Advice – What to Listen For – Grit and Grain

Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Truly a Country Rock Masterpiece

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  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them, this copy was giving us KILLER sound for Linda Ronstadt’s Best Album
  • Both sides here are rich, full-bodied and warm, with harmonically rich guitars and real immediacy to Linda’s heartfelt vocals
  • A Must Own Classic, the best album Ms Ronstadt ever made, and a True Country Rock Masterpiece virtually without peer
  • 5 stars: “What really makes HLAW a breakthrough is the inventive arrangements that producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt, and the studio musicians have developed. …[they] help turn Heart Like a Wheel into a veritable catalog of Californian soft rock, and it stands as a landmark of ’70s mainstream pop/rock.”

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 46 years by my calculation, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on the album. Folks, we heard it for ourselves: the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here on practically every song.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing. (more…)

Alice Cooper – School’s Out

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  • A stunning sounding copy of Cooper’s 1972 release with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Surprisingly rich and full-bodied, the best copies really ROCK with big bass and punchy drums – just the right Alice Cooper sound
  • The beloved title track remains the most-performed song in his concert history, and the presence on this copy will put the band right there in your listening room
  • 4 1/2 stars: “School’s Out catapulted Alice Cooper into the hard rock stratosphere, largely due to its timeless, all-time classic title track.”

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 four years to find enough copies to do this shootout. Check back with us in 2024 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 that, unlike so many records we play, the originals are the only way to go on School’s Out. (more…)

Yes – 90125

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  • This outstanding copy of 90125 boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Spacious, solid and dynamic with huge bass and analog richness that’s hard to find on this album
  • There’s tons of life and energy here and the vocals sound just right
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A stunning self-reinvention by a band that many had given up for dead, 90125 is the album that introduced a whole new generation of listeners to Yes… there’s nary a duff track on the album.”

A superb copy with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish. I’m pleased to report that we can now add 90125 to our small list of ’80s albums that can sound excellent on the right pressing. Drop the needle on Owner Of A Lonely Heart and we bet you’ll agree!

So many copies we played were full of that digital grit and grain that we hear on so many records from the era. This one is an entirely different story. It has wonderful analog qualities, with more richness and smoothness than most pressings. (more…)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River

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  • Insanely good CCR sound, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • An essential, Must Own for every Classic Rock collection, this LP includes some of the band’s biggest hits: Green River and Bad Moon Rising, Lodi, Wrote a Song for Everyone and plenty more
  • 5 stars “If anything, CCR’s third album Green River represents the full flower of their classic sound initially essayed on its predecessor, Bayou Country. One of the differences between the two albums is that Green River is tighter, with none of the five-minute-plus jams that filled out both their debut and Bayou Country, but the true key to its success is a peak in John Fogerty’s creativity.”

This copy is bigger, livelier, richer, more spacious, more relaxed and just plain more musically involving than every other pressing we played in our recent shootout. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet

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  • An outstanding vintage British pressing of this exceptionally well-recorded Stones album from 1968, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • The long lost Tubey Magic of these early pressings has them sounding better than we ever thought possible back in the day
  • This is the way Beggar’s Banquet should sound and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it
  • One of a select group of Rolling Stones Must Own titles we prize above all others – Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed round out the trio
  • 5 stars: “Basic rock & roll was not forgotten, however: ‘Street Fighting Man’… was one of their most innovative singles, and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’… was an image-defining epic.

(more…)

Jennifer Warnes – Famous Blue Raincoat

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  • A Demo Disc quality pressing of this longtime audiophile favorite, with stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side two – exceptionally quiet vinyl too, as quiet as we can find them
  • Turn this one up good and loud (which you can do when the sound is right) and you’ll have a living, breathing Jennifer Warnes standing right between your speakers
  • The space, resolution, and clarity here are wonderful – for evidence just look to the rosiny texture on the string arrangement of the Song of Bernadette
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The high point may have been the Warnes-Cohen duet on “Joan of Arc,” but the album was consistently impressive.”

We’re big fans of this album here at Better Records. It’s the only thing Jennifer Warnes ever did that we would consider a Must Own recording or Desert Island Disc. In my humble opinion it’s both.

This copy showed us the Famous Blue Raincoat Magic we know and love. The drums are big and punchy with plenty of WHOMP and the sound of skins being THWACKED. Jennifer’s voice is clear and breathy. If you know the record well you will surely be amazed at just how good this music can sound on a pressing as hot as this one.

