Genres

Bob Dylan – Empire Burlesque

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  • With two amazingly good sides, each rating a sonic grade of Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it, this original pressing has the magic of analog in its grooves
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Say what you want about Empire Burlesque — at the very least, it’s the most consistent record Bob Dylan has made since Blood on the Tracks, even if it isn’t quite as interesting as Desire. However, it is a better set of songs, all deriving from the same place and filled with subtle gems… this is as good as Dylan gets in his latter days.”

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Weather Report – Heavy Weather

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  • With outstanding Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish you will not believe how BIG and BOLD this copy is
  • Birdland on this pressing has some of the most dynamic, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling jam-packed sound ever committed to vinyl
  • Joe Zawinul and Jaco Pastorius are both here and at the absolute peak of their creative powers – this is a work of GENIUS
  • Allmusic 5 Stars: ”Birdland’ is a remarkable bit of record-making, a unified, ever-developing piece of music that evokes, without in any way imitating, a joyous evening on 52nd St. with a big band.”

The hottest of the hot stamper pressings demonstrate that this is a truly amazing recording, with some of the most dynamic, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling jam-packed sound ever committed to vinyl. The grit, grain and grunge of most pressings is nowhere to be found on these killer sides, and that alone puts them in a very special league indeed.

What To Listen For (WTLF)

We’ve discovered that the key to the hottest sounding pressings is a fairly simple one: the copies with high frequency extension and the tremendous rhythmic energy that results from it are consistently the best sounding.

You may have read elsewhere on the site that what separates many of the best Columbia LPs from their competition is an open, extended top end. For some reason, Columbia, seemingly more than any other label, had a bad habit of making slightly dull records. Slightly dull does not work for this album.

My notes on Palladium in the Track Listing sum it up: when the highs on the record are right, it almost always comes together. Unfortunately, most copies don’t have those highs. There’s more to it of course: some copies lack bass, some sound a bit grainy and gritty — the normal problems associated with vinyl records are all here.

But when you have good highs, you are way more than halfway hom; you are about 80 to 85% of the way toward a Hot Stamper. Just fill in the last few details (bass, dynamics, etc.) and the sound will more than likely blow your mind. (more…)

John Coltrane – Black Pearls

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  • This superb 1958 stereo LP boasts two Triple Plus (A+++) sides – the sound of this copy simply cannot be beat
  • It’s big, lively, tubey, present and very transparent – nothing we played could compete with it
  • A great Rudy Van Gelder recording that hits a whole nother level on a copy like this
  • 4 stars on Allmusic: “…captures Coltrane at the height of perfecting the intense volley that would garner the name ‘sheets of sound.’ “

A killer copy of this wonderful 1958 Coltrane album, unbeatable on either side! We heard one that blew us away a few years big, so we picked up a bunch more and finally had the chance to evaluate them. The music was always enjoyable, but on a copy like this things really get going. Coltrane is joined here by Donald Byrd, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor — a top lineup, the same crew behind the great Lush Life. (more…)

Neil Diamond – Stones

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  • A Shootout Winner – Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side, Double Plus (A++) on the first – this is the way to hear Neil Diamond!
  • Armin Steiner engineered the album, and it’s Neil’s best recorded release (that we’ve critically auditioned in large numbers)
  • Stones and I Am… I Said are killer on the A+++ side one, but both sides have outstanding sonics
  • 4 Stars: “Stones is a stronger album than most of Neil Diamond’s late-’60s records. An engaging collection of mainstream pop.”

I can’t say for sure that this is the best sounding Neil Diamond album, we haven’t been through all of them yet, but it’s certainly the best sounding album of his that we’ve critically auditioned in large numbers. Good luck finding another copy of Stones out in the bins that deliver top quality sonics the likes of these — we went through a TON of copies and only a small number held our interest. (more…)

Heart – Dreamboat Annie

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  • One of the best sounding copies of this quintessential Heart album to ever hit the site – Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on BOTH sides
  • Punchy and present, open and transparent, with real weight and power to the low end, nothing else in our shootout could compare to this bad boy
  • There is so much more LIFE to this recording than I ever thought possible, and only the best pressings let that energy come through
  • A Better Records Top 100 album, 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic: “Aggressive yet melodic rockers like ‘Sing Child,’ ‘White Lightning & Wine,’ and the rock radio staples ‘Magic Man’ and ‘Crazy on You’ led to the tag ‘the female Led Zeppelin.'”

Not many records have this kind of big, rockin’ sound, that’s for sure! Punchy and present, open and transparent, with real weight and power to the low end. If you’re an audiophile who loves classic rock, you just haven’t lived until you’ve heard side one of this album on a Hot Stamper pressing.

We’re pretty fond of these ladies here at Better Records. Their second album, Little Queen, has been a favorite test disc around here for years. When Heart is at their best, the music is wonderful. If you’re lucky enough to own the right pressing, this band can ROCK with the best of them.

