Genre – Rock – Folk Rock (American)

Joan Baez / Diamonds and Rust – The Half-Speed that Beats Most Pressings

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joan Baez

Sonic Grade: B+

This review is from many years ago, at least ten I would think, so take it for what it’s worth.

One of the best Half Speed Mastered Records we have ever played.

In our recent shootout we were shocked — shocked — to hear how good our old copy of Diamonds and Rust on Nautilus sounded head to head against some of the best pressings we could find.

If I hadn’t heard it with my own two ears, I wouldn’t have believed it. 

Wonderful sound — rich, full, warm, and sweet. The vocals are full-bodied and breathy. The acoustic guitars are fairly natural for a pop recording from 1975.

Play Jesse on side two to hear the lovely space of the studio, as well as more harmonic extension on the acoustic instruments. Watch out for track two; the EQ on the vocal is always a problem. (more…)

Bruce Springsteen – The River

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More Rock and Pop

  • This early pressing of Springsteen’s surprisingly well-recorded 1980 release boasts KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on all FOUR sides
  • These sides are energetic, clear and full-bodied, with The Boss’ vocals – always the focus for any Springsteen album – front and center where they belong
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard or you get your money back – it’s as simple as that
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these Classic Rock records – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 5 stars: “Springsteen rises to his own challenges as a songwriter, penning a set of tunes that are heartfelt and literate but unpretentious while rocking hard, and the E Street Band were never used to better advantage, capturing the taut, swaggering force of their live shows in the studio with superb accuracy… [he] rarely made an album as compelling as this, or one that rewards repeat listening as well.”
  • If you’re a Springsteen fan, this title from 1980 is surely a Must Own
  • This is our pick for Bruce Springsteen’s best sounding album. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.

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Neil Young – Old Ways

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More Country and Country Rock

  • This superb pressing of Old Ways boasts superb sound from start to finish
  • Big, full-bodied and energetic, with wonderfully present vocals – shocking for a recording from 1985
  • Neil’s unabashed country album is guaranteed to make your MoFI pressing sound like the bad joke it was in ’96
  • “… this turns out to be his most carefully crafted album since Comes a Time… Pretty amazing.” – Rolling Stone
  • “Old Ways [is]…cut in the style of Harvest and Comes a Time, but with a stronger country leaning. Young depends heavily on friends, especially for vocals – Waylon Jennings sings harmony…

This is Neil heading out to the sticks with his buddies, authentic country greats such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and others (nice friends to have), doing what Neil loves to do — making the music that HE wants to make, not the music that anyone else wants him to, including David Geffen and his lawyers. Old friend Ben Keith (a huge part behind the sound of Harvest) shows up with his pedal steel guitar on a couple of tracks.

This probably wasn’t anyone’s favorite Neil Young album, but when it sounds like it does here it sure makes a lot more sense than it did when we heard it on the more mediocre pressings. The MoFi is a muckfest, as was to be expected from a record mastered during the Anadisq era, the darkest chapter in the dark and disgraceful history of Mobile Fidelity.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top (to keep the string arrangements from becoming shrill) did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t too veiled or smeary, of course. (more…)

Bob Dylan – Infidels

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  • An outstanding copy of Infidels with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big and rich, with correct tonality from top to bottom, strong bass and plenty of space, this copy sounded just right to us
  • 4 stars: “… its writing is closer to Dylan’s peak of the mid-’70s, and some of the songs here… are minor classics, capturing him reviving his sense of social consciousness and his gift for poetic, elegant love songs.”

This is one of the better sounding Dylan records from the ’80s. It’s not exactly Blood on the Tracks, the only Dylan album we think is qualified to be on our Top 100 Rock and Pop List, but it sounds good for a record from this era. (more…)

Bob Dylan – Planet Waves

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More of The Band

  • You’ll find KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout this vintage copy of Dylan’s 1974 release
  • With wonderfully rich, natural tonality, these early pressings are by far the best way to hear the album sound the way it should
  • Lots of great material on this one, not sure why it doesn’t get more respect: “On A Night Like This,” “Going Going Gone,” “Forever Young,” “You Angel You”… these are seriously good, very well-recorded songs
  • Reteaming with The Band, Bob Dylan winds up with an album that recalls New Morning more than The Basement Tapes, since Planet Waves is given to a relaxed intimate tone…”
  • If you’re a Dylan fan, this 1974 release surely deserves a chance to find a home in your collection

This is an excellent recording, boasting not only great Bob Dylan sound, but some of the best sound for The Band that you’ll ever hear. That’s right, Dylan is backed by Messrs. Robertson, Danko, Helm, Manuel and Hudson on this album, and I don’t know when we’ve ever heard such audiophile quality sound from that crew. It’s a real treat to hear their signature styles without the cardboard-y, compressed quality we usually find on their albums. (more…)

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of the Jefferson Airplane

  • This outstanding stereo copy of the band’s sophomore release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) from first note to last
  • It’s the rare copy of this ’60s Psych Classic that has this kind of freedom from grit and distortion – it’s also swimming in Tubey Magic, the glorious sound of vintage analog vinyl, found on the real thing and, let’s be honest, nowhere else
  • An incredibly difficult album to find with audiophile sound, but this pressing has the goods and will is guaranteed to beat – and by a large margin – whatever you throw at it
  • 5 stars: “Every song is a perfectly cut diamond … a groundbreaking piece of folk-rock-based psychedelia that hit — literally — like a shot heard round the world…”

Check out the breathy vocals on “Today” — now THAT is what we call the magic of vintage analog!

