Month: July 2020

The Very Best Sounding Records – One Customer’s Defense of Hot Stampers

There is an active thread on Audiogon inviting members to list what they believe are the

Very best sounding vinyl records

in their collection.

One of my customers made the case for some of his Hot Stamper pressings
and, as you can imagine, it was as well received as the proverbial turd in the punchbowl.

Please to enjoy!

Comments or questions? Please send them to tom@better-records.com

Letter of the Week – “I am still amazed by the negativity I read sometimes about your records and prices…”

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

Hey Tom,Β  Β 

I also my humble apologies for ordering one LP at a time, it started with that (insanely good by the way) 4-star pressing of my wife’s favorite Stevie Wonder record, then, I have been waiting for a solid B-52 pressing for years now, so I had to grab it and just today, I noticed the Bee Gees… just glad nobody snatched it before me, seriously, this is the HARDEST Bee Gees record to get in any condition at all !!

I am still amazed by the negativity I read sometimes about your records and prices… we talked about it before but, for god’s sake, nobody is forced to buy anything. Plus, you have very fair prices for hot stampers that are great pressings of the best records, if the luxury items are not your cup of tea.

Still keeping my eyes open for a 4-star (or maybe 5 stars πŸ˜‰ Hunky Dory one day. Would not mind a similar grade for a copy of Southern Accent too !!

Cheers,
David

My reply in part:

The ignorance of the audiophile community is really something to behold. I guess I can’t complain, I held many of the same silly ideas about Heavy Vinyl up until about 2000, so give them another twenty years and maybe they will catch on.

But of course they won’t because I had to work very hard for the last twenty years to get where I am now and most audiophiles don’t want seem to want to do much work at all!

Billie Holiday – Songs for Distingue Lovers – Classic Records Reviewed

Sonic Grade: B?

Probably a fairly good Classic RecordsΒ jazz album.

Back in the day we noted that: “This is one of the best Billie Holiday records around” and we provisionally stand by that statement.

By the way, we have never had a Hot Stamper pressing of the album on the site because we simply cannot find enough clean copies with which to do a shootout!

For thirty bucks the price of this Heavy Vinyl pressing has to be seen as a bargain. (more…)

Jewels of Wolf-Ferrari / Santi / Paris Conservatory Orchestra

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One of the jewels in the London catalog, with sweet, tonally correct sound and plenty of natural hall. Another good reason to love London records! Colorful, lively and fun music, played with verve and beautifully recorded.

Overtures, intermezzos and preludes — just the good stuff.

The album is made up of 10 shorter pieces. A real standout is the first band on side one.

Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours

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  • An incredible sounding copy and the first to hit the site in many years — Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • “In many ways, the album is a personal reflection of the heartbreak of his doomed love affair with actress Ava Gardner, and the standards that he sings form their own story when collected together. Sinatra’s voice had deepened and worn to the point where his delivery seems ravished and heartfelt, as if he were living the songs.” – 5 Stars

(more…)

Bill Evans – Montreux II

More Bill Evans

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  • This epic live jazz recording finally returns to the site with two excellent Double Plus (A++) sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A killer pressing, with a very strong bottom end, lovely richness and warmth, real space and separation between the instruments and wonderful immediacy throughout
  • Recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, this 1970 release showcases Evans stylings alongside the brilliant talents of Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell
  • “Bill Evans’ second recording at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1970 was a highly anticipated concert, finding the pianist in peak form, accompanied by bassist Eddie GΓ³mez and drummer Marty Morell.”

(more…)

Beethoven / Symphony No. 5 / Solti / Vienna Philharmonic

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

  • This lovely Whiteback pressing is big and lively, earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • Good weight to the brass, huge hall space, wonderfully textured string tone – it’s all here and more
  • A top performance from Solti and the Vienna Phil – it’s classic Solti: fast-paced, exciting and powerful
  • This is Beethoven played with gusto – he brings this music to life like no other conductor we know of (with the exception of Dorati perhaps)

We like our recordings to have as many of the qualities of Live Music as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this, especially when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use. It’s precisely this kind of big, clear, yet rich sound that makes audiophiles prize Decca/London recordings above those of virtually all other labels, and here, unlike in so many areas of audio, we are fully in agreement with our fellow record loving audiophile friends.

This Golden Age tape has been mastered brilliantly with “modern” mastering equipment (from the mid-’60s, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.

You may have noticed that Beethoven’s symphonies rarely make it to the site. There’s a reason for this: most of the recordings of them don’t sound very good. We are happy to report that, at least when it comes to the Fifth, that problem has been solved, by this very record in fact. (more…)

Revolutionary Changes in Audio – What Works for Us Can Work for You

More Commentaries and Advice on Equipment

This listing, like the stereo itself (mine and yours), is a work in progress. Please check back for the commentary we expect to be adding in the future.Β 

Our reason for having this kind of commentary on a site ostensibly devoted to the selling of records is simple: the better your stereo sounds, the better our records sound, and, more importantly, the bigger the difference between our records and the copies you already own. Also those LPs recommended by “audiophile” record dealers, which tend to be on Heavy Vinyl, at 45 RPM, half-speed mastered or, even worse, Japanese pressed. We have no interest in any of them. Why? On our system they rarely sound better than second-rate.

We love our modified Legacy Focus speakers, even more now that they have much improved high frequency extension courtesy ofΒ Townshend Super Tweeters. Our preamp and amp are vintage and low power; the Focus can play quite loudly with the thirty watts our amp puts out. We are big fans of Low Power (but not single ended) and are not the least bit happy with the current trend toward high-power amps, whether tube or transistor. (This trend started in the early ’70s with the Phase Linear 400 amp and has only gotten more out of hand with each passing year.)

