Month: October 2019

Chabrier / Espana – Argenta – A Speakers Corner Winner

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894) 

Espana – Argenta 

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Sonic Grade: B

This is a Speakers Corner Decca 180 gram LP reissue of the famous Argenta performance, a recording which can sound positively amazing on the right original London, but only about 2 out of 10 copies actually do. (And where in the world are you going to find 10 clean copies of a record that’s practically 50 years old?)

This pressing gets you most of the way there, on reasonably quiet vinyl, for a lot less money.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs.

A very good Decca and highly recommended. Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Ataulfo Argenta. Also includes Rimsky-Korsakov’s ”Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34”, Granados’ ”Andaluza”, & Moszkowski’s ”Spanish Dances, Op. 12”.

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Soul To Soul

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Soul To Soul

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  • STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout for this Classic of Electric Blues Guitar – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is one of the better copies to hit the site in years – good SRV albums are getting tough to find nowadays 
  • A copy like this one soars above the pack with its hard-rockin’ energy, rich, solid bass, open top end, and freedom from congestion
  • “[SRV] wanted to add soul and R&B inflections to his basic blues sound, and Soul to Soul does exactly that.” 

Vaughn’s guitar playing is as fiery as ever, and the addition of keyboards and saxophone here gives the music broader scope and range than was possible on his previous albums. (more…)

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust – Our Shootout Winning Copy from 2011

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

Is this one of the Greatest Rock Albums of All Time? Unquestionably. It’s the pinnacle of Glam Rock. Every track is superb; not a moment is less than stellar from beginning to end.

Is it Bowie’s Masterpiece? Absolutely. No other Bowie record ranks higher in my book. No other Bowie record would command a similar price, regardless of its sonic merits.

Is it amazingly well recorded? You better believe it. This is not just Bowie’s masterpiece; it’s Ken Scott’s as well. For BIG, BOLD, wall to wall, floor to ceiling sound, look no further.

Ken Scott engineered this record and he did his usual amazingly good job. The guitars may not sound “real”, they way they actually do in real life, but they sure sound GOOD! Lots of rich, sweet tubey magic, the sound we love here at Better Records.

(Mobile Fidelity did a decent job on this title but the colorations and the limitations of their cutting system make it painful for me to listen to, especially the sloppy bass. You can do worse but you sure can do a lot better.)

I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing the commentary for a White Hote Tea for the Tillerman below, since so much of what makes that album unique holds true for this one as well. Is Tea for the Tillerman a better album than Ziggy Stardust? I don’t think so. As good, yes, but not better. Ziggy is as good as it gets.

You may remember one of the comments we made about the Hot Stamper Bookends in which we said we felt as though we had threaded up the master tape and hit play — that’s how unbelievably correct and REAL the sound was. Well, we spoke too soon. THIS record is the record that sounds like you’ve threaded up the master tape. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and I can tell you I have never heard ANYTHING like it.

Just drop the needle on any song. Guaranteed you will never hear that song sound better. The mastering is beyond perfection. There’s really no “mastering” to listen for — all you’re really aware of is the music flowing from the speakers, freed from all the limitations that you’ve learned to accept.

There’s no need to go track by track trying to explain why this copy is the Ultimate Ziggy. One drop of the needle will tell you everything you’ll ever need to know. All doubts will be erased within moments. We played this copy against our former top pressings and again and again, no matter what track we played, the sound here was clearly superior.

To say that this fairly quiet amazing sounding Ziggy is rare is an unbelievable understatement. I would say that it’s very unlikely that another copy this good will come my way in the next five years. I may NEVER hear one that sounds like this again. If this record is as meaningful for you as it is for me, I think you will quickly appreciate that it’s worth every penny of its price. All you have to do is drop the needle. All questions will be answered and all mysteries will be revealed.

Owning this White Hot Stamper is a PRIVILEGE that affords the listener insight into David Bowie that simply is not possible any other way. The emotional power of these songs is communicated so completely through this copy that the experience will be like hearing it for the first time.

This is, I hope it goes without saying, one of the greatest rock records of all time, music that belongs in any collection. I’ve been playing this album for 30 years and I can honestly say I’ve never once been tired of hearing it. I get tired of hearing bad copies.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Five Years
Soul Love Track Commentary

Just listen to those cymbal crashes! Never heard them sound like that.

Moonage Daydream
Starman
It Ain’t Easy

Side Two

Lady Stardust Track Commentary

The piano is recorded superbly; it’s the perfect balance of power and delicacy, not just on this track but throughout the album.

