Demo Discs for Dynamics

Roxy Music / Self-Titled

  • An excellent UK pressing of Roxy Music’s debut, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – this is some of the most dynamic sound the band achieved
  • Andy Hendriksen’s engineering (over the course of a week!) is superb in all respects – we think the best pressings of this first album reveal a recording that is superior to any other by the band
  • A Top 100 album, Roxy’s Masterpiece, and a Must Own Desert Island Disc of Glamorous Arty Rock
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Falling halfway between musical primitivism and art rock ambition, Roxy Music’s eponymous debut remains a startling redefinition of rock’s boundaries. Simultaneously embracing kitschy glamour and avant-pop, Roxy Music shimmers with seductive style and pulsates with disturbing synthetic textures.”

Folks, this is a true Demo Disc in the world of Art Rock. It’s rare to find a recording of popular music with DYNAMICS like these.

The guitar solo at the end of “Ladytron” rocks like you will not believe.

In both music and sound, this is arguably the best record the band ever made. Siren, Avalon and Country Life are all musically sublime, but the first album has the kind of dynamic, energetic, POWERFUL sound that their other records simply fail to show us. And we’ve played them by the dozens, so there’s a pretty good chance we will never find copies with the abundant richness and power we find here.

We hope you will agree with us that it was entirely worth the wait, as this album is a MASTERPIECE of Art Rock, Glam Rock and Bent Rock all rolled into one.

AMG calls Roxy Music the “most adventurous rock band of the early ’70s” and I’m inclined to agree with them. Roxy is certainly one of the most influential and important bands in my growth as a listener and audiophile, along with the likes of Supertramp, Ambrosia, 10cc, Steely Dan, Yes, Bowie and others, groups of musicians dedicated to exploring and exploding the conventions of popular music.

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801 – 801 Live

More Brian Eno

More Live Recordings of Interest

  • 801 Live IS BACK and rocks harder than ever on this early Island import copy with excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We shot out a number of other imports and this one had the presence, bass, and dynamics that were missing from most of the other copies we played, not to mention that LIVE ROCK and ROLL ENERGY that old records have and new records don’t
  • Recorded at Queen Elisabeth Hall in September 1976 – one of only three gigs the group (a side project of Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera) did over a two-month period
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This album marks probably one of the last times that Eno rocked out in such an un-self-consciously fun fashion, but that’s not the only reason to buy it: 801 Live is a cohesive document of an unlikely crew who had fun and took chances. Listeners will never know what else they might have done if their schedules had been less crowded, but this album’s a good reminder.”

801 Live ranks near the top of the list of my All Time Favorite Albums — a Desert Island Disc if ever there was one.

I stumbled across it decades ago and have loved it ever since. (It started when a college buddy played me the wildly original “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the album and asked me to name the tune. Eno’s take is so different from The Beatles version that I confess it took me an embarrassingly long while to catch on.)

What’s especially interesting about this copy is that we went crazy for it even though it did not have the best bass of the copies we played, which, as you will see below, clearly contradicts what we had previously written. We thought that the copies with the best bass had the best everything else too, but that was not what we heard this time around.

THIS copy got the music to work its magic, and it did it with most, but not all, of the bass of the best. Not sure how to explain it. Rules were made to be broken maybe?

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Steeleye Span / Commoners Crown – We Love Dynamic Choruses, and These Are Amazing!

More of the Music of Steeleye Span

Hot Stamper Albums with Huge Choruses

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that actually has actual, measurable, serious dynamic contrasts in its levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many songs . The second track on side two, Demon Lover, is a perfect example. Not only are the choruses noticeably louder than the verses, but later on in the song the choruses get REALLY LOUD, louder than the choruses of 99 out of 100 rock/pop records we audition. It sometimes takes a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically everything else you own is.

The sad fact of the matter is that most mixes for rock and pop recordings are much too safe. The engineers believe that the mixes have to be for the average (read: crap) stereo to be able to play the record.

We like when music gets loud. It gets loud in live performance. Why shouldn’t some of that energy make it to the record? It does of course, especially in classical music, but all too rarely even then.

We happened to do the shootout for Thick as a Brick the same week as Commoner’s Crown, and let us tell you, those are two records with shockingly real dynamics in the grooves of the best copies. If you like your music loud — which is just another way of saying you like it to sound LIVE — then the better copies of either album are guaranteed to blow your mind with their dynamic energy and power.

It’s the Engineer?

That can’t be a coincidence, can it? Well, it can, but in the case of these two albums it seems it isn’t. The engineering for both records was done by none other than Robin Black at Morgan Studios. Robin co-produced Commoner’s, takes the main engineering credit, and is solely credited with the mix. He is the sole engineer on TAAB (along with lots of other Tull albums, including Benefit and Aqualung).

