Month: January 2022

Tchaikovsky / The Nutcracker Ballet in Two Acts / Ansermet

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • An outstanding copy of Tchaikovsky’s COMPLETE masterpiece with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on all FOUR sides
  • If you have never experienced a vintage top quality pressing of a Wilkinson engineered Decca Tree recording from Victoria Hall, this is your chance to hear sound that puts practically everything else to shame
  • A record like this lets you get lost in the world of its music, and what could be more important in a recording than that?
  • This is an AMAZINGLY well recorded performance of one of the most famous ballets ever committed to analog tape
  • Enchanting music and sound combine on this copy to make one seriously good Demo Disc, if what you are trying to demonstrate is how relaxed and involved vintage analog can make you feel
  • If you’re a fan of brilliant showpieces such as these, this London Box Set from 1959 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

There is certainly no shortage of Audio Spectaculars available on the site. A record such as this, so rich, natural and effortless, has distinctly different qualities that we feel are every bit as vital to the critical audiophile’s enjoyment of Tchaikovsky’s music.

Ansermet breathes life into this ballet as only he can and the Decca engineering team led by Kenneth Wilkinson do him proud. (more…)

Willie Nelson – Yesterday’s Wine

More Willie Nelson

More Country and Country Rock

  • This is a surprisingly well recorded album, and this pressing is rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, just the way we like ’em
  • “Yesterday’s Wine should also take its rightful place among his best-loved works… “Family Bible,” “Me and Paul,” and the title track are all particularly fine examples of Nelson’s songcraft. As a whole, Yesterday’s Wine provides further insight into the development of his art during this prolific period.”
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Fleetwood Mac – Kiln House

More Fleetwood Mac

Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac

  • Tubey Magical smooth sound is key to the best copies, and this copy delivers, with the analog richness the music needs
  • Tubey Magical sound is key to the best copies, and this one really delivers, with the analog richness the music needs to work its Buddy Holly magic
  • Three of the best songs Fleetwood Mac ever did are here: Tell Me All The Things You Do, Station Man and Jewel Eyed Judy
  • Danny Kirwan is brilliant here on this grossly underappreciated album from Fleetwood Mac’s awesome post-Peter Green period
  • Kiln House is the last of the Mac’s grungy guitar-based releases, and more’s the pity
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this classic from 1970 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This is a favorite Fleetwood Mac album of ours here at Better Records and one that’s very hard to find with anything resembling good sound. Grungy guitars and punchy drums in a huge acoustical space. The louder you play it the better it sounds.

This period Fleetwood Mac, from Kiln House through Mystery to Me (both are the kind of records I would take to my Desert Island), has always been my favorite of the band. I grew up on this stuff, and I can tell you from personal experience, having played a dozen copies of Kiln House practically all day at some pretty serious levels for our shootout not that long ago, it is a positive THRILL to hear the album sound as good as it does right here. (more…)

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill

More Sergio Mendes

More Bossa Nova

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Fool on the Hill you’ve heard
  • Sergio’s unique rearrangement of two songs in particular here make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and title trackl
  • Top engineers for A&M, Henry Lewy and Larry Levine, capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of these wonderful female leads – Lani Hall, Karen Philipp and Gracinha Leporace
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Even though he had become thoroughly embedded in the consciousness of mainstream America, Mendes still managed to have it three ways, exposing first-class tunes from little-known Brazilian talent, garnering commercial hits, and also making some fine records.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and the band, this early pressing from 1968 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Two songs in particular make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and The Fool On The Hill. Both of them are given wonderfully original treatments. These songs hold their own against the originals, and that’s saying something.

Sergio took on many of the heavyweights of his day, and most of the time he succeeded in producing a uniquely satisfying version of well-known material. Superb original tracks by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell and others were given the Sergio Mendes latin pop treatment and came out much the better for it.

This vintage A&M pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

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MoFi Mastering Variations – Will the Real Sgt. Pepper Please Stand Up?

This can be a pretty good sounding MoFi when it’s mastered by the right guy.

Say what?

Yes, dear reader, this album was mastered by two different engineers at Mobile Fidelity, and one of them, based on experiments we carried out years ago, did a much better job than the other.

This copy, which is far more rare by the way, has the better mastering — much less top end boost was added. As an aside, I used to like the other version better, but as I’ve gotten older and wiser, I realize that this pressing is superior, being noticeably less phony sounding, sounding much more like a good Parlophone and less like the typical Mobile Fidelity album. Having auditioned at least a hundred pressings of the album over the last twenty years or more, we know the right sound for this album like nobody’s business.

This copy will also sound better than the vaunted UHQR. That one has the same top end boost.

