Month: September 2019

Sibelius / Finlandia and Karelia Suite / Kord – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Finlandia and Karelia Suite / Kord

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

A few months back we stumbled upon the London pressing of this relatively rare record — never heard of it before, and who on earth is Kazimierz Kord? — and were shocked to hear how good the random copy of this unknown-to-us recording sounded. The brass was incredibly solid and powerful; I don’t think I had ever heard Finlandia with the kind of heavy brass that this record was able to reproduce. We had to know more! 

We started by pulling out every performance on every label we had in our backroom and playing them one after another. Most never made it to the half-minute mark. Sour or thin brass on the opening salvo of Finlandia? Forget it; on to the trade-in pile you go.

(If you have too many classical records taking up too much space and need to winnow them down to a manageable size, pick a composer and play half a dozen of his works. Most classical records display an irredeemable mediocrity right from the start; it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. If you’re after the best sound, it’s the rare record that will have it, which makes clearing shelf space a lot easier than you might imagine. If you keep more than one out of ten you’re probably setting the bar too low if our experience is any guide.) (more…)

The Doors – L.A. Woman – Rhino Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

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More L.A. Woman

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Sonic Grade: B

The pressing we auditioned from the Doors Box Set was surprisingly good. It’s rich and smooth with an extended top end — tonally correct in other words — and there’s lots of bass. This is all to the good. For the thirty bucks you might pay for it you’re getting a very good record, assuming yours sounds like ours, something we should really not be assuming, but we do it anyway as there is no other way to write about records other than to describe the sound of the ones we actually have on hand to play.

What it clearly lacks compared to the best originals is, first and foremost, vocal immediacy. There’s a veil that Jim Morrison is singing through, an effect which has a tendency to become more bothersome with time, as these sorts of frustrating shortcomings have a habit of doing.

A bit blurry, a bit smeary, somewhat lacking in air and space, on the plus side it has good energy and better bass than most of the copies we played. All in all we would probably give it a “B.” You could do a helluva lot worse. All the ’70s and ’80s reissues of this album we’ve ever played were just awful, especially those with the date inscribed in the dead wax. (more…)

Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life

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Songs In The Key Of Life

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  • This outstanding copy of Stevie Wonder’s epic double album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Here you will find Tubey Magical Richness, as well as the kind of immediacy and transparency that few copies have – all qualities essential to getting the best sound from Stevie’s Magnum Opus 
  • A true musical genius (according to Eddie Murphy) here joins forces with other legends including Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and Deniece Williams
  • 5 stars: “…Stevie Wonder’s longest, most ambitious collection of songs… that — just as the title promised — touched on nearly every issue under the sun, and did it all with ambitious (even for him), wide-ranging arrangements and some of the best performances of Wonder’s career. “

Double albums are usually very tedious work for us, but this one had us smiling and tapping our feet all the way through to the end of the last side. I’m sure you don’t need a rundown of why this is such a great album, but the 5 star AMG review is an excellent read for those who want to be reminded. (Click on the tab above.) (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers – A MoFi Disaster to Beat Them All – Now With Video

If you click on the heading you can read some of the silly comments people are making about this awful pressing, one of the worst sounding versions of Sticky Fingers ever committed to vinyl. When you stop to consider how awful most pressings are compared to the only version that actually has ever sounded good to us, the original domestic LP,  that’s really saying something.

More The Rolling Stones

More Sticky Fingers

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

The MoFi pressing of this album is a joke. It’s so compressed, lifeless, and lacking in bottom end that it would hardly interfere with even the most polite conversation at a wine tasting. I consider it one of the worst sounding versions ot the album ever made. It’s an Audiophile Record in the worst sense of the word.

A well-known reviewer actually — I kid you not — was still defending the sound of the MoFi as late as 2010. In one of his reviews earlier in 2008 he used it to test a piece of equipment he was evaluating(!). What could be more preposterous? Like I say, I kid you not.

In 2010 he wrote this:

Mo-Fi’s half-speed mastered edition (MFSL 1-060) was controversial when issued in 1980, with its jacked up lower bass, icy top end, sucked out midrange and low overall level. I’ll tell you though, as my system has improved, the more I’ve come to appreciate it. It offers outstanding focus and clarity and its portrayal of inner detail and transient snap is unsurpassed. Admittedly the sound is not for everybody.

It’s not for me, that’s for damn sure.

 

Mozart / String Quartets / Quartetto Italiano – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

More of the music of Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

String Quartets / Quartetto Italiano

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

Easily one of the finest string quartet recordings we have ever had the pleasure to play, this Philips pressing earned strong grades on both sides for its lovely recreation of space, Tubey Magical richness, and rosiny string textures.  

It sounds very much like live music, or at least what you imagine this music would sound like live. Of course, live classical music is shocking in its clarity and freedom from artificiality, and no recording I have ever heard duplicates that sound with perfect fidelity, but when the pressing is as clear and transparent and natural as this one, your ability to suspend disbelief seems to require no effort at all. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones

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The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones

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  • You’ll find outstanding Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on this vintage pressing of The Stones’ 1964 release
  • Both sides of this Red Label British Decca Mono are doing it right – they’re big, rich and spacious with a huge bottom end
  • This is the real, honest sound of the early, early Stones – it is what it is, and trying to fix it will almost surely ruin what’s good about it
  • “Set against the dependency on covers and the inexperienced vocalist, however, is a truly cooking and imaginative band. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman provide a brawny frame for the intermeshing guitars of Richards and Brian Jones as the ensemble lovingly deliver some of their favourite shots of rhythm ‘n’ blues.” – BBC

The best word I could use to sum up both the sound and the music on this record is HONEST. If you want to hear how early Rolling Stones records sound when they sound right, this is the ticket. This is the real sound of the early, early Stones.