Apparently he has no problem putting the dynamic contrasts and powerful energy of the live performance into his recordings and preserving them all the way through to the final mix. God bless him for it.

Thrills

We admit to being thrillseekers here at Better Records, and make no apologies for it. The better the system and the hotter the stamper, the bigger the thrill. It’s precisely the dynamic sound found on these two albums that rocks our world and makes our job fun. It makes us want to play records all day, sifting through the crap to find the few — too few — pressings with truly serious Hot Stamper sound. (There is, of course, no other way to find such sound, and, of course, probably never will be.)

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Tsuyoshi Yamamoto / Misty – Stick with the Real Japanese Pressings

More of Our Best Audiophile Recordings with Actual Audiophile Quality Sound

This is a highly recommended Three Blind Mice LP. We don’t like most Three Blind Mice albums, or jazz played by practically anyone who is not American. (Ever played Jazz at the Pawnshop? If so, did you enjoy your nap?)

But we like the music of Yamamoto well enough to recommend some of it. Midnight Sugar might actually be his most enjoyable album of them all.

The Heavy Vinyl versions are not as good, although the 45 RPM pressing probably comes the closest to the real Japanese pressing we review here. Anything pressed at RTI is rarely better than second rate and should be avoided if at all possible.

We almost never like records Made In Japan that were not recorded in Japan. There are of course a few exceptions.

This was the first Three Blind Mice recording I ever heard, over 20 [now close to 40] years ago. A fellow audiophile who went on to become sort of an audio guru for me (George Louis) played me this recording to demonstrate his stereo. It had to be the most dynamic piano recording I had ever heard in my life. 

Yamamoto likes to tinkle the keys very softly, and then really pound them. And the Three Blind Mice engineers were able to capture both the quiet tinkling because of the Japanese vinyl, and the full-on pounding because of the audiophile recording equipment they used. It was an ear-opening experience.

Over the course of the next year or two, I sold off my Fulton Premiers and my Audio Research Electronics, because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get Misty to sound like it did at George’s house. I realized that it takes better equipment than those companies were making back then to get the sound of that record right, and that put me on, to quote Cat Stevens, ”the road to find out.” (more…)

Supertramp – Breakfast In America

  • A truly superb recording with huge, powerful, dynamic sound – the Tubey Magical richness of these sides will have your jaw on the floor
  • A Top 100 title and True Demo Disc – turn it up and this recording gets LOUD like few rock records we’ve ever played
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The majority of the album consisted of tightly written, catchy, well-constructed pop songs, like the hits ‘The Logical Song,’ ‘Take the Long Way Home,’ and ‘Goodbye Stranger.'”

Turn it up good and loud and you will be amazed at how dynamic some of the guitar solos are.

We’ve just concluded another big shootout for Breakfast, the band’s biggest charting success, and once again we were blown away by just how good the best copies can sound – huge, spacious, punchy sound we can never get enough of around here. If you have big speakers a great copy will blow your mind, and it will probably blow your mind even if you don’t.

We are not the least bit ashamed to say that we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and a copy like this will certainly help to show you why. Drop the needle on Gone Hollywood, The Logical Song or Take The Long Way Home to hear how powerful this music can sound when you have a great pressing.

Most copies of this record are grainy, thin, shrill and aggressive. When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the highs are sweet and silky. This recording has plenty of top end, so if the highs aren’t correct it pretty much ruins the sound of the record. (more…)

The Who – Live At Leeds

More of The Who

Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

  • A hard-rockin’ copy – this British Track pressing boasts powerful DEMO DISC sound on both sides
  • The recording is huge and lively with startling dynamics and in-the-room-presence like nothing you’ve heard
  • Drums so solid, punchy and present they put to shame 99% of the rock records on the planet
  • Cited as the best live rock recording of all time by The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, the BBC Q magazine, and Rolling Stone. In 2003, it was ranked number 170 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Get ready to rock out, as this is one of the BEST SOUNDING live albums ever recorded. “Young Man Blues” on a copy such as this has drums that are so solid, punchy and present they positively put to shame the drum sound on 99 out of 100 rock records! Keith Moon lives on!

The bass is AMAZING on this record. Present vocals and clear guitars in both channels are key to the best copies such as this one. Most pressings do not get the guitars to jump out of the speakers the way the best can. Few copies get the highest highs and the lowest lows but this one had it going on from top to bottom.

The seven minute long “Magic Bus” that finishes out the side is The Who at their best. Rock fans will have a hard time finding a better sounding Who pressing than this one, on either side.

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Bud & Travis – …In Concert

More Folk Revival Music

This original Liberty Black and Rainbow Label LP has exceptionally quiet vinyl and very good sound.

