Month: February 2021

Varese et al. / Percussion Music / New Jersey Percussion Ensemble

TAS List Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

WHITE HOT stampers on side one of this CRAZY FUN 20th Century Percussion Music album, featuring classical works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (piano and voice also make appearances). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

But the main reason audiophiles will love this album is not the music, but the SOUND. Ionisation has amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one. And the bottom end is BIG and powerful, probably the main reason the album has been on the TAS Super Disc for decades. If you’ve got full range speakers with big woofers and like to play your music loud, this record will give your system quite a workout.

With the invention of new instruments and increased cross-cultural exchange in the 20th century, composers’ interest in writing for percussion exploded, creating a uniquely modern genre that embraced both the future and the ancient past. The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble was founded in 1968 to perform this new literature, here performing works by Varèse, Cowell, and others.

It also makes a superb test disc. Subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this. The instrumental palette is large and colorful, giving the critical listener plenty to work with.

And this copy is perfect for testing because is is nearly FLAWLESS in its sound on side one. No other copy could touch it. Many copies are not especially transparent, spacious or three-dimensional, and lack extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum.

The SPEED of the percussion is also critical to its accurate reproduction. No two pieces of electronics will get this record to sound the same, and some will fail miserably. If vintage tube gear is your idea of good sound, this record may help you to better understand where its shortcomings lie. (more…)

Kate Bush – The Kick Inside

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Forget the domestic pressings (with the different cover), forget all the lame reissues that have come or will come down the pike — if you want to hear this album right, a Hot Stamper British pressing is the only way to go
  • We will not be in a hurry to do this shootout again – with so many incompetent “record dealers” in the game now, getting clean copies of Kate Bush’s albums across the pond was much more difficult and expensive than it should have been
  • Includes Bush’s hit “Wuthering Heights,” and a number of tracks written by this precocious artist at only 15
  • 4 stars: “… the sound of an impressionable and highly precocious teenager spreading her wings for the first time… a mightily impressive debut.”

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Elvis Costello – Get Happy

More Elvis Costello

More Titles Only Offered on Import LP

  • An incredibly good UK pressing – only the second Shootout Winner to hit the site in many years, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • Big, lively and dynamic, with huge amounts of bass (Elvis’s trademark sound) and New Wave energy that’s off the charts
  • Get Happy, coming right before the brilliant Trust, contains Elvis classics like I Can’t Stand Up (for Falling Down) & Motel Matches
  • The AMG Five Star rating “…a 20-song blue-eyed soul tour-de-force…” and killer recording quality make this a Must Own for Elvis fans

Two amazing Triple Plus (A+++) sides for this rip-roarin’, twenty song, five star rated Elvis Costello extravaganza!

This is the record that came right after Armed Forces, which is a huge favorite around these parts, and the venerable All Music Guide gives both albums five big stars. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but it’s certainly full of good material. Out of the twenty songs on here, exactly one clocks in at over three minutes. (more…)

Boz Scaggs / Slow Dancer – Common Problems

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Boz Scaggs

This is an album of wonderful white soul music. As a bonus, it also happens to be very well recorded. The problem we ran into on copy after copy was a brighter than ideal tonal balance, hard vocals and, on those copies that don’t extend fully on the top and bottom, a somewhat squashed, peaky midrange.

The better copies deal with those issues and, for the most part solve them. There’s lovely texture to the strings, plenty of punchy rich bass, and all the elements of the recording are properly balanced, something they still knew how to do back in the all analog days of 1974, I’m glad to report. (more…)

The Who ‎/ Who’s Next – Getting It Exactly Backwards

More of the Music of The Who

Reviews and Commentaries for Who’s Next

A classic case of Live and Learn

What follows is the commentary for the Canadian One Sided Half-Speed that we had auditioned around 2000. It came in a regular jacket, not the one you see pictured, and was part of a big overstock batch I had gotten my hands on a number of years before.

Getting It Exactly Backwards

Half of this record is Half-Speed Mastered! There’s an interesting story behind this album. Those of you who’ve been collecting audiophile records for a long time may remember that Who’s Next was as an MCA Masterphile Half-Speed Mastered pressing produced in Canada. I remember liking it back in the day, which had to be 15 years ago at least. But they are very rare and I haven’t played one in many years.

I ran into some sealed Canadian pressings of Who’s Next, and when I cracked one open to play it I noted it had Masterphile written in the deadwax on one side. Apparently they had made so few Masterphile pressings that the metal work was still useable and they decided to press some “regular” records with one of the stampers.

And I remember I used to tell people that the good side, side one, was the Masterphile side. Then three or four years ago [circa 2000], I had occasion to play the record. Lo and behold, side one was bright and phony, and side two was rich and sweet, like the good Track Label pressings! I had gotten it exactly backwards.

