very much in keeping with live music.

In his tribute to Ravel after the composer’s death in 1937, Paul Landormy described the work as follows:

“….the most unexpected of the compositions of Ravel, revealing to us heretofore unexpected depths of Romanticism, power, vigor, and rapture in this musician whose expression is usually limited to the manifestations of an essentially classical genius.”

Production and Engineering

Michael Brenner was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from February of 1963 in Geneva’s glorious sounding Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fandango

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More ZZ Top

Warner Brothers remastered Fandango in 2008, so we took some domestic pressings and put them up against their Heavy Vinyl LP. The results were mixed; most of our originals pressings were lackluster, many were noisy, and we just weren’t hearing anything with the sound we thought deserved to be called a Hot Stamper.

We shelved the project for another day. In the interim we kept buying domestic pressings — originals and reissues — in the hopes that something good would come our way.

Fast forward four years. It’s 2015. We drop the needle on a random pressing and finally — finally — hear a copy that rocks like we knew a ZZ Top album should. With that LP as a benchmark we got a shootout up and running and the result is the record you see here.

How did the WB remaster fare once we had some truly Hot Stamper pressings to play it against?

Not well. It’s tonally correct, with a real top and bottom, something that a substantial number of copies cannot claim to be. (more…)