Month: October 2023

Jethro Tull – We Were Way Off the Mark in 2006

More on Stand Up

Hot Stamper Pressings of Jethro Tull Albums Available Now

Years ago we wrote:

This Island Pink Label Original British pressing has ABSOLUTELY AMAZING SOUND! We mention that there was a Sunray pressing that may have been even better, but I didn’t have this copy in hand to compare the Sunray to, so I can’t be sure that pressing was any better.

This one sounds as good as any I’ve ever heard. 

It’s amazingly dynamic and powerful, yet full of tubey magic. I played almost ten different pressings of this record today (11/08/06): every domestic label variation and a handful of imports. This copy is clearly the best of the batch.

A textbook case of Live and Learn.

My stereo was dramatically less revealing back then, I did not know how to clean records properly, and those two facts, combined with the underdeveloped listening skills that go with them, allowed me to arrive at the wrong conclusion.

In 2006 we simply had not done our homework well enough. I had been an audiophile for at least 31 years by then, and a legitimate audiophile record dealer for 19.

Sure, by 2006 my staff and I had auditioned plenty of the pressings that we thought were the most likely to sound good: the original and later domestic pressings, the early and later British LPs: in other words, the usual suspects.

The result? We were roughly in the same position as the vast majority of audiophiles. We had auditioned a sizable number pressings of the album and thought we knew enough about the sound of the album to pick a clear winner. We thought the best Island Pink Label pressings had the goods that no other copies could or would have.

But of course, like most audiophiles who judge records with an insufficiently large sample size, we turned out to be completely wrong.

Logic hadn’t worked. None of the originals would end up winning another shootout once we’d discovered the right reissues.

But in 2006, we hadn’t stumbled upon the best pressings because we hadn’t put enough effort into the only approach that actually works.

What approach is that? It’s trial and error. Trial and error would eventually put us on the path to success. We had simply not conducted enough trials and made enough errors by 2006 to find out what we know now.

We needed a breakthrough, and we hadn’t gotten one yet.

Strauss Family Album – A Waste of Money on Mercury

More of the music of Johann Strauss (1804-1849)

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

I used to like this record back in the old days. Picked them up whenever I saw them, usually for ten bucks or less. It’s not exactly HiFi a la Espanola.

Now when we play this Mercury, it doesn’t sound so good. We traded what we had in stock back in to stores or gave them away as freebies to our good customers.

A lot of records that I used to like because they were cleaner and brighter — later Red Seal Living Stereos, some OJC jazz, some reissues of rock — sounded much better when my system was darker and less revealing.

Side one of this copy has steely strings, the kiss of death on this kind of music.

Side two is passable, a low grade Hot Stamper. If you see this album for five bucks, pick it up and give it a listen. More than that and you should probably pass.

Many Mercury records simply do not sound good, and this appears to be one of them. The sound is  shrill, and that is just not acceptable on today’s highly-tweaked stereos.

Some of the early Mercs seem better suited to the old school audio systems of the 60s and 70s than the modern systems of today.

Some of these records used to sound good on those older systems, and I should know. I had an Old School stereo and some of the records I used to think sounded good back in the day don’t sound too good to me anymore.

For a more complete list of those records, click here.

How Did We Figure All of This Out?

There are more than 2000 Hot Stamper reviews on this blog. Do you know how we learned so much about so many records?

Simple. We ran thousands and thousands of record experiments under carefully controlled conditions, and we continue to run scores of them week in and week out to this very day.


Chico Hamilton – El Chico

More Chico Hamilton

More Jazz Recordings of Interest

  • El Chico makes its Hot Stamper debut with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout this original Impulse Stereo pressing – exceptionally QUIET vinyl, the kind we would not expect to find on Impulse in 1965
  • These sides, recorded brilliantly by one of our favorite engineers, Bob Simpson, are big, full-bodied and present, with plenty of Tubey Magic and set on a huge, three-dimensional soundstage
  • The record features the amazing Gabor Szabo, Japanese altoist Sadao Watanabe, bassist Al Stinson, guest trombonist Jimmy Cheatham, and the Latin percussion of Willie Bobo and Victor Pantoja


Tchaikovsky / The Nutcracker Ballet in Two Acts (Complete) / Ansermet

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

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • Tchaikovsky’s complete Classical Masterpiece returns to the site for the first time in nearly two-years with INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on all FOUR sides of these original London pressings
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • 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 anything 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 our favorite performance of The Nutcracker, perhaps the most famous ballet ever written, and one that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection
  • 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 orchestral showpieces, this London Box Set from 1959 belongs in your collection.

