Vocals

Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston

More Whitney Houston

xxx

  • An outstanding early Arista pressing, this copy earned seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them for its sound – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • this album has the kind of smooth, rich, tonally correct analog sound we thought they had forgotten how to record by 1985 – but here it is, thank goodness
  • Consistently strong material: You Give Good Love, Saving All My Love for You, How Will I Know, All at Once, and Greatest Love of All (the last of seven (!) singles released from the album)
  • “…introduced the world to ‘The Voice,’ an octave-spanning, gravity-defying melismatic marvel.”

Having done this for so long — 2020 marks our 33rd year in the record business — we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound — even as late as 1985! — is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.).

The music is not so much about the details in the recording; rather it lives or dies by its ability to recreate a solid, palpable, Whitney Houston singing and playing live in your listening room. The best copies had an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, and here it’s important to keep in mind that these tapes are now more than thirty years old, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard Whitney sound this good on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book #2

xxx

  • This STUNNING stereo pressing of the Harold Arlen Song Book earned Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades, or close to them, on both sides
  • One of the best copies to hit the site in a long time, Ella is incredibly rich, Tubey Magical and breathy throughout
  • Check out all the great songs here: Come Rain Or Come Shine, It’s Only A Paper Moon, One For My Baby, Get Happy, I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues, Over The Rainbow, and more
  • 5 stars: “Of all of her Songbooks, the Harold Arlen and Duke Ellington sets are the most jazz-oriented.”

(more…)

Frank Sinatra – Nice ‘N’ Easy

More Frank Sinatra

xxx

  • An outstanding pressing of Nice ‘N’ Easy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl for Capitol from this era too
  • The reproduction of Sinatra’s voice is exactly what you would expect from a Hot Stamper – he sounds rich, smooth, tonally correct and above all REAL
  • Take this one home and play it against whatever audiophile pressings you own – it’s guaranteed to SMOKE any and all versions you may have in your collection, or your money back
  • 5 stars: “… a breezy collection of mid-tempo numbers arranged by Nelson Riddle. Nice ‘N’ Easy doesn’t have a touch of brooding sorrow — it rolls along steadily, charming everyone in its path.”

Definitely one of the most fun Sinatra albums, especially when it sounds like this!

It’s tough to find great sound for this album — most copies are pretty mediocre and the MoFi is nothing special. 

The immediacy of the vocals on this copy is nothing short of stunning. You get real weight down low, serious energy, a fully extended top end, and tons of that old-time analog tubey magic.

Tubey Magic Is Key

The best copies have the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with Frank and the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What The Best Sides of Nice ‘N’ Easy 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 1960
  • 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

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.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top (to keep the strings from becoming shrill) did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we heard them all.

And we know a fair bit about the man’s recordings at this point. As of today, we’ve done commentaries for more than 21 different Sinatra shootouts, and that’s not counting at least another ten titles that either bombed or were sold off years ago.

What We’re Listening For on Nice ‘N’ Easy

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Nice ‘N’ Easy
That Old Feeling
How Deep Is The Ocean
I’ve Got A Crush On You
You Go To My Head
Fools Rush In

Side Two

Nevertheless
She’s Funny That Way
Try A Little Tenderness
Embraceable You
Mam’selle
Dream

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Breaking slightly from his pattern of a swing album following the release of ballads set, Frank Sinatra followed No One Cares with Nice ‘N’ Easy, a breezy collection of mid-tempo numbers arranged by Nelson Riddle. Not only is it the lightest set that he recorded for Capitol, it is the one with the loosest theme… Nice ‘N’ Easy doesn’t have a touch of brooding sorrow — it rolls along steadily, charming everyone in its path.

Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Swings Lightly

More Ella Fitzgerald

xxxxx
xxxxx

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this original Bow Tie Verve Stereo pressing is going to be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Lovely All Tube sound from 1958, with a huge, rich orchestra conducted by one of our favorite arrangers, Marty Paich 
  • Grammy Award for Best Improvised Jazz Solo – these were the days when Ella was on top of the world
  • “The bright, sunny optimism of Fitzgerald’s style comes through in several tracks, including ‘If I Were a Bell’ (which also includes several remarkable variations on the melody), and ‘Teardrops From My Eyes’ (which alternates between rock and jazz beats—not a big leap back then!)”

When you are lucky enough to find an album chock full of standards from the Great American Songbook, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.

The recording is excellent, with space and midrange richness that might just take your breath away. (more…)

Astrud Gilberto – Gilberto With Turrentine

xxxxx

  • This outstanding copy of Gilberto’s 1971 collaboration with Turrentine boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • It’s rich, warm and natural with wonderful transparency, loads of ambience and – this is key – plenty of Tubey Magic
  • Rudy Van Gelder did an outstanding job as usual engineering these 1971 sessions – his live-in-the-studio approach is tough to beat
  • “The real treasures of this album though are the outstanding arrangements by Eumir Deodato, who once again proves he is the master of this type of music. Nearly every track is full of interesting, complex, yet beautiful instrumentation. He blends mellow low strings with lots of Fender Rhodes electric piano, plenty of electric and acoustic guitar, and a wide variety of Brazilian percussion instruments.”

This vintage CTI pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris – Trio

xxxxx

  • An outstanding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides, proof positive that Trio is a surprisingly well-recorded album – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Big, rich, smooth, and sweet, how did George Massenburg pull off this kind of analog sound in 1987?
  • We don’t know, but we do know good sound when we hear it, and we heard exceptionally good sound on this copy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…that rare example of an all-star collaborative effort that truly shows everyone involved to their best advantage, and it ranks with the best of all three headliners’ work.”

