Demo Discs for Tubey Magic

Eagles – Desperado

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  • Wonderfully rich and smooth throughout – both sides earned Double Plus (A++) grades for their crazy good Tubey Magical sound
  • Clean, clear and dynamic, this copy has huge amounts of bass and tremendous space around the guitars and voices
  • Play this pressing against the average copy for a good laugh – the differences will be anything but subtle 
  • An outstanding Glyn Johns recording (with TAS List credentials) that is nothing less than jaw-dropping on a copy as good as this one

This early pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison

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The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison

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  • These killer pressings boast stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on the other three sides 
  • The phenomenally talented Bill Porter recorded many of Orbison’s classic songs from the early ’60s that are found on this compilation
  • All four sides here sound the way you want them to, with richness, space and Tubey Magic to die for
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… no one conveys pain and longing more sublimely or succinctly than Roy Orbison. But his songs are also masterpieces of production: so technically precise that his deceptively simple tunes and lush melodies flow even more smoothly behind his desperate baritone croon and quivering falsetto.”

For us audiophiles, both the sound and the music found here are positively enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good ’60s All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy may be just the album for you. (more…)

Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs

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  • With Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this Six-Eye Columbia pressing was one of the better sounding from our most recent shootout
  • This copy is amazingly clear and open, superior to most in that regard, with fairly smooth and rich vocals to boot 
  • Is the original Six Eye stereo the only way to go on this record? We discuss the subject in detail below
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The single most influential album of Western songs in post-World War II American music. The longevity of the album’s appeal is a result of Marty Robbins’ love of the repertory at hand and the mix of his youthful dynamism and prodigious talent…”

Two excellent Double Plus (A++) sides, with the kind of ’50’s Tubey Magical Analog Sound that’s been lost to the world of recorded music for decades — decades I tell you! Nobody can manage to get a recording to sound like this anymore and it seems clear to us that no one can remaster a recording like this nowadays, if our direct experience with more than hundred such albums counts as evidence.

Albums such as this live and die by the quality of their vocal reproduction. On this record Mr. Marty Robbins himself will appear to be standing right in your listening room, along with the other other musicians on the sessions of course.

Transparency and Tubey Magic are critical to the sound of the arrangements and you will find both in abundance on these sides.

Each of the huge studios the music was recorded in are captured faithfully here. The height, width and depth of the staging are extraordinary. We are not big soundstage guys here at Better Records, but we can’t deny the appeal of the three-dimensional space to be found on a recording as good as this.

This LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real person singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 58 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Copies with rich lower mids did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural ambience and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to pressings from and any era and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation. Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear a copy that sounded so open and clear. And how many even dedicated audiophiles would have more than one or two clean original copies with which to do a shootout?

One further point needs to be made: most of the time these very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different – and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.

A Shocking Finding

It turns out that some copies of Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs on the later red label can actually sound surprisingly Tubey Magical, especially on side two. In fact we heard a red label side two that was even more rich than the best 360s (but not the best Six Eye pressings; those kill).

Since the person listening to the record has no idea what the actual label is of the record being evaluated — which is about as close an approximation of the Scientific Method as we can manage around here — it was very surprising to hear such glorious Tubey Magical Richness and Sweetness come from such an unexpected source.

A good reason not to avoid later pressings and reissues absent plenty of evidence of their inferiority.

And a good reason to judge your records by playing them whenever possible.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Big Iron Cool Water 
Billy the Kid 
A Hundred and Sixty Acres 
They’re Hanging Me Tonight 
The Strawberry Roan

Side Two

El Paso 
In the Valley 
The Master’s Call 
Running Gun 
Little Green Valley 
Utah Carol

AMG Review

The single most influential album of Western songs in post-World War II American music, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs touched a whole range of unexpected bases in its own time and has endured extraordinarily well across the ensuing four decades.

The longevity of the album’s appeal is a result of Marty Robbins’ love of the repertory at hand and the mix of his youthful dynamism and prodigious talent that he brought to the recordings, and the use of the best music production techniques of the era.

Add to that the presence of a pair of killer original songs that were ready-made singles, “El Paso” and “Big Iron,” and a third, “The Master’s Call,” that was startlingly personal, and the results are well-nigh irresistible.

Court and Spark – Joni’s Best Sounding Record

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides!
  • The sound is rich, warm and natural with wonderful transparency, ambience and loads of Tubey Magic
  • One of our very favorite Joni albums here at Better Records, and probably her Best Sounding Album
  • “[A] remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz … the music is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last.” – AMG 5 Stars

Stunning sound for this White Hot Stamper! Court and Spark deserves to be heard with all the clarity, beauty and power that only the best Hot Stamper pressings can convey.

