A List of Personal Favorites

Ella Fitzgerald – Let No Man Write My Epitaph – Reviewed in 2006

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Let No Man Write My Epitaph

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

This very nice looking Verve T Label original Mono LP with the early pink cover has lovely sound. Ella’s voice is present, smooth and sweet. Since this recording only involves voice and piano, the loss of stereo information presents no problem for the listener. Ella and her accompanist are dead center and tonally correct. Many Verve Ella records are a disaster sonically – this is one of the exceptions.

Airto – Fingers – Truly a Desert Island Disc

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

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto. 

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.)

Stampers and Promos

There are a couple of stampers we like for both sides, but knowing the numbers is not particularly helpful since there are not all that many stampers to choose from, and the good stampers can sound just plain awful on some copies. Side one is either A1, A2, or A3 and side two is B1, B2, or B3. I have never seen any other stamper numbers for a domestic pressing and I have seen scores of copies of this album over the last twenty plus years. (Quad doesn’t count; those pressings rarely if ever sound good in stereo.)

Some that we’ve put on the site are White Label Promos. I have a number of them and practically every stamper is represented for both sides, so the promo designation has almost no bearing on the quality of the sound. Which is not saying much because it almost never does.


This is Airto’s Masterpiece as well as a Desert Island Disc for yours truly.

What qualifies a record to be a Masterpiece needs no explanation. We will make every effort to limit each of the artists to a maximum of one masterpiece per artist or group, although some exceptions have already occurred to me, so that rule will be broken from time to time.

For a record to belong on my Desert Island Disc, said record: 1) must have at some time during my fifty years as a music lover and audio enthusiast been played very heavily, fanatically perhaps, even if only for a short time; 2) my current sixty year old self must still strongly respect the album, and; 3) I must want to listen to the album well into the future.

How many records meet the Desert Island Disc criteria? Certainly many more than you can see when you click on the link, but new titles will be added as time permits.

AMG Review

One of the five-star gems [although they actually give it 4 1/2!] that the Brazilian percussionist recorded for CTI was Fingers, which employs Purim on percussion and vocals, David Amaro on guitar, Hugo Fattoruso on keyboards and harmonica, Jorge Fattoruso on drums and Ringo Thielmann on electric bass. Produced by Taylor and recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s famous New Jersey studio, this LP demonstrates just how exciting and creative 1970s fusion could be. When Moreira and his colleagues blend jazz with Brazilian music, rock and funk on such cuts as “Wind Chant,” “Tombo in 7/4” and “Romance of Death,” the results are consistently enriching. Fingers is an album to savor.

Level 42 – World Machine


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018

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  • A Top Copy: Triple Plus (A+++) on side one, where the biggest hits are and a solid Double Plus (A++) side two
  • The sound is HUGE — far RICHER, bigger, clearer and more open than other copies we played
  • A Better Records favorite for more than thirty years, the rare ’80s album that holds up today
  • The big hit Something About You ROCKS on this copy – only these British originals let you turn it up and hear it right
  • “World Machine pushes their newfound radio-friendly sound into the forefront, and the result is one of the finest pop albums of the mid-’80s. “Something About You” exemplifies Level 42’s sound at the peak of its success.”

See all of our Level 42 albums in stock

This British Polydor pressing of Level 42’s BEST ALBUM makes a mockery of most of what’s out there — who knew the sound could be this good? Punchy bass, breathy vocals, snappy drums; it’s all here and it reallyl comes JUMPIN’ out of the speakers on this pressing.

What was striking this time around was just how smooth, rich and tubey the sound was on the best copies. It’s been a few years since we last did this shootout and it’s amazing to us how much better this title has gotten in that short span of time.

Of course, the recording very likely got no better at all, but our system, set-up, room, electricity and who-know-what-else sure did. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet on London

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  • A killer vintage copy of this exceptionally well-recorded Stones album from ’69, with superb Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Clear, rich and lively throughout – the Tubey Magic of the best pressings is what has them sounding the way they should
  • One of a select group of Rolling Stones Must Own records which we prize above all others – Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed round out the trio
  • 5 stars: “Basic rock & roll was not forgotten, however: ‘Street Fighting Man’… was one of their most innovative singles, and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’… was an image-defining epic.”

