Albums We’re Clearly Obsessed With

Listening in Depth to Airto’s Masterpiece – Fingers

More from Airto

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This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto.

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.)

The Highs Are Back

This copy has the highs that are missing from so many of the CTI originals. When you play this against most copies there is an extension to the top end that you don’t hear elsewhere. Since this album is heavy on percussion, that difference is critical. The HARMONICS of the percussion are critically important to the music. When they go missing it’s as if the music seems to slow down, a strange effect but a fairly common one with rhythmically dense arrangements such as these.

With an extended top end the sound is SWEET, not HARSH. Believe us when we tell you, the last thing you want is a harsh sounding pressing of a Rudy Van Gelder recording. (Not unless you have a dull, dull, deadly dull stereo. Those “Old School” stereos are practically the only way one can tolerate some of his early recordings.)

With so many high frequency transients and such complex arrangements, this is a record that must be mastered (and pressed) with great skill or the result is going to be trouble. RVG, who both recorded and mastered the album, has a penchant for over-cutting records and being heavy handed when it comes to his favorite studio tricks, often to the detriment of instrumental fidelity. When his approach works, the resulting recordings are wonderful. When he gets too carried away with his “sound”, look out.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Fingers

This is the most problematical track on the entire album — please DO NOT JUDGE the album by this song! The sound is much better on the tracks that follow. This may have been an attempt to get that hot hit single sound for track one, the kind that would jump out of your radio speaker, but the effect can be a bit much, depending on how low distortion and high resolution your equipment is. The better your system, the less of a problem you will have getting this track to play well. If this track sounds decent, everything after it will really shine.

The biggest problem one typically runs into is a lack of bass and lower midrange. On the better copies the bass will be fine on the next track and those that follow.

Romance of Death

The guitar work on this track is stellar, some of the best musicianship on the album. Credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for making the guitar jump out of the mix. One of the things he can do, practically better than anyone, is make a lead instrument sound as big and as bold as you’ve ever heard it.

Merry-Go-Round

This track has a tendency to be overly compressed. Some stampers have so much added compression that the guitar and the percussion in the middle of the soundfield turn into undifferentiated muck. Those copies are what we refer to as “Not-So-Hot Stampers”.

Wind Chant

Side Two

Note that the sound on side two tends to be more open, rich and clear as a rule.

Parana

Perhaps my favorite track on the album; it builds into a chanting jam towards the end of its six minutes that grows to be as powerfully hypnotic as any I know. It’s the main reason this is a Desert Island Disc for me. I simply cannot get enough of Airto’s driving rhythms on this album. I’ve been playing this record my entire adult life and never once tired of it.

We wish Airto had made a string of albums as good as this one, but unfortunately we are not aware of any others of this quality. Which makes sense I suppose: one awe-inspiring masterpiece is more than most artists will ever produce.

San Francisco River
Tombo in 7/4

Carlos Santana Knows: Louder Is Better

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Santana

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Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you TURN UP YOUR VOLUME.

This album needs to be played LOUD. I used to demonstrate that specific effect a few years ago when I found my first shockingly good Hot Stamper copy back in the late ’90s. I would play the first minute or so of track one at a pretty good level. There’s lots of ambience, there’s a couple of guys who shout things out, there’s a substantial amount of deep bass, and the whole recording has a natural smooth quality to it (which is precisely what allows you to play it at loud volumes).

Then I would turn it up a notch, say about 2-3 DB. I would announce to my friends that this is probably louder than you will ever play this record, but listen to what happens when you do. The soundstage gets wider and deeper, all those guys that shout can be heard more clearly, you start to really feel that deep bass, and when the song gets going, it REALLY gets going.

The energy would be fantastic.
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Robin Black’s Two Engineering Masterpieces

More on THICK AS A BRICK

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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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This Is Not a Cheap Hobby If You Want to Do It Right

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Rick sent us a letter recently after having played his first Hot Stamper, the first record he ever bought from us. At $300 it wasn’t cheap, but the best things in life never are, and certainly there is little in the world of audio that’s cheap and much good. This is not a cheap hobby if you want to do it right, and even tons of money doesn’t guarantee you will get good sound. It’s far more complicated than that. To quote Winston Churchill, it takes “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Churchill went on to say “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs… Victory, however long and hard the road may be…”

Now, he wasn’t talking about audio, but he could have been, and I certainly am. It takes resources — money and labor — to get the sound you want. That is the victory I am aiming at.

Rick here no doubt heard the sound he was looking for on our Hot Stamper McCartney album, and then some, judging by his letter.
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Is the Original Better? Not on This Album It Ain’t

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Crisis? What Crisis?

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This is an older listing that illustrates how We Was Wrong when we thought the best domestic copies were not competitive with the A&M Half-Speed or better British pressings.

We touch on other much-loved themes in this commentary, such as the myth that the original pressing is going to be better than a reissue or later stamper. On this album that is definitely not the case.

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an A+++ SIDE ONE! It’s not the A&M Half Speed, and it’s not a British pressing either. It’s domestic folks, your standard plain-as-day A&M pressing, and we’re as shocked as you are. Hearing this copy (as well as an amazing Brit; they can be every bit as good, in their own way of course) was a THRILL, a thrill that’s a step up in “thrillingness” over our previous favorite pressing, the Half Speed.
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Val Garay Rocks the Sound of JT

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

JT

 

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The good copies REALLY ROCK on a song like Honey Don’t Leave L.A. or I Was Only Telling A Lie, yet have lovely, sweet transparency and delicacy on the ballads such as Another Grey Morning or There We Are.

