Advice – What to Listen For – Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars

Al Stewart – Year Of The Cat

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  • A stunning Shootout Winning copy and the first Triple Triple (A+++) to hit the site in years
  • This killer pressing knocked out everything we could throw at it on both sides
  • With engineering by Alan Parsons, the best pressings are every bit the Audiophile Demo Discs you remember
  • The best sides have Tubey Magical acoustic guitars, sweet vocals, huge amounts of space, breathtaking transparency, and so much more
  • Allmusic 4 1/2 stars: “A tremendous example of how good self-conscious progressive pop can be, given the right producer and songwriter — and if you’re a fan of either prog or pop and haven’t given Al Stewart much thought, prepare to be enchanted.”

Stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from beginning to end. This album can sound really wonderful (what else would you expect from an Alan Parson’s production?), but the typical pressings just can’t bring it to life. This one is a HUGE step up, miles away from the gritty, almost unlistenable copies we hear so often. (more…)

Bread – Manna

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  • Manna finally returns to the site after more than 6 years with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Tubier, more transparent, more dynamic, with that “jumpin’ out of the speakers” quality that only The Real Thing (an old record) ever has
  • A superb album, featuring one of the strongest rockers the band ever recorded, “Let Your Love Go”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… this is a record that is laid-back and even tempered, which isn’t a bad thing — it results in a fine listen, especially since the group’s songwriting remains at the high standard instituted on that first Bread album.”

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Charlie Byrd – Byrd at the Gate – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This is a nice Early Riverside pressing with excellent sound! It’s also a title Mobile Fidelity ruined, and having just played this record, I can see hear how they did it.

First of all, the guitar and the drums are tonally right on the money. Mobile Fidelity of course brightened up both and the results are a phony sounding guitar and a phony sounding drum kit, with tizzy cymbals. (The Wes Montgomery MoFi title has many of the same faults, but it’s not quite as bad as this one.)   

The other reason the Mobile Fidelity is such a joke is that this recording inherently has a lot of ill-defined bass. Since Half-Speed mastering causes a loss of bass definition, their pressing is even WORSE in this respect.

Mobile Fidelity rarely understood what an acoustic guitar was supposed to sound like. They blew it on all the Cat Stevens masterpieces, brightening up the guitar which emphasized the “picking” at the expense of the resonating guitar body and vibrating string harmonics.

What makes Byrd At The Gate a good record is the natural acoustic guitar tone. Once you screw that up, what’s left?

An audiophile record. For audiophiles who like phony sounding guitars. Riverside cut this record, and they knew how to cut it right.

John Renbourn – So Clear (John Renbourn Sampler, Vol. 2)

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  • An amazing sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and Double Plus (A++) on the second 
  • This wonderful Transatlantic pressing is incredibly clean, clear and open with plenty of energy and space around all of the instruments, just the right sound for this superb guitarist’s music
  • This copy is about as quiet as we can find them – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus throughout
  • A stellar collection showcasing one of the finest fingerstyle players in the world

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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…)

Dave Mason – Alone Together – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Alone Together appears to be criminally underrated as music nowadays, having fallen from favor with the passage of time. It is a surely a MASTERPIECE that belongs in any Rock Collection worthy of the name. Every track is good, and most are amazingly good. There’s not a scrap of filler here. The recording by Bruce Botnick (mix by Al Schmitt) is hard to fault as well.

1970 was a great time in music. Tea for the Tillerman, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Moondance, Sweet Baby James, Tumbleweed Connection, After the Goldrush, The Yes Album, McCartney, Elton John, His Band And Street Choir, Deja Vu, Workingman’s Dead, Tarkio, Stillness, Let It Be — need I go on?

Even in such illustrious company — I defy anyone to name ten albums of comparable quality to come out in any year — Alone Together ranks as one of the best releases of the year.

