Month: June 2018

The Mehta Planets – Sealed with the Pioneer Booklet

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Factory Sealed CS 6734 with the super rare Pioneer spacecraft booklet inside the shrink!

There’s a very good chance this is the last such copy on the planet. I have never seen one before, and I remember when this record came out, so probably few were made with this special booklet included. I’m guessing it has about a dozen pages or so, and probably talks about the Pioneer mission to Jupiter.

“Launched on 2 March 1972, Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to travel through the Asteroid belt, and the first spacecraft to make direct observations and obtain close-up images of Jupiter. Famed as the most remote object ever made by man through most of its mission, Pioneer 10 is now over 8 billion miles away.” 

Elton John – Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy

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  • You’ll find superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this relatively quiet UK pressing 
  • Includes two of our favorites: (Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket and the massive hit Someone Saved My Life Tonight
  • 5 stars: “Elton John and Bernie Taupin recalled their rise to power in Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, their first explicitly conceptual effort since Tumbleweed Connection. It’s no coincidence that it’s their best album since then, showcasing each at the peak of his power, as John crafts supple, elastic, versatile pop and Taupin’s inscrutable wordplay is evocative, even moving.”

It isn’t easy to find clean early British copies of Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy these days, let alone ones that actually sound very good, but this copy proves that it can be done. It’s killer on both sides. (more…)

We Review the Chesky Scheherazade

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame Record and another Remastered Audiophile Pressing debunked.

Chesky is one of the WORST AUDIOPHILE LABELS in the history of the world. Their recordings are so artificial and “wrong” that they defy understanding. That some audiophiles actually buy into this junk sound is equal parts astonishing and depressing. Their own records are a joke, and their remasterings of the RCA Living Stereo catalog are an abomination. If there is a more CLUELESS audiophile label on the planet, I don’t know who it could be, and I don’t want to find out. 

The Recordings of Chet Baker – These Four Didn’t Make the Grade

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More that Didn’t Make the Grade
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These are just some of the recordings by Chet Baker that we’ve auditioned recently and found wanting. Without going into specifics we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place in your collection, and may even belong in our Hall of Shame.

Free Service provided to the Audiophile Public, courtesy of Better Records.+

Chet Baker Albums with Hot Stampers

Chet Baker Albums We’ve Reviewed

Duke Ellington Indigos – Amazingly Spacious Sound

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  • With two outstanding sides rating a Double Plus (A++) for sound, this was one of the better copies in our most recent shootout
  • This original 6-Eye Stereo pressing blew us away with its superbly well recorded romantic big band jazz, of which Ellington was a true master
  • A near-perfect demonstration of just how good 1958 All Tube Analog sound can be – no modern record can hold a candle to a pressing as good as this one
  • If you like your jazz ballads performed with deep feeling, by a road-tested group of virtuoso players, this record is for you

The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. So high-resolution too.

If you love ’50s and ’60s jazz you cannot go wrong here. Ellington was a genius and the original music on this record is just one more album’s worth of proof of that undeniable fact.

If you like the sound of relaxed, tube-mastered jazz, you can’t do much better than Ellington Indigos. Many of the other Six Eye copies we played suffered from blubbery bass and transient smearing, but the clarity and bass definition here are surprisingly good. The warmth and immediacy of the sound on this copy may just blow your mind.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

We played a handful of later pressings that didn’t really do it for us. They offer improved clarity, but can’t deliver the tubey goodness that you’ll hear on the best early pressings. We won’t be bothering with them anymore. It’s tubes or nothing on this album. (more…)

Ken Scott Is One of Our Top Five Favorite Engineers

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KEN SCOTT is one of our favorite record engineers and producers. Click on the link to find the albums on our site that Ken worked on, along with plenty of our commentaries about the sound of his recordings. 

Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century, Truth, Birds of Fire) is the man responsible for the sound of many of our All Time Favorite Albums here at Better Records.

The kind of Tubey Magical richness, smoothness and fullness he achieved at Trident in the early ’70s has never been equaled elsewhere in our opinion.

