Good Sounding Digital Recordings on Vinyl – Really?

Dire Straits – Love Over Gold

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  • This vintage British import boasts a STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated to an outstanding solid Double Plus (A++) side one – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The open, spacious soundstage, full-bodied tonality and Tubey Magic here are obvious for all to hear – huge, punchy, lively and rockin’ throughout
  • This killer Hot Stamper is far more natural than any other pressing you’ve heard – we guarantee it
  • “Certainly a quantum leap from the organic R&B impressionism of the band’s early LPs and the gripping short stories of Making Movies, Love Over Gold is an ambitious, sometimes difficult record that is exhilarating in its successes and, at the very least, fascinating in its indulgences.” – Rolling Stone
  • The sound may be heavily processed, but it works surprisingly well on the best sounding pressings (played at good, loud levels on big dynamic speakers in a large, heavily-treated room, of course)

This modern album (from 1982, which makes it 40 years old, but that’s modern in our world) can sound surprisingly good on the right pressing. On most copies, the highs are slightly grainy and can be harsh, not exactly the kind of sound that inspires you to turn your system up good and loud and really get involved in the music. I’m happy to report that both sides here have no such problem – they rock and they sound great loud.

We pick up every clean copy we see of this album, domestic or import, because we know from experience just how good the best pressings can sound. What do the best copies have? REAL dynamics for one. And with those dynamics, you need rock solid bass. Otherwise, the loud portions simply become irritating. (more…)

Yes – 90125

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  • An original German Atco import pressing that was doing practically everything right, earning killer Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Both of these sides are spacious, solid and dynamic with huge bass and analog richness that’s hard to find on this album
  • There’s tons of life and energy here and the vocals sound just right
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A stunning self-reinvention by a band that many had given up for dead, 90125 is the album that introduced a whole new generation of listeners to Yes… there’s nary a duff track on the album.”

I’m pleased to report that we can now add 90125 to our small list of ’80s albums that can sound excellent on the right pressing. Drop the needle on “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and we bet you’ll agree.

So many copies we played were full of that digital grit and grain that we hear on so many records from the era. This one is an entirely different story. It has wonderful analog qualities, with more richness and smoothness than most pressings.

The recording itself is outstanding: punchy and lively with an especially beefy bottom end, the kind a good rock record needs. But you would never know it by playing the average pressing you might pick up for five bucks at your local used record store. The typical copy of this record is pretty average sounding. Let’s face it: Every mastering mistake that CAN be made WILL be made sooner or later with mass-produced vinyl like this.

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Donald Fagen / The Nightfly

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

  • With two outstanding sides, this early pressing is guaranteed to be a huge improvement over anything you’ve heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Punchy and high-resolution, check out the cymbals and muted guitar on “I.G.Y.” — they sound Right On The Money here
  • 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: “A portrait of the artist as a young man, The Nightfly is a wonderfully evocative reminiscence of Kennedy-era American life; in the liner notes, Donald Fagen describes the songs as representative of the kinds of fantasies he entertained as an adolescent during the late ’50s/early ’60s, and he conveys the tenor of the times with some of his most personal and least obtuse material to date.”

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in exceptionally clean shape. Most of the will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG


Energetic and present, this copy is on a completely different level than most pressings. We just finished a big shootout for Donald Fagen’s solo effort from 1982 (just two years after Gaucho and the end of Steely Dan) and we gotta tell you, there are a lot of weak-sounding copies out there. We should know; we played them.

We’ve been picking copies up for more than a year in the hopes that we’d have some killer Hot Stamper copies to offer, but most of them left us cold. Flat, edgy and bright, like a bad copy of Graceland, only a fraction had the kind of magic we find on the better Steely Dan albums.

Both sides here are incredibly clear and high-rez compared to most pressings, with none of the veiled, smeary quality we hear so often. The vocals are breathy, the bass is clear and the whole thing is open and spacious.

How Analog Is It?

The ones we like the best will tend to be the ones that sound the most Analog. The more they sound like the average pressing — in other words, the more CD-like they sound — the lower the sonic grade. Many will not have even one Hot Stamper side and will end up in the trade-in pile.

The best copies sound the way the best copies of most Classic Rock records sound: tonally correct, rich, clear, sweet, smooth, open, present, lively, big, spacious, Tubey Magical, with breathy vocals and little to no spit, grit, grain or grunge.

That’s the sound of analog, and the best copies of The Nightfly have that sound.

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Fleetwood Mac – Mirage

  • An outstanding copy of Mirage, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from top to bottom
  • Most copies are washed-out, recessed, and lack weight, but this one will show you just how right this music can sound
  • The producing-engineering team of Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut return to provide top quality Rumours-like production
  • The album spent five weeks at Number One, probably on the strength of the amazingly fun single “Hold Me.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, a killer copy of their 1982 release might just need a home in your collection, and is the last Fleetwood Mac album that we would recommend to anyone but the most diehard fan
  • The albums to come later — Tango in the Night (1987). Behind the Mask (1990), Time (1995) and Say You Will (2003) — have never been offered as Hot Stamper pressings, a fact that is unlikely to change
  • Like Tusk, this is a Digital Recording that sounds great on vinyl

Mirage is a surprisingly good album if you can find the right copy.

