Advice – What to Listen For – Smear

Sinatra / The Concert Sinatra – What to Listen For

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[Originally posted 2/2015]

There may be a touch of smear (you can most easily hear it in the strings) but the sound is so RICH and Tubey Magical that you will barely be aware of it. Your attention should be focused on the superb feel the man has for this music.

One thing to pay special attention to, especially if you have other copies of the album, is that Sinatra’s voice on both sides of this pressing always sounds natural even at its loudest. There is no strain or hardness.

That, among many other things, is what separates the best copies from the also-rans (and, of course, all the reissues, which tend to have gritty, harsh vocals which quickly get unbearably edgy in the louder parts).

For audiophiles, the amount of effort that went into the recording, effort that actually paid off, is what will impress the most about The Concert Sinatra. The 73 musicians you see stretched out across the soundstage at Samuel Goldwyn Studios behind Sinatra will give you some idea of the size and scope of the sound. With 24 mics feeding 8 tracks of 35MM recording film, this was the sonic equivalent of Gone With the Wind. No expense or effort was spared.

Fortunately for those of us who are still playing records forty-odd years on, this special project took place before the advent of the transistor, which means that all the Tubey Magic of the singer and his all-encompassing orchestra was captured on the “tape”.

Ah, but how much of that sound made it to the record itself? That’s always the rub with records isn’t it?

In this case, plenty. (more…)

Esquivel – Infinity In Sound

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  • Stunning Living Stereo Sound from 1960; Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • Both sides are incredibly clear and open, yet rich and and oh-so-Tubey Magical, with brass that has little to none of the “blarey” quality that plagues most copies
  • Folks, I can tell you right now most original Living Stereo Popular (LSP) pressings, of this or any other LSP title, do not begin to recreate the Studio Wizardry found on this album; the sound rivals the best Chet Atkins albums and Bob and Rays in all their delicious three-dimensional Cinerama staging
  • AMG raves that “Esquivel returns to his full glory on Infinity in Sound.”

(more…)

Talking Heads / More Songs About Buildings and Food – 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 the album.  

With Our Love turned out to be one of our favorite tests for side one. The picking of the rhythmic guitar in the intro told us just about everything we needed to know about smear, veiling and resolution. On most copies the instrument is simply blurry, the notes mashed together. When you’ve got a copy with its transients intact, resolving properly and clearly right there in front of you, you have the makings of a Hot Stamper side one.

My other test track for side one was Warning Signs. This is a great track for evaluating transparency and bass. On the average copy you’d never know how much ambience exists around the drums. Hint: it’s a lot.

Our favorite copies have a fair amount of WHOMP down low, giving the bass guitar that rich, beefy sound that we’re simply crazy for here at Better Records. Once you’ve heard a copy with well-defined, note-like bass, nothing less will do.

Artists Only

A great test track for side two is Artists Only. The guitars in the intro section are almost unbearable to listen to on most copies. I recognize that I am somewhat sensitive to harsh high frequencies, but I’m literally in pain when I listen to an overly compressed, overly midrangy copy. There’s got to be a better way! (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Sky Dive – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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More Sky Dive

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

With a sonic grade of A+++ this White Hot Stamper original CTI pressing has a side two that won Top Honors in our recent shootout. It’s CLEARLY the best sounding side we have ever offered of this funky jazz classic, but it has serious condition issues, including a mark that plays at the end of track one all the way into track two. If you can live with that mark you will hear some amazing sound and music on side two. And if you buy this copy and realize you can’t, feel free to send it back for a full refund.

We ran into lots of condition problems with this album; perhaps your experience has been the same. Not many played anything close to Mint Minus, including this one. (more…)

Beethoven / Violin Concerto / Grumiaux

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven 

Violin Concerto / Grumiaux 

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

The reproduction of the violin here is superb — harmonically rich, natural, clean, clear, resolving. What sets the truly killer pressings apart is the depth, width and three-dimensional quality of the sound, as well as the fact that they become less congested in the louder passages and don’t get shrill or blary. The best copies display a Tubey Magical richness — especially evident in the basses and celli — that is to die for.

Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are strongly in evidence throughout. Exceptional resolution, transparency, tremendous dynamics, a violin that is present and solid — this copy takes the sound of the recording right to the limits of what we thought possible from Philips.

As we listened, we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity he brings to such a difficult and demanding work. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Hub-Tones – Reviewed in 2007

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More Hub-Tones

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

This Blue Note reissue LP has SUPERB SOUND AND QUIET VINYL! Freddie’s trumpet sounds Right On The Money — breathy and full-bodied with clearly audible leading edge transients. The overall sound is tonally correct with extended highs and super low distortion. It’s open and spacious and wonderfully dynamic. I don’t think there’s anything you could do to this music to make it sound much better than this!

