Genre – Rock – Hippie Folk Rock

Donovan – The Real Donovan in Mono – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

Now here’s a mono record we can get behind! If more mono records sounded big and open the way this one does we would totally be on board with the current movement towards One Channel. (As that has not been our experience we remain skeptical.)

This is by far the best sounding, quietest pressing we have ever played. It boasts Super Hot Stamper sound on side one, backed with even better than Super Hot Stamper sound (A++ to A+++) on side two, and it’s pressed on exceptionally quiet vinyl (for Hickory anyway).  

Mono is in fact the secret to getting these early Hickory records to sound their best. The recordings are mono; the stereo pressings are simply electronically reprocessed. Now, that’s not always the kiss of death, but as a rule it doesn’t help the sound much and has the potential to cause tonality and imaging issues.

The Real Donovan is a compilation of singles, along with some tracks which have been sourced from the first two albums, and an EP, as well as a couple of b-sides. (Hickory seems to have taken a page from Capitol here, as that’s exactly what The Beatles Second Album is. As I recall that album sold quite well in the states.) (more…)

The Grateful Dead – American Beauty – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

MASTER TAPE SOUND AND MOSTLY QUIET VINYL ON BOTH SIDES, BABY! We went through all of 2008 without finding a single Hot Stamper copy of this great album, but today I am pleased to report that American Beauty Hot Stampers are back in stock at Better Records! Drop the needle on any track on either side — I guarantee you’ve never heard this band sound so good, or your money back. 

If you’re looking for a mindblowingly good copy of the Grateful Dead’s masterpiece, you’re going to have to act quickly, because our supply is extremely limited. I understand if you want to write the Dead off based on their later output, but you just can’t deny the power of this album. (more…)

Jerry Garcia – Garcia

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  • Incredible sound throughout for this original Warner Brothers pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it
  • These superb sides are doing everything right — clean, clear, full-bodied and musical with wonderfully present vocals and a lovely bottom end
  • “Garcia is nothing short of a full-bodied artistic expression from one of rock & roll’s most multi-faceted musicians. Both initiated Deadheads as well as enthusiasts of the burgeoning early-’70s singer/songwriter movement will find much to cherish on this recording as Garcia redefines his immense talents and seemingly undiluted musical potential.” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars

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Crosby Stills & Nash – Crosby Stills & Nash – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

Here’s a big one that we know many of you are waiting for: WHITE HOT STAMPERS for both sides of CSN’s amazing debut album. I’m pretty sure we get more emails about this album than any other; everyone wants a great sounding copy, but they’re oh-so-hard to find, especially in clean condition.

We’ve paired up a MONSTER side one with an equally amazing side two to create this White Hot Stamper 2-Pack. We’ve noticed many of you steer clear of the 2-Packs, but this one is a STUNNER.

If you’re waiting for a single copy to hit the site with two sides this good, we advise you to grab a comfortable chair and a cooler — you’re gonna be waiting a LONG TIME. (more…)

Brewer & Shipley – Weeds – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2017

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

It took two copies on two different labels to give you BETTER than Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the two sides of this 2-pack. These sides were beyond anything we had ever heard, with weight and Tubey Magic to put other records to shame. On the best copies the midrange is amazingly relaxed and natural, yet completely clear and present. This Bay Area Hippie Folk Rock has much in common with classic albums like Workingman’s Dead and CSN’s first. (more…)

Crosby Stills & Nash – Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – Critical Listening Exercise

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This commentary from an older Hot Stamper listing for CSN’s debut makes note of some specific qualities in the recording that are a good test for midrange transparency and naturalness.

What’s magical about Crosby, Stills, Nash (& Young)? 

Their voices of course. It’s not a trick question. They revolutionized rock music with their genius for harmony. Any good pressing must sound correct on their voices or it has no value whatsoever. A CSN record with bad midrange — like most of them — is a worthless record.

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

Listen to the section of the song that starts with Stills’ line Can I tell it like it is, with Nash and Crosby behind him — it’s clearly a generation of tape down from what came before and what comes after. The voices and the acoustic guitars just seem to lose their immediacy for no apparent reason. Wha’ happen?

It’s the mix, folks, and no mastering engineer can fix it. This album is full of parts and pieces of various songs that are occasionally problematical in that way. Recognize them for what they are, a little bump in the road of the recording, no more, no less. On the hot copies the best sounding material will sound amazing, and the lesser sounding material (i.e., the more poorly recorded or mixed bits and pieces) will sound as good as they can sound.

That’s the nature of the beast. It is what it is. The more intensely you listen to a record like this — a true Rock Classic from the ’60s — and we listen very intensely around here when doing these shootouts — the more you will notice these kinds of recording artifacts. It’s what gives them “character”.

