Genre – Vocals – Female

Mapleshade Thinks Female Vocals Are Good for Turntable Setup

Years ago, in a section on their site, Mapleshade recommended a female vocal for turntable setup and mentioned Blue by name.

How much deep punchy bass is there on Blue? Barely a trace in the piano, that’s it. Blue is a good record for testing some sonic qualities, not at all good for testing others.

Our advice: do not limit yourself to a female vocal recording when setting up your turntable.

We use Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular because it is BIG. How big is Blue? How big can it get? How big is it supposed to be? (We asked that very question about a Heart album we liked to test with years ago. As you can imagine, it is an impossible question to answer when one has only a single copy of the album.)

Blue is simply not a good test for size, power, weight or energy.

These things are very important to us — we talk about them in almost every Hot Stamper listing we write — and if you are not the kind of audiophile BS record lover whose collection is full of Sarah McLachlan and Patricia Barber “vinyls,” they should be every bit as important to you as they are to us.

They are what make music fun and exciting. Don’t you want your music to be fun and exciting? We sure do. It’s practically a three word definition for the kinds of records we sell.

For this same reason, female vocals should not be used exclusively when judging turntables either.

Cheap turntables — you know the kind — with no real energy, solidity or weight, can still do a very good job reproducing female vocals.

Not so good on Revolver, Back in Black, 88 Basie Street, Scheherazade or anything else on this list.

But if you have your speakers too far apart like this guy, a good female vocal would be just the thing to show you the error of your ways.

Regarding speakers, Blue is the kind of record they are going to want to play you at an audio store to demonstrate how good their small speakers can sound.

Small speakers may be able to play Blue, but they can’t play the records we love.


The KEF speakers you see pictured to the left retail for $8,999.

Yes, you read that right.

Roughly 2% of my record collection might play just fine on them. Perhaps less than 2%. Either way, I don’t want to find out.

If you are in the market for better speakers, here is some Speaker Advice you might find useful.


FURTHER READING

Robert Brook has some advice for those who would like to learn more about analog setup, and you can find it here.

(more…)

Helen Humes – A Forgotten Jazz Vocal Classic

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

  • This vintage Contemporary pressing is close to the best we have ever heard, with stunning Nearly Master Tape sound from start to finish, just shy of our Shootout Winner – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Both of these sides are amazingly Tubey Magical, yet incredibly clean and clear — something you can’t get from the tube-mastered originals
  • Helen’s voice is PERFECTION — breathy, full, and sweet; and the orchestra sounds JUST RIGHT — just listen to the nice bite of the brass
  • 5 stars: “One of the high points of Helen Humes’ career, this Contemporary set features superior songs, superb backup, and very suitable and swinging arrangements by Marty Paich. Humes’ versions of ‘If I Could Be With You,’ ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy,’ and ‘Million Dollar Secret,’ in particular, are definitive… This classic release is essential and shows just how appealing a singer Helen Humes could be.”

This vintage Contemporary pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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.

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 Songs I Like To Sing! 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 1961
  • 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.

Later Pressings Have The Real Sound

We prefer later pressings of this album to the Black Label originals, which sound tube mastered and have a bit of echo added to them. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other, but this seems to be the more accurate reproduction of what happened in the recording session, and I know this is the one I would rather listen to.

Without a doubt it’s one of my all time favorite jazz albums. The amazing Marty Paich (Art Pepper Plus Eleven) did the arrangements for this group of top musicians, which includes Art PepperBen WebsterBarney KesselShelly ManneJack Sheldon and Leroy Vinnegar, just to name the ones whose work I know well. Does it get any better?

(more…)

June Christy – The Misty Miss Christy

More June Christy

  • An original Turquoise Label Capital Mono LP with INCREDIBLE Shoutout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • Both sides here are wonderfully rich and sweet – it’s hard to imagine June sounding much better than she does here
  • All the top West Coast jazz guys are here: Shelly Manne, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, and the arrangements are by the wonderfully talented Pete Rugolo
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “… The Misty Miss Christy mostly stays on auto-stroll with a wealth of subtle and sophisticated orchestral charts. The jazz-pop environs come courtesy of longtime arranger Pete Rugolo and optimally frame the singer on highlights like “That’s All,” “I Didn’t Know About You,” and “Dearly Beloved.” Both an essential Christy title and one of the best vocal albums from the ’50s.”
  • If you’re a fan of Miss Christy’s, or vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals in general, this is a Top Title from 1956 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Both sides of this ’50s All Tube Recorded and Mastered record are just as rich and relaxed as you would expect. The balance is correct, because the top is there as well as the bottom.

June is no longer a recording — she’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. Her voice is so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These June Christy records are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.

If you’re a fan of vintage female vocals –- the kind with no trace of digital reverb — you may get quite a kick out of this one. And unless I miss my guess, you’ll be the first and only person on your block to own it! (That’s not a bad thing considering the average person’s taste in music and sound these days.)

(more…)

Aretha Franklin – Aretha Arrives

More Aretha Franklin

More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades throughout this Atlantic Green & Blue label pressing, we guarantee you’ve never heard the Queen of Soul’s 1967 release sound remotely as good as it does here
  • Both of these sides are outstanding – big, full-bodied and Tubey Magical yet still clear, spacious and open
  • The presence, breath and resolution to the vocals is superb, bringing Aretha out of the speakers and into your listening room
  • Tons of great material here, including Aretha’s fun version of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and the rockin’ classic “96 Tears.”
  • “Recorded in 1967 after the first flush of back-to-back successes with ‘Respect’ and ‘I Never Loved a Man,’ this captures Aretha Franklin in peak form. An essential addition to her discography.”
  • If you’re a fan, this early pressing from 1967 surely belong in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

We finally pulled together enough clean copies for a big shootout recently and most of them sounded the way you’d probably expect — thin, bright, and grainy. But not this one! It was doing pretty much everything we wanted it to, giving you the kind of life and energy this music needs to work its magic.

