Demo Discs for Recordings that Are Doing It All

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee – A Long Way From Home

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More Classic Blues Albums

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  • A Long Way From Home makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this original Bluesway pressing
  • The sound here is shockingly good – the space is huge, the vocals and instruments clear, and there is a surprising amount of solid, note-like bass, the kind we did not expect to find on a Bluesway album from this era
  • Recorded over two days, this album is basically a live-in-the-studio affair – having neither the time nor the budget to screw up the sound of the band means that this album has the audiophile goods like practically no other Blues album you may have heard
  • 4 stars: “Solid, relaxed, rockin’ grooves are the hallmarks here with both artists in fine form.”

This original Bluesway pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, 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 maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the Best Sides of A Long Way From Home Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1969
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on A Long Way From Home

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Long Way From Home
Big Question
Rock Island Line
Night And Day
You Just Usin’ Me For A Convenience
Hole In The Wall

Side Two

Life Is A Gamble
Don’t Mistreat Me
Packin’ Up, Gettin’ Ready
Wailin’ And Whoopin’
B.M. Special

AMG 4 Star Review

Music from Brownie and Sonny’s latter period, circa March and September of 1969. This combines two albums (A Long Way from Home and I Couldn’t Believe My Eyes, both cut in two days) recorded for ABC-BluesWay, with the inclusion of a stray unreleased track, “Beggin’ You,” from the second session in September. The personnel stays basically the same for both sessions with excellent rhythm section support from drummer Panama Francis and bassist Jimmy Bond, while the September session also includes Earl Hooker on guitar. Solid, relaxed, rockin’ grooves are the hallmarks here with both artists in fine form.

The Best Jazz Record Ever Made, or the Best Jazz Record We’ve Ever Played?

Reviews and Commentaries for Somethin’ Else

I ran across this listing for Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else today, a record we raved about after doing a shootout for it years ago. Notice the careful hedging in the phrases with newly added italics:

The music here is amazing — as I’m sure most of you know, this is as much a showcase for Miles Davis as it is for Cannonball himself — but the good news for audiophiles is that it’s also one of the BEST SOUNDING BLUE NOTE ALBUMS we know of. When you hear it on a copy like this, it’s just about As Good As It Gets.

After doing this shootout in 2015 I would like to amend the above remarks for being much too conservative. The current consensus here at Better Records is that this album deserves to hold three — count ’em, three — somewhat related titles:

One, The Best Sounding Blue Note record we have ever played.

Two, The Best Sounding Jazz Record we have ever played.

Three, Rudy Van Gelder’s Best Engineering (based on the copies we played).

Our shootout winners had more energy, presence, dynamics and three-dimensional studio space than any jazz recording we have ever heard. The sound was as BIG and BOLD as anything in our audio experience.

Add to that a perfectly balanced mix, with tonality that’s correct from top to bottom for every instrument in the soundfield and you may begin to see why we feel that the best copies of this album set a standard that no other jazz record we’re aware of can meet.

Have we played every Blue Note, every RVG recording, every jazz record?

Of course not. We would never make such a claim.

All Well and Good, But Bear This in Mind

In our defense, who could possibly claim to have critically evaluated the sound of more jazz records than we have?

There are multitudes of music experts in the world of jazz. For jazz sound quality the numbers must surely be orders of magnitude smaller, and here is where we’re [pretty sure we have more than a few critically valuable advantages, to wit:

  • better playback equipment,
  • better record cleaning technologies,
  • stacks of pressings of the same title,
  • a scientifically blinded approach and, most importantly of all,
  • a single-minded purpose. 

All our efforts are in service to only one end, to find the pressing with the ultimate in analog sound.