What you hear is the sound of the real tape; every instrument has its own character, because the mastering is correct and the vinyl — against all odds — managed to capture all (or almost all; who can know?) of the resolution that the tape had to offer.

Tubey Magic Is the Key to Court and Spark (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme – A Demo Disc for Tubey Magical Voices and Guitars

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  • A stunning Triple Plus (A+++) side two backed with a solid Double Plus (A++) side one – a remarkably good sounding early pressing
  • This Columbia 360 is incredibly big and present, with excellent clarity, wonderfully breathy vocals and low levels of spit (the result of clean cutting)
  • A Demo Disc for Tubey Magical voices and guitars, as well as a longtime Better Records Top 100 album
  • 4 1/2 stars Allmusic: “[I]t is an achievement akin to the Beatles’ Revolver or the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, and just as personal and pointed as either of those records at their respective bests.”

More superb sound from the legendary CBS 30th street studios in New York!

Turn up the volume, turn down the lights, and you’ll have one of the best — if not THE best — folk duos of All Time performing right there in your listening room for you. The sound is open, spacious, and transparent with breathy vocals and unusually low levels of spit. The strings are more dynamic than we’re used to hearing and the bottom end has a really nice weight to it. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – Strangers In The Night – What to Listen For

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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 the album.

What to listen for you ask? The superb engineering of LEE HERSCHBERG and EDDIE BRACKETT! The sound is, in a word, luscious.

Man, this record has more TUBEY MAGIC than any Sinatra record I can remember playing.

Find me a Sinatra CD, any Sinatra CD, that sounds like this and I will eat it.

If you want to know what the best sounding Sinatra records sound like, this is your chance. Folks, in my opinion it simply does not get any better than a killer Hot Stamper pressing of Strangers In The Night. (more…)

Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo Is Crazy Tubey Magical

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  • KILLER sound from start to finish: Triple Plus on side two, nearly that good (A++ to A+++) on side one 
  • DEMO DISC QUALITY – full-bodied, rich, spacious, BIG and PRESENT, with practically zero smear on the horns (nice!
  • The Tubey Magical keyboards found on the title cut are really something to hear, especially on this copy
  • The Grand Wazoo now gets my vote as the best sounding record Zappa ever made (along with Absolutely Free)

Wow – big, present and clear, with lots of lovely studio space, yet full-bodied. These sides about as right as any we’ve ever heard.

As noted above, the Tubey Magical keyboards at the start of The Grand Wazoo are amazing sounding here. How Zappa ever decided to go digital when he managed to record so well in analog (from time to time, let’s be honest) is beyond me.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience. (more…)

Martin Denny’s Quiet Village – Our Shootout Winner from Way Back

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

This Superb sounding Hot Stamper copy of Quiet Village has a lot in common with the other Bachelor Pad / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Esquivel, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Arthur Lyman and others.

But c’mon, nobody really buys these records for the music (although the music is thoroughly enchanting). It’s all about the Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation, the wacky 3-D sound effects (of real birds and otherwise) and the heavily percussive arrangements. In all of these areas and more this record does not disappoint.

If you’re an audiophile, both the sound and the music are crazy fun. If you want to demonstrate just how good 1959 All Tube Analog sound can be, this is the record that will do it! (more…)

Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s Co-Masterpiece – Tumbleweed Connection

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last on this Elton John classic
  • The overall sound here is incredibly big, rich, spacious and dynamic with plenty of presence and bottom end weight
  • An incredible recording and longtime member of our Top 100 — our pick for Elton’s very best music and sound
  • 5 stars: “….their most ambitious record to date… A loose concept album about the American West… draws from country and blues in equal measures…”

Superb Music and Sound 

This has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a Top Ten spot on our Top 100 list. Engineered by Robin Geoffrey Cable at Trident, there is no other Elton John recording that is as big and powerful as Tumbleweed. (more…)

Contemporary Tube Versus Transistor Tradeoffs

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In some ways yes, in some ways no, and we are happy to lay it all out for you based on the critical listening we undertook recently. Here’s how we weighed the tradeoffs in the sound of the originals versus that of the reissues, with VTA advice to follow. 

This superb sounding ORIGINAL Black Label Contemporary pressing of Benny Carter’s swingin’ jazz quartet is the very definition of a top jazz stereo recording from the late ’50s mastered through an all tube chain.

There’s good extension on the top end for an early pressing, with TONS of what you would most expect: Tubey Magic and Richness. If that’s what you’re looking for, this copy has got it!

We prefer the later pressings in most ways, but this record does something that no later pressing we have ever played can do — get Benny’s trumpet to sound uncannily REAL. If you want to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends what no CD (or modern remastered record) can begin to do, play side two of this copy for them. They may be in for quite a shock. (more…)