The reason this copy has such transparency and such an extended top end compared with other copies is due, to some degree, to better cutting equipment. I’ve never heard an original with this kind of resolution, these leading edge transients, this kind of bass definition, and on and on. Collectors pay big bucks for original copies that don’t sound nearly as good as this one. 

AMG Review

“Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard teams up on record with James Spaulding (who doubles on alto and flute) for the first time on this excellent set, with the assistance of pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Reggie Workman, and drummer Clifford Jarvis. The quintet performs four of the trumpeter’s originals (including “Lament for Booker” and the title cut) plus an advanced version of the standard “You’re My Everything.” John Coltrane’s modal music was starting to influence Hubbard’s conception and his own playing was pushing the modern mainstream ahead without really entering the avant-garde.”

Terry, Hubbard, Gillespie, & Peterson – The Alternate Blues – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

More Pablo jazz

The Alternate Blues

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

With Hot Stamper sound on both sides, this Pablo disc shows you what three of the greatest trumpeters of the last fifty years can do given the opportunity, nay, the encouragement, to let loose on a handful of classic slow blues jams. Many of the tracks here run in excess of eight minutes, giving the players plenty of space to explore, yet practically all of them are taken at a fairly slow pace, what used to be called a “slow drag”, making them that much more involving and emotional. These are not your classic “blowing sessions” where the players try to outdo each other. No, this is something quite different.

Norman Granz revered the classic “jam session”, of which this is a prime example; he produced dozens for the various labels he owned over the years. Playing this album we can see why. The heart of the blues is here in every measure.

Clark Terry is joined here by Freddie Hubbard and Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, with strong support from Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Joe Pass and Bobby Durham on drums.

The album was recorded in 1980 by Dennis Sands, one of my favorite Pablo recording engineers, the man behind the brilliant Farmer’s Market Barbecue and many others. (Soon enough he crossed over to films and has done the sound for more than 250 to date. He must be pretty good to get that much work, and you can be sure he makes a lot more money for his film work than he would for recording jazz dates.) (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Mystery To Me – Whomp Factor on “Why”

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More Mystery To Me

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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 the album.

That bass drum tells you a lot about your deep bass reproduction, but we prize a little something called whomp here at Better Records every bit as much. It’s the WEIGHT and POWER you sense happening down below that translates into whomp factor. (This is the frequency area that screens and small dynamic drivers have the most trouble with. You need to be able to move lots of air under, say, 200 cycles to give the music a sense of real power down below. Few systems I’ve run into over the last thirty years can really pull it off.) 

That bass drum tells you a lot about your deep bass reproduction, but we prize a little something called whomp here at Better Records every bit as much. It’s the WEIGHT and POWER you sense happening down below that translates into whomp factor.

“Why”

Speaking of the song “Why,” I have to confess that it’s my favorite Fleetwood Mac song of all time. Considering how many great songs this band has recorded over the last thirty plus years, that’s really saying something. (“Need Your Love So Bad” off Pious Bird is right up there with it.) (more…)

Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain – Our Shootout Winner in 2016

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More Sketches of Spain

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

The first White Hot copy to hit the site in nearly EIGHT years! Both sides were stunning, knocking us out and earning our top Triple Plus (A+++) grade.

When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the sound is truly MAGICAL. (AMG has that dead right in their review.) Tons of ambience, tubey magic all over the place; let’s face it, this is one of those famous Columbia recordings that shows just how good the Columbia engineers were back then. The sound is lively but never strained. Davis’s horn has breath and bite just like the real thing. What more can you ask for?

Harry Pearson added this record to his TAS List of Super Discs a few years back, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording?

Of course you can be quite sure that he would have been listening exclusively to the earliest pressings on the Six Eye label. Which simply means that he probably never heard a copy with the clarity, transparency and freedom from distortion that these later label pressings offer.

The Six Eyes are full of Tubey Magic, don’t get me wrong; Davis’s trumpet can be and usually is wonderful sounding. It’s everything else that tends to suffer, especially the strings, which are shrill and smeary on most copies: Six Eyes, 360s and Red Labels included. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Goin’ Up – Reviewed in 2011

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

Good sound and some straight ahead Blue Note jazz. The second track on side one, ’The Changing Scene,’ is a wonderful ballad reminiscent of ’Round Midnight. It’s the best material on the album in my opinion. 

AMG Review

For his second recording as a leader, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard (22-years-old at the time) performs two compositions apiece by Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley, the obscure “I Wished I Knew” and his own “Blues for Brenda.”

Hubbard (featured in a quintet with tenor-saxophonist Mobley, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones) takes quite a few outstanding solos, playing lyrically on the ballads and building his own sound out of the Clifford Brown/Lee Morgan tradition. Goin’ Up is an excellent set of advanced hard bop…