Advice – What to Listen For – Side to Side Differences

Dopey Record Theories – Putting Bad Ideas to the Test

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Below we discuss some record theories that seem to be making the rounds these days.

It started with a stunning White Hot Stamper 2-pack that just went up on the site..

I implored the eventual purchaser to note that side two of record one has Joni sounding thin, hard and veiled. If you look at the stampers you can see it’s obviously cut by the same guy (no names please!), and we’re pretty sure both sides were stamped out at the same time of day since it’s impossible to do it any other way. What accounts for the amazing sound of one side and the mediocre sound of its reverse?

If your theory cannot account for these huge differences in sound, your theory is hopelessly, fundamentally flawed. Need we bother to note the rather important, one might even say all-important, fact that it has no practical value in the first place: how is anyone to know at what specific time of day a record was pressed? Or how many copies had come off the stamper ahead of it?

Can anything be more ridiculous than the ad hoc, evidence-free theory of some audiophile record collector desperately searching for a reason to explain why records — even the sides of the same record — sound so different from one another? (more…)

Queen – The Game – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

Two SUPERB SIDES with side one beating all comers to achieve White Hot Stamper status! Throughout this copy you get solid bass, tubey magic, breathy vocals and BIG BOLD sound!

But watch out: this side one kicks it up to a whole ‘nother level, with BIGGER energy, BIGGER bass and even more PRESENT and breathy vocals from Mr. Mercury. This is without a doubt some of the best sound we have ever heard for Queen, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

When reading the above it’s best to keep this in mind: The Game may be the BEST SOUNDING record Queen ever made. The Dirty Little Secret of Queen’s recorded output is that they are mostly pretty mediocre, and often downright dreadful.

Do you see a lot of them going up on the site? No? Well, there’s a reason for that. As much as people love Queen, we just can’t seem to find pressings that do their music justice. Take A Night at the Opera for example. Is this a good sounding record? I’ve played twenty of them over the last ten years — imports, domestics, the DCC, the MoFi – and NONE of them sounding particularly good to me. Don’t rely on your memory. Pull out your own copy and listen closely; you should hear the distortion and smearing and transistory grain that’s there on all the copies I’ve played. It’s a record that’s trying to sound good but just doesn’t, so far anyway. Hope springs eternal.

[This is no longer true, the Hot Stampers were discovered a few years back!] (more…)

Alice Cooper – School’s Out – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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

This White Hot / Super Hot 2-pack is going to rock your world! School’s Out on this A+++ side has never sounded better.

Yet another impossible-to-find record in clean condition with good sound has made it to the site, and those of you who are fans should scoop it up because it takes us about five years to find enough copies to do this shootout. Check back with us in 2019 if this one is sold by the time you get to the end of this sentence.

We had poor luck with the second and third label copies on this AC title. It seems — unlike so many records we play — that the originals are the only way to go on School’s Out.

Side One – Record One

A+++. It rocks! Never aggressive or edgy, it’s big, it’s jumpin’, and it’s full of 1972 Tubey Magic. What’s not to like?

Side Two – Record Two

A++, big, clear and energetic – close to side one but not quite.

Notice how “real” the drum kit sounds on track two. The drums as a whole are punchy and solid throughout. (more…)

This Is the Kind of Thing You Notice When You Play Dozens of the Same Album

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If you have a copy or two laying around, there is a very good chance that side two will be noticeably thinner and brighter than side one. That has been our experience anyway, and we’ve been playing batches of this album for well over a decade. To find a copy with a rich side two is rare indeed.

Most copies lack the top end extension that makes the sound sweet, opens it up and puts air around every instrument. It makes the high hat silky, not spitty or gritty. It lets you hear all the harmonics of the guitars and mandolins that feature so prominently in the mixes.

If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, is full of TUBEY MAGIC, and has consistently good music, look no further. (more…)

Bizet – L’arlesienne And Carmen Suites – Ansermet

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one mated to a nearly as good side two, this pressing has the best sounding Carmen Suite we have ever heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is the best sounding and quietest Carmen Suite to ever make it to the site, and it was worth the wait – the sound of this vintage Blueback is absolutely breathtaking
  • If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good ’60s All Tube Analog can be, this killer copy should be just the record to do it
  • Recorded in 1961 using the amazing Decca Tree mic setup, it’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording

This is High Fidelity Audiophile Gold, with an orchestra that sounds so real it will take your breath away. The Golden Age tapes have clearly been mastered brilliantly onto this vintage London Blueback vinyl.

No doubt you have run into something like this in our classical listings:

This London is energetic, dynamic, spacious, transparent, rich and sweet. James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these 1961 sessions in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology,

We were impressed with the fact that this pressing excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, allowing the listener to inhabit the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way. (more…)

Joe Cocker – Joe Cocker (1969)

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  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Consistently stronger material than his debut – did Cocker ever release an album with more good songs than these?
  • How’s this for a track listing: Dear Landlord; Bird on the Wire; She Came in Through the Bathroom Window; Something; Delta Lady; Darling Be Home Soon – and there’s more
  • “Cocker mixed elements of late-’60s English blues revival recordings (John Mayall, et al.) with the more contemporary sounds of soul and pop; a sound fused in no small part by producer and arranger Leon Russell, whose gumbo mix figures prominently on this eponymous release and the infamous Mad Dogs & Englishmen live set.”

