Month: December 2019

Duke Ellington / Newport Jazz Festival 1958

More of the Music of Duke Ellington

More Large Group Jazz Recordings

If you are a fan, this record will be a thrill. If you’re unfamiliar with the Duke’s music, I can’t imagine a better introduction than this.

This LP also includes Gerry Mulligan’s only performance with the Ellington band.

Paul Gonsalves’s saxophone performance is superb and worth the price of the album alone.

The clarinet parts on Princess Blue are out of this world — Ellington at his best!

The Pretenders / Get Close – What to Listen For

More of the Music of The Pretenders

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Pretenders

Take it from us, it is the rare pressing that manages to get rid of the harshness and congestion that plague so many copies.

Look for a copy that opens up the soundstage — the wider, deeper and taller the soundstage the better the sound — as long as the tonal balance stays right.

When you hear a copy sound like this one, relatively rich and sweet, the minor shortcomings of the recording no longer seem to interfere with your enjoyment of the music. Like a properly tweaked stereo, a good record lets you forget all that audio stuff and just listen to the music as music. Here at Better Records we — like our customers — think that’s what it’s all about.

And we know that only the top copies will let you do that, something that not everyone in the audiophile community fully appreciates to this day. We’re doing what we can to change that way of thinking, but progress is, as you may well imagine, slow.

What to Listen For

The best copies have superb extension up top, which allows the grit and edge on the vocals to almost entirely disappear. Some of it is there on the tape for a reason — that’s partly the sound they were going for, this is after all a Bob Clearmountain mix and a Jimmy Iovine production — but bad mastering and pressing adds plenty of grit to the average copy, enough to ruin it in fact.

You can test for that edgy quality on side one very easily using the jangly guitar harmonics and breathy vocals of My Baby.

If the harmonic information is clear and extending naturally, in a big space, you are more than likely hearing a top quality copy.

The Domestic LP and CD

The domestic LP is pretty awful, and the domestic CD is even worse, practically unlistenable in fact. I have one in my car; only the judicious use of the treble control, set steeply downwards, makes the sound even tolerable.

But the album rocks — it’s great driving music.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

My Baby
When I Change My Life
Light of the Moon
Dance!
Tradition of Love

Side Two

Don’t Get Me Wrong
I Remember You
How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?
Chill Factor
Hymn to Her
Room Full of Mirrors

AMG  Review

Get Close is never less than solid as a work of craft, and guitarist Robbie McIntosh, drummer Blair Cunningham, and bassist T.M. Stevens deliver tight and emphatic performances throughout…

While Hynde always dominated the Pretenders, by this time it was obvious that this was fully her show, and if she felt less like rocking and more like exploring her emotions and thoughts about parenthood on midtempo pop tunes, no one in the group was going to prod her into doing otherwise; the presence of a large number of additional session players further buffs away any of Get Close’s potential sharp edges.

Despite all this, Hynde’s voice is in great form throughout, and when she gets her dander up, she still has plenty to say and good ways to say it; “How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?” is a gleefully venomous attack on the musically unscrupulous; “Don’t Get Me Wrong” is a superb pop tune and a deserved hit single; and the Motown-flavored “I Remember You” and the moody “Chill Factor” suggest she’d been learning a lot from her old soul singles.

Beethoven / Concerto No. 4 / Rubinstein / Krips – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

This Super Hot Stamper pressing has superb RCA Living Stereo sound, with an exceptionally clear, solid, tonally correct piano.

We recently did a major shootout for all of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos, pulling pressings from the three major Golden Age labels — RCA, London, Mercury — and this Fourth came out near the top of the heap. Most pressings of Rubinstein’s Beethoven concertos simply do not have this kind of open, big and bold sound. Side one earned a grade of A++ and side two was actually a bit better at A++ to A+++. That makes this a very special piano recording indeed. (more…)

Elvis Presley – Fun In Acapulco – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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

Finding clean real Elvis records — not those crappy compilations and vault-leftovers, but real Elvis albums from his golden period when he was the true King of Pop (sorry Michael) — has never been a walk in the park. We do the best we can.

Fortunately there are some reissues from the ’60s and ’70s that have the potential for excellent sound. This is clearly one of them. The originals we see are a lost cause; they’re practically always scratched and full of groove damage. We’d be lucky to find a clean one every five or ten years nowadays.

Side One

Breathy vocals and very full sound make this a top quality side.

