Genre – Rock – Folk Rock (American)

Peter, Paul & Mary – Album 1700

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  • Stunning sound for this WB Gold Label original with both sides finishing top of the pile — Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • When the three of them sing good and loud on these tracks, not only can you hear them belting it out, you FEEL it too
  • The “breath of life” is alive and well on these old LPs, the best reason for the truly serious audiophile to stay committed to analog, for now and probably far into the future
  • Features their classic version of Leaving On A Jet Plane, a Number One smash that still holds up after more than 50 years(!)

We went through a big stack of Gold Label originals and various Green Label reissue pressings, in stereo of course, and this easily qualifies as the best copy we played all day.

Steve Hoffman’s famous phrase is key here: we want to hear The Breath Of Life. If these three gifted singers don’t sound like living, breathing human beings standing across from you — left, right and center — toss your copy and buy this one, because that’s exactly what they sound like here.

The TUBEY MAGIC of the midrange is practically off the scale. Until you hear it like this you really can’t even imagine it. It’s a bit shocking to hear each and every nuance of their singing reproduced so faithfully, sounding so much like live music.

This is high-rez ’60s style; not phony and forced like so much of what passes for audiophile sound these days, but relaxed and real, as if the recording were doing its best to get out of the way of the music, not call attention to itself. This, to us, is the goal, the prize we must constantly strive to keep our eyes on. Find the music, leave the rest. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – The Stone Poneys Featuring Linda Ronstadt

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

White Hot on side one, and by far the best sound we heard in our shootout for these 1975 pressings. The originals from 1967 have never impressed us. Much more folk than pop, for the most part the sound here is tubey, rich and sweet. Re-released when HLAW hit big, this album features three great Linda solos.

This copy was clearly the best we played all day, but the sound certainly 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 it does. It’s a good test for whether or not you have a copy with low distortion mastering. Listen for the least amount of smear and congestion and the most resolution.

The second track is richer and tubier and is the proof 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 – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

TWO KILLER SIDES including a STUNNING Demo Quality A+++ side one! Bring over your audio buddies and blow their minds by dropping the needle on America — I guarantee that they’ve never heard it sound like this before (unless, of course, they happen to be one of our top-shelf Hot Stamper customers already). Everything you’d hope for on a killer pressing of this album is right here on this side one, and most of it is on the A++ side two as well.

This Original Columbia 360 Label pressing has DEMO QUALITY SOUND. We know well that the average copy makes it hard to believe that a pressing like this exists, but one quick drop of the needle on any track will show you the light. We played a couple dozen copies this week and most of them weren’t fit to serve dinner on.

This one’s got the SILKY SWEETNESS and TUBEY MAGICAL ANALOG sound that Bookends demands! If your old copy left you with the idea that this is not an audiophile quality recording, we can’t say we’re surprised — most copies just plain stink.

Both sides are rich, sweet, and unusually full-bodied. A copy like this one really conveys the emotional quality of these songs in a direct and powerful way. If you love Bookends as much as we do, you’re gonna flip out when you hear this copy.

Just drop the needle on any track for a taste of what this album is supposed to sound like. I can’t tell you how many disappointing copies of Bookends that we’ve played over the last few years, and especially this last week. The typical copy is hardly worth the vinyl it’s pressed on — the spit and grain are pretty much intolerable. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Shadows and Light – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

FOUR INCREDIBLE SIDES! We had a huge shootout for this famous double album and this copy blew our minds with a pair each of White Hot and Super Hot sides and quiet vinyl throughout. In the high-stakes game of Better Records Double Album Poker, that’s a full house, my man! Sides one and three earned the A+++ grades while sides two and four were close behind at A++. This one gives you the kind of YOU ARE THERE immediacy and transparency that put you front and center for a late ’70s jazzy Joni Mitchell show. Not too many copies will do that!

If you’re a fan of Joni’s more experimental work from the mid to late ’70s, this album is a must-own. She takes a top-notch crew of musicians including Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorious and Michael Brecker through a set including many of her best album tracks from the era.

Sides one and three were absolutely top-notch, earning the top grade of A+++. The sound is full-bodied, lively and very DYNAMIC. On so many copies the sax sounds thin and hard, but on a Hot Stamper like this one you get fuller, smoother sound for the instrument. Joni’s voice is breathy and present with real texture, and the three-dimensional imaging gives the music a real sense of SPACE — just like you’d get at a concert. This helps convey the intimacy of the songs and the performances, and isn’t that what we audiophiles got in this crazy hobby for in the first place? (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Song To A Seagull

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  • This stunning copy boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • The vocals are breathy and clear, and the overall sound is rich, full and Tubey Magical with especially lovely guitar tone
  • Our favorite early Joni Mitchell album by far – as good as her others are, this one has a special charm we can find on no other record, by Joni or anyone else
  • “What sets this release apart from those of other confession-style singer/songwriters of the time is the craft, subtlety, and evocative power of Mitchell’s lyrics and harmonic style… “

I loved this album from the minute I first heard it; all of side one is magical in a way that no other Joni album is. Is it the particular guitar tunings she was using? The minor key melodies? Whatever she did, however she did it, the result is an absolutely SUBLIME folk album, as unique in its own way as Leonard Cohen’s debut.