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Seals & Crofts – Summer Breeze

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  • An outstanding pressing of Summer Breeze with Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish, and exceptionally quiet vinyl too – some of the quietest we have ever found
  • With tons of Tubey Magical richness in the midrange (particularly on side two) – the kind that was still abundant on analog tape in 1972 – this is a wonderful sounding album of folk pop
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Summer Breeze offered an unusually ambitious array of music within a soft rock context – most artists tried to avoid weighty subjects in such surroundings… the most highly regarded of all of Seals & Crofts’ albums.” (more…)

The Band – The Last Waltz

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More Roots Rock LPs

  • A vintage Palm Tree pressing with superb Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on all SIX sides
  • Sides two through six are rich, dynamic and natural sounding with low end weight, midrange smoothness and powerful, punchy bass, and side one is not far behind in all those areas
  • Features an A-list of brilliant artists, including Van Morrison, Ringo Star, Joni Mitchell, and Muddy Waters, just to name a few
  • 4 stars: “It’s the Band’s ‘special guests’ who really make this set stand out — Muddy Waters’ ferocious version of ‘Mannish Boy’ would have been a wonder from a man half his age, Van Morrison sounds positively joyous on ‘Caravan,’ Neil Young and Joni Mitchell do well for their Canadian brethren, and Bob Dylan’s closing set finds him in admirably loose and rollicking form.”
  • If you’re a fan of The Band, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this triple album from 1978 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1978 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • If you are more interested in the live album The Band recorded in 1972, we may have one in stock

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Joni Mitchell – Blue

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Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

  • With two Double Plus (A++) or BETTER sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Joni’s 1971 masterpiece sound this good
  • Full-bodied and balanced with the kind of smooth musicality that’s not always easy to find for Blue
  • A Better Records Top 100 title that belongs in any audiophile music collection worthy of the name
  • 5 stars: “Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell’s songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity…”
  • Everything changed for us in 2007 with the release of the Hoffman/Gray-mastered Rhino pressing of Blue, a record that made us ask ourselves, “Why are we selling records that we would not want to own or listen to ourselves?”
  • It was truly a kicked-in-the-head-by-a-mule moment for all of us here at Better Records, and I am glad to say one kick was all it took

The best copies bring out the breathy quality to Joni’s voice, and she never sounds strained. They are sweet and open, with good bass foundation and transparency throughout the frequency range.

The best pressings (and our better playback equipment) have revealed nuances to this recording — and of course the performances of all the players along with it — that made us fall in love with the music all over again. Of all the tough nuts to crack, this was the toughest, yet somehow copies emerged from our shootouts that made it easy to appreciate the sonic merits of Blue and ignore its shortcomings.

Hot Stampers have a way of doing that. You forget it’s a record; it’s now just Music. The right record and the right playback will bring this music to life in a way that you cannot imagine until you hear it. That is our guarantee on Blue — better than you ever thought possible or your money back.

The Sound of Vintage Vinyl

This vintage Reprise pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (For proof just check out the mediocre pressing Steve Hoffman mastered for Rhino on Heavy Vinyl. (more…)

The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man

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More Sixties Pop Recordings

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  • This early Columbia 360 Stereo pressing boasts incredible Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish, just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Lively, balanced and vibrant, with boatloads of the Tubey Magical richness these recordings need in order to work
  • Listen to how amazingly breathy Jim McGuinn’s vocals are – his vocals are key to the better sounding Byrds records
  • These early Byrds records are becoming increasingly hard to find in playable condition; this is only the second copy to hit the site in a long time!
  • 5 stars: “One of the greatest debuts in the history of rock … nothing less than a significant step in the evolution of rock & roll itself, demonstrating that intelligent lyrical content could be wedded to compelling electric guitar riffs and a solid backbeat.”
  • If you’re a fan of the Byrds, this is a Classic from 1965 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1965 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Tubey Magic? This copy has a healthy dose of it on both sides.

Want to hear exactly what I’m talking about? Play Chimes of Freedom, one of the best sounding tracks on side two, if not THE best. Listen to how breathy Jim (later Roger) McGuinn’s vocals are. Byrds records almost never sound like that.

I Knew I’d Want You is another one that sounds amazingly Tubey Magical on the best pressings.

By the time you get to track two on side one you’re hearing one of my favorite Byrds song of all time: I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better. It’s energetic and very present on this copy.

Notice that Gene Clark’s vocals usually sound better than Roger McGuinn’s. For some reason they tend to brighten up McGuinn’s vocals, and the last thing you ever want to do with a Byrds recording is make it brighter.

But having said that, most of the reissues are too thin and bright compared to the best originals. (more…)