Five Star Albums

When Led Zeppelin IV Sounds This Good, We Get Letters

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LED ZEPPELIN IV

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Michael just got a nice copy of Zep IV from us. His letter follows.

Well son of a bitch. Do you know how many tube combinations, cartridge adjustments, turntable adjustments, speakers, speaker placements, and other hocus pocus shit I’ve gone through after listening to a Led Zeppelin album I have where Bonham was barely present and Page’s guitar would wear my ears out within 2 songs thinking this can’t be the way they sounded…I know Bonham hit those drums hard. Well, that ain’t the case with the Zeppelins I recently purchased from you. Shit man, finally. It’s alive! Thank you Tom.
Michael S

My reply:

Mike,
Glad to hear it! If you ever win the lottery we’ll get you a White Hot copy and REALLY blow your mind. About one out of ten with the right stampers gets When the Levee Breaks to sound the way you want it to.  When I finally heard it about two or three years ago I could hardly believe it. Most pressings just plain suck.

Good to know you are giving the boys a good home to live in, where they can be appreciated.

TP

More Led Zeppelin

Today’s Mediocre LP – Pet Sounds on DCC

More Pet Sounds

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Sonic Grade: C-

The no-longer-surprising thing about our Hot Stamper pressings of Pet Sounds is how completely they trounce the DCC LP. Folks, it’s really no contest. Yes, the DCC is tonally balanced and can sound decent enough but it can’t compete with the best “mystery” pressings that we sell. It’s missing too much of the presence, intimacy, immediacy and transparency that we’ve discovered on the better Capitol pressings.

As is the case with practically every record pressed on Heavy Vinyl over the last twenty years, there is a suffocating loss of ambience throughout, a pronounced sterility to the sound. Modern remastered records just do not BREATHE like the real thing. Good EQ or Bad EQ, they all suffer to one degree or another from a bad case of audio enervation. Where is the life of the music? You can try turning up the volume on these remastered LPs all you want; they simply refuse to come to life.

Advice on How to Avoid Making This Rookie Record Collecting Mistake on Kind of Blue

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Record Shopping Day Video!

Not sure how much of this video you can stand — nothing could interest me less than a couple of audiophile / vinyl enthusiasts spouting off on what they think about some random records sitting in a local store’s bins — but one or two bits caught my eye. I thought it might possibly be of service to share them with you.

Is there any value to the comments of these two collectors? If you care about what music they like, perhaps.  Anything about what to look for on the label or jacket that might correspond to better sound?  If it’s there I sure didn’t see it, but I admit to speeding through most of it so I can’t say for sure.

The first bit I refer to above is at 18:42.  The album in question is the legendary Kind of Blue. At this point the unseen helmet-cammed audiophile picks up the record, recognizes the original cover, and proceeds to pull the record out to see what era the pressing is from.

Drat! The disappointment in this audiophile’s voice is palpable as he drops the record back in the bin with his dismissive comment that  “it’s a later pressing.”

But we here at Better Records would be falling all over ourselves to get our hands on that later pressing. Those late pressings can and often do win shootouts. We would never look down our noses at a Red Label Columbia jazz LP, and neither should you.

Our intrepid audiophile explorer does much the same thing about 23 minutes in. It seems pretty clear to us that he has no respect for such reissues, another example of one of the most common myths in record collecting land, the myth that the  original pressing is always, or to be fair, usually better.

This is simply not true, and those of our customers who have purchased White Hot Stamper pressings from us that turned out to be reissues know exactly what I am talking about. This is especially true for the records we sell by  The Beatles. No original pressing has every won a shootout.

Let’s get back to Kind of Blue. Is the ’50s original always better, is the ’70s reissue always better, is the ’60s 360 pressing always better? No to one, two and three.

Why? Because no pressing is always better. All pressings are unique and should only be judged on their merits, and you do that by playing them, not by looking at their labels. For us this truth is practically axiomatic. It is in fact the premise of our entire business. Over the course of the 28 years we have been selling records we have never found any compelling evidence to invalidate it.

The day that someone can accurately predict the sound quality of a specific record by looking at the label or cover is a day I do not expect to come, ever.

A Larger Point

But there is a larger point to be made. Let’s assume that the best original Six Eye Columbia pressings can be the best — the most Tubey Magical, the most involving, the most real. You just happen to have a clean pressing, and you absolutely love it.

But is it the best? How could you possibly know that?

