Month: March 2022

Janis Joplin / Pearl – What Are My Options?

More Janis Joplin

Mobile Fidelity famously attempted to do a version of this album back in the ’80s that (thankfully) never made it past the test pressing phase.

Sells for big money too. Collector Mentality at its worst. And what could be sadder than collecting the awful records of that label? In the ’80s it might have made sense — I used to do it — but at some point we should make some progress in this hobby, and it does not take much audio progress before the shortcomings of the vast majority of those remastered pressings become obvious and intolerable.

There’s a Sony 180 gram reissue from Germany that’s godawful, and the later Columbia versions are a mess as well.

Stick with the early domestic pressings. If you clean and play enough of them, you most likely will find a good one.


We consider this Janis Joplin record her Masterpiece. It’s a recording that should be part of any serious popular Music Collection.

Others that belong in that category can be found here.

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Herbie Mann and Joao Gilberto – Herbie Mann and Joao Gilberto With Carlos Jobim

More Joao Gilberto

More Bossa Nova

  • This wonderful compilation makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • It’s big, lively, clear and present, with the kind of Tubey Magical richness we flip out for here at Better Records
  • A difficult record to find with audiophile playing surfaces – we go years without seeing a clean copy in stereo
  • “The two make an effective team, with Gilberto’s sometimes sentimental, sometimes impressionistic works effectively supported by Mann’s lithe flute solos.”

This record has the potential to sound its best on the right early pressing. Here are hundreds of others:

Records that Sound Best on the Right Early Pressing

This record sounds best in stereo, not mono. Here are hundreds of others we prefer in stereo:

Mono or Stereo? Stereo!

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Judy Collins – Who Knows Where The Time Goes

More Judy Collins

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Judy Collins

  • The sweetness and transparency to the guitars and vocals on this wonderful pressing won us over
  • “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” – one of our favorite Judy Collins songs – is achingly powerful here
  • 4 stars: “Enthusiasts of Judy Collins rank this among their favorite recordings and it is likewise a perfect touchstone for the burgeoning listener as well.”
  • If you’re a fan of Judy’s, this early pressing from 1968 surely belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Finding the Best Sound

Most copies were a bit thinner than ideal, and even the best pressings we heard had a bit of that quality. Frequency extension high and low was also hard to come by.

If the sound is rich and full-bodied, yet clear and transparent, you probably have yourself one of the few that were mastered and pressed properly — and one of the few that survived the turntables of their day to be playable forty-plus years later on the revealing equipment you undoubtedly own.

If you don’t own such a copy, and with all due respect chances are you don’t, we have a lovely copy right here for you, only a click away.

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Dire Straits – We Knew This Was a Tour de Force by Rhett Davies Back in 2007

More Recordings Engineered by Rhett Davies

Reviews and Commentaries for Dire Straits’ Debut

More of the Music of Dire Straits

This Vertigo British pressing of Dire Straits’ wonderful debut has ABSOLUTELY THE BEST SOUND for this album we have ever heard. Folks, this one just can’t be beat. AGAIG is our shorthand for As Good As It Gets, and that’s an understatement when it comes to the sound of this copy. It blew the doors off every record we put up against it; every Vertigo pressing, regardless of country of manufacture or era. If you’re looking for The World Champion, this copy holds the title and is very unlikely to be giving it up any time soon.

Rhett Davies is one of our favorite recording engineers, the man behind Taking Tiger Mountain, 801 Live and Avalon to name just a few of his most famous recordings, all favorites of ours of course.

His Masterpiece Discovered

Well, we just have to say that until something better comes along, THIS IS HIS MASTERPIECE. It has to be one of the best sounding rock records ever made, with Tubey Magic mids, prodigious bass, transparency to beat the band, and freedom from hi-fi-ishness and distortion like few rock recordings you have ever heard.

This album is every bit as good and may in fact be even a bit better in some areas, principally in the areas of dynamics and energy. It is a very special recording of incredible size and power.

Still, we’re pretty sure most people would rather have a good copy of Dire Straits’ debut.

So, to be fair, let’s say the man is responsible for two of the best sounding records we know of. Two masterpieces in other words.

