Top 100 Rock and Pop

The Dynamic Energy of Neil Young and His Crazy Pals – They’re LIVE in the Studio

More Neil Young

More on Zuma

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Hot Stampers are all about finding those rare and very special pressings that manage to represent the master tape at its best.

Notice I did not say ACCURATELY represent the master tape, because the master tape may have faults that need to be corrected, and the only way to do that is in the mastering phase.

I can tell you without fear of contradiction that fidelity to the master tape should never be, and rarely is, the goal of the mastering engineer.

Which, as a practical matter, means that flat transfers are usually a mistake.

Chesky is famous for boasting that their early remasterings of the Living Stereo catalog were flat transfers. They sure sound flat all right. If there is a more clueless bunch of audiophiles on the planet than the people running Chesky you would have a hard time proving it to me.

But I digress.

Whether we like or dislike the presentation of any given recording is of course a matter of taste. When listening we constantly make judgments about the way we think the recording at any moment ought to sound, based on what we like or don’t like about the sound of recordings in general and how our stereos deal with them. (more…)

Blood, Sweat & Tears – Blood, Sweat & Tears

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  • Both sides of this outstanding original 360 pressing earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades for sound and play reasonably quietly, all things considered
  • The only versions of the album we sell are the 360 originals, but most of the dozens plus stamper numbers we know cannot hold a candle to this pressing
  • The sound is HUGE, rich, dynamic and POWERFUL – BS&T is a permanent member of our Top 100 and a Demo Disc par excellence
  • This is surely Roy Halee’s engineering masterpiece, and here’s the kind of pressing that, given the right equipment, room, and setup, can really make our case
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Their finest moment and a testimony to the best of the jazz/rock movement … The album is bold, brassy and adventurous.”

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Cat Stevens Teaser & Tea on CD – So, How Do They Sound, Anyway?

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This letter from our good customer Gary references the Hot Stampers he bought from us and subsequently played for a CD-only audiophile friend with a megabuck stereo. This is his story, followed by my commentary about the sound of Cat Stevens’ music on disc.

The Cat Stevens Hot Stampers are just amazing. The dynamic range is almost shocking on my rig. It’s like a car with the ability to go from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds… It is so cool to turn up the music really loud and still converse with people if you want. The quiet is dead quiet. That is the sign of a good record.

I had a visitor from Chicago with more money in his system than most houses, no vinyl. He is now looking into it. Teaser busted him. I think I might have cried when I heard Father and Son on Tillerman, just beautiful. Thanks and keep up the good work.

Gary, I have a long history of challenging audiophiles who hold that the CDs of those albums do them justice sonically. Prove it I say. The difference between the good LP pressings and the best CDs is NIGHT AND DAY. Anyone playing the CDs of those albums is in the presence of a pale shadow of what’s really on that tape. (more…)

Steely Dan – Aja

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  • An outstanding copy of Steely Dan’s magnificent Jazzy Pop breakthrough album
  • This one arrives with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Punchy, full and smooth, with the kind of rhythmic energy that brings out the jazzy funk in the music
  • A Better Records Rock and Pop Top 100 album and a true Demo Disc on an exceptional pressing like this
  • 4 1/2 stars: “With Aja, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s obsession with sonic detail and fascination with composition reached new heights. A coolly textured and immaculately produced collection of sophisticated jazz-rock, Aja has none of the overt cynicism or self-consciously challenging music that distinguished previous Steely Dan records … a shining example of jazz-rock at its finest. “

Folks, there’s not much I can tell you about this copy of Aja that’s going to make you want this record, other than to say this: If you’re in the market for a superb pressing of what’s gotta be the most beloved Steely Dan record they made, look no further. It’s right here. (more…)

The Beatles – Rubber Soul

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  • This stunning copy boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound here is PHENOMENAL — big, bold, lively and powerful with the kind of dynamics that bring out the best in this music
  • Norweigan Wood and In My Life sound superb here, along with the rest of these wonderful Beatles classics, 14 in all
  • A Better Records Top 100 Title, 5 Stars on Allmusic, and a Masterpiece of mid-’60s Folk Rock
  • “The lyrics represented a quantum leap in terms of thoughtfulness, maturity, and complex ambiguities. Musically, too, it was a substantial leap forward, with intricate folk-rock arrangements that reflected the increasing influence of Dylan and the Byrds.”

Since this is one of the best sounding Beatles recordings, this could very well be some of the BEST SOUND you will ever hear on a Beatles album!

