Month: August 2022

Billie Holiday / Lady In Satin – On Classic Records

More of the Music of Billie Holiday

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic Records pressing that came out in 1998, but I remember it as nothing special, tonally correct but with somewhat low-rez vocals and lacking in both space and warmth.

Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely in fact that we are positively shocked when such records are even halfway decent. After playing so many bad audiophile records for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records.

A recording like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the record spinning on the table. The listener normally does not even know the label of the pressing he is reviewing. It could be a Six Eye original, the 360 reissue, or even a (gasp!) ’70s-era LP.

We don’t care what the label is. What does that have to do with anything? We’re looking for the best sound. We don’t play labels, we play unique pressings of the album.  We assume that every pressing sounds different from every other pressing. Our job is to figure out what each of them is doing right and wrong. 

We mix up all our copies and play them one after another until we come across the best sounding one.

This approach has opened up a world of sound that most audiophiles — at least the ones who buy into the hype associated with the typical audiophile pressing — will never be able to experience.

(more…)

Thelonious Monk – Monk’s Dream

More Thelonious Monk

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • A great sounding copy with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – this one was nearly as good as our Shootout Winner, hence the Nearly Triple Plus grades
  • These sides are rich, spacious, big and Tubey Magical, with virtually none of the smear on the piano that holds so many other copies back
  • Here’s proof that the sound found on these early Columbia 360 Label Stereo pressings is absolutely the right one for Monk’s music
  • 5 stars: “Although he would perform and record supported by various other musicians, the tight — almost telepathic — dimensions that these four shared has rarely been equalled in any genre… Monk’s Dream is recommended, with something for every degree of Monk enthusiast.”

(more…)

Falla / Ravel / El Amor Brujo / De Burgos

More of the music of Manuel De Falla (1876-1946)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades throughout, this vintage Decca pressing of these sublime classical works could not be beat
  • Powerful energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – the very definition of DEMO DISC sound
  • Richer, fuller and more Tubey Magical than other copies, with breathy vocals and rosiny, smooth strings
  • We discovered to our surprise that the right reissues can sound just as good as the best early pressings – plenty of early LPs just sound like old records, which simply means that having a clean original is no guarantee of anything in the crazy world of records
  • This link will take you to more of our Favorite Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound
  • There are about 100 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of having the Best Performances with Demo Disc Sound, and this superb LP certainly deserve a place on that list

(more…)

Rudy Van Gelder is One of Our Favorite Engineers

Hot Stamper Pressings of Recordings Engineered by Rudy Van Gelder

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Rudy Van Gelder

More of Our Favorite Engineers

RVG is one of our favorite recording and mastering engineers. The really good RVG pressings (often on the later labels) sound shockingly close to live music — uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located on a wide and often deep soundstage, surrounded by the natural space and cool air of his New Jersey studio. As our stereo has improved, and we’ve found better pressings and learned how to clean them better, his “you-are-there” live jazz sound has come to impress us more and more.

(more…)

Ballet Music From The Opera – Skip the Classic Records Pressing

Hot Stamper Living Stereo Orchestral Titles Available Now

Hot Stamper Pressings of Orchestral Spectaculars Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Classical LP debunked.

Classic Records ruined this album, as anyone who has played some of their classical reissues should have expected. Their version is dramatically more aggressive, shrill and harsh than the Shaded Dogs we’ve played, with almost none of the sweetness, richness and ambience that the best RCA pressings have in such abundance.

In fact their pressing is just plain awful, like most of the classical recordings they remastered, and should be avoided at any price. 

Apparently, most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a top quality classical recording. If they had, Classic Records would have gone out of business immediately after producing their first three Living Stereo titles, all of which were dreadful and labeled as such by us way back in 1994. I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled, but I can say that we weren’t, at least when it came to their classical releases. 

We admit to having made plenty of mistaken judgments about their jazz and rock, and we have the We Was Wrong entries to prove it.

The last review we wrote for the remastered Scheherazade, which fittingly ended up in our Hall of Shame, with an equally fitting sonic grade of F.

