Well Recorded Albums that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

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  • Tired of the crude, congested, hard, harsh and otherwise unpleasant sound of most pressings? The solution is right here!
  • Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, Everyday People, You Can Make It If You Try — what a killer lineup of songs
  • 5 stars: “Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment. …everything simply gels here, resulting in no separation between the astounding funk, effervescent irresistible melodies, psychedelicized guitars, and deep rhythms.”
  • This is a Must Own Soul Classic from 1969 that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1969 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Van Morrison – His Band And Street Choir

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Reviews and Commentaries for Van Morrison

  • With Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last, this is an outstanding Palm Tree pressing of Van’s shockingly underrated album from 1970 – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The band is swinging, the material top-notch – “Domino,” “Crazy Face,” “Blue Money” and other classics are right here
  • The Best Sounding Van Morrison Album, a classic of 1970 Tubey Magical analog, and his only title to make our Top 100
  • “As ‘Domino’ opens the album with a show of strength, ‘Street Choir’ closes it with a burst of both musical and poetic energy which is not only better than anything else on the album but may well be one of Van’s two or three finest songs.” – Rolling Stone
  • For Rock and Pop 1970 Might Just Be the Best Year of Them All

This is the album that came out between Moondance (in the same year in fact, 1970) and Tupelo Honey, but for some reason, it don’t get no respect. We think that’s insane — the material on this album is stellar and the sound on the best pressings is out of this world!

Here’s a copy that really makes our case for us. Both sides of this vintage Warner Bros. pressing sound AMAZING! We went through a massive stack of copies and let me tell you — most of them sure don’t sound like this! Take this one home for some of the best Van Morrison sound you will ever hear.

For years I thought that Moondance was the best sounding album in the Van Morrison catalog. His Band And Street Choir is even better. One reason for that would have to be that Robert Ludwig mastered it, and he can usually be counted on to do an excellent job.

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James Taylor / Dad Loves His Work – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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This Hot Stamper original Columbia is THE KING, the Best Sounding Copy we have ever played — the sound was OUT OF THIS WORLD! In fact, side two went so far beyond what we’ve come to expect from this album that we had to award it the rare Four Plus (A++++) grade.

We no longer give Four Pluses out as a matter of policy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t come across records that deserve them from time to time.

Even recordings that are as heavily processed as this one. We don’t have a problem with that approach when it works as well as it does here. Mud Slide Slim this is not. It’s also 1981, not 1971. We prefer the recordings from 1971, undeniably the Golden Age for rock and pop recording quality[1], but we know that to expect the sound of the ’70s in 1981 would simply be setting oneself up for disappointment.

Those days are gone, as are the amazing sounding pressings that came out then, and nobody, repeat nobody, pressing records today can figure out how they did it.

The soundstage and depth on our best Hot Stamper copies is HUGE — this is without a doubt the most spacious recording by James Taylor we’ve ever heard. If you want your speakers to disappear, replaced by a huge studio full of musicians playing their hearts out, this is the album that can do it.

But of course there’s a lot more to the sound of the best copies than a big soundstage.

Tonality is key.

As usually happens in these shootouts, we learned that there’s so much more to this album than just great songs. What really makes this music work on the best copies was the result of two qualities we found were in fairly short supply:

(1) Correct Tonality

Most copies have a phony MoFi-like top end boost in the 10k region that we found irritating as hell. The longer we listened the less we liked the copies that had that boost, which adds a kind of “sparkle” to cymbals and guitars that has no business being there.

Now if you’re a MoFi fan and you like the boosted highs that label is famous for, don’t waste your money buying a Hot Stamper copy from us. Our copies are the ones with the correct and more natural-sounding top end. The guitars will sound like real guitars and the voices will sound like real voices.

(2) Lower Midrange and Bottom End Weight

When the vocals sound thin, bright and phony, as they do on so many copies of this album (partly no doubt the result of the grainy crap vinyl Columbia is infamous for) that hi-fi-ish sound takes all the fun out of the music. Many tracks have background vocals and big choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, with the full lower midrange weight that that image implies.