The Sound

We struggled for years with the bad vinyl and the murky sound of this album. Finally, with dozens of advances in playback quality and dramatically better cleaning techniques, we have now managed to overcome the problems which we assumed were baked into the recording. I haven’t heard the master tape, but I have heard scores of pressings made from it over the years. I confess I actually used to like and recommend the Heavy Vinyl MCA pressing. Rest assured that is no longer the case. Nowadays it sounds as opaque, ambience-challenged, lifeless and pointless as the rest of its 180 gram brethren. (more…)

Neil Young – Harvest


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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this vintage pressing of Neil’s undeniable classic is guaranteed to beat any Harvest you’ve ever heard
  • At Mint Minus Minus this is not an especially quiet copy, but keep in mind that it’s practically impossible to find an early pressing with sound this good that will play quieter – it hasn’t happened in years 
  • A Top 100 album and a sublime recording no audiophile should be without
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…the love songs and the harrowing portrait of a friend’s descent into heroin addiction, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” remain among Young’s most affecting and memorable songs.” 

When you have this kind of open, extended top end, the grit, grain and edge just disappear, leaving you with a clear, Tubey Magical sound that’s way beyond anything you have ever heard (or we give you your money back). Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the string of superb studio albums Neil released from 1970 to 1976. Just look at these titles: After The Gold Rush, Harvest, On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night, and Zuma. (more…)

Ten Years After – A Space In Time – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

MASTER TAPE SOUND on BOTH sides of this White Hot Stamper copy! Folks, it just does not get any better than this. It’s been more than two years (08/08) since last we embarked on a Hot Stamper shootout for this great album. I always knew it could sound good, but I sure never heard it sound like this! (I said that last time around too you may recall. Two years is a long time in audio. If your stereo and room are undergoing regular improvements, as they can and should be, the sound will be noticeably better every year, dramatically better after two.) 

This is some of the best high-production-value rock music of the ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of these songs is similar to that of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and the like. In other words, no effort was spared to make the home listening experience as compelling as possible. (more…)

Chet Atkins – Class Guitar

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

This RCA original pressing from Nashville, circa 1967, has DEMO DISC quality sound from start to finish, first note to last. Class Guitar is more or less a solo session from 1967, concentrating mostly on classical guitar pieces, with a few pop and jazz hits of the day thrown in for the sake of variety. Chet’s good buddy and main man Jerry Reed joins him on rhythm guitar on some tracks.

Both sides have plenty to offer the discriminating audiophile, with the spaciousness, clarity, tonality and freedom from artificiality that are the hallmark of the best Living Stereo recordings.

Truth be told, technically this is not a real Living Stereo record. It’s an RCA Stereo record. It has the Bill Porter Tubey Magic of the Chet Atkins albums we all know and love, the bulk of which we’re familiar with through our critical listening shootouts. (We’d love to do more but where are the clean stereo copies?)

In fact, not only is this record not a Living Stereo, it’s — gasp — a Dynagroove pressing. And it’s not even Bill Porter at the board, it’s his successor, Jim Malloy.

No matter. Bill may have left in 1964. but he left behind an amazing studio that he practically single-handedly turned into one of the best sounding recording venues in the world. This record may say Dynagroove, but it sure doesn’t sound Dynagroove. And Bill Porter may have left, but his signature sound is all over this record. As we noted in a previous listing: (more…)

Bread – On The Waters – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More Bread

More On The Waters

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

Hot Stampers have finally been discovered for the most consistent and BEST SOUNDING of the Bread albums (not counting the Best of Bread compilation, one of our long time favorites here at Better Records, but a compilation nevertheless). This is the record that put their heavily Beatles-inflected Pure Pop on the map, and at the top of the charts with their Number One hit single Make It With You.

We used to think that only the Best of Bread album could get that song to sound as luscious and Tubey Magical as it does when we hear it in our heads, but it seems we were wrong — it sounds positively amazing on the best copies of On The Waters. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of the Everly Brothers or The Beatles. (more…)