TAS Superdisc List to this day? Of course it is!

With every improvement we’ve made to our system over the years, their records have managed to sound progressively worse. (This is pretty much true for all Heavy Vinyl pressings, another good reason for our decision to stop buying them in 2007.) That ought to tell you something.

Better audio stops hiding and starts revealing the shortcomings of bad records. At the same time, and much more importantly, better audio reveals more and more of the strengths and beauty of good records.

Which of course begs the question of what actually is a good record — what it is that makes one record good and another bad — but luckily for you dear reader, you are actually on a site that has much to say about those very issues.

There are scores of commentaries on the site about the huge improvements in audio available to the discerning (and well-healed) audiophile. It’s the reason Hot Stampers can and do sound dramatically better than their Heavy Vinyl or Audiophile counterparts: because your stereo is good enough to show you the difference.

With an Old School Audio System you will continue to be fooled by bad records, just as I and all my audio buds were fooled twenty and thirty years ago. Audio has improved immensely in that time. If you’re still playing Heavy Vinyl and Audiophile pressings, there’s a world of sound you’re missing. We would love to help you find it.

One amazing sounding Orchestral Hot Stamper pressing might just be what it takes to get the ball rolling.

(more…)

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn’t Stand The Weather

More Stevie Ray Vaughan

More Electric Blues

  • An excellent copy with Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • The bass is big, the overall presentation is huge, and the energy is jumpin’ on this early pressing – this is the right sound for SRV’s hard-chargin’ Electric Blues
  • 4 stars: “Stevie Ray Vaughan’s second album, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, pretty much did everything a second album should do: it confirmed that the acclaimed debut was no fluke, while matching, if not bettering, the sales of its predecessor, thereby cementing Vaughan’s status as a giant of modern blues.”

Stunning sound for this Stevie Ray classic. Just picture yourself in a blues club. Now imagine the volume being about ten times as loud. This is the kind of music you would hear and it would tend to sound pretty much like this: a bit messy but also real. If you’re one of those audiophiles who likes pinpoint imaging, forget it. They were going for the “live in the studio” sound with this one, which means it’s a bit of a jumble image-wise. But that’s the way you would hear it in a blues club, so where’s the harm?

This copy has excellent presence to the vocals and guitars, keeping in mind that the vocals are usually well back in the mix compared to the guitars, which for a guitarist of SRV’s skills is probably a good thing.

(more…)

Listening in Depth to Rubber Soul

More of the Music of Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul Is a Record We’ve Been Obsessed With for a Very Long Time

After playing so many copies of this record over the last few years, all of us here at Better Records have come to appreciate just how wonderful an album Rubber Soul really is. It has 14 fairly compact, well-structured, well-arranged pop songs, each of which is a gem in its own right. It reminds me a bit of the second album (With The Beatles) in that respect — short and to the point, get in and get out. 

But the second album does not feature acoustic guitars the way Rubber Soul does. From an audiophile point of view, the strumming of those amazingly Tubey Magical acoustic guitars is in large part what makes Rubber Soul such a special recording. (For more records that are good for testing how much Tubey Magic their acoustic guitars have, click here.)

But what we’ve noticed only recently [recently as in about 15 years ago] is how much the tambourine is used. It’s all over this album, and the good news is that most of the time it sounds great. There are other high frequency percussion instruments — shakers and the like — and between the tambourine and all the rest there’s just a lot of percussive energy on most of the songs that really carries them along.

As far as I am concerned, this could be called The Tambourine Album. No other Beatles album features that instrument so boldly in the mix and builds so many songs around it.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Drive My Car

Mobile Fidelity made a mess of this song on their Half-Speed Mastered release. They took out far too much upper midrange and top end.

What drives the energy of the song are the cow bell, the drums and other percussion. Instead of a scalpel Mobile Fidelity took a hatchet to this slightly bright track, leaving a dull, lifeless, boring mess. Some Parlophone copies may be a little bright and lack bass, but they still manage to convey the energy of the song. The purple label Capitols can also be quite good. A bit harsher and spittier, yes, but in spite of these shortcomings they communicates the music.

