Advice – What to Listen For – Choruses that Are Big, Clear and Lively

Santana – Inner Secrets – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

The sound went so far beyond our expectations, so far beyond even the White Hot Stamper pressing we discovered in this shootout, that we had to throw on another plus if the grading was to make any sense at all.

It’s a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house. When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.) (more…)

Steeleye Span – Commoners Crown – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

This original Porky/Pecko mastered British Chrysalis pressing has Superb Demo Disc Sound — Side Two is OFF THE CHARTS — and, even more importantly, the best English Folk Rock Music ever recorded. I grew to love this album back in the ’70s; the stereo store I worked at used it as a Demo Disc, so I heard it on a regular basis. Rather than getting sick of it, I actually bought a copy for my own collection to play at home. (Not sure if I managed to get an import, not sure if I would even have been able to hear the difference.)

Things have changed as we never tire of saying here at Better Records, but in a way you could say they have stayed the same. This used to be a demo disc, and now it’s REALLY a Demo Disc.

You will have a very hard time finding a record with a punchier, richer, fuller, better-defined, dare I say fatter bottom.

But that’s just the start. Side two defeated all comers in our shootout, earning our top grade of A+++. It’s got everything we look for in a Hot Stamper British Folk Rock Album — it’s dynamic; has really solid, deep punchy bass; transparency and incredible sweetness in the midrange; tubey-magical acoustic guitars; you name it, this copy had it. It had it all. (more…)

Gerry Rafferty – City To City – Our First White Hot Stamper

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

The BEST SOUNDING City to City to EVER hit our site — White Hot on side one backed with a nearly White Hot side two, which means that the chances of finding an overall better sounding copy than this are vanishingly small, even for us.

In addition, we are especially delighted to report that not only is the sound better than ever, the music is too. The album as a whole, unlike so much of what came out in 1978 (Do Ya Think I’m Sexy asks Rod Stewart, followed by stony silence) does not seem to have dated in the least, with the possible exception of the big hit Baker Street, which is arguably somewhat over the top but still works for what it is — a radio-friendly folk pop song with a compelling narrative. Both sides come with the kind of rich, sweet, classically British Tubey Magical sound that we love here at Better Records.

In case you have never had the misfortune to play one, the original domestic pressings, mastered at the usually reliable-for-sonics Artisan, are an absolute disaster. From an audiophile point of view they are all but unlistenable. (more…)

Journey – Escape – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

A White Hot shootout winning Ultimate Side Two, on quiet vinyl no less. Side one is Super Hot, big and lively. The chorus really ROCKS on Don’t Stop Believin’. The Number One album that single-handedly catapulted them into the Big Time. Stone in Love, Who’s Crying Now and Open Arms all sound amazing.

We’ve been trying (and failing) to find good sound on Journey records for close to a decade, and finally we have something to show for all that work — real Hot Stamper sound for their only Number One album, with monster jams like Don’t Stop Believin’, Stone in Love, Who’s Crying Now — the first three tracks on side one! — and the big closer for side two, Open Arms.

Most greatest hits albums don’t even have that many good songs! Not sure how we’ll fare with the rest of their catalog, but this one is a good place to start if you’re a fan of the band. (more…)

Van Halen – 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 Van Halen’s debut album.

Most copies just do not have the kind of weight to the bottom and lower mids that this music needs to work. Put simply, if your Van Halen LP doesn’t rock, then what exactly is the point of playing it?

The other qualities to look for on the best pressings are, firstly, space — the best pressings are huge and three-dimensional, with large, lively, exceptionally dynamic choruses.

The copies with the most resolving power are easy to spot — they display plenty of lovely analog reverb trailing the guitars and vocals. (more…)

Neil Young – Harvest


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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this vintage pressing of Neil’s undeniable classic is guaranteed to beat any Harvest you’ve ever heard
  • At Mint Minus Minus this is not an especially quiet copy, but keep in mind that it’s practically impossible to find an early pressing with sound this good that will play quieter – it hasn’t happened in years 
  • A Top 100 album and a sublime recording no audiophile should be without
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…the love songs and the harrowing portrait of a friend’s descent into heroin addiction, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” remain among Young’s most affecting and memorable songs.” 

