Month: February 2020

Which One’s Pink? – And What Do All Those Numbers Mean?

An erstwhile customer sent us an email a while back asking a question about Dark Side of the Moon: “What is the FULL stamper matrix for this record… all the way around the dead wax?”

I replied that we never give out stamper numbers for the records we sell. The only way to find out the stampers for our records is to buy them.

He then countered with this bit of information:

Well, ok. I don’t understand the logic, but it’s your show.

Floyd stampers are probably the most uniquely well documented stampers on [a site that no longer exists] that they’re pretty much common knowledge. If I understand your logic, a first pressing may not be a “Hot Stamper” while a 3rd, 4th or 5th might be. Just a function of the stars aligning when that record is pressed. So what’s the diff?

I would think this would be pretty obvious. If we say pressing X is the best, this is information that you cannot get anywhere else, certainly not on the site you sent us a link to. The day that such a site tells you which stampers sound the best is the day that such a site will have any value to those who are not collecting for the sake of collecting, but actually want to find pressings with the best sound to play (more…)

Johnny Mathis – Open Fire, Two Guitars

xxxxx

  • Mathis’ superb 1959 release finally arrives on the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish 
  • The All Tube recording chain at Columbia’s 30th Street studios allowed their engineers to make recordings practically unequaled in the decades since
  • An outrageous claim? Not really, because this very pressing backs up every thing we say
  • 4 1/2 stars: “On this album, Johnny Mathis creates an atmosphere of fireside intimacy by dispensing with his usual orchestral accompaniment so that the purity of his voice entices the listener’s full attention… The enduring popularity of Open Fire, Two Guitars is attributable in part to its hypnotic aura of closeness and confidentiality…”

*CONDITION NOTES:

  • On side one, a mark makes a mostly light sandpapery sound for 1-2 seconds, then, at the end of track 1, An Open Fire, there are 2 moderate pops.
  • On side two, a mark makes 6 light ticks one-quarter inch from the end of track 1, When I Fall In Love.

Finding clean Johnny Mathis records from 60 years ago, on Columbia, in stereo, is nearly impossible, which is why you see so few come to the site. We would be hard-pressed to find one good title to shootout in a given year. These days it’s taking three to five years to bring any of the classic Johnny Mathis albums to market. There are simply too few original pressings that have survived the turntables of the day, and their owners.

Which is why we are so pleased to present one of Johnny’s most beloved albums, and one that is quite a bit more musically involving than most. If you like Dream With Dean, and who doesn’t?, this Mathis album should be right up your alley.

One tip we can offer any Mathis fans who may be out there: stick to the Columbia era if you want audiophile sound. His Mercury recordings, at least the half-dozen or so we’ve played, were godawful sounding. (more…)

Tom Waits – Blue Valentine – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

xxxxx

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

TWO GREAT SIDES on this wonderful album — A++ for the first and A+++ for the second! Both sides have a wonderful bottom end — check out all the WEIGHT to that rich, meaty bass. Many copies we played had a tendency to sound somewhat dull, but this one has all the extension up top you need. The overall sound is rich, full, sweet and warm. The strings have texture, the voice has lots of breath, and I just don’t think you could find a better sounding copy.

Drop the needle on Romeo Is Bleeding for some of the best music on here. When you’ve got the kind of bass definition that this copy offers, the sound for that song can be killer, as it is here. (more…)

Sarah Vaughan – Golden Hits – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

xxxxx

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

This is Sarah in her prime – the recordings date from 1954-58. A good overview of her Mercury recordings.

We’ve been fortunate to have a number of excellent sounding Sarah Vaughan records hit our turntable over the course of the last few years, but this is officially our first Sarah Vaughan shootout title to make it to the site.

Most of the reason for this unfortunate fact can be attributed to the lack of clean copies of her prime albums for Mercury sitting in our local record store bins. Her best albums are either missing or scratched. (Plenty of Pablos and Mainstreams, sure, but we have never been all that impressed with either label’s recordings of vocalists.)

This Greatest Hits album apparently stayed in print long enough to produce the supply necessary for one of our shootouts, and the result is we now have some wonderful Sarah Vaughan performances with superb sound to share with our customers. (more…)

Mercury Stereo Sampler Vol. 1 (SRD-1) – Reviewed in 2012

xxxxx

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

This Mercury Sampler has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on side one, or better — who knows if this isn’t as good as it gets? We can’t find enough clean copies to test so we’re sticking with A++ or better just to be safe. Either way, this is the BIG, BOLD classic Mercury sound. Let’s Dance – David Carroll – from Let’s Dance (SR-60001) has the sweet Tubey Magic of the best Living Stereos and the percussion excitement of Bang Baa-room and Harp!

Not every song on side one is a knockout but some of them certainly are, making this a top quality Variety Demo Disc. (more…)

Jerry Jeff Walker – Driftin’ Way of Life

xxxxx
xxxxx
xxxxx

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

This copy, which has a variation of the maroon early Vanguard label, not sure exactly when it was pressed, or where, was the best copy we played in our shootout. So tubey and natural, why don’t more records sound like this? The recording itself is superb, with audiophile quality sound all the way. And the music is just as good, fully deserving the 4 1/2 Stars All Music Guide gave it.

Over the last few years you’ve seen rave reviews for many Vanguard recordings – Joan Baez, The Weavers, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, etc.

