Month: October 2019

Wes Montgomery – Goin’ Out of My Head

More Wes Montgomery

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar


  • Incredible Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, this early stereo copy blew the competition away with its size, Tubey Magical richness and vibrant jazz energy 
  • Once again Oliver Nelson’s Big Band arrangements take the music to another level – the guy’s a genius
  • “…it’s a classic big-band album, with smart charts by Nelson and stolen moments of Montgomery’s guitar grandeur and romantic truth scattered throughout.”

This White Hot Stamper Shootout Winner has the REAL Wes Montgomery/ Oliver Nelson / Creed Taylor/ Rudy Van Gelder MAGIC in its grooves. You will not believe how big, rich and full-bodied this pressing is on both sides. Since this is one of Wes’s better albums, hearing these sides was a THRILL for us and we’re hoping it will be as big a thrill for you too.

Everything that’s good about this era of RVG’s recordings, Wes’s music and those glorious Oliver Nelson arrangements is here. For my part let me just say that this is clearly the best sound I have ever heard for Goin’ Out of My Head.

It’s BIGGER, richer, more immediate, more present and dramatically more Tubey Magical than the other copies we played, yet there is no sacrifice in transparency or clarity. This is tube mastering at its finest. Not many vintage tube-mastered records manage to balance all the sonic elements as correctly as this copy did.

And if you own any modern Heavy Vinyl reissue, we would love for you to be able to appreciate all the musical information that you’ve unknowingly been missing. Speakers Corner remastered some Montgomery titles in the 2000s if memory serves, and they were passable at best. Any copy we offer on our site will be dramatically better sounding.

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 1966
  • 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 to Listen For (WTLF)

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack the full complement of harmonic information.

In addition, when the top end is lacking, the upper midrange and high frequencies get jammed together — the highs can’t extend up and away from the upper mids. This causes a number of much-too-common problems that we hear in the upper midrange of many of the records we play: congestion, hardness, harshness and squawk. (Painstaking VTA adjustment is absolutely critical if you want your records to play with the least amount of these problems, a subject we discuss in the Commentary section of the site at length.)

Tube smear is common to most pressings from the ’50s and ’60s. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have little or none, yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

Full-bodied sound is especially critical to the horns; any blare, leanness or squawk ruins at least some of the fun, certainly at the louder levels the record should be playing at.

What do the best Hot Stamper pressings give you?

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • 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.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The guitar isn’t back there somewhere, lost in the mix. It’s front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put it.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper pressing.

Musicians

Phil Woods – alto sax and clarinet
Ernie Royal – trumpet
Joe Newman – trumpet
Donald Byrd – trumpet
Herbie Hancock – piano
Roger Kellaway – piano
George Duvivier – bass
Grady Tate – drums
Oliver Nelson – arranger, conductor

(There were quite a few more than this; I only left in the names I recognized.)

The Mono LP

Never heard a good one. We stopped buying them years ago.

The Gold CD

Steve Hoffman remastered this album on DCC Gold CD and vinyl. I remember liking the Gold CD somewhat, but I seriously doubt the DCC vinyl is as good; it almost never is. Neither will ever sound remotely as good as one of our Hot Stampers, but you can be sure the CD will sound better than the average Verve disc, because the average Verve disc is a mess.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Goin’ Out of My Head
O Morro (Não Tem Vez)
Boss City
Chim Chim Cheree
Naptown Blues

Side Two

Twisted Blues
The End of a Love Affair
It Was a Very Good Year
Golden Earrings

Review

Jazz writer Josef Woodard called the release “Commercial firepower and Grammy-winning accessibility notwithstanding, it’s a classic big-band album, with smart charts by Nelson and stolen moments of Montgomery’s guitar grandeur and romantic truth scattered throughout. The title track that made so much commercial and critical noise is all of 2:12 in duration, but the album also features plenty of jazz fiber…”

Background

Goin’ Out of My Head is the fifteenth album by American jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson, it was released in 1966. It reached number 7 on the Billboard R&B chart. At the 9th Grammy Awards Goin’ Out of My Head won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group.

Goin’ Out of My Head was Montgomery’s first album with sales reaching near one million. It was producer Creed Taylor’s idea that Montgomery should do a cover of the title song, a 1964 hit by Little Anthony and the Imperials. At the time Taylor brought the song to Montgomery, he was playing at the Half Note Club in New York City with the Wynton Kelly Trio—sessions that appeared on his acclaimed 1965 release Smokin’ at the Half Note.

Taylor said in a later interview: “If you take away the R&B performance and just look at that song, it’s an absolutely marvelous song to improvise on. For that time, it had sophisticated changes and the whole structure was great. I was thinking, ‘This would be perfect for Wes Montgomery. But how am I going to overcome the fact that here’s Wes and his background? He’d be about the last person to listen to Little Anthony and the Imperials.'”

