Genre – Vocals – Male

Nat King Cole – Unforgettable

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

Our shootout winner here had the clearest, most natural vocals, with a living, breathing Nat King Cole front and center. Hard to believe some of these songs date back to 1946, with the most recent being from 1954. No matter; whatever the limitations of the recording technology, they knew enough of what they were doing to get Nat’s voice consistently right for practically every track. 

One of the key elements we noticed on the best of the best was the relaxation in Nat’s performance. He sings so effortlessly on the best copies; on other pressings you often don’t notice that casual quality.

Warmth and sweetness were nearly as important, the distinctive and unmistakeable hallmarks of vintage All Tube Analog. Each of these qualities combined to make the music on these sides as thoroughly involving and enchanting as any album of its kind we have ever offered.

The Hunt

Naturally we’re always on the lookout for Nat King Cole records with good sound. In our experience finding them is not nearly as easy as one might think it would be. Far too many of his recordings are drenched in bad reverb, with sound that simply can’t be taken seriously — fine for old consoles but not so good on modern audiophile equipment.

At least one we know of has his voice out of phase with the orchestra on most copies, which put a quick end to any hope of finishing the shootout we had started.

If anything the sound on his albums gets even worse in the ’60s. Many of Nat’s albums from that decade are over-produced, bright, thin and shrill. (more…)

Lena Horne & Harry Belafonte – Porgy and Bess

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound for both sides of this wonderful Living Stereo album – as you would expect, the Tubey Magic is off the charts
  • Both sides are big, lively and present with lovely breathy vocals from the two principals (who sing solo on all but two of the tracks)
  • A brilliant Living Stereo recording from 1959, which plays as quietly as we can find them – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “The first of Belafonte’s duet albums with female performers, this one paired two attractive black American singers at the peak of their respective talents.”

A Living Stereo knockout! We often forget to spend time with records like this when there are Zeppelin and Floyd records to play. We’ve always enjoyed Belafonte At Carnegie Hall, but when we’ve dug further into his catalog we’ve been left cold more often than not. However, when we finally got around to dropping the needle on a few of these we were very impressed by the music and BLOWN AWAY by the sound on the better pressings.

It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology. If you’re a Harry Belafonte fan, a Lena Horne fan, a Gershwin fan, or just somebody who enjoys classic material performed with gusto and soul, this is a record that belongs in your collection.

1959 Tubes?

You just can’t beat ’em. (more…)

Roy Orbison – Sings Lonely and Blue on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked. 

Can’t recommend this one. It’s too bright. The DCC LP of Orbison’s material is dramatically better [assuming you want a Heavy Vinyl pressing. I doubt I would care for the sound of it now but back in the day we recommended it].

I’ve had some discussions with some audiophiles who liked this album, and I’m frankly surprised that people find this kind of sound pleasing, but if you’re one of those people who likes bright records, this should do the trick! 

 

Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim on Bad Rhino Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: C-

The originals are better and not that hard to find. (The sound on the best original pressings is superb.)

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

Dean Martin – This Time I’m Swingin’

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  • A wonderful copy that lets this music swing the way it’s supposed to! Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • Both sides are incredible with big, clear and present sound — Deano’s vocals are Right On The Money
  • With Nelson Riddle arranging, the album has plenty of swing all right — and the brass sounds amazing here
  • 4 1/2 Stars in the All Music Guide: “…an easy swinging collection…”

If you’re a fan of the Capitol Sinatra sound you’ll love this record. It’s an exceptionally difficult title to find in anything but trashed condition. I’ve been a fan of this record for many years but this is the first copy we’ve been able to find that’s clean enough to go up on the site with White Hot Stamper grades.  (more…)

Ray Charles – The Genius of Ray Charles

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  • One of the few copies to ever hit the site and boy is it KILLER — Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • The sound is incredibly rich, full and Tubey Magical with tons of energy and a nice extended top end
  • Robert Christgau noted that “Charles tried many times, but except for Modern Sounds, he never again assembled such a consistent album in this mode.”
  • “Charles’ voice is heard throughout in peak form, giving soul to even the veteran standards.”

Tom Dowd engineered on Ampex 3 Track through an All Tube chain (this is 1959 after all), Quincy Jones did the arrangements, and Ray sang the hell out of this great batch of songs — all the ingredients in a recipe for soul are here.

Top tracks on the first side: Let The Good Times Roll, It Had To Be You and When Your Lover Has Gone. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – Sinatra’s Sinatra

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  • This Sinatra release from 1963 has out of this world Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Forget the reissues – the stereo original we are offering here is the only way to go for rich, tubey, dynamic, musical sound 
  • Frank rerecorded some of his biggest hits in stereo for this album – the record is one Sinatra Classic after another
  • Amazon 5 Stars: “Riddle’s arrangements are, as always, top-notch, and Sinatra is in fine, engaging form.”

(more…)

What’s the Right Grade for the CBS Half-Speed of Willie Nelson’s Stardust?

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Sonic Grade: B to F, depending on the copy

This Hot Stamper CBS Mastersound LP has the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for the half-speed of this title. It KILLED the other two CBS Audiophile Stardusts we played. If you think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that any two records — domestic, import, audiophile, 180 gram, or otherwise — sound the same, then you simply need to do a shootout or two with records like these to be disabused of that notion.

One copy was awful; I’d have to say it’s one of the worst sounding audiophile pressings I’ve ever played. Somebody is going to buy it thinking it somehow guarantees them a higher quality pressing, and to that person I say, think again. That’s not the way it works.

This copy, on the other hand, sounds so good you’d think it was one of our hand-picked multi-hundred dollar Hot Stamper pressings. (One of them sold for $750, FYI.) It may not be the ultimate copy, but it sure sounded amazing to us. On the half-speed scale we give it Two Pluses. That’s the highest grade we’ve ever given ANY half-speed; from guys who can’t stand half-speeds as a rule, that’s high praise indeed. 

Check out Audiophile Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

Nat “King” Cole’s Love Is The Thing – The Breatkthrough We Were Waiting For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

Love Is The Thing has long been one of the best sounding Nat “King” Cole recordings we had auditioned over the years. With a large variety of copies to play, including some interesting “finds” among them, we now know it actually is The Best. We have never heard the man sound better than he does on the hottest copies of this very album.

Of course we’re always on the lookout for Nat King Cole albums with good sound. In our experience that is not nearly as easy as one might expect. Far too many of his recordings are drenched in bad reverb and can’t be taken seriously. At least one we know of has his voice out of phase with the orchestra on most of the copies we played, putting a quick end to that shootout.  (more…)

Ray Charles – Ingredients In A Recipe For Soul

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  • Insanely good sound throughout with both sides earning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • These sides are doing it all right — richer, fuller, better bass, more Tubey Magic, and the list goes on!  
  • “The high points are very high — “Busted,” his hit reworking of a composition by country songwriter Harlan Howard, is jazzy and tough, and one of his best early-’60s singles…” – All Music

What the best sides of this Rhythm and Blues album from 1963 have to offer is not hard to hear: (more…)