Genre – Rock – Art Rock

David Bowie / Heroes – It Took Ages to Break the Sound Barrier (Because the Conventional Wisdom Turned Out to Be Wrong))

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Our intuition that the British originals would sound the best turned out to be incorrect. (In the audiophile record collecting world intuitions have a bad track record, but more than a few audiophiles — many of whom seem to be addicted to sharing their “record knowledge” on audiophile forums — seem to be unaware of this unassailably true fact.) The original UK Orange Label pressings did not sound especially good to us, so we kept looking.

Over the course of the last few years, during which time we investigated every different pressing we could get our hands on, finally some good sounding copies of the album came our way. And they were not originals. The lucky owner of this copy will be one of the few to know what label the record is on, and in what country it was pressed.

OK, I suppose we can afford to be a bit more charitable than that. Here goes: the one thing we’re pretty clear on from our efforts to date is that our best Hot Stamper offerings are sure to be pressed in the UK.

If you have a copy of this groundbreaking album and were never impressed with the sound of it, we have a potential solution to your predicament, depending on our inventory: a Hot Stamper pressing.

It will show you the kind of sound you never knew could exist on Heroes.

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Universals’s Reissue of 10cc’s Masterpiece on Heavy Vinyl Gets Panned

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Universal 180 Gram LP

Sonic Grade: F

This new Universal Super DeLuxe import LP appears to be the regular vinyl version that, for all we know, might actually still be in print in Europe. It appears to have been specially pressed on heavy import vinyl for our domestic market as part of the new Universal Heavy Vinyl series. Either that or it’s being made from the old metalwork for the LP that would have been available most recently in Europe (out of print by now I should think).

Which is a very long-winded way of saying that it is not in any real sense remastered, if such a claim is being made for it or the series. Rather it has simply been repressed on Heavy Vinyl in Europe and imported to the states. None of which is either here nor there because the record is an absolute DISASTER.

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Tears For Fears – The Seeds Of Love – A Near Perfect Pop Masterpiece

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The band’s MAGNUM OPUS, a Colossus of Production to rival the greatest Prog, Psych and Art Rock recordings of all time. (Whew!)

When it comes to Genre Busting Rock I put this album right up at the top of the heap, along with several other landmark albums from the Seventies: Roxy Music’s first, The Original Soundtrack, Crime of the Century, Ambrosia’s first two releases, The Yes Album, Fragile, Dark Side of the Moon and a handful of others.

The Seeds Of Love is clearly the band’s masterpiece, and being able to hear it on a White Hot Stamper pressing is nothing short of a THRILL.

I have a long history with this style of Popular Music, stretching all the way back to the early ’70s. I grew up on Bowie, Roxy Music, 10cc, Eno, The Talking Heads, Ambrosia, Peter Gabriel, Supertramp, Yes, Zappa and others, individuals and bands that wanted to play rock music but felt shackled by the constraints of the conventional pop song. Nothing on Sowing the Seeds of Love fits the description of a Conventional Pop Song.

Which albums by The Beatles break all the rules? Side two of Abbey Road and the whole of The White Album, which is why both are Desert Island Discs for me. Can’t get enough of either one.

The Discovery of a Lifetime

When I discovered these arty rock bands in my early twenties I quickly became obsessed with them and remain so to this day.

My equipment was forced to evolve in order to be able to play the scores of challenging recordings issued by these groups and others in the ’70s. These albums informed not only my taste in music but the actual stereo I play that music on. I’ve had large dynamic speakers for the last four decades precisely because they do such a good job of bringing to life huge and powerful recordings such as these.

Tears For Fears on this and their previous album continue that tradition of big-as-life and just-as-difficult-to-reproduce records. God bless ’em for it. (more…)

The Alan Parsons Project – Tales of Mystery & Imagination – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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

Alan Parsons’ concept album based on the stories of Edgar Allen Poe was a TAS Super Disc for a while back in the day, and one can easily see why. The sound on the better pressings is big, solid and full-bodied with amazing resolving power and dynamics.

The best copies usually have exceptionally extended top ends. The best top ends are difficult to come by but they sure make a difference in the sound, revealing three-dimensional space that most copies do no better than to hint at. 

