Rock and Pop

Cat Stevens – The World of Cat Stevens

More Cat Stevens

More Folk Rock

xxxxx

  • 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…)

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.”

(more…)

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…)

Joni Mitchell – An Overview

Joni Mitchell

1968 Song to a Seagull
1969 Clouds
1970 Ladies of the Canyon
1971 BlueTop 100, TAS List
1972 For the Roses – Some of her best sound
1974 Court and SparkTop 100, TAS List, her best sounding recording

(more…)

Carly Simon / No Secrets – Listening in Depth

More Carly Simon

xxxxx

Balance is key to getting all the tracks to sound their best. Many copies we played were too dull or too bright.

One more note: having your VTA set just right is critical to getting the best out of this album. The loudest vocal parts can easily strain otherwise. Once you get your settings dialed in correctly, a copy like this will give you the kind of rich, sweet sound that brings out the best in this music.

Two Points

Listen to Embrace Me, You Child on side two — on the best copies you can really hear the rosiny texture of the strings as they are bowed.

The cymbals can sound amazing — listen to how extended the crashes are on You’re So Vain.

(more…)

King Crimson – The Young Persons’ Guide To King Crimson

More King Crimson

More Prog Rock

  • Forget the Polydor and EG reissues (and anything that’s come along lately) – these early British pressings are the only way to hear this album sound the way it should
  • Contains the rare pre-Crimson Robert Fripp demo of I Talk To The Wind, recorded with a female lead vocalist [which can be found at the end of side one]
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…rounded up an excellent, if somewhat idiosyncratic, survey of the group’s seven years together, its contents ranging from the unimpeachable classics to unimaginable rarities… the definitive study of the original King Crimson.”

(more…)

Toto – Self-Titled

More Toto

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Toto

xxxxx

  • This copy of Toto’s debut boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from the first note to the last
  • Toto’s albums have the kind of analog sound we love here at Better Records – they’re rich, huge and present, with tons of Tubey Magic and wall to wall spaciousness
  • Lukather’s overdriven guitar adds so much power to the music – the perfect combo of Grungy guitars and Rock Star vocals makes Hold the Line a staple of rock radio to this day
  • 4 stars: “Toto’s rock-studio chops allowed them to play any current pop style at the drop of a hi-hat: one minute prog rock, the next hard rock, the next funky R&B. Singles like “I’ll Supply the Love” made the charts, and “Hold the Line” hit the Top Ten.”

This is analog, make no mistake about it. Those smooth sweet vocals, open top and rich full bottom are a dead giveaway that you are playing a record and not a CD. (I understand the CD for this title is awful; bright, thin and downright painful. This is the problem with the CD: if they do a bad job making it, and you no longer own a turntable, what are your options? Squat, pretty much.)

Pop production techniques were very advanced by 1978, providing plenty of natural sounding roomy reverb around the vocals and guitars. Lukather’s overdriven, distorted guitar has near-perfect tonality; it adds so much power to the music.

Just like the Hot Stampers for Aqualung, when the guitar sounds this good, it really makes you sit up and take notice of the guy’s playing. When the sound works the music works, our definition of a Hot Stamper in seven words or less.

Turn up the volume? You better believe it!

(more…)

Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon

More Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Mona Bone Jakon

xxxxx

  • With Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second, this copy of Cat Stevens’ brilliant third album will be very hard to beat
  • So transparent, open, and spacious, nuances and subtleties that escaped you are now revealed as never before 
  • When you play I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on this vintage pressing, we think you will agree with us that this is one of the greatest Folk Rock albums of them all
  • “A delight, and because it never achieved the Top 40 radio ubiquity of later albums, it sounds fresh and distinct.”

So many copies excel in some areas but fall flat in others. This side one has it ALL going on — all the Tubey Magic, all the energy, all the presence and so on. The sound is high-rez yet so natural, free from the phony hi-fi-ish quality that you hear on many pressings, especially the reissues on the second label.

Right off the bat, I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of Folk Pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other Folk Pop recordings that are as good but we know of none that are better.

Mike Bobak was the engineer for these sessions from 1970. He is the man responsible for some of the best sounding records from the early ’70s: The Faces’ Long Player, Cat Stevens’ Mona Bone Jakon, Rod Stewart’s Never a Dull Moment, The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One, (and lots of other Kinks albums), Carly Simon’s Anticipation and more than his share of obscure English bands (of which there seems to be a practically endless supply).

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

Yes / The Yes Album – Rhino 180g Reviewed

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Yes Album Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Yes Album

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

The worst version ever? Could be!

That notorious hack Ron McMaster strikes again.

Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino bills their releases as 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.

The CD versions of most of the LP titles they released early on are far better sounding than the lifeless, flat, pinched, so-called audiophile pressings they did starting around 2000.

The mastering engineer for this garbage actually has the nerve to feature his name in the ads for the records. He should be run out of town, not promoted as a keeper of the faith and defender of the virtues of “vinyl.” If this is what vinyl sounds like I’d would have switched to CD years ago.

And the amazing thing is, as bad as these records are, there are people who like them. I’ve read postings on the internet from people who say the sound on these records is just fine. It’s sad.

Their Grateful Dead titles sound as bad as the cheapest Super Saver reissue copies I have ever heard. And those are terrible!


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

(more…)

Blondie – Parallel Lines

More Blondie

More New Wave Recordings

xxxxx

Reviews and Commentaries for Parallel Lines

  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard for Parallel Lines
  • The energy and enthusiasm of the band on this Retro Power Pop Classic really comes through here, and that’s not a claim you can make about very many copies
  • There’s not a bad song to be found anywhere, and lots of great ones: One Way Or Another, Heart Of Glass, Hanging On The Telephone, etc.
  • 5 stars: “Blondie’s best album,” which is actually a bit of an understatement – it’s by far their best album

All the Blondie magic you could ever want is in these grooves. The truly powerful sound of this Power Pop Classic really comes through on this bad boy — and that’s simply not a claim you could make about too many copies out there in record land, which tend to be flat, opaque and compressed. Not so here. This one just plain ROCKS.

Can this kind of music get any better? This album is a MASTERPIECE of Pure Pop, ranking right up there with The Cars first album. I can’t think of many albums from the era with the perfect blend of writing, production and musicianship under the guidance of producer Mike Chapman (The Knack) Blondie achieved with Parallel Lines.

As expected, if you clean and play enough copies of a standard domestic major label album such as Parallel Lines eventually you will stumble upon The One, and boy did we ever. The very best copies in our recent shootout were OFF THE CHARTS with presence, breathy vocals, and punchy drums. On top of that they were positively swimming in studio ambience, with every instrument occupying its own space in the mix and surrounded by air. (more…)