(Naturally we leave the sound of CDs and other digital formats to others. Although CDs often outperform their modern Heavy Vinyl pressing equivalent — here is a case in point — we know our lane and and are happy to stay within it.) (more…)

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

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Reviews and Commentaries for Crime of the Century

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  • This UK copy of Supertramp’s Masterpiece will be very hard to beat
  • Ken Scott engineered this one to have Cinerama-sized height, width and depth to rival the best rock albums you’ve ever heard
  • Clearly their Magnum Opus, a great leap forward and a permanent member of our Rock & Pop Top 100 Album List
  • “The tuneful, tightly played songs, pristine clarity of sound, and myriad imaginative sound effects, helped create an album that Sounds magazine likened to ‘Genesis, The Beach Boys…a smattering of [Pink] Floyd.'”

CONDITION NOTES: A mark at the start of track two makes about twenty light to very light intermittent ticks, with a few a bit louder.

This is engineer Ken Scott’s (and the band’s) MASTERPIECE, but the average copy sure can’t get your blood pumping the way this one will. We’ve long recognized that Crime of the Century is a true Demo Disc in the world of rock recordings, a member of our Rock & Pop Top 100 list right from the get go.

When you hear the guitars come jumping out of your speakers on School or Bloody Well Right you can be sure that you’re playing a very special pressing of a very special recording indeed. (Yes, you need both. That’s why we’re here.) (more…)

Emerson, Lake & Palmer / Self-Titled – Out of This World Sound on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

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More Prog Rock

  • This vintage Island Pink Rim import pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • Spacious, rich and dynamic, with especially smooth, present vocals – this is what we love about Eddie Offord’s work here
  • ANALOG at its Tubey Magical finest – you’ll never play a CD that sounds this good as long as you live
  • Lucky Man and Take A Pebble on this copy have Demo Disc Quality Sound like you won’t believe
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Lively, ambitious, almost entirely successful debut album… [which] showcased the group at its least pretentious and most musicianly …there isn’t much excess, and there is a lot of impressive musicianship here.”

If you’ve got the system to play this one loud enough, with the low end weight and energy it requires, you are in for a treat. The organ that opens side two will rattle the foundation of your house if you’re not careful. This music really needs that kind of megawatt reproduction to make sense. This is bombastic prog that wants desperately to rock your world. At moderate levels it just sounds overblown and silly. At loud levels, it actually will rock your world.

This UK Island pink rim import pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely 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…)

Expanding Space Itself on The Dark Side of the Moon

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

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A few years back we played a copy with all the presence, all the richness, all the size and all the energy we ever hoped to hear from a top quality pressing of Dark Side of the Moon. It did it ALL and then some. The raging guitar solos (there are three of them) on Money seemed to somehow expand the system itself, making it bigger and more powerful than I have ever heard. Even our best copies of Blood Sweat and Tears have never managed to create such a huge space with that kind of raw power. This copy broke through all the barriers, taking the system to an entirely new level of sound.

Take the clocks on Time. There are whirring mechanisms that can be heard deep in the soundstage on this copy that I’ve never heard as clearly before. On most copies you can’t even tell they are there. Talk about transparency — I bet you’ve NEVER heard so many chimes so clearly and cleanly, with such little distortion on this track. (more…)

Ornette Coleman / Ornette N Tenor – Demo Disc Jazz Sound

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  • A big, bold, KILLER sounding Atlantic pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • This is one of the BEST sounding jazz albums we have played in many months – it is ALIVE with energy and dynamic contrasts
  • We had a superb original Plum and Orange Mono pressing and as good as that one may be, this stereo pressing takes the music to another level entirely (on big speakers at loud levels of course)
  • Compare this pressing to anything ever recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and you may be in for quite a shock
  • Engineered by the team of Tom Dowd and Phil Iehle, the men behind some of Coltrane’s most iconic, best sounding albums for Atlantic
  • 5 stars in Downbeat – Allmusic notes: “It’s an understatement to say that Ornette Coleman’s stint with Atlantic altered the jazz world forever, and Ornette on Tenor was the last of his six LPs (not counting outtakes compilations) for the label, wrapping up one of the most controversial and free-thinking series of recordings in jazz history… far ahead of its time.

