Month: November 2020

Eagles – Eagles Live

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  • An outstanding copy of the band’s first live album with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all FOUR sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This copy is full-bodied and natural, with a nicely extended top end, plenty of space around the instruments and vocals, and few of the problems that plagued many pressings we played (a subject we discuss below)
  • The album provides a balanced document of the band’s musical history – five tracks were recorded in 1976, the rest in 1980 
  • “When it comes to live music, most bands fail. The Eagles, however, sound even better… Hotel California is iconic, every track on this album is epic. The Eagles, the band that shaped not just one generation but continue to do so. This is a must have for fans of the Eagles…”

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Joni Mitchell – For The Roses

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this White Label Asylum pressing was one of the best we played in our recent shootout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is especially rich, warm and natural, with exceptional immediacy to Joni’s vocals and Tubey Magic for days
  • One of the best sounding Joni records, on a par with Court and Spark and Blue – fine company indeed
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The lyrics here are among Mitchell’s best, continuing in the vein of gripping honesty and heartfelt depth exhibited on Blue…. More than a bridge between great albums, this excellent disc is a top-notch listen in its own right.”

This copy has real energy and dynamics that just could not be heard on most of the pressings we played. With dynamics AND the warmth and richness found here, this copy will be hard to beat.

Listen to how huge the piano is. No two copies will show you the same piano, which makes it a great test for sound. Both sides have clear, present, breathy vocals, about as good as Joni can sound on vinyl, which is saying a lot. (more…)

What We Think We Know about Elvis Costello’s Groundbreaking Debut from 1977

Hot Stampers of My Aim Is True

Letters and Commentaries for My Aim Is True

  • This STUNNING copy of Costello’s debut album earned Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides
  • The sound is lively, punchy, and powerful – with all due respect, it should MURDER whatever copies you may have
  • A massive step up sonically from most domestic pressings, early or otherwise, and guaranteed to handily beat the imports as well
  • 5 stars: “A phenomenal debut, capturing a songwriter and musician whose words were as rich and clever as his music.”

Yes, it’s lively and has that driving punk rock bass, but what sets this copy apart from the average pressing is the top end — it’s silky and smooth. As a consequence, the vocals end up being more present and transparent than we’re used to, with almost none of the grit and spit so common to most of the copies anyone is ever likely to come across. (more…)

Vivaldi / Bach / Guitar Concertos / Yepes / Alonso

More of the Music of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

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  • This wonderful classical guitar recording makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple plus (A+++) sound or close to it – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound here is glorious, brimming with the wonderful qualities that make listening to classical music in analog so involving
  • The orchestra sounds rich and sweet, yet the guitar is clear, present and appropriately placed relative to the surrounding ensemble
  • As is to be expected from the Decca engineers in 1959, the sound is so relaxed and correct that you immediately find yourself simply enjoying the performances of these two well-known pieces, which is entirely the point, although we sometimes forget the purpose of all our audiophile rigmarole

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Led Zeppelin II on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl – Seriously, What Could Be Sadder?

ledzeII classic

An absolute DISASTER — ridiculously bright, ridiculously crude, in short, a completely unlistenable piece of garbage.

Over the years we have done many Led Zeppelin shootouts, often including the Classic Heavy Vinyl Pressings as a “reference.” After all, the Classic pressings are considered by many — if not most — audiophiles as superior to other pressings. What could be sadder?

In fact. you will find very few critics of the Classic Zep LPs outside of those who write for this very website, and even we used to recommend three of the Zep titles on Classic: Led Zeppelin I, IV and Presence.

Wrong on all counts.

Since then we’ve made it a point to create debunking commentaries for some of the Classic Zeps, a public service of Better Records. We don’t actually like any of them now, although the first album is still by far the best of the bunch.

Mussorgsky & Ravel – Pictures at an Exhibition

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  • An outstanding pressing, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • Our favorite performance by far, with BIG, BOLD and POWERFUL sonics like no other recording we know
  • The brass clarity, the dynamics, the deep bass and the sheer power of the orchestra are almost hard to believe
  • No vintage recording of these works compares with Muti’s – and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite is an extra special added bonus on side two

This EMI pressing gives you the complete Pictures at an Exhibition with a TOP PERFORMANCE and SUPERB SONICS from first note to last.

