Five Star Albums

Sketches Of Spain on the Original Six Eye Stereo Label

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1960 – It Was a Very Good Year

When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the sound is truly MAGICAL. (AMG has that dead right in their review.) Tons of ambience, Tubey Magic all over the place; let’s face it, this is one of those famous Columbia recordings that shows just how good the Columbia engineers were back then. The sound is lively but never strained. Davis’s horn has breath and bite just like the real thing. What more can you ask for?

We Was Wrong in the Past About HP and Six Eye Labels

In previous commentary we had written:

Harry Pearson added this record to his TAS List of Super Discs a few years back, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording?

Of course you can be quite sure that he would have been listening exclusively to the earliest pressings on the Six Eye label. Which simply means that he probably never heard a copy with the clarity, transparency and freedom from distortion that these later label pressings offer.

The Six Eyes are full of Tubey Magic, don’t get me wrong; Davis’s trumpet can be and usually is wonderful sounding. It’s everything else that tends to suffer, especially the strings, which are shrill and smeary on most copies, Six Eyes, 360s and Red Labels included.

Over the course of the last few years we’ve come to appreciate just how good the right Six Eye stereo pressing can sound.

In fact, the two copies earning the highest grades were both original stereo pressings. Other pressings did well, but none did as well as the originals. This has never been our experience with Kind of Blue by the way. The later pressings have always done the best job of communicating the music on that album.

What amazing sides such as these 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 1960
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments of the orchestra 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 above

 

1979 – Candy-O and the Year in Music

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We’re big fans of this album, and a Shootout Winning Hot Stamper copy like this one will show you exactly why. It’s a favorite recording of ours here at Better Records for one very simple reason: Candy-O has got The BIG ROCK SOUND we love!

Drop the needle on Let’s Go and check out the sound of the big floor tom. When the drummer bangs on that thing, you FEEL it! It’s similar to the effect of being in the room with live musicians — it’s the difference between hearing the music and feeling the music. That difference is what you get from our best Hot Stamper copies when you turn them up good and loud and let them ROCK your world.

A New Wave Classic

What other New Wave band ever recorded an album with this kind of demonstration quality sound? The sound of the best copies positively JUMPS out of the speakers. No album by Blondie, Television, The Pretenders or any of their contemporaries can begin to compete with this kind of huge, lively, powerful sound, with the possible exception of the Talking Heads’ Little Creatures.

It Rocks!

If you have big dynamic speakers and like to rock you cannot go wrong here. Neil Young albums have the Big Rock sound, and if you’re more of a Classic Rock kind of listener, that’s a good way to go. We’re behind you all the way, just check out our commentary for Zuma .

For a band with skinny ties, leather jackets, jangly guitars, synths and monstrously huge floor toms that fly back and forth across the soundstage, Candy-O is the girl for you, no doubt about it.

1979 – The Year in Music

1979 sure was an interesting year. The Wall, Breakfast in America, London Calling, Off the Wall, Get the Knack, Damn the Torpedoes, Armed Forces, Spirits Having Flown, Tusk, The B-52s, Rust Never Sleeps, Rickie Lee Jones, and our bad boy here, Candy-O — the variety is remarkable.

Even more remarkable is the number of albums recorded in ’79 that sound fresh and engaging to this day, more than 35 years after they were released. I could sit down in front of my speakers today and play any one of them all the way through. Try that with ten favorite albums from ’89, ’99 or ’09.

Albums from 1979 in stock

All albums from 1979

Looking for Allmusic 5 Star Albums? We’ve Got Hot Stamper Pressings of More Than a Hundred

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Like Truth here.

The soundstage is absolutely HUGE, while the presence and transparency of this copy go way beyond most pressings. Great rock and roll energy too of course — without that you have nothing on this album.

Note how spacious, big, full-bodied and DYNAMIC side one is. That’s why it’s White Hot. I am pleased to report that the whomp factor on this side was nothing short of MASSIVE. With tons of bass this side has what it takes to make the music ROCK.

One of the most surprising things we learned in our first big shootout from 2014 was how well recorded the album is. It’s yet another triumph from one of our favorite engineers, Ken Scott.

