Advice – Listening Track by Track

Listening in Depth to Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

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You really get an understanding of just how much of a production genius Jimmy Page was when you listen to a copy of Houses with the kind of resolution and transparency found on our best copies. To take just one example, just listen to how clearly the multi-tracked guitars can be heard in the different layers and areas of the soundstage. On some songs you will have no trouble picking out three, four and even more guitars playing, each with its own unique character.

This clarity allows you to recognize — perhaps for the first time — the special contribution each makes to the finished song.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song

Check out the guitars — the sound should be warm, sweet and delicate. There are some dead quiet passages in this song that are almost always going to have some surface noise. Most copies start out a bit noisy but almost always get quieter as the music goes along.

Over the Hills and Far Away

This is a great test track for side one. It starts with lovely acoustic guitars before the Monster Zep Rock Chords come crashing in. If both parts of the song sound correct and balanced, you more than likely have a winner. And the bigger the dynamic contrast between the parts the better.

Turn your volume up good and high in order to get the full effect, then stand back and let the boys have at it.

The Crunge (more…)

The Police – Synchronicity – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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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. 

WHITE HOT STAMPERS on side two! That gives you amazing sound for Every Breath You Take, King Of Pain, and Wrapped Around Your Finger! It’s been about a while since we last found Hot Stampers for this album, mostly because so many copies just plain suck. The sound on this one is meaty and punchy down low.

More remarkable, it also comes without the phony upper midrange boost on Sting’s vocals that would normally have you reaching to back off the volume. The choruses get LOUD and are so POWERFUL on this copy they make a mockery of most pressings you play.

We call it Master Tape Sound when it’s this good! (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This original Capitol Orange Label LP has TWO SUPERB sides, with side two earning our top grade of A+++ for its White Hot sound! And side one was nearly as good at A++ to A+++. These are the highest grades we are awarding to any copy on the site, folks. It doesn’t get any better. The sound is uncharacteristically smooth, sweet, clear and Tubey Magical, light years from the grungy grit and grain that plagues most copies of Heart Like a Wheel.

Things are different since our last big shootout back in 2009. We learned a lot about the record and have added plenty of new commentary to back it up. If you’re a fan check it out.

Let’s be honest: the average copy of this album is an audio disaster. Those of you who love this album as much as we do are going to be shocked when you hear how wonderful it can sound. We bet you never imagined it could be this good, and we happily back up that bet with a full money back guarantee!

This shootout was no small project — we dropped the needle on more than a DOZEN copies.This is the only one to earn better than a Super Hot Stamper grade (A++) on both sides. I’ve been playing this album for years, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on HLAW. On top of that it’s also full-bodied, lively, and super-transparent. The vocals are breathy and full with incredible immediacy. Folks, the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Aftermath – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

What do you get on these better Decca pressings? Lots of rich, sweet, Tubey Magic. Lovely spaciousness. Fairly correct tonality. There are going to be distorted parts to some of the songs, but that distortion is on the tapes – to some degree it’s unavoidable.

This is a pretty quiet Decca in the Box stereo copy with VERY GOOD SOUND (for an early Stones record). If they all sounded like this we wouldn’t be making excuses for their recordings all the time. We give both sides a grade of A Plus, which means you certainly can do better if you can find lots of pressings to clean and play for your Hot Stamper shootout.

What’s that? You say clean copies don’t grow on trees out where you live? Hey, we have the same problem! We find one or two copies of the early albums a year, and sometimes even the good looking ones are too noisy to sell.

We just have to accept that the Stones are not The Beatles when it comes to the quality of their early recordings. That said, this album sounds pretty good!

This is my favorite of the early Stones records. You can’t argue with Lady Jane and Under My Thumb, two of the best tracks this band ever put on tape. (more…)

Weather Report – Heavy Weather – Listening in Depth

More Weather Report

More Heavy Weather

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

This one is for Weather Report’s MASTERPIECE of Jazz Fusion, Heavy Weather.

Our Track Commentary below has lots of What To Listen For (WTLF) advice to help you evaluate any copies you may have.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Birdland

Not an easy track to get right; there’s so much upper midrange and high frequency information to deal with. If the synthesizers and horns are too much, the effect is exciting but won’t wear well. Too much 6k is the problem on most copies, along with not enough above 10. That is a deadly combination.

A Remark You Made (more…)

Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners – Greatest “Copy” Ever

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

WHOA! We’ve paired up two FOUR PLUS sides to create this stunning 2-pack with mindblowing Demo Quality sound for the whole album. These A++++ sides will show you just how amazing it can sound: super full-bodied, rich, warm and natural. 

Please note that we award this very special grade so rarely that we don’t even have a graphic to represent it in our sonic grade box. The scale usually only goes to three pluses, but these two sides went up to four!

This is an incredible recording, and on a copy like this the sound is truly stunning. When you hear Chicago here you will not believe how CINEMATIC the sound is! It’s everything we love about ANALOG, and then some.

