Genre – Rock – Folk Rock (British)

Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out The Lights – The Best Sounding Record of the Decade?

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Without a doubt this is the best record Richard and Linda Thompson ever made together, possibly the best record Thompson was ever involved with, but it also holds one other important distinction, one of great interest to us audiophiles: it’s the BEST SOUNDING record he (they) ever made as well.

As I was playing the finalists for side two (at ear-splitting levels I might add) an odd thought crossed my mind. Where had I heard this kind of monstrous, punchy bass and these soaring, perfectly distorted guitars, so big and so powerful, before? There was something about the sound – the awesome energy, the freedom from compression or spatial restraint of any kind – that was strangely familiar from another shootout.

After a minute’s deliberation the answer came to me: I was remembering the feeling I got from the White Hot Stamper of Led Zeppelin II we played not long ago.

Yes, that’s the album that it most closely resembles. As outlandish as it may seem, the rock power of Shoot Out the Lights has much more in common with the rock power of Zep II than any other record I can think of.

To be sure, the vast majority of people, including the vast majority of audiophiles, have never heard a top quality RL Zep II played at extremely loud levels on a big speaker system in a dedicated room. Nor in all probability will they ever have the chance.

But I sure have, quite a few in fact. If anyone knows that sound I do. I’ve dedicated the past forty years of my efforts in audio to reproducing records with the Big Rock Sound like Zep II. There’s really none bigger in my opinion. (more…)

Joan Armatrading – Joan Armatrading – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

TWO AMAZING SIDES! We’ve known for quite some time that this can be an amazing sounding record, but until this week we didn’t realize just how stunning the best copies can be! This one’s an absolute knockout — side one earned the high grade of A++ while side two is As Good As It Gets!

The average copy of this album has a tendency to sound a bit too hi-fi for our tastes. Most audiophiles love that kind of sound, but us analog freaks prefer richness and warmth over hyper-detailed, unnatural sound. That’s why most of the heavy vinyl stuff we play around here gets the hook after just moments. We just aren’t interested in records that sound like CDs.

Side one is incredibly airy, open, and transparent. Turn down the lights, drop the needle, and your speakers will practially disapper! The soundfield is spacious and three-dimensional. The top end is silky sweet, the bottom is rich and solid, and the acoustic guitar sounds JUST RIGHT. Listen to how full-bodied and present the vocals sound on Down To Zero — lovely!

Side two has AMAZING MASTER TAPE SOUND! It’s big and lively with unbelievable immediacy to the vocals. The acoustic guitar has just the right amount of pluck and twang. Most copies don’t have this degree of clarity and transparency. There’s lots of ambience and room around the drums that weren’t nearly as clear on other pressings. We gave this side our top grade of A+++.

Our Man Glyn Johns At The Helm

This album was produced and engineered by Glyn Johns and recorded at Olympic Studios in London. Glyn, of course, is one of our all-time favorite engineers. If you like the sound of Who’s Next, Let It Bleed, On The Border (my personal favorite Eagles album), Led Zeppelin’s debut, and Sticky Fingers, you have Glyn Johns to thank for that.

 

Pentangle – Basket Of Light – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

This is only the second Transatlantic British pressing of Pentangle’s third album to hit the site, and it’s an exceptionally good one, with Super Hot Stamper sound or something close to it on both sides. It’s also the quietest copy we have ever offered, with impossibly-rare mostly Mint Minus surfaces.

The British Tubey Magic you would expect is here, of course, along with what sounds like Gregorian chant and what is definitely a sitar. Now I ask you, how can you go wrong with a mix of English Folk Rock, Gregorian chant and sitar?

The true foundation of the music is provided by two legendary guitar heavyweights, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. With Jacqui McShee’s almost unbearably sweet vocals soaring above them, this album presents the classic 1969 lineup at its best, with superior

Sweet Child, the followup, does not seem to be as well-recorded for some reason. The first album is positively amazing but we have not seen a clean British copy in years and don’t expect to any time soon. (more…)

Donovan – Sunshine Superman – Painting with Too Broad a Brush

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Back in 2009 we wrote: “Donovan’s albums are never well recorded so if you’re looking for audiophile sound this is not the record for you. Although the sound varies here from track to track, some tracks do sound quite nice.” 

