Genres

Cat Stevens – The World of Cat Stevens

More Cat Stevens

More Folk Rock

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  • Cat Stevens 1970 compilation album returns with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish and British Decca vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find it
  • These sides are doing most everything right — the sound is rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, Cat’s vocals are present, and there is plenty of studio space on the recording
  • Everything you want in a Folky Pop Star recording are here
  • Not an easy record to find in audiophile playing condition with top quality sound – it took us years to get this shootout going

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this recording. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings). (more…)

Thoughts on Smear (and the Smear-Prone Components that Makes Audio Progress Difficult)

More on Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

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Listen to the trumpet at the start of Freddie Freeloader. Most copies do not clearly convey the transient information of Miles’ horn, causing it to have an easily recognizable quality we talk about all the time on the site: smear.

No two pressings will have precisely the same amount of smear on his trumpet, so look for the least smeary copy that does everything else right too.

Meaning simply that smear is important, but not all-important.

More recordings that are good for testing smear.

If you click on the above link, you will see that we regularly talk about smeary pianos, smeary brass, smeary violins and smeary Classic Records classical reissues. Nobody else seems particularly bothered by smear as far as we can tell, and one of our many theories about the stereo shortcomings of reviewers and audiophiles in general is that their systems are fairly smeary, so a little extra smear is mostly inaudible to them.

I had a smeary system for my first twenty or more years in audio, so I know whereof I speak.

And of course I was just as clueless as everybody else.

We’ve worked very hard over the last twenty years or so to make sure our system has a practically undetectable amount of smear. Any smear we hear on a record means that the smear is on the record. It is not the product of shortcomings in our playback system.

And almost any system that uses vintage tubes — whatever their pros and cons, however much you may like the sound they produce — will have some smear.

We got rid of our tube equipment a long time ago, and having done so, the smear it added to the sound of the records we were playing at that time was dramatically reduced.

About a hundred other tweaks and improvements got rid of the rest. As I say, it took about twenty years.

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We Knew This Was a Good Record in the ’80s, We Just Didn’t Know How Good

More Chet Baker

This is a wonderful Chet Baker record that doesn’t seem to be getting the respect it deserves in the wider jazz world. You may just like it every bit as much as the Chet Baker “Chet” album, and that is one helluva record to compare any album to. In our estimation it is about as good as it gets in most respects.  

Both sides of the best copy in our last shootout were Tubey Magical, rich, open, spacious and tonally correct. We’d never heard the record sound better, and we’d been playing the album since it was first reissued in the ’80s.

I used to sell these very records in the ’90s — we retailed them for ten bucks, if you can believe it — but we had no clue just how good they could sound back then.

We couldn’t clean them right, or even play them right, and it would never have occurred to us to listen to a big pile of them one after another in order to pick out the best sounding copies.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound correctly on to disc was simply to thread up that tape on a reasonably good machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record — certainly not as good sounding as this one — these days tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years.

George Horn was doing brilliant work for Fantasy all through the ’80s. This album is proof that his sound is the right sound for this music. (more…)

Frank Zappa / The Grand Wazoo – Smear, Sibilance and Tubey Magical Keyboards to Die For

More Frank Zappa

The Tubey Magic found on the title cut is really something to hear.

The Grand Wazoo now gets my vote as the best sounding record Zappa ever made (along with Absolutely Free).

Biggest Problems

Smear on the horn transients are always a problem on this album (and Zappa’s previous big band album, Waka/Jawaka) .

After that we would say a lack of top end is the other most common shortcoming we hear. To find a copy that’s not dull and smeary is no mean feat.

The vocals on For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) are usually slightly spitty. The best copies keep the spit under control. (more…)

The Mahavishnu Orchestra – The Inner Mounting Flame

More Mahavishnu Orchestra

More 5 Star Albums

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  • A KILLER copy with Double Plus (A++) or BETTER sound from the first note to the last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The band’s debut is a true Jazz/Rock Fusion Demo Disc with the Big Sound we love here at Better Records
  • This album was recorded in 1971, only a year after Bitches Brew single-handedly created the genre of Jazz Fusion itself
  • 5 Stars “…a furious, high-energy, yet rigorously conceived meeting of virtuosos that, for all intents and purposes, defined the fusion of jazz and rock…”

This is the first album by the band, recorded only a year after Bitches Brew single-handedly created the genre of Jazz Fusion itself. Or is it better described as an album of Prog Rock without the vocals? Remember, King Crimson had a violinist and not a whole lot of singing too.