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…)

Revisiting the Analog Vs. Digital Debate with Donald Fagen

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

Do All the Pressings Have to Sound Like CDs?

The average copy of this digitally recorded, mixed and mastered LP sounds just the way you would expect it to: like a CD. It’s anemic, two-dimensional, opaque, thin, bright, harsh, with little extreme top and the kind of bass that’s all “note” with no real weight, solidity or harmonic structure. Sounds like a CD, right? (That’s the way most of my CDs sound, which is why I rarely listen to them these days.)

But what if I told you that the best copies of The Nightfly can actually sound like a real honest-to-goodness ANALOG recording, with practically none of the nasty shortcomings listed above? You may not believe it, but it’s true.

I heard it myself. I heard a copy sound so natural and correct that I would never have guessed it was digital. On my honor, that’s the truth. The best copies of The Nightfly can actually be shockingly ANALOG sounding.

The listing below is basically a reworked version of the commentary we wrote about Direct Metal Mastering. Almost all the same principles apply, allowing us to easily make the changes necessary to defend The Nightfly. Simply put, the question before the house is: Can this record sound analog? We’ll be taking the affirmative.

The problem with the typical copy of this record is gritty, grainy, grungy sound — not the kind that’s on the master tape, the kind that’s added during the mastering and pressing of the record. When that crap goes away, as it so clearly does on a copy we played recently, it lets you see just how good sounding this record can be. And that means REALLY good sounding.

On most copies, the CD-like opacity and grunge would naturally be attributed to the Digital Recording process. That’s the conventional wisdom, so those with a small data sample (in most cases the size of that sample will be one) could be forgiven for reaching such a conclusion. Based on our findings it turns out to be false.

The bad pressings do indeed sound more like CDs. The best pressings do not.

If you like having your biases confirmed, then by all means, keep your digital-sounding copy and pretend you know why The Nightfly sounds bad on vinyl.

More Conventional Wisdom

All copies of The Nightfly are digitally recorded, mixed and mastered, proving again that the conventional wisdom is simply mistaken. Conventional wisdom is a term of disparagement here at Better Records for this very reason.

What passes for common sense in the world of audiophile record collectors is mostly of little value, if not demonstrably false. In this blog we take great pains to lay out the evidence against this kind of mistaken audiophile thinking in scores if not hundreds of listings.

I believe we are alone in the world of record dealers to do so. In fact we are practically alone in the world of record lovers to do so. That’s a much bigger world, but it’s full of the same misunderstandings and misinformation.

If we have the record in hand that can make our case — not likely with The Nightfly, but you never know — it would be our pleasure to have you hear just what we are talking about for yourself, on your own system.

How Analog Is It?

The shootout winner for this album earned a grade of White Hot and showed not a trace of digital sound. We have never put a White Hot Stamper copy on the site, and it’s doubtful this WHS copy will be going up on the site either, as there is sure to be one of our long-term customers who has it on his Want List.

That said, we will of course have other very good, even superb, copies to sell. The ones we like the best will tend to be the ones that sound the most Analog. The more they sound like the average pressing — in other words, the more CD-like they sound — the lower the sonic grade. Many will not have even one Hot Stamper side and will end up in the trade-in pile.

The best copies sound the way the best copies of most Classic Rock records sound: tonally correct, rich, clear, sweet, smooth, open, present, lively, big, spacious, Tubey Magical, with breathy vocals and little to no spit, grit, grain or grunge.

That’s the sound of analog, and the best copies of The Nightfly have that sound.

