Month: June 2019

Aretha Franklin / Lady Soul Can Be Bright

More of the Music of Aretha Franklin

Hot Stamper Pressings of Soul, Blues and R&B Albums Available Now

We’ve been playing a ton of Aretha Franklin records around here in recent days, but it’s hard to find pressing that separate themselves from the pack to give you audiophile-friendly sound for her recordings, which (naturally) seem to be optimized more for the radio than for your hi-rez audio rig. Every now and then, however, we’ll luck into a copy that delivers some real soul magic in its grooves, and this was one of those copies. Chain Of Fools and Aretha’s great version of Natural Woman sound JUST RIGHT. 

Most of the Aretha records we’ve played tend to be a bit too bright, which brings out a lot of grit, grain and edge. I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I can’t imagine that’s the sound the Queen Of Soul was going for. A copy like this gives you smoother, sweeter sound with a more natural tonal balance. It makes the music work so much better — the sound is easier on the ears and not nearly as fatiguing, plus it lets you turn up the volume good and loud without giving yourself a headache. When Aretha’s really wailing, you’re going to FEEL it. And man, does it ever feel good.

Bottom line? You’d need either a lot of copies, a lot of luck or both to come up with a pressing that sounds this correct and plays this quietly on both sides.

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Appearing after a blockbuster debut and a sophomore set that was rather disappointing (in comparison), 1968’s Lady Soul proved Aretha Franklin, the pop sensation, was no fluke. Her performances were more impassioned than on her debut, and the material just as strong, an inspired blend of covers and originals from the best songwriters in soul and pop music… Powered by three hit singles (each nested in the upper reaches of the pop Top Ten), Lady Soul became Aretha Franklin’s second gold LP and remained on the charts for over a year.

David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust – Breaking the Price Barrier in 2007

Reviews and Commentaries for Ziggy Stardust

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

The following is our 2007 commentary for the best Ziggy Stardust we had ever heard up to that time.

This RCA Import has DRAMATICALLY better sound than any Ziggy LP we’ve ever played here at Better Records. Whatever you think you know about the sound of this record, THINK AGAIN. The sound of this copy is so far beyond any expectation I had that hearing it was nothing short of a REVELATION. It’s TWO FULL GRADES better than any copy we played in our shootout.

After hearing this copy we had to lower our grades for every other pressing we had played. This was a completely new standard. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – We Found the Missing Bass Player in 2009

Hot Stamper Pressings of Ella Fitzgerald’s Albums Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie

This commentary is fairly old and some of it is a bit out of date. Check our newest listings for our current understanding of the album. We still love the mono but we prefer the stereo pressings now.

Folks, this record came as a SHOCK — the first and ONLY mono pressing we have ever played that not only was competitive with the best stereo copies, but actually bettered them in some ways. Some IMPORTANT ways I might add. We’ve only played a handful of mono pressings of Clap Hands over the years, and for good reason — they’re exceedingly mediocre. On almost every one Ella was distant, dull and lifeless. Feh! Who wants to play a record the sounds like that?

(Side two is pretty much what you would expect from a good mono, A to A+, better than average but hardly competitive with the best, or with this side one for that matter.)

What’s So Special About This Mono Side One Anyway?

Well I’m more than happy to tell you. It’s simply this: the mono lets you know that there was a bass player at the session in a way that the stereo copies — none of them — do not. The bass player is front and center (in mono where else would he be?) in the mix and he DRIVES the rhythmic elements of the songs so strongly that the songs actually seem to pick up pace compared to the way they sound on the stereo LPs. For the first time you really get the feeling that this is a tightly-knit, swinging jazz combo that Ella is fronting. Everybody is playing together, right there in the center, with the drums and the bass as a unit laying down a super-solid rhythm line behind Ella.

What was surprising, even shocking in a way, was how much better Ella got as a singer. She swings more. She’s more energetic. She’s picked up the tempo, how I don’t know, but that’s the feeling you get when you hear her in mono on this copy.

And every bit as surprising was the fact that the slow songs got better too! Round Midnight and Signing Off aren’t faster, but she seems to somehow be feeling the lyric more, finding more emotion in it. Again, I have no idea how. I just know I heard it and felt it. It’s real.


Letter of the Week “A Drastic Improvement to My Music Collection…”

More of the Music of Carole King

Reviews and Commentaries for Tapestry

Our good customer Owais purchased our hottest Hot Stamper Tapestry and wrote to tell us that even his wife agreed that the premium that he paid for it was money well-spent.