I put this one right up with her best, which are of course the ones we’ve done Hot Stamper shootouts for, of course, and on any given day I would rather play side one of this album than any of the others. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Ladies Of The Canyon – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

This Ladies Of The Canyon absolutely BLEW US AWAY on side two, defeating a huge stack of originals! When we dropped the needle on this side two, we heard the kind of Joni Mitchell magic that is so hard to come by, even when armed with dozens and dozens of pressings.

Folks, this album comes to life on this side two in a way that is natural and musical, and never forced or phony. It’s The Real Sound, plain and simple — and very few copies have it.

The growl of the cello on Rainy Night House can clearly be heard behind Joni, with the wood of the instrument sounding real and correct. The kind of You Are There immediacy and transparency of this copy has to be heard to be believed.

Listen to the piano Joni plays throughout the album: this is not the thin and hard-sounding instrument that accompanies her on practically every LP you have ever had the misfortune to audition, hoping against hope that someday you would find that “elusive disc” with sound worthy of such extraordinary music. No, this piano has real weight; it has body; and it’s surrounded by real, three-dimensional studio space. (more…)

Peter, Paul & Mary – Moving – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

This White Hot Stamper [which sold for $400 in 2008 by the way] of Peter Paul & Mary’s MOVING absolutely DESTROYED the competition. No other copy we played rated as high as A++ on EITHER side; this one rates our top grade of A+++ on BOTH sides! The warmth and presence of the vocals on this copy are OFF THE CHARTS! 

The overall sound on both sides is tubey magical beyond any rational expectation. No other copy had the kind of “You are there” immediacy found from start to finish on this one. The transparency, spaciousness and clarity here are jarring — you’ve got to hear this thing to believe it! (more…)

Bread – On The Waters – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More Bread

More On The Waters

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

Hot Stampers have finally been discovered for the most consistent and BEST SOUNDING of the Bread albums (not counting the Best of Bread compilation, one of our long time favorites here at Better Records, but a compilation nevertheless). This is the record that put their heavily Beatles-inflected Pure Pop on the map, and at the top of the charts with their Number One hit single Make It With You.

We used to think that only the Best of Bread album could get that song to sound as luscious and Tubey Magical as it does when we hear it in our heads, but it seems we were wrong — it sounds positively amazing on the best copies of On The Waters. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of the Everly Brothers or The Beatles. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – For The Roses – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame that sold for $600 in 2008.

OFF THE CHARTS breathiness, delicacy, warmth and sweetness, and that’s just Joni’s voice. The sound of the ensemble throughout is amazingly natural, the recording so spacious. You may have noticed that there were no Joni records on our Top 100 List, but after hearing this wonderful LP on the original white label Asylum pressing we knew we had to add it to that very special list. [Since replaced by other titles.]

Let’s face it, we love Blue but it has its share of problems, as does Ladies of the Canyon. Court and Spark is up at the top up the list as well, but Roses seems to have the most folky recording purity. Perhaps the engineers saw this as an opportunity to address the problems with Blue on this, the followup. By the time she had fully adopted her new jazzy style with the album after this one, Court — with the multi-tracking that that music required — some of the recording quality got lost in the quest for slicker production values.

AGAIG on Side One

This copy has it all: the kind of transparency that allows you to see into the soundfield like never before; presence and immediacy in Joni’s breathy, emotional vocals; air and ambience around all the instruments; and tubey magical guitars. (Listen especially to the acoustic guitar on Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire. That’s the sound we love here at Better Records! Even if your system is all transistor (ouch), that guitar will sound like you own the most tubey magical equipment in the world.)

This copy also had REAL ENERGY and dynamics not found on the typical pressing. With dynamics AND the warmth and richness found here, we’re pretty sure this copy can’t be beat on side one. (more…)

The Everly Brothers – The Very Best of the Everly Brothers – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

More The Everly Brothers

More The Very Best of the Everly Brothers

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

This compilation contains some real Warners recordings (from after 1960, when they signed with the label) mixed with some re-recordings of their best classic Cadence material, to make an album with as many hits and great songs as a single album can hold.  

In stereo, on the original WB Gold Label, with really quiet vinyl — this is the one!

It took us about five years to find the records for this shootout. Not sure when the next one will be, but we’re pretty sure it won’t be any time soon.

Side Two

A++, lots of tubes in the 1964 mastering chain mean this one is likely to be rich and sweet, and sure enough it is. This is clearly the right sound for this music, although there is occasional evident smear and honk in the midrange. Great energy though.

Side One

A+ to A++. The sound varies quite a bit from track to track. Some songs are too thin and clean, others fare better with this EQ. Overall this side should sound good on tubier systems. Good energy and a solid bottom end are pluses here. (more…)