Month: June 2019

Letter of the Week – Waka/Jawaka and Hot Rats

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

Hey Tom,  

I received your “Hot Stamper” rated version of Frank Zappa’s Waka Jawaka Hot Rats yesterday and was able to listen to it last night. I’m not sure if you know what the initials WTF stand for. So with apologies, I will spell it out.What the #$%@ did you guys do to make the record sound so good? Did you really just listen to record after record until you came across this one? Are there tricks? Did you spray some magic fairy dust on it? Is it gonna wear off?  

I’ve been listening to my personal copy intently for the last few days and I really doubted if your copy could sound very much better than mine. Because my copy sounds damn good. But the copy you sent me rated “Hot Stamper” was off the charts. it wasn’t just in the clarity of the detail of the instruments and the soundstage. It’s so wonderful to listen to. What a treat! Is it worth 10X more than a decent copy of it commonly available? Yes. Absolutely. At least to me. In the same way that my Clear Audio turntable is worth the 10X times more than it cost me for the Rega Planar 2 I bought used 20 years ago. The listening experience is transformed into something much more realistic than ever before. I’m sure this record will be one of my very favorites to listen to for the next 20 years! (more…)

The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this original Reprise pressing 
  • They revolutionized the popular music of their day with their genius for harmony, and this copy gets their voices right
  • Includes classics Don’t Go Near the Water, Long Promised Road, Till I Die, and of course the title smash hit, Surf’s up
  • 4 stars: “A masterpiece [which] defined the Beach Boys’ tumultuous career better than any other album … The album closer, ‘Surf’s Up,’ is a masterpiece of baroque psychedelia, probably the most compelling track from the Smile period.”

When it works, boy can this album sound AMAZING. Full of tubey magic, not to mention analog warmth and sweetness, this is clearly one of the band’s best albums of the 70s. (more…)

Supertramp – Even In The Quietest Moments… – Sweet Thunder Debunked

Even In The Quietest Moments…

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Half Speed debunked.  

We’re big fans of this album here at Better Records and consider it to be one of Supertramp’s best. That said, this half-speed is a disgrace. There is absolutely no presence to the sound of the copy we played. The guitars, which on some cuts are double tracked, each coming directly out of the speaker hard right and hard left, are so dull it sounds like the speaker is facing the back wall!  

I think I know why — there is quite a bit of processing distortion and grit on the vocals. The Audiophile Masterminds at Sweet Thunder thought the best way to deal with it was to suck the hell out of the presence region (3 to 6k) which takes off some of the edge on the vocals but throws a thick blanket over the acoustic guitars. On the opening track of side one, the big hit off the album, it takes all the energy out of the one element that really drives the music — the guitars.

This is truly one of the worst half-speed mastered records we have ever had the displeasure of hearing. Shame on you, Sweet Thunder.


If you are in the market for a Hot Stamper pressing, you may be in luck. Click here to see what we might currently have on hand. 

Pat Metheny – Offramp

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Triple Plus on side two, it’s the side with the most space, all the weight, and the best balance of them all. Side one is Double Plus, doing pretty much everything side two was doing – in short, getting this ethereal music to sound right. Offramp held the Number One spot on the Jazz Album charts for 16 weeks back in 1982.

This WHITE HOT Stamper side two of Metheny’s ECM Chart Topping release from 1982 shows you just how well recorded the album is.

We don’t know how you feel about ECM recordings in general but we tend to think they are pretty lifeless and boring. Not so here! (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – Ella and Basie!

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A distinguished member of the  Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one. On the best pressings, the sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album with big band backup. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a good copy, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably isn’t familiar with, and that’s the best reason to put on an old record. 

On the best copies, the space is HUGE and the sound so rich, with prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record. We know, we heard them all. There is a marked tendency on this recording to have a bit of honk or squawk, but our best copies are free from this problem.