In 2008 I had the opportunity to hear Ken speak at an AES meeting here in Los Angeles. I won’t bore you by trying to recap his talk, but if it ever comes out on youtube or the like, you should definitely check it out. The Behind-The-Scenes discussion of these artists and their recordings was a thrill for someone like me who has been playing and enjoying the hell out of most of his albums for more than thirty years.

Many can be found in our Rock and Pop Top 100 List of Best Sounding Albums with the Best Music (limited to titles that we can actually find sufficient copies of with which to do our Hot Stamper shootouts).

Atlantic Crossing – The Last Good Rod Stewart Album

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  • You’ll find superb Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from first note to last on this vastly underrated Rod Stewart classic
  • One of the few to hit our site in the last four years, and for that we apologize – Atlantic Crossing should be enjoyed by everyone in Hot Stamper form
  • This is some of the best Muscle Shoals rock- and soul-inflected pop from producer Tom Dowd we know of
  • AMG raves that “Three Time Loser and Stone Cold Sober catch fire,” and on this copy we guarantee they do

The last consistently good Rod Stewart album? Atlantic Crossing definitely gets my vote.

The copies we liked best were the biggest and richest, the least thin and dry. Many of the brighter copies also had sibilance problems which the richer and tubier ones did not.

What do the best pressings give you?

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music? The best copies rock like only “The Memphis Horns and three-quarters of Booker T. and the MG’s” can. We’ve been playing this record (at least I have) since it came out in 1975 and love the way it can sound on the better pressings.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the guitar notes, not the smear and thickness so common to most LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Domestic Vs. British Vinyl

On some of the Rod Stewart albums that we happen to know well, the British pressings are clearly superior; the first two Rod Stewart albums come immediately to mind. After that, strange as it may seem, all the best pressings are domestic. This album is certainly no exception. (more…)

Burt Bacharach – Casino Royale Is a Mess on Classic Records Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

Casino Royale under the sway of Bernie’s penchant for bright, gritty, ambience-challenged sound? Not such a good match. There is no reissue, and there will never be a reissue, that will sound as good as a good 3s original. (And I hope it would go without saying that most copies cannot begin to do what a real Hot Stamper original can.)

As is often the case, the Classic Heavy Vinyl Reissue is simply a disgrace.

 

 

The Three – Liner Notes and a Rave Review

 

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The Three – The Three

Excerpts from the Liner Notes

On a windy and unusually cold night in Los Angeles, each of the three musicians arrived before the session start time of 10 PM on November 28, 1975. At exactly 10 PM, The Doobie Brothers session that was going on since morning ended. Two assistants immediately started setting up for the session. The Steinway concert grand piano, delivered the previous day, was wheeled in to the center of the room and got tuned. Shelly Manne’s drum kit was assembled in a makeshift “booth.” Microphones were set up, checked and positions adjusted.

Initially, Telefunken microphones were positioned on the piano, but later were replaced by two Neumann U87s. The piano lid was opened to the concert position and microphones were centered relative to the keys and placed a foot (30 centimeters) inward from the hammer and a foot (30 centimeters) away from the stings. One mic was pointed toward the bottom notes and the other pointed toward the top.

To record Ray Brown’s bass, a Shure SM56 and a Sony 38A were pointed at the bridge of the bass, two inches above it. The Shure was used to capture the attack and the Sony mic was used to capture the rich low tones.

Seven microphones were used to capture the sounds of the drum set. Two U87’s were placed overhead, roughly 16-inches above the cymbals facing down. The bottom quarter of the kick drum was dampened with a blanket on the outside and was mic’ed with a Shure SM56. SM56’s were also used for toms and bass toms. Sony 38A was used on the snare and Sennheiser’s Syncrhon on the high-hat.

Each mic was placed 2 inches away from the instruments in a close mic set up. Mr. Itoh got involved with fine tuning mic positioning for tone, stereo placement and balance. Meanwhile, final adjustments were being made on the cutting machine set up.

