Month: September 2020

David Bowie – Hunky Dory

More David Bowie

More Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Better on the Right Reissue

  • This UK pressing of Bowie’s pre-Ziggy Folk Rock masterpiece earned outstanding Double (A++) grades for their preternaturally Tubey Magical sound – thanks Ken Scott, you da man!
  • The best tracks on the album are Demonstration Quality – Oh You Pretty Things is a KNOCKOUT here
  • Rich, spacious and sweet, with a HUGE soundstage – drop the needle on Changes and listen to how dynamic it is
  • 5 stars: “On the surface, such a wide range of styles and sounds would make an album incoherent, but Bowie’s improved songwriting and determined sense of style instead made Hunky Dory a touchstone for reinterpreting pop’s traditions into fresh, postmodern pop music.”

The amazing Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century (all Top 100), as well as All Things Must Pass, Truth, Birds of Fire, Son Of Schmilsson, America’s debut and many more is the man responsible for the sound here (he also produced the album, replacing Tony Visconti). It should go without saying that this is one seriously talented guy.

The kind of Tubey Magical richness and smoothness that he achieved at Trident in the early ’70s, not to mention sound that is remarkably spacious and practically free from distortion — qualities that are especially important to us Big Speaker guys who like to play their records good and loud –has rarely been equaled by anyone in the years that’ve followed (even by Ken).

As noted above, many of his best recordings can be found in our Rock and Pop Top 100 List of Best Sounding Albums, limited to the titles that we can actually find sufficient copies of with which to do our Hot Stamper shootouts. (more…)

A Random Walk Through Heavy Vinyl

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Heavy Vinyl Production And the Unpredictability of Random Processes

Those in the business of producing the highest quality remastered recordings on LP are crashing smack into a problem endemic to the manufacturing of the vinyl record — randomness.

Record producers can control many of the processes (variables) that go into the making of a high quality record. But they cannot control all of them. The word for such a situation, one with random, uncontrollable aspects, is “stochastic.”

Taking the liberty to paraphrase Wikipedia liberally, we would explain it this way.

A stochastic, or random, process, is the counterpart to a deterministic process. Instead of dealing with only one possible way the process might develop over time, in a stochastic or random process there is some indeterminacy described by probability distributions. This means that even if the initial condition or starting point is known, there are many possibilities the process might go to, but some paths may be more probable and others less so.

In other words, although some of the variables can be controlled, there will always be some element of randomness that makes the final result predictable within limits, but not predictable precisely.

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Letter of the Week – “You are right, it is expensive, time consuming and an obsession.”

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

Hey Tom, 

Your Thursday flyers are one of the highlights of my week. Some people think I don’t have a life… and they’re probably right. I’ve found myself steadily gravitating towards Hot Stampers. A large part of this has been because the majority of the LPs Better Records offers contain music I like.

Because funds are limited a tension arises in allocating expenditure on hardware and software (i.e. the LPs). But only with continuous (but judicious) improvement in the hardware can one truly appreciate how good each Hot Stamper is. You are right, it is expensive, time consuming and an obsession. Just keep those insightful random thoughts coming along. I have been at this for 25 years and am still learning. (more…)

Johnny Winter – Second Winter

  • A superb sounding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on all three sides!
  • All these sides are cleaner and clearer than most of the typically murky LPs we played, yet full-bodied and balanced with a solid bottom end and plenty of energy
  • The most famous 3 sided double album in rock and roll history – why fill out a fourth side when you only have enough good material for three?
  • Allmusic 1 1/2 Stars: “His reworking of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” is the high spot of the record, a career-defining track that’s still a major component of his modern-day set list.” 

We just finished our first big shootout for Second Winter in years, and let me tell you, it is TOUGH to find Hot Stamper pressings of Second Winter. Most copies were congested, veiled and murky, but this one has the kind of clarity and openness that let you make sense of the music.

