Advice – What to Listen For – Sibilance (It’s a Bitch)

10cc – Deceptive Bends – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame and another in our series of Demo Discs for Bass.

The remarkable level of transparency found on this copy allows you to pick out each background vocal and follow it throughout the choruses. The bass here is PERFECTION: it’s deep, punchy and POWERFUL. When you get the right pressing of this album, the bass is so good it will make every other rock record you own sound positively anemic.

This is the kind of recording that will have you asking yourself “Why don’t my other rock records sound like this?” (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

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

Finally, a Triple Plus (A+++) copy of Sly’s classic Stand album from 1969, one of the few times that this album has EVER sounded the way it is supposed to! Man, most copies of this album just plain suck — sonically of course.

Both sides here have lively punchy drums; a big soundfield, front to back and side to side; tonally correct vocals (which obviously are key and sound edgy and thin on most copies), and real resolution to the sound overall. Also just as importantly you lose the sibilance most copies suffer from and the smear on the horns goes away, thank goodness.

There are three Epic labels for this record; the originals are yellow, the first reissue is orange, and the last reissue is black. I can tell you that only one of those labels produced truly great sounding copies in our shootout. Beyond that you will have to buy a sample of each and do your own shootout. (more…)

Roxy Music – Country Life – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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

Many of the best songs Ferry ever wrote and Roxy ever played are on this album. Musically it’s right up there with the first album and Siren, both early ’70s Art Rock landmarks.

In our experience the right British original Sunray (Pink Rim) Island pressing will always win the shootout if you have a good pile of copies to play. There are some bad sounding Island LPs out there, so don’t assume the Sunray is the answer. It’s potentially the right answer. Without at least five copies in hand you won’t know for sure whether the copy you like is truly a Hot Stamper or not-that-hot-of-a-stamper.

The sound on some tracks is noticeably better than others. These British pressings give you the richest, fullest, biggest sound with the least amount of sibilance, grain and grunge. It’s the rich, full-bodied ANALOG sound — with some problems to be sure — that we adore here at Better Records. (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…)

Roxy Music – Stranded

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

Stranded is one of the higher quality recordings by the band, coming in second for sonics only to the first album, which is really saying something considering that the first album is a Top 100 title. The Tubey Magic on the early albums has to be heard to be believed.

In our experience the right British original Sunray Island pressing will always be the Ultimate Pressing. (There are some bad sounding Island LPs out there, so don’t assume the Sunray is the answer. It’s potentially the right answer. Without at least five copies in hand you won’t know whether the copy you like is a true Hot Stamper or a not-that-hot-Hot Stamper.)

The domestic, German, Japanese and Dutch pressings are not remotely competitive with the Brits on this album (which is not true for all of Roxy’s albums but true for this one, Siren being the clear exception to the rule).

Now for those of you who are not Roxy Music fans and don’t know this music, this album may take a bit of getting used to. We assure you it will be well worth your while. We think it’s brilliant!

The sound on some tracks is noticeably better than others. Amazona is a KNOCKOUT here. These British pressings give you the richest, fullest, biggest sound with the least amount of sibilance on the vocals, grain or grunge. It’s the rich, full-bodied ANALOG sound we adore here at Better Records.

We thank Chris Thomas for his production and John Punter for his engineering work at AIR Studio. This album and the first one are without question the two best sounding Roxy albums, and that’s true for any incarnation of the band.

Both belong in any serious rock and pop collection, and if you are a fan of Art Rock, every Roxy album should be on your shelf, along with all your Bowie, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Eno, Peter Gabriel, 10cc and so many others (most of which are personal favorites of mine, albums I have played hundreds of times over the last 30 years and plan to play hundreds of times in the next).

My Story

I’ve been a giant Roxy Music fan since 1975. Rolling Stone gave Siren a rave review that year, and I went right out and bought myself a copy on their say-so. I then proceeded to play it every day. This went on for weeks. I’m a bit obsessive that way. (Being obsessive is extremely helpful if you have a desire to excel in audio. It may in fact be the most important trait of them all.)