In many ways it sounds like the first Zep album, and that’s a good thing. The sound is a perfect fit for the music. In recent interviews Jeff Beck has been saying that Jimmy Page stole his idea for a Heavy Rock Band playing electrified blues. Based on the evidence found on the two sides of this very album I would say he has a point.

More Five Star Albums

Expanding Space Itself

Dark Side of the Moon

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Recently 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.

One thing that separates the best copies from the merely good ones is super-low-distortion, extended high frequencies. How some copies manage to correctly capture the overtones of all the clocks, while others, often with the same stamper numbers, do no more than hint at them, is something no one can explain. But the records do not lie. Believe your own two ears. If you hear it, it’s there. When you don’t — the reason we do shootouts in a nutshell — it’s not.

A Whole New Dark Side

The best sounding parts of this record are nothing less than ASTONISHING. Money is the best example I can think of for side two. When you hear the sax player rip into his solo as Money gets rockin’, it’s almost SCARY! He’s blowin’ his brains out in a way that has never, in my experience anyway, been captured on a piece of plastic. After hearing this copy, I remembered exactly why we felt this album must rank as one of the five best Rock Demo Discs to demonstrate the superiority of analog. There is no CD, and there will never be a CD, that sounds like this.

In fact, when you play the other “good sounding” copies, you realize that the sound you hear is what would naturally be considered as good as this album could get. But now we know better. This pressing takes Dark Side to places you have never imagined it could go.

To say this is a sonic and musical masterpiece practically without equal in the history of the world is no overstatement. But you have to have a top copy for that statement to be true.
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A Killer Kind of Blue — We Guarantee You’ve Never Heard It Sound Like This

Kind of Blue

 

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A knockout copy of one of the most famous albums of all-time, the great Kind Of Blue! This one is absolutely SUPERB, earning our top Triple Plus (A+++) grade for both sides. You will not believe the presence, energy and transparency on this pressing. The brass sounds AMAZING. The bottom end is just right. And the piano is Right On The Money. Folks, I don’t think you could ask anything more from this music than what this White Hot Stamper gives you.

In my opinion, many of the best sounding copies are standard domestic Red Label pressings from the ’70s. I’m fully aware of how outrageous a statement that may sound. But I’ve long known of amazing sounding Kind Of Blue reissues.

Having played scores of different pressings of this record over the years, I think I know this recording about as well as anyone. The tube mastered original Six Eye Stereo copies have wonderful, lush, sweet sound. I’ve heard many of them. The 360s from the ’60s often split the difference — less tubey magical, but cleaner and more correct. The Red Labels are all over the map, ranging from smeary and dull to out of this world. And this copy, my friends, is one of the good ones.

What About The Earlier Pressings?

If you cut it with tubes it will bring out some qualities not as evident on this pressing. But there will be drawbacks as well. It’s a matter of trade-offs. There is no copy that will satisfy everyone, just as there is no speaker or amplifier that will satisfy everyone.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love tubey colorations. I say so all over this site. But there is no way that the qualities of this record exist on those early, tubey cuttings. They simply didn’t have the technology. The technology they did have is wonderful in its own way. And this record is wonderful in its own, very different, way.

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Warners / Rhino 180g EQ Anomaly Test

Sweet Baby James

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

There is one obvious and somewhat bothersome fault with this new pressing, an EQ issue. Anybody care to guess what it is? Send us an email if you think you know. Hint: it’s the kind of thing that sticks out like a sore thumb, the kind of obvious EQ error I can’t ever recall hearing on an original.

Our Heavy Vinyl Review

This Warner Brothers 180g LP is the BEST SOUNDING Heavy Vinyl reissue to come our way in a long long time. Those of you who’ve been with us for a while know that that’s really not saying much, but it doesn’t make it any less true either, now does it? Let’s look at what it doesn’t do wrong first.

It doesn’t sound opaque, compressed, dry and just plain dead as a doornail like so many new reissues do. It doesn’t have the phony modern mastering sound we hate about the sound of the new Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it.)