If you’re not familiar with the vinyl pressings of this album, you might be surprised when you pick up the second disc. Even though there are two LPs, there are only three sides with music. Side four has no grooves and is completely blank. The liner notes explain that spreading it out to three sides allowed them to get the best possible sound, and (thankfully) they didn’t want to add any filler. (more…)

Elton John – Rock of the Westies

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  • An amazing early British pressing, with both sides rating a Triple Plus (A+++) – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This copy rocks like crazy with serious weight down low, huge size and space, and plenty of driving energy
  • The better copies like this don’t get too congested in the choruses, a typical problem with the album
  • Best bets: Medley (Yell Help, Wednesday Night, Ugly); Island Girl; Street Kids and Hard Luck Story
  • “Rock of the Westies appears in retrospect to be his last great rock album. It certainly does rock consistently harder than any other John album…” – Amazon

Here’s a record you practically never see on the site, and for one simple reason: it’s too difficult to find copies that sound good and play quietly enough, the kind without scratches or groove damage. As you may know from reading the site, British DJM vinyl is almost always somewhat noisy, but that’s pretty much the only way to go for most Elton albums, this album especially. The domestic pressings of ROTW are a joke as you surely have figured out by now if you’ve ever played one. (more…)

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow – Another DCC Disaster

More Jefferson Airplane

Reviews and Commentaries for The Jefferson Airplane

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another DCC LP debunked.

Sour and opaque, a major disappointment. You can do worse but you would really have to work at it.

Our Hot Stamper Commentary from 2008

It’s An Uphill Battle Every Time

This album is an exceedingly difficult nut to crack — no matter how many copies we have, no matter how much information we have to work with. Play the typical copy and you’ll likely run for cover — we heard played copies that were aggressive, shrill, lifeless, dull, thick, veiled, bass-shy — you name it, we heard it. Not only that, but as a rule these early pressings are BEAT TO DEATH. Finding a copy that sounds any good and plays Mint Minus Minus or better is a real challenge.

But we didn’t give up. We knew that the best pressings of this album have tubey magic in spades. Undaunted, we kept up the search and eventually found some OUT OF THIS WORLD Hot Stamper copies.

Almost every pressing you’ll ever find suffers from at least a bit of harmonic distortion — some MUCH worse than others. We were convinced at one point that it was on the tapes, but after playing these super clean copies, we now know better.

(more…)

Al Stewart – Time Passages

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  • A stunning Shootout Winning early British pressing – the first “Triple Triple” (A+++) to hit the site in many years
  • Standout tracks include Song on the Radio and Time Passages (an edited version of which made it all the way to #7 on the Pop charts)
  • “… this is exceptionally well-crafted, from Stewart’s songs, where even three-minute songs seem like epics, to Alan Parsons’ cinematic arrangements and productions… one of Al Stewart’s very best albums.” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars

Our Hot Stampers of Year Of The Cat are always a big hit, and this, the 1978 follow-up, shares many of the same qualities. Alan Parsons is a pretty good producer and engineer it turns out. This copy is richer and sweeter than most, with a big, bold, three-dimensional sound that perfectly suits the kind of Big Productions that are his stock in trade. The bigger the better we say! (more…)

Boston Hot Stamper Testimonial – Shooting Out the Big Three

This week’s letter comes from our good customer Roger, who did a little shootout of his own among three very different sounding pressings: two Half-Speeds, one by MoFi and one by CBS, probably the two most popular pressings among audiophiles, and our very own Hot Stamper LP.

Here are his findings. Keep in mind that Roger bought a copy priced at $125, half the price of the best copy in our shootout.

“Hi Tom,

I got your Boston hot stamper today and enjoyed comparing it to MFSL and CBS half-speed versions in a shootout. I had long since given up on listening to this record since it became part of a communist ploy to brainwash us by playing Boston repeatedly on the radio until we would give up any information they desired. “Deep Purple Lite” was what my college buddies and I used to derisively call it. Now I only wish we had this type of music still around. So I had fun reliving my college days and listening to this LP.

“For a pop recording, it is a pretty good recording soundwise, and all 3 pressings were indeed good, if not interesting. I tried the CBS half-speed first, and it was tonally lean with good speed and detail, and bass was extended and quick. However, its Achilles heel was that it had too much energy on top and excessive brightness, something that couldn’t hide from my speakers’ ion tweeters.”