Just turn up the volume and play the opening to Honey Don’t Leave L.A. — this is James Taylor and his super tight studio band at the peak of their powers. Russ Kunkel hits the drum twice, then clicks his sticks together so quickly you can hardly notice it, then goes back to the drums for the rest of the intro. On a superb copy like this one, the subtleties of his performance are clearly on display. (Until copies like this one came along, we had never even noticed that stick trick. Now it’s the high point of the whole intro!)

Sound Equals Music

As audiophiles we all know that sound and music are inseparable. After dropping the needle on a dozen or so copies, all originals by the way, you KNOW when the music is working its magic and when it’s not. As with any pop album there are always some songs that sound better than others, but when you find yourself marvelling at how well-written and well-produced a song is, you know that the sound is doing what it needs to do. It’s communicating the Musical Values of the material.

The most important of all these Musical Values is ENERGY, and boy do the best copies have it!
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Latest Thoughts on Let It Be

 

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

LET IT BE

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Including:

A top copy, the MoFi, the new Heavy Vinyl pressing, What to Listen For and our take on the Bell Sound domestic original.

Boz Scaggs and Silk Degrees and Its Rich, Solid Piano – The Forgotten Sound of ’70s Rock

 

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Silk Degrees

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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 Silk Degrees.

What do you hear on the best copies? Well, the first thing you hear is a rich, solid piano, a piano that’s missing from the CBS Half-Speed and 90% of the reissues we’ve played. Like so many recordings from the ’70s this album is surprisingly natural sounding. I’ve had the same experience with Billy Joel’s ’70s records. I was surprised to hear how well recorded they are — and how full-bodied the piano is — after I stopped listening to the audiophile and import pressings and went back to the original domestic copies.

When you get the right ones they’re wonderfully rich and smooth, the way good analog should be.

And these were the kinds of records that we audiophiles were complaining about back in the day. We lamented the fact that these pressings weren’t audiophile quality, like the best MoFis and Japanese pressings. Can you imagine?

This is how bad even good equipment must have been back then.

Of course we got what we deserved. We got lots of phony, hyped-up pressings to fool us into thinking we were hearing better sound, when in fact the opposite was true. I regret to say that nothing has changed — most pressings aimed at audiophiles are still mediocre if not outright awful (bad enough to fill up our Hall of Shame in fact.

The other record that immediately comes to mind to show you the sound that’s missing from many pressings, both vintage and modern, is Aja. Here’s what we had to say about it:

If you own the Cisco 180 gram pressing, focus on Victor Feldman’s piano at the beginning of the song. It lacks body, weight and ambience on the new pressing, but any of our better Hot Stamper copies will show you a piano with those qualities in spades all the way through. It’s some of my favorite work by the Steely Dan vibesman. The thin piano on the Cisco release must be recognized for what it is: a major error on the part of the mastering engineers.

A full piano is key to the sound of the best pressing of Silk Degrees. The other thing you hear on the best copies is a smooth, sweet top end, which is likewise missing from the above mentioned pressings.

Most copies lack presence and top end. Dull, thick, opaque sound is far too common on Silk Degrees, which may account for some audiophiles finding the half-speed preferable. Of course, our Hot Stampers give you the presence and highs that let this music come to life. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be Hot Stampers now would they?

Is This One of the Greatest Rock Albums of All Time?

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Ziggy Stardust

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Is this one of the Greatest Rock Albums of All Time?

Unquestionably. It’s the pinnacle of Glam Rock. Every track is superb; not a moment is less than stellar from beginning to end.

Is it Bowie’s Masterpiece?

Absolutely. No other Bowie record ranks higher in my book.

Is it amazingly well recorded?

You better believe it. This is not just Bowie’s masterpiece; it’s Ken Scott’s as well. For BIG, BOLD, wall to wall, floor to ceiling sound, look no further. The recording is swimming in rich, sweet TUBEY MAGIC. This is a sound we cannot get enough of here at Better Records.

The guitars may not sound “real,” they way they actually do in real life, but they sure sound grungy and GOOD!

Just drop the needle on any song. Guaranteed you will never hear that song sound better. The mastering is beyond perfection. There’s really no “mastering” to listen for — all you’re really aware of is the music flowing from the speakers, freed from all the limitations that you’ve learned to accept.

There’s no need to go track by track trying to explain why this copy is the Ultimate Ziggy. One drop of the needle will tell you everything you’ll ever need to know. All doubts will be erased within moments. We played this copy against our best other pressings and again and again, no matter what track we played, the sound here was superior. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Heart Like a Wheel

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Heart Like a Wheel

and click on this link to the

Classic Tracks

entry for the album to read about it in real  depth

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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 Heart Like a Wheel.

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.

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.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

You’re No Good

Right from the git-go, if the opening drum and bass intro on this one doesn’t get your foot tapping, something definitely ain’t right. Check to make sure your stereo is working up to par with a record you know well. If it is, your copy of HLAW belongs on the reject pile along with the other 90% of the copies ever pressed.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Amazing acoustic guitars! Lots of tubey magic for a mid-’70s pop album. And just listen to the breathy quality of Linda’s voice. She’s swimming in echo, but it’s a good kind of echo. Being able to hear so much of it tells you that your pressing is one of the few with tremendous transparency and high resolution.

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