We’re glad to report this copy was doing more of what we wanted it to do than any other we played. And we know a fair bit about Ella’s recordings at this point. As of today we’ve done commentaries for more than a dozen different Ella Fitzgerald albums, and that’s not counting the sixteen (yes, 16!) titles we put in our Hall of Shame.

We’ve searched high and low for her records and played them by the score over the years. We plan to keep a good supply on to the site in the coming years so watch for new arrivals in the Vocal section (linked to the left).

Hardness and Brashness

Want to know what we are on about with all this talk of hardness and brashness? Easy, just play the average copy. Unless you are exceptionally fortunate and chanced upon a properly mastered and pressed and cared for copy, you will hear plenty of both.

It’s one of the main reasons we have such a hard time doing shootouts for Ella’s ’50s and ’60s albums. The other of course is the poor condition most copies are in. Few pressings do not have marks that play or damaged grooves. The record players of the ’50s and ’60s, not to mention their owners, were ruinous on the albums of the day.

Which is simply another reason not to expect another top copy of this album to come to the site any time soon. Give us two or three years or so and we might be able to find another batch with which to do a shootout. In that time we will surely look at fifty copies, buy ten, and end up with five that are worth playing.

Obviously, we wouldn’t bother if the music and sound weren’t so good. When you are lucky enough to find a copy that sounds as good as this one, full of standards from the Great American Songbook, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.

Stereo Vs. Mono

It is our opinion that the mono takes all the fun out of the Quincy Jones’ deliberately wide, spacious orchestral presentation surrounding Ella. Which is too bad: the mono pressings are five times as common as the stereo ones.

Val Valentin Behind the Board

VAL VALENTIN‘s engineering credits run for days. Some high points are of course Ella and Louis and Getz/Gilberto.

Recently we played a copy of We Get Requests by the Oscar Peterson Trio that blew our mind. And we have been big fans of Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley for more than a decade.

Pull up his credits on Allmusic. No one I am familiar with other than Rudy Van Gelder recorded more great jazz and vocals, and in our opinion, Valentin’s recordings are quite a bit more natural sounding than Rudy’s.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Honeysuckle Rose 
‘Deed I Do
Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall
Them There Eyes 
Dream a Little Dream of Me
Tea for Two

Side Two

Satin Doll 
I’m Beginning to See the Light 
Shiny Stockings 
My Last Affair 
Ain’t Misbehavin’ 
On the Sunny Side of the Street

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Surprisingly enough this 1963 LP was the first time (other than a couple songs) that Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie recorded together. The match-up was so logical that it would be repeated many times over the next 20 years.

Letter of the Week – A Little Touch of Schmilsson and Its “Meltingly Sweet” Strings

A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night

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

Hey Tom,   

I played the A Little Touch Of Schmilsson White Hot Stamper and loved it. The strings on side one are meltingly sweet, especially on You Made Me Love You. Anytime you get a hot Nilsson stamper please keep me in mind.

All the best,
Phil

 

The Grateful Dead – Aoxomoxoa

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  • This original Green Label Warner Brothers LP has STUNNING Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • These sides were doing everything right — big, full-bodied and present with tons of energy and a nice extended top end
  • “When the LP hit the racks in the early summer of 1969, Deadheads were greeted by some of the freshest and most innovative sounds to develop from the thriving Bay Area music scene.” – All Music 

NOTE: This is the later remixed version from 1971. We found it far better sounding than the original 1969 mix. If you’re interested in the original mix, we have some of those copies with lower grades but if you want the best sound, this copy is definitely the way to go.