Further Reading

John Coltrane / Standard Coltrane

More of the Music of John Coltrane

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of John Coltrane

  • Standard Coltrane is back and sounds better than ever on this vintage Prestige pressing with INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last
  • For those of you who want the album with the original track listing exactly as it came out in 1962, with sound that cannot be beat, this one’s for you
  • Let’s give Rudy Van Gelder a hand, the tonality on both of these sides is HTF: Hard To Fault
  • “…this set of four tunes catches the saxophonist in four distinct moods. ‘Invitation’ finds him trying some of the ideas that he used so effectively with Thelonious Monk in 1957. One of these was the building of contrasting harmonic lines around a single “home” note. It’s a fascinating musical game in the hands of a jazzman as imaginative Coltrane.” – Downbeat


Tony Mottola / Warm, Wild and Wonderful

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

More Exotica Albums with Hot Stampers

  • You’ll find KILLER solid Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to it on both sides of this original Project 3 pressing – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • Tubier, more transparent, more dynamic, with plenty of that “jumpin’ out of the speakers” quality that only The Real Thing (an old record) ever has
  • We have never heard the electric guitar sound more real than it does here – the timbre is perfection and the dynamics are startling
  • The arrangements of these mostly familiar songs are clever and innovative – the last thing this music could be called is boring or obvious

This is clearly one of the best sounding guitar records we’ve ever had the pleasure to play here at Better Records. Project 3 was an audiophile label in the truest and best sense of the word: a label that not only cared about the sound of their recordings, but actually proved they could produce title after title of the highest quality, equal or superior to anything on the market.

This, of course, places them in stark contrast with the audiophile labels of the modern era, the last forty years say, which only on rare occasion produce records of any real quality. Instead these modern labels endlessly grind out one mediocrity after another to the consternation of those of us who know the difference.

But I digress.

We had a mind-blowing percussion record on the Somerset label years ago that raised the bar for us regarding that genre, and this jazz guitar record on Project 3 has achieved the same effect. Some of the following is borrowed from the listing for that Somerset record.


Who on Earth Could Possibly Take the Sound of this Awful Remaster Seriously?

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Georg Solti

Hot Stamper Decca and London Pressings Available Now

There actually is such a person who does exactly that, can you imagine?

Only an Audiophile True Believer could be fooled by sound so ridiculously unnatural.

But the world is full of such people. They bought into the Audiophile BS of Mobile Fidelity in the 80s and apparently haven’t learned much since.

Now they think Heavy Vinyl is the answer to the world’s problems. The more things change…

If your stereo is any good at all, you should have no trouble hearing the sonic qualities of this album described below. If you are on this blog, and you have tried some of our Hot Stamper pressings, there is a good chance you’re hearing pretty much what we’re hearing. Why else why would you pay our prices?

One thing I can tell you: we would never charge money for a record that sounds as weird and wrong as this MoFi.

A well-known reviewer has many kind things to say about this pressing, but we think it sounds like a hi-fi-ish version of a ’70s London, which means it’s opaque and the strings are badly lacking in Tubey Magical sheen and richness.

The bass is like jello on the MoFi, unlike the real London, which has fairly decent bass.

If a self-styled Audiophile Reviewer cannot hear the obvious faults of this pressing, I would say there’s a good chance one or both of the following is true:

  1. His equipment is not telling him what the record is really doing, and/or,
  2. His listening skills are not sufficiently developed to notice the shortcomings in the sound.

The result is the worst kind of Reviewer Malpractice.

But is it really the worst kind? It seems to be the only kind!

MoFi had a bad habit of making bright classical records. I suppose you could say they had a bad habit of making bright records in general. A few are dull, some are just right, but most of them are bright in one way or another. Dull playback equipment? An attempt to confuse detail with resolution? Whatever the reasons, the better and more accurate your equipment becomes, the most obvious this shortcoming will be. My tolerance for their phony EQ is at an all time low. But hey, that’s me.

Describing the real London pressing, we wrote, “Huge scope — depth and width like you will not believe, perfect for this music. The voices in the chorus are clearly separated out and so big and rich! This side is open and sweet in the best Golden Age tradition. Smooth like live music — there’s no phony top here, unlike the MoFi, which is nothing but phony sound from top to bottom. What a joke they played on the audiophiles of the day.”

And now it goes for big money on ebay because some audiophile web pundit put it on his list of great recordings. Can you imagine having a list of great recordings that includes a MoFi pressing? That one entry renders the list risible, and the fact that no one has called this person on it is a sure sign that there are still far too many audiophiles who simply cannot or will not learn to listen for themselves.

It’s the SLAM factor in a recording that let’s you appreciate how much air these large orchestral instruments can really move when the piece calls for it, and of course these pieces do call for it, big time. Night on Bald Mountain especially. The concert hall is supposed to shake with the blasts of brass and tympanic beatings called for by Mussorgsky.

Note that it’s rare for a half speed mastered record to have deep solid bass. What their cutters manage for bass is never as tight, defined or note-like as the better real time cutters. We wrote about the subject in the track commentary for the song Deja Vu.


Don’t Waste Your Money on the Beethoven 3rd Symphony with Dorati

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Beethoven

The sound of this 1959 Mercury recording was unacceptable. It was crude and shrill. It seems that many early Mercury recordings suffer from these shortcomings.

Our favorite Beethoven 3rd for sound and performance is the one Solti recorded for Decca in 1959.

1959 just happens to be one of the Truly Great Years for Quality Analog Recordings, as can be seen from this amazing group of albums, each of which was recorded or released that year.

This Mercury might be passable on an Old School System, but it was too unpleasant to be played on the high quality modern equipment we use.

There are quite a number of others that we’ve run into over the years with similar shortcomings. Here they are, broken down by label.

  • London/Decca records with weak sound or performances
  • Mercury records with weak sound or performances
  • RCA records with weak sound or performances

Have You Noticed…

If you’re a fan of Mercury Living Presence records — and what right-thinking audiophile wouldn’t be? — have you noticed that many of them, this one for example, don’t sound very good?

If you’re an audiophile with good equipment, you should have.

But did you? Or did you buy into the hype surrounding these rare pressings and just ignore the problems with the sound?

There is plenty of hype surrounding the hundreds of Heavy Vinyl pressings currently in print. I read a lot about how wonderful their sound is, but when I actually play them, I rarely find them to be any better than mediocre, and most of them are downright awful.

It seems as if the audiophile public has bought completely into the hype for these modern Heavy Vinyl pressings. Audiophiles have too often made the mistake of approaching these records without the slightest trace of skepticism. How could so many be fooled so badly? Surely some of these people have good enough equipment to allow them to hear how bad these records sound.

I would say Mercury’s track record during the ’50s and ’60s is a pretty good one, offering (potentially) excellent sound for roughly one out of every three titles or so.

But that means that odds are there would be a lot of dogs in their catalog. This is definitely one of them.

To see the 50+ Living Presence classical titles we’ve reviewed to date, click here.


Bob Dylan & The Band – Before The Flood

More Bob Dylan

More of The Band

  • Killer sound throughout these original UK Island pressings, with all FOUR sides earning roughly Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades, just shy of our Shootout Winner (side four actually won the shootout) – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Dylan and The Band team up for exuberant versions of many classics from each of their repertoires – a copy like this lets you appreciate just how wonderful the performances are
  • “Dylan reworks, rearranges, reinterprets these songs in ways that are still disarming, years after its initial release… “
  • “Without qualification, this is the craziest and strongest rock and roll ever recorded. All analogous live albums fall flat.”

One of the great Live Classic Rock albums of all time in stunning Hot Stamper form!

The version of “Ballad Of A Thin Man” that closes out side one is simply monstrous. Live rock and roll just don’t get much better than that, my friends!

We played a ton of these and found that many copies were too boring to earn our Hot Stamper grade. Some lacked energy, even more never opened up, and most of them were too thin-sounding. We had to play a huge stack of copies to come up with a few good ones, and on a double album like this, that’s a ton of work.

Finding, cleaning and critically evaluating a dozen-plus copies is a lot of work on a single album, so you can imagine how time-consuming it is when we have to double those efforts just for one album.

These ’70s LPs have the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.