Unless you have done a comparison with many copies under controlled conditions, you simply cannot know where on the curve your copy rightfully belongs.

Perhaps you have a mediocre original. Or a mediocre 360 Label copy. Since you haven’t done a massive shootout you simply have no way of knowing just how good sounding the album can be.

If that’s the case, even stipulating that the best early pressings are potentially the best sounding, that lowly ’70s Red Label copy that got tossed back into the record pond could very well have turned out to be the best sounding pressing you ever heard.

But Bad Audiophile Record Collector Thinking prevents the very possibility of such an outcome. A record never auditioned cannot win a shootout, even a simple head to head competition against the copy you alreadyhave in your collection. The result? Your Kind of Blue never gets any better. You’re stuck, at what level nobody knows, especially you.

Our advice is to turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, letting your ears, not your eyes, become your one and only trusted guide to the best sounding pressings.

And please consider us a trustworthy second in line, a source for the best sounding titles that you do not have time to shoot out for yourself.

Here’s more on Kind of Blue.

Finally, MF and TP Agree on Something

Rubber Soul in Stock

Originally posted in 2015

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We are so excited to tell you about the first of the Heavy Vinyl Beatles remasters we’ve played! As we cycle through our regular Hot Stamper shootouts for The Beatles’ albums we will be of course be reviewing more of them*. I specifically chose this one to start with, having spent a great deal of time over the last year testing the best vinyl pressings against three different CD versions of Rubber Soul.

The short version of our review of the new Rubber Soul vinyl would simply point out that it’s awful, and, unsurprisingly, it’s awful in most of the ways that practically all modern Heavy Vinyl records are: it’s opaque, airless, energyless and just a drag.

I was looking forward to the opportunity to take Michael Fremer (the champion of thick vinyl dreck from sources far and wide) to task in expectation of his rave review, when to my surprise I found the rug had been pulled out from under me — he didn’t like it either! Damn it all.
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This Is Your Idea of Analog?

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Cat Stevens – 200 Grams of Tea for the Tillerman

Dear Record Loving Audiophiles of Earth,

I’m afraid we have some bad news. Regrettably we must inform you that the 2011 edition of Tea for the Tillerman pressed by Analogue Productions on Heavy Vinyl doesn’t sound very good. We know you were all hoping for the best. We also know that you must be very disappointed to hear this unwelcome news.

But the record is what it is, and what it is is not very good. Its specific shortcomings are many and will be considered in at length in our review below.
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Art Pepper’s Modern Jazz Classic

A Superb Hot Stamper Pressing

  • A Big, Bold and Lively copy, with each side rating a Double Plus (A++) or BETTER for this exceptionally well recorded album
  • The sound is rich, warm and full-bodied, both clear and open — the brass sounds phenomenal on this pressing
  • Here is the Tubey Magic of the originals without the problems that make the average original so much less involving
  • A longtime audiophile favorite – 5 stars on Allmusic: “This is a true classic. Essential music for all serious jazz collections.”

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has got that Modern Jazz Classics Magic. On a great copy such as this one you can really pick out each of the musicians and follow them throughout the course of the track. When you’re able to appreciate everyone’s contributions you really get a sense of how much work went into the making of this album. It’s nothing short of epic.

This is one DYNAMIC jazz record — drop the needle on any track and prepare yourself to be very impressed. The sound is full-bodied and energetic with tight bass, breathy brass, and lots of ambience.

See all of our Art Pepper albums in stock

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Boz Scaggs and Silk Degrees and Its Rich, Solid Piano – The Forgotten Sound of ’70s Rock

 

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Silk Degrees

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

What do you hear on the best copies? Well, the first thing you hear is a rich, solid piano, a piano that’s missing from the CBS Half-Speed and 90% of the reissues we’ve played. Like so many recordings from the ’70s this album is surprisingly natural sounding. I’ve had the same experience with Billy Joel’s ’70s records. I was surprised to hear how well recorded they are — and how full-bodied the piano is — after I stopped listening to the audiophile and import pressings and went back to the original domestic copies.

When you get the right ones they’re wonderfully rich and smooth, the way good analog should be.

And these were the kinds of records that we audiophiles were complaining about back in the day. We lamented the fact that these pressings weren’t audiophile quality, like the best MoFis and Japanese pressings. Can you imagine?

This is how bad even good equipment must have been back then.