What A Hot Copy Gets You

For one thing, the music just JUMPS out of the speakers. There is so much more LIFE to this recording than I ever thought possible, and only the best pressings let that energy come through. In a nutshell, those are the ones that earn the name Hot Stamper. (more…)

Van Morrison – Wavelength

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  • A superb copy of Wavelength with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Richer, warmer and bigger than practically all of the other copies we played, here is the kind of analog smoothness that’s essential to the sound of Morrison’s music
  • His biggest selling album to date? Seems hard to believe but that’s what is says on Wikipedia – it went gold in 3 months
  • Time magazine raved: “Morrison has made two, maybe three albums that rank high among the finest of all rock ‘n’ roll. Wavelength is good enough to stand close by Morrison’s best work, a record of sinuous, sensuous magic. The man just can’t be beat.”

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Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding

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  • A wonderful sounding original Columbia 360 Stereo pressing of this pivotal Dylan LP, with insanely good Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them on both sides
  • Here is the bass, richness & vocal presence that make John Wesley Harding one of the better sounding Dylan records from the late ’60s
  • The title track, Dear Landlord, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, All Along the Watchtower and I Pity The Poor Immigrant are but a small sampling of the more memorable songs here
  • 5 stars: “The music is simple, direct, and melodic, providing a touchstone for the country-rock revolution that swept through rock in the late ’60s.”

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Miles Davis – Decoy

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  • STUNNING sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them
  • Fans of Bitches Brew will find much to like here, and at least in most ways, this is actually a better sounding album
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Mr. Davis has made tasteful creative use of synthesizers, drum machines and other modern gizmos, voicing them with saxophone, guitar and other traditional instruments without letting them dominate the music.” – NY Times

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J. Geils Band – Bloodshot

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  • A stunning pressing, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from the first note to the last – this copy was rockin’ like no other
  • Both of these sides are incredibly big, full-bodied, spacious and present with plenty of extension on both ends
  • Credit Bill Szymczyk for the punchy, huge and energetic sound he produced and engineered
  • 4 stars: “The band sounds tighter, meaner, and funkier than on their first two releases… the first Geils album to stake a claim on the major leagues of rock & roll.”

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Buckingham Nicks – Buckingham Nicks

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  • An incredible copy with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades; exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Rich and Tubey Magical with a massive bottom end – this is a true Demo Disc for bass (much like the first Mac album they sang on)
  • Recording Engineer great Keith Olsen mastered the perfect mix, with rich, full sound, in the great tradition of English Rock
  • “An engaging listen and served as a proving ground of sorts for both artists’ songwriting chops and for Buckingham’s skills as an emerging studio craftsman. Crisp, ringing acoustic guitars and a bottom-heavy rhythm section framed the pair’s songs…”

We really enjoy playing this album here at Better Records. It’s an obvious preview of things to come for these two (and the engineer too!). Check out the wonderful early version of Crystal. On the better copies, it is warm, rich, and sweet — just like it is on the better copies of the Fleetwood Mac self-titled LP. In fact, many parts of this album bring to mind the best of ’70s Fleetwood Mac. Fans of the self-titled LP and Rumours are going to find A LOT to like here.

Those of you who read our commentary for Commoner’s Crown will recognize this bit, lifted practically in its entirety from that listing.

The British Sound? This record has it in spades:

The sound is rich and full in the best tradition of English Rock, with no trace of the transistory grain that domestic rock pressings so often suffer from. The bass is deep, punchy, full up in the mix and correct. There’s plenty of it too, so those of you with less than well-controlled bass will have a tough time with this one.

But never fear; it’s a great record to tweak with and perfect for evaluating equipment.

Things have changed as we never tire of saying here at Better Records, but in a way you could say they have stayed the same. This used to be a demo disc, and now it’s REALLY a Demo Disc. You will have a very hard time finding a record with a punchier, richer, fuller, better-defined, dare I say “fatter” bottom end than the one found on both these sides.

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.

What We’re Listening For on Buckingham Nicks

There are a couple of qualities that set that better copies apart from the pack. The biggest problem with this record is sound that gets too fat and too rich. There has to be transparency to the sound that lets us listen into the studio. When Stevie is singing, almost always double-tracked by the way, Lindsay is often doing harmony vocals well behind her, double-tracked as well. You want to be able to hear PAST her all the way back to him and hear exactly what he’s doing. Most copies don’t let you do that.

Another problem is smeary guitar transients. The multi-tracked acoustic guitars tend to be rich and sweet on practically every copy you can find; this is not the problem. When they lack transient information, or “pluck”, they also tend to lack harmonic information, the overtones of the notes. Put those two together and you get a blobby mass of smeared guitars overlaid onto one another — not an irritating sound, but not an especially pleasing one either.

And, lastly, we take off lots of points for copies that have the edgy, boosted upper mids we mentioned earlier.

In these shootouts, we are always trying to find copies with the right BALANCE. When everything fits together nicely, when the mix sounds right and all the parts are working their magic separately and together, you know you are on the road to Hot Stamperville. You may not be hearing the best copy ever pressed, but you are undoubtedly hearing a copy that has The Kind of Sound You Want This Music to Have.

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