A List of Mind-Blowing Outliers

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This BEYOND White Hot side one (A++++) has nothing less than MASTER TAPE SOUND. Our Four Plus ranking is rare enough, but in this case it has the added benefit of conferring upon this very pressing the status of the BEST SOUNDING STEELY DAN RECORDING we have ever heard.

There is no recording better in the Steely Dan catalog, and I don’t think there’s a copy anywhere that’s any better than this one. (more…)

Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

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A while back we did a monster-sized shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second release, an album we consider THE Best Sounding Rock Record of All Time. In the midst of the discussion of a particular pressing that completely blew our minds — a copy we gave a Hot Stamper grade of A with Four Pluses , the highest honor we can bestow upon it — various issues arose, issues such as: How did this copy get to be so good? and What does it take to find such a copy? and, to paraphrase David Byrne, How did it get here?

Which brings us to this commentary, which centers around the concept of outliers.

Wikipedia defines an outlier this way: “In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.” In other words, it’s something that is very far from normal. In the standard bell curve distribution pictured below, the outliers are at the far left and far right, far from the vast majority of the data which is in the middle.

In the world of records, most copies of any title you care to name would be average sounding. The vertical line in the center of the graph shows probability; the highest probability is that any single copy of a record will be at the top of the curve near the middle, which means it will simply be average. The closer to the vertical line it is, the more average it will be. As you move away from the vertical line, the data point — the record — becomes less and less average. As you move away from the center, to the left or the right, the record is either better sounding or worse sounding than average. (more…)

Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection

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

A side two for the ages — it beat our best Ref Copy to earn a Four Plus (A++++) grade. Both sides are stunning with superb Demo Quality sound: huge, rich, spacious, dynamic and lively. An incredible recording and longtime member of our Top 100 — our pick for Elton’s very best music and sound. 

We rate records with a Four Plus grade so rarely that we don’t even have a graphic for it on our Sonic Grade chart seen above. The scale only goes up to three pluses, but this side two blew our minds to earn a fourth!  

This is an incredible recording, but finding killer pressings like this is no walk in the park. We’ve had countless copies with promising sound that were just not in any condition to sell, and plenty of clean ones that just didn’t sound good.

This copy really delivers on the sound side — you get stunning immediacy, big-time presence, tons of depth to the soundfield, full-bodied vocals, amazing transparency, and BOATLOADS of Tubey Magic. Elton John fans, today is your lucky day.  (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume. 

A TRULY STUNNING COPY of this classic album! Both sides here are rich, warm and full-bodied with tons of energy and presence. It just doesn’t get much better than this, folks! We gave side two a Four Plus grade — note that we don’t even have a graphic for that! — and side one was also very strong.

Side two earned the rare Four Plus grade (making it the first copy of Houses ever to do so, I believe) with an insane combination of clarity, presence, size, richness, transparency, bottom end punch and more. Side one is not quite in the same heady league but is certainly very strong with a Double Plus grade. You’re going to have a ridiculously hard time finding another copy that can hold its own against this one. Frankly, I don’t think it can be done without the kind of operation we have here! (more…)

Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners – Greatest “Copy” Ever

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

WHOA! We’ve paired up two FOUR PLUS sides to create this stunning 2-pack with mindblowing Demo Quality sound for the whole album. These A++++ sides will show you just how amazing it can sound: super full-bodied, rich, warm and natural. 

Please note that we award this very special grade so rarely that we don’t even have a graphic to represent it in our sonic grade box. The scale usually only goes to three pluses, but these two sides went up to four!

This is an incredible recording, and on a copy like this the sound is truly stunning. When you hear Chicago here you will not believe how CINEMATIC the sound is! It’s everything we love about ANALOG, and then some.

Most of the credit must go to the team of recording engineers, led here by the esteemed Bill Halverson, the man behind all of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young albums. Nash was clearly influenced by his work with his gifted bandmates, proving with this album that he can hold his own with the best of the best. Some songs (We Can Change The World, Be Yourself) are grandly scaled productions with the kind of studio polish that would make Supertramp envious. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better than this. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Concerto for Violin & Orchestra / Oistrakh – Not Too Big to Fail

More Tchaikovsky

More Concerto for Violin & Orchestra / Oistrakh

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Side two of this copy from our 2016 shootout provides a clear example of the effect known as the “The Violin That Ate Cincinatti.”