Whatever it is, mostly what this music wants to do is rock. And on this copy it rocks like you will not believe. The louder you play it the better it sounds.

The best copies had huge amounts of bottom end weight as well as rich, Tubey Magical grungy guitar tone. Once you’ve heard it sound that way, on the copies without both you’ll notice that the sound falls flat pretty quickly.

It’s hard to think of another record that rocks as hard, and it’s not even a real rock record! We find ourselves playing albums like Zep II and Back in Black for hour after hour, with dozens of copies to get through, and we do it on a regular basis. If anybody knows Big Rock Sound, it’s us. But can we really say that those albums rock any harder than this one (more…)

Jim Reeves – The Intimate Jim Reeves

More Recordings by Bill Porter

More Living Stereo Titles Available Now

Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records never justified the time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them in order to make it worth our while to give them a second go around. This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more.


For us audiophiles both the sound and the music found here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1963 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy may be just the record for you.

All the copies we played were stereo. We’ve had very poor luck with mono pressings of Living Stereo recordings and tend to avoid them.

Produced by Chet Atkins in Nashville, 1960, with Bill Porter engineering, this is superb countrypolitan pop by the man who practically invented it.

Jim Reeves is lucky to have had the Bill Porter and his staff of RCA engineers from the era on his team. Although we love to do these vintage Hot Stamper shootouts, finding clean copies of these albums is getting harder every day.

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Sade – Promise

More Sade

More Titles Only Offered on Import LP

  • Sade’s Best Album returns with stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides of this UK disc are guaranteed to be amazing sounding compared to whatever you’ve heard
  • There’s no denying the power of Sade’s sultry voice when you can actually hear it – she is on fire on this album
  • Her best song is on side one here – Is It a Crime – and the big band arrangement will surely send chills up and down your spine, especially with Triple Plus sound quality

Not many copies manage to have this kind of consistently sweet sound across both sides. Here are the kind of present, breathy vocals this music absolutely requires to work its magic.

If you know this album at all, you know that most pressings are just too damn dark sounding. Sade herself is typically recessed in the mix and veiled; it takes an exceptional copy such as this one to make her voice both present and breathy. (more…)

Van Morrison – A Sense Of Wonder

More Van Morrison

Reviews and Commentaries for Van Morrison

  • This is probably the last domestically pressed record he made that still has the kind of sound we look for in a Hot Stamper
  • “Over the years, Morrison has gathered around him a band that plays, like the best jazz ensembles, with effortless empathy. The group follows him through all his moods and meanderings, from the lilting cadences of “Tore Down à la Rimbaud” and “Ancient of Days” to the stately auguring of “Let the Slave” and the airy, triumphal shimmer of “A New Kind of Man.” A Sense of Wonder is serenely uplifting. With astonishing commitment and profound belief, Van Morrison continues to push forward into the mystic.”

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The Doobie Brothers – Stampede

More of The Doobie Brothers

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy has a lot going for it – exceptionally quiet vinyl for the most part too
  • These sides are rich and full, with punchy bass and plenty of rockin’-down-the-highway Doobies energy – thanks Donn Landee, you da man
  • Contains contributions from such guest musicians as Maria Muldaur, Ry Cooder, and Curtis Mayfield
  • Allmusic 4 1/2 stars: “The Doobie Brothers’ rootsiest album to date, Stampede was virtuoso soulful countrified rock of a gritty nature, crossing over into blues as well as reaching back to a raw, traditional rock & roll sound…”

The average copy of this album is compressed and congested, recessed and veiled, grainy and thin; in other words, it sounds like an old Doobie Brothers album. It takes a copy like this one to show you just how good the Master Tape must be.

And if we hadn’t had plenty of copies to play with, we would never have found this one. (more…)

Prince – Controversy

More Prince

More Soul, Blues, and Rhythm and Blues


  • This copy of Prince’s fourth studio album boasts outstanding Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • Prince’s albums will never be demo discs, but the best pressings give you the sound that he was going for in the studio, and you can’t ask for more than that
  • These vintage Prince albums are getting hard to find nowadays – prices have doubled and tripled in the last year or two
  • “Controversy emerged in 1981 at a pivotal time not just for Prince, but for America. It’s often regarded as a bridge between Dirty Mind and 1999, but it’s fascinating record in its own right.” – Pitchfork (9.0)

The best copies sound pretty much the way the best copies of most Classic Rock records sound: tonally correct, rich, clear, sweet, smooth, open, present, lively, big, spacious, with breathy vocals and little spit, grit, grain or grunge. That’s the sound of analog, and the best copies of Controversy have that sound. (more…)