Demo Discs for Dynamics

Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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Thick As A Brick

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

This A++++ Beyond White Hot Stamper copy of Thick As A Brick has the best side one we have ever heard! This copy is operating at A WHOLE NOTHER LEVEL.

Side one has HUGE, room-filling, hi-definition sound, with levels of Tubey Magic one would simply never expect to hear coming from a run-of-the-mill domestic Reprise pressing such as this. But here they are; there’s no denying the transparency, size and rock and roll energy of this mind-boggling side one. It’s truly a Demo Disc of the highest order.

We cannot avoid awarding freakishly good sound such as this our rule-breaking Four Plus grade, limited to those rarefied pressings that take the sound of familiar records beyond what we’ve heard before. (more…)

The Best Sounding Record on the Site?

 The Original Soundtrack

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On any given day a White Hot side one of The Original Soundtrack could very well be the best sounding record on the site.

“On any given day” being a day when we don’t have a hot German copy of Dark Side of the Moon to offer, or a killer Eagles first album, or a top copy of the self-titled BS&T, or an RL Zep II, or a White Hot Teaser and the Firecat. Most days we don’t have such records on the site, and on those days this 10cc album is a recording Tour De Force that would be bigger, bolder, more dynamic, and more powerful than anything we could throw against it.
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Phil Manzanera – Diamond Head

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Diamond Head

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  • This KILLER pressing of Phil Manzanera’s debut album boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Two stunning sides – Demo Disc quality sound barely begins to describe the size and power of this recording
  • This album is an amazing SONIC BLOCKBUSTER, with sound that will positively leap out of your speakers
  • A shockingly well-recorded album from the ultra-talented Rhett Davies – this is his Engineering Masterpiece

The wind is at your back here because this is one seriously well-recorded album. If this copy doesn’t wake up your stereo nothing will.

Like its brother, 801 Live, this album is an amazing sonic blockbuster, with sound that positively leaps out of the speakers. Why shouldn’t it? It was engineered by the superbly talented Rhett Davies at Island, the genius behind Taking Tiger Mountain, the aforementioned 801 Live, Avalon, Dire Straits’ first album and many many more. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture on Telarc UHQR

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing.

This is what we had to say about the UHQR back in 2005 or so:

Having played this record all the way through, I have to comment on some of its sonic qualities. It’s about the most dynamic recording I’ve ever heard. This was the promise of digital, which was never really delivered. On this record, that promise has been fulfilled. The performance is also one of the best on record. It’s certainly the most energetic I can remember. 

[Now that we’ve heard the best pressings of the Alwyn recording on Decca I would have to say that Alwyn’s is certainly every bit as energetic if not more so and dramatically better sounding as well.]

They only made 1000 of these, which makes it 5 times more rare than any MOFI UHQR. I had a sealed copy of this record on the site not too long ago. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a sealed copy, as open ones are hard enough to come by.

Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues – Implore You to Turn Up Your Volume

More Direct to Disc

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S9 is hands down the best example of a recording that truly comes to life when you Turn Up Your Volume.

There’s not much ambience to be found in their somewhat dead sounding studio, and very little high frequency boost to any instrument in the soundfield, which means at moderate levels this record sounds flat and lifeless. (You could say it has that in common with most Heavy Vinyl pressings these days, if you wanted to take a cheap shot at those records, which, to be honest, I don’t mind doing. They suck; why pretend otherwise?)

But turn it up and man, the sound really starts jumpin’ out of the speakers, without becoming phony or hyped-up. In fact, it actually sounds more NATURAL and REAL at louder levels.  

A Quick and Easy Test

Play the record at normal levels and pick out any instrument — snare, toms, sax, bass — anything you like. Now turn it up a notch and see if the timbre of that instrument isn’t more correct. Add another click of volume and listen again. I think you will see that with each increase in volume, assuming your system can handle it, the tonality of each and every instrument you hear continues to get better.

This record would sound right at something very close to, if not actual, LIVE levels. Of that I have no doubt. (more…)

The Reiner Sound – Reviewed in 2010

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More Rachmaninoff / The Reiner Sound / Reiner / CSO

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Wow, the first nice Reiner Sound on Shaded Dog to make it to our site. Why? Because the few copies we’ve run across that looked decent enough to clean and play were just too noisy to enjoy. Not many copies have survived the bad turntables of their day with all their top end and inner grooves intact, but we’re proud to say that this one has! 