We tried higher power amps to do the shootouts for Nirvana, AC/DC and their ilk but gave up fairly quickly. Using those amps involves major trade-offs; trade-offs whose costs rarely exceed their benefits. With more power comes less Tubey Magic, sweetness, transparency, three-dimensionality and that wonderful relaxed quality which gives the music its flow and sense of ease.

High power amps do none of these things well, but most speakers today are terribly inefficient and require their use, a choice most audiophiles do not even know they are making when they buy them. I made that mistake myself many years ago. Live and learn.

Most of our wiring — interconnect, phono and power cord — is custom.

Having said that,Β this commentary is all about why you shouldn’t care a whit about the equipment we use.Β 

Latest Findings

Prelude Step 4

According to the folks at Walker, “Prelude Step 4 is a special rinse that gets down deeper into the grooves and removes any remaining contaminates.”

We, however, had mixed results. Some LPs got better (more transparent, spacious) while others got worse (squaky, pinched, veiled). Since it is quite easy to remove the final rinse stage simply by rinsing the record again with Step 3, ata this point we are inclined to let the listener make his own judgments as to the benefits of Prelude Step 4 High Resolution Rinse.

We note that threads on various Audiophile Forums have almost unanimously favorable postings regarding the improvements in sound to be had with Step 4, but anyone familiar with our general philosophy and approach to audio will know that we put absolutely no stock in the opinions proffered in such postings. We don’t know these people, we don’t know what their stereos sound like, we don’t know what pressings they played on their stereos and we don’t know what they were listening for when they played them. That’s a lot of things not to know!

Do we reject them out of hand? Certainly not. We instead take them with a boulder-sized grain of salt and, if sufficiently motivated, proceed with our own listening tests under our own very carefully controlled conditions, playing records we know well on a stereo we listen to every day. Our results for Prelude Step 4 were mixed; your results may vary.


Recent Findings

We use theΒ TalismanΒ not only on our records but on our cables and speaker drivers as well. (When you buy one from us drop us an email about our special tip to get the most out of the unit.)

Also, since 2007 we have been usingΒ Walker’s Enzyme Cleaning SystemΒ for ALL our Hot Stamper shootout records. The difference is quite audible — less grit and grain, more transparency and extension on both ends. This is the same kind of positive effect the Disc Doctor has on records, but the Walker fluids somehow manage to give you even more of those wonderful qualities.

If you have a record you love and are willing to put in the extra elbow grease the Walker requires, the Enzyme Treatment cannot be overestimated.


Ch-Ch-Changes at Better Records

Over the course of the last decade things have changed dramatically for the better.

We’ve come up with a number of much more sophisticated and advanced cleaning techniques.

The ruler-flat, super-clean and clear Dynavector 17d replaced the more forgiving, less accurate 20x.

TheΒ EAR 324pΒ we acquired at the beginning of 2007 was a BIG step up over theΒ 834pΒ in terms of resolution and freedom from distortion / coloration.

And the third pair ofΒ HallographsΒ had much the same effect, taking out the room distortions that compromise transparency and three-dimensionality.

With the implementation of a number of other seemingly insignificant tweaks, each of which made a subtle but recognizable improvement, the cumulative effect of all of the above was now clearly making a difference. The combination of so many improvements resulted in sound that was dramatically better in every way.


Reaching Back to 2005

These comments from the listing forΒ Tea for the TillermanΒ from way back in 2005 discuss upgrades to your Front End.

Hard Headed Woman

This is a song that has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years. If you’ve been making regular upgrades to your equipment and taking advantage of all the new technologies available at the front end, such as:

vibration control, better arms, better cartridges, better phono stages, better motors, Synchronous Drive Systems, better power cords, better power conditioning, better platters,

to name just a few, you are no doubt able to reproduce this song much better than you were in the old days. I used to think that Cat’s voice got hard and harsh when he got loud on the passage that starts with “I know…many fine feathered friends…”. Now he gets even louder, the drums are much more powerful, and yet he still sounds like a real person, not an overdriven recording.The Vinyl Stone Age

Modern front ends, properly tweaked and set up, can handle the kind of energy found on this song in a way that wasn’t possible before. I like to say that if your turntable is more than five years old and you haven’t done much to your front end since then, you are living in the vinyl stone age. There have been a number of revolutions in the area of LP playback, not the least of which is the [formerly Disc Doctor but now] Walker EnzymeΒ cleaning fluid we tout so obsessively, all of which have allowed us to reproduce familiar records in a startlingly realistic way never before possible.

F for Consistency – Verve on Vinyl

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[The commentary below is a bit out of date. Now that we can clean and play every label’s pressings much better than before, some of this commentary is harsher than it needs be and should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, there are still an awful lot of badly mastered and badly pressed Verve LPs of excellent Verve recordings, which may be good for our business but is nevertheless frustrating when it comes time to do the shootouts for them.]

Verve is probably the most poorly mastered label in the history of the world. No other record label that I know of was responsible for so many wonderful sounding recordings which so often turned into lousy sounding LPs. I could list them for days.

For years we would not pick up most Verve titles at anything but a dirt-cheap price, having been burned so many times before. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to play another badly-mastered, noisy LP. Who has the time?

The commentary below concerns a wonderful Wes Montgomery album on Verve. It tells a story that is all too common in our experience: how the typical Verve pressing is so awful it’s hard to believe we would make the mistake of continuing to buy them, seemingly throwing good money after bad.

But we did keep buying them, we hung in there, and from time to time — against all odds — we would stumble upon aΒ wonderful soundingΒ Verve LP. Some Verve pressings were so much better than we could have ever imagined — based on the dismal pressings we’d played before — weΒ had no choiceΒ but to call them Hot Stampers. What else could they be? (more…)