Author: humorem

Roberta Flack – Chapter Two

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This is the best sounding Roberta Flack solo album to ever hit the site! (I say “solo” because the best copies of Flack / Hathaway are also incredible.)

We fell hard for this album when we started comparing these a while back but it has taken us until now to finally get a copy listed. Most in the bins are way too noisy for us to sell and few of them sound anything like this! If you’re a Roberta Flack fan or just enjoy amazing sounding soul music, you won’t want to miss out on this one!

It’s a matter of opinion, of course, but for my money the opener “Reverend Lee” is the best song on here. Roberta absolutely knocks that one outta the park and on a copy like this one it is magical.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Reverend Lee
Do What You Gotta Do
Just Like a Woman
Let It Be Me

Side Two

Gone Away
Until It’s Time for You to Go
The Impossible Dream
Business Goes on as Usual

AMG 4 Star Review

A great album and the release that made Roberta Flack a major soul and R&B artist in the early ’70s. She had a soft, compelling, alluring voice, and was able to convincingly switch gears and also convey anger, regret, hurt, or despair. Those who thought Flack was a one-hit wonder, or didn’t think she could make the transition from doing mostly jazz to other styles, were convinced otherwise.

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

The sound is EXTRAORDINARILY rich, smooth, full-bodied and natural on both sides. We have never heard What’s New sound like this.

With two White Hot sides this pressing gets two critically important elements of the recording more right than any copies we have ever heard: the strings in the orchestra, and, even more importantly for obvious reasons, Linda’s voice. Both sides give you a much more natural sounding Linda than you have ever heard. She’s fuller, sweeter, breathier, less spitty (some tracks more than others) and just plain less artificial than any others we played.

We’ve criticized the engineer George Massenburg on this site in the past, but with this copy we almost want to take it all back.

What he gets right on this recording is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with various jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio. The sound stretches far to Linda’s left, far to her right, as well as back far behind her in a huge semi-circle. She is of course singing in a vocal booth, with her vocal placed front and center in the soundstage.

As an aside, George Massenburg went on to record the Trio album with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. The analog sound he produced was shockingly rich, smooth and sweet — and this in 1987 no less!

What to Listen for (WTLF)

That’s easy on this album: the strings. When the strings are big and rich, not shrill and thin, that’s a good thing. Rosiny texture means you have a copy with less smear and higher resolution. Harmonics up top means that the top end of your copy is extending properly.

Bottom line: If the strings are bad on this album probably everything else is too.

Having said that, this is an album of standards sung by a woman with a very recognizable voice. If Linda doesn’t sound right, what’s the point of the record? To hear Nelson Riddle’s well-recorded strings?

The best copies have Linda sounding rich and breathy. Few managed to pull off that particular trick as well as we would have liked. We took major points off for those copies that had her sounding too thin or forced in her upper range.

Side One

By the far the biggest we have ever heard. We could give it Four Pluses I suppose but we will just call it As Good As It Gets for now.

Side Two

The same sound, just not quite as big, but bigger and more right than any other. The sound on this side is what we would have expected to win on either side. It’s hard to fault.

Vinyl Issues

Almost no copies in our shootout played better than Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus, and most copies had crackly edges on both sides.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

What’s New? 
I’ve Got a Crush on You 
Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry 
Crazy He Calls Me 
Someone to Watch over Me

Side Two

I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You 
What’ll I Do? 
Lover Man 
Goodbye

Wikipedia

Stephen Holden of the New York Times noted the significance of the album to popular culture when he wrote that What’s New “isn’t the first album by a rock singer to pay tribute to the golden age of the pop, but is … the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania and the mass marketing of rock LP’s for teen-agers undid in the mid-60’s. In the decade prior to Beatlemania, most of the great band singers and crooners of the 40’s and 50’s codified a half-century of American pop standards on dozens of albums, many of them now long out-of-print.”

The album spawned a major change in popular culture because Ronstadt was then considered the leading female vocalist of the ‘Rock’ era. Both her record company and manager, Peter Asher, were very reluctant in producing this album with Ronstadt, but eventually her determination won them out and the albums exposed a whole new generation to the sounds of the pre-swing and swing eras.