More of The Beatles

Letters and Commentaries for Sgt. Peppers


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Hot Stamper Customer Reviews

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Key Tracks for Critical Listening 

Roxy Music / Country Life – A Killer Arty Rock Album from ’74

  • This killer early British Island import pressing had two amazing sides, each rating a Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it
  • This one is simply bigger, richer, more clear and more Tubey Magical than almost every other copy we heard in our shootout
  • As quiet as any Island original we’ve ever heard – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – they don’t come quieter
  • AMG raves that “…Country Life finds Roxy Music at the peak of their powers, alternating between majestic, unsettling art rock and glamorous, elegant pop/rock. Roxy Music rarely sounded as invigorating as they do here.”

Many of the best songs Bryan Ferry ever wrote and Roxy Music ever played are on this album. Musically it’s right up there with the first album and Siren. All three represent the high watermark of early- to mid-’70s Arty Rock. (more…)

Respighi / Strauss – Pines of Rome / Don Juan / Kempe

More Orchestral Spectaculars

More Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome

  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard The Pines of Rome sound remotely as good as it does here (unless you own one of killer Living Stereo LPs of the work)
  • This Readers Digest pressing of Kempe’s superb 1964 recording for Decca has glorious sound on both sides and plays reasonably quietly for any LP produced by this notoriously difficult label for audiophiles
  • There were only three performances with top quality audiophile sound, and our Wilkinson-engineered pressing here was right up there with the best we heard in our massive shootout
  • If you know anything about these works, you know that they have tons of top and bottom end, and it is the rare pressing that captures both
  • The texture and harmonic overtones of the strings are superb – as we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity Kempe and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra brought to these difficult and demanding works 50 plus years ago

This shootout has been at least thirty years in the making — that’s how long I have been picking up these RDG sets, ever since my friend Robert Pincus turned me on to them all those years ago.

Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand, close to a dozen different performances I  think, and found them all wanting, save three: the Reiner (which is still on the TAS List), this Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite, and a close second at that), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with low end whomp and weight. On The Pines both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

The best pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Wilkinson working with his Decca colleagues nailed it — in 1964!

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud, and the Pines gets very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing.

Kempe and Wilkinson’s Take

For The Pines, the main difference between our top two favorites is that this recording is a bit more modern, which is only perhaps the difference between 1960 and 1964.

Our notes for side two read:

  • Rich, clear and present.
  • Great space. 
  • Performance is very lively. As the record played, we noted:
  • Really clear, big and open, weighty and spacious.

This is what we want in our orchestral dreadnaught recordings, and Kempe and Decca more than delivered.

For Don Juan, which takes up all of side one, this is certainly as good sounding a pressing as we have ever heard. We are no experts on the work — we have yet to work through the many pressings and performances that we have of it, a dozen I would guess — but we know a good sounding record when we play one.

Our notes read:

  • Clear, really open and detailed. Great space.
  • Great weight. Solid, clear, and balanced.

This recording can certainly serve as a benchmark for when we finally get around to doing the shootout.

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Jonathan Edwards – Self-Titled

See more of our Singer Songwriter albums

  • If you’re a fan of superbly well recorded Acoustic Guitar Folk Pop (think James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg), this pressing is guaranteed to deliver the goods
  • 4 1/2 stars: “His brand of homespun tunes were perfectly matched to his emotive and soaring tenor… The acoustic and optimistic “Sunshine” struck a chord with listeners in the fall of 1971, climbing all the way to a lofty number four on the Pop Singles survey…

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Johnny Mathis / Heavenly – Testing For Sibilance

All copies have sibilance, some more than others. The best copies have the least amount and make the spit they do have much less gritty and objectionable.

We’ve known for decades how good a test sibilance is for tables, cartridges and arms. Sibilance is a bitch. The best pressings, with the most extension up top and the least amount of aggressive grit and grain mixed into the music, played using the highest quality, most carefully dialed-in front ends, will keep sibilance to an acceptable minimum.

VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate adjustments are critical to reducing the amount and the quality of the spit in your records.

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Yes – Time And A Word

More Yes

More Prog Rock

  • You’ll find solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last on this outstanding UK pressing of Time And A Word – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the best High Production Value rock music of the ’60s and ’70s, thanks to the band and a Mr. Eddie Offord
  • If you’ve ever heard one of our Yes Album or Fragile Hot Stampers, you’ll know what to expect here – huge and powerful sound
  • “[T]he group was developing a much tauter ensemble than was evident on their first LP, so there’s no lack of visceral excitement. “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” was a bold opening [and] “Everydays” is highlighted by Anderson’s ethereal vocals and Kaye’s dueting with the orchestra.”

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