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

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.

More Fragile
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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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Listening in Depth to The Eagles – Desperado

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Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series. This is the second-best sounding Eagles record of all time, no doubt thanks to the engineering of our man Glyn Johns. Of course, the best sound on an Eagles record is found on the first album. For whatever reason, that record was left off the TAS Super Disc list, even though we feel that both musically and sonically it beats this one by a bit.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Doolin-Dalton

This wonderful song is a great test track for side one. Typical pressings of this album tend to be dark and lack extension up top. When you have no real top end, space, detail and resolution suffer greatly. You need to be able to appreciate each of the stringed instruments being played — guitar, banjo, dobro — and the top end needs to be extended and correct for you to be able to do that. (more…)

Robin Black’s Two Engineering Masterpieces

More on THICK AS A BRICK

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Thick As A Brick is quite possibly the BEST SOUNDING ALBUM Jethro Tull ever made. It’s dynamic; has really solid, deep punchy bass; transparency and sweetness in the midrange; tubey-magical acoustic guitars and flutes; in other words, the record has EVERYTHING that we go crazy for here at Better Records. I can guarantee you there is no CD on the planet that could ever do this recording justice. The Hot Stamper pressings have a kind of MAGIC that just can’t be captured on one of them there silvery discs.

We play quite a few original British and domestic copies of this record when we do these shootouts and let me tell you, the sound and the music are so good I can’t get enough of it. Until about 2007 this was the undiscovered gem (by me, anyway) in the Tull catalog. The pressings I had heard up until then were nothing special, and of course the average pressing of this album is exactly that: no great shakes. But with the advent of better record cleaning fluids and much better tables, phono stages and the like, some copies of Thick As A Brick have shown themselves to be AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUNDING. Even the All Music Guide could hear how well-engineered it was.

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John Baldry Knows One Thing: It Ain’t Easy Finding Good Sound on His Albums

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John Baldry – It Ain’t Easy

  • For its debut on the site, we present this amazing sounding British original pressing, with a Triple Plus (A+++) side one (the Rod Stewart side)
  • Side two (the Elton John produced side) was outstanding as well, earning a Double Plus (A++) for its rich, tubey sound
  • No wonder side one sounds like the best of Rod Stewart & The Faces’ early-’70s albums – Mike Bobak engineered them
  • “The backing band on Stewart’s side include fellow Face and future Rolling Stone, Ron Wood, on electric guitar and acoustic guitarist Sam Mitchell, who appeared on many of Stewart’s early-’70s solo albums.”

Here’s how this shootout got started.

A few years ago while I was working on the site I had music on youtube playing. The song “Flying” came on from the It Ain’t Easy album, and when the chorus came in I could not believe how big, rich and powerful it sounded — this, on computer speakers! (more…)

Off the Wall Vs. Thriller – Which One Has More Tubey Magic?

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ABSOLUTELY STUNNING SOUND for this White Hot Stamper pressing!

Both sides cannot be beat — both have the BIG M.J. SOUND that jumps from the speakers and fills the room. We’ve never a copy that was so full of ANALOG MAGIC!

The vocals are PERFECTION — breathy, full-bodied, and present. The overall sound is open, transparent, and PUNCHY with rock solid bass. The top end is extended and sweet, with tons of ambience the likes of which I’ve never heard before.

Normally when you have a copy with plenty of presence it’s somewhat sibilant in places. Not so here. For some reason this copy has all the highs, but it’s cut so clean it practically doesn’t spit at all. Even on the song I Can’t Help It, which normally has a problem in that respect. Since that’s my favorite song on this album, and probably my favorite MJ song of all time, hearing it sound so good was a revelation.

Better Sound than Thriller?

Yes. As consistently brilliant as Thriller may be musically — it is the biggest selling album of all time after all — speaking strictly in terms of sonics the sound of the best copies of Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, and more ANALOG than Thriller.

Thriller is clearly more aggressive and processed-sounding than Off the Wall. The Girl Is Mine or Human Nature from Thriller would fit just fine anywhere on Off the Wall, but could the same be said for Beat It or Thriller? Just thinking about them you can hear the artificiality of the sound of both those songs in your head. Think about the snare that opens Beat It. I’ve never heard a snare sound like that in my life. Practically no instrument on Off the Wall has that kind of overly processed EQ’d sound.

Choruses Are Key (more…)