The man may be famous for some fairly artificial sounding recordings — Eno’s, Roxy Music’s and The Talking Heads’ albums come to mind — but it’s obvious to us now, if it wasn’t before, that those are entirely artistic choices, not engineering shortcomings. Rhett Davies, by virtue of the existence of this pressing alone, has proven that he belongs in the company of the greatest engineers of all time, along with the likes of Bill Porter, Ken Scott, Stephen Barncard, Geoff Emerick and others too numerous to mention.

We Want To Rock

What separates the best Brits from the merely good ones? In a word, ENERGY. The best copies make this band sound like they are on fire, ready to go head to head with the world, fiercely proud of the new sound they’ve created. The not-so-good copies make Dire Straits sound the way Dire Straits usually does — laid back and well under control, perhaps even a bit bored with the whole affair. The best copies show you a band that wants to rock with the best of them, and can.

Demo Disc Sound

Both sides here are OFF THE CHARTS — no copy came close, and none may ever! It’s got all of the punch, all of the energy, and all of the tubey magic that you could ever ask for. The vocals, the bass, the guitars — all PERFECTION. The overall sound is rich, full, smooth, sweet, super transparent, and tonally correct from top to bottom. The presence and immediacy on this copy are UNCANNY and UNMATCHED.

Water Of Love and Sultans of Swing have the kind of Demo Disc sound that will have your audiophile friends drooling and turning green with envy. We can’t all afford $100,000 turntables, but when you have a record that sounds this good, you don’t need one! This record makes it sound like you have 100k in your rig, whether you do or not.

A Big Speaker Record

Let’s face it, this is a BIG SPEAKER recording. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It demands to be played LOUD. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended if you play it at moderate levels.

This is the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Stereo Systems driving Big Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound that I can enjoy. Anything less is just not for me. (more…)

To Find the Most Elusive Hot Stamper Pressings, “Press On!”

ambrosiasomewhereMore of the Music of Ambrosia

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ambrosia

Sage Advice from Calvin Coolidge

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Calvin Coolidge

If you substitute “finding Hot Stamper pressings” for the words “the human race” you will surely appreciate the point of this commentary.

Our story today revolves around the first Hot Stamper listing we have ever done for Ambrosia’s second — and second best — album. It took us a long time to find the right pressing.

Do you, or any of the other audiophiles you know, keep buying the same album over and over again year after year in hopes of finding a better sounding copy?

We do — have been for more than twenty years as a matter of fact — and here’s why.

Around 2007 I stumbled upon the Hot Stampers for this record — purely by accident of course, there’s almost no other way to do it — and was shocked — shocked — to actually hear INTO the soundfield of the recording for the first time in my life, this after having played copy after frustratingly opaque copy for roughly thirty years.

Yes, the stereo got better and that helped a lot. Everything else we talk about helped too. But ultimately it came down to this: I had to find the right copy of the record. Without the right record it doesn’t matter how good your stereo is, you still won’t have good sound. Either the playback source has it or it doesn’t.

It’s not what’s on the master tape that matters; it’s what’s on the record. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “I have many killer jazz records but this might be the best recorded of all of them.”

More of the Music of Shelly Manne

More of the Music of Ray Brown

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

  Hey Tom, 

Just received the White Hot Stamper copy of “The Three” 45 rpm with Joe Sample, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne.

I have many killer jazz records but this might be the best recorded of all of them.

This is not a record for anyone who doesn’t have world class equipment because the dynamics and transients on the record will be too much for anything less than a very top tier system!

Amazing sound!!!

Brad

Agreed! It’s so good it’s my Favorite Jazz Piano Trio Recording of All Time!

Even though it might not be the most natural or realistic recording of a piano trio — Shelly’s arms stretch at least 12 feet across on my system, something I think he would have a hard time pulling off live — it is one of the most powerful and exciting recordings I’ve heard, and that’s good enough for me.