*NOTE: On side two, a mark makes 4 soft ticks during the intro to Track 5, Farther Along.

With three brilliant and accomplished singers harmonizing in the studio you can imagine that faultless midrange tonality is key to the best copies, and you would be right.

Some copies had the girls’ sounding a bit dark and veiled. Some had them a bit thin and bright. The Goldilocks Principle comes into play here as it does in so many of our shootouts: the best copies find the right balance of richness and clarity. (more…)

Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul

xxxxx

  • This superb copy of Aretha’s 1968 release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – reasonably quiet vinyl too 
  • Surprisingly rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, with plenty of natural ambience – Aretha’s vocals are present, breathy, and explosively dynamic
  • You’d need either a lot of copies, a lot of luck, or both, to come up with a pressing that sounds this good and plays this quietly
  • 5 stars: …an inspired blend of covers and originals from the best songwriters in soul and pop music…”

We’ve been playing a lot of Aretha Franklin records lately, working our way through her catalog, but it’s hard to find pressings that separate themselves from the pack to give you audiophile-friendly sound. Too many seem to be optimized more for the radio than for your hi-rez audio rig.

Every now and then, however, we luck into a copy that has the real soul magic in its grooves. On this album, that means Chain Of Fools and Aretha’s great version of Natural Woman will sound just the way you want them to. (more…)

Billie Holiday – Music For Torching

xxxxx

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • A superb recording of jazz standards with a great lineup and Billie in top form – plenty of Tubey Magical richness and naturally breathy vocals as well
  • Great performances for classics such as It Had to Be You, Come Rain or Come Shine, A Fine Romance and too many more to list
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The overall feeling on this 1955 recording is strictly after-hours: the party is long over but a few close friends remain for nightcaps and, is that the sun peeking through the windows?”

*NOTE: On side two, a mark makes 8 light ticks at the end of Track 2, Come Rain or Come Shine.

You’d be hard pressed to find a female vocal album from the 1950s with sound comparable to this one. We just finished up a big shootout for the sublimely titled Music For Torching, and this lovely copy was clearly one of the better pressings we played. If you love smoky jazz standards the way only Lady Day can sing them, we think you’ll be blown away to hear her sound this warm, rich and present.

The formula is simple: Take one of the best female vocalists in the game, back her with a stellar crew of jazzmen and set them loose to knock out incredible versions of classic torch songs — It Had To Be You, A Fine Romance, Come Rain Or Come Shine and so forth.

The good news is that the performances turned out to be some of the best ever recorded by this extraordinary singer, and fortunately for us audiophiles, the mono sound turned out to be dramatically better than we would have expected from Norman Granz’s Verve label in 1955.

Both sides are blessed with the kind of mid-’50’s Tubey Magical Analog Sound that’s been lost to the world of recorded music for decades — decades I tell you!

Nobody can manage to get a recording to sound like this anymore and it seems as if no one can even remaster a recording like this anymore, if our direct experience with scores of such albums counts as any sort of evidence. (more…)

Thelma Houston – I’ve Got The Music In Me

houstivego

  • This Sheffield direct-to-disc pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Loads of presence, with richness and fullness that showed us just how good the Direct to Disc medium at its best can be. It had everything going for it from top to bottom, with big bass, dynamics, clarity, top end extension (so silky up there!) and ENERGY
  • Make no mistake, this here is a real Demo Disc. The sound is Wall to Wall!
  • Unlike most Direct to Disc recordings this album actually contains real music worth listening to

In our recent Shootout this wonderful pressing sounded far better than most other copies we played. It fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, most copies of this title were quite good. Few didn’t do most things at least well enough to earn a Hot Stamper grade. This has not been the case with many of the Sheffield pressings we’ve done shootouts for in the past. Often the weaker copies have little going for them. They don’t even sound like Direct Discs!

Some copies lack energy, some lack presence, most suffer from some amount of smear on the transients. But wait a minute. This is a direct disc. How can it be compressed, or lack transients? Aren’t those tape recorder problems that are supposed to be eliminated by the direct to disc process?

“Supposed to be eliminated” is a long way from “were eliminated.” Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which affect the sound. The album is pressed in three different countries: the United States, Japan and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the plated acetates (the “fathers”) and many, many stampers made from those mothers.

Bottom line? You got to play ’em, just like any other record. If no two records sound the same, it follows that no two audiophile records sound the same, a fact that became abundantly clear very early on in the listening. Of course not many audiophiles are in a position to shootout eight or ten copies of I’ve Got The Music In Me, and I’m not sure most audiophiles would even want to. Here at Better Records we have a whole system set up to do exactly that, so we waited until we had a pile of them gathered together, cleaned them all up, and off to the races we went. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – September of My Years

xxxxx

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom
  • An especially Tubey Magical Male Vocal recording, but that sound is only found on the best Blue Green original Reprise stereo pressings – like this one
  • These sides are exceptionally spacious and three-dimensional, as well as relaxed and full-bodied – Frank is right in the room with you on this one
  • 5 stars: (“One of Frank Sinatra’s triumphs of the ’60s”) and Grammy Album of the Year for 1967

It’s not easy to find good sounding copies of any of Sinatra’s albums, but we managed to find a few very good copies of this one, an album that earned the Grammy Album of the Year for 1967 and Five Big Stars in the venerable All Music Guide. The music is indeed hard to fault. Finding the right pressing of the recording of that music is another thing entirely. That’s where we come into the picture. (more…)