Advice – What to Listen For – Big, Clear, Lively Choruses

Van Halen on DCC – Not My Idea of Good Sound

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Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing and another DCC LP debunked.

As I recall it isn’t very good — thick and dull and closed-in; in other words, boring — but I played it quite a while ago. If your copy sounds better, more power to you, but I bet it doesn’t. Any copy we sell is guaranteed to blow the doors off of it — as well as any other pressing you own — or your money back.

Go ahead and turn up your nose if you like, but this music is widely considered classic rock by now. I’m not going to pretend it’s on a level with After The Gold Rush or Zep II, but this album does exactly what it’s trying to do — it really ROCKS.

Donn Landee

Credit DONN LANDEE (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records.

Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.

Badly Mastered LPs

Visit our Hall of Shame to see what are in our opinion some of the worst sounding records ever made.

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more intolerable.

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

Pink Floyd – The Wall

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  • A superb Demo Disc Quality pressing – all four sides earned outstanding Double Plus (A++) sonic grades
  • Buzzing helicopters, ringing telephones, clicking typewriters and so on happen RIGHT THERE in the room with you
  • James Guthrie labored mightily to make this one as big, bold and immersive as any Prog Rock recording we know of, and succeeded brilliantly
  • Rock & Pop Top 100 – “A triumph of production…” and indisputable proof that analog in 1979 could still be absolutely amazing 

Pink Floyd tends to be an amazingly well-recorded band, and this album is certainly no exception. If you’ve taken home one of our Hot Stampers for Dark Side of the Moon, Meddle, or Wish You Were Here, then you certainly know what we’re talking about. Big grungy electric guitars, crystal clear vocals, HUGE punchy drums, earth-shaking bass and TONS of ambience are the hallmarks of any Pink Floyd Hot Stamper. (more…)

Steely Dan and Pretzel Logic – Donald Gets Dynamic on Rikki

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Rikki Don’t Lose that Number — yet another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

This is one knockout recording. After having done shootouts for every Steely Dan title, I can say that sonically this one has no equal in their canon. 

Which is really saying something, since Becker and Fagen are known to be audiophiles themselves and real sticklers for sound. No effort in the recording of this album was spared, that I can tell you without fear of contradiction. They sweated the details on this one. The mix is PERFECTION.  (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.

And lastly (although we could go on for days with this kind of stuff), listen for spit on the vocals. Even the best copies have some sibilance, but the bad copies have much too much and make the sibilance gritty to boot.

A “Modern” Classic

Go ahead and turn up your nose if you like, but this music is widely considered classic rock by now. I’m not going to pretend it’s on a level with After The Gold Rush or Zep II, but this album does exactly what it’s trying to do — it really ROCKS.

At least it does when you have a pressing as good as this one. The All Music Guide gives the album 5 Big Stars, and I’m sure that more than a few of you out there think it deserves every last one of them.

Donn Landee

Credit DONN LANDEE (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records. Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.

The DCC

As I recall it wasn’t very good — thick and dull and closed-in; in other words, boring — but it was quite a while ago that I played it. If your copy sounds better, more power to you, but I bet it doesn’t. Any copy we sell is guaranteed to blow the doors off of it — as well as any other pressing you own — or your money back.

Roundabout Vs. South Side of the Sky

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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 Fragile.

This shootout taught us that track one is not as well recorded as the rest of side one. On copy after copy, and there were well over a dozen, it was the other big track on side one, South Side of the Sky, that had consistently better sound. You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first.

You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first. We play both songs, but we play them in reverse order, knowing that the mind-boggling sound is really going to be on South Side, not so much Roundabout.

This record should give any record you own a run for its money. It’s as BIG and as BOLD a statement about raising the bar for rock recordings as any I know. Without a doubt one of the Best Rock Recordings of all time.

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Counting Down to Ecstasy and Singing Along with My Old School

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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 Countdown to Ecstasy, Steely Dan‘s wonderful second album.

We’ve found that two songs are especially helpful in this regard: Razor Boy on side one, and My Old School on side two.

This album shares top honors with Katy Lied as the toughest Steely Dan album to get to sound right. It’s a positive shame that so many copies are such sonic let-downs: congested, bass-shy, veiled, compressed and grainy. There’s a good reason we don’t do this album but once a year, and it’s not because of a lack of demand. It’s because so many copies sound so bad.
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Listening in Depth to Harvest

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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 Harvest.

Many copies we played would work for the heavy songs and then fall short on the softer numbers. Others had gorgeous sound on the country-tinged numbers but couldn’t deliever any whomp for the rockers. Only a select group of copies could hold their own in all of the styles and engage us from start to finish; we’re pleased to present those exceptional pressings as the Hot Stamper copies of Harvest that so many of you have been begging for.

Harvest is undeniably one of the most beloved albums in all of classic rock. We get letters all the time from customers hoping to get their hands on Hot Stamper copies, but we’ll never have the supply to keep up with the demand. It’s a tough nut to crack, because a Hot Stamper Harvest has to get so many things right — the lovely pedal steel guitar on Out On The Weekend, the LSO on A Man Needs A Maid and There’s A World (engineered by Glyn Johns), Neil’s grungy electric guitar on Alabama, and so much more.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Out on the Weekend

We love the sound of the drums on Neil Young records — think of the punchy kick drum on After The Gold Rush and the punchy thwack of the snare on Zuma. On the best copies, this song should have the kind of BIG, BOLD Neil Young drum sound we’ve fallen in love with. The pedal steel guitar sounds out of this world on our Hot Stampers. (more…)

News Of The World – Stomping and Clapping with Queen


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018

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  • A stunning sounding copy — Triple Plus (A+++) on side two and Double Plus (A++) on side one
  • Powerful sound throughout: incredibly huge and present with amazing clarity and lots of detail
  • Some of the best Queen sound you’ll ever hear — We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions sound great here
  • “…it’s massive, earth-shaking rock & roll, the sound of a band beginning to revel in its superstardom.” — Allmusic customers give it 4 1/2 Stars and that rating sounds about right to us

See all of our Queen albums in stock

It is ridiculously tough to find decent sound for Queen. We’ve suffered through a lot of fruitless shootouts, but this album is clearly a cut above most of their recordings. On a copy like this, it’s absolutely stunning!

Side one starts out with Queen’s back-to-back anthemic classics, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”. Does it get any better for a Queen fan? Hell no. (more…)

Ramping Up the Horsepower of The Cars Like Crazy

The Cars

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The best copies must have one key ingredient that we’ve discovered is absolutely essential if this groundbreaking New Wave album is to come to life — a huge, spacious soundstage.

Some copies are huge; others, not so much. The effect of these size differentials is ENORMOUS. The power of the music ramps up like crazy — how could this recording possibly be this BIG and POWERFUL? How did it achieve this kind of scale? You may need twenty copies to find one like this, which begs the question: why don’t the other 19 sound the way this one does? The sound we heard has to be on the master tape in some sense, doesn’t it? Mastering clearly contributes to the sound, but can it really be a factor of this magnitude?
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