Month: March 2020

It’s a Beautiful Day – Why Has Nobody Noticed that Side One Is Often Summed to Mono? (Besides Us)

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This Super Hot Stamper Red Label pressing gives you most of the 360 Label’s rich, Tubey Magical sound, and that’s saying a lot; most red label pressings of this record are absolute junk. About half of the side ones are in MONO — how about that! Who knew, right?

Just did a search and cannot find a single mention of this fact.

Seems that someone should have noticed it by now (besides us of course).

How critically can music lovers and audiophiles be listening to their records if they don’t notice such a glaringly obvious change in the sound?

Here’s what we had to say about a copy on our site a while back:

Going through our clean 360 label pressings (which aren’t cut quite as loud by the way so watch out when doing your own shootouts), we found one that was better and one that was worse. Others were just too noisy. This red label pressing was BY FAR THE BEST of the red label reissues, with A++ sound on both sides that frankly took us by surprise.

As we so often say, Who knew? Now that we’ve heard red labels that sound this good we are on the hunt! They can be found, and they’re usually not in trashed condition the way the 360s are.

Which is a shame because the music is WONDERFUL. Unlike some of their contemporaries, this band had excellent songwriting and arranging skills. This album is good from first track to last, with plenty of time set aside for those “progressive” excursions that make this such a ’60s Psych Classic.

And a mostly undiscovered audio gem too. The sound is wonderfully spacious and Three Dimensional, with tight bass and real dynamics. Of special interest to audiophiles is the vocal reproduction. La Flamme sings lead with a female doing high harmony, and the best way to describe this sound is MAGICAL.

Add to this lovely sound the added benefit of having a violin as the lead instrument and you have a record unlike any other in your collection. Take the intro to White Bird as just one example: the plucking strings you hear at the opening are not those of an acoustic guitar, but rather the pizzicato playing of a violin. These unique sonic qualities can be found everywhere on the album, making it a real treat for audiophiles and music lovers alike. (more…)

Jerry Garcia (Compliments)

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  • STUNNING sound for Jerry’s sophomore solo effort with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • “This was an opportunity for Garcia to do something different — to sing, to perform, and to arrange a variety of songs however he wanted. As a result, he surely sounded like he was having the time of his life…” – John Metzger, The Music Box

(more…)

Frank Sinatra – Songs for Swingin’ Lovers – Our Shootout Winner from 2006

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

This is a Minty Capitol Black Label original LP with No Bar Code. They don’t come any better than this! It is amazingly quiet for an old Capitol, with excellent sound throughout.

Many of the Sinatra Capitol Black Label releases do not sound good. They’re full of harmonic distortion, much like The Beatles’ records from that era. This copy is the exception. It’s full of life and clearly made from a good tape.

Sinatra pressings like this one benefit from better mastering, with those occasionally shrill upper mids under control while keeping the rich, warm sound of Sinatra’s voice intact. (Many reissues are flat and compressed, not to mention thin, grainy, and irritating.)  (more…)

Jennifer Warnes – Famous Blue Raincoat – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

This Cypress pressing has AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUND on side one! With a grade of A++ to A+++ it’s the highest rated side of any copy we have to offer this go around — none of our other pressings could touch it on any side.

Why such a high grade? Simple. It’s ALIVE! It’s super transparent with a big, bold bottom end. The drums here are as good as they get — punchy and powerful with lots of WHOMP and the sound of the skins being THWACKED.

The presence and immediacy of this side are STUNNING — play it good and loud and you’ll have a living, breathing Jennifer Warnes right between your speakers. The clarity here is also SUPERB — just listen to all the texture to the strings, one of our favorite tests for resolution and freedom from smear.

The sax on the title track sounds rich and full with clearly audible leading edge transients and just the right amount of bite. This side one was doing pretty much everything we wanted it to and then some. What a record! (more…)

Herbie Mann – Live At The Village Gate on Audio Fidelity Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: D-

Hall of Shame pressing and another Audio Fidelity / DCC LP debunked.

A murky mess. Hard to imagine you couldn’t find a common domestic pressing that wouldn’t sound better..  (more…)

The Curtis Counce Group – Vol. 2: Counceltation

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  • Insanely good sound throughout for this Contemporary Yellow Label pressing with both sides earning nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades, just shy of our Shootout Winner 
  • These sides are superb — clean, clear, full-bodied and dynamic with tons of energy
  • Counce is a wonderful bassist and here he’s joined by Jack Sheldon, Harold Land, Carl Perkins and Frank Butler; I think you’ll be very impressed with how good this music from the late ’50s still sounds today
  • “Bassist Curtis Counce led one of the finer West Coast-based groups of the 1950s, a quintet that was greatly underrated… This excellent music falls somewhere between hard bop and cool jazz.” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars

These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.

This vintage Contemporary Yellow Label 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 amazing 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 1957
  • 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 We Listen For on Vol 2: Counceltation

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The instruments 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.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Complete
How Deep Is The Ocean
Too Close For Comfort
Mean To Me

Side Two

Stranger In Paradise
Counceltation
Big Foot

 

The Personification of the Dunning-Kruger Effect

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Presenting the poster boy for the Dunning-Kruger effect, a man who fancies himself an audiophile/mastering engineer.

