Engineers

At Ease With Coleman Hawkins – Another Triumph for Rudy Van Gelder

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This 1960 Saxophone Ballad session has to be seen as yet another recording triumph for Rudy Van Gelder. The best pressings of these OJC reissues from 1989 sound like the vintage jazz albums they emulate, and sometimes they even beat the originals at their own Tubey Magical game. They can be every bit as rich, sweet and spacious as their earlier-pressed brethren in our experience.

In the case of At Ease with Coleman Hawkins, we simply have never seen an original copy clean enough to buy, so we have no reference for what an original would sound like.

More Coleman Hawkins

But, having critically auditioned literally hundreds and hundreds of vintage jazz records over the course of the last few years, we’re pretty confidant we know what they are supposed to sound like.

And they sound just like the best copies of this very pressing.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

The best copies are rich and tubey; many pressings were thin and modern sounding, and for that they would lose a lot of points. We want this record to sound like something RVG recorded in 1960, and the best copies give you that sound, without the surface noise and groove damage the originals doubtless have to offer.

Some copies have much more space; some are more present, putting the musicians right in the room with you; some are more transparent, resolving the musical information much better than others, letting you “see” everyone in the studio clearly. Some have more rhythmic drive than others. On some the musicians seem more involved and energetic than they do on the average pressing.

The copies that do all these things better than other copies are the ones that win our shootouts.

Miles Davis once said: “When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads.” 16 out of 16 customers on Amazon give this album Five Stars – when have you ever seen such a thing?

COLEMAN HAWKINS

Coleman Randolph Hawkins, nicknamed Hawk and sometimes “Bean”, was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. One of the first prominent jazz musicians on his instrument, as Joachim E. Berendt explained: “there were some tenor players before him, but the instrument was not an acknowledged jazz horn”. While Hawkins is strongly associated with the swing music and big band era, he had a role in the development of bebop in the 1940s.

Fellow saxophonist Lester Young, known as “Pres”, commented in a 1959 interview with The Jazz Review: “As far as I’m concerned, I think Coleman Hawkins was the President first, right? As far as myself, I think I’m the second one.” Miles Davis once said: “When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads.”

Wikipedia

MORE RECORDINGS BY RUDY VAN GELDER

MORE RECORDINGS FROM 1960

The Doors – L.A. Woman – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

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

The first White Hot Stamper version of L.A. Woman to EVER hit the site! This is a 2-pack set with a Triple Plus (A+++) copy for side one and a Double Plus (A++) copy for side two. The sound here goes DRAMATICALLY beyond the average copy — huge, super lively and very rich.

Engineered by the man responsible for the amazing sound on The Doors’ albums, BRUCE BOTNICK.

More of The Doors

We’ve been struggling with this album for YEARS with practically nothing to show for it until very recently. Most copies aren’t even as good as the CD, and just finding clean copies that have stampers with any potential has become incredibly difficult. Both of these copies have one real killer of a side and one that just doesn’t cut it. (The flipside of the Triple Plus side one is actually decent, but we wanted to pair it with the better side two we found to create a monster of a 2-pack.)

Only a small handful of Hot Stamper copies have ever hit the site and none of them have rated as highly as this. The last time we got around to this shootout was two years ago, which should tell you something about how hard the right pressings are to come by. And make no mistake — the less-than-right pressings are often DREADFUL sounding. We’ve been looking for great L.A. Woman sound on vinyl for decades and it took us until relatively recently to have anything to show for it.

More Shootout Winners from 2016

The Graceland Remastering Disaster Part 2

 

Analogplanet Visits Sterling Sound and Interviews Mastering Engineer Ryan K. Smith

The interviewer apparently does not know how bad the new version sounds, but we had no trouble recognizing its awfulness here at Better Records and, as a public service, set about  describing what we heard on our site.

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from? Having played at least 50 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded very much like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can’t say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing?

More Graceland

Well, in favor of that proposition I guess you could say it sounds less like a CD now. On the other side of the ledger, it now sounds a great deal more like a bad LP.

We listen to piles of pressings of Graceland regularly. We know what the album generally sounds like, the range from bad to good, and we know what qualities the very best copies must have in order to win one of our shootouts.

Above all the one thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals. The best of the best copies have all these qualities, but the one quality any good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s good about the sound of the record. Without clarity the music doesn’t even work.

The new version has been “fixed”. It got rid of all that pesky grit and grain and CD-like sound from the original digital mix by heavy-handedly equalizing them away.

Cut the top, cut the upper mids, boost the lower mids and upper bass and voila – now it’s what Graceland would have sounded like had it been all analog from the start, AAA baby!

Or at least analog for those who don’t know what good analog sounds like.