For a kick check out the great sounding percussion on the third track.

Side Two

Rich and smooth on the first track, more like an old Elvis record, but the next tracks sound better, tubier and livelier (more…)

Oliver Nelson – More Blues and the Abstract Truth

More Oliver Nelson

  • Nelson’s 1965 release makes its Hot Stamper debut with stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the only way to hear it
  • 4 stars: “… there are some strong moments from such all-stars as trumpeter Thad Jones, altoist Phil Woods, baritonist Pepper Adams, pianist Roger Kellaway and guest tenor Ben Webster (who is on two songs). The emphasis is on blues-based pieces and there are some strong moments even if the date falls short of its predecessor.” 

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Supertramp – Ken Scott’s Producing / Engineering Masterpiece

More of the Music of Supertramp

Reviews and Commentaries for Crime of the Century

[This commentary is well over ten years old by now.]

AMAZING White Hot Stampers for the greatest KEN SCOTT production in history. This is his (and the band’s) MASTERPIECE, and now we have a pressing that allows us to revel in the GLORY that is Crime of the Century! 

We played a KILLER MoFi pressing many years ago. (Yes, we admit it. As much as we dislike most of their records, the truth is the truth. Some can actually sound good. You can count them on the fingers of one hand, but they do exist.) This bit of commentary from the Hot Stamper MoFi shootout we had done previously discusses some of its characteristic traits:

How About the Brit Copies?

If one were to pick some nits, one could say that it’s still a tiny bit hot around 6k. The reason I know that is because the early British pressings have a smoother midrange compared to practically anything else out there. You may have noticed that good British copies never make it to the site, and there’s a simple explanation for that. Most early British copies (and later ones too) just do not sound good. On top of that, they are rarely quiet enough to play and enjoy. I can’t tell you how many British COTC pressings I’ve heard in the last 5 years that didn’t sound good or were noisy and groove damaged. But it’s a lot.

We get these MOFIs in on a regular basis, and they usually sound as phony and wrong as can be. They’re the perfect example of a hyped-up audiophile record that appeals to people with lifeless stereos, the kind that need amped-up records to get them going.

Listen to the vocals at the end of Dreamer. If they are bright, the bells at the end of the song sound super-extended and harmonically rich. But at what price? The vocals are TOO BRIGHT. Which is more important: good vocals or good bells? There has to be a BALANCE. This is something audiophiles and audiophile labels — even worse, they should know better — often have trouble understanding.

Things Have Changed

As we never tire of saying, in audio, if you’re doing it right, things change. With better cleaning technologies, better playback, better all the other stuff we talk about on the site, records that used to be practically impossible to get to sound right can suddenly — if a year or two of hard work and experimentation can be considered “sudden” — start to come alive and show us the MAGIC that’s been locked away for all this time inside their grooves.

To Quote The Rutles, Let’s Be Natural

Case in point: The vocals here sound AMAZING — natural and correct with lots of texture. Even the best MoFi copies are going to sound a bit phony when played against a killer copy such as this. Of course it’s a high-definition, high-resolution sound cut with super low distortion; it has to be to sound this good. Folks, this is the copy that lets you appreciate every last detail of the recording without hitting you over the head with “sonic effects”. It’s musical in a way that no audiophile pressing ever seems to be.

And of course the bass is AWESOME. Loud levels and big woofers will have your house quaking. Add to that the kind of ENERGY that the best pressings have in their grooves and you have an album that is guaranteed to bring the average audiophile system to its knees, begging for mercy. This is The Audio Challenge before you. If you don’t have a system designed to play records with this kind of SONIC POWER, steer clear of Crime of the Century. It wants to rock your world, and that’s exactly what Hot Stamper pressings like this one are here to do.

It’s ALIVE! It has BIG, PUNCHY sound that will fill up your living room and then some. It’s exceptionally transparent with superb clarity and lots of extension on the top end. (The typical Brit copy is dull, and that quality just takes all the magic out of the recording. The three dimensional space and clarity of the recording rely heavily on the quality of the top end. The MoFi, on the best copies, shows you what is missing from the typical Brit, domestic or other import LP. This is what impressed me back in the ’70s when I bought my MoFi. It was only years later that I realized what was missing and what was wrong.)

Last time around the best copies were British. That was NOT the case this time except on side two, where one British copy was competitive, but not better than, our best domestic pressing.