The mids and highs can be really silky and sweet. The whole album has a glossy sound, clearly the influence of Lindsay Buckingham and his production team. The sound of Fleetwood Mac in this period is their doing, and with a phenomenal run of success that’s rarely been seen in pop history, it’s hard to argue with either their approach to the material or the sound. It strikes us that they used every track on the multi-track recorder and then some. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk

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  • The best sounding tracks are killer here – clear, rich, warm, full-bodied, with all the hallmarks of high-production-value analog throughout
  • These vintage pressings have the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s surely missing from whatever 180g reissue has been made from the 40 year old tapes (or, to be clear, a modern digital master copy of those tapes)
  • 5 stars: “McVie and Nicks don’t deviate from their established soft rock and folk-rock templates, and all their songs are first-rate… Because of its ambitions, Tusk failed to replicate the success of its two predecessors, yet it earned a dedicated cult audience of fans of twisted, melodic pop.”
  • If you’re a fan of Late-’70s pop, especially the kind with a harder edge, this is a Must Own from 1979 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1979 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here. (more…)

Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love

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  • On the better pressings you get something approaching the warmth and unforced clarity of analog we audiophiles crave
  • Some of Bruce’s best material is here: the title track and One Step Up are two of our favorites  
  • “Bruce Springsteen followed the most popular album of his career, Born in the U.S.A., with [a] low-key, anguished effort, Tunnel of Love.”

As is the case for the Bob Clearmountain mix of Born in the USA, the sound is not exactly vintage analog at its best, but at least on vinyl you get more analog qualities than would otherwise be possible. This is 1987, not 1967 and not even 1977. That said, the copies that earned the better grades were big and rich, with plenty of studio space and nicely present vocals.

Mostly what they do well is that they fill out the sound and take the edge off of it without losing musical information, dynamics or energy. Not many copies managed that feat but this one did. (more…)

Unreleased UHQR Test Pressing

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Good Sounding Digital Recordings on Vinyl – Really?

This is a UHQR JVC Test Record in a white generic jacket.

The RAREST of the RARE! I’ve never even seen one offered for sale!

For those of you who do not know the complete story, the UHQR — the ultra high quality record — was invented by JVC as a test to see how good the ultimate vinyl pressing could sound. It was thicker, had a longer pressing cycle, and other technological improvements, all with the goal of making the ultimate lp.

Mobile Fidelity produced limited editions of eight titles on UHQR, and both Reference and Telarc produced one each.

Apparently tests were done by others as well, because here we have some M&K recordings on UHQR. I believe they are not known to exist — until now. I bought them from M&K myself many years ago, along with some Flamenco Fevers and a box full of unplayed For Dukes. That was a good day for Better Records! (more…)

Billy Joel / Songs in the Attic

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  • Incredible Demo Disc live rock concert sound with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it
  • This one has it ALL — the sound has so many wonderful ANALOG qualities when you get a good copy — the hardness of the typical pressing just disappears, leaving surprisingly transparent and sweet sound on virtually every track
  • The WHOMP FACTOR here is off the scale. There are few studio recordings that have these kinds of dynamics. We forget how compressed most of them are. It takes a record like this to show you how much LIFE there is in LIVE MUSIC
  • “Songs in the Attic is an excellent album, ranking among his very best work… even if Joel wasn’t a celebrity in the early ’70s, his best songs of the era rivaled his biggest hits.” – 4 Stars

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Cowboy Junkies – Whites Off Earth Now!!

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  • An outstanding copy of the band’s debut album – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This pressing is well balanced, yet big and lively, with such wonderful clarity in the mids and highs as well as an open and spacious soundfield
  • “Whites Off Earth Now!! establishes the spare country blues sound that took the band to international fame with their next album.” – Wikipedia
  • “… it’s fascinating to hear their signature country-on-valium sound develop. Margo Timmins sings beautifully.”

This vintage Latent Recordings 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. (more…)

Rickie Lee Jones – Pirates

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  • STUNNING sound on both sides of this original Warner Bros. white label pressing of Jones’ sophomore release with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the only way to go
  • Lee Herschberg recorded Rickie’s debut as well as this follow-up, and both can sound surprisingly good
  • Although recorded digitally in 1981 using the 3M system, we found virtually no trace of digititis in the sound, which was unsurprising — because it happens a lot
  • 4 stars: “The musical and lyrical variety on the album is best represented in the album’s centerpiece, ‘Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue),’ where she moves through mood and tempo changes with ease. Although the songs may not immediately grab the listener, the lyrical and musical complexities ultimately make this album more rewarding with every listen.”

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