Good pressings are certainly not easy to come by — this kind of rich, full-bodied, musical sound is the exception, not the rule. And there’s actual space and extension up top as well, something you certainly don’t hear on most pressings. This is a fantastic album, and excellent sides like these give it the kind of sound it deserves.

Raw Rock & Roll Sound

Of course, Hot Stamper Sound still only gets you what’s on the tape. In this case, it’s some rude, crude, dirty rock & roll. That’s clearly what the Stones were going for here. In terms of audiophile appeal, Tea For The Tillerman this ain’t. Nor does it want to be!

What sets the best copies apart from the pack is a fuller, richer tonal balance, which is achieved mostly by having plenty of bass and lower midrange energy. The copies that are bass shy — most of them, that is to say — tend to bring out more of that midrangy shortcoming. (more…)

801 Live – None Rocks Harder

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The best Island copies of this album ROCK HARDER than practically any record we’ve ever played. If you have the system for it, this one will bring a Live Art Rock concert right into your living room!

It’s right at the top of the list of my Favorite Albums — a Desert Island Disc if ever there was one. I stumbled across it more thirty years ago and I’ve loved it ever since. It all started when a college buddy played me the wildly original Tomorrow Never Knows from the album and asked me to name the tune. Eno’s take is so different from The Beatles version that I confess it took me an embarrassingly long while to catch on.

Sometime last year I noted on the site that I had finally figured out how to tell the good pressings from the not-so-good ones. I had been focussing on the wrong things in the shootouts I had done over the last few years, and in that I have the feeling I was not alone. This seems to be a fairly common Major Audiophile Pitfall that we all get stuck in on occassion.

In this case I was trying to find a more transparent copy, one with more shimmer to the cymbals and air around the instruments. The first track is a little opaque and I wanted to be able to hear into the music better. I had tried many import and domestic copies, but none of them seemed to have the qualities I was looking for. They all sounded different, but I could not for the life of me find one that clearly sounded right.

That was my mistake. This album isn’t about clarity. It’s about the POWER OF ROCK AND ROLL. It’s about the sound of a live band in concert, a band with one of the most phenomenal rhythm sections ever captured on tape. The most phenomenal one I’ve ever heard, that’s for sure.

Doing the shootout I realized what separates the men from the boys on this LP — bass. The copies with the most powerful, deepest bass, the stuff under 50 cycles, most often get everything else right too. The bass is the foundation to the sound, and without it the guitars and voices don’t sound right. They’re just too thin. They need body, and body comes from bass.

The “bassy” copies are more dynamic too. They communicate the power of the music in a way that the leaner copies simply do not. With the leaner copies it’s a good album. With the bassy copies YOU ARE THERE.

Turn It Up

Assuming you play this record at the levels necessary for the suspension of disbelief to take hold, i.e., LOUD. The Legacy Focus’ speakers I currently use to audition records have three 12″ woofers that really pump it out at the low end, at high levels, with no audible distortion. It’s one of the reasons they’re used in recording studios for monitors.

I went down the wrong road because I got caught up in the details and missed the essence of the sound. Are you a detail freak? Is that where the music is — in the details? For audiophiles that’s Pitfall Number One. Brighter ain’t necessarily better; most of the time it’s just brighter, and, truth be told, worse. (Played an XRCD lately?)

Of course there’s more to the story than just good bass or dynamics, although for this album they are sine qua non as discussed above. Recent improvements (3/07), simply using new and improved room treatments in concert with our two pairs of Hallographs [now three and enough already], have made a huge difference in the area of top end extension. (Of course the tweeter is still putting out the same highs; the difference is that now the listener can hear them because the room is not interfering as much. Note that I said “as much”, because rooms can never really be fixed; every one I’ve ever been in has caused more than its share of problems.)