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Beethoven / The Emperor Concerto / Backhaus – Reviewed in 2010

 

Another top London, recorded with more of a mid-hall approach, and smooth sound that reminds me much more of a live concert than most recordings do. This is a demo quality disc, if what you are demonstrating is the kind of realistic piano sound and natural, relaxed presentation found in the concert hall. These may not be qualities that all audiophiles appreciate, but we sure as hell do.

Joni Mitchell / Shadows and Light – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More Joni Mitchell

FOUR INCREDIBLE SIDES! We had a huge shootout for this famous double album and this copy blew our minds with a pair each of White Hot and Super Hot sides and quiet vinyl throughout. In the high-stakes game of Better Records Double Album Poker, that’s a full house, my man! Sides one and three earned the A+++ grades while sides two and four were close behind at A++. This one gives you the kind of YOU ARE THERE immediacy and transparency that put you front and center for a late ’70s jazzy Joni Mitchell show. Not too many copies will do that!

If you’re a fan of Joni’s more experimental work from the mid to late ’70s, this album is a must-own. She takes a top-notch crew of musicians including Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorious and Michael Brecker through a set including many of her best album tracks from the era.

Sides one and three were absolutely top-notch, earning the top grade of A+++. The sound is full-bodied, lively and very DYNAMIC. On so many copies the sax sounds thin and hard, but on a Hot Stamper like this one you get fuller, smoother sound for the instrument. Joni’s voice is breathy and present with real texture, and the three-dimensional imaging gives the music a real sense of SPACE — just like you’d get at a concert. This helps convey the intimacy of the songs and the performances, and isn’t that what we audiophiles got in this crazy hobby for in the first place? (more…)

Spooky Tooth / Spooky Two – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

This very nice looking Island Sunray British Import LP has AMAZING SOUND ON BOTH SIDES (with caveats!). Side one is super rich and full of tubey magic. It can be ever so slightly grainy and strained but when the sound is this good who cares!? Andy Johns is the man behind the console here, which explains why the album is so well recorded. If you’re a fan of Black Sabbath you’ll find much to like here; this is psych rock at its best.

Now for the caveats! Side two has great sound as well, rating A++, but it’s pretty beat up. The third track is full of crackles and pops. Basically we’re giving away this side for free. (more…)

Led Zeppelin / In Through The Out Door – Zep’s Last But Not Least

On a super transparent, super low distortion copy like this one, all the subtleties really come to life. Too many copies we played were a bit grainy — you could really hear it on the cymbal crashes. This copy is as smooth and sweet as you could ever ask for. It’s open and spacious, and the vocals are Right On The Money. The bottom end is SUPERB here, with deep, well-defined bass and an exceptionally punchy kick drum sound that really takes the music to another level. There’s lots of extension up top and a silky quality to the vocals and cymbals. The presence is staggering — the guitar solo on All My Love positively JUMPS out of the speakers.

Musically this certainly isn’t Zep’s best work, but there is still some really great material. We found the best sounding tracks to be Fool In The Rain on side one and All My Love on side two. In The Evening can rock with the best of them, South Bound Saurez can be very rich and sweet, and I’m Gonna Crawl can sound out of this world. In fact, after playing our two knockout copies that we found back to back, I am now a bigger fan of this album than I ever was. Zep II it ain’t, but it’s still Zep, and that oughta tell you plenty.

Turn It Up

In our review for this album we debunked the Classic Records pressing using a very simple test which you may want to try at home.

The test we stumbled upon is actually quite an easy one to use — a copy that makes you want to turn up the volume is likely to be a winner. The Classic does not pass that test.

We threw one on and just couldn’t deal with the edgy vocals and upper-midrange boost. We wanted to turn down the volume as quickly as we could get our hands on the knob. As far as we’re concerned there’s no substitute for The Real Thing. As hard as it is to find great sounding copies of this album, it’s even harder for us to sit through a sub-par version like the Classic.

And boy were our faces red. We used to think the Classic version was pretty decent, but the best originals SLAUGHTER it! We had never done a shootout for this album before 2007. We didn’t feel up to the challenge, because the typical pressing tends to be miserable — gritty, grainy, hard sounding, congested mids, dull, and so on. But once we did, the Classic crashed and burned, along with 90% of the other copies we played.

Try the Turn Up the Volume Test and see if your copy makes the grade or makes you want to turn it right back down. I’m guessing the latter, unless you were lucky enough to get one of our Hot Stampers from the last shootout. There sure weren’t enough to go around.