There’s wonderful ambience and echo to be heard. Just listen to the rimshots on Michelle — you can clearly hear the room around the drum. On the best pressings, like this one, Michelle is incredibly 3-D; it’s one of the best sounding tracks on the entire album, if not THE best. (more…)

Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out The Lights – Loud Versus Live

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Yet another recording that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

I’ve seen Richard Thompson on a number of occasions over the years, and as loud as my stereo will play, which is pretty darn loud, I’ve never been able to make his guitar solos 20 dB louder than everything else, because they’re simply not on the record that way. That’s why live music can’t be reproduced faithfully in the home: the dynamic contrasts are much too great for the typical listener, or his stereo. 

Having said that, when you actually do turn this record up, way up, you get the feeling of hearing live music, and that’s not easy to do.

Only the best recordings, in my experience, can begin to give you that feeling. (And of course it helps to have big dynamic speakers.)

On the best copies the sound is very dynamic, the soundstage HUGE. The overall presentation in terms of size and weight just makes you want to turn your stereo up as loud as it will go. In that sense, it has some of the qualities of “live” music, because live music is loud.

We do shootouts for this Top 100 title on a regular basis. To see what we might have in stock, please click here. (more…)

Santana / Abraxas – A True Demo Disc in the World of Rock Recordings

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  • Abraxas UNBOUND – this “Triple Triple” (A+++) copy has two mindblowing sides – at loud volumes it’s like Live Music in your very own listening room – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • When a record is this tonally correct, huge, powerful and energetic, the music has power you never imagined
  • AMG gives it 5 stars for its music, and we call it a Top 100 Demo Disc – the blistering solos that soar into the huge space of the studio on pressings like this
  • “America was never the same after Carlos Santana discovered the smoldering Afro-Cuban magic of Tito Puente. A sinuous cha cha cha that sounds as if it had been waiting for Santana’s soulful guitar licks to reinvent it, the Puente-penned “Oye Como Va” became the pillar of U.S. Latin rock.”

This copy is smooth, sweet, rich, full-bodied, and SUPER dynamic. The vocals are shockingly present and clear, with breath and body like nothing you have ever heard. Just listen to all that room around the drums!

The sound is transparent, open, and spacious, with life and rhythmic energy to spare. The bass is deep, tight, and note-like, exactly what this music needs to REALLY ROCK!

Both sides have an exceptionally big soundfield, which opens up and allows you to appreciate all of the players’ contributions. That’s a BIG deal for this music. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better than Abraxas.

Abraxas Rocks

This is a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house.

When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.)

You may have heard me say this before, but it’s important to make something clear about this music. It doesn’t even make sense at moderate listening levels. Normal listening levels suck the life right out of it. You can tell by the way it was recorded — this music is designed to be played back at LOUD levels, and anything less does a disservice to the musicians, not to mention the listener, you. (more…)

Supertramp – Breakfast In America

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides, this copy is guaranteed to have the best sound you have ever heard for Breakfast in America
  • A truly superb recording with huge, spacious, dynamic, lively sound – Tubey Magical richness is a big plus too  
  • A Top 100 title and True Demo Disc – turn it up and this recording gets LOUD like nothing you have ever experienced
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The majority of the album consisted of tightly written, catchy, well-constructed pop songs, like the hits ‘The Logical Song,’ ‘Take the Long Way Home,’ and ‘Goodbye Stranger.'”

We just conducted another shootout for Breakfast, the band’s biggest charting success, and once again we were blown away by just how good the best copies can sound – huge, spacious, punchy sound we can never get enough of around here. If you have big speakers a great copy will blow your mind, and it will probably blow your mind even if you don’t.

We are not the least bit ashamed to say that we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and a copy like this will certainly help to show you why. Drop the needle on Gone Hollywood, The Logical Song or Take The Long Way Home to hear how powerful this music can sound when you have a great pressing.

Most copies of this record are grainy, thin, shrill and aggressive. When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the highs are sweet and silky. This recording has plenty of top end, so if the highs aren’t correct it pretty much ruins the sound of the record. (more…)

What We Think We Know about Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Masterpiece: Deja Vu

Hot Stampers of Deja Vu

Letters and Commentaries for Deja Vu

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DEJA VU is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it.

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Deja Vu. Here are some albums on our site you can buy with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

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What We Think We Know about The Doors’ Soft Parade Album

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This vintage Doors pressing (either on the Elektra Gold or Big Red E Label, nothing else will do) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely reproduce.

Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

What the best sides of The Soft Parade have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • 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 1969
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

A New Test

A test we found helpful on side two was the quality of the strings on Wishful Sinful. Man, they can really get shrieky and shrill on some copies. The best side two’s like this one have them sounding high-rez, rosiny and (almost) smooth.

No two copies of an album will get those strings to sound the same. If you don’t believe us just pull out two copies and listen for yourself. You may be in for quite a shock. You can adjust your VTA (you can and should) until you find the maximum resolution, most body, most harmonic extension, as well as the most correct tonality on the strings, but after you do, you will still never get two different pressings to sound the same. (more…)