When you have this kind of open, extended top end, the grit, grain and edge just disappear, leaving you with a clear, Tubey Magical sound that’s way beyond anything you have ever heard (or we give you your money back). Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the string of superb studio albums Neil released from 1970 to 1976. Just look at these titles: After The Gold Rush, Harvest, On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night, and Zuma. (more…)

Loggins & Messina – Full Sail – Choruses that Really Get Up and Going

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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 the album.

At about the two minute mark the big chorus in Watching the River Run is also a great test for weight, resolution, dynamic energy, and freedom from strain in the loudest parts. When the whole band is projecting, really belting it out, the shortcomings of practically any copy will be most evident. It was a key test every pressing had to pass.  

When the music gets loud you want it to get better, with more size, energy and, especially, emotional power, just they way it would be heard in concert. Any strain or congestion in the choruses results in the loss of serious points. (This is of course one of the biggest issues we have with Heavy Vinyl — it never gets up and it never gets going the way real records do. “Boring” is the adjective we most commonly use to critique the few we hear, and who wants to listen to boring records?)

Practically all copies have a midrange equalization problem, with a lack of lower mids and boosted upper mids, which often thins out the vocals and leads to hardness and honkiness.

The better copies manage to keep the EQ anomalies within bounds while giving us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthusiasm; harmonically-rich guitars, and a three-dimensional soundstage that reveals the space around them all. (more…)

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This BEYOND White Hot side one (A++++) has nothing less than MASTER TAPE SOUND. Our Four Plus ranking is rare enough, but in this case it has the added benefit of conferring upon this very pressing the status of the BEST SOUNDING STEELY DAN RECORDING we have ever heard.

There is no recording better in the Steely Dan catalog, and I don’t think there’s a copy anywhere that’s any better than this one. (more…)

Pink Floyd – The Wall – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

SAY IT ISN’T SO. This is the ULTIMATE White Hot Stamper pressing of The Wall, the finest ever to hit our site BAR NONE. 

All four sides of this monster earned top A+++ grades in our massive recent shootout. This copy gives you ALL of the magic that Floyd laid down to tape. You get incredible clarity, breathtaking transparency, wonderful punch to the bottom, sweetness and full extension up top, tubey magical acoustic guitars, full-bodied vocals and serious depth and dimension to the soundfield. Folks, if you love The Wall you will TREASURE this copy for the rest of your listening days.

We spent a ridiculous amount of time cleaning, playing, and comparing copies of this classic double album this week and let me tell you, there are a lot of WEAK copies out there. The Wall is an album that DEMANDS big, bold, explosively dynamic sound, and this copy has got it in spades. (more…)

Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners – Greatest “Copy” Ever

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

WHOA! We’ve paired up two FOUR PLUS sides to create this stunning 2-pack with mindblowing Demo Quality sound for the whole album. These A++++ sides will show you just how amazing it can sound: super full-bodied, rich, warm and natural. 

Please note that we award this very special grade so rarely that we don’t even have a graphic to represent it in our sonic grade box. The scale usually only goes to three pluses, but these two sides went up to four!

This is an incredible recording, and on a copy like this the sound is truly stunning. When you hear Chicago here you will not believe how CINEMATIC the sound is! It’s everything we love about ANALOG, and then some.

Most of the credit must go to the team of recording engineers, led here by the esteemed Bill Halverson, the man behind all of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young albums. Nash was clearly influenced by his work with his gifted bandmates, proving with this album that he can hold his own with the best of the best. Some songs (We Can Change The World, Be Yourself) are grandly scaled productions with the kind of studio polish that would make Supertramp envious. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better than this. (more…)