Genre – Rock – Punk Rock / New Wave

Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True – More 180g Trash from Rhino

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Sonic Grade: D

I’m embarrassed to say we used to like the Rhino Heavy Vinyl version, and in our defense let me tell you why: it was (for the most part) tonally correct, fairly low distortion, and had tight punchy bass.

Boy, was we wrong. Now it sounds positively CRUDE and UNPLEASANT next to the real thing — if by “the real thing” you mean an honest to goodness Hot Stamper copy. The average copy of this record is aggressive and unpleasant. The British pressings are mud. You either have to work very hard to find a good one (which means buying, cleaning and playing lots and lots of them), or you have to luck into a good one by accident.

 

The Pretenders’ Debut Album

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  • Insanely good sound throughout — Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side, Double Plus (A++) on the first – we rarely have copies that rock the way this one does
  • This is one of engineer Bill Price’s better efforts behind the boards, and Chris Thomas’s production is State of the Art
  • Relatively quiet vinyl throughout this early UK pressing – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • Five Stars: “Few rock & roll records rock as hard or with as much originality as the Pretenders’ eponymous debut album. A sleek, stylish fusion of Stonesy rock & roll, new wave pop, and pure punk aggression, Pretenders is teeming with sharp hooks and a viciously cool attitude.”

What really separated this copy from the pack was the lack of edge on the vocals. It’s not duller — it’s bigger and clearer yet less distorted and cut cleaner than most of the other sides we played. (more…)

The Pretenders – Get Close

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What to Listen For

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.

The best copies have superb extension up top, which allows the grit and edge on the vocals to almost entirely disappear. Some of it is there on the tape for a reason — that’s partly the sound they were going for, this is after all a Bob Clearmountain mix and a Jimmy Iovine production — but bad mastering and pressing adds plenty of grit to the average copy, enough to ruin it in fact.

You can test for that edgy quality on side one very easily using the jangly guitar harmonics and breathy vocals of My Baby. If the harmonic information is clear and extending naturally, in a big space, you are more than likely hearing a top quality copy.

Size Matters

Take it from us, it is the rare pressing that manages to get rid of the harshness and congestion that plague so many copies.

Look for a copy that opens up the soundstage — the wider, deeper and taller the soundstage the better the sound — as long as the tonal balance stays right.

When you hear a copy sound like this one, relatively rich and sweet, the minor shortcomings of the recording no longer seem to interfere with your enjoyment of the music. Like a properly tweaked stereo, a good record lets you forget all that audio stuff and just listen to the music as music. Here at Better Records we — like our customers — think that’s what it’s all about.

And we know that only the top copies will let you do that, something that not everyone in the audiophile community fully appreciates to this day. We’re doing what we can to change that way of thinking, but progress is, as you may well imagine, slow.

Get Close has long been a personal favorite of mine. Side one starts off with a bang with the song My Baby, one of the best tracks this band ever recorded. Of course at this point it’s hard to call The Pretenders a band as it is pretty much Chrissie Hynde’s show. She continues to mature as a songwriter, and the arrangments and production value are excellent as well, with heavy hitters such as Steve Lillywhite, Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine involved.

The Domestic LP and CD

The domestic LP is pretty awful, and the domestic CD is even worse, practically unlistenable in fact. I have one in my car; only the judicious use of the treble control, steeply downwards, makes the sound even tolerable.

But the album rocks — it’s great driving music.

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The Cars – Candy-O – 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 The Cars’ second album.

This is one of our favorite recordings — a former member of our Top 100 — for one very simple reason: it’s got Big Rock Sound in spades! Drop the needle on Let’s Go and check out the sound of the big floor tom. When the drummer bangs on that thing, you will FEEL it! It’s similar to the effect of being in the room with live musicians — the difference between just hearing music and also feeling it. That’s what you get from a Hot Stamper copy.

What other New Wave band ever recorded an album with this kind of DEMONSTRATION QUALITY sound? It positively JUMPS out of the speakers. No album by Blondie, Television, The Pretenders or ANY of their comtemporaries can begin to compete with this kind of sound, with the exception of the Talking Heads’ Little Creatures. The Cars very own first album is excellent, but it doesn’t have this kind of LIFE and ENERGY. No way, no how.   (more…)

The Clash – London Calling

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  • Truly stunning sound, with shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on all four sides 
  • A shockingly well-recorded album that comes to life with the combo of a great copy and a hi-res, full-range system
  • Five stars in the AMG: “A stunning statement of purpose and one of the greatest rock & roll albums ever recorded.”

