Advice – What to Listen For in General

The Said and the Unsaid – The Firebird on Mercury

More on The Firebird

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

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For our recent shootout of The Firebird we had three minty, potentially hot copies of the Mercury with Dorati, as well as our noisy ref. (We have a noisy reference copy for just about every major title by now. We have been doing these shootouts for a very long time. After thirty years in the record business we have accumulated a World Class collection of great sounding records that just too noisy to sell.)

We had one FR pressing and two of the later pressings with the lighter label, the ones that most often come with Philips M2 stampers.
This is how we described the winner:

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy.

What we didn’t say — and what we never say in the listings — is what the second tier copies didn’t do as well as the shootout winner. (more…)

Graham Nash – Wild Tales – A Forgotten Classic

More Graham Nash

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard on Nash’s underrated second album
  • The sound is Classic 1973 Analog – smooth, rich, warm and tonally correct, with real energy and the kind of natural sound that’s a hallmark of the better Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recordings
  • Filling out the band: Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Dave Mason, Neil Young, David Lindley and too many others to list
  • “Nash speaks from his heart on Wild Tales and those that are willing to get past its sparse arrangements will be able to accept it for the masterpiece of folk-rock that it is.”

This is a criminally underappreciated album, and perhaps that has to do with just how poor the average copy sounds. When you get a copy like this one you cannot fail to appreciate how powerful and deeply emotional these songs are. Drop the needle on the title track or Grave Concern to see what I mean. To read what another fan, and much better writer, had to say about the album, click on the Rave Review tab above.

The sound has the LIFE and ENERGY of rock and roll. This is Graham fronting a band, and on the best copies the recording and the music both work together to make them sound like they’ve been playing together forever. This is not the Big Production that Nash’s first album was. Been there done that; who needs the headache?

Working Their Magic

This is an album where top players got together and worked their magic on a bunch of good songs, playing for the most part live in the studio, which is practically the only way to communicate the feel of a real band (cf. Almost Cut My Hair).

What happens when you clean and play a bunch of copies? You come to recognize what the best ones are doing that the average ones aren’t. And the effect of that understanding on this particular title was simply to recognize the nature of this project, that these are a great bunch of well-crafted songs played with energy and enthusiasm by a very talented group of top flight musicians, totally in sync with each other. This is what they were trying to do, and really, what more can you ask for?

This copy had the kind of transparency that allowed us to really hear into the soundfield and pick out every instrument and recording effect. If your stereo is up to it you can hear some of the band members talking during the music and before the songs. (more…)

Another Fine Entry for Our Hall of Shame (Now Nearly 300 Strong)

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pictures at an Exhibition

More on Mussorgsky’s (and Ravel’s) Masterpiece – Pictures at an Exhibition

 

Sonic Grade: F

Classic Records Repress at 33, 45, or any other speed

A Hall of Shame pressing and a Heavy Vinyl Disaster if there ever was one (and oh yes, there are plenty).

The shrillness, the hardness, the sourness, the loss of texture to the strings, the phony boosted deep bass — this is the kind of sound that makes my skin crawl. After a minute or two I’ve had it.

HP put this on his TAS List? Sad but true.

What do you get with Hot Stampers compared to the Classic Heavy Vinyl reissue? Dramatically more warmth, sweetness, delicacy, transparency, space, energy, size, naturalness (no boost on the top end or the bottom, a common failing of anything on Classic); in other words, the kind of difference you almost ALWAYS get comparing the best vintage pressings with their modern remastered counterparts, in our experience anyway. (more…)

Is The Pink Label The Hot Ticket for Jethro Tull’s Brilliant Stand Up Album?

More on Stand Up

Hot Stamper Jethro Tull Albums Available Now

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Well, it certainly can be, but sometimes it isn’t, and failing to appreciate that possibility is a classic case of misunderstanding a crucially important fact or two about records. Audiophile analog devotees would do well to keep these facts in mind, especially considering the prices original British pressings are fetching these days.

Simply put: Since no two records sound alike, it follow that the right label doesn’t guarantee the right sound. A recent shootout illustrated both of these truths.

We had a number of Pink Island British pressings to play — if you hit enough record stores often enough, in this town anyway, even the rarest pressings are bound to show up in clean condition from time to time — along with Sunrays (aka Pink Rims), Brits, early Two Tone domestics and plain Brown Label Reprise reissues. All of them can sound good. (We do not waste time with German and Japanese pressings, or any of the later Chrysalis label LPs. Never heard an especially good one.)

What surprised the hell out of us was how bad one of the Pink Label sides sounded. It was shockingly thin and hard and practically unlistenable. Keep in mind that during our shootouts the listener has no idea which pressing is being played, so imagine hearing such poor reproduction on vinyl and then finding out that such bad sound was coming from a copy that should have been competitive with the best, on the legendary Pink Island label no less. (Of course the other Pinks were all over the map, their sides ranging from good to great.)

Hearing one sound this bad was completely unexpected, but hearing the unexpected is what we do for a living, so I suppose it shouldn’t have been. Having dubious looking reissues and the “wrong” pressings beat the originals and the so-called “right” pressings from the “right” countries is all in a day’s work here at Better Records. (more…)

Perhaps This Explains Why This Decca Reissue Sounds So Good

Music of Claude Debussy – Available Now

The Music of Claude Debussy – Album Reviews

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This Decca reissue is spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. Roy Wallace was the engineer for these sessions from 1955 to 1961 in Geneva’s glorious sounding Victoria Hall.

