Advice – What to Listen For – Midrange Congestion

Joe Walsh – So What

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

Welcome to the Club and a remake of Turn to Stone are the big hits on the album. Bill Szymczyk produced and engineered, and most of the Eagles play on Joe’s third solo album, from 1974.

You’ll hear MASTER TAPE SOUND on side two of this 1974 classic, and side one did very well in our shootout as well. You would need a big stack of copies to beat either one of these Hot Sides. If that’s your thing — it’s obviously ours — we say welcome to the club (ahem) and more power to you!

We were impressed with how rich and punchy this copy sounded after hearing dozens of dry, thin, lifeless pressings over the years. Once we had heard at least one copy sound good we proceeded to gather up every LP we could get our hands on and make the shootout happen.

Unfortunately, most of what we ended up playing had the kind of mediocre sound we had been suffering through for decades. This side two was a whole different story, earning our top A+++ grade with real energy, surprising dynamics, and lots of that ’70s Tubey Magic we love so much and never tire of talking about. (It’s also a sound that you will have a very hard time finding on most Heavy Vinyl pressings being made these days as you no doubt know.) (more…)

The Pretenders – Learning To Crawl – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

This copy has real rock and roll energy in its grooves, a quality which earned it serious points here at Better Records. With Robbie McIntosh having joined the band, this is first and foremost a ROCK GUITAR record; his jangly, grungy riffs drive every song.

Think of Middle of the Road — everything that’s good about this band on this album is there in the song: it’s uptempo, with a driving beat and guitars well up in the mix. Only the best pressings convey the energy and enthusiasm of the band while avoiding the grunge, flatness and hardness that make the typical pressing all but unlistenable at loud volumes.

This is where Chrissie Hynde matured into a top class songwriter; every track is good and many are brilliant. We’ve been through a lot of pressings of this album over the years: Japanese, British, domestic; you name it, we’ve played it, and nothing could beat our good domestic pressings. (more…)

Joe Walsh – But Seriously, Folks…

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  • This solo effort boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A hard album to find with sound like this AND quiet surfaces, but here one is@
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness and presence on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true for whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently being foisted on an undiscerning record buying public
  • 4 1/2 stars: “As far as studio albums go, But Seriously Folks is Joe Walsh’s most insightful and melodic… The album’s introspective outlook glides through rejuvenation (‘Tomorrow,’ ‘Over and Over’), recapturing the simple pleasures of the past (‘Indian Summer’), mid-career indecision, and a melancholy instrumental.”

(more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

TWO KILLER SIDES including a STUNNING Demo Quality A+++ side one! Bring over your audio buddies and blow their minds by dropping the needle on America — I guarantee that they’ve never heard it sound like this before (unless, of course, they happen to be one of our top-shelf Hot Stamper customers already). Everything you’d hope for on a killer pressing of this album is right here on this side one, and most of it is on the A++ side two as well.

This Original Columbia 360 Label pressing has DEMO QUALITY SOUND. We know well that the average copy makes it hard to believe that a pressing like this exists, but one quick drop of the needle on any track will show you the light. We played a couple dozen copies this week and most of them weren’t fit to serve dinner on.

This one’s got the SILKY SWEETNESS and TUBEY MAGICAL ANALOG sound that Bookends demands! If your old copy left you with the idea that this is not an audiophile quality recording, we can’t say we’re surprised — most copies just plain stink.

Both sides are rich, sweet, and unusually full-bodied. A copy like this one really conveys the emotional quality of these songs in a direct and powerful way. If you love Bookends as much as we do, you’re gonna flip out when you hear this copy.

Just drop the needle on any track for a taste of what this album is supposed to sound like. I can’t tell you how many disappointing copies of Bookends that we’ve played over the last few years, and especially this last week. The typical copy is hardly worth the vinyl it’s pressed on — the spit and grain are pretty much intolerable. (more…)

Billy Joel – An Innocent Man – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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An Innocent Man

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

On many pressings, the vocals can get hard and harsh on the uptempo tracks (“Uptown Girl” is a notable offender, and never sounds quite as good as the rest of the album), but this copy manages to fix that problem (mostly) without sacrificing transparency or top end. 

Both of these sides easily defeated all comers in our shootout. They have the huge soundstage and startlingly clarity and immediacy that characterizes this album, but they also add an ingredient missing from most we heard — a full, rich, musical midrange! On many pressings, the vocals can get hard and harsh on the uptempo tracks (“Uptown Girl” is a notable offender, and never sounds QUITE as good as the rest of the album), but this copy manages to fix that problem with no sacrifice in transparency or top end. They just don’t get any better than this one, folks. (more…)

Blondie – Autoamerican – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

DEMO DISC SOUND on this A+++ Hot Stamper Side One! This is one KILLER New Wave Pop Record. All the Blondie magic you could ever want is in these grooves! The truly POWERFUL sound of this Power Pop Band really comes through on this Bad Boy, or should we say Bad Girl? Whatever. This was the Hands Down Hot Stamper Winner of our latest shootout. Man, we had a ball with this one.

