Record Collecting Myths

Art Pepper / Today – Which Is Better: Phil DeLancie Digital or George Horn Analog?

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[This commentary was written many years ago.]

 

We’ve wanted to do Art Pepper Today for more than a decade, but the original Galaxy pressings were just too thick and dark to earn anything approaching a top sonic grade. Thirty years ago on a very different system I had one and liked it a lot, but there was no way I could get past the opaque sound I was now hearing on the more than half-dozen originals piled in front of me.

So, almost in desperation we tried an OJC reissue from the ’90s. You know, the ones that all the audiophiles on the web will tell you to steer clear of because it had been mastered by Phil DeLancie and might be sourced from digital tapes.

Or digitally remastered, or somehow was infected with something digital somehow.

Well, immediately the sound opened up dramatically, with presence, space, clarity and top end extension we simply could not hear on the originals. Moreover, the good news was that the richness and solidity of the originals was every bit as good. Some of the originals were less murky and veiled than others, so we culled the worst of them for trade and put the rest into the shootout with all the OJCs we could get our hands on.

Now, it’s indisputable that Phil DeLancie is credited on the jacket, but I see George Horn’s writing in the dead wax of the actual record, so I really have no way of knowing whether Mr Delancie in fact had anything to do with the copies I was auditioning. They don’t sound digital to me, they’re just like other good George Horn-mastered records I’ve heard from this period.

And of course we here at Better Records never put much stock in what record jackets say; the commentary on the jackets rarely has much to do with the sound of the records inside them in our experience.

And, one more surprise awaited us as we were plowing through our pile of copies. When we got to side two we found that the sound of the Galaxy originals was often competitive with the best of the OJCs. Which means that there’s a good probability that some of the original pressings I tossed for having bad sound on side one had very good, perhaps even shootout winning sound on side two.

This is a lesson I hope to take to heart in the future. I know very well that the sound of side one is independent of side two, but somehow in this case I let my prejudice against the first side color my thinking about the second. Of all the people who should know better…

Supertramp – Crisis? What Crisis? – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an A+++ SIDE ONE! It’s not the A&M Half Speed, and it’s not a British pressing either. It’s domestic folks, your standard plain-as-day A&M pressing, and we’re as shocked as you are. Hearing this copy (as well as an amazing Brit; they can be every bit as good, in their own way of course) was a THRILL, a thrill that’s a step up in “thrillingness” over our previous favorite pressing, the Half Speed.

The best of the best domestics and Brits are bigger, livelier, punchier, more clear and just more REAL than the audiophile pressing…

…something we knew had to be the case if ever a properly mastered non-Half Speed could be found. And now it has. Let the rejoicing begin! (more…)

A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers – The More Mistakes the Better, Part One

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I was reading an article on the web recently when I came across an old joke Red Skelton used to tell:

All men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner.

Now if you’re like me and you play, think and write (hopefully in that order) about records all day, everything sooner or later relates back to records, even a modestly amusing old joke such as the one above.

Making mistakes is fundamental to learning about records, especially if you, like us, believe that most of the received wisdom handed down to record lovers of all kinds is more likely to be wrong than right.

If you don’t believe that to be true, then it’s high time you really started making mistakes.
 
And the faster you make them, the more you will learn the truths (uncountable in number) about records.

And those truths will set you free.

Think about it: perhaps as many as a third of the Hot Stamper pressings on our website are what would commonly be understood to be the “wrong” pressings — or, worse, records that are not supposed to sound good at all. German Dark Side? ’70s Red Seal Living Stereo pressings? Reissue Beatles records — in stereo no less! Can we be serious?

Yes, we are indeed quite serious. We believe by now we know most of the best pressings, the ones with potentially the best sound, for most of the records we regularly shootout. Over the course of decades we’ve tried bad sounding copy after bad sounding copy of practically every title we do. We know which ones to avoid, which betters the odds of finding good sounding pressings. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

We’ve played all the copies that are supposed to be the best, and we’ve also played the ones that aren’t supposed to be any good — late reissues, or records pressed in the “wrong” country; or cut by the “wrong” mastering engineer; or found on the second, third, or fourth labels, all wrong, don’t you even know that?! — and against all odds we’ve kept our minds and our ears open.

Whatever pressing sounds the best, sounds the best. Whether it’s the “right” pressing according to orthodox record collecting wisdom carries no weight whatsoever with us, and never will — because that way of thinking doesn’t produce good results. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – The Stone Poneys Featuring Linda Ronstadt

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

White Hot on side one, and by far the best sound we heard in our shootout for these 1975 pressings. The originals from 1967 have never impressed us. Much more folk than pop, for the most part the sound here is tubey, rich and sweet. Re-released when HLAW hit big, this album features three great Linda solos.

