Month: January 2019

Ambrosia – The Revolutions in Audio Make All the Difference on Records Like These

This White Hot Stamper Ambrosia LP from some years ago had the kind of sound you would never expect to find in the grooves of this album. It was a THRILL to hear, especially at the volumes at which we played it! The transparency and openness were off the charts, and unmatched by any other copy in our shootout. We’re big fans of this band here at Better Records — we love their take on complex, big production rock.

It’s also yet another example of the value of taking part in the myriad revolutions in audio.

If you never want your prized but sonically-challenged records to sound any better than they do right now, this minute, don’t bother to learn how to clean them better, play them back better or improve the acoustics of your room.

No one can make you do any of those things. The only reason you might have for doing them is so that you can enjoy more of your favorite music with much better sound. 

Is that a good enough reason? If you’re on this site I’m guessing it is.

That’s the reason we do it. We want records like this one, which didn’t start sounding good until about 2005, and now sound MUCH better than I ever thought they could, to keep getting better and better. Why shouldn’t they?

And these improvements we talk about so much have allowed us to enjoy records we could never fully enjoy before because they never really sounded all that good to us. Now they do, and they will keep getting better, as more and more developments come along in all areas of analog reproduction. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “[Zep II] …may be the best sounding record you’ve ever sold me.”

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

Thanks for sending the Righteous Brothers to me so quickly. I have a copy I’ve had for years that didn’t give me much satisfaction on side one. I played yours, and it blew mine away. Just stunning. Your side two was somewhat flat and mediocre, but who cares since the great cut is on side one.

Nonetheless, I played my old copy and my side two was nearly as good as your side one. Thanks for everything. The ‘wall of sound’ is alive and well.

By the way, The Zep II that I purchased from you last month may be the best sounding record you’ve ever sold me. A bargain at $750. [The last top copy sold in 2022 for exactly $2000 more by the way.] Now if I could only find a Dark Side Of The Moon that plays at that level.

Phil 

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Ella Fitzgerald Sings Cole Porter

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it for all four sides, this glorious 1956 mono recording is superb from first note to last
  • Full-bodied, musical, and smooth, with surprisingly spacious orchestral staging – this is just the right sound for this album and especially this kind of music
  • “The combination of Ella and Porter is irresistible and whether up-tempo or down-tempo, Ella’s three-octave range voice soars effortlessly as she makes each song come to life. It was all helped by the cream of L.A. session men and Buddy Bregman’s arrangement that oozes sophistication way beyond his twenty-four years. It is a perfect record.” – Richard Havers

he space is HUGE and the sound so rich. Prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies.

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one. The sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably hasn’t heard, and that’s the best reason to demonstrate a stereo. (more…)

War – Deliver The Word

WONDERFUL JAZZ / FUNK / SOUL SOUND from start to finish! We just finished our first big shootout for this fun album — the All Music Guide calls it “a magical ride with plenty of surprises to keep the listener on his or her toes” and we couldn’t agree more! This copy gives you punchy bass, airy flutes, hard-hitting percussion and loads of Tubey Magic. Most copies we played had too much hardness, edge, and honk, but this one is smooth, sweet and rich.

Engineered by the brilliant Chris Huston, this recording displays all his trademark gifts. His mixes feature lots of bass; huge, room-filling choruses that get loud without straining or becoming congested; and rhythmic energy that few pop recordings could lay claim to in 1972.

As for the choruses, allow me to paraphrase our listing from Commoner’s Crown.

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that actually has actual, measurable, serious dynamic contrasts in its levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many songs. The first track on side two, Four Cornered Room, is a perfect example. Not only are the choruses noticeably louder than the verses, but later on in the song the choruses get REALLY LOUD, louder than the choruses of 99 out of 100 rock/pop records we audition. It sometimes takes a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically everything else you own is.

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The Allman Brothers / Idlewild South – Listen for the Thin, Edgy Vocals

Easily the group’s best sounding studio recording and especially impressive on a copy like this

Drop the needle on Midnight Rider or In Memory Of Elizabeth Read to hear what this copy can do. You get lots of extension here both up top and down low that makes the overall sound far more engaging and musical than what you’d hear on a typical copy.

One of the biggest problems we ran into with this shootout was thin, recessed or edgy vocals. This is a band known for their rockin’ guitar jams, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the vocals are not where they focused their energy when recording.

I wish the vocals here were a bit fuller but at least they have enough presence to put them front and center. (more…)

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – What to Listen For

There is some edge on Sinatra’s voice on every side of every copy; it’s so common it’s got to be on the tape. Those copies with less edge and grit on the vocals which are not overly smooth or dull tend to do very well in our shootouts.