Star
Hang on to Yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Borrowing heavily from Marc Bolan’s glam rock and the future shock of A Clockwork Orange, David Bowie reached back to the heavy rock of The Man Who Sold the World for The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Constructed as a loose concept album about an androgynous alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust, the story falls apart quickly, yet Bowie’s fractured, paranoid lyrics are evocative of a decadent, decaying future, and the music echoes an apocalyptic, nuclear dread. Fleshing out the off-kilter metallic mix with fatter guitars, genuine pop songs, string sections, keyboards, and a cinematic flourish, Ziggy Stardust is a glitzy array of riffs, hooks, melodrama, and style and the logical culmination of glam. Mick Ronson plays with a maverick flair that invigorates rockers like “Suffragette City,” “Moonage Daydream,” and “Hang Onto Yourself,” while “Lady Stardust,” “Five Years,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” have a grand sense of staged drama previously unheard of in rock & roll. And that self-conscious sense of theater is part of the reason why Ziggy Stardust sounds so foreign. Bowie succeeds not in spite of his pretensions but because of them, and Ziggy Stardust — familiar in structure, but alien in performance — is the first time his vision and execution met in such a grand, sweeping fashion.

Bob Seger – Night Moves – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Half Speed debunked.

The last time I played a copy of the MoFi I could not believe how ridiculously bright it was.  

Saint-Saens / Symphony #3 / Mehta – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Symphony #3 / Mehta

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

This British London pressing is the winner of our recent shootout. We had three London pressings, all the same stamper numbers if I recall correctly, and this is the only copy to have Super Hot Stamper sound on either side. Side one is actually quite nice, with lovely texture to the strings. The sound is transparent and natural, two qualities that are in short supply on most of the recordings Mehta did with the L.A. Phil. in our experience.

We pulled out all the copies of this famous work we could find in the backroom and most of them were just awful. This is not an easy work to record, incorporating as it does an organ with a large orchestra. (I saw the work performed back in 2009 and it was magical. There is nothing like the sound of violins playing high over the organ notes below.) (more…)

Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps – Just How Good Is a Second Tier Neil Young Album?

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Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings. 

AMG raves about this album, giving it 5 big stars. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s half a star MORE than they gave Harvest.) We like the album just fine, but I doubt we would want to go quite that far. Sure, these are great songs, but give us After The Gold Rush, Zuma or Harvest (all Top 100 titles, Hot Stampers of which are sometimes in stock) over this one any day.

Still, a second tier Neil Young album (by our standards) usually will beat a first tier album from just about anybody else making records in 1979.

And if you’re a fan this record absolutely belongs in your collection, along with about ten others by the man. Now what other solo artist can you name that has ten or more records to his name worth owning? I’m hard pressed to think of one. The Beatles and The Stones don’t count, obviously. Elvis Costello comes pretty close, but ten? I can’t get there, with him or anybody else. Neil’s body of work stands alone.

This is a live recording with minimal overdubs. Crazy Horse is of course widely recognized to be one of the all time killer concert acts of its day, so it’s a bit of a shame that most of the copies we played this week made us want to go to sleep. The not-so-Hot copies failed in a number of ways: thin guitars or vocals, overly dry or edgy sound, and insufficient presence, just to name a few. It was the rare copy that made us forget we were listening to a record and allowed us to really get into the music.

Needless to say we had this record playing very very loud. Twenty db less than at the live event, sure, at least, but very very loud for a 18×20 living room in the suburbs.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) 
Thrasher
Ride My Llama
Pocahontas
Sail Away

Side Two

Powderfinger 
Welfare Mothers 
Sedan Delivery
Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)

AMG 5 Star Review

Rust Never Sleeps, its aphoristic title drawn from an intended advertising slogan, was an album of new songs, some of them recorded on Neil Young’s 1978 concert tour. His strongest collection since Tonight’s the Night, its obvious antecedent was Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, and, as Dylan did, Young divided his record into acoustic and electric sides while filling his songs with wildly imaginative imagery.

The leadoff track, “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” (repeated in an electric version at album’s end as “Hey Hey, My My [Into the Black]” with slightly altered lyrics), is the most concise and knowing description of the entertainment industry ever written; it was followed by “Thrasher,” which describes Young’s parallel artistic quest in an extended metaphor that also reflected the album’s overall theme — the inevitability of deterioration and the challenge of overcoming it.