Thanks for your letter,

TP

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Mendelssohn and Bruch / Violin Concertos / Ricci

More of the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

  • With two INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto sound as good as it does here, and the Bruch Concerto on the second side is every bit as good
  • We are fairly strict in our grading for classical records these days – you will have a very hard time finding a vintage pressing that plays this quietly
  • With sonic grades like these, you can be sure this pressing will beat all comers for sound, including the performances by Heifetz, Rybar, and others that have impressed in the past
  • The violin is so sweet and present, so rich, natural and real, you will forget you’re listening to a record at all
  • The glorious sound of these truly great 1958 All Tube “Decca Tree” recordings from Kingsway Hall is faithfully captured in all its beauty on this very disc

This is one of the ALL TIME GREAT violin concerto records. In Ruggiero Ricci’s hands both works are nothing short of magical. If you want to know why people drool over Golden Age recordings, listen to the violin. Careful, when you hear it you may find yourself drooling too.

The staging of the orchestra and violin is exactly the way we want to hear it in our heads. Whether it would really sound this way in a concert hall is impossible to say — concert halls all sound different — but the skill and the emotion of the playing is communicated beautifully on this LP. This is a sweetheart of a record, full of the Tubey Magic for which London recordings are justly famous.

As we noted above, engineering took place in the legendary Kingsway Hall. There is a richness to the sound of the strings that is exceptional, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

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Bob Seger / Night Moves – His 1976 Masterpiece

More Bob Seger

Hot Stamper Rock Masterpieces Available Now

  • A KILLER vintage pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout for Bob Seger’s breakthrough album (the 8th time’s the charm)
  • A big step up over every other copy we heard – richer, fuller, more dynamic, more lively and just plain more fun
  • Knock the album if you like, but there’s no denying it’s one of Seger’s best and certainly a ’70s classic – every song’s a hit, and deservedly so
  • 5 stars: “One of the universally acknowledged high points of late-’70s rock & roll. And, because of his passion and craft, it remains a thoroughly terrific record years later.”
  • If you’re a Seger fan, or perhaps a fan of mid-’70s Classic Rock, this title from 1976 is surely a Must Own.
  • The complete list of titles from 1976 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in clean shape. Most of them will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG, and it will probably be VG+. If you are picky about your covers please let us know in advance so that we can be sure we have a nice cover for you.

It’s not easy to find killer pressings of this album — it took us plenty of fruitless shootouts before we figured anything out. Most copies out there are thin and dry, which is no way to hear these classic ’70s tracks. We brought in copy after copy that made us think, “I swear this sounds better on the radio!”

Finally, after pulling together a ton of copies from different eras, we started to realize that there were indeed vinyl pressings of Night Moves that sounded right… but they are few and far between, the exception and not the rule so to speak. This copy is one of the better ones we played in our most recent shootout, no question about it.

Knock this album if you like, but there’s no denying it’s one of Seger’s best and certainly a ’70s classic. It may not have the audiophile appeal of Tea For The Tillerman, but it’s a blast when it sounds this good.

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A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers – Making Mistakes, Part One

mistakes_stevensx20Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

Want to Get Better at Audio and Record Collecting?

Try Making More Mistakes

I was reading an article on the web recently when I came across an old joke Red Skelton used to tell:

All men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner.

Now if you’re like me and you play, think and write (hopefully in that order) about records all day, everything sooner or later relates back to records, even a modestly amusing old joke such as the one above.

Making mistakes is fundamental to learning about records, especially if you, like us, believe that most of the received wisdom handed down to record lovers of all kinds is more likely to be wrong than right.

If you don’t believe that to be true, then it’s high time you really started making mistakes.
 
And the faster you make them, the more you will learn the truths (uncountable in number) about records.

And those truths will set you free.

Think about it: perhaps as many as a third of the Hot Stamper pressings on our website are what would commonly be understood to be the “wrong” pressings — or, worse, records that are not supposed to sound good at all. 

Reissues of Dark Side from the wrong country? ’60s and ’70s Living Stereo reissue pressings? Original Jazz Classics from the ’80s? Beatles records reissued in the ’70s, in stereo no less! Can we be serious?

