Advice – Louder Is Better

These records sound much better when you play them good and loud.

Neil Young’s Guitar Masterpiece – Danger Bird

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Listen to the way Danger Bird opens. Each instrument, one by one, slowly, deliberately, one could almost say haltingly, feeds into the mix, until the churning guitars give way to Neil’s spare vocal — fatalistic, doomed, already resigned to some fate he barely understands. 

Even though the song has just begun, you sense that Neil feels a weight and a darkness bearing down on him, that it’s ongoing, that it’s already started, that somehow you’re coming into it in the middle, well after the weight of it has begun to crush and perhaps even kill him. He knows the story of Danger Bird all too well.

It’s as powerful and intense a piece of music as any I have ever experienced; sublime in its simplicity, transcendental in effect. You feel yourself swept along, an out of body experience that you can’t control. When Neil launches into the first of many guitar solos the sense of journeying or exploring with him the imaginary musical world he is creating is palpable. He doesn’t seem to know where it will lead and neither do you. There is no structure to reassure you, no end in sight, only the succession of notes that play from moment to moment, first tensing, then relaxing; cresting, then falling away.

Music has the power to take you out of the world you know and place you in a world of its own making. How it can do that nobody knows. Whatever Neil tapped into to make it happen on Danger Bird, he succeeded completely. If you’re in the right frame of mind, in the right environment, with everything working audio-wise, a minute into this song you will no longer be sitting in your comfy audio chair. You won’t know where you are, which is exactly where you should be.

The Power Of Live Music

To accomplish this feat the sound has to be right. This is always the rub. If you’re an audiophile these transcendent experiences tend to be prompted by exceptionally well-recorded music, the kind of recordings that let you forget you’re listening to a recording at all.

So many records call attention to their shortcomings so quickly that the transcendental effect never takes hold or is quickly dissipated after the first few minutes. This is not the case with the best Hot Stamper copies of the best recordings. They create a truly out-of-body experience from first note to last.

A Big Speaker Record

Let’s face it, this is a Big Speaker Record. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It demands to be played loud. It won’t come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended it to if you play it at moderate levels.

Neil Young – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

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  • A MONSTER Shootout Winning early pressing with incredible Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – this is the EKTIN you have been waiting for!
  • Live-in-Your-Listening-Room sound throughout – miles beyond any copy you’ve heard (or ever will hear)
  • Includes immortal classics such as “Cinnamon Girl,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” and “Down by the River,” just to name three
  • 5 stars: “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was breathtakingly different when it appeared in May 1969, both for Young and for rock in general… almost 30 years later [make that 49], he was still playing this sort of music with Crazy Horse, and a lot of contemporary bands were playing music clearly influenced by it.”

The sound of this Hot Stamper copy is Big and Bold in the best Neil Young tradition, with studio ambience bouncing off the walls and into the open mics he favors.

The best tracks have that Live-in-the-Studio quality, with minimal processing and maximum ENERGY. We absolutely love that sound. With a killer pressing played back on a big pair of speakers this album can ROCK like nobody’s business. Nine minutes of Down by the River? A ten minute long version of Cowgirl in the Sand? Cinnamon Girl? We are so there. (more…)

Boston – Boston

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  • Both Double Plus (A++) sides of this Top 100 Title offer superb Demo Disc Analog sound 
  • The multi-tracked multi-layered guitars are as big as life on this copy and are guaranteed to rock your world
  • Top sound for all the hits: More Than a Feeling, Long Time/Foreplay, Rock & Roll Band, Peace Of Mind…
  • “Boston is essential for any fan of classic rock, and the album marks the re-emergence of the genre in the 1970s.” — Allmusic, 4 1/2 stars

Boston’s first (and only good) album is a long-time member of our Top 100, and on a great pressing like this it’s easy to see why. It’s an incredible recording when you can hear it right, and this is about as right as it gets!

