Genre – Rock – Big Rock Sound

Van Halen – What to Listen For

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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 Van Halen’s debut album.

Most copies just do not have the kind of weight to the bottom and lower mids that this music needs to work. Put simply, if your Van Halen LP doesn’t rock, then what exactly is the point of playing it?

The other qualities to look for on the best pressings are, firstly, space — the best pressings are huge and three-dimensional, with large, lively, exceptionally dynamic choruses.

The copies with the most resolving power are easy to spot — they display plenty of lovely analog reverb trailing the guitars and vocals.

And lastly (although we could go on for days with this kind of stuff), listen for spit on the vocals. Even the best copies have some sibilance, but the bad copies have much too much and make the sibilance gritty to boot.

A “Modern” Classic

Go ahead and turn up your nose if you like, but this music is widely considered classic rock by now. I’m not going to pretend it’s on a level with After The Gold Rush or Zep II, but this album does exactly what it’s trying to do — it really ROCKS.

At least it does when you have a pressing as good as this one. The All Music Guide gives the album 5 Big Stars, and I’m sure that more than a few of you out there think it deserves every last one of them.

Donn Landee

Credit DONN LANDEE (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records. Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.

The DCC

As I recall it wasn’t very good — thick and dull and closed-in; in other words, boring — but it was quite a while ago that I played it. If your copy sounds better, more power to you, but I bet it doesn’t. Any copy we sell is guaranteed to blow the doors off of it — as well as any other pressing you own — or your money back.

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam – Larry Carlton Stretches Out

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  • Stunning sound from start to finish: Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it on both sides
  • This is a killer Shootout Winning copy of The Dan’s hard-rockin’ classic from 1976 – HERE is the right sound for this music
  • These two sides give you what you need for The Royal Scam – rich, meaty, with powerful rhythmic energy and not too bright
  • “Drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie lashes out the rolling grooves on most of the nine tracks, establishing the album’s anxious feel, and Larry Carlton’s jaw-dropping guitar work provides a running commentary to Fagen’s strangulated vocals… These are not the sort of Steely Dan songs favored by smooth-jazz stations.”

One of the best copies from our last shootout. The life and energy are off the charts here, and the edge and grit that ruin the typical pressing are virtually nowhere to be heard.

It’s an absolute monster, and if you love this album like we do you are doing to flip when you hear it. And side two of this album is KILLER for this group of Steely Dan Classics: Green Earrings, Haitian Divorce, Everything You Did, and of course, The Royal Scam. (more…)

The Doors’ Strange Days – A True Demo Disc


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  • A stunning Demo Disc quality early pressing of one of the most difficult-to-find records in the world of Classic ’60s Rock
  • You get two incredible sides each rating a Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it
  • The sound is HUGE, full-bodied and lively throughout – check out that killer bottom end and the amazing transparency
  • Amazing sound for so many classics: When The Music’s Over, Moonlight Drive, Love Me Two Times and more
  • Nearly impossible to find copies that play anywhere near this quietly, let alone ones that sound like this!

See all of our Doors albums in stock

PHENOMENAL sound for the Doors sophomore classic. You won’t believe how good this copy is — incredibly rich and full yet still clean, clear and dynamic with a big bottom end, driving rock and roll energy and huge amounts of space. Thanks Bruce Botnick, you are da man!

Honestly, we must return or reject 80% of the copies that come through the door, which should go a long way towards explaining why they hit the site with such irregularity. We know what the best stampers are and have for quite a while. What we have a devil of a time doing is finding anyone selling the album who knows how to grade it properly, especially when it comes to the kind of groove damage that’s common to records played on turntables that lack anti-skate adjustment. What good is a record with distortion on vocal peaks, not to mention inner grooves that are borderline unlistenable? (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk – Some of Our Favorite Twisted Melodic Pop

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  • A MONSTER pressing that simply cannot be beat – all four sides (well, almost) earned our highest sonic grade of Triple Plus (A+++)
  • Staggering Demo Disc Quality sound on the more highly produced tracks, of which there are plenty spread across these two discs
  • The power of the bottom end is especially impressive on all the sides (and John McVie kills it on bass as usual)
  • 5 stars: “Because of its ambitions, Tusk failed to replicate the success of its two predecessors … yet it earned a dedicated cult audience of fans of twisted, melodic pop.” Twisted melodic pop? Sign me up!

This copy is absolutely KILLER, with the kind of transparency, space and openness you simply cannot find on most copies. When the soundstage is as wide and three-dimensional as it is here, it’s amazing how much more SENSE the music starts to make.

And the clarity is not the phony “audiophile” kind that’s the result of too much treble. The tonality is correct throughout, and there’s no lack of richness or warmth to the sound. They just don’t get any better. (more…)

The Beatles White Album – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with plenty of What to Listen For (WTLF) tips. 

It’s exceedingly difficult to find audiophile quality sound on The White Album. The Beatles were breaking apart, often recording independently of each other, with their own favorite engineers as enablers, and George Martin nowhere to be found most of the time. They were also experimenting more and more with sound itself, which resulted in wonderful songs and interesting effects. However, these new approaches and added complexity often result in a loss of sonic “purity.”