The upper harmonics of the instruments are reproduced beautifully here, and there’s ambience and air that are simply not audible on the average original pressing.

This was the first Alan Parsons Project album, and it features songs based on the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. It’s crazy music for sure, certainly not for everyone, but the recording is excellent, as you might expect from the man who engineered Dark Side Of The Moon, Abbey Road and mixed the first Ambrosia album.

The Raven is a highlight, featuring vocoder-enhanced vocals, a boy’s choir, big rock guitars and crazy synthesizers. Click the “AMG Review” tab above to learn more — they do an excellent job communicating what’s interesting about the music on this album. Those of you who like the first Ambrosia album may get a kick out of this one, as all four members participate in the festivities. (more…)

Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

White Hot Stampers discovered, hot enough to burn down the house! We just finished a HUGE shootout for the last great Talking Heads album and were as pleased as punch to finally hear a few copies of this album that deliver the same kind of magic that we’ve been getting on the better pressings of Little Creatures. Most copies of Speaking In Tongues are too flat, dry and veiled to get worked up about, but this one shows you that excellent sound for this album is indeed possible, albeit very difficult to find.

We’re serious Talking Heads fans here at Better Records, as you may have gathered by now. Not only is their music completely innovative and original, but their recordings are as well. That’s not to say that their records are Demo Discs along the lines of Tea For The Tillerman, Fragile or Abbey Road, but when you find a killer copy of any of their albums you can’t help but notice how much work they put into making them.

We played a ton of copies before we even heard a hint of the magic we were hoping for. Most of them sounded like CDs. When you turned up the volume, sure they got louder, but they didn’t really get any better. That’s a sure sign of a mediocre pressing, and it just kept happening over and over again in the shootout. Just as we were about to throw up our hands and give up, a copy hit the table with enough analog qualities to rope us back in. We added a little extra volume and started to hear the qualities that we needed from this music: rich, full mids; punchy bass; breathy vocals; and above all, ENERGY. On a Hot Stamper copy with the traits listed above, the music becomes involving and vital. If Burning Down The House doesn’t get you moving to the beat, what’s the point? (more…)

Roxy Music – Siren – The Atco Pressings Can Be Killer

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  • You’ll find insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides of this early pressing of Roxy’s Art Rock classic from 1975
  • The sound here is incredibly rich and full-bodied with a ton of bottom end weight, much less grain, and much more Tubey Magic than every other copy we played it against
  • Some of Bryan Ferry’s strongest and most consistent songwriting – Love Is The Drug, End of the Line, Sentimental Fool and more
  • 5 stars: “Abandoning the intoxicating blend of art rock and glam-pop that distinguished Stranded and Country Life, Roxy Music concentrates on Bryan Ferry’s suave, charming crooner persona for the elegantly modern Siren.”

Siren is one of our favorite Roxy albums, right up there with the first album and well ahead of the commercially appealing Avalon. After reading a rave review in Rolling Stone of the album back in 1975 I took the plunge, bought a copy at my local Tower Records and instantly fell in love with it.

As is my wont, I then proceeded to work my way through their earlier catalog, which was quite an adventure. It takes scores of plays to understand where the band is coming from on the early albums and what it is they’re trying to do. Now I listen to each of the first five releases on a regular basis. Even after more than thirty years the band’s music never seems to get old. That seems to be true of a lot of the records from the era that we offer on our site. Otherwise, how could we charge so much money for them?

Imports? Not So Fast

The British and German copies of Siren are clearly made from dubbed tapes and sound smeary, small and lifeless.

To be fair, Siren has never impressed us as an exceptionally good sounding recording. Like other middle period Roxy, records such as Country Life and Manifesto (the albums just before and after), it simply does not have Demo Disc analog sound the way For Your Pleasure, Stranded or the eponymous first album do (the latter two being the best sounding in their catalog).

One would be tempted to assume that the import pressings of Siren would be better sounding, the way the imports of the first four Roxy albums are clearly better sounding. There has never been a domestic Hot Stamper pressing of any of those titles and, since we never buy them or play them, there probably never will be.

