Genre – Rock – Folk Rock (British)

The Beatles Rubber Soul – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy (or our copy) of Rubber Soul. (If you have the MoFi pressing please click on the Track Listing tab below to read about its most glaring shortcoming.)

After playing so many copies of this record over the last few years, all of us here at Better Records have come to appreciate just how wonderful an album Rubber Soul really is. It has 14 fairly compact, well-structured, well-arranged pop songs, each of which is a gem in its own right. It reminds me a bit of the second album (With The Beatles) in that respect — short and to the point, get in and get out.  (more…)

Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – only the second copy to ever hit the site
  • These early Vertigo sides are rich, smooth and Tubey Magical yet still relatively clean, clear and spacious
  • Absolutely as QUIET as any pressing we have played – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – it is the very rare copy that will play this well
  • 5 Stars: “Of course, being a rocker at heart, Stewart doesn’t let these songs become limp acoustic numbers — these rock harder than any fuzz-guitar workout. The drums crash and bang, the acoustic guitars are pounded with a vengeance — it’s a wild, careening sound that is positively joyous with its abandon.”

This early Vertigo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot 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…)

Beatles For Sale – Listening in Depth

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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 For Sale. We note that Words of Love is a tough track to get right: 

There are some lively, jangly guitars behind the smooth voices. Many copies seem to sacrifice one for the other, leaving you with either irritating guitars or dull voices. The better copies get them both right.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

No Reply
I’m a Loser
Baby’s in Black

This song tends to be a bit dull on most pressings of the album, but on a superb copy you’ll get wonderful Tubey Magic, warmth and life.

Rock & Roll Music
I’ll Follow the Sun

It seems to us that I’ll Follow the Sun would have to be on any list of The Beatles’ very best. On a good copy the vocals are rich, sweet and delicate beyond belief.

Paul pops the mic on one word in this song — if your system has reasonable resolution and bottom end speed, you should be able to pick it out. Drop us a line if you can tell us what word it is — we’re curious to know if you heard what we heard.

Mr. Moonlight
Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! [Medley]

Side Two

Eight Days a Week
Words of Love

A tough track to get right. There are some lively, jangly guitars behind the smooth voices. Many copies seem to sacrifice one for the other, leaving you with either irritating guitars or dull voices. The better copies get them both right.

Honey Don’t
Every Little Thing
I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party
What You’re Doing

The transient information on this song is often just a bit smeared. On the more transparent copies you’ll be able to hear each time the piano’s hammer hits the strings. Listen for the space between the notes when the piano is playing briskly.

This track is also a good test for how punchy the bottom is. With that big drum in the intro it won’t take long for you to figure out if your copy has much deep low end.

Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby


Further Reading

When it comes to The Beatles we make it quite clear that we have never been fans of the original Parlophone pressings, at least for their records up through The White Album. To support our case we have a number of entries in our original equals better? series. Here we debunk the conventional wisdom regarding what are the best sounding pressings for specific artists and titles.

We have a large number of entries in our Listening in Depth series.

We have a section foAudio Advice of all kinds.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

AMG Review

There are some important changes on Beatles for Sale, most notably Lennon’s discovery of Bob Dylan and folk-rock. The opening three songs, along with “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” are implicitly confessional and all quite bleak, which is a new development… Its best moments find them moving from Merseybeat to the sophisticated pop/rock they developed in mid-career.

Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out The Lights – A Four Men with Beards Heavy Vinyl Winner

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Sonic Grade: B

Hey, this is a surprisingly good sounding pressing! Our Hot Stampers are clearly bigger and more lively, but for a Heavy Vinyl reissue this pressing is quite respectable.

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

You won’t get the effect we describe below on the Heavy Vinyl pressing that we heard on our best Hot Stamper original pressings, but you will get a very good sounding record.

With constant improvements to the system Shoot Out is now so powerful a recording that we had no choice but to add it to our Top 100 list in 2014, but we would go even further than that and say that it would belong on a list of the Top Ten Best Sounding Rock Records of All Time.