I consider Roxy to be one of the greatest Art Rock bands in the history of the world. Although the general public and probably most audiophiles would surely cast their vote for Avalon as the band’s masterpiece, I much prefer the music of these others — their eponymous first album, Stranded, Country Life and Siren — to the more “accessible” music found on Avalon. To be fair, that’s splitting hairs, because any of those five titles are absolute Must Own Albums that belong in any serious popular music collection.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Street Life
Just Like You
Amazona
Psalm

Side Two

Serenade
A Song for Europe
Mother of Pearl
Sunset

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

Without Brian Eno, Roxy Music immediately became less experimental, yet it remained adventurous, as Stranded illustrates. Under the direction of Bryan Ferry, Roxy moved toward relatively straightforward territory, adding greater layers of piano and heavy guitars. Even without the washes of Eno’s synthesizers, Roxy’s music remains unsettling on occasion, yet in this new incarnation, they favor more measured material, whether it’s the reflective “A Song for Europe” or the shifting textures of “Psalm.” Even the rockers, such as the surging “Street Life” and the segmented “Mother of Pearl,” are distinguished by subtle songwriting that emphasizes both Ferry’s tortured glamour and Roxy’s increasingly impressive grasp of sonic detail.

Webr Rave Review (Author Unknown)

Feeling that the band couldn’t handle two egos (and talents) moving in opposite directions half the time, Eno quit the band after For Your Pleasure. This move made Roxy Music less quirky (and innovative), but more focused, without ugly synth grunts unsettling Ferry’s mannered music and melodies.

There’s still plenty of weirdness and odd sound effects, but these are incorporated more subtly – the telephone ringing on “Street Life”, the castanets punctuating “Mother Of Pearl”. Roxy practically reinvented their sound on each album, and here they are elegant and stately, with Latin rythms reinforcing its Mediterranean flavor. Smoothed out, they sound like a much different band – no longer would their music contain the hint of anarchy; every piece is integrated without seeming patched on. When Manzara’s guitar cuts through the stroll of “Amazona”, it’s the kind of shock that you live for, a half-court jump and slam-dunk through the net of Ferry’s pretensions.

The operative adjective for Roxy’s first true masterpiece is gorgeous (it’s the same adjective for their final one, too), a far remove from the first two albums. “Just Like You” contains lovely falsetto singing from Ferry, and a razor-lyrical guitar solo from Manzanera. The futurism of the first two albums gives way to the world-weary nostalgia of “Song For Europe”, which admits “There’s nothing left for us to share but yesterday.”

The centerpiece, “Mother Of Pearl”, might be Roxy’s finest seven minutes. Charging in with blazing guitars, the music suddenly gives way to a stately piano ballad – the effect is startling. Ferry soliloquizes on the elusiveness of true love, rhyming odd metaphors like “serpentine sleekness/was always my weakness”, summing it all up with the so-true phrase, “If you’re looking for love in a looking glass world, it’s pretty hard to do.” Continue that quest for thy damsel in distress, Bryan, as long as you always keep it this interesting.

Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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More Songs in the Attic

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Half Speed debunked.

Records with too much bass and especially too much top end can’t be played loud. The louder you play them the worse they sound. Try playing the average MoFi at a loud volume. All that extra 10k starts to make your brain hurt. The CBS half-speed of this album is like that. It’s frustrating — the music makes you want to turn it up but the sound says forget it. Not the good pressings. They sounds BETTER when you play them loud.  

Sergio Mendes – Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked. 

So spitty and thin! Why, in God’s name, why? (more…)

Cat Stevens Albums – Lee Hulko Cut Them All – Good, Bad and Otherwise

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Is the Pink Label Island original pressing THE way to go? That’s what Harry Pearson — not to mention most audiophile record dealers — would have you believe.

But it’s just not true. And that’s good news for you, Dear (Record Loving Audiophile) Reader.

HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM JOHN BARLEYCORN

Since that’s a Lee Hulko cutting just like Tea here, the same insights, if you can call them that, apply. Here’s what we wrote: (more…)

Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic- Listening in Depth

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More Songs in the Attic

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

You know how you can tell when you have a Hot Stamper? It’s the side you play through to the end. When the sound is right you want to hear more. Since the opening track of this record is one of the keys to knowing whether it’s mastered and pressed properly, once you get past the sibilance hurdle on track one, the next step is to find out how the challenges presented by the rest of the tracks are handled on any given LP. Some advice follows.  (more…)

Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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More Songs in the Attic

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

DEMO DISC LIVE ROCK CONCERT SOUND, Baby! This one has it ALL. The sound has so many wonderful ANALOG qualities when you get a good copy — the hash and hardness of the typical pressing just disappears, leaving surprisingly transparent and sweet sound on virtually every track. The WHOMP FACTOR here is off the scale. There are few studio recordings that have these kinds of dynamics. We forget how compressed most of them are. It takes a record like this to show you how much LIFE there is in LIVE MUSIC. (more…)