Probably what any modern engineer would want to do to the album would only end up making it worse. It is what it is and that’s good enough for us. Since the tapes are now more than 60 years old, no modern reissue will sound remotely as good as this one.

The Stones wanted their stuff to sound like the old Blues albums they grew up on and revered, and with that sound in mind you can’t argue that they didn’t succeed here.

This vintage Decca mono 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 outstanding 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 1964
  • 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 do the best Hot Stamper pressings give you?

  • 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.

Size

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it’s an entirely different listening experience.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Route 66 
I Just Want To Make Love To You 
Honest I Do 
Mona 
Now I’ve Got A Witness Little By Little

Side Two

I’m A King Bee 
Carol 
Tell Me 
Can I Get A Witness 
You Can Make It You Try 
Walking The Dog

BBC Review

Set against the dependency on covers and the inexperienced vocalist, however, is a truly cooking and imaginative band. Drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman provide a brawny frame for the intermeshing guitars of Richards and Brian Jones as the ensemble lovingly deliver some of their favourite shots of rhythm ‘n’ blues.

Between the breakneck travelogue opener Route 66 and the madcap parting shot Walking the Dog, however, the Stones crucially sidestep the mistake committed by many others on the scene in thinking that high quality is enough. The shimmering surrealism of Mona, the sensuality of I’m a King Bee, the romanticism of Tell Me and the soulfulness of You Can Make It If You Try create a variety of moods and textures that obviates ‘blueswailing’ one-dimensionality.

Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto #1/ Janis / Reiner – Reviewed in 2005

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Piano Concerto #1/ Janis / Reiner

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This is a Minty RCA Victrola Plum Label LP. I used to think that the Classic was better than the Vic, and in some ways it may be, but I hear a lot of midrange magic on this LP that I don’t think you can find on the Classic pressing.[No kidding.] 

Side two sounds even better than side one. Burleske sounds especially good on this copy.

These are our earlier comments for the Classic Records pressing of this title:

I played this side by side with my original Victrola, which is the only RCA stereo release, and the Classic killed it. How Bernie can cut this record right and screw up all the others is a mystery to me.

I highly recommend this one, musically and sonically. Everybody loves Rachmaninoff, especially when Byron Janis is at the keyboard, and the Strauss piece is engaging on its own as well.

Letter of the Week – L.A. Woman

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

Hi Tom,

I must confess, that like most audiophiles, I was not a believer in Hot Stampers. I thought my DCC Compact Classic and my 180 gram Box Set was the best. Boy was I dead wrong! I have been buying Hot Stampers from you on a regular basis for the past two months. They truly allow me to hear what was intended in the recording studio and, man, is it breathtaking. I received the Doors – LA Woman a couple of days ago and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think a record could be this realistic.

I couldn’t believe the amount of information I was hearing coming out of the groove of this LP — the biggest, most realistic staging and largest acoustic space I have ever heard in my life. The highs were sweet and extended, the midrange was as natural as a midrange could ever be, and the bass was tight and rich with incredible weight down to the lowest region. Transparency and resolution on this LP are simply out of this world. I’m so blown away with this Hot Stamper that I think it’s a bargain at $500.00.

I truly believe you really have to experience a Hot Stamper, especially one like this, to see why I’m losing my mind. I’m slowly but surely replacing all of my favorite records with your Hot Stamper versions. Thank you for this masterpiece!

Naz


L.A. Woman

Ella Fitzgerald – Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book #2

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More Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book #2

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

The first Harold Arlen Song Book to hit the site, and with sound like this it’s going to be very hard to beat. White Hot on side two, Super Hot on side one, Ella is especially rich, Tubey Magical and breathy throughout. Look at the great songs on Volume 2: Come Rain Or Come Shine, It’s Only A Paper Moon, One For My Baby, Get Happy, I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues, Over The Rainbow and more.  

The vinyl is about as quiet and scratch-free as we ever come across on these early stereo pressings. Even with us hitting multiple stores every week we have trouble finding even one clean copy of an album like this a year.

But we found this one, and it won our shootout. (more…)

Cat Stevens- Tea for the Tillerman – Making Progress in Audio

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More Tea for the Tillerman

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The following comments were written in 2004.

Hard Headed Woman is a song that has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years. If you’ve been making regular upgrades to your equipment and taking advantage of all the new technologies available at the front end, such as: vibration control, electromagnetic stabilization, better arms, better cartridges, better phono stages, better motors, fly wheels, Synchronous Drive Systems, better power cords, better power conditioning, to name just a few, you are no doubt able to reproduce this song much better than you were in the old days.Speaking of congestion, it had previously been our experience that every copy of the record had at least some congestion in the loudest parts, typically the later parts of songs where Cat is singing at the top of his lungs, the acoustic guitars are strumming like crazy, and big drums are pounding away are jumping out of both speakers. 

I used to think that Cat’s voice got hard and harsh when he got loud on the passage that starts with “I know…many fine feathered friends…”. Now he gets even louder, the drums are much more powerful, and yet he still sounds like a real person, not an overdriven recording. (more…)