This is a surprisingly good recording. Cocker and his band — with more than a little help from Leon Russell — run through a collection of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the Beatles, and when you can hear it on a killer Hot Stamper copy such as this, it’s hard to deny the appeal of this timeless White Soul music.

The consistently high quality of the material is another reason this album has to be considered a Must Own. Did Cocker ever release an album with more good songs than these?

On side one alone you’ll find Dear Landlord; Bird on the Wire; She Came in Through the Bathroom Window; and Hitchcock Railway.

On side two: Something; Delta Lady; Hello, Little Friend; and Darling Be Home Soon.

I put this album up against the best Cocker has ever made. He released both of his first two albums in 1969, strikingly reminiscent of another band we revere, Led Zeppelin. (Small world: Jimmy Page plays on Cocker’s first release.) (more…)

Schubert / The Trout Quintet / Curzon / Vienna Octet – Original Versus Reissue

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This unusual 2-pack combines two very different pressings from very different eras to create a complete performance of The “Trout” Quintet with SUPERB Super Hot Stamper (or better) on both sides. One pressing, the one shown, is from the early ’60s; the other is from 1982. How could an imported budget late reissue beat a superb Golden Age pressing on any side you ask? Well, the answer to that question is provided by the records we will send you. 

Side one of this London Whiteback pressing is dark and opaque, with a serious lack of both top end and clarity. Side two however is GORGEOUS: so big, rich, clear and lively, it earned a sonic grade of A++ to A+++! In our shootouts the person reviewing the records (in this case me) never knows which pressing is being critiqued. Imagine my surprise when the late London handily beat the early one.

Actually it’s easy to imagine my surprise, because there was simply no surprise to imagine. In our shootouts here at Better Records late pressings beat early pressings regularly. We let the records speak for themselves, and that’s what they told us, at least on side one of The “Trout”. The reason the late pressing even made it into our shootout was that in a preliminary round it showed us that it had very good sound on side one. Side two didn’t hold up, but any record with good sound on any side is going to go in the shootout, regardless of the “incorrectness” of its label or country of origin.

On the earlier pressing (CS 6090) the sound is rich and sweet; some might say it’s too rich, but for this music it works. The piano and the strings have that Golden Age Tubey Magical sound we love. It’s been years since I’ve had the opportunity to play this record; most copies are just too beat up to bother with, so I was glad to find this one in such minty condition. (more…)

Holst / The Planets – Can You Imagine Sound this Bad from a TAS List Super Disc? We Can, We Played It.

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This 2-pack boasts White Hot Stamper sound on side two for the Mehta Planets. Yes, it IS possible. Side two shows you what this record is actually capable of — big WHOMP, no SMEAR, super SPACIOUS, DYNAMIC, with an EXTENDED top. It beat every London pressing we threw at it, coming out on top for our recent shootout. Folks, we 100% guarantee that whatever pressing you have of this performance, this copy will trounce it.

But side one of this London original British pressing was awful. We wrote it off as NFG after about a minute; that’s all we could take of the bright, hard-sounding brass of War.

Can you imagine sound this bad from a TAS List Super Disc record? We can, we played it. (more…)

Bizet – L’arlesienne And Carmen Suites

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side two and an excellent Double Plus (A++) side one, this pressing is one of the best sounding Carmen Suites we have ever heard. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good ’60s All Tube Analog can be, this killer copy should be just the record to do it. This is only the second Carmen Suite to make it to the site, and it was worth the wait – the sound of this vintage Blueback is absolutely breathtaking. Recorded in 1961 using the amazing Decca Tree mic setup, it’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

What To Listen For – Side to Side

My notes for side two read:

Could use more tubes.

Strings could be a bit smoother.

Needs a bit more weight down low.

Side one had all of this and more!

(more…)

Mussorgsky / The Power of the Orchestra / Leibowitz – Awesome In Stereo (2007)

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

DEMO DISC QUALITY ORCHESTRAL SOUND like you will not believe. We put two top copies together to bring you the ultimate-sounding Pictures At An Exhibition. Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this for huge orchestral dynamics and energy.

One side of each copy rates A Triple Plus — our highest sonic grade. The sound is out of this world. 

We had to do it that way, for one simple reason: Pictures stretches over both sides of this record, and no copy we played had two good sides, which means that if you were to own only one LP of this set, some part of the work would not sound nearly as good as the rest. This is always a problem with classical recordings: one good sounding side is not enough.

On top of that there are always condition issues with old Living Stereo records. So few are quiet. We love the sound but the vinyl leaves much to be desired. Here are some comments from a previous comparison package (with minor changes of course). (more…)