A List of Personal Favorites

Blondie – Parallel Lines – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2016

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

Can this kind of music get any better? This album is a MASTERPIECE of Pure Pop, ranking right up there with The Cars first album. I can’t think of many albums from the era with the perfect blend of writing, production and musicianship Blondie achieved with Parallel Lines.

As expected, if you clean and play enough copies of a standard domestic major label album like this one, sooner or later you will stumble upon The One, and boy did we ever. This side two had OFF THE CHARTS with presence, breathy vocals, and punchy drums. It was positively swimming in studio ambience, with every instrument occupying its own space in the mix and surrounded by air. There was not a trace of grain, just the silky sweet highs we’ve come to expect from analog done right.  (more…)

Philippe Entremont – Ritual Fire Dance

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

An undiscovered gem from 1967 on 360 Columbia! Side two of this record blew our minds with its White Hot Stamper sound. Musically and sonically this record is nothing short of wonderful. Who knew? You could play fifty vintage piano recordings and not find one as good as this!

Tchaicovsky, Liszt, Beethoven, Debussy, Mozart — these shorter pieces and excerpts were composed by those with the greatest gift for melody, men who’ve produced works that have stood the test of time, enchanting audiences over the centuries with works of such beauty and charm.  (more…)

Leon Russell and the Shelter People – His Best Sounding Album?

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  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) from first note to last on this original British pressing 
  • Engineered by Andy and Glyn Johns, this is his best sounding album, especially on a copy that sounds as good as this one does
  • No other Leon Russell album has the richness, the sweetness, and the Tubey Magic of this, his second album from 1971
  • “Russell practically invented what might as well be called Okie rock — with that shit-kicker Gospel sound, heavy on Baptist-revival piano and chorus [a template Elton John found more than a little useful for his first ten albums or so] – and it gets as good on this album as you’ll ever hear.”

Stranger in a Strange Land, which leads off side one, might just be the best song the man ever wrote. What a joy it is to hear it sound so big and powerful.

Domestic Vs. Import

The domestic pressings of Leon Russell and the Shelter People that we’d auditioned over the years always seemed flat, dry, and closed-in. We know that sound well; it’s the sound you hear on records that have been made from dubbed tapes (and it’s the hallmark of the modern Heavy Vinyl reissue, truth be told). It bores us to tears, and had us questioning what we could possibly have seen in the album in the first place. What happened to the glorious sound of early ’70s analog we were expecting to find? (more…)

David Bowie – Young Americans – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

This is one of my favorite Bowie albums. Nobody seems to care about it anymore. They dismiss it as disco junk, but it actually has some of his best music on it. I especially like the song Win. David Sanborn’s saxophone sounds like it’s coming from 60 feet behind Bowie, a nice effect.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Young Americans  
Win

My favorite track on the album, an undiscovered gem in the Bowie catalog. (more…)

THE Gaite Parisienne to Own – A Classic Case of Reversed Polarity

The Music of Jacques Offenbach

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  • This amazing Readers Digest disc has A+++ Out of This World Demo Disc sound for Gaite Parisienne
  • The dynamic energy, clarity and power of this work come through on this pressing like nothing you have ever heard
  • But only if you can reverse your polarity – if you can’t (or won’t) just forget hearing this record sound the way I describe it
  • “This is unpretentious, well-crafted music, and while it will not appeal to those exclusively interested in serious listening, it is undeniably masterful within its genre.”

Amazing in every way! The top end of this record is clear, clean and correct. No other copy sounded like this one on the first side. When you hear all the percussion instruments — the tambourines, triangles, wood blocks and what-have-you — you know instantly that they sound RIGHT. (more…)

The Beatles Abbey Road – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Abbey Road.  

Those of you who follow the site (or do your own shootouts) know that it’s much tougher to find great copies of Abbey Road than it is for MMT or Please Please Me. Most of the copies we’ve played just aren’t good enough to put on the site. For whatever reasons — probably because this recording is so complicated and required so many tracks — Abbey Road is arguably the toughest nut to crack in the Beatles’ catalog. 

Most of the copies we’ve played over the years suffer from too much grit and grain, particularly on the vocals. Not the best ones though. We just couldn’t believe how smooth and sweet the vocals were on our shootout winner last time around, especially on side two, without sacrificing any breath or texture.

The Power of Abbey Road

This is the final statement from The Beatles. To take away the power of this music by playing it through inadequate equipment makes a mockery of the monumental effort that went into it. Remember, the original title for the album was Everest. That should tell you something about the size and scope of the music and sound that the Beatles had in mind. In-Depth Track Commentary (more…)

Steely Dan – Katy Lied – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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KATY LIED is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it. And scroll down to see a wonderful testimonial from one of our good customers about a killer copy we sent him years ago. 

