Genre – Rock – Pure Pop

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Equinox

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this wonderful copy of Equinox, along with vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find it
  • The breathy intimacy of the two wonderful female leads – Lani Hall and Janis Hansen – were brilliantly captured by the engineering team of Bruce Botnick and Larry Levine at A&M
  • It’s humble records like this one that blew my mind when I first discovered them back in the ’80s, with their dynamic, energetic, spacious sound, as well as shockingly good music that at the time I had no idea existed
  • “Watch What Happens,” “Night and Day,” “Wave” – Mendes brings his innovative Bossa Nova arranging skills to these timeless classics
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Equinox continues the scrumptiously winning sound that Sergio Mendes cooked up in the mid-’60s… Again, the mix of American pop tunes old and new and Brazilian standards and sleepers is impeccable, and the treatments are smooth, swinging, and very much to the point.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.
  • Equinox is a good example of a record most audiophiles don’t know well but should.

These Sergio Mendes records can be surprisingly dynamic, but only the better copies (such as this one) will allow those dynamics to explode naturally, with the kind of ease that only analog is capable of reproducing correctly in our experience.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, we’re the world’s biggest fans of Sergio Mendes here at Better Records. Brasil ’66, Stillness, and this album are ALL Desert Island Discs for us, and we even enjoy the hell out of some of the later albums. You can search all you want, but outside of The Beatles you are going to have a very tough time finding the diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the breathy, multi-part female vocals, their unusually voiced multi-tracked harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us not forget, Mendes’ superb keyboard work anchoring as well as jazzing up the whole production.

His stuff never sounds dated to us, and we’ve never heard another artist do anything in the ’60s samba idiom nearly as well. We love Astrud Gilberto’s albums from the period, which no doubt served as a template for the style Sergio wanted to create with his new ensemble, but Brazil 66 is clearly a step up in every way: songwriting, arranging, production, and quality of musicianship.

Just play the group’s amazing versions of “Watch What Happens,” “Night and Day,” or “Jobim’s Wave” to hear the kind of Mendes Magic that makes us swoon. For we audiophiles, it just doesn’t get any better. (Well, almost. Stillness is still the Ultimate, on the level of a Dark Side of the Moon or Tea for the Tillerman, but Equinox is right up there with it.)

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Steve Winwood – Back In The High Life

More Steve Winwood

More Traffic

  • Both sides of this UK copy of Steve Winwood’s Solo Masterpiece earned outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER
  • This early British pressing is guaranteed to be dramatically bigger, richer, fuller and smoother than anything you’ve heard
  • Higher Love with better than Double Plus sound? You’re gonna love it! And there’s really not a bad track on the album
  • “The first undeniably superb record of an almost decade-long solo career … the passion long smoldering in his finest work explodes in the album-opening duet with Chaka Khan, Higher Love…” — Rolling Stone

On the best copies, the sound is spacious and high-resolution. The bright, dry, grainy, analytical sound is replaced with something warmer, richer, fuller, sweeter, smoother — in other words, more ANALOG sounding. (more…)

Sergio Mendes And Brazil ’66 / Stillness – (Reversed Phase Copy)

More of the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Stillness Is a Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

This was a SEALED copy of Stillness, one of my favorite records of all time. Side two of this album is possibly THE MOST MAGICAL side of an album I’ve ever played. I don’t know of any other record like it. It seems to be in a class of its own. It’s my current favorite test disc as well [or was at the time anyway]. All tweaks and equipment changes and room treatments must pass the Stillness test. To fail to make this record sound better is to fail completely. The production is so dense, and so difficult to reproduce properly, that only recently have I begun to hear just how good this record can sound. 

There is still plenty to discover locked in these grooves, and I enthusiastically accept the challenge to find all the sounds that Sergio created in the studio, encoded in this vintage vinyl record all those years ago.

The sound is AMAZING. But only on one condition. You must REVERSE YOUR ABSOLUTE PHASE! I discovered today (1/25/05) this fact and I owe Robert Pincus a debt of gratitude for suggesting it. These stampers have always sounded bright, upper midrangy and aggressive, with congested loud passages and thin bass. I just assumed that it was because of bad mastering. Bad mastering is the rule, not the exception, around here. I play badly mastered records all day long, searching for the exceptional pressings that for reasons unexplained succeeded in capturing the magic of the music in their grooves.

Reversing the absolute phase on this record today was a REVELATION. There before me was all the ambience, openness, sweetness, silkiness and warmth I had come to expect from the Hot Stampers. For the first time, these stampers showed their true colors.