Most of the credit must go to the team of recording engineers, led here by the esteemed Bill Halverson, the man behind all of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young albums. Nash was clearly influenced by his work with his gifted bandmates, proving with this album that he can hold his own with the best of the best. Some songs (We Can Change The World, Be Yourself) are grandly scaled productions with the kind of studio polish that would make Supertramp envious. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better than this. (more…)

Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

This is widely considered one of the best albums of the ’90s, a brilliant and unique piece of work. I positively love this album. The emotion is every bit as naked and compelling as that found on Joni’s Blue, and I do not say that lightly. I know the power of Blue, and this album has that kind of power. This is some heavy heavy stuff. Hearing it sound right is a thrill I won’t soon forget.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Feel So Different
I Am Stretched on Your Grave

This track has some of the wildest instrumentation I’ve ever heard. The rhythm is provided by a looped sample of the beat from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, with Sinead’s reverb-laden vocals carrying the droning melody. At the apex of the track, some crazy-ass violins come in, making for a haunting celtic/hip-hop hybrid. I think there’s even some Persian in there. This one just knocks me out every time I hear it.

The average bad sounding pressing of side one just plain ruins this track. The sound will lack extension on the top and reek of blubbery bass. The hot copies have solid low end, lots of air around the vocals, and texture on the violins. The good copies let the song work its magic; the bad ones don’t. (more…)

Stan Getz – Getz Au Go Go – Critical Listening Exercise

More Stan Getz

More Getz Au Go Go

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

This album is useful as a test disc. The third track on side 2, The Telephone Song, has a breathy vocal by Astrud, soon followed by Getz’s saxophone solo. If those two elements in the recording are in balance, your system is working, tonally anyway.

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

Track Commentary

Side One 

Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars) 

On the best copies the voice is perfection. The horn is always a bit hard sounding on this track though.

It Might As Well Be Spring

The best copies are warm, rich and sweet here, with much better sound for Getz’s sax. This track has some of the tubiest magic you will find on the album.

Eu E Voce (Me and You)
Summertime

This one has real dynamics — the playing and the sound are lively, but somehow still cool…

Nix-Quix-Flix

Side Two

Only Trust Your Heart
The Singing Song
The Telephone Song

The best song on side two, certainly the most fun, and a wonderful test track as mentioned earlier.

One Note Samba
Here’s That Rainy Day

This is one of Rudy Van Gelder’s greatest recordings. I think it’s as good as it is because he was out of his studio (mostly) and had to revert to Recording 101, where you set up some good mics and get the thing on tape as correctly as you can. There’s hardly a trace of his normal compression and bad EQ on this album. (The sax is problematical in places but most everyone else is right on the money.) (more…)

David Bowie – Let’s Dance

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

With Let’s Dance the name of the game is ENERGY, and boy does this copy have it! Both sides have the deep, punchy bass and sweet, extended highs that Bowie’s music needs to come ALIVE. With that big bass and smooth top end this is one record you can turn up GOOD and LOUD without fear of fatique. On a big pair of dynamic speakers you will really get your money’s worth from the best Hot Stamper pressings. 

Compression? No Thank You!

Most copies we came across during our extensive shootout were painfully compressed and thin. Sure, they could convey some of the enormous energy of this recording, but the highs always ended up being brittle and edgy. Subsequently the vocals would lose presence and the whole operation turned smeary. When this happens, tracks like “Modern Love” turn the joy of the music into boredom and even outright misery.

But the good ones boggle the mind, they practically defy understanding. How did they get that much punchy note-like bass onto a piece of vinyl, not to mention all those silky sweet highs? (more…)

II – Our History with Led Zeppelin’s Rock Classic from 1990 – 2010

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

This pressing just knocked us out from beginning to end — this is the Zep II sound you want. 

At least 80% of the copies we buy these days — for many hundreds of dollars each I might add — go right back to the seller. The biggest problem we run into besides obvious scratches that play and worn out grooves is easy to spot: just play the song Thank You at the end of side one. Most of the time there is inner groove damage so bad that the track becomes virtually unlistenable.

It’s become a common dealbreaker for the records we buy on the internet. We get them in, we play that track, we hear it distort and we pack the record up and sent it back to the seller.

But this copy plays clean all the way to the end on both sides — assuming you have a highly-tweaked, high-performance front end of course.

After we heard this copy sound so good and play so well we decided it was time to set a record here at Better Records for the most expensive record to ever hit the site.

Turn It Up!

This is undoubtedly one of the best, maybe THE best hard rock recording of all time, but you need a good pressing if you’re going to unleash anything approaching its full potential. We just conducted a shootout and heard MUCH more bad sound than good. You name it — imports, reissues, originals — we’ve played ’em, and most of them were TERRIBLE. (Especially the non-RL originals. That’s some of the worst sound we’ve ever heard. If you see a “J” stamper run for your life.) (more…)