Although we have yet to play a copy of this particular album that sounds any good to us, we couldn’t have been more Wrong about the rest of his catalog. Since 2009 we have found a number of superb sounding Donovan records, the best of which to date is The Hurdy Gurdy Man, surely the man’s masterpiece. (more…)

Steeleye Span – Commoners Crown – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This original Porky/Pecko mastered British Chrysalis pressing has Superb Demo Disc Sound — Side Two is OFF THE CHARTS — and, even more importantly, the best English Folk Rock Music ever recorded. I grew to love this album back in the ’70s; the stereo store I worked at used it as a Demo Disc, so I heard it on a regular basis. Rather than getting sick of it, I actually bought a copy for my own collection to play at home. (Not sure if I managed to get an import, not sure if I would even have been able to hear the difference.)

Things have changed as we never tire of saying here at Better Records, but in a way you could say they have stayed the same. This used to be a demo disc, and now it’s REALLY a Demo Disc.

You will have a very hard time finding a record with a punchier, richer, fuller, better-defined, dare I say fatter bottom.

But that’s just the start. Side two defeated all comers in our shootout, earning our top grade of A+++. It’s got everything we look for in a Hot Stamper British Folk Rock Album — it’s dynamic; has really solid, deep punchy bass; transparency and incredible sweetness in the midrange; tubey-magical acoustic guitars; you name it, this copy had it. It had it all. (more…)

Gerry Rafferty – City To City – Our First White Hot Stamper

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

The BEST SOUNDING City to City to EVER hit our site — White Hot on side one backed with a nearly White Hot side two, which means that the chances of finding an overall better sounding copy than this are vanishingly small, even for us.

In addition, we are especially delighted to report that not only is the sound better than ever, the music is too. The album as a whole, unlike so much of what came out in 1978 (Do Ya Think I’m Sexy asks Rod Stewart, followed by stony silence) does not seem to have dated in the least, with the possible exception of the big hit Baker Street, which is arguably somewhat over the top but still works for what it is — a radio-friendly folk pop song with a compelling narrative. Both sides come with the kind of rich, sweet, classically British Tubey Magical sound that we love here at Better Records.

In case you have never had the misfortune to play one, the original domestic pressings, mastered at the usually reliable-for-sonics Artisan, are an absolute disaster. From an audiophile point of view they are all but unlistenable. (more…)

Fairport Convention – The Bonny Bunch of Roses

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  • Superb Super Hot or better sound for both sides
  • Quiet vinyl too – a true Mint Minus with one minor issue
  • This British Vertigo Spaceship pressing is going to be very hard to beat
  • Make no mistake: this is a Demo Disc Quality record on this pressing 

AMG commented about the followup album that Fairport was “doing what the band members do best – taking some fine old traditional English jigs, reels, and traditional narratives and putting their own distinctive folk-rock stamp on them.”

We think those comments apply to this album equally well.

The first track is very Proggy with rich solid bass and tons of Tubey Magic. Transparent and tonally correct from top to bottom. It may be As Good As It Gets (AGAIG)

Side two was every bit as good. Here are two sides that are just plain Hard To Fault (HTF).

If only more records sounded this good!

But then again that would put us out of business, so, truth be told I guess we’re glad more records don’t sound this good. (more…)

Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2016

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.  

A knockout Top Copy, with a side one so jaw-droppingly amazing that we awarded it the rare Four Plus (A++++) grade. The sound is incredibly rich, full-bodied and open with excellent clarity — you will be FLOORED.

Please note that we do not have a graphic for the above chart to indicate the Four Plus grade, since we award it so rarely. Our rating system usually only goes to three pluses, but this side one was so amazing we had to give it a fourth!