But you need a special key to unlock the magic. You must either switch the positive and negative at the speaker, the amp, or at the head shell leads (which is what I do), or you must have a switch that inverts phase on your preamp. If you can’t do any of those, or are unwilling to do any of those, this is not the record for you.


FURTHER READING

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More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Making Audio Progress 

The Monkees – Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.

More of The Monkees

More Sixties Pop

  • This 1967 Stereo pressing boasts INCREDIBLE Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from beginning to end – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • These two sides are exceptionally (for this album) smooth, rich, sweet, and clear
  • 4 1/2 stars: “To think that both this album and Headquarters came out the same year! Most bands would be lucky to have two albums this good come out their entire career. Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. is a must-have for any fan of smart, fun, and exciting ’60s pop. It doesn’t get much better than this.”

We’ve been trying to find good sound on Monkees’ albums for at least thirty years, with very little to show for our efforts — until now, of course. It seems the fourth album is practically the only one with potential.

One of the problems holding us back from discovering the best sounding pressings of The Monkees’ albums is the fact that 90+% of the copies we come across are beat to death. The average Rolling Stones record from the ’60s is in better shape.

We will, of course, keep looking, but it’s highly doubtful that any copy of the first two albums — you know, the ones that were at the top of the charts for so long they outsold The Beatles in 1967 — will ever make it to the site. Doubtful, but hope springs eternal in the record biz. You never know what gems you’ll discover until they somehow find themselves on your turntable.

What The Best Sides Of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd. Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1967
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the vocals, jangly guitars, and other instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is, of course, the only way to hear all of the above.

What We’re Listening For On Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd.

  • Less grit — Smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on any Monkees album, including this one.
  • A bigger presentation — More size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record, the better.
  • More bass and tighter bass — This is fundamentally a pure rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way the engineers wanted it to.
  • Present, breathy vocals — A veiled midrange is the rule, not the exception.
  • Good top-end extension to reproduce the harmonics of the instruments and details of the recording, including the studio ambiance.
  • Last but not least, balance — All the elements from top to bottom should be heard in harmony with each other. Take our word for it, assuming you haven’t played a pile of these yourself, balance is not that easy to find.

Our best copies will have it though, of that there is no doubt.

A Tough Record to Play

All Monkees albums rank high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale. Do not attempt to play them using anything other than the highest quality equipment.

Unless your system is firing on all cylinders, even our hottest Hot Stamper copies — the Super Hot and White Hot pressings with the biggest, most dynamic, clearest, and least distorted sound — can have problems . Your system should be thoroughly warmed up, your electricity should be clean and cooking, you’ve got to be using the right room treatments, and we also highly recommend using a demagnetizer such as the Walker Talisman on the record, your cables (power, interconnect and speaker) as well as the individual drivers of your speakers.

This is a record that’s going to demand a lot from the listener, and we want to make sure that you feel you’re up to the challenge. If you don’t mind putting in a little hard work, here’s a record that will reward your time and effort many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process (especially your VTA adjustment, just to pick an obvious area most audiophiles neglect).

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Salesman 
She Hangs Out
The Door Into Summer
Love Is Only Sleeping 
Cuddly Toy 
Words

Side Two

Hard to Believe 
What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round? 
Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky / Pleasant Valley Sunday 
Daily Nightly 
Don’t Call on Me 
Star Collector

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

After wresting control of the Monkees from Don Kirschner and recording the very good Headquarters album as a mostly self-contained unit, the bandmembers returned to using studio musicians to augment their sound as well as looking outside the group for the majority of the songs on their fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.

Whatever the reason for the decision, the resulting album is one of their best… To think that both this album and Headquarters came out the same year! Most bands would be lucky to have two albums this good come out their entire career.

Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. is a must-have for any fan of smart, fun, and exciting ’60s pop. It doesn’t get much better than this.

James Taylor – In The Pocket

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More Blue Eyed Soul

  • Both of these sides are SUPERB in all respects; there’s plenty of Tubey Magic, and that’s one quality that’s hard to come by on this album
  • Rich, sweet, and lively — Woman’s Gotta Have It sounds fantastic here
  • An underappreciated album that we’re big fans of here at Better Records!

The quality of the songwriting is what makes this album such a moving listening experience. These songs are superb, individually and collectively, and can hold their own up against those found on Gorilla, an album with which In the Pocket has much in common.

Just as they did on Gorilla, Taylor and his multi-talented, multi-tracking production team polish these songs into three and four minute gems of popcraft, and they do so without ever compromising the emotional heart of the material. I’ve searched and I honestly cannot find a bad song on the album. Better than that, not even a weak one.