But it never was all analog, and trying to make it sound that way just ruins the one quality that it actually had going for it — clarity.

VTA

You can adjust your VTA and other table settings until you’re blue in the face, you’ll never get this pressing to sound right, and you’ll certainly never get it to sound very much like any Sterling original pressing I’ve ever heard.

The digital spit and grit is still there, under the darker EQ. And now it’s even worse — Simon’s voice has a thick, dull blanket over it, but you can still hear the spit underneath it.

You could probably take the CD and equalize it to sound like this record. But what would be the point?

The Bright Side

Well, perhaps there is a point to this equalization madness.

The CD already exists. It has a sound.

The original record has a sound too, and it’s a fairly common LP in the used bins. You could buy two or three for not that much money and try to find one you like better than the vinyl version you probably already own.

Or, dissatisfied with the sound of the original records and CDs above, and not in the market to spend hundreds of dollars on a good copy from us, you could look at the new Heavy Vinyl pressing as another option, a different take, a new approach, something along those lines.

Just don’t think that by doing so you’re going to hear Graceland the way Paul Simon, Roy Halee, or the folks at Sterling wanted you to hear it.

They produced millions of copies that mostly sound one way, and now some fellows — at least one of whom was involved with the new project, to be fair, but it was 40 years ago(!), and it’s fair to point that out too, right? — some new fellows have produced a few thousand copies that sound another way.

It’s clear to us who got it right, but based on what I’ve been reading in preparation for writing this commentary, the audiophile reviewers and at least some of the audiophile public at large see it quite differently.

Our Offer

We are more than happy to let you decide the issue for yourself. Rather than throwing up our hands and saying “we give up”, we actually would like to help you make an informed decision.

To that end we will happily send you our copy of the Heavy Vinyl version along with your purchase of any Hot Stamper of Graceland on the site. Play them head to head and let the chips fall where they may.

The only thing we ask is that you return it to us so the next person who wants to compare the two can do so. (Assuming you like the Hot Stamper better of course. If you don’t, send them both back for a full refund, including the domestic shipping. No, really, we insist.)

 

Jobim and Ramone

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

Credit engineer PHIL RAMONE for correctly capturing the sound of every instrument here: the guitars, piano, flutes, strings, drums, percussion instruments — everything has the natural timbre of the real thing. I used to think this recording erred on the bright side, but not the Hot Stamper copies. They are tonally Right On The Money.

More Antonio Carlos Jobim

When the balance lacks lower midrange the sound gets lean, which causes the strings to seem brighter than they really are, a not uncommon problem with some of the pressings we heard.

We had quite a batch of these to play, including imports, originals, reissues (all stereo), and one lone mono, which was so ridiculously bad sounding we tossed it right out of the competition and into the trade pile.

For those of you playing along at home, we are not going to be much help to you here in finding your own Hot Stampers. Every version had strengths and weaknesses and all are represented in the three listings we are putting up today.

AGAIG Side One!

The sound of this side one blew our minds — no other copy could touch it. So open and airy, yet with real weight to the piano and a clear and strong bass line, this copy did EVERYTHING right. The strings are very much part of the ensemble on this album, and getting good string tone, with just the right rosiny texture, the least amount of smear, freedom from shrillness or hardness — this is not easy to do. On the strings, this copy KILLED.

Side two was quite good at A+ to A++, but we found other copies that bested it, including one Triple Plus that was in a league of its own. Even so, this copy on side two would be hard to beat without ten or more carefully cleaned pressings to choose from. At 4 1/2 pluses total, no other copy earned as high a rating. It is the official champion for this go around.

His Best Album

I’m a HUGE fan of Jobim’s music. In my opinion, based on my admittedly limited knowledge of his work, this is the best album he ever made. If you find yourself loving these syncopated beats, you owe it to yourself to check out Sergio Mendes’ music. He did wonderful arrangements of many of Jobim’s songs, and the sound (at least on the Hot Stamper pressings) is out of this world! Astrud Gilberto does wonderful versions too, but her records are very difficult to find in saleable condition. Believe me, we’ve tried.

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The Real Stars of Windy

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See all of our Association albums in stock

The sound of the sixties will fill your room like never before — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with layers upon layers of depth. You would be very hard pressed to find a pop rock recording from 1967 that sounds as good as a Hot Stamper Insight Out. (Sgt. Pepper comes to mind, but what else?) Can you imagine the Mamas and the Papas or The Jefferson Airplane with this kind of rich, sweet, open, textured, natural, tonally correct sound quality?

The midrange is pure Tubey Magic! If you have the kind of system that brings out that quality in a recording, you will go wild over this one. In fact it’s so good, it made me appreciate some of the other songs on the album which I had previously dismissed as filler. When you hear them sound this good, you can actually enjoy them.