A recurring theme here at Better Records has to do with the phony sound of audiophile records that we used to like, and the more natural sound of regular records, which are the ones we like now. This is another example. The better your equipment gets, the fewer so-called “audiophile” pressings you will want to have in your collection. The upshot to this story? Side two sounds great on this copy! (more…)

Schumann / Concerto in A Minor / Reiner

Side two of this RCA Shaded Dog original pressing has Super Hot Stamper sound. It’s rich and smooth, yet it captures the texture and harmonics of the strings beautifully. It’s transparent, high-rez, as well as being open, all signs that the cutting was done on very high quality equipment, properly eq’d and not bandwidth limited or overly compressed.

Side one is not as full as side two; it’s undistorted when loud, which is nice, but does not have all the magic that side two will show you. If you have a nice side one of the album and need a side two to complement it, this is the record for you. Or if you want a record that gets the work mostly right, this might just be the ticket. Finding two good sides for this album is probably not in the cards for us; clean copies are just too rare and expensive these days.

Nat King Cole – This Is Nat “King” Cole

More Nat “King” Cole

  • This vintage ’50s Capitol pressing boasts outstanding sound from first note to last
  • These sides are insanely good — BIG, rich and Tubey Magical, yet clear and not the least bit thick or opaque
  • Turn down the lights, gently drop the needle at the start of side one and you will soon find a living breathing Nat King Cole standing between your speakers
  • “Cole as usual gives warm, confident readings of all this material, and fans welcomed the packaging of some songs previously available only on singles…”

A wonderful copy of Nat’s classic 1957 release. It’s taken us a long time to pull together enough clean copies to make the shootout happen. Boy, was it worth all the trouble.

The presence and immediacy of Nat King Cole’s vocals here are ’50s Capitol Recording Magic at its best. Set the volume right and Nat is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. The selection of material and the contributions of all involved (Nelson Riddle among them) are hard to fault.

The sound is big, open, rich and full, with loads of Tubey Magic. The highs are extended and silky sweet.

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Peter, Paul & Mary – A Song Will Rise

More Peter, Paul and Mary

  • Incredible sound for this Warner Brothers stereo pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades, the first copy to hit the site in years!
  • “The fifth album, A Song Will Rise, appeared in March 1965. It was, in a sense, the last of a quartet of albums that made up the early Peter, Paul and Mary sound. Again employing two-acoustic-guitars-and-acoustic-bass instrumentation, it featured a combination of recent cover tunes, songs associated with the groups’ predecessors, such as the Weaver’s ‘Wasn’t That A Time,” and a collection of revised traditional songs.”

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Frank Sinatra – Sinatra Sings… of Love and Things

More Frank Sinatra

  • Two outstanding sides each earning Double Plus (A++) grades, and playing about as quietly as any early Rainbow Label Capitol stereo pressing can
  • This Capitol LP has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from the later reissues, which, to our way of thinking, are not worth buying at any price. It gives you the sense that Frank Sinatra is standing right in front of you, and that’s exactly the way we like to hear him
  • Somehow the man managed to record and release six studio albums in 1962, with this compilation making a total of seven for the year. Even more remarkable, all seven of them made the Top Ten of the pop charts
  • The music is excellent, as one can see from the track listing. It’s hard to go wrong with these later Capitol Sinatra records. They’re almost always a fun listen

This album comprises the last group of singles Capitol released of Sinatra’s music. Reprise had started in 1960 and the rest of Sinatra’s music would come out on his own label. (more…)

Steve Miller Band – Sailor – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

More Steve Miller Band

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SUPER HOT STAMPERS DISCOVERED AT LAST for this crazy SMB album engineered by the man himself, Glyn Johns! We just finished a big shootout for this trippy, bluesy LP and were pleased to find that the best copies really do give you that analog magic we’ve come to expect from Mr. Johns’ recordings.  

We have paired up two Capitol Rainbow Label pressings here to give you excellent sound for both sides. This will allow you to do your own shootout at home to see just how special the good sides really are. If you don’t want to bother with the inferior sides and leave the tedious work of playing bad sounding records to us, we’ll understand!

This album is a far cry from Miller’s poppier later work a la Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams. The music is psychedelic, bluesy and downright strange if you ask me. As we listened to these songs over and over I couldn’t believe how unique this album is. It’s a real pastiche of tripped-out ’60s styles, but it doesn’t sound all that similar to any of their contemporaries since it goes in so many directions. The open, spacious and tubey magical sound that Glyn Johns got here lets you make sense of all the crazy elements. You don’t need to know the lyrics to Space Cowboy to get the idea that these guys were probably pretty serious “midnight tokers.” (more…)