We love the album and we hope you do too. If you have some time on your hands — maybe a bit too much time on your hands — please feel free to check out our commentaries.   

This link will take you to all of our other STEELY DAN albums.

This week’s letter is from our good friend Roger, who, like us, is a GIANT Steely Dan fan. Apparently he had tried every copy of Katy Lied he could get his hands on and practically had given up on the album — until he decided to shell out the princely sum of Three Hundred Clams ($300, probably not the last piaster he could borrow, but a pretty hefty chunk of dough for a fairly common used LP from 1975) to Better Records, with the hope that we might actually find a way to put him in touch with the real Dr. Wu.

Let’s just say it seems that Roger got his money’s worth — and maybe a little more.

The title of his letter is: 

Katy Lied? Are you sure?

I tried your Hot Stamper Steely Dan Katy Lied. You gotta be kidding me. Are you sure this is the same recording? I remember your saying that this one is your favorite SD record and I could never understand why, at least until I heard this secret recording. Other than the HS copy you basically had a choice between the dull and lifeless bland US pressing, or the Mobile Fidelity version, which has those undescribable phasey, disembodied instruments and voices that sound unmusical to me.

I even tried British and Japanese pressings with no luck. I just figured this was just a bad recording, which made sense in light of all the press about the problems during the recording and mixing sessions, and I don’t think I bothered to listen to it again for at least the past 5 years.

But wow, this is clearly in another league. The voices and instruments are in three dimensions, the bass and dynamics are far far better, the saxes are up-front and breathy. I couldn’t believe how good Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More and Chain Lightning sounded. Even my subwoofer that I roll off at 30Hz got a good workout. It sounds like live music. So how did you sneak your tape recorder into the studio sessions, anyway?

Roger, we’re so happy to know that your love for Katy Lied has finally been requited after all these years. The reason we go on for days about the sound of practically every track on the album (the green commentary below) is that we love it just as much as you do. (more…)

Julie London – Julie Is Her Name – What a Record!

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

We award this copy’s side one our very special Four Plus A++++ grade, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a given recording to a level we’ve never experienced before and had no idea could even exist. We estimate that about one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade. You can’t get much more rare than that.

  • Beyond White Hot stamper sound on side one of this Turquoise Liberty Mono pressing – the sound is guaranteed to blow your mind
  • Julie is in the room with you – intimate, breathy and Tubey Magical like practically nothing you’ve ever heard
  • For late night listening this may be the best Sultry Female Vocal recording ever made
  • “…one of the purest, most subtle lounge albums of all time (not to mention one of the best vocal jazz albums ever).”

This side had breathy resolution that was hard to believe, along with size and immediacy that no other side of any copy could touch. Phenomenal. (more…)

The Beatles White Album – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with plenty of What to Listen For (WTLF) tips. 

It’s exceedingly difficult to find audiophile quality sound on The White Album. The Beatles were breaking apart, often recording independently of each other, with their own favorite engineers as enablers, and George Martin nowhere to be found most of the time. They were also experimenting more and more with sound itself, which resulted in wonderful songs and interesting effects. However, these new approaches and added complexity often result in a loss of sonic “purity.”

Let’s face it, most audiophiles like simplicity: A female vocal, a solo guitar — these things are easy to reproduce and often result in pleasing sound, the kind of sound that doesn’t take a lot of expensive equipment or much effort to reproduce.

Dense mixes with wacky EQ are hard to reproduce (our famous Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS) comes into play here), and the White Album is full of that sound, taking a break for songs like Blackbird and Julia.

Some of the Tubey Magic that you hear on Pepper is gone for good. (Play With a Little Help from My Friends on a seriously good Hot Stamper to see what has been lost forever.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Looks at the lineup for side one. Is there a rock album on the planet with a better batch of songs?

Having done shootouts for the White Album by the score, we can also say with some certainty that side one is the most difficult side to find White Hot stamper sound for. It’s somewhat rare to find a side one that earns our top Triple Plus (A+++) sonic grade, even when all the other sides do. (Actually what happens more often than not is that we take the best second discs and mate them with the best first discs to make the grades consistent for the whole album. But don’t tell anybody.) (more…)

Michael Jackson – Off The Wall – Listening in Depth

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Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Off The Wall.

On the better copies the multi-tracked chorus and background vocals are as breathy, rich, sweet and Tubey Magical as any pop recording we know of. An extended top end opens up the space for the huge, dense production to occupy. There is Midrange Magic To Die For exceeding anything to be found on Thriller.

Track Commentary

Side One

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

The first single from the album was designed to go to Number One and it certainly met all expectations in that regard.

On the properly mastered and pressed copies the vocals and percussion will be a bit brighter than those on most of the tracks that follow. The percussion is often somewhat brittle on even the best copies; it’s surely on the tape that way.

It should be big, clear and lively right out of the gate. (more…)