It’s also what allows you to play a record like this on a regular basis and still find something new in it after all these years. We’ve made some recent improvements to the stereo and room here at Better Records and I can tell you I heard things in this recording I never knew were there. What could be more fun than that? The music never gets old, and neither does the sound!

Stephen Stills – Bill Halverson’s Engineering Masterpiece?

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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 the album.

When all the elements are working together as they do here, the music on Steve Stills’ first album is postively AMAZING. Until I hear something better, I’m going to have to call this BILL HALVERSON‘s Engineering Masterpiece.* Yes, on the best copies it’s that good.

*We have now heard something even better, an album from earlier in the same year in fact, Deja Vu.

We’ve had an unbelievably hard time finding copies that lived up to our expectations, prompting much of my crew to argue that it just could not be done. We didn’t find copies that sounded just as good as I remembered — no, we found copies that went BEYOND what I had hoped for.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Both sides are rich and full-bodied, as well as transparent, with lots of separation between the parts. Most copies tend to be murky, thick, and veiled. The overall sound here is airy, open, and spacious, with TONS of ambience. (more…)

Donovan – The Hurdy Gurdy Man – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

The 1968 sound here is GLORIOUS — rich, sweet, Tubey Magical and very, very Analog.

Side one is where you will find The Hurdy Gurdy Man and it is crazy good sounding here. No wonder: Hurdy Gurdy was engineered by Eddie Kramer and produced by none other than John Paul Jones.

Donovan records tend to be hit or miss affairs, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could not find a bad track on either side of the album. Most are in fact quite wonderful. 

Both Yellow Label Epics and Orange Label Epics fared well in our shootout. (We could find no Blue/ Black later labels to play.) Finding any pressing with clean surfaces was another matter, but we managed to have a pretty healthy group with which to do our shootout.

Some of these tracks may remind you more than a little of Pentangle. Danny Thompson, that band’s amazingly talented and unusually well recorded double bassist, just happens to be the bass player on the album. Go figure. Tony Carr does most of the drumming as he has on many of Donovan’s albums from the period. Needless to say, the rhythm section is first rate. (more…)

Grateful Dead – Terrapin Station

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Terrapin Station

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  • This original pressing earned Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it throughout – you’ll have a hard time finding a copy that sounds any better than this!
  • Produced by Keith Olsen of Fleetwood Mac fame, it’s no surprise that the recording quality is quite a bit better than most of the records they had been making at the time
  • Pretty darn quiet throughout, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus, as quiet as we can find them
  • “Terrapin Station offers a few choice glimpses of the band doing what it does best. While the most prominent example is the album’s extended title suite, there are a few others such as the cover of the Rev. Gary Davis gospel-blues “Samson and Delilah” and a resurrection of the Martha & the Vandellas hit “Dancin’ in the Streets.” 

Most Dead studio albums after Workingman’s Dead are full of filler, but this one actually has some good songs: the extended title song suite, the hard-rockin’ Passenger (note the similarities to Fleetwood Mac’s Station Man), and the darkly funky Estimated Prophet. The cover of Dancin’ In The Streets may have earned this album the epithet of Disco Dead, but it’s actually a good bit of fun if you don’t take it too seriously. (more…)

Brewer & Shipley – Tarkio – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2012

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

This White Hot Stamper side one of our beloved Tarkio, Brewer and Shipley’s Folk Rock Masterpiece, is without a doubt the BEST SOUND we have ever heard on any pressing bar none. This side sets a standard that no other copy on any side could touch. True, we awarded a Triple Plus grade to an amazing side two copy, but this side one is still the better of the two. We could easily have called it Four Pluses but chose to go with the simpler A+++ and this explanation.

However you frame it, this side is OFF THE CHARTS in a big way. It’s amazingly rich, yet clear and transparent as any we played — what a combination!

This, like Dark Side and so many other White Hot Stamper records we offer to the discriminating audiophile, is ANALOG at its finest. To our knowledge there hasn’t been a single record mastered in the last thirty years with this kind of sound, and we know whereof we speak: we’ve played them by the hundreds.

A Desert Island Disc for me with wonderfully NATURAL sound. This copy had the ULTIMATE Side One (A+++) and a very competitive Side Two (A++), making it the King of our Shootout. If you love this record as much as you should, this is the copy to own. I would love to keep it for my desert island, but we know there is surely a deserving soul out there who will treasure it as much as I do, and probably play it a lot more often, so if you know the album at all this is your chance at greatness. (And I still haven’t found a desert island I’m all that partial to anyway.)

Not Really One Toke Over the Line

Please don’t assume that this album has much in the way of uptempo country rockers like One Toke Over the Line, Flying Burrito Brothers style. Nothing could be further from the truth. Practically every other song on the album is better, almost all of them are taken at a slower pace, with none of them having the “poppy” arrangement of that carefully calculated Top Forty hit. The rest of the music on the album, the music you probably don’t know, is much better than the music that you do know if what you know is that song. (more…)