About fifteen years ago, I played side one and thoroughly enjoyed it. These guys are very entertaining, especially their between song banter. What was surprising was how dynamic the vocals are on this recording. You would never hear a studio recording with these kinds of dynamics, I can tell you that.

Why does this 1960 recording of live folk music sound so good?

Well, Liberty was a label that tended to produce very good sounding records. We’ve played scores of them, and we did some shootouts for the ones that had music that could justify our high prices the high cost of doing all the time and effort required to find the best sounding copies.

But the most obvious reason this record has such good sound is that Ted Keep recorded it.

You don’t have to, but if you want this kind of sound quality, it pays to go back to the All Tube Recording and Mastering chains of the late ’50s and early ’60s. That is where you are most likely to find it.

If you’re a fan of live folk music, this album from 1960 surely belongs in your collection.

The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular – Our Favorite Record for Cartridge Setup

Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular just happens to be our favorite Test Disc, eclipsing all others in the areas of naturalness and difficulty of reproduction. Any tweak or new room treatment — we seem to do them almost weekly these days — has to pass one test and one test only — the Bob and Ray Test. 

This record has the power to help you get to the next level in audio like no other. Six words hold the key to better sound: The Song of the Volga Boatman.

For the purpose of mounting new carts, our favorite track is The Song of the Volga Boatman on Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular (LSP 1773). It’s by far the most difficult track we know of to get to sound right.

There are about twenty places in the music that we use as tests, and the right setting is the one that gets the most of them to sound their best. With every change some of the twenty will sound better and some will sound worse. Recognizing when the sound is the biggest, clearest, and most balanced from top to bottom is a skill that has taken me twenty years to acquire.

It’s a lot harder than it looks. The longer you have been in audio the more complicated it seems, which may be counterintuitive but comports well with our day-to-day experience very well.

All our room treatments and tweaks must pass The Bob and Ray Test as well. It’s the one record we have relied on more than any other over the course of the last year or two.

Presenting as it does a huge studio full of brass players, no record we know of is more dynamic or more natural sounding — when the system is working right. When it’s not working right the first thirty seconds is all it takes to show you the trouble you are in.

If you don’t have a record like that in your collection, you need to find one.

It will be invaluable in the long run. The copy we have is so good (White Hot, the best we have ever played), and so important to our operation here, that it would not be for sale at any (well, almost any) price.

The Bob and Ray Trombone / Trumpet Test

One of the key tests on Bob and Ray that keeps us on the straight and narrow is the duet between the trombone and the trumpet about half way through The Song of the Volga Boatman. I have never heard a small speaker reproduce a trombone properly, and when tweaking the system, when the trombone has more of the heft and solidity of the real instrument, that is a tweak we want to pursue. The trumpet interweaving with it in the right rear corner of the studio tests the transients and high frequency harmonics in the same section. With any change to the stereo, both of those instruments are going to sound better. For a change to be positive they must both sound better. (more…)

The Reiner Sound – A Demo Disc for Energy, Dynamics and Top End

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Music Conducted by Fritz Reiner

This review was written in 2010. I don’t think we have found a Reiner Sound as nice as this one since then.

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. 

I really don’t have the wattage to handle the explosively loud sections of these wonderful works, with their huge orchestral effects, dynamic contrasts that are clearly part of the composer’s intentions but ones that rarely make it from the concert hall to vinyl disc the way they do here. 

Second, there is simply an amazing amount of TOP END on this record. Rarely do I hear Golden Age recordings with this kind of ENERGY and extension up top. Again, it has to be some of the best I have heard recently.

This is of course one of the reasons the Classic reissue is such a disaster. With all that top end energy, Bernie’s gritty cutting system and penchant for boosted upper midrange frequencies positively guarantees that the Classic Reiner Sound will be all but unplayable on a proper system. Boosting the bass and highs and adding transistory harshness is the last thing in the world that The Reiner Sound needs.

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Sinatra – Swingin’ in ’61 with the Help of Billy May

Of the five records Sinatra released in 1961 (Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!!; Come Swing with Me!; Ring-a-Ding-Ding!; Swing Along with Me; and I Remember Tommy), this is clearly one of our favorites. (And by the way, what’s with all the exclamation marks?)

Billy May deserves much of the credit for the “swing” that’s all over the album. His band is jumpin’, and on the best pressings — such as this one — the sound conveys the energy with virtually none of the grit and hardness you hear on so many of Sinatra’s other albums (Sinatra at the Sands comes immediately to mind, but there are far too many others).

This is 1961, and tubes and ribbon mics are in charge of the live-in-the-studio proceedings. With a vintage original pressing such as this one, you hear the kind of sound they heard.

And if you play the record at ear-splitting levels you will hear even more of that sound. Can you imagine how loud this band was playing?

We were especially impressed with the large dynamic swings of the arrangements. And the fact that the best pressings never get aggressive even during their most dynamic passages.

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