This copy was clearly the best we played all day, but the sound certainly varies a fair amount from track to track. The best tracks are rich, tubey and clear; the worst thin, bright and hard.

The first track on side one rarely stayed clean when loud, but here it does. It’s a good test for whether or not you have a copy with low distortion mastering. Listen for the least amount of smear and congestion and the most resolution.

The second track is richer and tubier and is the proof that side one is mastered correctly.

On side two the first track is rough, the second track better, the third richer, sweeter and smoother still. (more…)

John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme – Better Sound than the Originals?

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

The original Impulse pressings on the brown and orange label are the best, right?

Not in our experience. We think that plays into one of the biggest canards in all of record collecting, that the first pressings are always the best sounding.

For this album, having sampled a large group of pressings from every era, we found the originals to be inferior to the best reissues we played. Naturally the ones we offer here as Hot Stampers will be the best of those reissue pressings. We are not the least bit worried that this vintage Impulse LP won’t beat the pants off of any original as well as any reissue you may have heard. And of course it is guaranteed to be dramatically better sounding than any Heavy Vinyl pressing produced by anyone, anywhere, at any time. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Misterioso

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More Misterioso

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  • Monk’s live 1958 release makes its Hot Stamper debut, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big, lively, open and clear with Tubey Magical richness – just the right sound for this masterful quartet
  • Recorded live at the Five Spot Cafe in New York City, the energy here is palpable – according to Orrin Keepnews, Monk “played more distinctly here than on his studio albums in response to the audience’s enthusiasm during the performance”
  • 5 stars: “[The quartet’s] overwhelming and instinctual capacities directly contribute to the powerful swingin’ and cohesive sound they could continually reinvent.”

(more…)

Leonard Cohen – New Skin For the Old Ceremony

More Leonard Cohen

New Skin For the Old Ceremony

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish; exceptionally quiet vinyl too! 
  • If you’re trying recreate a solid, palpable Leonard Cohen singing live in your listening room – sounding just as his did in the studio back in 1974 – these sides will let you do just that
  • “New Skin for the Old Ceremony may be Leonard Cohen’s most musical album, as he is accompanied by violas, mandolins, banjos, and percussion that give his music more texture than usual. The fact that Cohen does more real singing on this album can be seen as both a blessing and a curse — while his voice sounds more strained, the songs are delivered with more passion than usual.”

This vintage LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings rarely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is pretty much gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much in the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable LEONARD COHEN singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)

Bill Evans – Everybody Digs Bill Evans

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More Everybody Digs Bill Evans

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

Everybody Digs Bill Evans is one of the better sounding Bill Evans records we’ve played lately. Both sides are Tubey Magical, rich, open, spacious and tonally correct.

These three guys — Sam Jones is on the bass and Philly Joe Jones on the drums — are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one. (more…)

Leonard Bernstein – West Side Story (Broadway Cast Recording)

More of the music of Leonard Bernstein 

More West Side Story 

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

SUPERB sound can be found on these two Columbia stereo pressings of the Broadway Cast recording. This is a huge, spacious, natural, exciting All-Tube Golden Age recording that impressed us no end here at Better Records.

We heard an amazing sounding copy many years ago, and the only reason we haven’t done the shootout since then is that we just couldn’t find enough clean copies with which to do it. To be clear, we’re not talking quiet vinyl, we’re talking about not beat-to-death, not all-scractched-up vinyl. People loved this music and they played the hell out of it.

Imagine our surprise when the good sound of these copies turned out to not only have superb sound, but exceptionally quiet Mint Minus vinyl too! Don’t expect to see another of this quality any time soon. If we can’t find them, who can? (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – The Stone Poneys Featuring Linda Ronstadt

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The Stone Poneys Feat. Linda Ronstadt

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this was one of the better copies we played in our shootout for these later pressings – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Much more folk than pop, for the most part the sound here is tubey, rich and sweet
  • The originals from 1967 have never impressed us much – re-released when HLAW hit big, it features three great Linda solos
  • “It doesn’t have “Different Drum,” but the first Stone Poneys album is their folkiest and best, dominated by close harmonies and strong original material by the group’s guitarists, Bob Kimmel and Ken Edwards.” 

This copy was one of the better pressings we played in our shootout, but the sound varies a fair amount from track to track. The best tracks are rich, tubey and clear; the worst thin, bright and hard.

The first track on side one rarely stayed clean when loud, but here for the most part it does. It’s a good test for whether or not you have a copy with high quality, low distortion mastering. Listen for the least amount of smear and congestion and the most resolution.

The second track is richer and tubier – it proves that side one is mastered correctly.

On side two the first track is rough, the second track better, the third richer, sweeter and smoother still. (more…)