Well Recorded Rock & Pop Albums – The Core Collection

David Bowie – David Live

More David Bowie

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all four sides of this Bowie classic
  • One of our favorite live recordings – a great overview of Bowie’s career through 1974
  • 1984, Rebel Rebel, Sweet Thing and Rock & Roll With Me come ALIVE in performance like you have never heard before
  • A-List players of the day deliver sonic treats, including multiple horn players, multiple percussionists, all-male chorus background vocals, the searing fuzzed-out guitar leads of Earl Slick, piano and Mellotron by Mike Garson, and the amazing Herbie Flowers on bass

*NOTE: On side one, a group of light marks makes about 15 light ticks one-half inch from the end of Track 4, Sweet Thing. On side three, a mark on the edge makes 4 light ticks at the beginning of Track 1, Rock & Roll With Me. On side four, two marks make 8 light ticks during the intro to Track 3, Jean Genie, and 8 moderately light to light ticks during the intro to Track 4, Rock & Roll Suicide.

What can we say? RCA vinyl in 1974 was ticky. Most copies of this album are a helluva lot noisier than this one.

When you listen to an incredible copy of this Bowie classic, you will have no trouble picturing yourself in the audience with a front row center seat. And the great thing about a record like this is that you can be in the front row of this very concert whenever you want!

The other top live album is, of course, Waiting For Columbus, and the two have much in common. Most importantly, the songs played live on both albums are consistently better than their studio versions. (This is especially true on the Little Feat album. Little Feat was not a studio band and their live arrangements — with the Tower of Power horns — just murder the studio ones.)

For us audiophiles, the other reason to own a Hot Copy of David Live or Waiting For Columbus is that the sound is much improved over most of the studio albums in which the material was originally found. Have you ever heard a good sounding Diamond Dogs?

But David Live is full of great sounding material from the album. 1984 is much better here than on the original album. Rebel Rebel, Sweet Thing and Rock & Roll With Me also come alive in performance. They rock! (more…)

Ray Charles / All Time Great Country and Western Hits – Better Sound than the Originals? Can It Really Be True?

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More Soul, Blues and R&B

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  • With three nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • What was especially shocking about this shootout is that in some ways the best sounding copies of the reissue not just the equal of, but actually best their original album counterparts
  • 22 classic songs on two LPs, including huge hits like I Can’t Stop Loving You, You Don’t Know Me, Oh Lonesome Me, Bye Bye Love, and much more – no wonder AMG gave both discs 5 stars
  • This is some big, bold, absolutely glorious Tubey Magical analog – the tape to disc transfer is Hard To Fault (HTF), making a mockery of the audiophile remasters to come

The music is wonderful. Just listen to that swingin’ horn section behind Ray on Hey, Good Lookin’. They are hot! And Bye Bye Love just plain ROCKS.

Both these LPs have 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. (more…)

Dire Straits – Dire Straits

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides of this UK pressing of the band’s brilliant debut
  • One of the best sounding rock records ever made, with rich, sweet, smooth mids; prodigious amounts of bass; superb transparency and clarity; and a freedom from hi-fi-ishness and a lack of distortion like very few rock records we have ever heard
  • Rhett Davies knocked this one out of the park – it’s a Top 100 title, a member of the Tubey Magical Top Ten, and our favorite by the band for both sound and music
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Knopfler also shows an inclination toward Dylanesque imagery, which enhances the smoky, low-key atmosphere of the album… the album is remarkably accomplished for a debut, and Dire Straits had difficulty surpassing it throughout their career.”

*NOTE: On side one, a mark makes 3 moderate pops followed by 8 light ticks at the beginning of Track 1, Down to the Waterline. On side two, a mark makes 11 light ticks on Track 1, Sultans of Swing.

Rhett Davies is one of our favorite engineers. He’s the man behind Taking Tiger Mountain, 801 Live and Avalon to name just a few of his most famous recordings, all favorites of ours of course.

The man may be famous for some fairly artificial sounding recordings — Eno’s, Roxy Music’s and The Talking Heads’ albums come to mind — but it’s obvious to us now, if it wasn’t before, that those are entirely artistic choices, not engineering shortcomings.

Rhett Davies, by virtue of the existence of this album alone, has proven that he belongs in the company of the greatest engineers of all time, right up there with the likes of Bill Porter, Ken Scott, Stephen Barncard, Geoff Emerick, Glyn Johns and others we could mention. (more…)

The Band – Music From Big Pink

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Forget all those veiled, lifeless, ambience-free, vague sounding Heavy Vinyl pressings – THIS is the sound of the album
  • This copy resolves the intricacies of the recording that make repeated plays the order of the day for us audiophiles
  • 5 stars: “…as soon as “The Weight” became a singles chart entry, the album and the group made their own impact, influencing a movement toward roots styles and country elements in rock. Over time, [the album] came to be regarded as a watershed work in the history of rock, one that introduced new tones and approaches to the constantly evolving genre.”

We guarantee you have never heard Music from Big Pink sound as good as it does on this very copy. There’s plenty of the all-important Tubey Magic and real weight to the bottom. You’ll have a VERY hard time finding one that sounds this good, if our experience is any guide.

This copy has the kind of sound we look for in a top quality Band record: immediacy in the vocals (so many copies are veiled and distant); natural tonal balance (most copies are at least slightly brighter or darker than ideal; ones with the right balance are the exception, not the rule); good solid weight (so the bass sounds full and powerful); spaciousness (the best copies have wonderful studio ambience and space); and last but not least, transparency, the quality of being able to see into the studio, where there is plenty of musical information to be revealed in this sophisticated recording. (more…)

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

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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…)

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…)

Gerry Rafferty – City To City

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides of this early British pressing of Rafferty’s Must-Own Classic – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • City to City is truly an Undiscovered Gem – no right-thinking audiophile can fail to be impressed by the songwriting and production of Rafferty’s Masterpiece of British Folk Pop
  • You won’t believe how rich, Tubey Magical, big, undistorted and present this copy is (until you play it anyway)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Rafferty’s turns of phrase and tight composition skills create a fresh sound and perspective all his own… resulting in a classic platter buoyed by many moments of sheer genius.”

Here you will find the kind of rich, sweet, classically British Tubey Magical sound that we cannot get enough of here at Better Records. (more…)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu

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  • A stunning Shootout Winning copy that is guaranteed to blow your mind – Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two
  • The sound is HUGE — lively, present and rich in a way that nothing you’ve heard can compete with
  • One of our all time favorite albums at Better Records and one that almost never sounds THIS good
  • 5 stars: “…this variety made Déjà Vu a rich musical banquet for the most serious and personal listeners, while mass audiences reveled in the glorious harmonies and the thundering electric guitars…”

If you play this copy at serious levels and have the kind of full range system that’s both loud and clean like live music, we guarantee you will be nothing less than gobsmacked at the size and power of the music on this album, the band’s inarguable masterpiece.

Both sides here are super high-resolution, tonally perfect, Tubey Magical and ALIVE. The vocals are silky and sweet with very little strain or grain (a very common problem in the loudest choruses). The highs are extended, the bass is deep and punchy, and the overall clarity is breathtaking.

Just listen to the guitars during the solos — you can really hear the sound of the pick hitting the strings. The rhythm guitars sound meaty and chunky like the best sounding copies of Zuma and After The Gold Rush. (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…)

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…)