Hal, Joe and Bones

The real stars of Windy (and the album itself) are Hal Blaine and Joe Osborne, the famous session drummer/ bass player team, who create the driving force behind these songs. Osborne’s web site puts Windy front and center as the first track demonstrating what a top rhythm section can do for a pop song. This whole album can be enjoyed simply for the great drum and bass work, not to mention the sound that both of those instruments are given by the pop recording master Bones Howe.

He produced and engineered the show here; Bones is a man who knew his way around a studio as well as practically anybody in the ’60s. He’s the one responsible for all the tubey magic of the recording. That’s his sound. Those of you who appreciate that sound will find much to like here.

Bouncing Tracks

Never My Love is clearly the best sounding track on the album. Those of you with better front ends will be astonished at the quality of the sound. Windy also sounds excellent, but I hear some sub-generation harmonic distortion, probably caused by bouncing down some of the tracks to make room for others.

This is the era of the four track machine, and when four of the tracks are used up they are bounced down to one track, making available three new tracks. Some of the albums from this era — the Mamas and the Papas come to mind — have multiple bounces, three and four deep, which accounts for the distortion that you hear all through their recordings. The two-track finished master might have upwards of five tape generations or more on some instruments or vocal parts.

We Do The Work So You Don’t Have To

Let’s face it: if you find this record in a record store it’s going to be $10 or less, which is what we paid for most of the copies here. But they’re usually noisy and dull sounding. You really have to work at it to find a copy that sounds like this one. Or, better yet, pay us to do that work for you by just buying this one.

The Master of Tubey Magical Pop Recording, Mr. BONES HOWE.

 

ROY DUNANN and HOWARD HOLZER in 1957 are hard to beat

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The piano sounds uncannily lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom. I can’t think of many records off the top of my head that get a better piano sound than this one.

Both sides are rich and Tubey Magical in the right way, because they’re still clear and reproduce the space of the room.

Warmth turned out to be key to the sound of the best copies. When the piano sounds warm and smooth everything else in the recording seems to fall into place. That was the problem with the OJC pressing we played — we found it to be a bit on the thin and brittle side, not remotely the right sound for a vintage Contemporary recording.

With tight, deep bass and an extended top, both sides are analog at its best.

Like we said, ROY DUNANN and HOWARD HOLZER in 1957 are hard to beat.

Some Amazing Jazz Piano Recordings Currently on the Site

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Triple Plus on side one, Double Plus on side two, this is the best copy of Silver’s 1957 classic we’ve ever heard

The last copy to hit the site went up in 2006 – clean Horace Silver records in stereo with the right stampers and good sound are hard to find!

Rich and solid, this is the kind of sound that makes us sit up and take notice – Thanks RVG!

“All of Silver’s Blue Note quintet recordings are consistently superb and swinging…”

I chanced upon a clean copy of this album in a store last year. When I got home with it I found I loved the music and loved the sound. I then went about buying them up as fast as I could, returning something on the order of half the copies I was sent: some for scratches, some for the wrong labels, some for being mono — you never know what you’re going to get when you order records online! (Except from us of course. Unless something goes terribly wrong you will always get a good sounding record from us.)

RVG in ’57

The best copies are just bigger, fuller and more present than others. The sound is natural and REAL, with exceptional space and see-through transparency, something that practically no heavy vinyl modern pressing we’ve ever played can reproduce.

Classic Records remastered the album, Music Matters remastered it, and there are plenty of copies of both out there. If you have either one, do yourself a favor and order up this copy. We’re pretty sure you will be amazed at how much musical involvement you will find to be missing from the record you have.

Horace Silver Is a Jazz Genius

We love his albums, but you can count on two hands all the Hot Stamper pressings of his records that have made it to our site. Good pressings in clean condition go for big bucks, and most of the ones we spring for have either bad sound or condition issues such as inner groove distortion that make them unsuitable for our customers.

Forgotten Sound
Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These records are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.

75 More Listings for Jazz Piano

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Somethin’ Else

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COMMENTS TAKEN FROM A RECENT HOT STAMPER SHOOTOUT

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.

Setting the Record for Straight Ahead Jazz

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? We would never say such a thing (nor should anyone else).

However, 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 sure we have more than a few critically valuable advantages: better playback equipment, better record cleaning, stacks of copies 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 ultimate in analog sound. (Naturally we leave the sound of CDs and other digital formats to others.)

Somethin’ Else Indeed

There’s not much we can say about this music that hasn’t been said (please check out the reviews and liner notes in this very listing). It’s obviously one of the most beloved Blue Notes of all time, and with good reason. The wonderful reading of Autumn Leaves is a major highlight for us, but you could really pick any track here and make a case for it.