In 1983, Traditional Pop Standards music was pushed aside and the one-time popular music sung by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett and their contemporaries was relegated in the 1960s and 1970s to Las Vegas club acts and elevator music. Ronstadt recently remarked that she did her part in rescuing these songs which she calls “little jewels of artistic expression” from “spending the rest of their lives riding up and down on the elevators.”

What’s New was released in September 1983 and spent 81 weeks on the main Billboard album chart. It held the #3 position for five consecutive weeks while Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down locked in the #1 and #2 album positions. The album also earned Ronstadt a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

Played Vs. Heard

Please note that we should — but too often don’t — make a vitally important distinction between two words we tend to use interchangeably on the site. There is an important difference between the sound of records that we’ve played and the sound that we’ve heard.

The stereo, the listening room, our cleaning technologies and who knows what else are all undergoing constant changes. This means that we may have played a better pressing in the past but couldn’t hear it sound as good as it does now. The regular improvements we make in all areas of playback make sonic comparisons over time all but meaningless.

Universals’s Reissue of 10cc’s Masterpiece on Heavy Vinyl Gets Panned

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Universal 180 Gram LP

Sonic Grade: F

This new Universal Super DeLuxe import LP appears to be the regular vinyl version that, for all we know, might actually still be in print in Europe. It appears to have been specially pressed on heavy import vinyl for our domestic market as part of the new Universal Heavy Vinyl series. Either that or it’s being made from the old metalwork for the LP that would have been available most recently in Europe (out of print by now I should think).

Which is a very long-winded way of saying that it is not in any real sense remastered, if such a claim is being made for it or the series. Rather it has simply been repressed on Heavy Vinyl in Europe and imported to the states. None of which is either here nor there because the record is an absolute DISASTER.

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Johnny Mathis – Johnny’s Newest Hits

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  • This early Columbia 360 pressing of Johnny’s Newest Hits (hey, they were new in 1963!) boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The best copies demonstrate the big-as-life early Columbia Sound at its best – full-bodied and warm yet clear, lively and dynamic
  • Both sides here are clean and present with wonderfully full strings and rich vocals
  • “…a collection of his ‘latest hits, the ones that brought him back to the singles charts.'”

Finding clean Johnny Mathis records from 50+ years ago, on Columbia, in stereo, is no easy task, which is why you see so few come to the site. We would be hard pressed to find one good title to shootout in a given year — there are simply too few original pressings that have survived the turntables of the day.

One tip we can offer any Mathis fans who may be out there: stick to the Columbia era if you want audiophile sound. His Mercury recordings, at least the half-dozen or so we’ve played, were godawful sounding. (more…)

Hot Stamper Shootouts – The Four Pillars of Success

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Finding Hot Stampers is all about doing shootouts for as many copies of the same title as you can get your hands on. There are basically four steps in this process and you have to achieve success with each of the four if you are going to be any good at discovering and evaluating your own Hot Stampers. 

We discuss each and every one of them in scores of commentaries and listings on this very site. Although none of it will come as news to anyone who has spent much time reading our stuff, we cobbled together this commentary to help formalize the process and hopefully make it easier to understand and follow.

If you want to make judgments about recordings — not the pressing you have in your collection, but the actual recording it was made from — you have to do some work, and you have to do it much more thoroughly than most audiophiles and record collectors think is necessary.

The Four Cornerstones of Hot Stampers

That work is made up of these four steps.

1.) You must have a sufficient number of copies to play in order to find at least one “hot” one.

2.) You must be able to clean your copies properly in order to get them to sound their best.

3.) You must be able to reproduce your copies faithfully.

4.) You must be able to evaluate them critically. (more…)

Rhapsody! – The Story of an Old Fave We Were Wrong About

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A great example of an album We Was Wrong about.

As you can see by the commentary below, I used to think this was a wonderful sounding London “Sleeper” classical recording.

