Advice – What to Listen For – Midrange (Upper) – Shrillness

Prokofiev / Symphonies No. 1 & 7 – Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

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What to listen for on this album? That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label the way they did back the day. I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles tend to make about the sound of records, my own judgments included — to the limitations of the equipment, bad setups, bad rooms and poor record cleaning. 

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that are possible today.

Working in unfathomably complicated and unpredictable combination, today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like. 

These are what make it possible for us to do our job. You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like on your system and in your room. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record will be yours to enjoy for as long as you live. (more…)

The Pretenders – Get Close – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

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

Get Close has long been a personal favorite of mine. Side one starts off with a bang with My Baby, one of the best tracks this band ever recorded. Of course at this point it’s hard to call The Pretenders a band as it is pretty much Chrissie Hynde’s show. She continues to mature as a songwriter, and the arrangements and production value are excellent as well, with heavy hitters such as Steve Lillywhite, Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine involved. 

We have a link to the left entitled Women Who Rock. It would look better with Chrissie Hynde’s picture instead of some Lillith Fair type in a granny dress, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that no other woman on earth can rock the way Chrissie Hynde can, and this album, along with Learning to Crawl, is all the proof anyone would ever need. (more…)

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon – Quick and Easy Listening Test

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Breathe is my favorite test track for side one for any version of Dark Side Of The Moon, Half-Speed or otherwise. When the voices come in about halfway through the song, you can tell that most copies are too bright simply by listening to the vocals on this track. The cymbals might sound wonderful; lots of other instruments might sound wonderful; and there might be plenty of ambience, detail and transparency.

But all of that counts for nothing if the voices don’t sound right. And on most copies the voices sound bright, aggressive, grainy and transitory. (This is the case with the new 180 gram 30th Anniversary copy I regret to say.)  (more…)

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – You’re Gonna Get It! – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This Minty looking Shelter original LP has THE TWO BEST SOUNDING SIDES we have ever heard for this album! It’s a freak in the world of Tom Petty records, which tend to have NO good sounding sides. And this is the band’s MASTERPIECE to boot, with four or five of their best and Hardest Rockin’ songs. Both sides come flyin’ out of the gate with uptempo straight ahead rockers that have the Big Sound we go crazy for here at Better Records. Side one was so unbelievable that we had to award it the rare Four Plus (A++++) rating.

Of course the sound is punchy and alive — with Hot Stampers, what else would they be? — but where did all that studio ambience come from? Simple: the best copies have the RESOLUTION that’s missing from the average pressing. You know the kind of run-of-the-mill LP I’m talking about: punchy but crude and just a bit too aggressive to really enjoy.

Oh, but not this bad boy. Sweetly textured guitars, breathy vocals — all the subtleties of a Top Quality Recording are here, along with prodigious amounts of bass and powerful dynamics. (Check out that drum sound!) If you can play this one loud you will be shocked at how good it sounds. (more…)

Burt Bacharach – Reach Out

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard on Reach Out
  • This copy was super full-bodied and dynamic with real weight down low, nice bite to the brass, tons of energy and a lot of Tubey Magic. 
  • Tons of hits – The Look Of Love, Message To Michael, Alfie, What The World Needs Now, I Say A Little Prayer and more
  • Engineering by Phil Ramone (Casino Royale) and Henry Lewy (Sergio Mendes, Joni Mitchell) each doing their own tracks – compare and contrast for yourself
  • “[Reach Out] present[s] Bacharach’s vision of his work at its most straightforward, and it is enjoyable on its own terms, as a snapshot of his own sensibilities at that time.”

We were surprised at how lively and dynamic the best pressings of Reach Out can be. (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…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

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  • An insanely good 360 Label pressing of this Simon & Garfunkel classic, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The sound is here is As Good As It Gets — big, lively, open and clear with Tubey Magical richness that only these good early pressings can show you
  • The toughest Simon & Garfunkel album to find with excellent sound and reasonable surfaces — no contest 
  • 5 stars: “Perhaps the most delicately textured album to close out the 1960s from any major rock act… the songs matched the standard of craftsmanship that had been established on the duo’s two prior albums”

Both sides here KILLED every other copy we played. The overall sound is tubey and lush with a strong bottom end. The strings on the title track actually have some texture, and Cecilia really comes to life. There’s not as much spit or grit as you’d get on most copies, and the sound is far more musical and enjoyable than you would expect to hear, especially if you own a reissue on the red label or an audiophile reissue of any kind. These sides have an extra measure of presence and an extra degree of clarity, the kind of thing that makes them White Hot.

So many copies of this album sound wrong in so many ways, it would be impossible to list them all here. Suffice it to say, a Hot Stamper copy has to pass a lot of tests before we’re willing to vouch for it, and this copy passed those tests with flying colors. For starters, the vocals aren’t too spitty, the guitars don’t sound grainy, and the bottom end isn’t lean. Add in some of the silkiest, breathiest voices we’ve heard for this album and this Super Hot Stamper is sure to please. (more…)

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – You’re Gonna Get It!

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You’re Gonna Get It!

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  • A solidly hard rockin’ copy with seriously good grades of Double Plus (A++) or BETTER on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Rich and open with a killer bottom end, musically it’s surely the best record Tom Petty ever made – a late ’70s Rock Classic 
  • Three of Petty’s best songs are on this one – Restless, I Need To Know and Listen To Her Heart – and they sound amazing
  • “Overall, the current LP boasts an impressive stylistic cohesiveness with its predecessor, but what makes the album exciting are the fresh hints of openness and expansion just beneath the surface. The rhythms are a bit looser, and there’s a new emphasis on Petty’s rough, driving, rock & roll guitar in the mix.” Rolling Stone

Sweetly textured guitars, breathy vocals — all the subtleties of a High Quality Recording are here, along with prodigious amounts of bass and powerful dynamics. Check out that drum sound! If you can play this one at the levels it demands you might just be shocked at how good it sounds. (more…)

Tom Petty – Hard Promises

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Hard Promises

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  • An impressive copy of this 1981 release, with KILLER nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Recorded at Sound City, home to some of the greatest analog sound ever recorded
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…filled with great songwriting, something that’s as difficult to achieve as a distinctive sound… The Waiting became the best-known song on the record, but there’s no discounting A Woman in Love, Nightwatchman, Kings Road, and The Criminal Kind, album tracks that would become fan favorites… it has a tremendous set of songs and a unified sound that makes it one of Petty’s finest records.”

Two stunning sides for one of our favorite Petty records! This one is a huge step up from most, which tend to be bright, thin, edgy, pinched and gritty — radio friendly, maybe, but not especially audiophile friendly.

We hate that sound but we are happy to report that some copies manage to avoid it, and this is one of them. Is that richer, fuller sound the sound of what’s on the master tape or did the mastering engineer “fix” it? We’ll never know, now will we? What we can know is the sound of the pressings we actually have to play, and this one is killer.

Recorded by Shelly Yakus at Sound City, Van Nuys and at Cherokee Studios, Hollywood, CA. (more…)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Long After Dark

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on this copy of the band’s fifth studio album
  • Rich and full-bodied with tight bass, and brimming with Petty’s unique brand of “meat and potatoes” rock and roll
  • You Got Lucky was the big hit on this album 4 Star Album from 1982
  • Rolling Stone raves “…overall, Long after Dark is Petty’s most accomplished record.”

Long After Dark boasts the monster rocker You Got Lucky and very good sound considering that the album was recorded in 1982, not an especially good year (or decade) to be recording rock music. (more…)