It’s obvious why the first Boston album became a Multi-Platinum Record. Practically every one of its songs still gets heavy radio play on every rock station in town. Consummately well-crafted music like this is almost impossible to find nowadays. I guess that’s why they call it Classic Rock. (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues – Implore You to Turn Up Your Volume

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S9 is hands down the best example of a recording that truly comes to life when you Turn Up Your Volume.

There’s not much ambience to be found in their somewhat dead sounding studio, and very little high frequency boost to any instrument in the soundfield, which means at moderate levels this record sounds flat and lifeless. (You could say it has that in common with most Heavy Vinyl pressings these days, if you wanted to take a cheap shot at those records, which, to be honest, I don’t mind doing. They suck; why pretend otherwise?)

But turn it up and man, the sound really starts jumpin’ out of the speakers, without becoming phony or hyped-up. In fact, it actually sounds more NATURAL and REAL at louder levels.  

A Quick and Easy Test

Play the record at normal levels and pick out any instrument — snare, toms, sax, bass — anything you like. Now turn it up a notch and see if the timbre of that instrument isn’t more correct. Add another click of volume and listen again. I think you will see that with each increase in volume, assuming your system can handle it, the tonality of each and every instrument you hear continues to get better.

This record would sound right at something very close to, if not actual, LIVE levels. Of that I have no doubt. (more…)

Gerry Rafferty – City To City – What to Listen For

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

Listen to the chorus on the first track, The Ark. On the best copies it really gets loud without becoming harsh or shrill. So many popular albums have choruses (and guitar solos) that are no louder, and sometimes not even as loud, as the verses, which rob the songs of any real drama or power. This recording has the potential to give you a dramatic, powerful, loud chorus. It’s a thrill when you find a pressing that delivers on that promise. (more…)

Eagles – Hotel California – Rockin’ Out to Victim of Love

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Victim of Love is yet another one of our favorite tracks that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

It’s the sound of this five piece tearing it up LIVE IN THE STUDIO. It’s also the track where the DCC just falls apart for us. Where did the rock and roll energy go? The DCC makes it sound like the band just doesn’t care, which was certainly not our experience when were playing any of the killer Hot Stampers we came across. Just the reverse was true; we had them turned up full blast and they ROCKED.

In fact I might go so far as to say that Victim of Love is the best sounding track on the whole album. It’s punchy, real and MUSICAL in a way that nothing else on the album is, because it’s being played by a real band, live. The energy and coherency of the sound is like nothing else you will hear on Hotel California, and possibly on any other Eagles record.

Such A Lovely Place

Yet another example of an album that we couldn’t fully appreciate until we’d discovered a truly great copy. You may have heard these songs a million times, or what seems like a million times, but you’ve sure never heard them sound like this. We played copy after copy this week and never grew tired of the music. In fact, we like it better than ever. If you take home one of our Hot Stamper copies, we’re pretty sure you’ll feel exactly the same way. This album is a classic in the world of Classic Rock. When you can hear it right that fact becomes all the more believable. Until then maybe not so much.  

The Search For Hotel California

Even though we’re HUGE Eagles fans at Better Records, we had never tried to do a shootout for this album until about 2008, and that’s because the typical copy doesn’t even hint at the magic found on the better pressings. After countless gritty, grainy, compressed, lifeless, veiled copies we had almost given up — until we played one that summer and heard some seriously good sound coming out of our speakers.

We checked the dead wax, and with new stamper information to go by, we hit the local stores. Let me tell you, finding any clean copy of this album is not easy. Of the scores of copies we’ve picked up, about one in three or four turns out to be quiet enough to sell. Asylum vinyl leaves much to be desired, and the average copy of this album has been played to death, on pretty bad equipment no less.

The DCC — Not Terrible, But…

The DCC for this album is not a total disaster. In fact, the first side of the DCC is one of the better DCC sides we’ve played in recent memory. We dropped the needle on a few copies we had in the back (pressing variations exist for audiophile records too, don’t you know) and they averaged about a B+ for sound on side one. Side two was quite a bit too clean for our tastes — no real ambience or meaty texture to the guitars, about a B- for sound. To flip something we say often: you can do worse, but you can do a LOT better.