I am very pleased with all of my purchases from you. In particular, the Carole King ‘Tapestry’ was breathtaking! You weren’t wrong when you claimed that Side One was the world’s best sounding version.

I have had so many different versions of this album, both in analogue and in digital form, and nothing even comes close. This is my wife’s favourite album of all time and even she had to admit that the premium that I paid for it was money well-spent. 

A big thank you for drastically improving the quality of my music collection!! (more…)

Aretha Franklin / Amazing Grace – A Bit of Experimentation with VTA Can Really Pay Off

More of the Music of Aretha Franklin

More VTA Advice

This is a handy record for VTA setup, a subject we discuss at length below.

On the better copies Aretha’s vocals are as dynamic as any you will ever hear, and unlike all the records she did with Tom Dowd, her voice never breaks up on this record. If you have big speakers that can play at loud levels, with the right volume level you can really get Aretha to belt it out like nothing you have ever heard on record. 

Like most modern churches, the kind that have upholstered pews and lots of carpeting, the natural reverberation of the sound isn’t as pronounced as it would be were the recording taking place in a 16th century cathedral.

Note also that the recording is from 1972, not 1962, so the Tubey Magic that would have been on a recording such as this ten years earlier is not going to be as great. When we play a big stack of copies of a record like this, the limitations of the recording have to be taken into account. The best copies will do what the best copies do; we can’t ask them to sound like something they were never designed to sound like. The best copies of the album clearly sound quite a bit better than the average copy we played, but they still sound like the same recording, just bigger, richer, clearer and more alive.

To set your VTA right, don’t try to make Aretha too smooth — she should sound a bit “hot” when the spirit fills her and she shouts her loudest. If you get her to sound correct you lose a lot of space and ambience. What space and ambience there is on the tape need to be there for the recording to sound “real.”


Renaissance – Self-Titled

  • In 2019 we listed this killer copy, the first to hit the site in three years 
  • It’s unlikely that we will take the time and spend the money to do a shootout for the album again
  • The overall sound here rich, smooth and Tubey Magical in the best tradition of British Prog Rock
  • This is an outstanding recording. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s engineered by Andy Johns (see links below)
  • “The original group’s debut album was a then-groundbreaking meld of progressive rock with classical and jazz influences…” 

Prog fans take note: this album’s audiophile credentials are well in order. Some of the best recordings we have ever heard involved one of these guys, Paul Samwell-Smith, and on this one you get him and the engineering of Any Johns. That’s almost too much production talent for one album.

The best copies have sound that brings to mind Tea for the Tillerman and Fragile and Thick as a Brick and far too many other gloriously rich, Tubey Magical recordings to list here. You can find more of them using the links below.

Our Top 100 is full of such records, and this would definitely be on our list if we could find them, but, to our ears, only the vintage British pressings fulfill the sonic potential of the album (although oddly we could find no domestic pressings or later import reissues anywhere), and those vintage British pressings are neither cheap nor plentiful here in the states.

What to Listen for

The piano, plain and simple. Only the most transparent copies allow you to hear it clearly in the dense proggy mixes of the album. And if your copy is smeary, as most of them are, the transients of the piano hammers get blurred, making the instrument much harder to find in the soundfield and follow throughout the extended length of the songs.

Side One

We liken this first track to Gentle Giant meets Sketches of Spain (the theme of the first song borrows heavily from Concierto de Aranjuez. Of course it does).

Side Two

More proggy rock, in some places (track two especially) sounding like Fairport Convention meets Frank Zappa. (Since we like both those bands this is actually a compliment.)

As an aside, where are the newly remastered pressings that have half the spatial information found on the best copies of this album? Doesn’t anybody notice how opaque and lo-rez they all are but us? How can this be?

Could it be that their stereos are equally opaque and lo-rez? Or perhaps none of the reviewers and forum posters have ever heard a record like this. If they had, they would find themselves having to severely regrade their audiophile pressings, steeply in a downward direction I should think.


Side One

Kings & Queens 

Side Two


AMG Review

The original group’s debut album was a then-groundbreaking meld of progressive rock with classical and jazz influences… [it’s] far druggier than the later group in its ambience (cofounders Keith Relf and Jim McCarty were the heavily psychedelic half of the final lineup of the Yardbirds, which made them anathema to Jimmy Page), but vocalist Jane Relf had a striking individual style, and the classical influence was unique for its time.