Young then spent the rest of the album demonstrating that his chief weapons against rusting were his imagination and his daring, creating an archetypal album that encapsulated his many styles on a single disc with great songs — in particular the remarkable “Powderfinger” — unlike any he had written before.

Mark Levinson – Acoustic Recording Series, Volume 2 – Reviewed in 2008

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

The sound on the record is excellent. It was engineered by Mark Levinson, on special equipment designed to create virtually noiseless ultra-low-distortion master tapes, without noise-reduction systems. It’s mastered by Robert Ludwig. 

The first side contains Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales played on the piano by Lois Shapiro. Side two contains her performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 49.

Tony Bennett – For Once In My Life

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For Once In My Life

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  • This vintage pressing gives Tony the sound he deserves, with excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both of these early stereo sides
  • Amazing vocal reproduction courtesy of the brilliant engineering of Frank Laico at his favorite studio (and ours), Columbia 30th Street studios
  • We are not big soundstage guys here at Better Records, but we can’t deny the appeal of the space to be found on a record as good as this

Everything that’s good about Vocal Recordings from the ’50s and ’60s is precisely what’s good about the sound of this record.

The huge studio the music was recorded in is captured faithfully here. The height, width and depth of the staging here are extraordinary. We are not big soundstage guys here at Better Records, but we can’t deny the appeal of the space to be found on a record as good as this.

Transparency and Tubey Magic are key to the sound of the orchestra and you will find both in abundance on these two sides.

Albums such as this live and die by the quality of their vocal reproduction. On this record Mr. Tony Bennett himself will appear to be standing right in your listening room! The space of your stereo room will seem to expand in all directions in order to accommodate them, an illusion of course, but nevertheless a remarkably convincing one.

On this record, like so many others you may have read about on the site, the right amount of Tubey Magic — and by that we mean a very healthy amount — makes all the difference.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Tony Bennett singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 51 years old), 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 less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

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 1967
  • 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)

Copies with rich lower mids 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’ve heard them all.

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 ambience and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to pressings from every era and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

They Can’t Take That Away From Me
Something In Your Smile
Days Of Love
Broadway Medley:
– Broadway
– Crazy Rhythm
– Lullaby Of Broadway
For Once In My Life

Side Two

Sometimes I’m Happy
Out Of This World
Baby Dream Your Dream
How Do You Say Auf Wiedersehen
Keep Smiling At Trouble (Trouble’s A Bubble)

AMG Review

Those of you who think of “For Once In My Life” as a Stevie Wonder song, reconsider. True, Wonder took it to #2 in 1968, but Tony Bennett’s ballad version was a pop chart entry (his last) and an Easy Listening Top 10 more than a year earlier. On the accompanying album Bennett made his by-now usual selections of standards (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me”), Broadway and Hollywood material, and choices from the catalogs of songwriter favorites such as Leslie Bricusse and Cy Coleman.

Learning the Record

For our shootout for For Once In My Life we had at our disposal a variety of pressings we thought should have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for sides two, three and four.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that the other pressings do not do as well, using a few carefully chosen passages of music, it quickly becomes obvious how well a given copy can reproduce those passages. You’ll hear what’s better and worse — right and wrong would be another way of putting it — about the sound.

This approach is simplicity itself. First you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we never pretended it was. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained step by step precisely how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection.

Do It Again

As your stereo and room improve, as you take advantage of new cleaning technologies, as you find new and interesting pressings to evaluate, you may even be inclined to do the shootout all over again, to find the hidden gem, the killer copy that blows away what you thought was the best.

You can’t find it by looking at it. You have to clean it and play it, and always against other pressings of the same album. There is no other way to go about it if you want to be successful in your hunt for the Ultimate Pressing.

For the more popular records on the site such as the Beatles titles we have easily done more than twenty, maybe even as many as thirty to forty shootouts.

And very likely learned something new from every one.

Bonnie Raitt – Luck of the Draw – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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Luck of the Draw

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

Here’s the first (Super) Hot Stamper copy of Luck Of The Draw to ever hit the site! What took us so long? It’s simple, most copies out there just plain don’t deliver, and for a long time we weren’t sure we’d ever have a copy that would be a clear enough winner over the DCC pressing to merit Hot Stamper status.

Well folks, it may have taken YEARS but we’ve finally found a Hot Copy — this one rates A++ on side one and A+ to A++ on side two. We think you’ll have a very hard time finding a better sounding pressing of this album no matter what you do, and of course we guarantee it will handily beat the pants off the DCC or your money back. (more…)