This vintage Warner Brothers Green Label pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1969
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We Listen For on Aoxomoxoa

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • 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, not the smear and thickness so common to these 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.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

St. Stephen
Dupree’s Diamond Blues
Rosemary
Doin’ That Rag
Mountains Of The Moon

Side Two

China Cat Sunflower
What’s Become Of The Baby
Cosmic Charlie

AMG Review

When the LP hit the racks in the early summer of 1969, Deadheads were greeted by some of the freshest and most innovative sounds to develop from the thriving Bay Area music scene. The disc includes seminal psychedelic rockers such as “St. Stephen,” “China Cat Sunflower,” and “Cosmic Charlie,” as well as hints of the acoustic direction their music would take on the Baroque-influenced “Mountains of the Moon” and “Rosemary.” The folky “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” — which itself was loosely based on the traditional “Betty & Dupree” — would likewise foreshadow the sound of their next two studio long-players, Workingman’s Dead (1969) and American Beauty (1970).

Neil Young – Time Fades Away

Time Fades Away


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  • Triple Triple! Only the second Top Copy of this album to EVER hit the site
  • Both A+++ sides are big, rich and full-bodied with wonderful size and separation
  • Never released on CD, this is probably the toughest Neil album to come by
  • “Time Fades Away ranks with the bravest and most painfully honest albums of his career — like the tequila Young was drinking on that tour, it isn’t for everyone, but you may be surprised by its powerful effects.” — Allmusic, 4 stars

See all of our Neil Young albums in stock

Unlike most “live” albums this one was cut direct-to-disc with no fixes or overdubs, and on the best pressings that warts-and-all approach really pays off. There’s real openness, and the tonality on the better copies is both rich and sweet. This kind of sound has the potential to put you right in the front row. Unlike most “live” albums this one was cut direct-to-disc, with no fixes or overdubs, and on the best pressings that warts-and-all approach really pays off. There’s good weight, real openness, and the tonality on these better copies is both rich and sweet. This kind of sound can put you right in the front row. (more…)

Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

SUPERB SOUND and UNUSUALLY QUIET VINYL on both sides — I don’t think we’ve ever had a copy this amazing! Both sides earned our Top Grade of A+++. This copy has the bass, fullness & vocal presence that are hard to come by for this album. The title track, Dear Landlord, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, All Along the Watchtower and I Pity The Poor Immigrant are just some of the most memorable songs here.

It’s incredibly difficult to find copies that sound as good as this one does and play as quietly on even one side, let alone both.

It’s not a perfect record or a Demo Disc by any stretch of the imagination. But you’ll have a very hard time finding a copy that presents the music as well as this one does.

Believe us, John Wesley Harding is one of the tougher nuts to crack in the Dylan canon. The typical pressing is a veiled, smeary nightmare. The harmonica sounds noticeably squawky and unpleasant on the majority of copies we’ve played over the years; you really have to work to find a copy with the warmth, smoothness and correct tonality to get the recording to sound right.

Adding to these sonic problems is the fact that most copies suffer from the kind of condition issues common to practically every old Dylan record you might run into. Taken together you are sure to have one rough shootout on your hands. 

TRACK LISTING

Side One

John Wesley Harding 
As I Went Out One Morning 
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine 
All Along the Watchtower 
The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest 
Drifter’s Escape

Side Two

Dear Landlord 
I Am a Lonesome Hobo 
I Pity the Poor Immigrant 
The Wicked Messenger 
Down Along the Cove 
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

AMG Review

Bob Dylan returned from exile with John Wesley Harding, a quiet, country-tinged album that split dramatically from his previous three. A calm, reflective album, John Wesley Harding strips away all of the wilder tendencies of Dylan’s rock albums — even the then-unreleased Basement Tapes he made the previous year — but it isn’t a return to his folk roots. If anything, the album is his first serious foray into country, but only a handful of songs, such as “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” are straight country songs. Instead, John Wesley Harding is informed by the rustic sound of country, as well as many rural myths… The music is simple, direct, and melodic, providing a touchstone for the country-rock revolution that swept through rock in the late ’60s.

The Everly Brothers – The Golden Hits…

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Our original Gold Label stereo LP here has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s no doubt missing from whatever 180g reissue has been made from the 50+ year old tapes. As good as that pressing may be, we guarantee that this one is dramatically more REAL SOUNDING. It gives you the sense that Phil and Don are right in the room with you.  (more…)