Advice – What to Listen For – Choruses that Are Big, Clear and Lively

Styx – Pieces Of Eight

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  • A KILLER copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • Here is the kind of sound we want on our ELP, Yes and Queen-like multi-layered Proggy Pop Rock – big, full-bodied and lively
  • 4 stars: “Styx’s feisty, straightforward brand of album rock is represented best by ‘Blue Collar Man,’ an invigorating keyboard and guitar rush… reaching number 21, with the frolicking romp of ‘Renegade’ edging in at number 16 only six months later… the rest of the album includes tracks that rekindle some of Styx’s early progressive rock sound, only cleaner. Tracks like ‘Sing for the Day,’ ‘Lords of the Ring,’ and ‘Aku-Aku’ all contain slightly more complex instrumental foundations…”

Who likes their Wall of Sound small and closed-in? Certainly not Big Speaker guys like us. By all accounts this band wanted their records to sound good, or at least as good as their contemporaries (and the bands that inspired them, name-checked above). There’s no shortage of production polish here and on the best pressings, the sound really works. (more…)

Christopher Cross – What to Listen For

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Hot Stamper Albums with Choruses that Are Big and Clear

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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.

There’s one test on side two that few copies do well on. The mostly instrumental section in the middle of Ride Like the Wind has a huge chorus singing in a wonderfully reverberant studio. Only the most transparent, most distortion-free copies let you clearly hear all their voices bouncing off the walls.

Take any two copies and listen for just this one effect and you will soon see that no two copies reproduce the reverberations identically, and many barely reproduce them at all.

Overall

The sound is full, rich, lively and even Tubey Magical in the best tradition of the glossy Pop Productions that were all the rage in the late-’70s. If you like Michael McDonald, Toto, The Doobies, Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and countless other bands we have lovingly found a home for in our Hot Stamper sections you will no doubt find much to like here.

A guilty pleasure you say? When a record sounds this good there is nothing to feel guilty about!

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Journey – Escape

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  • This outstanding copy of the band’s 1981 release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • This copy was big and bold, with huge choruses that really come alive – just the way we like our Journey albums to sound
  • A #1 album jam-packed with hits: Don’t Stop Believin’, Stone in Love, Who’s Crying Now and Open Arms
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Outside of the singles, there is a certain electricity that circulates through the rest of the album. The songs are timeless, and as a whole, they have a way of rekindling the innocence of youthful romance and the rebelliousness of growing up, built from heartfelt songwriting and sturdy musicianship.””

We’ve been trying to find good sound on Journey records for close to a decade, and finally we have something to show for all that work — killer sound on their only Number One album, with monster jams like Don’t Stop Believin’, Stone in Love, Who’s Crying Now — the first three tracks on side one! — and the big closer for side two, Open Arms.

Most greatest hits albums don’t have this many classic rockers. Not sure how we’ll fare with the rest of their catalog, but this one is a good place to start if you’re a fan of the band.

The vocals on Who’s Crying Now are sweet and breathy like no copy you’ve heard. Texture without grit — now that’s hard to do on a Journey album. (Or Queen, see below.) (more…)

Two of Robin Black’s Engineering Masterpieces

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Albums Engineered by Robin Black

Recordings with Exceptionally Tubey Magical Guitars

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Thick As A Brick is quite possibly the BEST SOUNDING ALBUM Jethro Tull ever made. It’s dynamic; has really solid, deep punchy bass; transparency and sweetness in the midrange; Tubey Magical acoustic guitars and flutes; in other words, the record has EVERYTHING that we go crazy for here at Better Records. I can guarantee you there is no CD on the planet that could ever do this recording justice. The Hot Stamper pressings have a kind of MAGIC that just can’t be captured on one of them there silvery discs.

We play quite a few original British and domestic copies of this record when we do these shootouts and let me tell you, the sound and the music are so good I can’t get enough of it. Until about 2007 this was the undiscovered gem (by me, anyway) in the Tull catalog. The pressings I had heard up until then were nothing special, and of course the average pressing of this album is exactly that: no great shakes. But with the advent of better record cleaning fluids and much better tables, phono stages and the like, some copies of Thick As A Brick have shown themselves to be AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUNDING. Even the All Music Guide could hear how well-engineered it was.

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Michael Jackson – Off The Wall

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this MJ classic with some of the most heartfelt, emotional and powerful music he ever recorded
  • Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, more relaxed and more ANALOG than any other Michael Jackson album
  • We’re constantly blown away by just how good the best copies of Off the Wall sound – what a recording!
  • Clearly MJ’s best sounding release – 5 stars: “This was a visionary album … part of a colorful tapestry of lush ballads and strings, smooth soul and pop, soft rock, and alluring funk.”

As consistently brilliant as Thriller may be musically — it is the biggest selling album of all time after all [scratch that, the Eagles Greatest Hits just took the top spot away from Thriller recently] — speaking strictly in terms of sonics the sound of the best copies of Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, and more ANALOG than Thriller.

Thriller is clearly more aggressive and processed-sounding than Off the Wall. The Girl Is Mine or Human Nature from Thriller would fit just fine anywhere on Off the Wall, but could the same be said for Beat It or Thriller? Just thinking about them you can hear the artificiality of the sound of both those songs in your head. Think about the snare that opens Beat It. I’ve never heard a snare sound like that in my life. Practically no instrument on Off the Wall has that kind of overly processed EQ’d sound.