So now I would like to amend my previous comments in order to say that Top End Extension plays a crucial role in determining which copies truly soar above the others. The typically good-sounding imports have very little tape hiss. The Hot Stampers have clearly audible hiss that sounds just right. On some tracks, as soon as you drop the needle and hear the tape hiss sound right, you know you have a pretty darn good copy. The soundstage opens up, complete with tons of depth, transparency, and wall to wall sound floating free from the speakers. If the bass is there, and it’s not sloppy or congested, you, my friend, have what we call a Hot Stamper. All you have to do now is sit back and let the cinerama sound wrap itself around you. You are in for a treat!

Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story – Test for Proper Tonal Balance

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

One note on how to tell if you have a tonally balanced copy, at least on side two. Maggie May has multi-overdubbed, close-miked mandolins that should have strong midrange presence and an especially extended, harmonically correct top end. As soon as that song ends, a very sweet, smooth guitar opens the next track, Mandolin Wind. The two songs lean towards opposite ends of the tonal balance spectrum, but on a good copy, both of them sound right. One’s a little darker, one’s a little brighter, but they should both be right if your system is tonally balanced.    (more…)

10cc – Deceptive Bends – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Deceptive Bends.

We’ve long been huge fans of this album both musically and sonically. It’s the kind of recording where the sound JUMPS out of the speakers. It reminds me of Crime Of The Century that way. It’s also one of the most DYNAMIC popular recordings I know of. If this album doesn’t wake up your system, it’s time to scrap it and start over! Musically it’s one of my all time favorite albums, a real Desert Island disc. 

One of the many elements that combine to push this album well beyond the bounds of most popular recordings is the thought and care that went into the soundstaging. Listen to the stereo separation on any track — the sound of each instrument has been carefully considered within the context of the arrangement and placed in a specific location within the soundfield for a reason — usually that reason is for MAXIMUM EFFECT.

That’s why we LOVE 10cc. Their recordings from this era are an audiophile dream come true. Compare that to some of the stereo mixes for the Beatles albums, where an instrument or vocal seems to panned to one channel or another not because it SHOULD be, but because it COULD be. With 10cc those hard-left, hard-right effects make the songs JUMP. They call attention to themselves precisely because the band is having a blast in the studio, showing off all the tricks they have up their sleeves. They want you to get as big a kick out of hearing them as they did conjuring them up. (more…)

Weather Report – Sweetnighter – What to Listen For

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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 the album. What surprised us most about the dozen or so copies that we played for this shootout was how wrong most copies of this album sound. They’re SOUR in the midrange. On this kind of music, a sour midrange is the kiss of death. Those copies that aren’t sour are frequently just plain dull. On a recording like this, so full of percussion — which to be honest LIVES OR DIES on the quality of its percussion — dullness is devastating.   (more…)

Roxy Music – Siren

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

Siren is one of our favorite Roxy albums, right up there with the first album and well ahead of the commercially appealing Avalon. After reading a rave review in Rolling Stone of the album back in 1975 I took the plunge, bought a copy at my local Tower Records and instantly fell in love with it. As is my wont, I then proceeded to work my way through their earlier catalog, which was quite an adventure. It takes scores of plays to understand where the band is coming from on the early albums and what it is they’re trying to do. Now I listen to each of the first five releases on a regular basis.

Somehow they never seem to get old, even after more than thirty years.

Of all the Roxy albums (with the exception of Avalon) this is probably the best way “in” to the band’s music. The earlier albums are more raucous, the later ones more rhythmically driven — Siren catches them at their peak, with, as other reviewers have noted, all good songs and no bad ones. (more…)

Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out The Lights – Bigger, Taller, Wider, Deeper

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what to listen for (WTLF).

One of the qualities we don’t talk about nearly enough on the site is the SIZE of a record’s presentation. Some copies of the album don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. Other copies do, creating a huge soundfield from which the instruments and voices positively jump out of the speakers. 

When you hear a copy that can do that, needless to say (at least to anyone who’s actually bought some of our best Hot Stamper pressings) it’s an entirely different listening experience.

With constant improvements to the system Shoot Out is now so powerful a recording that we had no choice but to add it to our Top 100 list in 2014, but we would go even further than that and say that it would belong on a list of the Top Ten Best Sounding Rock Records of All Time. (more…)