Genre – Rock – Folk Rock (American)

Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks

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Blood on the Tracks

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  • With Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides, this is an outstanding Blood on the Tracks from start to finish
  • For musical, un-hyped acoustic guitars and vocals, the sound of this album is tough to beat in Dylan’s catalog 
  • The better copies are rich, warm, tubey and full-bodied – in other words, they are exactly what’s good about vintage analog
  • 5 stars: “…it’s an affecting, unbearably poignant record, not because it’s a glimpse into his soul, but because the songs are remarkably clear-eyed and sentimental, lovely and melancholy at once. Dylan made albums more influential than this, but he never made one better.”

This is an outstanding recording — a member of our Top 100 in fact — but it takes a special pressing to bring it to life. It’s nice when the copy in hand has all the transparency, space, layered depth and three-dimensionality that makes listening to records such a fundamentally different experience than listening to digitally-sourced material, but it’s not nearly as important as having a rich, relaxed quality. A touch of smear and a slight lack of resolution is not the end of the world on this album. Brightness, along with too much grain and grit, can be. (more…)

Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde

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Blonde On Blonde

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  • With 10.5 pluses out of a possible 12, this copy was one of the best we heard in our recent shootout — exceptionally quiet vinyl too  
  • You won’t believe how big, rich and full this album can sound on a copy this good
  • Includes tons of quintessential Dylan classics: Rainy Day Women, I Want You, Just Like A Woman, and more – they all sound phenomenal
  • 5 stars: “Blonde on Blonde is an album of enormous depth, providing endless lyrical and musical revelations on each play… It’s the culmination of Dylan’s electric rock & roll period — he would never release a studio record that rocked this hard, or had such bizarre imagery, ever again.”

It takes a properly mastered, properly pressed copy like this one to get both Dylan’s voice and harmonica — two of the most critically important elements on any of his recordings — to sound smooth, full-bodied and clear. Any pinched quality will be painfully obvious to the listener, and for that shortcoming you lose a lot of points here at Better Records. That said, upper-midrangy sound on any vintage Dylan record to one degree or another is almost always audible. The less the better, but none is really not an option. (more…)

Bob Dylan & The Band – Before The Flood – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

One of the great Live Classic Rock albums of all time, now available in White Hot Stamper form! We recently undertook a massive shootout for this spirited double LP and three of the better sides from the whole shebang are on this here pressing. Sides one and two each earned our top grade of A+++, while side four clocked in at A++. Side three, as is often the case, was not quite up to the same standards. 

We feel that the best material is contained on the other three sides, so we doubt this will be a dealbreaker for many of you. (more…)

Beck – Mutations

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Mutations

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this superb copy of Beck’s 1998 Grammy Award Winning release – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This shockingly well-recorded album sounds surprisingly analog for 1998 – there’s real Tubey Magical Richness here  
  • This is one of our favorite albums from the 90s – if you don’t already have a favorite Beck album, this one should fit the bill
  • 4 Stars: “Beck is not only a startling songwriter — his best songs are simultaneously modern and timeless — he is a sharp record-maker, crafting albums that sound distinct and original…”

(more…)

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow

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  • This outstanding stereo copy of the band’s sophomore release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) from first note to last
  • It’s the rare copy of this ’60s Psych Classic that has this kind of freedom from distortion, as well as clarity, openness, and spaciousness
  • An incredibly difficult album to find with audiophile sound, but this copy has the goods and will beat whatever you throw at it
  • 5 stars: “Every song is a perfectly cut diamond … a groundbreaking piece of folk-rock-based psychedelia that hit — literally — like a shot heard round the world…”

Check out the breathy vocals on Today — now THAT is what we call the magic of vintage analog!

This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Judy Collins – Wildflowers – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

This White Hot Stamper side one was clearly the best we heard in our most recent shootout — the sound is rich and full, yet Judy’s voice comes across as especially clear and breathy. Yes, vintage analog pressings can do it all, with a naturalness that no modern LP or CD can begin to equal, making this side one the obvious choice for those who want to hear just how good Wildflowers gets.

The first three songs on side one alone are worth the price of the album, three of the best Judy ever recorded. Joni Mitchell’s Michael from Mountains is one of the best songs on her debut album; Judy sings it with comparable taste and skill. Since You Asked is Judy’s own composition, her first to be recorded in fact. In this writer’s opinion it’s the best song she ever wrote, “as good as it gets” as we like to say. And of course Leonard Cohen’s Sisters of Mercy is one of his many masterpieces and brilliant in all respects as performed here. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – The Stone Poneys Featuring Linda Ronstadt

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The Stone Poneys Feat. Linda Ronstadt

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this was one of the better copies we played in our shootout for these later pressings – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Much more folk than pop, for the most part the sound here is tubey, rich and sweet
  • The originals from 1967 have never impressed us much – re-released when HLAW hit big, it features three great Linda solos
  • “It doesn’t have “Different Drum,” but the first Stone Poneys album is their folkiest and best, dominated by close harmonies and strong original material by the group’s guitarists, Bob Kimmel and Ken Edwards.” 

This copy was one of the better pressings we played in our shootout, but the sound varies a fair amount from track to track. The best tracks are rich, tubey and clear; the worst thin, bright and hard.

The first track on side one rarely stayed clean when loud, but here for the most part it does. It’s a good test for whether or not you have a copy with high quality, low distortion mastering. Listen for the least amount of smear and congestion and the most resolution.

The second track is richer and tubier – it proves that side one is mastered correctly.

On side two the first track is rough, the second track better, the third richer, sweeter and smoother still. (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends – Save the Life of My Child Is One Tough Test

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of Bookends.

The big production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

(But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.)

Save the Life of My Child — A Tough Test

I used to think this track would never sound good enough to use as an evaluation track. It’s a huge production that I had heretofore found all but impossible to get to sound right on even the best original copies of the album. Even as recently as ten years ago I had basically given up on reproducing it right.

Thankfully things have changed. Nowadays, with carefully cleaned top copies at our disposal and a system that is really cooking, virtually all of the harmonic distortion in the big chorus near the opening has disappeared. It takes a very special pressing and a very special stereo to play this song. That’s precisely what makes it a good test! (more…)

Bread – The Best of Bread Vol. 2 – Reviewed in 2010

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

This very nice looking Elektra Butterfly Label LP has the best sound I’ve ever heard for this compilation. Keep in mind that this is an album of mostly weak material, not in the class with the first ’Best of Bread’ by a long shot. However, some of these songs sound quite good here, easily better than the typical Bread album from which they are taken. Listen to ‘Been Too Long On The Road’ or ‘He’s A Good Lad’ to hear the best sounding Bread.

Bread – The Best of Bread

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

For just the second time since 2007, here’s a White Hot Stamper copy of The Best Of Bread — a Better Records Desert Island Disc if ever there was one. (Believe me, there are plenty.)

I can’t be sure why these songs sound so much better here than they do on Bread’s standard albums, but we’ve never heard a Bread album that could compete with the best copies of this compilation. [This is no longer true, please read more about this subject in the listings for the individual Bread albums.]

Bread albums have some of the most Tubey Magical, rich and sweet ANALOG sound you can find, thanks to engineer ARMIN STEINER.

He was also one of the engineers on Spirit’s first album, assisted on Ram and has more than a hundred other engineering credits. (more…)