The Turn Up Your Volume Test – Bonnie Raitt’s Home Plate

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Another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is a classic case of a record that really starts to work when the levels are up. It’s so free from distortion and phony processing it wants to be played loud, and that’s the level this music works at. It’s the level it was no doubt mixed at, and that mix sounds pretty flat at moderate levels. If you want to hear the real rockin’ Bonnie Raitt you gots to turn it up!

Like a lot of the best recordings from the mid-’70s, the production and recording quality are clean and clear, and we mean that in a good way. There is very little processing to the sound of anything here; drums sound like drums, guitars like guitars, and Bonnie sings without the aid of autotuning — because she can sing on-key, and beautifully. Her vocals kill on every song. (Her dad had a pretty good set of pipes too.) (more…)

In the Market for New Speakers? – Will They Handle the Size and Energy of Take It Easy?

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Take one of our killer Hot Stamper pressings with you when you go shopping for speakers. The speaker that gets the POWER and ENERGY of this music right is the one you want. This record will separate the men from the boys thirty seconds into Take It Easy. It will be obvious who’s got the piston power and who doesn’t.  

With big bass and huge scope, this may become your favorite disc for showing your friends just what analog is really capable of.

When the big chorus comes in on Take It Easy — one of the toughest tests for side one — you will be amazed by how energetic and downright GLORIOUS these boys can sound. Believe us when we tell you, it’s the rare copy that can pass that test.

Think this is all hyperbole? You sure won’t when you play side one on this copy! The sound positively JUMPS out of the speakers and fills the room! The transparency and clarity are nothing less than SHOCKING — just listen to all that ambience; those clear transients on the acoustic guitars, their harmonics captured so beautifully; the sound of the room around the drums.

The bass too is simply AMAZING — deep, tight, BIG and punchy.

One of the best things about this side one is the separation between the various parts, a result of the phenomenal transparency and freedom from distortion of these very special Hot Stamper pressings. You can easily tune in to each of the musicians and follow what they are doing over the course of a song. That’s what you’ve come to expect from a Better Records Hot Stamper, and this copy delivers on that promise.



Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

Other recordings that we have found to be especially Tubey Magical can be found here.

Transparency, the other side of the Tubey Magical coin, is also key to the better pressings of this album as well as many of our other favorite demo discs.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

The Turn Up Your Volume Test – Almost Cut My Hair

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The only time Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young actually sound like a real rock and roll band is on the track Almost Cut My Hair. According to Stephen Barncard, one of the engineers on Deja Vu, the track was actually recorded live in the studio. Boy, it sure sounds like it. The amount of energy the band generates on this one song exceeds the energy of the entire first album put together. 

The reason this song presents such a tough test is that it has to be mastered properly in order to make you want to turn it up, not just louder, but as loud as your stereo will play. This song is not to be used as background music whilst sipping wine and smoking cigars. It positively cries out to be played at serious volume levels on monstrously large speakers. Nothing else will do justice to the power of the band’s one and only live performance. (more…)

Crack The Sky – Animal Notes – 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 Crack the Sky records.

The best vintage rock recordings usually have something going for them that few recordings made after the ’70s do: their choruses get big and loud, yet stay smooth, natural and uncongested. 

We’ve mentioned it in countless listings. So many records have — to one degree or another — harsh, hard, gritty, shrill, congested choruses. When the choruses get loud they become unpleasant, and here at Better Records you lose a lot of points when that happens.

This recording, more specifically this pressing of this recording, has exceptionally big, smooth and natural choruses for many of the songs. Rangers at Midnight comes to mind immediately. Credit our man Shelly Yakus below for really getting the choruses right on this album.

Fun tip: Listen for the Elton John-like piano chords on the first track. Can you name that song? (Hint: it’s on Tumbleweed Connection.)