As much as I might like some of the MoFi Beatle records, and even what MoFi did with some of the other tracks on Rubber Soul, they sure sucked the life out of Drive My Car. We all remember how much fun that song was when it would come on the radio. Playing it on a very high quality stereo should make it more fun, not less. If you’ve got a Rubber Soul with a Drive My Car that’s no fun, it’s time to get another one.

(more…)

Roxy Music / Avalon – A Simply Vinyl Mastering Success? Or Is It?

More of the Music of Roxy Music

Reviews and Commentaries for Avalon

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Roxy Music

[These notes were written many years ago, which means that we ourselves may not agree with some or all of the commentary you see below.]

Sonic Grade: B (I’m guessing)

This version just plain KILLS most domestic copies and probably quite a few Brit ones too. Simply Vinyl did a superb job here.

Correction: an unnamed mastering engineer at the label did a superb job. Simply Vinyl isn’t in the business of mastering ANYTHING. They leave that up to the pros at the record labels. Sometimes those guys screw it up and sometimes they get it right.

This pressing sounds just like the last import version I had, which sounded great but unfortunately went out of print in the mid-nineties as I remember. Might be mastered by the same guy using the same tape on the same cutter for all I know.

Take it from me, this pressing gets this music right in a way that will not leave the listener wanting more. It really delivers. The sound is superb — sweet, open, with punchy bass and extended highs.

(more…)

Sinatra At The Sands on Dahlquist DQ-10s – My Neophyte Audiophile Mind Is Blown

More of the Music of Frank Sinatra

Making Audio Progress

Back in the early ’70s this was actually the album that first introduced me to honest-to-goodness “audiophile” sound.  

I was at my local stereo store listening to speakers one day, and the salesman made a comment that the speakers we were listening to (the old Infinity Monitors with the Walsh tweeter) sounded “boxy.” I confessed to him that I didn’t actually know what that meant or what it would sound like if it weren’t boxy. 

So he hooked up a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10s and put Sinatra at the Sands on. I was amazed at how the sound just floated in the room, free from the speakers, presenting an image that was as wide and deep as the showroom we were in. That speaker may have many flaws, but boxiness is definitely not one of them.

This description is pretty close to what I thought I heard all those years ago

The presence and immediacy here are staggering. Turn it up and Frank is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. Very few records out there offer the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing.

This vintage stereo LP also has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from the later reissues. As good as some of them can be, this one is dramatically more real sounding. It gives you the sense that Frank Sinatra is right in front of you.

He’s no longer a recording — he’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. His voice is so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

Or so I thought at the time.

(more…)

Free / Fire and Water on a Mythical Pink Island

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

More Entries in Our Critical Thinking Series

Free’s Third Album on the Original British Island Pink Label — Wow!

Found one at a local record store a while back. It was the first one I’d ever seen in nice enough condition to buy. Checking the dead wax was a bit of a shock though. Care to guess where it was mastered? Right here in the good old U S of A. In fact, at one of the worst mastering houses of all time: Bell Sound in New York. [This is not fair. We have found many good pressings mastered at Bell Sound.]

Now what does that tell you about British First Pressings? Are those the ones you’re looking for? Don’t get me wrong; I look for them too. But you had better look before you leap, or you’ll end up with a bad sounding, probably quite expensive pressing.

It’s one more reason why we try to play as many records as we can here at Better Records. You can’t rely on anything but the grooves.

Which brings up another interesting issue. Some audiophiles use the following rule of thumb for rock record collecting.

If it’s an English band, get the import pressing. If it’s an American band, the tapes should be here in this country, so the original domestic pressing should be the best.

As a rule of thumb it’s not bad. It’s just wrong so often (Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens, The Eagles, etc.) that you must be very careful how you apply it.

Same with reissue versus original. Nice rule of thumb but only if you have enough copies of the title to know that you’re not just assuming the original is better. You actually have the data — gathered from the other LPs you have played — to back it up.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals