Author: humorem

The Who – Who Are You

More of The Who

Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, you’ll have a hard time finding a copy that sounds remotely as good as this vintage UK import – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This copy has the Glyn Johns BIG, BOLD sound we demand from this famous producer/engineer
  • Forget the domestic pressings, forget the DD Labs half-speed, forget whatever lame reissues 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
  • The title song sounds great on this superb copy – the dynamic power of the recording comes through loud and clear
  • If you’re a fan of The Who, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this album from 1978 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1978 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in exceptionally clean shape. Most of the 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


Big, tubey and rockin’, this copy has The Who sound we know from Who’s Next so well. Huge and pacious, with lovely three-dimensional depth, the sound has that patented Live in the Studio quality that Johns’ practically trademarked. Breathy vocals and great life and presence to every instrument — this is the way to hear it!

Forget the domestic pressings, forget the DD Labs half-speed, forget whatever lame reissues 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.

This copy has the Glyn Johns Who Sound we demand from one of the most famous producer/artist collaborations in the history of rock music. (I would argue that Johns’ work with the Stones is even more legendary.)

This is certainly not the equal of the beyond brilliant Who’s Next — what is? It’s an undisputed Masterpiece — but the best songs here are certainly in that league. The title track is one I used to demo my system with twenty years ago and, with a copy like this, would be happy to again.

What The Best Sides Of Who Are You Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • 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 1978
  • 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
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

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.

What We’re Listening For On Who Are You

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

New Song
Had Enough
905
Sister Disco
Music Must Change

Side Two

Trick of the Light
Guitar and Pen
Love Is Coming Down
Who Are You

Griel Marcus on Who Are You

And then there is “Who Are You,” a far stronger single than “Squeeze Box,” the hit from 1975’s The Who by Numbers, and a song that, stretched out over more than six minutes on the LP version, is far more moving than “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the band’s certified Seventies masterpiece. The dynamics are much more subtle this time — and all the smugness is gone.

“Who Are You” was spun out of the night that Townshend, already drunk after hours of financial haggling, half-recognized two members of the Sex Pistols in a bar: that is, he thought either Steve Jones or Paul Cook was Johnny Rotten. Corrected, he felt even more confused: Why can’t I see straight? Cook and Jones, supposedly arrogant young punks working out their rock & roll Oedipal complex, were thrilled to meet Townshend and horrified at what he had to tell them: the Who were finished, used up, wasted. The incident left Townshend passed out in a Soho street, which is where the song begins. Townshend (in the voice of Roger Daltrey) wakes up with one enormous question: Who are you? It’s addressed to Cook and Jones (Who are these upstarts, who would never have played a note had not Townshend picked up a guitar more than a decade back?); to the cop who, recognizing Townshend, sends him home without a bust (Who are the fans?); to himself (What does it mean to be a rocker? What kind of wreck has the life made him?); and, finally, to anyone who’s listening. “Whooooooo/Are you?” hums the chorus. “I really want to know!” Daltrey shouts back, echoing Donovan’s “What Goes On,” but while Donovan communicated hippie certainty that all things would come, Daltrey is desperate, sure of nothing.

Seals & Crofts – Summer Breeze

More Seals and Crofts

More Folk Rock


  • An outstanding pressing of Summer Breeze with Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish, and exceptionally quiet vinyl too – some of the quietest we have ever found
  • With tons of Tubey Magical richness in the midrange (particularly on side two) – the kind that was still abundant on analog tape in 1972 – this is a wonderful sounding album of folk pop
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Summer Breeze offered an unusually ambitious array of music within a soft rock context – most artists tried to avoid weighty subjects in such surroundings… the most highly regarded of all of Seals & Crofts’ albums.” (more…)

Stravinsky / The Rite of Spring – Boy, Was We Ever Wrong

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Stravinsky

This is a VERY old and somewhat embarrassing commentary providing the evidence for just how Wrong We Were about the sound of Solti’s 1974 recording for Decca.

Here is what we had to say about the album in 2008:

This is an amazing recording, DEMO QUALITY SOUND, far better than the Decca heavy vinyl reissue that came out in the 2000s. [That part is no doubt true.]

This record is extremely dynamic; full of ambience; tonally correct; with tons of deep bass. Because it’s a more modern recording, it doesn’t have the Tubey Magic of some Golden Age originals, but it compensates for that shortcoming by being less distorted and “clean.” Some people may consider that more accurate. To be honest with you, I don’t know if that is in fact the case.

However, this record should not disappoint sonically and the performance is every bit as exciting and powerful as any you will find. The Chicago Symphony has the orchestral chops to make a work of this complexity sound effortless.

Skip forward to the present, roughly ten years later. We had three or four copies on hand to audition when we surveyed the work a couple of years ago in preparation for a big shootout.

The Solti did not make the cut. It was not even in the ballpark.

Our reasons are laid out in the post-it note you see to the left. We had three or four copies and even the best one still had the shortcomings you see listed, just to a lesser degree. (For more on the subject of opacity on record, click here and here.)

So in the eleven or twelve years from the time we played a pile of copies in 2008, to 2020 or thereabouts when we auditioned a new batch, this recording seems to have gotten a lot worse.

But that’s not what happened. We’re under no illusions now that the album did not always have these sonic shortcomings, shortcomings that existed from the day copies came off the presses in England, some with London labels, others with Decca labels.

We simply did not have the cleaning system or the playback system capable of showing us what was wrong with their sound, and how much better other recordings were than they were.

And Harry Pearson was fooled as well. The Decca (SXL 6691) is on the TAS List to this day. Other records that have no business being on anything called a Super Disc List can be found here. Our list of Demonstration Quality Orchestral Recordings can be found here.

You may be aware that Speakers Corner remastered this recording  in the ’90s. We carried it and recommended it highly back in the day when we offered those kinds of records. At some point, 2007 to be exact, we wised up. We asked ourselves why we were selling mediocre records instead of Better Records. Since we didn’t have a good answer, we stopped ordering them and proceeded to sell off our remaining stock.

In 2008 I had been seriously involved with the audio hobby for more than 30 years. I had been an audiophile record dealer for more than twenty.

I thought I knew what good sound was.

Clearly I had a lot to learn.

This is, once again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the game for those of us who constantly strive to improve the quality of our cleaning and playback. We keep at it, as we have been for close to

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Willie Nelson – The Troublemaker

More Willie Nelson

More Country and Country Rock

  • An outstanding copy of The Troublemaker with excellent sound on both sides
  • It’s richer, fuller, more musical and more natural – Willie’s breathy voice is reproduced with a solidity and immediacy that’s not easy to find
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The Troublemaker is Willie Nelson’s first all-gospel album, but country gospel in his hands doesn’t sound like traditional country gospel — it’s a Willie album, through and through… Consequently, it’s every bit as wonderfully idiosyncratic as any of his other mid-’70s work and, in some ways, even more so, because inspirational songs and religious material are usually not given arrangements as imaginative and free-spirited as this… “
  • If you’re a fan of Willie’s, a killer copy of his album from 1976 belongs in your collection

When this record was made the tapes were fresh. Now they’re 40+ years old. On audiophile equipment you will have no trouble appreciating the difference. Unless I miss my guess the difference in sound should be night and day.

It’s taken us a long time to pull together enough clean copies to make this shootout happen. Boy, was it worth all the trouble!

The presence and immediacy here are really something. Turn it up and Willie is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. One of our very favorite male vocalists, this copy will show you why — both the sound and the music are superb in all respects.

The sound is big, open, rich and full. The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy. And this copy gives you more life and energy than most, by a long shot. Very few records out there give you the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing. (more…)

Grover Washington, Jr. – A Secret Place

More Grover Washington, Jr.

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

  • A Secret Place makes its Hot Stamper debut with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them throughout this original Kudu pressing
  • The sound is everything that’s good about Rudy Van Gelder‘s recordings – it’s present, spacious, full-bodied, Tubey Magical, dynamic and, most importantly, ALIVE in that way that modern pressings never are
  • You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy that’s this well balanced, big and lively, with wonderful clarity in the mids and highs and Washington’s sax front and center
  • 4 stars: “The bottom line on A Secret Place is that while the set did well commercially, it got nowhere near the critical praise of its predecessors. That’s a shame, because it is a truly fine album whose grooves and pleasures stand the test of time easily. It’s ripe for reappraisal.”
  • If you’re a Grover Washington fan, this title from 1976 is surely of interest, assuming you already have his best masterpiece, All the King’s Horses.

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Holst / The Planets – We Call This “Blockbuster Sound”

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

This is what we here at Better Records refer to as Blockbuster Sound.

Even on the best copies, the recording does not sound very much like a live orchestra, nor is it trying to. It’s trying to be huge and powerful in your home.

It’s more in line with a Rock Demo Disc such as Crime of the Century or Dark Side of the Moon, in the sense that everything has been carefully and artificially placed in the soundfield, each with its own space and sonic qualities.

It’s clearly not the recreation of a live orchestral event. No live concert I have ever attended sounded anything like this record.

Instead it’s the actual creation of a unique orchestral sound, with unique staging of its own design.  Lots of microphones were used, which cause instruments and sometimes whole sections of the orchestra to appear in places and take up spaces they could possible take up.

If your stereo images well, with three-dimensional staging and depth, you will have no trouble hearing what we are talking about with any pressing of the album.

This is the sound that Bernard Herrmann made such wonderful use of with his series of Phase IV recordings for Decca, rather than the four mics and two stereo channels of the Fiedler Gaite Parisienne from RCA in 1954.

Which is ironic. HP talked about The Absolute Sound of live unamplified music as being the standard, yet somehow this recording ended up in his Top Twelve All Time Greats. Makes no sense to me, but neither do many of the records on The TAS Super Disc List. That said, our current favorite Planets is the other Planets on the TAS List, Previn’s on EMI.

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, I would not have put this record on it. Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

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Tchaikovsky / Sleeping Beauty / Ansermet

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This vintage London pressing of Tchaikovsky’s complete Sleeping Beauty boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) Demo Disc sound on all SIX sides
  • These sides are doing pretty much everything right – they’re rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and have depth and transparency to rival the best recordings you may have heard
  • Ansermet is of course a master of the ballet and the performance here by the Suisse Romande is outstanding, perhaps even definitive
  • If you’re a fan of Ansermet’s performances of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballets, this superb All Tube Recording from 1959 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Big Decca sound! Powerful deep bass. Beautiful string tone and sharply articulated brass sound. This is a wonderful record.

Ansermet is surely the man for this music, and the famously huge hall he recorded in just as surely contributes much to the wonderful sound here.

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George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

More George Harrison

More of The Beatles

  • With superb sound on all six sides, this early British box set of All Things Must Pass will be very hard to beat
  • If you’ve struggled with domestic pressings and later imports or Heavy Vinyl reissues, your troubles are over – here is the sound you were looking for
  • 5 stars: “Without a doubt, Harrison’s first solo recording is his best. Drawing on his backlog of unused compositions from the late Beatles era, Harrison crafted material that managed the rare feat of conveying spiritual mysticism without sacrificing his gifts for melody and grand, sweeping arrangements.”
  • This is clearly George Harrison’s best sounding album. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.
  • This is a Must Own Title from 1970, a great year for Rock and Pop Music
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here
  • A great deal of tube compression was used in the mixing and mastering of the album, which makes this a difficult one to reproduce on anything but the highest quality equipment

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Beethoven / Septet / Members of the Vienna Octet

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

More Records on Decca and London

  • With outstanding grades on both sides, the sound here is realistic and natural, if not DEMO DISC quality
  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, the sound on this import pressing is classic Decca from 1959 – rich, smooth and completely free of the hi-fi-ish qualities some audiophiles seem to admire by the likes of Reference, Telarc, Wilson and the like
  • This record was cut by real Decca engineers and in 1969 they certainly still knew what they were doing
  • Both sides are full, rich, spacious, big and present, with very little smear and a very healthy dose of Tubey Magic
  • At the right level, the level at which these instruments are heard in performance, the sound is tonally right on the money
  • We’ve been raving about this album forever, first on Blueback and on UK Stereo Treasury, and now on Ace of Diamonds – all three can be superb
  • If you are looking for a shootout winning copy, let us know – with music and sound like this, we hope to be able to do this shootout again soon

We normally do not put as much effort into finding top quality pressings of chamber music as we do for the large orchestral works favored by audiophiles (or at least the audiophiles who are willing to spend the money to buy our records), works such as Scheherazade and The Planets. However, if more of them sounded as good as this one we would be more than happy to do just that. (more…)

The Biggest “If” in All of Audio

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ted Heath

More Records that Are Good for Testing Tonality and Timbre

The best of the best vintage recordings are truly amazing if you can play them right. That’s a big if.

In fact, it may just be the biggest if in all of audio.

But that is not our story for today. Our story today concerns the relationship between more accurate timbre and higher fidelity.

What do we love about vintage pressings like the Ted Heath disc you see pictured above?

The timbre of the instruments is hi-fi in the best sense of the word.

The unique sound of every instrument is being reproduced with remarkable fidelity on this old record.

That’s what we mean by “hi-fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Sound that passes for hi-fidelity on some records.

Older audiophile records, typically those made by Mobile Fidelity in the ’70s and ’80s, suffered from a common group of problems heard on practically every record they released:

A boosted top, a bloated bottom, and a sucked-out midrange.

Nowadays that kind of low fidelity sound is no longer in vogue.

A new, equally low fidelity sound has taken its place.

What seems to be in vogue these days, judging by the Heavy Vinyl Reissue pressings we’ve played in recent years, is a very different sound from that described above, with a different but no less irritating suite of shortcomings.

These new records, with few exceptions, tend to be compressedthickdullopaque, veiled, recessed and badly lacking in ambience.

Such are the current hallmarks of the Heavy Vinyl LP. Whether made by Speakers Corner, DCC, Analogue Productions or any other label, starting at some point in the mid-’90s, the sound these labels apparently preferred had a problem we heard in practically every infuriatingly unbalanced record we played: sound that was just too damn smooth.

The phony boosted highs of the bad old days are gone, replaced by the phony rolled off highs of today.

(The exception: Bernie Grundman. Bernie cut hundreds of records for Classic Records starting in the ’90s, and it’s clear he chose a different path, but his path turned out to be every bid as problematical. And Mobile Fidelity no longer makes bright records with ill-defined, bloated bass. Now they make overly smooth records with ill-defined, bloated bass.)

Are the audiophiles buying these new, unnaturally smooth records any better off?

The ones with bright, phony systems probably are. Everybody else is getting taken to the cleaners. Ripped off. Sold a bill of goods. Etc. Etc. (There are scores of terms for this activity because there have always been companies and individuals who were happy to take your money in exchange for something of low quality dressed up in fancy packaging.)

The First Thing

As we have been saying for years, to get anywhere in this hobby, the first thing you need is reasonably good stereo sound.

Then you can buy records that actually have the potential to be good records. Records with higher fidelity. Records that are tonally correct.

If you’re buying these modern heavy vinyl pressings, what are you going to do with them when you finally get around to making your stereo reproduce music properly and can hear how second- and third-rate they are?

Last Question

How do we know we are right about the tonality shortcomings of these modern remastered records?

Stay tuned for part two of this commentary for the answer. (more…)