To be fair, consistency is the problem with this album, with some songs being absolute Pop Masterpieces (The Tide Is High on side one, Rapture on side two), but other tracks falling short of the standard set by Parallel Lines, where every track bar none was a gem of songcraft and High Gloss Pure Pop Production.

Still, what’s good is good, and the sound is STUNNING, with real Demo Disc qualities. The Right Pressing of the Right Stamper.

As expected, if you clean and play enough copies of a standard domestic major label album like this one, sooner or later you will stumble upon The One, and boy did we ever. One of our copies was OFF THE CHARTS with presence, breathy vocals, and punchy drums. It was positively swimming in studio ambience, with every instrument occupying its own space in the mix and surrounded by air. There was not a trace of grain, just the silky sweet highs we’ve come to expect from analog done right.

This is of course the premise behind Hot Stampers themselves. They are out there to be stumbled upon. You can’t tell what pressing from what era from what country is going to be The One (Keanu, are you listening?) until you actually sit down, clean and play a big pile of them. We found a source for this title sealed and managed to pick up over a dozen new copies, and those, along with some other used ones we had laying around, comprised our data pool. (more…)

Crack The Sky – Crack The Sky – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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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 White Hot Stamper pressing of the first and best album by the legendary-but-now-mostly-forgotten American Prog band Crack The Sky shows just how amazingly well recorded their debut really was.

This is Big Production rock that pulls out all the stops and then some, with a massive Beatlesque string section, horns, synths, backward guitars and every other kind of studio effect that they could work out.

Much like Ambrosia’s debut (another unknown band on a small label), such an ambitious project was clearly an effort to make a Grand Musical Statement along the lines of Sgt. Pepper, Crime of the Century, Close to the Edge, The Original Soundtrack and Dark Side of the Moon, all albums I suspect this band revered, having played them countless times.

In the ’70s I was a huge fan of those albums too. (Still am of course; check out ouTop 100 if you don’t believe me. They’re all in there.) I played them more times than I can remember, with Crack The Sky’s albums spending plenty of time — heavy rotation you could say — on the turntable in those days. To my mind, speaking as a fan and an audiophile, the first Crack the Sky album succeeds brilliantly on every level: production, originality, songwriting, technical virtuosity, musical consistency and, perhaps most importantly for those of you who have managed to make it this far, Top Quality Audiophile Sound.

This is simply a great album of adventurous, highly melodic proggy rock. If you like the well known bands that made the classic albums cited above, there’s a very good chance you will like this much less well known band’s first album also. (more…)

Foreigner – Agent Provocateur

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Agent Provocateur

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last on this copy of Foreigner’s fifth studio album – quiet vinyl too
  • Exceptionally open, clear, and resolving, this pressing presents the music as it was meant to be heard
  • With the band’s biggest hit single, “I Want To Know What Love Is,” this is a vital addition to any Foreigner fan’s collection
  • “It would be difficult to find a band that had more success from 1977 to 1981 than Foreigner, as all four albums released during that time frame would chart Top 5, with the album 4 becoming the band’s first Number One album… Even now, more than 30 years after [Agent Provocateur] was released, I think there are several tracks that stand up pretty well with the rest of the band’s best material… “

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Smoother and sweeter sound with less of the grit and congestion that plagues the average copy. (more…)

Cat Stevens Catch Bull at Four – Congestion? What Congestion?

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Catch Bull at Four

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The story of our latest shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about. Many copies were gritty, some were congested in the louder sections, some never got big, some were thin and lacking the lovely analog richness of the best — we heard plenty of copies whose faults were obvious when played against two top sides such as these. 

Speaking of congestion, it had previously been our experience that every copy of the record had at least some congestion in the loudest parts, typically the later parts of songs where Cat is singing at the top of his lungs, the acoustic guitars are strumming like crazy, and big drums are pounding away are jumping out of both speakers.

The best import copies in our shootout this time around managed to reproduce all these elements cleanly, on a larger soundstage, with dynamically more energy, sonic firepower the likes of which we have never heard on this album before. (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends – Save the Life of My Child Is One Tough Test

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More Bookends

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of Bookends.

The big production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

(But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.)

Save the Life of My Child — A Tough Test

I used to think this track would never sound good enough to use as an evaluation track. It’s a huge production that I had heretofore found all but impossible to get to sound right on even the best original copies of the album. Even as recently as ten years ago I had basically given up on reproducing it right.

Thankfully things have changed. Nowadays, with carefully cleaned top copies at our disposal and a system that is really cooking, virtually all of the harmonic distortion in the big chorus near the opening has disappeared. It takes a very special pressing and a very special stereo to play this song. That’s precisely what makes it a good test! (more…)