(more…)

Billie Holiday / Lady In Satin – On Classic Records

More of the Music of Billie Holiday

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic Records pressing that came out in 1998, but I remember it as nothing special, tonally correct but with somewhat low-rez vocals and lacking in both space and warmth.

Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely in fact that we are positively shocked when such records are even halfway decent. After playing so many bad audiophile records for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records.

A recording like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the record spinning on the table. The listener normally does not even know the label of the pressing he is reviewing. It could be a Six Eye original, the 360 reissue, or even a (gasp!) ’70s-era LP.

We don’t care what the label is. What does that have to do with anything? We’re looking for the best sound. We don’t play labels, we play unique pressings of the album.  We assume that every pressing sounds different from every other pressing. Our job is to figure out what each of them is doing right and wrong. 

We mix up all our copies and play them one after another until we come across the best sounding one.

This approach has opened up a world of sound that most audiophiles — at least the ones who buy into the hype associated with the typical audiophile pressing — will never be able to experience.

(more…)

June Christy – Gone For The Day

More June Christy

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Recordings

  • After many years, Gone For The Day is back on the original Capitol Turquoise Mono pressing, this time with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead on correct tonality, and wonderfully breathy vocals, not to mention boatloads of Capitol Tubey Magic- everything that we listen for in a great record is here
  • Side two had the most space, the richest brass, the most tonally correct and note-like bass, and virtually no vocal strain – this and more is the kind of sound that wins shootouts
  • Take this one home and play it against whatever audiophile pressings you own – it’s guaranteed to SMOKE any and all versions you have in your collection, or your money back
  • “One of June Christy’s two 1957 Capitol LPs, Gone for the Day boasts Pete Rugolo arrangements and a 12-piece group of mostly West Coast all-stars…includ[ing] trumpeter Don Fagerquist, trombonist Frank Rosolino, altoist Bud Shank, and Bob Cooper on tenor.”

Side two of this White Hot Stamper June Christy record on the original Capitol Turquoise label is AMAZING, both musically and sonically. It has all the TUBEY MAGIC we know these old records are famous for.

I can honestly say I have never heard any June Christy record sound as good as this copy does.

(We had a fantastic Something Cool a while back, but that was before we moved the system into our new, larger studio. The sound is better now than it was then, making comparisons all but meaningless.)

Musically this album is right up there with the best female vocal records we have ever played, the creme de la creme, albums on the level of Julie Is Her Name, Clap Hands and Something Cool. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

(more…)

Julie London / Your Number Please – Skip the Mono

More of the Music of Julie London

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

The mono we played (not pictured) in our shootout did not fare well head to head against the stereo pressings we had on hand.

Yes, it is rich and tubey, and Julie’s voice is solid and full-bodied, but the overall presentation is dark, opaque and small.

How do the mono record lovers of the world find this kind of sound to their liking?  We honestly don’t know.

On today’s modern stereos, the mono pressing leaves a lot to be desired, and for that reason we say Skip the Mono.

For records that we think sound best in mono, click here.

(more…)

Doris Day – Hooray For Hollywood

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records never justified the time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them.
This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more.

This fairly rare, fairly clean Six Eye Columbia original Stereo pressing has TWO SUPERB sounding sides, each earning our Super Hot stamper sonic grade. Frank DeVol did the orchestral arrangements, and it sounds like he let Miss Day have some of the same ones he’d done for Sinatra. Don’t mess with success, right?

The vintage Columbia sound is overflowing with Tubey Magic — it’s about as Big and Rich as it gets! If you don’t mind some heavy-handed reverb, the kind found on practically every vintage Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole record ever made, you will find much to like here.

There’s a bit of an edge to the vocals that we think has something to do with the reverb interacting with the compressors of the day, but this is all part of the sound of the tape (we’re guessing) and not something that can be altered in the mastering.

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

More Linda Ronstadt

More Nelson Riddle

  • So spacious and three-dimensional, yet with a tonally correct and fairly natural sounding Linda, this is the way to hear it
  • What engineer George Massenburg gets right is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio
  • “…the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania… undid in the mid-60’s.”
  • Watch for my MoFi review coming later this year – talk about a disaster, that reissue is beyond awful
  • If you’re a Ronstadt fan, this title from 1983 is surely a Must Own. The complete list of titles from 1983 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

With two outstanding sides, this pressing gets two critically important elements of the recording right:

The strings in the orchestra, and, for obvious reasons, even more importantly, Linda’s voice.

We guarantee that these sides give you a more natural sounding Linda than you’ve ever heard, or your money back.

If all you own is an mediocre sounding pressing or the truly awful Mobile Fidelity from 1983, you are in for a world of better sound with this very record.

(more…)

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis

  • You’ll find very good Hot Stamper sound or BETTER on both sides of this early mono pressing – if only a record of this quality could be found on quieter vinyl!
  • One of the greatest duet albums of all time, if not THE GREATEST – a Desert Island Disc to beat them all
  • Problems in the vinyl is sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around it if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz… Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.”
  • 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. Santana’s first album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a fan of vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals, this 1956 release is an absolute Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Click and pop counters might want to give this one a miss. It’s not as quiet as a modern pressing would be, but it’s as quiet as this title can be found on vintage ’50s Verve vinyl. If you have a top quality, heavily tweaked front end and a quiet cartridge, you might be good to go, but if you are picky about your surfaces, we recommend you give this one a miss.

Those of you looking for a cheaper, quieter alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on one of our Hot Stampers should look into the original Speakers Corner pressing or the CD, both of which we’ve played and both of which are quite good. (more…)