That was many years ago – five, six, seven, I cannot be sure. I ended up acquiring a half dozen copies of the album or so over the course of those years, had them cleaned up and proceeded to do a shootout.

It did not go well. Immediately I noticed that the pressings I was playing were sounding clean, clear and lively, but much too modern, too much like a good CD and not enough like the good Golden Age classical recordings we audition regularly.

Those recordings, on the right pressings, will take your breath away.  Rhapsody! was leaving me asking myself what was wrong. The more I listened the more obvious the faults of the recording became.

The pressings I played lacked warmth, richness, sweetness, space, and a number of other analog qualities I won’t belabor here. Too much of what makes listening to vintage vinyl so involving was just not on these records no matter how much I may have wanted them to be.

The extreme top and bottom were also lacking, giving the sound a “boxy” quality. The presentation was wide but not tall. Of the five levels of sound we discuss on the site in various listings, levels one and five were not as evident as they should have been.

This is, 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 beast for those of us who constantly make improvements to our playback and critically listen to records all day.

We cannot rely on our previous judgments. With all the changes we’ve made over the years, we can now clean our records better and play our records better than ever before.

That means that some will rise and some will fall. This one fell, pretty hard in fact. Not a bad record, but not a good one either, and far from as good as I once thought.

Below is our previous commentary.  All of this was true for my old stereo and room, my critical listening skills at the time, my old cleaning regimen. And by old I mean my approach from only about five or six years ago!

Things have changed, dramatically, and nothing in all of audio could make me happier.

DEMO QUALITY SOUND! This is one of the greatest SLEEPER albums of all time.

This London reissue from 1979 of recordings from 1978 in Detroit, the year in which Dorati became director of the Detroit Symphony has the kind of orchestral sound we drool over here at Better Records. Dark and rich strings — the basses growl just like the real thing. Dynamic. Deep solid bass. Fluffy tape hiss, which sounds exactly the way it should. This tells you that the top end is untweaked. (Almost all Classic Records have funny sounding tape hiss as you may or may not know. It”s a dead give away that the top end is boosted. Tape hiss is like pink noise: it always sounds the same, unless somebody has fooled with it. Steve Hoffman taught me to listen for this quality and it was a lesson important to my growth as a critical listener.) (more…)

Sometimes the Most Fundamental Questions in Audio Are Simply Overlooked

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This commentary is about two things — knowing the kind of music you like, and getting the kind of sound you want.

If you believe what you read on the various sites where audiophiles freely dispense advice about everything under the sun regarding music, recordings and equipment, you are asking for trouble and you are surely going to get it. You will encounter an endless supply of half-truths, untruths and just plain nonsense, more often than not defended tooth and nail by those with typing skills but not much enthusiasm for the tedium of tweaking and critical listening. 

What kind of equipment are these people using? How deep is their experience in audio? Truth be told, I was pretty misguided myself during the first ten (or twenty, gulp) years I spent in audio, reading the magazines (I still have my Stereophiles and Absolute Sounds from the ’70s in boxes in the garage), traipsing from stereo store to stereo store, trying to figure out what constituted Good Sound so that I could manage to get my own equipment to produce something like the best I heard.

Most of the time what I heard made me want nothing to do with that kind of sound.

Questions

I sympathize with those who have trouble making sense of this hobby. It can be very confusing, especially to the neophyte. It takes a long time (with plenty of effort and money expended along the way) to be able to answer some of the most fundamental (and most often overlooked) questions in audio:

1) What kind of music do you like?

2) What kind of sound do you prefer?

Armed with answers to the above two, the next question to be asked is:

3) What equipment will best be able to give you the sound you prefer on the music you like, within the limits of your budget, room, Wife Acceptance Factor, etc.

If you haven’t been doing this audio stuff for at least ten years you probably don’t know the answers to those last two questions. In other words, you still have a lot to learn. (I know people who have been doing it for far longer than that and still don’t have a clue.) I may not have all the answers, but after being in audio for more than thirty years, about half of that full-time (full-time being sixty to seventy-plus hours a week), I can say without embarrassment that I have some of them. And for the most part I got them the old-fashioned way: I earned them.