AUDIOPHILE SOUND FOR THIS PUNK ROCK CLASSIC?! You better believe it, baby! The sound here is superb for all four sides.

Dub Style!

What really sets this album apart sonically is The Clash’s use of reggae and dub influences. You can really hear it when you tune in to the bottom end; your average late ’70s punk record won’t have this kind of rich and meaty bass, that’s for sure. Drop the needle on The Guns Of Brixton (last track on side two) to hear exactly what I’m talking about. On a Hot Stamper copy played at the correct levels (read: quite loud!) the effect is positively HYPNOTIC.

Bill Price engineered and as we like to day, he knocked this one out of the park. The best sounding record from 1979? I have the feeling it just might be.

Nobody would have accused The Clash of being an audiophile-friendly band, but a copy like this might make you think twice about that! We had a blast doing this shootout and we hope whoever takes this home has just as much fun with it. (more…)

Talking Heads – Remain In Light on Ridiculously Bad Rhino Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing.

The Rhino Heavy Vinyl reissue of this album was Dead On Arrival the minute it hit my turntable. No top, way too much bottom, dramatically less ambience than the average copy — this one is a disaster on every level.

Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino touts their releases as being pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl.” However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins. 

Talking Heads’ Masterpiece – More Songs About Buildings and Food

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  • Take Me to the River rocks like you won’t believe
  • Eno produced, Rhett Davies engineered, every track is (psycho) killer – a Must Own from 1978
  • 5 stars: “Brian Eno brought a musical unity that tied the album together, especially in terms of the rhythm section, the sequencing, the pacing, and the mixing.”

If you thought you’d never hear a truly great pressing of this album, here’s the copy that will prove you wrong and rock your world doing it! The top end is extended and sweet, the bottom end is big and punchy, and the overall sound is as rich and full-bodied as you could expect from this zany art-rock.

The vocals have the kind of presence that put David Byrne right there in your living room, and not under a blanket or behind the speakers as most of the pressings we played were wont to do.

Top Notch ’70s Art Rock

I don’t think these guys ever put together a better group of songs. The ultimate pressings of Little Creatures go a step further sonically, but the best copies of this one can sound incredible, if not quite Demo Disc worthy. (more…)

British Guy, British Pressing… Right?

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Nope. It’s just another Record Myth.

The British pressings are simply not competitive with the best domestics. No import, from any country, can touch a good Columbia pressing from the states. The most common stampers for the Columbia pressings have never sounded very good to these ears, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some killer copies with different stampers sitting in the bins wearing the generic ’70s Red Columbia label. We’ve heard them. Wish we could find more of them but they are rare and only getting rarer.
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Ramping Up the Horsepower of The Cars Like Crazy

The Cars

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The best copies must have one key ingredient that we’ve discovered is absolutely essential if this groundbreaking New Wave album is to come to life — a huge, spacious soundstage.

Some copies are huge; others, not so much. The effect of these size differentials is ENORMOUS. The power of the music ramps up like crazy — how could this recording possibly be this BIG and POWERFUL? How did it achieve this kind of scale? You may need twenty copies to find one like this, which begs the question: why don’t the other 19 sound the way this one does? The sound we heard has to be on the master tape in some sense, doesn’t it? Mastering clearly contributes to the sound, but can it really be a factor of this magnitude?
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My Aim Is True Can Really Rock – If You Have the Speaker System to Play It

My Aim Is True Can Really Rock –

If You Have the Speaker System to Play It

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

There is a line in the Hot Stamper commentary below concerning driving punk rock bass. Man, this record lives or dies by your ability to reproduce the powerful bottom end that propels this music. Pardon me for cueing up a broken record again, and with all due respect to the things they do well — they must do something well, right? People keep buying them — small speakers and screens are not going to cut it on My Aim Is True. This is precisely the kind of album they don’t do well. (more…)