This former TAS List record really surprised us on two counts. First, you will not believe how DYNAMIC the recording is. Of all the classical recordings we’ve played lately I would have to say this is THE MOST DYNAMIC of them all. (more…)

War – Why Can’t We Be Friends?

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  • A stunning sounding copy and the best to hit the site in many years — Triple Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Both sides here are incredibly lush, big and spacious with a huge bottom end, no smear and tons of energy
  • Extremely quiet for this title — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Cut from the same cloth as the band’s 1973 Deliver the Word LP, War’s 1975 Why Can’t We Be Friends? is a masterpiece in its scope and breadth.” – All Music, 4 Stars

Low Rider sounds AWESOME on this one. This is the kind of record you can take to any stereo store or audiophile friend’s house and bring their stereos to their knees. Audiophile systems are rarely designed to play this kind of music at the levels it demands, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. Records like this are the challenge we audiophiles need to make our stereos even better. When the music is this good it’s worth the effort!

Tonality Is Key

Tonality is key to the sound of any Hot Stamper, and this is no exception. The vocals are rich and full — so important! — with airy extension on the percussion that brings out all the harmonics and gets them right to boot. (Proper tape hiss is a dead giveaway for that quality.) The sound of the cowbells and timbales driving so much of the beat here are about as well recorded as any I have heard on a pop record. If you need more cowbell, this record has what you’re looking for.

If you have a Hot Stamper pressing of course. If you don’t, you still get tons of bass; almost every copy had plenty of bottom end. It might not be as note-like or punchy as the bass on the best copies, or go as low, but it’s good enough to get the job done.

But what exactly is The Job that needs doing? What is the record trying to do? What happens on the killer pressings that doesn’t on all the others?

Shootouts Tell You What to Listen For

As usually happens in these shootouts, we learned that there’s so much more to this album than just big bass. What really makes this music come alive on the best copies was the result of two qualities we found were in fairly short supply:

(1) Richness 
(2) Transparency

When the vocals sound thin and pinched as they do on so many copies of this album, possibly the result of the grainy crap vinyl UA is infamous for, that sour sound takes all the fun out of the music. Many tracks have group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the guys sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color. These are not classically trained singers. These are guys who love their music, who make up in enthusiasm what they lack in polish. I say more power to them. Smoke ’em if you got ’em and turn it up!

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over. (Seriously; this album has a party atmosphere; it’s overflowing with fun energy. If you can’t play it loud enough to rock because the sound is fighting you with every click of the volume knob, what is the point of playing it all?)

Transparency and the Feeling of Reality

That’s one thing we learned from our shootout. The other was the importance of TRANSPARENCY. Of course this has to be a multi-miked, multi-tracked, overdubbed pop record — they don’t make them any other way — but it doesn’t have to FEEL like one.

When you get a good copy it feels like all these guys are live in the studio. They may have their own mics, and are certainly being placed artificially in the soundfield to suit the needs of the track (kick drum here, timbales over there), but the transparency of the killer pressings makes them sound like they are all in the same room playing together. You hear their grunts and laughter way back in the mix, just as if you were at one of their concerts. (Which, considering all the drums and percussion, must have been an absolute blast!)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Don’t Let No One Get You Down

This track has a fairly quiet intro, just guitar and bass, which is not exactly an ideal match with the UA vinyl that these original LPs are pressed on. There will always be some surface noise at the start, but once the rest of the band comes in, there’s so much going on that the surfaces are no longer much of a problem.

Lotus Blossom
Heartbeat
Leroy’s Latin Lament: Lonnie Dreams
The Way We Feel
La Fiesta
Lament

Side Two

Smile Happy
So
Low Rider
In Mazatlan
Why Can’t We Be Friends?

AMG Review

(By the way, we agree with practically every word of praise here. This guy is a fan and so are we!)

Cut from the same cloth as the band’s 1973 Deliver the Word LP, War’s 1975 Why Can’t We Be Friends? is a masterpiece in its scope and breadth. And, emerging as the last work the band would do for its longtime label, United Artists, it became a fitting swansong, powering up the charts and giving War its fourth and final number one hit. In recent years, the album has been overshadowed by the monstrously popular bass-beating and bright brass of its singular hit, “Low Rider.”

