Genre – Exotica & Easy Listening

Edmundo Ros – Ros On Broadway – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

Edmundo Ros and his orchestra don’t command much respect these days from the general record buying public. As for audiophiles, it’s doubtful that many even know who he or they is/are. But we at Better Records are going to change that, starting with this very record, because it’s one of the best sounding records we have ever heard. Stampers just do not get any HOTTER than these! 

From the perspective of a level playing field, I cannot think of a single rock record that sounds as BIG and DYNAMIC, nor one that is as spacious and clear, as is the side two of this London Blueback. As good as the best German pressings of Dark Side of the Moon may be, shockingly good in fact, this recording is clearly more exciting and lifelike, with instrumental timbres that are uncannily accurate.

Over the years we’ve played a lot of Edmundo Ros records on London — you name it, Blueback, Whiteback, Phase 4 — but I sure never heard one sound like this until we did this shootout! (more…)

Perez Prado – Pops and Prado – A Killer Bob Simpson Recording

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

A wonderful copy with a White Hot Stamper side two – unbelievably Tubey Magical and spacious. Side one was Super Hot and maybe a bit better – the top is extended, and the reverb is positively luscious. This is vintage analog at its best — the magic really comes through on this pressing. Credit for the Demo Disc sound of this one must go to the amazing Bob Simpson, working in glorious Webster Hall.

BOB SIMPSON won the Grammy for engineering Belafonte at Carnegie Hall you may recall.

Such an amazing sounding organ, some of the best Pop Organ reproduction I have ever heard!

This SUPERB sounding copy of Pops and Prado has a lot in common with the other Living Stereo / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Henry Mancini, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Ted Heath, Martin Denny and a handful of others. Talk about making your speakers disappear, these records will do it!

An album like this is all about Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation. And of course the driving, syncopated, heavily percussive arrangements add immensely to the fun, with the timbre of every scratcher and drum rendered in glorious Technicolor sound. (If only Airto had been around in the ’50s!)

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1958 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy may be just the record for you!

This copy is super spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

If you like the sound of percussion instruments of every possible flavor, including some you have never tasted before, you will have a hard time finding a more magical recording of them than this.

This IS the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There actually IS a CD of this album, and youtube videos of it too, but those of us in possession of a working turntable could care less.

Truly a Spectacular Demo Disc in its own right.

Henry Mancini – Our Man In Hollywood – Making More Progress in Audio

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The story of our recent shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

In our previous listings we noted:

This is one of those odd records in which the variation in sound quality from track to track is dramatic. Take the first two tracks on side one — they suck. They sound like your average LSP Mancini album, the kind I have suffered through far too many times. And that means bad bad bad. 

Courtesy of Revolutions in Audio.

But track three boasts DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND and the next one is nearly as good. Listen to that wonderful glockenspiel. It sound every bit as magical as anything on Bang, Baa-room and Harp, and that’s some pretty magical sound in my book!

Same thing happens on side two. Bad sound for the first tracks, then track four sounds great, followed by a pretty good five and a lovely six with a chorus of voices to die for. Go figure.

Is there a copy that sounds good from start to finish? Doubtful.

We’ve made a dozen or more improvements to the system since we last did this shootout, and I’m happy to report that most of the tracks we had trouble with in the past are now sounding very good indeed. Of course the better tracks we noted from years ago are even better, making this a consistently good sounding Mancini record.

One obvious change from the old days is that we now spend a fair amount of time honing in the VTA for every title. That may account for the fact that the first track on side one, which used to be problematical, now sounds wonderful. The value of getting the correct VTA setting — by ear, for every record — cannot be overestimated in our opinion. (more…)

Ronnie Aldrich / Melody and Percussion For Two Pianos – Reviewed in 2012

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

This Decca Phase 4 record from 1962 has Demo Disc sound of a sort on side one. Super Hot sonics, coupled with the Super Phase 4 “jumping out of the speakers” recording techniques that were employed, mean that this is one LIVELY record!

The pianos can get to be a bit much, but when they are under control, the huge stage and the effect of all the percussion that jumps out of the soundfield is really quite something to behold. Zero smear on this side too, which is what makes it work — the blunting of all those transients would quickly ruin the fun. Which is what happens on side two; the smear and hardness of the typical Phase 4 pressing are evident and do spoil all the fun.

Try tracks 1, 2, 4 and 6 – talk about immediacy and explosive dynamics.

Henry Mancini – Hatari! – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

This Super Hot Stamper pressing is one of the BEST COPIES we’ve ever played! Both sides earned very high A Double Plus honors, beating practically all the other copies we played it against. The sound is relaxed, natural, and musical, with an incredibly sweet top end. 