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry, causing Taylor and crew’s voices to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

Transparency and That Feeling of Reality

Transparency is always a big deal on pop recordings such as this. Of course this has to be a multi-miked, multi-tracked, overdubbed pop record — they don’t make them any other way — but it doesn’t have to FEEL like one.

When you get a good copy it feels like all these guys are live in the studio. They may have their own mics, and are certainly being placed artificially in the soundfield to suit the needs of the track (kick drum here, hand-claps over there), but the transparency of the killer pressings makes them sound like they are all in the same room playing together, clearly occupying their own share of the space in the studio.

This is one of our favorite Taylor albums here at Better Records. It’s the last album by the man that bears any resemblance to the genius of his early work. It’s steeply, steeply downhill after DLHW. (Case in point: His specials for PBS of the last few years are a positive cure for insomnia, with every song slowed down and all the energy drained from the material.)

But he still had fire in his belly when he made this one — one listen to Stand and Fight is all the evidence you need; the song rocks as hard as anything the guy ever did. (And it’s got plenty of cowbell, always a good sign.)

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The Pentangle / Pentangling

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More British Folk Rock

  • Boasting INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first, this vintage UK import pressing had close to the BEST sound we have heard for Pentangle’s shockingly well-recorded music
  • The unprocessed quality found throughout the album has its audiophile credentials fully in order, especially in the area of guitar harmonics, as well as drums that sound like real drums actually sound
  • 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
  • The best material from Pentangle’s amazing first six albums, with sound that’s full of British Analog Tubey Magic that no modern record can begin to reproduce
  • Not many compilation albums offer top quality wound, but this one does, and these are some others
  • If you’re a Pentangle fan, this compilation has to be considered a Must Own from 1973.
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This album presents the classic 1969 lineup at its best, with superior sonics to boot.

When I was selling audio equipment back in the ’70s this was one of our Demo Discs. The song Pentangling has beautifully recorded drums and string bass. The first track, “I’ve Got A Feeling,” is lovely as well.

Notice how there is nothing — not one instrument or voice — that has a trace of hi-if-ishness. No grain, no sizzle, no zippy top, no bloated bottom, nothing that reminds you of the phony sound you hear on audiophile records at every turn. Silky sweet and Tubey Magical, this is the sound we love here at Better Records. (more…)

Bloomfield-Kooper-Stills – Super Session

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Super Session sound this good
  • Engineered by Roy Halee, the man behind one of the best sounding rock records of all time (the self-titled Blood, Sweat and Tears album), the analog sound here is especially dynamic and spacious
  • For fans of BS&T’s first album (and everybody else), Super Session is a Must Own
  • “Season of the Witch” is crazy good sounding on this vintage Columbia 360 pressing
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This is one of those albums that seems to get better with age… This is a super session indeed.”
  • If you’re a fan of any or all of these guys, this vintage pressing of their 1968 classic belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Eddie Money / Self-Titled – A Killer Debut from 1977

A Well Recorded Album that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

More Debut Albums of Interest

  • Bruce Botnick‘s engineering ensures the sound is big and lively – this early pressing is full-bodied, with wonderfully present vocals, and plenty of punchy bottom end
  • “With much of the same urgency Money stands as perhaps a lighter but still gutsy-voiced Bruce Springsteen. His performance exudes a certain authenticity of main line rock without seeming derivative or repetitious.” – Billboard 
  • This is clearly Eddie Money’s best sounding album. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.
  • In our opinion, his debut is the only Eddie Money record you’ll ever need. Click on this link to see more titles we like to call One and Done

The average copy is way too compressed, which kills the top end (by making the cymbals aggressive) and the vocals too midrangy. When you’ve got a copy of Eddie Money’s debut album that’s doing what it’s supposed to do, you know pretty quickly. The highs are sweet and extended, the vocals are present, but without any spit or strain, and there is solid bass and low end propelling everything forward.