Wikipedia

Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin – Balancing the Vocal, Strings and Rhythm

More of the Music of Billie Holiday

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

The better copies reproduce clearly what to our minds are the three most important elements in the recording — strings, rhythm, and vocal — and, more importantly, they are properly balanced with one another. 

The monos, as you might expect, balance the three elements well enough, but the problem with mono is that the vocals and instruments are jammed together in the center of the soundfield, layered atop one another.

Real clarity, the kind that live music has in abundance, is difficult if not impossible under the circumstances. Only the stereo pressings provide the space that each of the players need in order to be heard.

Naturally the vocals have to be the main focus on a Billie Holiday record. They should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and transparent. To qualify as a Hot Stamper, the pressings we offer must be highly resolving. You will hear everything, all of it surrounded by the natural space of the legendary Columbia 30th Street Studio in which the recording was made. 
(more…)

Little Feat – Leaner and Cleaner Just Won’t Cut It

To our way of thinking, this is the kind of record one should bring to one’s favorite stereo store to properly judge their equipment. They can play Famous Blue Raincoat; they do it all day long. But can they play The Last Record Album and have it sound musical and involving? Can they get it to ROCK? Will they even turn it up loud enough to find out? My jaded money is on no, for all three. 

Rockin’ The Last Record Album is a much, much tougher test than what they are used to, one that their systems will struggle to pass. (That’s what makes it a good test, right?)

Leaner and cleaner — the kind of audiophile sound I used to hear everywhere I go — is simply not going to work on this album, or Zuma, or Houses of the Holy, or the hundreds of other Classic Rock records we put up on the site every year. There has to be meat on those bones. To switch metaphors in the middle of a stream, this album is all about the cake, not the frosting.

Bear that in mind when they tell you at your local salon that the record you brought with you is at fault, not their expensive and supposedly “correct” equipment. I’ve been in enough of these places to know better. If you’ve put your audio time in, their excuses should fall on deaf ears. 

Whose Fault Is It?

Most copies of this album are ridiculously dull and compressed. The band itself sounds bored, as if they lack faith in their own songs. But it’s not their fault. Whose fault it is is never easy to fathom; bad mastering, bad tapes, bad vinyl, bad something else — whatever it is, that thick, lifeless sound turns this powerfully emotional music into a major snooze-fest. It’s positively criminal but it happens all the time. It’s the reason we have to go through a dozen copies to find one that sounds like this. (more…)

Ten Years After / Self-Titled – Reviewed in 2008

I had no idea the band’s first album was recorded this well. I expected it to sound something like an old Rolling Stones Decca — tubey magical but plagued by a fair amount of compression, distortion and limited at both ends of the frequency spectrum. 

Instead, when the needle hit the groove, out of the speakers poured truly MASTER TAPE SOUND! Who knew? Clear as a bell, super-transparent, zero-distortion, spacious, and tubey magical in the best sense of that phrase — not fat and sloppy, but rich and sweet. To my ear there is practically no processing to the sound.

For a recording from 1967 to sound this good is a bit of a shock. Sgt. Pepper came out in 1967, but it’s full of studio trickery. The kind of purity and freedom from distortion that characterizes this Ten Years After record puts it at the opposite end of the artificial recording spectrum. I can’t think of another record from this far back that has this kind of sound. More than anything it proves it could be done; they had the technology.

Oh how far we have fallen. And you can be sure of one thing: the domestic pressings are not going to sound like this one. The Moody Blues on domestic Deram pressings are a joke next to the imports. Those tapes are in England, baby, and I doubt they ever crossed the pond.

Ry Cooder – Chicken Skin Music

More Ry Cooder

Side two of this Reprise pressing is OUT OF THIS WORLD. From the moment the needle hit the groove we were blown away by the huge soundfield, the unbelievable presence and the massive amount of energy. It sounded like Ry and his crew were right there in the room with us, playing their hearts out. The two tracks featuring Hawaiian musicians (steel guitarist and singer Gabby Pahinui and slack key guitar master Atta Isaacs) are both on side two and they sound AMAZING on this copy. (more…)

Elgar / Enigma Variations / Monteux / LSO – Reviewed in 2011

This famous Shaded Dog, containing two superb performances by Monteux and the LSO, has many of the Golden Age strengths and weaknesses we know well here at Better Records, having played literally hundreds upon hundreds of these vintage pressings over the last twenty years or so. 

Both sides earned sonic grades of at least A+ to A++ (with side one being just a bit better than that but maybe not quite A++). The sound is rich and sweet and full of Living Stereo Magic!  