A Big Speaker Record

Let’s face it, this is a BIG SPEAKER recording. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It demands to be played LOUD. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended if you play it at moderate levels.

This is also the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Systems driving Big Dynamic Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound that I can enjoy. Anything less is just not for me.

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Two of Robin Black’s Engineering Masterpieces

More Jethro Tull

Albums Engineered by Robin Black

Recordings with Exceptionally Tubey Magical Guitars

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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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Bernstein – The Music of Leonard Bernstein / Rogers

More music written or performed by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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  • A STUNNING pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – a true Orchestral Demo Disc from 1961
  • As I write this, dollar for dollar this is probably the best sound for the money on the site
  • The Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” sound superb here – big, rich and Tubey Magical
  • The performances are superb – energetic as befits most of the music, yet lyrical when the score calls for it
  • Vibrant orchestrations, top quality sound and fairly quiet surfaces combine for an astounding listening experience
  • Big speakers and loud levels are the sine qua non for the proper reproduction of this album

This London Phase 4 British import has some of the most SPECTACULAR sound I have ever heard reproduced from disc. The sound is so BIG and BOLD that it handily puts to shame 95% or more of all the Golden Age Shaded Dogs, London Bluebacks, Mercury Living Presence’s, EMI’s and Decca’s we’ve ever played. If we had a Classical Top 100 list, this record would belong in a Top Ten taken from it, right near the top judging by what I heard when I played it.

If you have a system with the speed, power, and size to play this record properly (yes, you will need all three and a whole lot more), it’s hard to imagine it would not qualify as the best-sounding orchestral recording you’ve ever heard.

Demo Disc barely begins to do it justice. What sound. What music. What a record!

Side two is where the some of the best orchestral action can be found, and it is presented here with SPECTACULAR AUDIO FIDELITY the likes of which you may have never experienced. (more…)

Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners

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Reviews and Commentaries for Songs for Beginners

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  • With two amazing Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, this original pressing has the analog magic in its grooves
  • We love the All Analog Tubey Magical sound of the recording, especially on a copy as rich and full-bodied as this one
  • Arguably the best of the solo CSN albums – a founding member of our Top 100 Rock and Pop List and, with grades like these, a True Demo Disc
  • 4 1/2 stars: “From the soaring “I Used to Be a King” through the gossamer “Simple Man” to the wah-wah-laden “Military Madness,” the record is filled with gorgeous melodies, flawless singing, and lyrical complexities that hold up decades later.”

When you hear Chicago here you will not believe how cinematic the sound is! It’s everything we love about analog and then some.

Most of the credit must go to the team of recording engineers, led here by the esteemed Bill Halverson, the man behind all of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young albums. Nash was clearly influenced by his work with his gifted bandmates, proving with this album that he can hold his own with the best of the best. Some songs (We Can Change The World, Be Yourself) are grandly scaled productions with the kind of studio polish that would make Supertramp envious. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better.

Others (Sleep Song, Wounded Bird) are quiet and intimate. Their subtlety is highlighted by the big productions surrounding them. This is the rare album in which every aspect of the production, from the arrangements to the final mix, serves to bring out the best qualities in the songs, regardless of scale. (more…)

Ramping Up the Horsepower of The Cars Like Crazy

More of The Cars

More Records that Sound Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

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The best copies must have one key ingredient that we’ve discovered is absolutely essential if this groundbreaking New Wave album is to come to life — a huge, spacious soundstage.

Some copies are huge; others, not so much. The effect of these size differentials is ENORMOUS. The power of the music ramps up like crazy — how could this recording possibly be this BIG and POWERFUL? How did it achieve this kind of scale? You may need twenty copies to find one like this, which begs the question: why don’t the other 19 sound the way this one does? The sound we heard has to be on the master tape in some sense, doesn’t it? Mastering clearly contributes to the sound, but can it really be a factor of this magnitude?
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