Both of these sides are rich, smooth, yet transparent and high-rez. The vocals are breathy, and again, that is not something we heard nearly enough of in our shootout.

And no hardness. This is key. And the best tonal balance, which is also key. (more…)

Astrud Gilberto – Windy

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More Bossa Nova

  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout, making this one of the best copies to ever hit the site
  • Forget whatever Heavy Vinyl imposter is in print – this vintage Verve stereo pressing has the kind of High-Rez Tubey-Magical Midrange that will bring Astrud’s soft samba music to life in your very own listening room
  • “… Windy nevertheless proves one of Astrud Gilberto’s most consistent and sublime efforts, artfully straddling the division between Brazilian bossa nova and American sunshine pop.” 

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Herb Alpert – Whipped Cream & Other Delights

More Sixties Pop Recordings

More 5 Star Albums

  • Tubey Magical, big-bottomed, punchy, spacious sound – what we’ve come to expect from Larry Levine’s engineering
  • An INCREDIBLE copy of this wonderful 1965 release, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • Tubey Magical, punchy, spacious, natural sound – this copy has what we love about Larry Levine’s engineering, with special emphasis on the HUGE amounts of deep bass that Herb liked to put on his records back in 1965. (Quick question: Where did that sound go?)
  • Not many audiophiles know how well recorded some of these early Herb Alpert albums were, but we count ourselves among the ones that do, going back more than twenty years now
  • It’s almost impossible to find clean copies of this album nowadays, which is why our last shootout took place in 2020 – now that we know the hottest stampers, we hope to do this shootout again before too long
  • Alpert’s most famous album, 5 stars on Allmusic: “Three Grammy Awards alone for the update of the Bobby Scott and Ric Marlow-penned theme ‘A Taste of Honey.'”

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Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Ye-Me-Le

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

More of our favorite Sixties Pop albums

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this fun Brasil ’66 album on the early label – some remarkably quiet vinyl too for A&M in the sixties
  • “Norwegian Wood,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Easy to Be Hard” are among the great songs that have the potential to sound amazing
  • We’re huge Sergio Mendes fans here and it’s a thrill to hear copies like this bring his music to life

The first three tracks on side 1 are the best reason to own this album, especially the first two (“Wichita Lineman” and “Norwegian Wood”), which are as good as anything the group ever did. As I’m a big fan, that’s high praise!

The average LP of this album is terrible. Shrill, aggressive sound is the norm, but compression and overly smooth (read: thick and dull) sound are also problems commonly found on Ye-Me-Le. There’s also a noticeable “strained” quality to the loud vocal passages on almost every copy; only the best are free of it.

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Sergio Mendes And Brazil ’66 – Crystal Illusions

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More of our favorite Sixties Pop albums


  • Outstanding sound throughout, with both sides earning Double Plus (A++) grades – some remarkably quiet vinyl too for A&M in 1969
  • The sound on both sides here is jumping out, with Tubey Magic, space, extension top to bottom, and more detail than many of the other copies we played – huge soundstage as well
  • Yes, it’s a recording that has some problems, but the better copies are able to overcome most of them, and that’s precisely what we are offering here – a copy that gets the sound of this music right
  • 4 stars: “Dave Grusin is right there with a lush, haunting orchestral chart when needed; Lani Hall is thrust further into the vocal spotlight, as cool and alluring as ever.. Weird and overblown, but wonderful.”

If you are not familiar with Sergio and his magical band, this might not be the place to start. Try the first two albums or Stillness if you want to hear the best material recorded with the highest quality. This is a second tier album in the Sergio canon, and priced accordingly. There are of course some truly great songs on this one, just as there are on every Brasil ’66 album. I would draw your attention especially to the Otis Redding classic Dock of the Bay. Fans will no doubt find much to like here; others maybe not so much. If you get a thrill out of FINALLY hearing a famous album sound the way you always wished it could, this copy is for you!

What you’re looking for on Crystal Illusions is a copy that’s not thin, dry, harsh and edgy! If you own this album you know exactly what I am talking about. Most copies sound like CDs in that respect. And most Brazil ’66 CDs sound just as bad as you might think they would. Believe me, I know, I’ve bought practically all of them. Thank god for the treble control on my car stereo. (more…)

The Music of Bread – It’s Pure Pop for Now People, and We Love It

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Pure Pop Albums Available Now

100+ Reviews of Our Favorite Pure Pop Albums

The best copies of Bread’s third album have amazingly sweet and rich 1971 ANALOG sound on both sides. That big rich bottom end and the volume of space that surrounds all the instruments and singers are the purest and most delightful form of Audiophile Candy we know.