The new Sweet Baby James actually sounds like a — gulp — fairly decent original.

The amazing transparency and dynamic energy of the best originals will probably never be equalled by an audiophile pressing like this. (It hasn’t happened yet and we remain skeptical of the possibility.) Considering that this pressing is sure to beat most reissues, imports and such like, we have no problem heartily recommending it to our customers, especially at the price.

Hoffman and Gray can take pride in this Sweet Baby James. It’s some of the best work I’ve heard from them to date. If more DCC and Heavy Vinyl reissues sounded like this, we wouldn’t be so critical of them. Unfortunately they don’t, and there are scores of pages of commentary on the site to back up that statement for those of you interested in the subject.

The real thing can’t be beat, but this gets you a lot closer to the sound of the real thing than most of the Heavy Vinyl we’ve heard. I would say it easily qualifies for a Heavy Vinyl Top Ten ranking. We don’t actually have a Heavy Vinyl Top Ten List, but if we ever make one up, expect to see this record on it!

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Shoot Out The Lights – Loud Versus Live

Shoot Out The Lights

 

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Here’s a thought: if 180 gram records are supposed to be some kind of improvement over the original pressings, why is it that they NEVER sound Big and Bold like this pressing? And I do mean never; I’ve played hundreds of them over the years and have yet to hear this kind of sound on any of them. At this point I would have to conclude that it is simply not possible.

If you have big speakers, a large listening room and like to play your records loud, there is no modern reissue that will ever give you the thrill that a record like this can. (Of course, to fully appreciate the effect it obviously helps if you have a White Hot Stamper copy to play.)

Loud Versus Live

I’ve seen Richard Thompson on a number of occasions over the years, and as loud as my stereo will play, which is pretty darn loud, I could never make his guitar solos 20 dB louder than everything else, because it’s not on the record that way. That’s why live music can’t be duplicated properly in the home: the dynamic contrasts are much too great for the typical listener or his stereo.

Having said that, when you actually do turn this record up, way up, you get the feeling of hearing live music, and that’s not easy to do! Only the best recordings, in my experience, can begin to give you that feeling. We discuss this subject in a number of commentaries under the heading of Turn Up Your Volume.
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Listening in Depth to Aja (Includes Free Cisco Debunking Tool)

Aja

 

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Another in our series of “Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Aja.

Our track commentary for the song Home at Last makes it easy to spot an obvious problem with Cisco’s remastered Aja: This is the toughest song to get right on side two. Nine out of ten copies have grainy, irritating vocals; the deep bass is often missing too. Home at Last is just plain unpleasant as a rule, which is why it’s such a great test track.

Get this one right and it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there on out.
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Louder Is Better

Santana

 

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Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This album needs to be played LOUD. I used to demonstrate that specific effect a few years ago when I found my first shockingly good Hot Stamper copy back in the late ’90s. I would play the first minute or so of track one at a pretty good level. There’s lots of ambience, there’s a couple of guys who shout things out, there’s a substantial amount of deep bass, and the whole recording has a natural smooth quality to it (which is precisely what allows you to play it at loud volumes).

Then I would turn it up a notch, say about 2-3 DB. I would announce to my friends that this is probably louder than you will ever play this record, but listen to what happens when you do. The soundstage gets wider and deeper, all those guys that shout can be heard more clearly, you start to really feel that deep bass, and when the song gets going, it REALLY gets going.

The energy would be fantastic.
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Twin Track Stereo on Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul

 

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Assembling the latest Beatles album. Can’t see the label so can’t tell if this is the original real Parlophone (which we have never been fans of) or the original Capitol pressing with different tracks (which is equally awful).

But here is the question of the day:

How is it that none of the critics of “twin track stereo” — the two-track recording approach used on the first two albums, with the elements hard-panned left and right — has ever come clean about the obvious twin track sound of Rubber Soul? We used tracks four, five and six to test side two with, and in all three the vocals are hard panned right with most of the instruments hard-panned left. Why is it wrong for Please Please Me to sound that way — the mono mix being the critic’s choice — but fine for Rubber Soul to be heard that way?
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