The overall sound is airy, open, spacious, and SUPER transparent. The brass on this copy also sounds just right: breathy with a nice bite, avoiding most of the blare-y quality we heard on so many other pressings. (There is a touch of smear on even the best copies; this one is no different.)

The sound is Super 3-D. You’re not going to believe all the ambience surrounding this room full of musicians, especially on the drums! We LOVE that sound. (more…)

Martin Denny – Exotica – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This second label very quiet Liberty Stereo LP has at least Super Hot Stamper EXOTIC SOUND on both sides, with a side two that may be White Hot. It’s hard to know for sure whether side two can get any better than this — it’s pretty darn amazing, some of the most Magically Delicious sound we played in our recent shootout.  

Recorded in 1958, you can imagine there is a healthy amount of Tubey Magical richness and sweetness, although this second label copy seems to be cut a bit more cleanly and correctly than some of the first label Denny records we auditioned. The tonality is dead on the money, a quality that the most tubey recordings rarely exhibit; they can easily get overly lush and appear murky. (more…)

Perez Prado – Prez – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

This AMAZING sounding White Hot Stamper copy of Prez has a lot in common with the other Living Stereo / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Henry Mancini, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Ted Heath, Martin Denny and a handful of others. Talk about making your speakers disappear, these records can do it! 

An album like this is all about Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation. And of course the driving, syncopated, heavily percussive arrangements add immensely to the fun, with the timbre of every scratcher and drum rendered in glorious Technicolor sound. (If only Airto had been around in the ’50s!)

From the back cover.

In “Perez” two sides of the fabulous “King of the Mambo” are presented. One features Prado interpreting Latin rhythms as only he and his musical aggregation can. The other side of Prado is not as familiarly known but is sure to be equally appreciated, for it reveals that Perez Prado is a jazz impresario of the first order.

Side One

A+++. We cannot recall hearing a record that was this big and full-bodied, yet this clear, dynamic and energetic. The brass is never “blary” the way it can be on so many Big Band or Dance Band records from the ’50s and ’60s. (Basie’s Roulette records tend to have a bad case of blary brass as a rule.)

Lovely warmth, Tubey Magic, lack of smear, correct tonality, unerringly correct timbres, powerful brass — everything you want is here!

Play tracks one and three to hear this side at its best.

Side Two

A+++ again! Like side one it’s big, lively, clear and dynamic, with no smear, and exceptionally full-bodied.

Play tracks one and two to hear this side at its best.

This IS the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There actually IS a CD of this album, and youtube videos of it too, but those of us with a good turntable could care less.

Truly a Spectacular Demo Disc in its own right.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Maria Bonita 
Cu-Cu-Rru-Cu-Cu Paloma 
La Borrachita (I’ll Never Love Again) 
Machaca 
Adios Mi Chaparrita (Goodbye My Little Angel) 

Side Two

Lullaby of Birdland 
Flight of the Bumblebee
Leo’s Special 
Come Back to Sorrento (Torna a Sorrento) 
Fireworks

Prez Prado

In “Perez” two sides of the fabulous “King of the Mambo” are presented. One features Prado interpreting Latin rhythms as only he and his musical aggregation can. The other side of Prado is not as familiarly known but is sure to be equally appreciated, for it reveals that Perez Prado is a jazz impresario of the first order. – from the back cover

All Music Guide Artist Biography

by Steve Huey

Universally known as the King of the Mambo, Pérez Prado was the single most important musician involved in the hugely popular Latin dance craze.

Whether he actually created the rhythm is somewhat disputed, but it’s abundantly clear that Prado developed it into a bright, swinging style with massive appeal for dancers of all backgrounds and classes. Prado’s mambo was filled with piercing high-register trumpets, undulating saxophone counterpoint, atmospheric organ (later on), and harmonic ideas borrowed from jazz.

While his tight percussion arrangements allowed for little improvisation, they were dense and sharply focused, keeping the underlying syncopations easy for dancers to follow. Prado played the piano, but was often more in his element as the focal point of the audience’s excitement; he leaped, kicked, danced, shouted, grunted, and exhorted his musicians with a dynamic stage presence that put many more sedate conductors and bandleaders to shame.

With this blueprint, Prado brought mambo all the way into the pop mainstream, inspiring countless imitators and scoring two number one singles on the pop charts (albeit in a smoother vein than the fare that first made his name) as the fad snowballed. He was a star throughout most of the Western Hemisphere during the ’50s, and even after his popularity waned in the United States, he remained a widely respected figure in many Latin countries, especially his adopted home of Mexico.

Prado is often best remembered for his softer, more commercial work, which has an undeniable kitschiness that plays well with modern-day lounge-revival hipsters. Unfortunately, that has served to obscure his very real credentials in the realm of authentic, unadulterated Latin dance music, and to this day he remains somewhat underappreciated.