It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s, 1972 to be exact. (We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 40+ years ago, not the mediocre-at-best modern mastering of today.)

The combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on both of these superb sides.

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

Vince Guaraldi – Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus

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  • An outstanding copy of this classic audiophile favorite, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy that’s this well balanced, yet big and lively, with such wonderful clarity in the mids and highs
  • Sublime, practically magical jazz trio sound (and music!) that belongs in every audiophile’s collection – on vintage vinyl that’s as quiet as we can find
  • 5 stars: “Here is Vince Guaraldi’s breakthrough album — musically, commercially, in every which way… The whole album evokes the ambience of San Francisco’s jazz life in the 1960s as few others do.”

Great energy for this jazz classic. This quality cannot be emphasized enough, it’s critically important to the music.

The best copies really get the bottom right. They bring out the contribution of the bass player better, the bass being essential to the rhythm of the music. On these pressings, the bass is so tight and note-like, you can see right into the soundstage and practically watch Monte Budwig play.

This is precisely where the 45 RPM pressing goes off the rails. The bloated, much-too-heavy and poorly-defined bass of the Heavy Vinyl remaster makes a mess of the Brazilian and African rhythms inherent in the music. If you own that $50 waste of money, believe me, you will not be tapping your foot to Cast Your Fate to the Wind or Manha de Carnival. (more…)

Cream / Wheels of Fire and its Glaring Lack of Bass

See all of our Eric Clapton and Cream albums in stock

 

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It’s EXCEPTIONALLY difficult to find even decent sounding copies of this album. We’ve played SCORES of original domestic copies, original imports, and all kinds of reissues — trust me, most of them would make you cringe.

When you get a good copy, this music is AWESOME! For ’60s power trio hard rock, you just can’t do much better than the studio material.

White Room, Sitting On Top Of The World, Politician, Born Under A Bad Sign — this is the very essence of Classic Blues Rock. Unfortunately, the typical copy barely hints at the potential of this recording, and the audiophile pressings are even worse.

The DCC Gold CDs are especially bad in our opinion; they sound nothing like the good pressings we’ve played over the years.

Where’s The Bass?

Most early pressings you find these days are thrashed beyond belief. We used to pick up every clean Plum & Gold label copy we’d find back in he day, but no more. We gave up. The Cream magic was just plain missing from the early domestic pressings. The problem is simple: a glaring lack of bass.

Let’s think about that. Cream is a power trio. The music absolutely demands a solid, weighty bottom end. Sacrifice the bass and the sound is just too lean to rock.

We can sum up the sound of the whomp-less copies in a word: fatiguing. As is always the case, some copies sound better than others, but none could give us the kind of bass that we were hoping for. (more…)

Stravinsky / The Firebird / Dorati

More on The Firebird

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

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White Hot Front Row Center sound on side one – amazingly lifelike. One listen to either side and you’ll know this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time. Dorati breathes life into the work as only he can. This is the first time the Mercury Firebird has ever made it to the site, and this copy is killer.

Side One

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Side Two

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy. (more…)

Another Audio Myth Exploded – Large Tulips, Small Tulips – What Do Tulips Have to Do with Anything?

Here are more records with the potential to sound better
on very specific reissue pressings in comparison to the best originals

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The Large Tulip early pressings are the best on this record, right?

Nope. It’s just another Record Myth, as explained in the commentary for our recent Hot Stamper 2-pack. That pair of pressings was all the proof we required to back up our contention that either label can be the best on this classic DG recording. Original is better? Again, not so much. Original can be better fits more with our experience.

To pull off this kind of Mind Boggling sound from start to finish we combined an amazing side one on the Large Tulips label with an amazing side two on the Small Tulips label. And what a finish — side two earned a grade of A+++, being a full step above even our hottest other side two, and we played a lot of copies, more than a dozen in fact. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Piano Concerto #1 / Richter/ Karajan – Our First Shootout Winner, 2008

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This fairly quiet Large Tulips early DG pressing in the heavy cardboard outer sleeve has THE BEST SOUND we have ever heard for this recording! Believe me, they don’t all sound like this! This copy is airy and sweet; just listen to the flutes — you can really hear the air moving through them. There is still some congestion in the loudest passages, but that’s unfortunately not something we can do anything about. Since it’s on every copy we’ve ever played we just have to assume it’s part of the recording.

Of the twenty or so clean copies we’ve auditioned over the last year or two, this one is clearly in a league of its own, with a price to match.

THE Tchaicovsky First

Since this is the best performance of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto of all time, the minor shortcomings in the sound are easy to overlook. The piano sounds solid and full bodied. I don’t know of another performance of this work that gets the sound of the piano better. You can really hear the percussive quality of the instrument. It’s amazing how many piano recordings have poorly mic’ed pianos. They’re either too distant, lack proper reproduction of the lower registers, or somehow smear the pounding of the keys into a blurry mess. The piano sound is what first impressed me when a friend of mine brought the record over for me to hear. Of course I bought it on the spot.

And the texture of the strings is out of this world — you won’t find a DG that gets with better string tone, and 99% of them are worse. This record does not sound like your typical DG: hard, shrill, and sour. DG made good records in the ’50s and ’60s and then proceeded to fall apart, like most labels did. This is one of their finest recordings. It proves that at one time they knew what they were doing.

This recording really only has one shortcoming, which is that in some sections, when it gets loud, it tends to be a bit congested. Other places are very dynamic. I’m guessing somebody dialed in too much compression in those spots, but who’s to say? (more…)