Demo Discs for Size and Space – Pop, Rock, Jazz, etc.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer / Self-Titled on Cotillion

More Emerson, Lake and Palmer

More Prog Rock

  • This vintage Cotillion pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – this Hot Stamper pressing makes the case that ELP’s debut is clearly one of the most POWERFUL rock records ever made
  • Spacious, rich and dynamic, with big bass and tremendous energy – these are just some of the things we love about Eddie Offord’s engineering work on this band’s albums
  • ANALOG at its Tubey Magical finest – you’ll never play a CD (or any other digital sourced material) that sounds as good as this record as long as you live
  • “Lucky Man” and “Take A Pebble” on this copy have Demo Disc Quality Sound like you won’t believe
  • If you are looking for a shootout winning copy, let us know – with such good music and sound, we hope to get another shootout going again soon
  • 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 Cotillion 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…)

Dave Brubeck – Time Out

More Dave Brubeck

Reviews and Commentaries for Time Out

  • This Six-Eye Stereo pressing boasts out of this world Demo Disc Sound – Time Out captures the ambience and huge space of Columbia’s studio like no other record has (with a little reverb thrown in for good measure)
  • A knockout pressing of Brubeck’s astonishingly well recorded Jazz Classic, a record that belongs in every audiophile’s collection
  • Early stereo LPs in clean condition like this one are getting awfully tough to find nowadays…
  • “Buoyed by a hit single in Desmond’s ubiquitous Take Five, Time Out became an unexpectedly huge success, and still ranks as one of the most popular jazz albums ever. That’s a testament to Brubeck and Desmond’s abilities as composers, because Time Out is full of challenges both subtle and overt — it’s just that they’re not jarring.”
  • If you’re a fan of Brubeck and company, this 1959 album belongs in your collection, along with quite a few others from the classic jazz era
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

(more…)

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?

(more…)

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.)

(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.

(more…)

Steely Dan – Gaucho

More Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Gaucho

  • This copy is guaranteed to handily beat any pressing of Gaucho you have ever played, especially the awful Ron McMaster Heavy Vinyl LP
  • This superb pressing has three-dimensional ambience, tubey richness, you-are-there immediacy, tight bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic on every track
  • 4 stars in the AMG, 4 1/2 in Rolling Stone, and one of this exceptionally well recorded band’s Three Best Sounding Albums – a true Must Own
  • “Despite its coolness, the music is quite beautiful. With its crystalline keyboard textures and diaphanous group vocals, ”Gaucho” contains the sweetest music Steely Dan has ever made.” New York Times
  • If you’re a Steely Dan fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1980 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1980 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

(more…)

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…)

Dick Schory – Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

  • Stunning sound throughout for this Living Stereo pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it
  • This incredible copy is just plain bigger, richer and clearer than any we can remember playing
  • Absolutely As Good As It Gets – it’s a real treat to hear such a crazy assortment of percussion instruments with this kind of amazingly clear, high-resolution sound!
  • If you’re a fan of percussion extravaganzas, this Living Stereo from 1958 is about as good as it gets
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, and rightfully so. It certainly can be a Super Disc, but only when you have the right pressing. This is one of the Demo Discs on the TAS List which truly deserves its status when, and only when, you have the right copy. (The typical copy is quite good, but it sure doesn’t sound like this.) Nothing else in our shootout could touch it. And it’s IN PHASE. Many copies are not.

(more…)

Dick Schory / Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp – Listen for a Sweetly Extended Top End

What to listen for you ask? Top end, plain and simple. It’s the RARE copy that really has the incredible extension of the side two we heard recently. The space, the clarity, the harmonic complexity — perhaps one out of ten copies will show you a side two like that.

The highs are so good on this record you can use it as a setup tool. Adjust your VTA, tracking weight and the like for the most natural and clear top end, then check for all the other qualities you want to hear. You may just find yourself operating on a higher sonic plane than you ever thought possible.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, and rightfully so. It certainly can be a Super Disc, but only when you have the right pressing. It’s a real treat to hear such a crazy assortment of percussion instruments with this kind of amazingly clear, high-resolution sound!

This is one of the Demo Discs on the TAS List which truly deserves its status when, and only when, you have a killer copy.

Polarity

Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp is yet another one of the many pressings we’ve discovered with reversed polarity on some copies.

Are audiophile reviewers or audiophiles in general listening critically to records like this? I wonder; I could not find word one about any polarity issues with this title, and yet we’ve played four or five copies with reversed polarity on side two. How come nobody is hearing it, apart from us?

We leave you, dear reader, to answer that question for yourself.

(more…)

Humble Pie – What Other Live Rock Record Sounds This Good?

One of the best — if not THE best — rock concert albums we have ever heard. Can you imagine if Frampton Comes Alive sounded like this? If you want to hear some smokin’ Peter Frampton guitar work from the days when he was with the band, this album captures that sound better than any of their studio releases, and far better than FCA on even the best copies.

Grungy guitars that jump out of the speakers, prodigious amounts of punchy deep bass, dynamic vocals and drum work — the best pressings of Rockin’ The Fillmore have more firepower than any live recording we’ve ever heard.

We know about quite a few records that rock this hard. We seek them out, and we know how to play them.

Who knew?  We didn’t, of course, until not that many years ago (2014 maybe?). But we are in the business of finding these things out. We get paid by our customers to find them the best sounding pressings in the world. It’s our job and we take it very seriously.

Did any audiophile reviewers ever play the album and report on its amazing sound? Not that we are aware of.

Do they have the kind of playback systems — the big rooms, the big speakers, the freedom from compression and artificiality — that are required to get the most from a recording such as this one?

Doubtful. Unlikely in the extreme even.

They don’t know how good a record like this can sound because they aren’t able to play it the way it needs to be played.

And when was the last time you read a review of a record that hadn’t just been reissued on Heavy Vinyl?

There was a time when audiophile reviewers wrote about exceptionally good sounding vintage pressings they had come across. Harry Pearson comes immediately to mind, but there were many others following his lead. Now they it seems none of them can be bothered. More’s the pity.

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

And One We Also Just Added to Our Rock & Pop Top 100 List

(more…)