Do You Like Rock Music?

Then make sure you buy speakers that can play rock music.

Don’t buy screens, panels or little boxes with subs.

They may be cheap, they may have pretty good Wife Acceptance Factor, but they do a piss-poor job of playing rock music, so do yourself a favor and avoid them. Rock needs dynamic drivers, the more the better and the bigger the better. There is no substitute for piston power when you want to rock.

When you walk into your audio showroom and for your budget they show you a little two-way box with a six or eight or even ten inch woofer, walk out and go somewhere else. Find another way. That speaker won’t play the music you love, not properly anyway. It cannot do the job you need it to do, and that makes it mostly a waste of money.

Teach Yourself

So how do you learn about all this stuff?

Audio friends and fellow travelers can be very helpful. You might also get some tips and ideas from magazines and websites.

But ultimately it’s up to you to teach yourself. Much of the commentary on the site has to do with the real nuts and bolts of the recordings we review — exactly what to listen for, precisely which sonic strengths and weaknesses can be found in which songs, and the like. This is what we listened for, it’s how we separated the wheat from the chaff, and we offer it on the site as a guide to help you recreate the very same magic on your own stereo in your own home.

There are scores of pages of this kind of commentary throughout the site. We even created a special section for some of it, called Audio and Playback Advice with another group of links to Home Audio Exercises.

Why Do We Bother?

What other record dealer on the planet would bother? But we do it for a reason. We charge a lot of money for our best LPs. We want to help you understand and appreciate what makes our pressings special, so that when you buy them, you do so secure in the knowledge that the price will be more than justified by the quality of the sound when you get it home. Ultimately the records must speak for themselves. If we are going to charge hundreds and hundreds of dollars for fairly common rock records like After the Gold Rush or Rumours, those records better deliver, and deliver in a big way.

Frank Sinatra – Look To Your Heart

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Triple Plus (A+++) on side one, with a side two that is right up there with it – outstanding sound quality from first note to last. This copy was the fullest, richest and smoothest, with the best bass and most natural vocals of any we played. Recorded from 1953-1955, this mono collection of singles and such gives us Old Blue Eyes in his Capitol-period prime.

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.

This Hot Stamper pressing has the kind of ’50’s Tubey Magical Analog Sound that’s been lost to the world of recorded music for decades — decades I tell you! Nobody can manage to get a recording to sound like this anymore and it seems as if no one can even remaster a recording like this anymore, if our direct experience with scores of such albums counts as any sort of evidence.

Steve Hoffman is the guy that can get the closest in this regard, but the difference between The Real Thing and even the best of his Remasters is not the slightest bit hard to hear. (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Greatest Hits – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Finally, a Triple Plus side for Sly’s Greatest Hits album, the first time this album has EVER sounded the way it is supposed to! Man, most copies of this album just plain suck — sonically of course. Musically I have to second the sentiments of the writer for AMG who noted: “Music is rarely as vivacious, vigorous, and vibrant as this, and captured on one album, the spirit, sound, and songs of Sly & the Family Stone are all the more stunning.” So true.

No side one had the ultimate sound we were looking for. This side one earned an A+, best in the shootout, but far from perfect. It’s tonally correct and not nearly as smeary and sub-gen as most copies, but it sure doesn’t sound like side two. That side blew every copy we played out of the water. Nothing came within two pluses. I can’t remember when that happened last. It might never have. (more…)

Donny Hathaway – The Best of Donny Hathaway

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  • Hathaway’s 1978 compilation album finally arrives on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • Richer, warmer, more natural, more relaxed, these vintage pressings are what analog is all about, that long-lost sound that never calls attention to itself and just lets the music flow
  • The legendary Roberta Flack joins Hathaway on two or our favorite duets of all time: “You’ve Got A Friend” and “Where Is The Love” – the results are nothing short of magical
  • 4 stars: “…taste the musical genius of the late Donny Hathaway… he delivers a strong, understated reading of Leon Russell’s song. He blends deliciously with Roberta Flack… their chemistry is breathtaking.”

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