He’s a mastering engineer in the same sense that a person who makes mud pies is a piemaker.

An extract from Steven Novella’s explanation of it:

Dunning summarizes the effect as:

“…incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are,”

He further explains:

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

Below you will find an article that Ben Sisario wrote about this fellow’s record mastering operation. I will soon have a commentary about my experience playing one of his remastered titles, so stay tuned, there is lots more coming.

The Electric Recording Co. in London cuts albums the way they were made in the 1950s and ’60s — literally.

By Ben Sisario

LONDON — Tucked in a trendy co-working complex in West London, just past the food court and the payment processing start-up, is perhaps the most technologically backward-looking record company in the world.

The Electric Recording Co., which has been releasing music since 2012, specializes in meticulous recreations of classical and jazz albums from the 1950s and ’60s. Its catalog includes reissues of landmark recordings by Wilhelm Furtwängler, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, as well as lesser-known artists favored by collectors, like the violinist Johanna Martzy.

But what really sets Electric Recording apart is its method — a philosophy of production more akin to the making of small-batch gourmet chocolate than most shrink-wrapped vinyl.

Its albums, assembled by hand and released in editions of 300 or fewer — at a cost of $400 to $600 for each LP — are made with restored vintage equipment down to glowing vacuum-tube amplifiers, and mono tape systems that have not been used in more than half a century. The goal is to ensure a faithful restoration of what the label’s founder, Pete Hutchison, sees as a lost golden age of record-making. Even its record jackets, printed one by one on letterpress machines, show a fanatical devotion to age-old craft.

“It started as wanting to recreate the original but not make it a sort of pastiche,” Hutchison said in a recent interview. “And in order not to create a pastiche, we had to do everything as they had done it.”

Electric Recording’s attention to detail, and Hutchison’s delicate engineering style in mastering old records, have given the label a revered status among collectors — yet also drawn subtle ridicule among rivals who view its approach as needlessly expensive and too precious by half.

Hutchison, 53, whose sharp features and foot-long beard make him look like a wayward wizard from “The Lord of the Rings,” dismissed such critiques as examples of the audiophile world’s catty tribalism. Even the word “audiophile,” he feels, is more often an empty marketing gimmick than a reliable sign of quality.

“Audiophiles listen with their ears, not with their hearts,” Hutchison said. He added: “That’s not our game, really.”

So what’s his game?

“The game is trying to do something that is anti-generic, if you like,” he said. “What we’re doing with these old records is essentially taking the technology from the time and remaking it as it was done then, rather than compromising it.”

To a large degree, the vinyl resurgence of the last decade has been fueled by reissues. But no reissue label has gone to the same extremes as Electric Recording.

In 2009, Hutchison bought the two hulking, gunmetal-gray machines he uses to master records — a Lyrec tape deck and lathe, with Ortofon amplifiers, both from 1965 — and spent more than $150,000 restoring them over three years. He has invested thousands more on improvements like replacing their copper wiring with mined silver, which Hutchison said gives the audio signal a greater level of purity.

The machines allow Hutchison to exclude any trace of technology that has crept into the recording process since a time when the Beatles were in moptops. That means not only anything digital or computerized, but also transistors, a mainstay of audio circuitry for decades; instead, the machines’ amplifiers are powered by vacuum tubes (or valves, as British engineers call them).

“We’re all about valves here,” Hutchison said on a tour of the label’s studio.

Mastering a vinyl record involves “cutting” grooves into a lacquer disc, a dark art in which tiny adjustments can have a big effect. Unusually among engineers, Hutchison tends to master records at low volumes — sometimes even quieter than the originals — to bring out more of the natural feel of the instruments.

He demonstrated his technique during a recent mastering session for “Mal/2,” a 1957 album by the jazz pianist Mal Waldron that features an appearance by Coltrane. He tested several mastering levels for the song “One by One” — which has lots of staccato trumpet notes, played by Idrees Sulieman — before settling on one that preserved the excitement of the original tape but avoided what Hutchison called a “honk” when the horns reached a climax.

“What you want to hear is the clarity, the harmonics, the textures,” he said. “What you don’t want is to put it on and feel like you’ve got to turn it down.”

These judgments are often subjective. But to test Hutchison’s approach, I visited the New Jersey home of Michael Fremer, a contributing editor at Stereophile and a longtime champion of vinyl. We listened to a handful of Electric Recording releases, comparing them to pressings of the same material by other companies, on Fremer’s state-of-the-art test system (the speakers alone cost $100,000).

I am often skeptical of claims of vinyl’s superiority, but when listening to one of Electric Recording’s albums of Bach’s solo violin pieces played by Martzy, I was stunned by their clearness and beauty. Compared to the other pressings, Electric Recording’s version had vivid, visceral details, yielding a persuasive illusion of a human being standing before me drawing a bow across a violin.

