Advice – What to Listen For – Transparency Vs Opacity

Bizet-Shchedrin / Carmen Ballet Suite / Rozhdestvensky – Our 4+ Shootout Winner from 2019

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

Unbelievable Shootout Winning Demo Disc quality sound throughout — QUADRUPLE PLUS (A++++) on the first side and Triple Plus (A+++) on the second. Side one has by far the better music – it’s where the most exciting, most percussive movements can be found – and this pressing, with Beyond White Hot sound for that side, is guaranteed to be bigger and more lively than you ever imagined (because that’s how we felt about it, hence the fourth plus).

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. We rarely find records with this kind of sound, just a few times a year at most — this is the only one on the site at this time.

Both sides show up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave side one that fourth plus!

This Angle Melodiya pressing of Bizet’s Carmen, rearranged by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin for strings and 47 percussion instruments, has two incredible sides. Demo Quality Sound barely begins to do it justice. If you have the system to play it, this copy is a KNOCKOUT.

But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce. You better have everything working right when you play this one — it’s guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. Speed, resolving power and freedom from distortion are what this record needs to sound its best. Is your system up to it? There’s only one way to find out.

And if you have any peaky audiophile wire or equipment in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this. More than anything this is a record that rewards your system’s neutrality. (more…)

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

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

For the first time ever, an incredible Triple Triple (A+++) copy of Sinead O’Connor’s best-selling sophomore release. You won’t believe how good Nothing Compares 2 U sounds here. 

I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got 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.

Although the record was popular in its day, it’s one of those albums that just never seems to show up in the record bins. I wish we could find more of them, but they just aren’t out there. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

UNBELIEVABLE! The sound on this Decca Blue Label British Import pressing went far beyond our expectations and far beyond that of any copy we played it against — on BOTH sides. And the music? It’s the Stones at their best, baby — we love it!

The credit must of course go to GLYN JOHNS, who happens to be one of our favorite producers and recording / mixing engineers. It’s albums with sound like this that make us such big fans of his work.

From the moment we dropped the needle on side one, we were SHOCKED by the presence, the clarity, and the energy — and that’s just talking about the sound of the audience! About a minute after the music got going, we had to collect our jaws off the floor. No other copy we had heard could have led us to believe we would hear this album sound THIS amazing. The sound is both tubey magical and clear, and the energy and immediacy are off the charts. Turn it up loud and you are in the middle of the Stones’ concert of a lifetime! I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what kind of money Stones’ tickets go for these days, but I think it’s safe to say you’ll get better sound for your dollars on this White Hot Stamper LP. (more…)

Joe Gordon – Lookin’ Good!

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This Super Hot Stamper pressing has the Contemporary Jazz Sound we LOVE here at Better Records. If you want to know what’s wrong with the sound of your Rudy Van Gelder Squakfest Records, play this LP and bathe in the kind of relaxed, NATURAL tonality that Roy DuNann is justly famous for.

We love the sound of Contemporary Records — it’s our favorite jazz label by a long shot. Roy DuNann always seemed to get The Real Sound out of the sessions he recorded — amazingly realistic drum sound; full-bodied, breathy horns; lots of top end extension; deep, note-like bass; weighty piano, studio ambience, three-dimensionality, and on and on.

The Key to the Sound of the Best Copies

During this shootout we discovered what really sets apart the best copies from the also-rans: listen for the piano in the background, behind the horns. On the best copies it is so clear you can practically “see” it back there.

The copies with a clear piano have TRANSPARENCY that makes all the difference in the world on EVERY instrument. Now everything is clear. As long as the tonal balance is correct, that transparent quality is precisely what will make the best copies much more musically involving.

Let’s face it: many reissues, such as this pressing, recorded in 1961 and pressed in the ’70s, have a veiled, dull quality. When they don’t, man, they can really beat the pants off even the best originals. (more…)

Neil Young Harvest – We Review the Half-Speed Mastered Nautilus Pressing

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Sonic Grade: B-

We haven’t played a copy of this record in more than a decade, maybe two decades, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B-” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to see things differently now. 

In the early 2000s we wrote this review:

This is a SURPRISINGLY good sounding Nautilus Half-Speed mastered LP with AMAZING transparency. The sound here is DRAMATICALLY more natural than your average audiophile pressing. Just listen to the phony top end found on most MoFis to see what we mean. On this record you’ll hear none of the hyped-up highs that are MoFi’s claim to fame.

This Nautilus is sure to destroy a typical American pressing, which will tend to sound opaque, thick and dull. This wouldn’t really match up to our Hottest Stampers but you could sure do a lot worse. Although it’s a tad fat at the bottom, it still retains much of the warmth and richness found on the best copies.

Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

EXCELLENT SOUND ON BOTH SIDES on this White Hot Stamper pressing of the great follow-up to Innervisions! We’ve been collecting clean copies for ages and were able to have a MASSIVE shootout for this album, so I can say with complete confidence that you will not find a better sounding copy of this album no matter what you do! Both sides are warm, rich and natural with excellent immediacy to the vocals. The drums are clear and crisp, the bass has real weight, and the overall sound is big and lively.

It’s very difficult to find copies of Stevie’s albums that sound great and play quietly. I know many of you are aware of this because we get so many requests for Hot Stamper pressings of his various albums. You might be able to get quiet vinyl on the Japanese Stevie pressings, but you won’t find The Real Sound — no way, no how.

The vinyl on this copy plays between Mint Minus Minus and Mint Minus — not too bad but far from silent. There’s constant light to moderate noise behind the music, particularly audible in the quietest passages. It’s a small price to pay to get sound this good for music this important, but it’s not a record for anyone who demands Minty vinyl. If you can’t live with a little surface noise, you probably won’t ever hear any of Stevie’s classic albums sound as amazing as this one does. (more…)

Ry Cooder – Jazz – Transparency Is Key

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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 Jazz. 

The best copies realistically convey the live-in-the-studio quality of the sound. This is a tight ensemble working at the top of their game, no surprise there; Ry surrounds himself with nothing but the best.

But the better copies have such amazingly transparent sound you can’t help feeling as though you really are in the presence of live human beings You really get the sense of actual fingers plucking those guitar strings. You hear mouths blowing air through horns and woodwinds. (more…)

Bread and Elektra on Vinyl – Balancing Richness and Tubey Magic with Transparency, Clarity and Speed

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Bread.

Manna has the clear signature of Elektra from the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s unmistakably ANALOG, but that double-edged sword cuts both ways. Richness and Tubey Magic (the kind you had in your old ’70s stereo equipment) often comes at the expense of transparency, clarity, speed and transient information (the things your ’70s equipment probably had more trouble with).

We heard a lot of copies that were opaque, smeary and dull up top, so the trick for us (and for those of you doing your own shootouts) is to find a copy with the resolving power and transparency that will cut through the thickness. (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner

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

Please note that we do not have a graphic for our chart to indicate the Four Plus grade, since we award it so rarely. Our rating system usually only goes to three pluses, but this side one was so amazing we had to give it a fourth!

This White Hot pressing gives you TRULY KILLER SOUND for this classic album! It’s not easy to find great sound for Tapestry. Most pressings are either dull and veiled, or hard and edgy in the midrange — not exactly the kind of sound we’re after.

This kind of sound is not easy to find on this album. As we said above, the typical copies are either dull and murky or edgy and downright unpleasant, and on half the ones that DO sound good the vinyl is thrashed! On a copy like this, though, the sound gets out of the way and lets you focus on the MUSIC — and make no mistake, this album is a true classic.

We went nuts for this album during our big shootout. Since most of the time we’re playing testosterone-fueled, raging classic rock, it was a nice change of pace for us — and certainly easier on our poor eardrums! Our man JT makes an appearance playing acoustic guitar on a number of tracks, most notably You’ve Got A Friend, and his pals Russ Kunkel and Danny Kootch turn up too, with Kootch handling most of the electric guitar duties.

What’s surprising, if you haven’t played this album in a while, is how good non-hit tracks like “Home Again” can be. But there aren’t many of those non-hits on this album, and that’s a good thing; almost every song was a hit or received a lot of radio play. The quality of the material is that good. (more…)

Rod Stewart – Never A Dull Moment – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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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.

The credit must go to the engineering of MIKE BOBAK for the DEMO DISC SOUND. We just finished our most comprehensive shootout ever for the album, culling the best sounding dozen from about twenty five entrants, and this copy just plain kicked all their butts, earning our highest grade on side one (A+++).

Having made a number of serious improvements to our system in the last few months, I can state categorically and without reservation that this copy of Never a Dull Moment achieved the best stereo sound I have ever heard in my life (outside of the live event of course). I’m still recovering from it.

Side one here is OFF THE CHARTS! No other side one could touch it. It’s got all the elements needed to make this music REALLY ROCK — stunning presence; super-punchy drums; deep, tight bass; and tons of life and energy.

So many copies tend to be dull, veiled, thick and congested, but on this one you can separate out the various parts with ease and hear right INTO the music. It’s also surprisingly airy, open, and spacious — not quite what you’d expect from a bluesy British rock album like this, right? But the engineers here managed to pull it off! One of them was Glyn Johns (mis-spelled in the credits Glynn Johns), who’s only responsible for the first track on side one, True Blue. Naturally that happens to be one of the best sounding tracks on the whole album. (more…)