But in the case of Siren it’s the imports that are made from dubs. It may be a British band, recorded in British studios with a British producer, but the British pressed LPs are clearly made from sub-generation tapes, whereas the domestic copies sound like they’re made from the real masters.

Go Figure. And another thing: when it comes to records, never assume.

The typical domestic pressing is flat, bass-shy and opaque, sounding more like compressed cardboard than analog vinyl. Unsurprisingly, the CD, whether imported or produced domestically, is clean and clear and tonally correct but lacks the warmth and richness of the better vinyl pressings. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – On the Third Day – The British Imports Are Made from Dubs

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Sonic Grade: F

It’s obvious, or should be, that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers. We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our shootout many years ago and they all sucked.

We tend to buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that often sound the best. Many of the domestic pressings sound as though they were mastered from dub tapes.

But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British. (more…)

Talking Heads – Fear of Music – Our First White Hot Stamper – 2015

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

The Talking Heads and producer Brian Eno certainly weren’t shy about adding multiple layers of effects and processing, and the average pressing of this record turns some of the more complicated parts into grainy mush. The material here is darker than the songs on the first two albums, so a copy that lacks any extension up top will have trouble bringing the music to life. The texture of Eno’s synthesizers gives the music depth and character, and a copy with smear issues forsakes much of that. It takes a special pressing to make this music really work, but this one really gets it right.

Much like Remain In Light, this is a brilliant album but a typically problematic record. The Talking Heads and producer Brian Eno certainly weren’t shy about adding multiple layers of effects and processing, and the average pressing of this record turns some of the more complicated parts into grainy mush. The material here is darker than the songs on the first two albums, so a copy that lacks any extension up top will have trouble bringing the music to life. The texture of Eno’s synthesizers gives the music depth and character, and a copy with smear issues forsakes much of that.

… But This One Sure Does!

As huge fans of this band, it was a major thrill for us to finally hear a copy that sounded as good as this one. Both sides really have the goods here: wonderful transparency, meaty bass, big time energy and lots of top end extension.

Drop the needle on the opening track “I Zimbra” and listen to how clear and correct the percussion sounds. On the average copy they might as well be banging on cardboard, but on a Hot Stamper like this you can clearly hear the sound of the skins.

Many copies make a mess of David Byrne’s voice, leaving him sounding pinched and edgy, but here the vocals are full-bodied, smooth, and present. There’s dramatically less grit and grain here than on most pressings, and the synths and effects all sounded just right to us.

One Of Our Very Favorite Bands Of This Era

We’re huge fans of late ’70s / early ’80s art-rock and new wave music, and these guys are obviously some of the best in the biz. I’d be hard pressed to name another act from the era who put out so many good records. Along with this album, More Songs About Buildings And Food, Remain In Light, and Little Creatures are all works of genius.

’77 is full of good ideas, but it doesn’t sound like a fully realized work of art the way the next four albums did.

Speaking In Tongues has some nice material, but doesn’t quite rank up there with their earlier stuff. (more…)

XTC – Drums and Wires – Reviewed in 2010

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

This is an original Minty Virgin British Import LP that includes a bonus 7-inch single. The record plays quietly and sounds EXCELLENT! 

“The album that followed the lineup change, Drums and Wires, marks a turning point for the band, with a more subdued set of songs that reflect an increasing songwriting proficiency. The aimless energy of the first two albums is focused into a cohesive statement with a distinctive voice that retains their clever humor, quirky wordplay, and decidedly British flavor.” – AMG

Supertramp – Supertramp – Reviewed in 2007

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

This is a SUPERB SOUNDING British A&M LP. I don’t think this record can sound any better than it does here. The recording is on a par with the best I’ve ever heard for this band, which is saying a lot. In fact it’s even more tubey magical than an album like ’Crime Of The Century’, which is more about slam and presence than a record like this, which has amazingly sweet, natural sounding acoustic guitars.

“There are some attractive moments, such as the mixture of ardor and subtlety that arises in “Words Unspoken,” “Surely,” and “Nothing to Show,” and some of the fusion that erupts throughout the 12 minutes of “Try Again” is impressive… – AMG