The acoustic guitars? To die for. Talk about Tubey Magical Analog, this copy will show you just what’s missing from modern remastered records (and modern music generally). Whatever became of that sound?

This record put Bread’s heavily Beatles-inflected Pure Pop back on the charts after their the single from their previous album, On The Waters, made it to Number One, that song of course being Make It With You. “If”, the big hit off this album, went to number five, but we like it every bit as much as that earlier chart topper. Both represent the perfect melding of consummate songcraft and pure emotion.

We used to think that only the Best of Bread album could get those two songs to sound as luscious and Tubey Magical as they do when they’re playing in our heads, but it seems we were wrong — they’re positively amazing on the best copies of Manna.

A Double Edged Sword

Manna has the clear signature of Elektra from the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s unmistakably ANALOG, but that double-edged sword cuts both ways. Richness and Tubey Magic (the kind you had in your old ’70s stereo equipment) often comes at the expense of transparency, clarity, speed and transient information (the things your ’70s equipment probably had more trouble with).

We heard a lot of copies that were opaque, smeary and dull up top, so the trick for us (and for those of you doing your own shootouts) is to find a copy with the resolving power and transparency that can cut through the thickness. Look for breath on the vocals (reverb too!) and extended vocal and guitar harmonics; if those two qualities are strongly evident you can’t be too far off the mark. More presence, bigger bass (the bass is HUGE on the best copies), more size, energy and space: these will help take you to the highest (Super Hot and White Hot) levels.

Speaking of bass, notice how prominent, big and clear the bass guitar is on many of these songs. This is not a sound we hear nearly enough. During the shootout we were lovin’ it. The Legacy Focus in our reference system has three twelve-inch woofers per channel. They do a lovely job with this kind of big-bottom-end recording, the kind of recording for which Botnick and The Doors (and Love too, let’s not forget them) are justly famous.

Where is that sound today? We miss it.

Engineering

On the better Hot Stamper copies, the ones with especially sweet and rich ANALOG sound, the credit obviously must go to their brilliant engineer, Armin Steiner, the man responsible for recording some of the best sounding, most Tubey Magical Chart-Topping Pop Rock for this band throughout the ’70s. As would be expected from success on such a scale, Steiner has more than a hundred other engineering credits. He’s also the reason that Hot August Night is one of the best sounding live albums ever recorded.

When you find his name in the credits, there’s at least a chance that the sound will be very good. You need the right pressing of course, but the potential for good sound should be your working hypothesis. Now all it takes is some serious digging in the record bins, tedious cleaning and even more tedious critical listening to determine if you’ve lucked into a diamond in the rough. Or, if you prefer, allow us do all that work for you. After 30 years in the business, we’re gotten pretty good at it.

Pure Pop For Now People

When you hear sound this good, it allows you to appreciate the music even more than the sound. This is in fact the primary raison d’etre of this audiophile hobby, or at least it’s supposed to be. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of The Everly Brothers or The Beatles. It’s Pure Pop for Now People, to quote the famously waggish Nick Lowe.

Analog Heaven

In many ways this recording is state-of-the-art. Listening to the acoustic guitars on the best copies brings back memories of my first encounter with an original Pink Label Tea for the Tillerman. Rich, sweet, full-bodied, effortlessly dynamic– that sound knocked me out twenty plus years ago [now 30 plus], and here it is again! Of course I’m a sucker for this kind of well-crafted pop. If you are too then this will no doubt become a treasured demo disc in your home as well.

Pay close attention to the sound of the drums. We really like the way famous session player Mike Botts’ kit is recorded, not to mention his Hal-Blaine-like — which means god-like — drumming skills.

An Endless Supply

Audiophiles with high quality turntables literally have an endless supply of good recordings such as this to discover and enjoy. No matter how many records you own, you can’t possibly have even scratched the surface of the vast recorded legacy of the last sixty years (the first stereo recording dating from 1954, the year of my birth, good timing on the part of my parents). That’s the positive thought for the day.

We here at Better Records are happy to help you in your quest to find recordings that do justice to the music you have yet to hear.

Old Records Age Well

One further note. As your stereo improves, records like this only get better. Here I speak from experience. There are no shortcomings in this recording to be revealed by better equipment, in stark contrast to the vast majority of audiophile pressings and remasterings flooding the market these days, which to us perfectly embody the worst kind of desiccated, lifeless and often just plain weird sound we excoriate in listing after listing in our Audiophile Hall of Shame.

If you make a change to your stereo (or room or cleaning regimen or something else that affects the fidelity) and this record sounds better, more than likely you did the right thing.