The wonderful sounding tube compressors that were used back in the day result in quieter passages that are positively swimming in ambience and low-level orchestral detail. Tube compression is, in large part, what we mean when we use the term Tubey Magic. (If you want to know what Zero Tubey Magic sounds like, play some Telarcs or Reference Recordings from the ’70s. Or a modern digital recording on CD.)

But all that sweet and rich Tubey Magic comes at a price when it’s time for the orchestra to get loud. It either can’t, or the louder passages simply distort from compressor overload. Fortunately on this copy the orchestra does not distort, it simply never gets as loud as it would have in a real concert hall, clearly the lesser and more preferable of the two evils. (more…)

Bob and Ray – This Buck Dance Had Highs Like No Other

More Albums by Bob and Ray

More Living Stereo Recordings

[This review is probably about ten years old.]

It’s been nearly two years but the waiting is over — we’ve found another copy of the famous Bob and Ray on Living Stereo with DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND! Without a doubt this is the best sound I have ever heard for side one of this album. The sound here is so amazing I’m willing to go out on a limb and make the following recklessly bold statement. Buck Dance on this pressing has the most extended, natural and harmonically correct high frequencies I have ever heard from my speakers (or anyone else’s for that matter). 

And the crazy thing about it is, when played against an actual original pressing of Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp, this copy, which one would assume is made from a dub, SOUNDS FAR BETTER.

Now of course we don’t have ten copies (or even two copies) of LSP 1866 which would allow us to find one with an even better Buck Dance than the one heard here on Bob and Ray, which means we cannot be definitive in any way about the disparity in sound between the two albums.

We can only judge the records we have in hand, not the ones we might have heard years ago or — even worse — speculate about the sound of records we have not actually played, recently or otherwise.

So we will stick to the facts, and the facts of this side one are that it is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING sounding.

But not perfect. We had three Bob and Rays and one of them was a bit more transparent. One of the them had more deep bass. (That first crack of thunder on side one is an obvious test for bottom end; it can really rattle the room on the right copy.)

So let’s be fair and say that overall this copy earns a grade of A++, having two shortcomings, but that Buck Dance earns a grade of A+++, having NO shortcomings!

(more…)

Iron Butterfly – Dubby Da-Vida

The craziest thing we learned in our shootout is that something close to half of all the yellow label, authentic, non-record-club Atco copies we played had clearly been mastered from a dub tape on side two, the side with In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

We’re guessing that at some point after 1968, when it came time to recut the record, the cutting master for side two was either damaged or couldn’t be found. Not a problem the label says to itself, we have a safety tape we can copy and use for side two.

Problem solved, except for the fact that on those copies In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida sounds like a cassette playing on a machine with worn out heads. The sound is smeary, veiled, small and recessed — all but unlistenable.  (more…)

Bob Dylan – Self-Titled

  • An outstanding MONO copy of Bob Dylan’s self-titled debut (recorded in mono) with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish 
  • Both sides here have the immediacy, the warmth and the studio space the red label reissues fail to reproduce
  • “… a sterling effort, outclassing most, if not all, of what came before it…”

This is a true solo album — Dylan himself plays the guitar and harmonica — and it’s a lot of fun to hear a young (20!) Bob playing the way he might have played in the coffee shops and folk clubs of Greenwich Village.

This is clearly a recording that sounds best in mono. The stereo copies put the vocal, guitar and harmonica — you know, the sounds that the one skinny kid in the middle of the room is making all by himself — in separate locations widely spaced in the soundfield. This sound may have been cool when playing on the old consoles of the day, but on a modern system it’s just plain ludicrous. (more…)

Harry Nilsson / Nilsson Schmilsson – A Simply Vinyl Disaster

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Simply Vinyl pressing debunked.

Awful in every way. Made from a dub of the master tapes and then mastered poorly.

Phill (That’s Two L’s) Brown

I recently looked up the engineer for the album and am rather shocked that I never paid much attention to his body of work before.

He assisted on some amazing sounding records, many that we’ve auditioned and some that we’ve done Hot Stamper shootouts for and know to be superb recordings:

  • Arthur Brown – Crazy World of Arthur Brown
  • Joe Cocker – With a Little Help From My Friends (Superb)
  • Small Faces – Ogden’s Nutgone Flake
  • Traffic – Mr Fantasy (WOW! The Best of the Best)
  • Jimi Hendrix – All Along The Watchtower
  • Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet
  • Steve Miller Band – Sailor
  • Spooky Tooth – Spooky Two (Superb)

And these are a sample of favorites he engineered:

  • Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
  • Jeff Beck – Rough and Ready
  • Robert Palmer – Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley
  • Roxy Music – Manifesto

The first and third can be superb, the other two merely good in our experience.