Yes, we are indeed quite serious. We believe by now we know most of the best pressings, the ones with potentially the best sound, for most of the records we regularly shootout. Over the course of decades we’ve tried bad sounding copy after bad sounding copy of practically every title we do. We know which ones to avoid, which betters the odds of finding good sounding pressings. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

We’ve played all the copies that are supposed to be the best, and we’ve also played the ones that aren’t supposed to be any good — late reissues, or records pressed in the “wrong” country; or cut by the “wrong” mastering engineer; or found on the second, third, or fourth labels, all wrong, don’t you even know that much?! — and against all odds we’ve kept our minds and our ears open.

Whatever pressing sounds the best, sounds the best. Whether it’s the “right” pressing according to orthodox record collecting wisdom carries no weight whatsoever with us, and never will — because that way of thinking doesn’t produce good results.

All the Answers?

Please don’t think we’re trying to say we have all the answers. We most certainly do not. We find pressings that beat our old favorites on a regular basis — not every day, but often enough to make trying long shots an important part of our business.

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The Beatles / Magical Mystery Tour – Are Your Cellists Digging In?

Reviews and Commentaries for Magical Mystery Tour

More Records that Are Good for Testing Energy

Over the last decade I Am The Walrus has evolved into a good test for side one, a fact that came as a complete surprise to me. As I was listening to the various copies in a shootout years ago I noted that the opening cellos and basses in the right channel were often tonally identical from copy to copy, but sounded quite a bit more lively and energetic on some pressings relative to others. Was it EQ? Level? Compression?  

Why so much more passion from the players on some copies and not others?

As I tried to puzzle it out, playing first one copy and then another, it became clear to me what was happening. The cellists and the bassists were just plain digging HARDER into the strings on the best copies. When you see live classical music, the cellists at the front of the orchestra are usually sawing away with abandon when the music is really going. They dig their bows hard into the strings to make them vibrate as loud as possible. To make their instruments heard in the back row it becomes a matter of muscle, of pure physical exertion.

So armed with the copies where the string players are working the hardest, I checked the other tracks. Sure enough, the opening cut, MMT, jumped out of the speakers with the most energy I had heard on any copy. As I went through the tracks one by one, they had the most life of any of the copies I had been listening to. To use a word that was popular at the time, the music was HAPPENING.

This was the final piece to the puzzle. Tonality always comes first. Frequency extension; lack of distortion; rich, powerful bass — these are important qualities as well. But the life of the music is in the micro and macro dynamics, and that is what I had not been paying sufficient attention to in the shootout. That was until I listened to Walrus and heard the players working up a good healthy sweat. Then I knew I had a hot stamper. And when I played the not so hot stampers, the string guys sounded like session musicians picking up a paycheck. Where was their passion? Didn’t they realize they were making a Classic?

If you get the right pressing they sure were!


Further Reading

This recording is quite difficult to reproduce, which means it ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS). Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment. The tutti passages will tear your head off unless you are using a very good cartridge and arm.

In its way, this is an ideal record to gauge how much progress you have made in audio. I remember playing these DG pressings only five to ten years ago and hearing shrill strings, harmonic distortion and many other unpleasant qualities in the sound. With those very same pressings today the sound is dramatically better. This is no accident. It is the result of both hard work and the Revolutions in Audio we discuss on the site.

Here is what I had to say about a Brewer and Shipley album that ranks high on the DOR scale:

I can also tell you that if you have a modest system this record is just going to sound like crap. It sounded like crap for years in my system, even when I thought I had a good one. Vinyl playback has come a long way in the last five or ten years and if you’ve participated in some of the revolutionary changes that I talk about elsewhere on the site, you should hear some pretty respectable sound. Otherwise, I would pass. On the Difficulty of Reproduction scale, this record scores fairly high. You need lots of tubey magic and freedom from distortion, the kind of sound I rarely hear on any but the most heavily tweaked systems, the kind of systems that guys like me have been slaving over for twenty years. If you’re a Weekend Warrior when it comes to stereo, this is not the record for you.

Much like Synchronicity, this is a tough record to get the right sound out of — even if you do have an excellent pressing. It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively.

It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too. As we’ve said before about these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring any audio system that tries to reproduce them to its knees.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this requires, demands even, you are going to hear some amazing sound when you drop the needle on these Hot Stampers.