A List of Personal Favorites

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…)

Santana’s Guitar Solos Soar on Inner Secrets

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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.

On side two the final guitar solo Santana takes on Well All Right gets LOUDER in the mix than any guitar solo on any rock record with which I am familiar. The sound gets louder after the first chorus, then louder still right before the second solo, and then the solo itself gets even louder until it seems to be as loud as live music. (Operative word: seems.)

Some copies get loud and some do not. Some stereos are dynamic and some are not. If you have the right stereo, set at the right volume, and THIS copy, you will hear something that not one out of one hundred audiophiles (or music lovers) have ever heard on a record — LIVE ROCK SOUND. (more…)

Cannonball Adderley – Bill Evans – Know What I Mean? – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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A distinguished member of the Jazz Hall of Fame

One of our favorite Cannonball Adderley albums here at Better Records, and the sound is killer on this copy. Both sides are Tubey Magical, rich, open, spacious and tonally correct. We’ve never heard the record sound better, and that’s coming from someone who’s been playing the album since the ’80s when it was first reissued in its current form.

These guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their living, breathing presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound correctly on to disc was simply to thread up that tape on a reasonably good machine and hit play.

Original Vs. Reissue

The original Riverside pressings are the best, right?

Not in our experience. We think that’s just another Record Myth. (more…)

Neil Young – After the Gold Rush – 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 After the Gold Rush.

Folks, a Hot Stamper collection of the Greatest Records of All Time would not be complete without a knockout copy of After the Gold Rush. That’s why it’s been a Better Records All Time Top Ten Rock Title right from the start. We built our reputation on finding Demo Disc Quality recordings like this. Who else can offer you a copy of the album that delivers this kind of ANALOG MAGIC?

Side One

Tell Me Why

Just listen to those Tubey Magical acoustic guitars. You know right away that you’re about to have a sublime musical experience. Nothing sounds that way but analog. (more…)