Within the hour, the set up was done and all preparations were completed. The musicians finished warming up and were ready for Take One. The usual banter subsided and everyone put on their “game face.” Even Ray Brown, who usually cracked jokes in a loud voice, looked serious as he turned his attention to Mr. Itoh, waiting for his cue. As soon as he was notified through the intercom that the cutting needle was put down, Mr. Itoh gave the signal with his hand, and the recording started. In 16 minutes, three tracks were recorded in rapid succession.

Relieved that the initial take was over, the musicians joined the producer and engineer in the control room to listen back from the 2-track tape that was used as back up. With the initial tension gone, all three excitedly made comments and evaluated their own performance and the sounds they got. The thumbs-up was given by the cutting engineer for take one and the musicians went back to the live room for the next take. This process was repeated until 4 AM the following morning, resulting in a total of three takes per track.

Interview with Producer Yasohachi “88” Itoh

I have to say that The Three by Joe Sample, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne was by far the most challenging experience of all the East Wind titles.

We wanted to use direct-to-disc or direct cutting recording technique for the project, which we heard was being used in Los Angeles. Since we were always interested in the latest technology, we wanted to try this new method. So we booked the session at a Los Angeles studio to work with a certain cutting engineer. We later realized that the booking was made on the week of Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the studio cancelled the session on us at the last minute. I was already on a plane headed to Los Angeles. The session was cancelled on the day I arrived. I found out about it from our coordinator after I landed. The coordinator had already notified everybody of the cancellation.

Refusing to give up so easily, I started to look for an alternate location to record. I was able to find Amigo Studio, owned by Warner Brothers, who happened to have an excellent cutting engineer, Bobby Hatta, on staff. The Doobie Brothers was recording there until midnight and we were able book a session afterwards. We had to call and round up all the musicians and had to set up everything again and make sure everyone was rehearsed.

We finally got out of the studio around 6 AM. I felt sorry for Ray Brown, who had to go to Japan that day for a one-day session. Overall, I was very pleased with the session and thought the recording came out very good.

I was gratified when the record sold extremely well. We sold the first LP with all first takes until the stamper mold for the vinyl gave out. We put out another LP with second takes and that sold well. The CD version has both the first and second takes of each song.

The success was particularly sweet because we had to go through so much to get the project finished. It was both a trying and memorable experience.

Amazon Rave Review

Ken Dryden Before Joe Sample detoured into smooth jazz, he was a first-rate bop pianist. This 1975 set found bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne (the latter two had worked together often, particularly with Barney Kessel), getting together for a session of standards, familiar jazz compositions, and one original.

The abbreviated liner notes don’t explain the challenge of making this recording. First, the scheduled studio booking was canceled at the last minute, requiring that a new studio be found once original producer Yasohachi “88” Itoh arrived in California, while they also had to wait until the Doobie Brothers finished recording at the new location.

It was also done direct-to-disc, requiring that an entire LP side be recorded in one take. Fortunately, the performances went well and the limited-edition project sold well until the stampers literally wore out, then the two sides of second takes were separately issued.

The [current] CD compiles both editions of the original LP and was evidently remastered from the session’s backup tapes, though this release oddly lacks credits for the composers and lyricists. Comparing the two takes of each tune is illustrative. The first take of “On Green Dolphin Street” has a longer, more inventive introduction and Sample’s energy seems a bit higher, though Brown’s bass work sizzles in each one.

Both versions of Oliver Nelson’s “Yearnin'” (which debuted on his landmark album Blues and the Abstract Truth) include a motif from his “Stolen Moments” and are cut from similar cloth. Brown introduces each version of the dramatic “‘Round Midnight” unaccompanied, with Sample’s bluesy piano sounding elegant yet never in a cocktail mood.

Finally the collaborative “Funky Blues” (likely composed on the date) has infectious gospel roots and swings like mad. Manne, always a superb drummer, complements his partners beautifully throughout the session.

Listening in Depth to Fingers – Airto’s Masterpiece

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This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto.

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.) (more…)