Month: September 2020

Mary Hopkin – Post Card

More Hippie Folk Rock

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  • KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it for both sides of this original Apple import pressing
  • These sides were doing everything right — clean, clear and full-bodied with wonderfully breathy vocals and a solid bottom end
  • Engineered by Ken Scott, Donovan’s “Lord of the Reedy River” is simply amazing on this copy
  • “Paul McCartney produced this debut album of twee but pretty, romantic pop-folk… the highlights are Donovan’s “Lord of the Reedy River” and “The Honeymoon Song,” which McCartney himself had sung with the Beatles way back in 1963 on the BBC…” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars

The domestic pressings can sound very good but they can’t sound like this Brit original! This is clearly the master tape; all veils have been lifted, and the ambience and transparency of the soundstage are sublime on both sides. (more…)

David Bowie – Hunky Dory

  • 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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John Coltrane / Lush Life – Should You Collect the Original Pressing on this Title?

A classic case of Live and Learn

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No. We was wrong about Lush Life.

Previously we had written:

“There are great sounding originals, but they are few and far between…”

We no longer believe that to be true. In fact we believe the opposite of that statement to be true. The original we had on hand — noisy but with reasonably good sound, or so we thought — was an absolute joke next to our best Hot Stamper pressings. Half the size, half the clarity and presence, half the life and energy, half the immediacy, half the studio space. It was simply not remotely competitive with the copies we now know (or at least believe, all knowledge being provisional) to have the best sound.

Are there better originals than the ones we’ve played? No doubt. If you want to spend your day searching for them, more power to you. And if you do find one that impresses you, we are happy to send you one of our Hot Copies to play against it. We are confident that the outcome would be clearly favorable to our pressing. Ten seconds of side one should be enough to convince you that our record is in an entirely different league, a league we had no idea even existed until just this year.

By the way, the mono original we played was by far the worst sound I have ever heard for the album. By far.

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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

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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.

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Glen Campbell – By The Time I Get To Phoenix

More Glen Campbell

  • Glen Campbell’s superb 1967 release makes its Hot Stamper debut with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • This stereo pressing is relaxed, full-bodied and high-rez, not to mention uncannily present – it’s an outstanding pressing of a surprisingly good recording
  • Most of Glen’s records from mid-’60s make him sound like he’s singing through an AM radio, so when we finally heard some good stampers on this title, we could hardly believe it
  • 4 stars: “Glen Campbell’s commercial breakthrough came by way of the title track, which was the direct precursor in production terms to “Wichita Lineman,” and by the same writer.”

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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…)