You can confidently add Jerry Jeff Walker’s Driftin’ Way of Life to that list. (more…)

Various / Balalaika Favorites – Reviewed in 2010

xxxxx

DEMO QUALITY SOUND!

This is the best sounding copy of this record I have ever heard! There aren’t going to be many copies that sound like this one. The originals that I’ve heard definitely don’t, and the worst offenders are the Columbia pressings, the records with stampers like CCFR, CTFR, etc. They usually sound hard and sour and are best avoided.

So exactly what pressing is this, you ask? Well, we’re not telling. We’re going to call this the Mystery Mercury Pressing. Let’s just say that it’s definitely a remastered version.

Now normally remastering has a bad connotation around here. We don’t like it when people remaster most records because they tend to screw them up. Just the opposite is the case here. I believe this copy is the first one to really reflect the beauty of the master tape.

What do you hear on this pressing that you don’t hear on others? It’s very simple: the Balalaikas are delicate and sweet. There’s air all around them. They have the kind of midrange magic that you hear on the best pop guitar records, the Tea For The Tillerman’s and the After The Gold Rush’s of this world. When you hear that sound there’s no mistaking it. It’s what we audiophiles live for. And I wasn’t expecting to hear it on this famous album, because I never did before.

Guaranteed to beat the pants off of the Classic heavy vinyl version of this album (which, like most Classic records, I never liked).

Andre Previn & His Pals – West Side Story

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

xxxxx

  • Previn’s stellar piano trio returns to the site with jazzy interpretations of the best songs from West Side Story, in stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound
  • You win shootouts with this kind of All Tube Analog sound – warm, natural, lively and clear, with solid support down low, a nicely extended top and a huge three-dimensional soundfield 
  • Andre Previn and his friends take eight classic tunes from West Side Story – it would be hard to imagine having better material to work with in a jazz setting
  • 4 stars: “The last of a series of showtune albums recorded by the trio finds the all-star group focusing on the music of West Side Story… As usual, the melodies are treated respectfully yet swingingly, and Andre Previn in particular excels in this setting. Recommended.”

One of Previn’s best piano trio records, this album was recorded in 1959 by Roy DuNann while at the height of his engineering powers.

The two Must Owns from his many sessions at Contemporary are this album and Bells Are Ringing. We are not aware of any of his jazz piano albums on other labels being much better than passable and most are not worth picking up at any price. Believe me, we’ve tried. The one exception I can think of is Four to Go on Columbia. It’s pretty good. Not in the same league as his Contemporary recordings by a long shot, but better than most of his output from the ’60s.

For both the albums mentioned above the Black Label originals in stereo are the best way to go, but finding them in clean audiophile playing condition is no walk in the park, which is the main reason it’s been four years since we did either title, and I think we have not been able to find a single copy of Bells worth buying since then. Some records show up on the site and are never seen again. That may be one of them. Time will tell. (more…)

A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers – The More Mistakes the Better, Part One

mistakes_stevensx20

 

I was reading an article on the web recently when I came across an old joke Red Skelton used to tell:

All men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner.

Now if you’re like me and you play, think and write (hopefully in that order) about records all day, everything sooner or later relates back to records, even a modestly amusing old joke such as the one above.

Making mistakes is fundamental to learning about records, especially if you, like us, believe that most of the received wisdom handed down to record lovers of all kinds is more likely to be wrong than right.

If you don’t believe that to be true, then it’s high time you really started making mistakes.
 
And the faster you make them, the more you will learn the truths (uncountable in number) about records.

And those truths will set you free.

Think about it: perhaps as many as a third of the Hot Stamper pressings on our website are what would commonly be understood to be the “wrong” pressings — or, worse, records that are not supposed to sound good at all. German Dark Side? ’70s Red Seal Living Stereo pressings? Reissue Beatles records — in stereo no less! Can we be serious?

Yes, we are indeed quite serious. We believe by now we know most of the best pressings, the ones with potentially the best sound, for most of the records we regularly shootout. Over the course of decades we’ve tried bad sounding copy after bad sounding copy of practically every title we do. We know which ones to avoid, which betters the odds of finding good sounding pressings. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

We’ve played all the copies that are supposed to be the best, and we’ve also played the ones that aren’t supposed to be any good — late reissues, or records pressed in the “wrong” country; or cut by the “wrong” mastering engineer; or found on the second, third, or fourth labels, all wrong, don’t you even know that?! — and against all odds we’ve kept our minds and our ears open.

Whatever pressing sounds the best, sounds the best. Whether it’s the “right” pressing according to orthodox record collecting wisdom carries no weight whatsoever with us, and never will — because that way of thinking doesn’t produce good results. (more…)

Arthur Lyman – Bwana A – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

xxxxx
xxxxx
xxxxx

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

White Hot Stamper sound, with a big stage, Tubey Magic and correct tonality from top to bottom. There’s plenty going on at the extreme top – the rare copy that has it all!

Everywhere else the sound is tonally and timbrally Right On The Money. It’s very lively, with tight, clear bass. Listen to how open the sound is. That sound is just not to be found on popular albums anymore.

This Superb sounding stereo (we don’t bother with mono) copy of Bwana A has a lot in common with the other Bachelor Pad / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Esquivel, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Martin Denny and others too numerous (or obscure) to name.

But c’mon, nobody really buys these records for the music (although the music is thoroughly captivating). It’s all about the Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation, the wacky 3-D sound effects (of real birds and otherwise) and the heavily percussive arrangements. In all of these areas and more this record does not disappoint. (more…)