Roger, you seem to be using the phrase “tonally lean” unpejoratively (if I can make up such a word), whereas for us here at Better Records, that is the kiss of death for Half-Speeds, and in fact Audiophile Records of All Kinds. Lack of weight down below, lack of Whomp Factor, is the main reason half-speed mastered records are so consistently and ridiculously bad. If not bad, certainly wrong. You can be very sure that Boston would not want, nor would they put up with, that kind of anemic sound for a minute.

“The CBS is cut clean from a good tape, so it easily beats the bad domestic pressings, of which there are many. But it can’t rock. What good is a Boston record that doesn’t rock? It’s a contradiction in terms; the band, as well as their debut album, have no other reason to exist.

“So the MFSL was somewhat of a relief in that regard, being more sweet and rolled-off on top. However, it sounded bland, blah, slow and murky by comparison. It was still OK sonically with a fuller midband, but didn’t have the midrange energy or dynamics of the CBS and it just seemed slow and plodding, no other way to put it. Bass on the MFSL copy was weightier but more midbass than the quick and extended bass on the CBS.”

Agreed. The MoFi Anadisc had the same problems that plagued that whole series: turgid, thick, blobby, murky, mucky sound. A real slogfest. In short, audiophile trash of the worst kind.

“Now for the hot stamper, it was closer in tonal balance to the CBS, tending to be leaner, but the bass was quicker and more impactful, and the treble, while still as extended, was more balanced with the rest of the sonic spectrum. There was more instrumental detail, like on the rimshots on More Than A Feeling, better dynamic range, and a more transparent soundstage than with either half-speed copy. I actually had a great time listening to Smokin and the other cuts on side 2 that I actually haven’t heard in a while.

“I would highly recommend anyone who can still stand this record to get a hot stamper and get their feet tapping.”

Here here. I would recommend the same. Thanks for taking the time to do your own shootout and writing up your results.

Best, TP


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to their Half-Speed Mastered Counterparts

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to their Heavy Vinyl Counterparts

Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson…. – Wanted! The Outlaws

More Willie Nelson

More Country and Country Rock

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  • An outstanding pressing of this superb compilation album with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • When we first dropped the needle on a random copy of the album we were SHOCKED at how good it sounded – this recording is a real sleeper
  • The talents of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser come together under a unifying theme that “gave the album a cohesion and freshness it might have otherwise lacked”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… [the album] marked the industry’s recognition of the changing times, and as the center point of a campaign to publicize Nashville’s new ‘progressive’ breed, it worked like a charm. It quickly became the first country album to sell more than a million copies, and it boosted the careers of all involved.”

Our first Waylon Jennings album! Most of his albums from the ’60s are hard and honky in the extreme, but this one from the ’70s is a whole nother animal. It’s rich, with exceptionally natural reproduction of these varied artists’ voices. As we noted above, we were very, very impressed.

It has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (more…)

The Three/ The Three on Inner City – By Far the Best Way to Get All Six Tracks

More Shelly Manne

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • A true Demo Disc of this wonderful recording, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • The transients are uncannily lifelike – listen for the huge amounts of kinetic energy produced when Shelly whacks the hell out of his cymbals
  • My favorite Piano Trio Jazz Album of All Time; every one of those six tracks is brilliantly arranged and performed (if you have the right takes of course; more about that later)
  • 4 Stars: “One of Joe Sample’s finest sessions as a leader” – with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown, we would say it’s clearly his finest session, as a leader or simply as the piano player in a killer trio

If you want to hear the full six tunes recorded by The Three at that famous Hollywood session (which ran all day and long into the night, 4 AM to be exact), these 33 RPM pressings are the best way to go. The music is so good that I personally would not want to live without the complete album. The Three is, in fact, my favorite Piano Trio Jazz Album of All Time; every one of those six tracks is brilliantly arranged and performed (if you have the right takes of course; more about that later). (more…)