In January 1969, former Yardbirds members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty organised a new group devoted to experimentation between rock, folk, and classical forms. This quintet—Relf on guitar and vocals, McCarty on drums, plus bassist Louis Cennamo, pianist John Hawken, and Relf’s sister Jane as an additional vocalist—released a pair of albums on Elektra and Island, the first one, titled simply Renaissance, being produced by fellow ex-Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith.

The band had begun performing in May 1969, before recording had begun for the debut LP, mostly in the UK, but with occasional forays abroad, including festivals in Belgium (Amougies, October 1969) and France (Operation 666 at the Olympia in January 1970, and Le Bourget in March 1970, both in Paris). In February 1970, they embarked on a North American tour, but that month-long trek proved marginally successful, as, because of their Yardbirds credentials, they found themselves paired with bands such as The Kinks, and their new classically oriented direction did not always go down well with audiences.


The Yardbirds are an English rock band that had a string of hits in the mid 1960s, including “For Your Love”, “Over Under Sideways Down” and “Heart Full of Soul”. The group is notable for having started the careers of three of rock’s most famous guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, all of whom were in the top five of Rolling Stone’s 100 Top Guitarists list (Clapton as #2, Page as #3, and Beck at #5).

A blues-based band that broadened its range into pop and rock, The Yardbirds were pioneers in guitar innovations of the 1960s: fuzz tone, feedback, distortion, backwards echo, improved amplification, etc. Pat Pemberton, writing for Spinner, holds that the Yardbirds were “the most impressive guitar band in rock music”. After the Yardbirds broke up in 1968, their current lead guitarist Jimmy Page founded what became Led Zeppelin.

The bulk of the band’s most successful self-written songs came from bassist/producer Paul Samwell-Smith who, with singer/harmonica player Keith Relf, drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist/bassist Chris Dreja, constituted the core of the group.

By 1968 Relf and McCarty wished to pursue a style influenced by folk and classical music while Page, at a time when the psychedelic blues-rock of Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience was enormously popular, wanted to continue with the kind of “heavy” music for which Led Zeppelin would become famous. Dreja was developing an interest in photography. By March, Relf and McCarty had decided to leave, though the other two managed to persuade them to stay at least for one more American tour.

David Bowie / Let’s Dance – Analog Only

More of the Music of David Bowie

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of David Bowie

I have never heard a CD in my life with this kind of tubey magical richness and sweetness. That medium never does justice to the sound of recordings like this one, in my experience anyway. People who exclusively play CDs have forgotten what that sound is; that’s why they can happily live without it. I sure can’t. At present this sound is exclusively the domain of analog and likely to remain so well into the future.

Hearing a top copy of Let’s Dance is truly a special experience; the damn thing is amazingly well recorded, especially considering it came along well after the Golden Age of Rock Recording (the ’60s and ’70s, don’t you know). The sound is analog at its best; rich, full and super-punchy.

Omar Hakim

In addition, the musicianship is Top Notch and then some. Omar Hakim’s drumming is powerful, energetic, and performed with military precision. The guy is out of his mind on this album.

The combination of Nile Rodgers and the Legendary Stevie Ray Vaughn on guitar makes for a tasty, intricate mix of subtle rhythm work and searing leads. Or is that soaring leads? Hey, on this album it’s both.

Bad Company – Run With The Pack

SUPERB SOUND on Hot Stamper 2-pack! This is not an easy album to find with audiophile sound, and since our best sides were less impressive on their flipsides, we paired up these two copies to give you incredible sound for the album from first note to last.

Side two of the second record is the real deal, with BIG, RICH and ROCKIN’ White Hot Stamper sound. Side one of the first record is nearly as good (A++ to A+++), boasting exceptional transparency, excellent balance and something we didn’t hear on most copies: ENERGY. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “…the overall sound is like as if I have upgraded my entire system.”

More of the Music of Neil Young

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Neil Young

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

Hey Tom, 

I just wanted to thank you for helping me own my first “White Hot Stamper.” I have had two copies of After the Gold Rush and none of them comes close to my WHS copy. I’m perfectly happy owning Hot Stampers and a few Super Hot Stampers, but this WHS is really different. To begin with, it is a quiet copy that allows you to hear and almost feel the texture of the instruments. It also has lots of energy, tight bass, big sound stage, and most of all a silky top end. 

Without exaggeration, the overall sound is like as if I have upgraded my entire system.

My biggest challenge now is, with few exceptions, all my favorite non-Hot Stamper albums need upgrading too. But with you guys around, I just have to wait till my favorite albums show up on your Hot Stampers list.


Gerardo, thanks for your letter.

Further Reading