Engineering

Shelly Yakus and Andy Abrams are credited with engineering the album at the legendary Record Plant in New York. Yakus is the man behind Tom Petty’s best sounding album, Damn the Torpedoes, an album I expect with join our Top 100 with the next updating. We played a copy of the album in 2014 that really blew my mind; the sound was shocking in its size, power and punch; it was dramatically better than any other Petty record I’d ever played up to that time. (Hard Promises, another Yakus effort, can almost get there but not quite, at least not yet, not on the twenty or so copies I’ve played. Who knows, that one-of-a-kind pressing may just be around the corner, waiting to be discovered in our next shootout. We’ll keep you posted.)

The orchestra (yes, of course there’s an orchestra!) was recorded at the fabled 30th Street Studios; no wonder it sounds so good.

Crack the Sky

I freely admit this band is not for everybody. AMG is correct that the album is not exactly sweetness and light. Of course Dark Side of the Moon isn’t exactly a treatise on positive thinking either. It seems to have held up rather well.

If after listening to the album you feel Crack the Sky is not to your liking feel free to send it back for a full refund. We want you to be happy with every Hot Stamper purchase you make. Every one is guaranteed to satisfy or we gladly take it back, no questions asked.

A Big Speaker Record

Let’s face it, this is a BIG SPEAKER recording. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It demands to be played LOUD. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended for it to if you play it at moderate levels.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

We Want Mine 
Animal Skins 
Wet Teenager 
Maybe I Can Fool Everybody (Tonight)

Side Two

Virgin… No 
Invaders from Mars 
Play On
Rangers at Midnight 
i. Night Patrol 
ii. Let’s Lift Our Hearts Up

AMG Review

Coming as it did after Crack the Sky’s critically acclaimed first album, the darker, more cynical Animal Notes was something of a shock. The grim lyrics are still expressed with a dash of humor, but on the first four songs, the laughs are through clenched teeth.

“We Want Mine,” the opening cut, is a demand from a third-world native for a share of the world’s wealth, a demand he knows will be ignored. “Animal Skins,” which may be the best track on the album, skewers organized religion with bitter wit, and “Maybe I Can Fool Everybody Tonight” is told from the viewpoint of someone who is sure that his success is undeserved.

CBS Studios

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

Recording studio

Having been a church for many years, it had been abandoned and empty for sometime, and in 1949 it was transformed into a recording studio by Columbia Records.

“There was one big room, and no other place in which to record”, wrote John Marks in an article in Stereophile magazine in 2002.

The recording studio had 100 foot high ceilings, a 100 foot floorspace for the recording area, and the control room was on the second floor being only 8 by 14 feet. Later, the control room was moved down to the ground floor.

“It was huge and the room sound was incredible,” recalls Jim Reeves, a sound technician who had worked in it. “I was inspired,” he continues “by the fact that, aside from the artistry, how clean the audio system was.”

Musical artists

Many celebrated musical artists from all genres of music used the 30th Street Studio for some of their most famous recordings.

Bach: The Goldberg Variations, the 1955 debut album of the Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, was recorded in the 30th Street Studio. It was an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), the work launched Gould’s career as a renowned international pianist, and became one of the most well-known piano recordings. On May 29, 1981, a second version of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould was recorded in this studio, and would be the last production by the famous studio.

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded almost exclusively at the 30th Street Studio during his years under contract to Columbia, including his album Kind of Blue (1959). Other noteworthy jazz musicians having recorded in this place: Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck.

In 1964, Bob Dylan and record producer Tom Wilson were experimenting with their own fusion of rock and folk music. The first unsuccessful test involved overdubbing a “Fats Domino early rock & roll thing” over Dylan’s earlier, recording of “House of the Rising Sun”, using non-electric instruments, according to Wilson. This took place in the Columbia 30th Street Studio in December 1964. It was quickly discarded, though Wilson would more famously use the same technique of overdubbing an electric backing track to an existing acoustic recording with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”.


Check out more of our Hot Stamper pressings made from recordings engineered at the legendary CBS 30th Street Studio