Indeed, the song would become the band’s signature theme, as the Latino street-cruiser jam quickly became a live set staple and, much later, was reinvigorated through sampling on songs by the Beastie Boys, Stereo MC’s, and Offspring. However, that one track, iconographic as it is, is by no means the only treat onboard Why Can’t We Be Friends? There are far more interesting and superb treats roiling in the wake of “Low Rider.” The snappy title track, which poses the question of the decade and, oddly, closes the album, is a feel-good thumper. Its bright brass punctuation and rakish vocals are wonderfully combined with an absolutely contagious reggae beat.

Then, add the doesn’t-get-much-better-than-that medley “Leroy’s Latin Lament.” Divided into four “songs,” the music swings from the smart vocal opening “Lonnie Dreams” to the effervescent Latin jam of “La Fiesta.” And, of course, where there’s War, there’s funk — this time on the seven-plus minute”Heartbeat.” Wrap it all up with the poignant ballad “Lotus Blossom,” and the result is pretty much perfection. Why Can’t We Be Friends? remains one of War’s truly outstanding efforts, and has become an integral part of the funk genre’s landscape. It also remains the nightcap of their finest hour. War’s ill-timed move to MCA changed the energy and focus of the band forever.

Flamenco Fever “Live Direct to Disc”

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

Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides, this is a Direct to Disc Demo Disc like nothing you’ve heard. The sound is breathtakingly real – you are there in the club with the guitarist and these dancers. If you have the power to drive big speakers, the dynamics and bass transients of this copy are going to rock your world, literally.

This is an INCREDIBLY RARE very nice looking M&K Realtime Direct-to-Disc LP that plays about as quietly as they ever do and has truly DEMO DISC sound. 

The sound is breathtakingly real. Years ago I dropped the needle on this record without paying attention to the volume level and when the dancers started pounding the floor, one of my woofers blew out! This record is about as dynamic as they come and has the kind of solid bass that few recordings that I’m aware of can lay claim to.

As an interesting side note, this album was recorded on location. The other M&K Direct to Disc record that I like was also recorded on location. Most of the M&K Direct to Discs were recorded in the showroom of the stereo store that Miller and Kreisel owned, which, like any showroom, was carpeted and draped. This is why almost all their records sound “dead”. This was their intention, of course. They wanted the sound to be “live” in your living room. I prefer to hear the kind of ambience that would be found in a real location, and so I have never been much of a fan of their label.

This record, however, gives you both that Direct Disc immediacy and freedom from distortion, as well as the live ambience of the location — the best of both worlds.

Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije at 45 RPM – An Audiophile Pressing to Shame Them All

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Prokofiev / Lt. Kije / Abbado

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

This Japanese 45 RPM remastering of our favorite recording of Prokofiev’s wonderful Lt. Kije Suite has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND. For starters, there are very few records with dynamics comparable to these. Since this is my favorite performance of all time, I can’t recommend the record any more highly. 

Most of what’s “bad” about a DG recording from 1978 is ameliorated with this pressing. The bass drum (drums?) here must be heard to be believed. We know of no Golden Age recording with as believable a presentation of the instrument as this.

The drum is clearly and precisely located at the back of the stage; even better, it’s as huge and powerful and room-filling as it would have been had you attended the session yourself. That’s our idea of hi-fidelity here at Better Records. (more…)

Harry James & His Big Band – The King James Version – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

This White Hot Stamper has the best side two we have ever heard! Side two fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few — very few — direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, the typical pressing of The King James Version leaves much to be desired. As a rule two areas are especially lacking: there is a noticeable lack of presence on most copies, causing the brass to get stuck in the speakers and lose its bite; and, every bit as bad, the sound is often just plain compressed, lacking energy and life. The musicians on most copies are just not giving it their all. 

But wait a minute. This is a direct disc. How can it be compressed, or lack transients? Aren’t those tape recorder problems that are supposed to be eliminated by the direct to disc recording process?

Maybe so, but there is some very strong evidence to the contrary, and this record is that evidence. Side two kills side one in the areas we described. Side one earned an A Plus grade, quite good, far better than average, but not in the same league as side two. But other side ones we’ve played have had plenty of energy and drive and jump out of the speakers sound, just not this one. It’s the pressing, not the recording.

Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which no doubt affect the sound. The album is pressed in three different countries: the United States, Japan and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the acetates and many, many stampers made from those mothers. (more…)