“It’s magical what they’re doing, recreating these old records,” Fremer said as he swapped out more Electric Recording discs.

Hutchison is a surprising candidate to carry the torch for sepia-toned classical fidelity. In the 1990s, he was a player in the British techno scene with his label Peacefrog; the label’s success in the early 2000s with the minimalist folk of José González helped finance the obsession that became Electric Recording.

Hutchison’s conversion happened after he inherited the classical records owned by his father, who died in 1998. A longtime collector of rock and jazz, Hutchison was entranced by the sound of the decades-old originals, and found newer reissues unsatisfying. He learned that Peacefrog’s distributor, EMI, owned the rights to many of his new favorites. Was it possible to recreate things exactly as they had been done the first time around?

After restoring the machines, Electric Recording put its first three albums on sale in late 2012 — Martzy’s solo Bach sets, originally issued in the mid-1950s.

Hutchison decided that true fidelity applied to packaging as well as recording. Letterpress printing drove up his manufacturing costs, and some of the label’s projects have seemed to push the boundaries of absurdity.

In making “Mozart à Paris,” for example, a near-perfect simulacrum of a deluxe 1956 box set, Hutchison spent months scouring London’s haberdashers to find the right strand of silk for a decorative cord. The seven-disc set is Electric Recording’s most expensive title, at about $3,400 — and one of the few in its catalog that has not sold out.

Hutchison defends such efforts as part of the label’s devotion to authenticity. But it comes at a cost. Its manufacturing methods, and the quality-control attention paid to each record, bring no economies of scale. So Electric Recording would gain no reduction in expenses if it made more, thus negating the question Hutchison is most frequently asked: Why not press more records and sell them more cheaply?

“We probably make the most expensive records in the world,” Hutchison said, “and make the least profit.”

Electric Recording’s prices have drawn head-scratching through the cliquey world of high-end vinyl producers. Chad Kassem, whose company Acoustic Sounds, in Salina, Kan., is one of the world’s biggest vinyl empires, said he admired Hutchison’s work.

“I tip my hat to any company that goes the extra mile to make things as best as possible,” Kassem said.

But he said he was proud of Acoustic Sounds’ work, which like Electric Recording cuts its masters from original tapes and goes to great lengths to capture original design details — and sells most of its records for about $35. I asked Kassem what is the difference between a $35 reissue and a $500 one.

He paused for a moment, then said: “Four hundred sixty-five dollars.”

Yet the market has embraced Electric Recording. Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, Hutchison said, its records have been selling as fast as ever, although the company has had some production hiccups. The only manufacturer of a fabric that Hutchison chose for a Mozart set in the works, by the pianist Lili Kraus, has been locked down in Italy.

The next frontier for Electric Recording is rock. Hutchison recently got permission to reissue “Forever Changes,” the classic 1967 psychedelic album by the California band Love, and said that the original tape had a more unvarnished sound than most fans had heard. He expects that to be released in July, and “Mal/2” is due in August.

But Hutchison seemed most proud of the label’s work on classical records that seemed to come from a distant era. He pulled out a 10-inch mini-album of Bach by the French pianist Yvonne Lefébure, originally released in 1955. Electric Recording painstakingly recreated its dowel spine, its cotton sleeve, its leather cover embossed in gold leaf.

“It’s a nice artifact,” Hutchison said, looking at it lovingly. “It’s a great record as well.”

 

Letter of the Week – Countdown to Ecstasy, Katy Lied and John Barleycorn

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

Hey Tom, 

Guys, seriously, all three copies, completely out of control !! Unbelievable difference in sound, outstanding!!!!

Thank you.

Alonso,

It was our pleasure! Now you know what Hot Stampers are all about — the sound you can’t find any other way.

Best, TP


Countdown to Ecstasy


Katy Lied


John Barleycorn Must Die

Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie – Our Favorite Female Vocal Album of All Time

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

The first “Triple Triple” MONO copy to ever hit the site — A+++ from start to finish. Our knockout mono pressing here was fuller, more natural and more involving than any copy we heard in our shootout. with immediacy to put Ella practically in the room with you, it’s her performance that really comes to life. It’s our single Favorite Female Vocal album here at Better Records, one that gets better with each passing year.

Check out what the lucky owner of this copy had to say about it.

PR Writes

As you probably know, I own superb copies of the stereo. They both fade into pastel in comparison with this mono. (more…)

Muddy Waters – Hard Again – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

This Hot Stamper pressing of Muddy Water’s Five Star 1977 collaboration with Johnny Winter and harmonica great James Cotton has two great sides and quiet vinyl! We dropped the needle on one of these recently and liked the sound, so we picked up a bunch of copies and had a rollickin’ fun shootout. Many of the other copies we played lacked the kind of energy and big bottom end that you get on this pressing, qualities that help kick up this music to the next level.

The highlight, naturally, is the killer version of Mannish Boy that leads of the album. Turn up the volume good and loud and you’ll put yourself front and center at a wild blues club. You won’t get that effect on every copy, but when you have a pressing with lots of presence and life, the sound can be surprisingly natural and realistic. (more…)