As this is my All Time Favorite performance of Pictures, this record naturally comes very highly recommended. Pictures is a piece of music that has been recorded countless times, and I’ve played scores of different recordings, but the only one that truly satisfies is this one, Muti’s 1979 recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Much like Previn and the LSO’s performance of The Planets, he finds the music in the work that no one else seems to. (more…)

Rodrigo – Boieldieu / Harp Concertos / Zabaleta – Reviewed in 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This White Hot Stamper pressing of DG’s recording of Rodrigo’s famous concerto for harp has amazing DEMO DISC SOUND, but only on side two. The harp is clear, with no smear whatsoever, but what’s really shocking is how huge the soundstage is, and how much depth it has. While playing this side the speakers just disappeared and a huge concert hall appeared in their place! The harmonics of the harp are rendered superbly well. It’s hard to imagine one could record a harp concerto better than this. It is superb in every way.

Heavy Vinyl

About ten years ago a Heavy Vinyl version of this album was remastered and pressed by Speakers Corner, part of their disastrous foray into the DG catalog. This title was decent, the Beethoven Violin Concerto was okay, as was one of the Tchaicovsky Symphonies with Mravinsky (#5), but the rest were just plain awful, with disgracefully bad sound.

Funny, I don’t recall reading any bad reviews of these albums at the time. Oh, that’s right, these Heavy Vinyl records never get bad reviews, no matter how lifeless, opaque and shrill they might sound. Except from us of course. We were writing about them back in the day and trying to sell just the better ones. (We have since given up in that effort as so few are really very good when you get right down to it.) (more…)

Wes Montgomery – In The Wee Small Hours (aka Fusion! Wes Montgomery with Strings)

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  • Montgomery’s wonderful 1963 release finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • Exceptionally spacious and three-dimensional, as well as relaxed and full-bodied, this reissue pressing had better sound than any original
  • As you can imagine, harmonically rich, clear, clean strings (or the lack of them) separated the winners from the losers pretty quickly
  • 4 stars: “As with his later albums, Montgomery’s guitar solos here are brief and melodic but the jazz content is fairly high even if the emphasis is (with the exception of “Tune Up”) on ballads.”

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Frames of Reference, Carefully Conducted Shootouts and Critical Listening

More Lessons Learned from Record Experiments

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The sound we were hearing on this copy during a recent shootout was both rich and sweet, with easily recognized, unerringly correct timbres for all seven of the instruments heard in the work. The legendary 1959 Decca Tree microphone setup had worked its magic once again. And, as good as it was, we were surprised to discover that side two was actually even better! The sound was more spacious and more transparent. We asked ourselves, how is this even possible? Hard to believe but side two had the sound that was TRULY Hard To Fault.

Faults in Focus

This is precisely what careful shootouts and critical listening are all about.

If you like Heavy Vinyl, what exactly is your frame of reference? How many good early pressings could you possibly own, and how were they cleaned?

Without the best pressings around to compare, Heavy Vinyl can sound fine. It’s only when you have something better that its faults come into focus.

We, of course, have something much, much better, and we like to call them Hot Stampers! (more…)

Ambrosia – Ambrosia

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  • Spectacular Prog Rock sound explodes on this copy of the band’s phenomenally well-recorded debut album, mixed by none other than Alan Parsons – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • With Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on side one, and outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on side two, this copy was delivering the goods for Ambrosia’s ambitious Masterpiece
  • Big Whomp Factor here – the bottom end is huge and punchy on this copy
  • A Better Records All-Time Favorite and Top 100 Demo Disc: “Its songs skillfully blend strong melodic hooks and smooth vocal harmonies with music of an almost symphonic density.”

Folks, this LP is nothing short of a Sonic Spectacular. For that reason alone it would get a strong recommendation, but the music is so good that the brilliant sound is best seen as a bonus, not the sole reason to own the album.

These sides have the kind of energy that few titles can lay claim to. Put this one up against your best Dark Side of the Moon. Unless you bought a High Dollar copy from us, I’d say there’s almost no chance that this album won’t reduce it to vinyl rubble. (We talk about how similar the recordings are below.) (more…)