Also, richness is very important. We look for a combination of rich, Tubey Magical sound that still maintains a fair amount of space, clarity, transparency and freedom from smear.

The original label pressings (always in stereo; the monos are really a joke) are richer and thicker as a rule.

The pressings with the orange two-tone labels tend to be thinner and clearer. A high percentage of them are much too modern sounding, bright and gritty, and when they are we throw them right in the trade-in pile.

Finding the copy with “best of both worlds” sound is the trick. Pressings on both labels have won shootouts in the past. With this album we do what we always do. We play the record without looking at the label and simply grade the quality of the sound coming out of the speakers. Any other approach is liable to fall prey to unconscious biases. As we like to say, record shootouts may not be rocket science, but they’re a science of a kind, one with strict protocols developed over the course of many years to insure that the results we arrive at are as accurate as we can possibly make them.

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10cc / Deceptive Bends – Listening in Depth

We’ve long been huge fans of this album both musically and sonically. It’s the kind of recording where the sound JUMPS out of the speakers. It reminds me of Crime Of The Century that way. It’s also one of the most DYNAMIC popular recordings I know of. If this album doesn’t wake up your system, it’s time to scrap it and start over! Musically it’s one of my all time favorite albums, a real Desert Island disc. 

One of the many elements that combine to push this album well beyond the bounds of most popular recordings is the thought and care that went into the soundstaging. Listen to the stereo separation on any track — the sound of each instrument has been carefully considered within the context of the arrangement and placed in a specific location within the soundfield for a reason — usually that reason is for MAXIMUM EFFECT.

That’s why we LOVE 10cc. Their recordings from this era are an audiophile dream come true. Compare that to some of the stereo mixes for the Beatles albums, where an instrument or vocal seems to panned to one channel or another not because it SHOULD be, but because it COULD be. With 10cc those hard-left, hard-right effects make the songs JUMP. They call attention to themselves precisely because the band is having a blast in the studio, showing off all the tricks they have up their sleeves. They want you to get as big a kick out of hearing them as they did conjuring them up. (more…)

Weather Report / Sweetnighter – Watch Out for Sourness and Slowness

What surprised us most about the dozen or so copies that we played years ago for this shootout was how wrong most copies of this album sound. They’re SOUR in the midrange. On this kind of music, a sour midrange is the kiss of death. Those copies that aren’t sour are frequently just plain dull. On a recording like this, so full of percussion — which to be honest LIVES OR DIES on the quality of its percussion — dullness is devastating.

And so is slowness. If you have old school tube equipment — great for vintage RVG recordings but way too slow to keep up with this fast-paced and percussion-heavy music — this record is not going to do what it desperately wants to do: get your foot tappin’.

Smear is also another thing to watch out for — smear kills what’s good about this record. The percussion transients lose their snap and the harmonics get lost. The less smeary sides really work to bring out the funky magic of the recording.

More Weather Report

Weather Report Albums We’ve Reviewed

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Count Basie & Oscar Peterson – The Timekeepers

More Oscar Peterson

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Oscar Peterson

Hot Stamper sound on both sides of this Pablo original pressing of the Two Masters in a small group setting. Basie and Peterson recorded five albums together, and this may very well be the best of the bunch, though I have yet to hear one that I didn’t enjoy. I wrote a rave review about this title when I first heard it more than ten years ago. If you like small group piano jazz — here we’re talking two pianists accompanied by Louie Bellson on drums and John Heard on bass — this should be right up your alley. 

Side One

Big, rich pianos. Everything here is clear with no smear, with a fair amount of space. This side is a bit opaque compared to the best we heard, and the bass isn’t quite as deep as it was on the top copies, but overall this side is doing most of what we wanted it to.

Side Two

This side is lively and tonally correct — getting the music right — but lacks extension on both ends. (more…)

The Ornette Coleman Trio – At The Golden Circle Vol. 1

More Ornette Coleman

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

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This is a Blue Note LP with EXCELLENT sound! We didn’t have enough clean copies to do a shootout, but you can be sure that each side rates at least an A+ for sound.

Side one has tons of energy, gorgeous highs and a nice deep bottom end. Side two is rich and full-bodied with wonderfully textured brass. This is a superb copy with sound that does this complex music justice. 

Whether you’ll like the music or not is another question — this is free form jazz; not everybody’s into it, that’s for sure. Ornette Coleman, though, is undeniably one of the masters of this genre. If you have a taste for adventurous, avant garde jazz, this is an excellent record for you both musically and sonically. (more…)