This is a superb recording, and on a pressing like this it is true Demo Disc material! Not too many of our Hot Stamper titles are going to ROCK you the way this one does. We put it in a class with Led Zep II, Sticky Fingers, Nevermind, and Back In Black — elite company to say the least!

If you’re a fan of BIG DRUMS in a BIG ROOM, with jump-out-of-the-speakers practically direct-to-disc sound quality, this is the album for you. The opening track on side one has drums that put to shame 99% of the rock drum kits ever recorded. The same is true of I Know I’m Losing You on side two. It just doesn’t get any better for rock drumming, musically or sonically. Micky Waller is brilliant throughout. Kenney Jones, who only plays on the showstopping “(I Know) I’m Losing You”, is clearly out of his mind).

Some of the best rock bass ever recorded can be found here too — punchy, note-like and solid as a rock. If you have the system for it you are going to have a great time playing this one for your friends, audiophiles or otherwise. (more…)

Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

This White Hot Stamper side one is OUT OF THIS WORLD — the new KING for this album! We played a huge number of pressings — Pink Labels, United Artists originals and reissues — and this side one was completely UNMATCHED. What put it in a league of its own? BIG ENERGY for one thing. Side one of this copy was jumping out of the speakers in a way that took us completely by surprise. We had a dozen clean copies, that’s 24 sides, and this was the only one that showed us just how lively and clear that side one master tape must be.

What to Listen For – Side One

We learned something new this time around, and we learned it by simply playing an amazingly transparent copy that made it clear — for the first time — exactly what Winwood was doing on the piano with his left hand. There are two musical figures that alternate: one, involving the lower notes, which tend to be blurry, obscured and murky on most pressings, followed by two, the right-handed higher notes, which are usually much more clear and audible in the mix.

Out of the twelve copies we played no other copy let us “see” the bass notes of the piano so clearly and correctly. Next time you want to compare different pressings of Barleycorn, pay special attention to the lower notes of the piano on Glad. It is our contention, backed by mountains of evidence of course, that no two copies of the album will get that piano sound the same.

Flute and Snare

The resolving power of this side one is off the charts. The flute (a major element of the music if you know the album well) is airier than ever before. Chris Wood’s sax, which is all over the record, and beautifully recorded I might add, sounds amazing as well, with more body and harmonic texture than we heard on practically any other copy. Note how little processing there is to the sound of his horns and woodwinds; how real they sound. This is unusual to say the least in the world of pop records.

The snare drum sound is powerful, with a good meaty thwack that really drives the music. (more…)

Fairport Convention – Unhalfbricking

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  • The band’s very well-recorded third album is here, and this early British Island pressing is killing it, with stunning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout and reasonably quiet vinyl
  • A copy like this is a rare audiophile treat – here is the rich, warm, clear, natural and lively sound you want for Fairport Convention
  • A superb collection of songs, including two previously unreleased Bob Dylan tracks, as well as Sandy Denny’s first foray into songwriting, with the achingly powerful “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”
  • 5 stars: “Unhalfbricking was a transitional album for the young Fairport Convention, in which the group shed its closest ties to its American folk-rock influences and started to edge toward a more traditional British folk-slanted sound.”

These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.

Hot stamper fans of Fairport Convention, British Folk Rock, Richard Thompson and the like should not expect to see another copy of this album for years to come. It took us a couple of years to get hold of enough clean copies with which to do this shootout, and the only quiet one with top quality sound was this very pressing.

Forget the dubby domestic LPs on A&M and whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – the early UK vinyl is the only way to fly on Unhalfbricking

The “haunting, ethereal” vocals of the lovely Sandy Denny are sublime here. Some of you may recognize her voice from a ditty called “Battle of Evermore,” found on a grayish ’70s rock album that no one even bothered to give a name. Wonder whatever became of that group? No doubt by now their story is lost to the sands of time. I have to say I thought the music was pretty good though. (more…)