With a Shootout Winning side two, these songs are guaranteed to sound dramatically better than you ever imagined they would:

Ain’t No Cure for Love Coming Back to You Song of Bernadette A Singer Must Die Came So Far for Beauty

So well recorded you could demo your system with most of these tracks! (more…)

Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

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  • An outstanding copy of Simon’s second solo album, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is big, warm and full-bodied – it’s present and clear, never harsh or gritty the way so many are
  • Great songs including Kodachrome, Loves Me Like a Rock, Was a Sunny Day (and you probably know most of the other 7)
  • 5 stars: “Retaining the buoyant musical feel of Paul Simon, but employing a more produced sound, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon found Paul Simon writing and performing with assurance and venturing into soulful and R&B-oriented music.”

Most pressings don’t have anywhere near this kind of openness and transparency — and they don’t have this kind of richness or warmth either. It’s a real treat to hear these great songs finally get the sound they deserve.

On most pressings, Simon’s voice is a spitty, gritty mess — sure it’s present, but where is the sweetness and warmth? Well, as a copy like this proves, more of those qualities made it to the tape than you might think. (more…)

Bob Seger – Night Moves – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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  • A KILLER vintage pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout for Bob Seger’s breakthrough album (the 8th time’s the charm)
  • A big step up over every other copy we heard – richer, fuller, more dynamic, more lively and just plain more fun
  • Knock the album if you like, but there’s no denying it’s one of Seger’s best and certainly a ’70s classic – every song’s a hit, and deservedly so
  • 5 stars: “One of the universally acknowledged high points of late-’70s rock & roll. And, because of his passion and craft, it remains a thoroughly terrific record years later.”

It’s not easy to find good pressings of this album — it took us plenty of fruitless shootouts before we figured anything out. Most copies out there are thin and dry, which is no way to hear these classic ’70s tracks. We brought in copy after copy that made us think, “I swear this sounds better on the radio!”

Finally, after pulling together a ton of copies from different eras, we started to realize that there were indeed vinyl pressings of Night Moves that sounded right… but they are few and far between, the exception and not the rule so to speak. This copy is one of the better ones we played in our most recent shootout, no question about it.

Knock this album if you like, but there’s no denying it’s one of Seger’s best and certainly a ’70s classic. It may not have the audiophile appeal of Tea For The Tillerman, but it’s a blast when it sounds this good. (more…)

Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years – Our Four Plus Winner

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  • This KILLER pressing earned Shootout Winning QUADRUPLE Plus (A++++) sound on the first side and Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first
  • The immediacy of the vocals is striking, putting a living, breathing Paul Simon right between your speakers
  • An extremely tough album to find with the kind of big, spacious, Tubey Magical sound this pressing offers
  • Clean, clear and open are nice qualities to have, but the richer, smoother, more natural sounding copies are the ones that win our shootouts
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…he was never more in tune with his audience: Still Crazy topped the charts, spawned four Top 40 hits, and won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Vocal Performance.

Please note: we award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side one here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus! (more…)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – “I’ve listened to it numerous times and it just does not have that sound stage I was expecting.”

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A customer recently contacted us after making his first purchase and being disappointed with the White Hot Stamper pressing we had sent him.

Hi,

Wondered who I can talk to about this record that I purchased. I’ve listened to it numerous times and it just does not have that sound stage I was expecting.

I am not looking for a refund. In fact, I refuse a refund. However, I would appreciate the opportunity to speak to someone about the factors that make this a “White Hot Pressing.”

I’m sure you need to understand what amplifier, speakers, setting, etc. I am using. Without Going into the details, I have a McIntosh amplifier and Focal 936 speakers. I know how much of a difference equipment makes in the sound of a record.

I love to hear amazing records, some of which I have in original pressings I purchased when they were released and can truly feel it when there is something special about the record. This one does not seem to have it to me, but I am interested in finding and purchasing one from you that gives that amazing feeling.

Please let me know if there is someone I can speak to about finding that record.

Thank you,
Sanjay

I replied with an overwhelming amount of information (and opinions!) designed to help Sanjay understand more about records, as follows:

Sanjay,

Tom here. Let me see if I can help.

The first thing I would need to know is what version of the album do you have that you think sounds better, or, if not better, comparable?

[He had no other pressing, not surprising as our White Hot copies are almost impossible to beat.]

Assuming you don’t have a better copy — we would be very surprised if you did — we would say that it’s likely there are two factors at play:

White Hot does not mean amazing Demo Disc sound. It means the best sound we can find for this recording, relative to the others we play. In other words, the best there is within the limitations of the recording.

We can’t fix the recording, we can only find you the best available pressing. If you were expecting more, something along the lines of Dark Side of the Moon, then I understand your disappointment. (more…)