Genre – Rock – Folk Rock (British)

Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story – Test for Proper Tonal Balance

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

One note on how to tell if you have a tonally balanced copy, at least on side two. Maggie May has multi-overdubbed, close-miked mandolins that should have strong midrange presence and an especially extended, harmonically correct top end. As soon as that song ends, a very sweet, smooth guitar opens the next track, Mandolin Wind. The two songs lean towards opposite ends of the tonal balance spectrum, but on a good copy, both of them sound right. One’s a little darker, one’s a little brighter, but they should both be right if your system is tonally balanced.    (more…)

Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out The Lights – Bigger, Taller, Wider, Deeper

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what to listen for (WTLF).

One of the qualities we don’t talk about nearly enough on the site is the SIZE of a record’s presentation. Some copies of the album don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. Other copies do, creating a huge soundfield from which the instruments and voices positively jump out of the speakers. 

When you hear a copy that can do that, needless to say (at least to anyone who’s actually bought some of our best Hot Stamper pressings) it’s an entirely different listening experience.

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. (more…)

Steeleye Span – Commoners Crown – We Love Dynamic Choruses, and These Are Amazing!

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Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that actually has actual, measurable, serious dynamic contrasts in its levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many songs . The second track on side two, Demon Lover, is a perfect example. Not only are the choruses noticeably louder than the verses, but later on in the song the choruses get REALLY LOUD, louder than the choruses of 99 out of 100 rock/pop records we audition. It sometimes takes a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically everything else you own is. (more…)

The Pentangle – Pentangling

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side one and a superb Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy could not be beat
  • The unprocessed quality found throughout the album has its audiophile credentials fully in order, especially in the area of guitar harmonics, as well as drums that sound like real drums actually sound
  • The foundation of the music is provided by two legendary guitar heavyweights, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, with Jacqui McShee’s almost unbearably sweet vocals soaring above them
  • The best material from Pentangle’s amazing first six albums, with sound that’s full of British Analog Tubey Magic
  • “Pentangling is filled to the brim with some of the finest recordings the British folk movement had to offer…”

This album presents the classic 1969 lineup at its best, with superior sonics to boot.

The unprocessed folky sound found throughout the album has its audiophile credentials fully in order, especially in the area of guitar harmonics, as well as drums that sound like real drums actually sound. (How many of the ’70s rock albums in our Top 100 have that natural drum sound? Not many when you stop to think about it.)

When I was selling audio equipment back in the ’70s this was one of our Demo Discs. The song Pentangling has beautifully recorded drums and string bass. The first track, I’ve Got A Feeling, is lovely as well.

Notice how there is nothing — not one instrument or voice — that has a trace of hi-if-ishness. No grain, no sizzle, no zippy top, no bloated bottom, nothing that reminds you of the phony sound you hear on audiophile records at every turn. Silky sweet and Tubey Magical, this is the sound we love here at Better Records. (more…)

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…)