We consider this a Miles Davis album as much as a Cannonball Adderley album; Miles picked out most of the material and is a featured soloist throughout. The next album Miles recorded was a little number called Kind Of Blue that I imagine some of you might be familiar with…

We had a grand ol’ time shooting out various pressings of this top Blue Note title and are pleased to report amazing sound for this album is not out of reach. We’ve heard more than our fair share of tubby, groove-damaged originals and smeary, lifeless reissues over the years, but this White Hot Stamper blew them all away!

This is a record we could play every week and never tire of. I just don’t think jazz music gets much better than this.

 

 

Making Progress in Audio with Supertramp

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The story behind this record is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

We wrote up this album in 2005 as a Hot Stamper Stalled listing; we just couldn’t find anything that really sounded right to us. The imports were a smeary mess, the half-speed was and is a complete joke (we used to like it but that just goes to show how wrong you can be), and the domestic copies were so grainy and phony-sounding we knew there was no way to make the case that this was some sort of audiophile recording.

Could it be that when Geoff Emerick took over the recording duties from his friend Ken Scott, who had engineered the two previous albums, both of which are stunning — Crime of the Century and Crisis? What Crisis? — he had simply dropped the ball and done a bad job? How could that be possible?

This is the man responsible for some of the greatest pop recordings ever made — practically the entire Beatles catalog for starters, and plenty more besides.

As is so often the case, it takes two things to show you the error of your ways. One is the right stereo. It has to be able to show you what is really on the record you’re playing, and this means a high quality front end; the best electronics, speakers and all the rest, not to mention a good room, treatments, clean electiricity and too many other things to get into here.

The second is the right record, properly cleaned of course. You may have put together the best stereo in the world but that won’t keep a bad pressing from making this music sound awful, and the world seems to be full of bad pressings of Even in the Quietest Moments. And when we say “the world”, we mean exactly that: every country in the world produced bad pressings of this album. It man come as a big of a shock to most audiophiles, but as far as we can tell only one country produced good ones: the good old U S of A. (For those of you who have purchased a Hot Stamper of Breakfast in America, or done plenty of shootouts with pressings from around the globe, the same is true for that album. Nothing but common, cheap, domestic LPs have any hope of sounding good.)

But this is such wonderful music we had to keep trying. I grew up on this album; the first Supertramp album I even bought was Crisis? What Crisis?, which I quickly fell in love with, and it wasn’t long before this one followed in 1977. It too became a staple of my musical diet. Man I played this record till the grooves were smooth.

I thought the sound was killer at the time too! Crisis was a demo disc at my house and this was right up there with it. Now the obvious question is, did I have a good sounding copy, or did my stereo not reveal to me the shortcomings of my LP? Or maybe my ears were not well enough trained to hear what was wrong. Those of you who have been doing this for a long time know the answer: any or all of the above, and nobody can know which.

And now, with your better stereo and better ears, when you drop the needle on some copy you picked up of Even in the Quietest Moments, expecting to hear the glorious sound you remember from your youth, it’s a huge letdown — so grainy, thin, and edgy, with blurry bass. On top of that the whole sordid mess is stuck somewhere back behind the speakers, like the sound you hear from an old cassette.

It’s not the record you remember, that’s for sure.

So now the half speed sucks when it used to sound good. (Such is the case with practically all audiophile records; the better you get at listening the worse they sound.)

And now, with your better stereo and better ears, when you drop the needle on some copy you picked up of Even in the Quietest Moments, expecting to hear the glorious sound you remember from your youth, it’s a huge let down. It’s so grainy, thin and edgy, with blurry bass, stuck somewhere back there behind the speakers. It’s not the record you remember, that’s for sure.

More Even in the Quietest Moments

Some of the Best Live Rock Sound Ever Recorded

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When you get a good side one of Goodbye you’ll have no trouble hearing why we consider it one of the Best Sounding Live Rock Albums of all time.

Goodbye has the Big Rock Sound that we go crazy for here at Better Records. The best pressings, the ones that are full-bodied and smooth, let you crank the levels and reproduce the album good and loud the way live rock music is meant to be heard.

It’s clearly one of BILL HALVORSEN‘s Engineering Triumphs, along with Deja Vu and Steve Stills’ first album (now that’s a trio!). Live Rock Music on record just does not sound better than a White Hot Stamper side one of Goodbye.

See all of our Cream albums in stock

When it’s all working, you’re front and center for a fiery Cream concert with these guys delivering one heckuva performance. And where else are you gonna get that these days?

What To Listen For (WTLF) (more…)