Normally when you have a copy with plenty of presence, it can be somewhat sibilant in places. Sibilance is hardly a problem here. For some reason this copy has all the highs, but it’s cut so clean it practically doesn’t spit at all. Even on the song I Can’t Help It, which normally has a problem in that respect. Since that’s my favorite song on this album, and probably my favorite MJ song of all time, hearing it sound so good was a revelation. (more…)

Earth, Wind and Fire – All ‘N All

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  • This outstanding copy of All ‘N All boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Balanced, musical and full throughout – this pressing is a big step up from every other copy we played
  • These sides are doing it all right — richer, fuller, better bass, more Tubey Magic, and the list goes on
  • 4 stars: “Earth, Wind & Fire’s artistic and commercial winning streak continued with its ninth album, All ‘N All, the diverse jewel that spawned major hits like ‘Serpentine Fire’ and the dreamy ‘Fantasy.’ . . . a highly rewarding addition to EWF’s catalog.”

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Ramping Up the Horsepower of The Cars Like Crazy

More of The Cars

More Records that Sound Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

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The best copies must have one key ingredient that we’ve discovered is absolutely essential if this groundbreaking New Wave album is to come to life — a huge, spacious soundstage.

Some copies are huge; others, not so much. The effect of these size differentials is ENORMOUS. The power of the music ramps up like crazy — how could this recording possibly be this BIG and POWERFUL? How did it achieve this kind of scale? You may need twenty copies to find one like this, which begs the question: why don’t the other 19 sound the way this one does? The sound we heard has to be on the master tape in some sense, doesn’t it? Mastering clearly contributes to the sound, but can it really be a factor of this magnitude?
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John Baldry Knows One Thing: It Ain’t Easy Finding Good Sounding Pressings of His Albums

A Record We may Never Shootout Again

Some records were just too much work to find, too expensive to buy and whose sales never really justified the investment in time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them to offer to our customers.

This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more.

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  • For its debut on the site, we present this amazing sounding British original pressing, with a Triple Plus (A+++) side one (the Rod Stewart side)
  • Side two (the Elton John produced side) was outstanding as well, earning a Double Plus (A++) for its rich, tubey sound
  • No wonder side one sounds like the best of Rod Stewart & The Faces’ early-’70s albums – Mike Bobak engineered them
  • “The backing band on Stewart’s side include fellow Face and future Rolling Stone, Ron Wood, on electric guitar and acoustic guitarist Sam Mitchell, who appeared on many of Stewart’s early-’70s solo albums.”

Here’s how this shootout got started.

A few years ago while I was working on the site I had music on youtube playing. The song “Flying” came on from the It Ain’t Easy album, and when the chorus came in I could not believe how big, rich and powerful it sounded — this, on computer speakers! (more…)

Santana – Inner Secrets

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  • With a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two and a side one that’s close to it, this original pressing has the analog magic in its grooves
  • Power and energy are what make this album a true Demo Disc in the world of rock, and this copy has both
  • A sleeper in the Santana canon that boasts some of the best sound the band ever put to vinyl
  • Top tracks here include three of their biggest barnburners: Dealer (Traffic), Stormy and Well…All Right (Blind Faith)

I know EXACTLY the kind of sound I like on this album. When the background vocals come in, on the Tubey Magical copies they are wall to wall and sweet as honey, with no trace of grain or edge. Big as life too. The guitars have plenty of bite, but no matter how loud they get, they never seem to strain. The louder they get the more I like it. That’s the ticket as far as I’m concerned.

Turn It Up

Like Abraxas, when you play a Hot Stamper copy good and loud, you find yourself marvelling at the musicianship of the group — because the Hot Stamper pressings, communicating all the energy and clarity the recording has to offer, let you hear what a great band they were.

If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house.

When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.) Here are some other records that have especially dynamic guitar solos.

What makes it possible to play this record so loud and still enjoy it? Simple. When the sound is smooth and sweet, completely free of aggressive mids and highs, records get BETTER as they get LOUDER. (This of course assumes low distortion and all the rest, but the main factor is correct tonality from top to bottom, and this record has it.) (more…)

Supertramp – Breakfast In America

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides, this copy is guaranteed to have the best sound you have ever heard for Breakfast in America
  • A truly superb recording with huge, spacious, dynamic, lively sound – Tubey Magical richness is a big plus too  
  • A Top 100 title and True Demo Disc – turn it up and this recording gets LOUD like nothing you have ever experienced
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The majority of the album consisted of tightly written, catchy, well-constructed pop songs, like the hits ‘The Logical Song,’ ‘Take the Long Way Home,’ and ‘Goodbye Stranger.'”

We just conducted another shootout for Breakfast, the band’s biggest charting success, and once again we were blown away by just how good the best copies can sound – huge, spacious, punchy sound we can never get enough of around here. If you have big speakers a great copy will blow your mind, and it will probably blow your mind even if you don’t.

We are not the least bit ashamed to say that we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and a copy like this will certainly help to show you why. Drop the needle on Gone Hollywood, The Logical Song or Take The Long Way Home to hear how powerful this music can sound when you have a great pressing.

Most copies of this record are grainy, thin, shrill and aggressive. When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the highs are sweet and silky. This recording has plenty of top end, so if the highs aren’t correct it pretty much ruins the sound of the record. (more…)