Let’s face it, most audiophiles like simplicity: A female vocal, a solo guitar — these things are easy to reproduce and often result in pleasing sound, the kind of sound that doesn’t take a lot of expensive equipment or much effort to reproduce.

Dense mixes with wacky EQ are hard to reproduce (our famous Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS) comes into play here), and the White Album is full of that sound, taking a break for songs like Blackbird and Julia.

Some of the Tubey Magic that you hear on Pepper is gone for good. (Play With a Little Help from My Friends on a seriously good Hot Stamper to see what has been lost forever.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Looks at the lineup for side one. Is there a rock album on the planet with a better batch of songs?

Having done shootouts for the White Album by the score, we can also say with some certainty that side one is the most difficult side to find White Hot stamper sound for. It’s somewhat rare to find a side one that earns our top Triple Plus (A+++) sonic grade, even when all the other sides do. (Actually what happens more often than not is that we take the best second discs and mate them with the best first discs to make the grades consistent for the whole album. But don’t tell anybody.) (more…)

Roundabout Vs. South Side of the Sky

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Fragile.

This shootout taught us that track one is not as well recorded as the rest of side one. On copy after copy, and there were well over a dozen, it was the other big track on side one, South Side of the Sky, that had consistently better sound. You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first.

You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first. We play both songs, but we play them in reverse order, knowing that the mind-boggling sound is really going to be on South Side, not so much Roundabout.

This record should give any record you own a run for its money. It’s as BIG and as BOLD a statement about raising the bar for rock recordings as any I know. Without a doubt one of the Best Rock Recordings of all time.

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Eagles – One Of These Nights – Our 4 Plus Shootout Winner from 2016

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

This 2-pack contains the best side one we’ve ever heard! The sound is bigger, richer, tubier and livelier than we even thought possible. Side one was so amazing, such an obvious step up over every side of every other copy, we felt it deserved to be awarded our “Four Plus” (A++++) grade. One of These Nights, Too Many Hands and Hollywood Waltz will blow your mind on this side one. 

Please note: we award the Four Plus grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side one here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus!

We award this copy’s side one our very special Four Plus (A++++) grade, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a recording to a level never experienced by us before, a level we had no idea even existed. We estimate that about one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade. You can’t get much more rare than that.

A Side One Like No Other

My notes read: ‘hi-rez, super tubey, breathy vocals with much less honk.”

This comment which really gets to the point: “guitar solos rise above.” The big solo on the title track just soars on this copy like we had never heard before. This is the guitar sound that Bill Szymczyk achieved with the band that Glyn Johns had not. Of course Johns had never tried; he saw them as a Country Rock band. The Eagles saw themselves as a Rock band, it’s as simple as that. (more…)

Michael Jackson’s Thriller Is White Hot

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  • The two INCREDIBLE sides here are guaranteed to make this by far the best sounding Thriller you have ever heard – Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it
  • The sound is HUGE – wide, deep, and open, with a solid bottom end and relentless rhythmic energy to spare 
  • Billie Jean and Beat It sound out of this world, but that’s not fair, since every track on this copy is good enough to blow your mind
  • “This was a record that had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul — expanding the approach to have something for every audience.” AMG 5 stars

Note that the slightly better sounding of the two sides here is the second side, which we feel is the stronger side of the album. with Beat It, followed by Billie Jean and ending on the single most emotional song MJ ever sang, The Lady in My Life.

Clearly one of the greatest lineups to be found on any side of any album from any era. No other Michael Jackson album can hold a candle to it.

The sound on this copy is huge, with the kind of three-dimensional soundstaging that lets the music unfold in front of you and around you as well. The bass is meaty and well-defined, showing you the rhythmic foundation that the music needs. The overall sound is transparent with amazing texture to practically every element.

Michael’s voice is marvelous on this copy — breathy, textured, and positively dripping with emotion (just listen to him break down on The Lady in My Life). (more…)

Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s Co-Masterpiece – Tumbleweed Connection

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last on this Elton John classic
  • The overall sound here is incredibly big, rich, spacious and dynamic with plenty of presence and bottom end weight
  • An incredible recording and longtime member of our Top 100 — our pick for Elton’s very best music and sound
  • 5 stars: “….their most ambitious record to date… A loose concept album about the American West… draws from country and blues in equal measures…”

Superb Music and Sound 

This has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a Top Ten spot on our Top 100 list. Engineered by Robin Geoffrey Cable at Trident, there is no other Elton John recording that is as big and powerful as Tumbleweed. (more…)

Elton John – Madman Across The Water Is Lush

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  • An outstanding copy of Madman with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • A ridiculously tough album to find with the right sound and reasonably quiet surfaces – which is why we so rarely have them on the site
  • The last of the classic albums Elton recorded at Trident, the best of which have more Tubey Magic than anything that came after
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic: “The record remains an ambitious and rewarding work, and John never attained its darkly introspective atmosphere again.”

This Madman is guaranteed to blow your mind.

The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that of the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Beatles (of course) and far too many others to list. This is some of the best high production value rock music of the ’70s. (more…)