Of course we got what we deserved. We got lots of phony, hyped-up pressings to fool us into thinking we were hearing better sound, when in fact the opposite was true. I regret to say that nothing has changed — most pressings aimed at audiophiles are still mediocre if not outright awful (bad enough to fill up our Hall of Shame in fact.

The other record that immediately comes to mind to show you the sound that’s missing from many pressings, both vintage and modern, is Aja. Here’s what we had to say about it:

If you own the Cisco 180 gram pressing, focus on Victor Feldman’s piano at the beginning of the song. It lacks body, weight and ambience on the new pressing, but any of our better Hot Stamper copies will show you a piano with those qualities in spades all the way through. It’s some of my favorite work by the Steely Dan vibesman. The thin piano on the Cisco release must be recognized for what it is: a major error on the part of the mastering engineers.

A full piano is key to the sound of the best pressing of Silk Degrees. The other thing you hear on the best copies is a smooth, sweet top end, which is likewise missing from the above mentioned pressings.

Most copies lack presence and top end. Dull, thick, opaque sound is far too common on Silk Degrees, which may account for some audiophiles finding the half-speed preferable. Of course, our Hot Stampers give you the presence and highs that let this music come to life. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be Hot Stampers now would they?

Led Zeppelin I – The Best Album These Guys Ever Made

More on the band’s phenomenal debut

Led Zeppelin I

 

  • TRIPLE TRIPLE!
  • A stunning pressing of Zep’s debut with A+++ sound on both sides and fairly quiet vinyl
  • The sound is MASSIVE — big, bold, lively and powerful with the kind of dynamics that bring out the best in this music
  • Demo Quality sound for a ton of Zep classics: Dazed and Confused, Good Times Bad Times, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You and more
  • 5 stars on Allmusic, BR Top 100, and one of the most important debut albums in all of rock and roll history

For the real Led Zep magic, you just can’t do much better than their debut — and here’s a copy that really shows you why. From the opening chords of Good Times Bad Times to the wild ending of How Many More Times, this copy will have you rockin’ like you won’t believe!

What do you get on a Triple Plus Zep One? Uncanny presence, clearer harmonics and transients, a fully extended top end, astonishing clarity and transparency and a WHOLE LOTTA BASS. You get all the texture, detail, and ambience that are missing from the average copy.

Two Shootout Winning Sides

Both sides have THE BIG ZEP SOUND. Right from the start, we noticed how clean the cymbals sounded and how well-defined the bass was, after hearing way too many copies with smeared cymbals and blubbery bass. When you have a tight, punchy copy like this one, Good Times Bad Times does what it is supposed to do — it REALLY ROCKS! The drum sound is PERFECTION.

Drop the needle on Babe I’m Gonna Leave You to hear how amazing Robert Plant’s voice sounds. It’s breathy and full-bodied with unbelievable presence. The overall sound is warm, rich, sweet, and very analog, with tons of energy. Dazed and Confused sounds JUST RIGHT — you’re gonna flip out over all the ambience!

Communication Breakdown sounds superb — the tone of Jimmy Page’s guitar during the solo is Right On The Money! You won’t find a better side two for this album, and we’ve rated it accordingly. (more…)

Is This One of the Greatest Rock Albums of All Time?

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Ziggy Stardust

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Is this one of the Greatest Rock Albums of All Time?

Unquestionably. It’s the pinnacle of Glam Rock. Every track is superb; not a moment is less than stellar from beginning to end.

Is it Bowie’s Masterpiece?

Absolutely. No other Bowie record ranks higher in my book.

Is it amazingly well recorded?

You better believe it. This is not just Bowie’s masterpiece; it’s Ken Scott’s as well. For BIG, BOLD, wall to wall, floor to ceiling sound, look no further. The recording is swimming in rich, sweet TUBEY MAGIC. This is a sound we cannot get enough of here at Better Records.

The guitars may not sound “real,” they way they actually do in real life, but they sure sound grungy and GOOD!

Just drop the needle on any song. Guaranteed you will never hear that song sound better. The mastering is beyond perfection. There’s really no “mastering” to listen for — all you’re really aware of is the music flowing from the speakers, freed from all the limitations that you’ve learned to accept.

There’s no need to go track by track trying to explain why this copy is the Ultimate Ziggy. One drop of the needle will tell you everything you’ll ever need to know. All doubts will be erased within moments. We played this copy against our best other pressings and again and again, no matter what track we played, the sound here was superior. (more…)