Audio Issues

It’s clear to us that our stereo system loves this record. Let’s talk about why we think that is.

Our system is fast, accurate and uncolored. We like to think of our speakers as the audiophile equivalent of studio monitors, showing us to the best of their ability exactly what is on the record, no more and no less.

When we play a modern record, it should sound modern. When we play a vintage Tubey Magical Living Stereo pressing such as this, we want to hear all the Tubey Magic, but we don’t want to hear more Tubey Magic than what is actually on the record. We don’t want to do what some audiophiles like to do, which is to make all their records sound the way they like all their records to sound.

They do that by having their system add in all their favorite colorations. We call that “My-Fi”, not “Hi-Fi”, and we’re having none of it.

If our system were more colored, or slower, or tubier, this record would not sound as good as it does. It’s already got plenty of richness, warmth, sweetness and Tubey Magic.

To take an obvious example, playing the average dry and grainy Joe Walsh record on our system is a fairly unpleasant experience. Some added warmth and richness, with maybe some upper-midrange suckout thrown in for good measure, would make it much more enjoyable. But then how would we know which Joe Walsh pressings aren’t too dry and grainy for our customers to enjoy?

We discussed some of these issues in another commentary:

Our Approach

We have put literally thousands of hours into our system and room in order to extract the maximum amount of information, musical and otherwise, from the records we play, or as close to the maximum as we can manage. Ours is as big and open as any system in an 18 by 20 by 8 room I’ve ever heard.

It’s also as free from colorations of any kind as we can possibly make it. We want to hear the record in its naked form; not the way we want it to sound, but the way it actually does sound. That way, when you get it home and play it yourself, it should sound very much like we described it.

If too much of the sound we hear is what our stereo is doing, not what the record is doing, how can we know what it will sound like on your system? We try to be as truthful and as critical as we can when describing the records we sell. Too much coloration in the system makes those tasks much more difficult, if not a practical impossibility.

We think this copy has a near-perfect blend of Tubey Magic and clarity, because that’s what we hear when we play it on our system.

We are convinced that the more time and energy you’ve put into your stereo over the years, decades even, the more likely it is that you will hear this wonderful record sound the way we heard it. And that will make it one helluva Demo Disc in your home too.

Henry Mancini – The Mancini Touch – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

This original Living Stereo pressing had nearly White Hot Stamper sound on side one, earning a sonic grade of A++ to A+++, with the least amount of smear of any copy we played. (As you may know, smear and opacity are endemic to old Living Stereo pressings such as this.) The sound is SUPER 3-D. You’re not going to believe all the ambience surrounding this room full of musicians, especially on the drums! We LOVE that sound. The DEPTH that can be heard in this recording is almost hard to believe. (more…)

Henry Mancini – Charade – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

This Living Stereo RCA LP has TWO STUNNING A+++ SIDES, giving you a healthy dose of the Living Stereo Tubey Magic we love here at Better Records. As is usually the case with Mancini’s records, some tracks sound far better than others. Charade is a particularly good sounding song on side two, with superb reproduction of both female and male voices, rich and sweet in the best tradition of RCA from the Golden Age. More good stuff on side two? Drop the needle on Latin Snowfall to hear exactly what I’m talking about.

As an added bonus, the last track, Charade (Carousel), has absolutely no IGD on the glockenspiel or Calliope. Few copies will not be groove damaged on that track — we speak from experience here.

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music found here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1963 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy may be just the record for you. (more…)

Chet Atkins – Class Guitar

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

This RCA original pressing from Nashville, circa 1967, has DEMO DISC quality sound from start to finish, first note to last. Class Guitar is more or less a solo session from 1967, concentrating mostly on classical guitar pieces, with a few pop and jazz hits of the day thrown in for the sake of variety. Chet’s good buddy and main man Jerry Reed joins him on rhythm guitar on some tracks.

Both sides have plenty to offer the discriminating audiophile, with the spaciousness, clarity, tonality and freedom from artificiality that are the hallmark of the best Living Stereo recordings.

Truth be told, technically this is not a real Living Stereo record. It’s an RCA Stereo record. It has the Bill Porter Tubey Magic of the Chet Atkins albums we all know and love, the bulk of which we’re familiar with through our critical listening shootouts. (We’d love to do more but where are the clean stereo copies?)

In fact, not only is this record not a Living Stereo, it’s — gasp — a Dynagroove pressing. And it’s not even Bill Porter at the board, it’s his successor, Jim Malloy.

No matter. Bill may have left in 1964. but he left behind an amazing studio that he practically single-handedly turned into one of the best sounding recording venues in the world. This record may say Dynagroove, but it sure doesn’t sound Dynagroove. And Bill Porter may have left, but his signature sound is all over this record. As we noted in a previous listing: (more…)