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

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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

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  • 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

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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

A classic case of Live and Learn

More of The Who

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

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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

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  • This vintage ’50s Capitol pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) 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.

What the best sides of This is Nat King Cole have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1957
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does. (more…)

The Fifth Dimension – The Age of Aquarius

More of The Fifth Dimension

More Sixties Pop Recordings

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  • An outstanding copy of The Age of Aquarius with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • Tubey Magical sweetness and richness is key, and here you will find plenty of both, with virtually no sacrifice in presence, clarity or resolution
  • You can thank legendary engineer and producer Bones Howe, the man behind the phenomenal recordings of The Association, The Turtles and even the likes of Tom Waits(!)
  • 4 stars: “The Age of Aquarius, the 5th Dimension’s fourth album, was the group’s commercial peak… The 5th Dimension were the successors to the L.A. vocal group mantle passed on by The Mamas and the Papas… their work had a sheen and a zest that sometimes contrasted with the original tone of the material.”

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America – Self-Titled

More America

More Hippie Folk Rock

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  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the best we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of our favorite Hippie Folk Rock albums – the instruments and voices are so well recorded they will seem to be floating right in front of you
  • The Tubey Magical acoustic guitars on this record are a true test of stereo reproduction – thanks Ken Scott!
  • A tough record to find these days on the early Green Label with sound this good and audiophile playing surfaces that are this quiet
  • 4 stars: “America’s debut album is a folk-pop classic, a stellar collection of memorable songs that would prove influential on such acts as the Eagles and Dan Fogelberg…”

These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.

This is clearly America’s best album, and on the better pressings like this one, the sound is worthy of Demo Disc status. You’ll find the kind of immediacy, richness and harmonic texture that not many records (and even fewer CDs) are capable of reproducing.

The version we are offering here has the song A Horse With No Name. Some copies without that song can sound very good as well, but with grades this good, this copy is going to be very hard to beat.

Interestingly, A Horse With No Name never sounds quite as good as the rest of the album. It was recorded in 1971, after the album had already been released, and subsequently added to newer pressings starting in 1972. Unlike the rest of the album, it was not engineered by Ken Scott at Trident, but by a different engineer at Morgan Studios. The engineer of that song took a different approach to the one that Scott had, and we leave it to you to decide how well that approach worked.

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Frank Sinatra – Sinatra Sings… of Love and Things

More Frank Sinatra

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  • 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…)