The guitars are HUGE — they positively leap out of the speakers on the title cut, freeing themselves from a studio that seems already to be the size of a house. (more…)

Gerry Rafferty – City To City – Our Four Plus Mindblowing Shootout Winner

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

This Gerry Rafferty White Hot Stamper LP has THE BEST SIDE ONE WE’VE EVER HEARD. So good in fact that we had to go above and beyond our usual top grade of three pluses and award this amazing copy a huge A++++! It’s guaranteed to put to shame any UK import you may have. Since those are the only pressings with any hope of sounding good, it simply means that we are very confident in the sound of this copy.

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 could even exist. We estimate that less than 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. (more…)

Stealers Wheel – Stuck in the Middle with You Rocks on These Early British LPs

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

Forget the dubby domestic pressings. Like so many British bands on the A&M label, when it came time to master the album for the domestic market, the people in charge (whoever they may have been) took the easy way out and simply ordered up a dub of the master tape to cut the album from.

Spooky Tooth, Procol Harum, Fairport Convention, (my beloved) Squeeze and too many others to think about all had their records ruined by sub-generation masters.

But this is the real British-pressed vinyl from the real master tape, and that makes all the difference in the world. (more…)

Richard and Linda Thompson – Hokey Pokey

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” sound for this classic Richard and Linda Thompson album – both sides earned our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++) 
  • The best copy we’ve ever played, with superior Tubey Magical richness that just knocked us out and made it our clear Shootout Winner
  • Everything you want in the sound of a good British Folk Rock album is here in abundance – enjoy!
  • 4 Stars: “The Thompsons, from the opening Irish fiddle derivation of a Chuck Berry riff, through Linda’s exquisite performance of “A Heart Needs a Home,” to their cover of Mike Waterson’s “Mole in a Hole” which closes the record, once again create a timeless amalgam of folk and rock…”

This is one of R&L Thompson’s best albums, their second release, following the luminous I Want to See the Bright Lights Shine from a year earlier. Rich and full-bodied, with big bass and gobs of studio ambience, this is the way this music was meant to be heard. (more…)

Shoot Out The Lights – Loud Versus Live

Shoot Out The Lights

 

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Here’s a thought: if 180 gram records are supposed to be an improvement over the original pressings, why is it that they NEVER sound Big and Bold like this pressing? And I do mean never; I’ve played hundreds of them over the years and have yet to hear this kind of sound on any of them. At this point I would have to conclude that it is simply not possible.

If you have big speakers, a large listening room and like to play your records loud, there is no modern reissue that will ever give you the thrill that a record like this can. (Of course, to fully appreciate the effect it obviously helps if you have a White Hot Stamper copy to play.)

Loud Versus Live

I’ve seen Richard Thompson on a number of occasions over the years, and as loud as my stereo will play, which is pretty darn loud, I could never make his guitar solos 20 dB louder than everything else, because it’s not on the record that way. That’s why live music can’t be duplicated properly in the home: the dynamic contrasts are much too great for the typical listener or his stereo.

Having said that, when you actually do turn this record up, way up, you get the feeling of hearing live music, and that’s not easy to do! Only the best recordings, in my experience, can begin to give you that feeling. We discuss this subject in a number of commentaries under the heading of Turn Up Your Volume.
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Gerry Rafferty – City To City – A Simply Vinyl Disaster

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Simply Vinyl pressing debunked.

We had two copies of the Heavy Simply Vinyl pressing to audition as part of our last big shootout a few years back. We used to actually like it, but it now sounds worse than we remember, especially in the low end, which is a blurry mess. Better than any domestic copy I suppose, but that’s not really saying much.    (more…)

Fairport Convention – Unhalfbricking – Simply Vinyl Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B

One of the better Simply Vinyl recuts. We haven’t played a copy of it in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

“This 180 gram LP comes recommended, with very good English sound (smooth, rich) for this early Richard Thompson folk music, with the wonderful Sandy Denny on vocals. Happily, not your standard audiophile fare.” 

A 5 Star Rave Review in the All Music Guide! (more…)