Yes, it may be oversized, but it’s so REAL and IMMEDIATE and harmonically correct in every way that we felt more than justified in ignoring the fact that the instrument could never sound in the concert hall the way it does here — unless you were actually playing it (and even then I doubt if it would be precisely the same sound — big, but surely quite different) (more…)

Stevie Ray Vaughan – The Sky Is Crying – Beyond White Hot Stamper Sound

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame and another record that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Little Wing ROCKS AS HARD on this Four Plus pressing as any song we have ever heard, with DEMO DISC SOUND to rival the greatest rock records of all time.

The Guitar Solos on Little Wing are as HUGE and LIVELY as any we have ever heard (assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one). 

If you have BIG DYNAMIC SPEAKERS and the power to drive them to serious listening levels, you will be blown away by the sound found on the best copies of The Sky Is Crying.

This is one of the most blistering recordings of electric blues-rock we’ve ever played. Few other records recorded in the ’80s, or pressed in the ’90s, have this kind of BIG, BOLD SOUND. Maybe none. The sheer impact and wallop of this music is a real treat, but only if you have the right pressing (and the right kind of stereo to play it on, of course). (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin I – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2014

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

It’s hard to imagine any copy beating this one! The vinyl is Mint Minus throughout, and the sound is INSANELY GOOD! The chances of finding these surfaces with this sound — we’ll let you do the math. If you’re a fan of this album – and who isn’t – this is the copy you want. Side one blew our minds and earned a grade of A++++!

  • A truly stunning copy, with top grades and exceptionally quiet vinyl
  • We gave side one here a Four Plus grade, going way beyond what we were expecting – the soundstage is absolutely huge
  • Triple Plus sound for side two, incredible in its own right with super high resolution and plenty sweet, rich Tubey Magic
  • A 5 star album in the AMG, and a true classic 

More A++++ Hot Stamper Pressings. (more…)

Earth, Wind & Fire – That’s The Way of the World – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2011

More Earth, Wind & Fire

More That’s The Way of the World

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

This BEYOND White Hot Stamper Two Pack has AMAZING SOUND for both sides, which makes it BY FAR the best copy that has ever hit the site! Side two (of record two) earned our highest and rarest grade, A++++. It went beyond any side of any copy we have ever played. When you hear “Reason” on this side you will be floored at how well recorded it is. Think about it: How many people on the planet have ever heard it sound this good? We hadn’t until this copy came our way, and we’ve been playing the record since the ’70s!

On top of that, side one of the other record in this two pack has A+++ sound. Simply put, this copy has the best sound for this album you will ever hear from first note to last, a claim we happily back up with a 100% Money Back Guarantee.  

Record Two – Side Two

We’ve been known to award a “Four Plus” A++++ grade to a record that goes far beyond anything we’ve heard before, and that’s exactly what we heard on this side two — sound that went well beyond our former benchmark copy. (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol / Black / London Fest. – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

AN AMAZING A++++ SIDE TWO, presenting the complete work by Rimsky-Korsakov. The Capriccio Espagnol here is one of THE BEST on record. Not only does it have incredibly powerful DEMO DISC sound, but the performance is superb on every level as well. The energy and excitement of the piece are brought to life by Stanley Black and the London Festival Orchestra like no other you have ever heard. 

This beyond White Hot Stamper may make you reevaluate virtually every classical recording in your collection. The energy, size, scope and immediacy found on this Four Plus copy is easily superior to that of any other recording of the work we have ever heard!

What this album has going for it over the London/Decca with Argenta is an even more exciting Capriccio Espagnol, with orchestral power and vibrant color that rival the composer’s Scheherazade and arguably exceed it, compressing as it does its bright orchestration into fewer than 15 minutes of unalloyed brilliance. I would argue that the sound here easily beats nine out of ten copies of LSC 2446, quite a feat when you consider what that record is selling for these days.

Who can resist these sublime orchestral works? To quote an infamous label, they are an audiophile’s dream come true. Scroll down to read more about them.

Capriccio Espagnol

The Most Exciting, Colorful Performance of all time — Black gets everything out of this famous work on this London recording.

Huge Wall to Wall Demo Disc sound, with the kind of IMMEDIACY that would make the folks at Mercury jealous. We grade this side A++++. You will find very few Living Stereos and Mercuries with this kind of sound, that I can assure you. (more…)