Eddie Money has only made one good record in our opinion — this one. Fortunately, it’s a GREAT one and we don’t have to play any of his others. This guy had so much promise, based solely on his debut here. He lost his brilliant guitarist and arranger, Jimmy Lyon, soon after this first album was made, and that may account for his slide into mediocrity.

But this record is outstanding from first note to last. If at the end of the second track — a cover of You Really Got A Hold On Me — you are not rockin’ out, then Eddie Money is just not for you. I love this album and I played it countless times back in the day. (more…)

Benny Carter – Jazz Giant

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Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

  • Both sides of this superb Contemporary reissue earned excellent Double Plus (A++) sonic grades
  • If you still think that Analogue Productions is remastering records properly, you have definitely never heard a real Contemporary that sounds as good as this one does
  • The music of this Jazz Giant comes alive on this copy, with space, size, clarity and richness that few other pressings can match
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Benny Carter had already been a major jazz musician for nearly 30 years when he recorded this particularly strong septet session for Contemporary … This timeless music is beyond the simple categories of ‘swing’ or ‘bop’ and should just be called ‘classic.'”

If you like the sound of Contemporary Records, you won’t find a better example than this. Midrange magic doesn’t get anymore magical.

It’s been several years since our last shootout, but we hope the lucky buyer of this copy realizes it was more than worth it. To find a copy of Jazz Giant that sounds as good as this one is a very special event indeed.

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Loggins and Messina – Mother Lode

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  • This outstanding copy of Mother Lode boasts Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A surprisingly dynamic, well-recorded album – with Demo Disc quality sound – and a personal favorite from way back
  • I can’t recall another pop or rock recording that better captures both the plucked energy and the harmonic nuances of the mandolin
  • Never a band to find favor with the critics, even Allmusic had to concede that the album was “Elegantly, tastefully accomplished.”

This superb Hot Stamper pressing of L&M’s fourth release demonstrates pretty convincingly just how well-recorded this album is! The bottom end is tight and punchy, and the clarity and transparency are truly off-the-charts.

When Jim Messina rips into his mandolin solo half way through Be Free, your jaw is likely to hit the ground. On the best copies, it positively LEAPS out of the left speaker. I can’t recall another pop or rock recording that captures either the plucked energy or the harmonic nuances of the instrument better.

To hear such a well-recorded mandolin on a copy of this quality is nothing less than a THRILL.

This copy gives us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthusiasm; harmonically-rich guitars, mandolins, dobros and the like, as well as a three-dimensional soundstage that reveals the space around them all. (more…)

10cc – Deceptive Bends

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Reviews and Commentaries for 10cc

  • With seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound throughout, this copy of Deceptive Bends will be hard to beat
  • These sides are bigger, with even greater immediacy in the vocals, as well as more bass and dynamics, all qualities that are much less audible when playing the average copy
  • A longstanding member of our Top 100, this is one of the most dynamic, energetic, well recorded pop albums we know of, right up there with the band’s Masterpiece, The Original Soundtrack.
  • 4 stars: “Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman kept the group alive and turned in a surprisingly solid album with 1977’s Deceptive Bends. It may lack the devil-may-care wackiness that popped up on previous 10cc albums, but it makes up for it by crafting a series of lush, catchy pop songs that are witty in their own right. All in all, Deceptive Bends is the finest achievement of 10cc’s post-Godley and Creme lineup…”
  • Deceptive Bends is a Demo Disc for Bass, a Demo Disc for Dynamics, and a Demo Disc for Energy all rolled into one.

This is an AMAZINGLY WELL RECORDED album, a record I would have no problem ranking in the Top Rock Recordings of All Time. We’re tough graders on this album because we know how good it can sound, which is SHOCKINGLY GOOD. (more…)

James Taylor – JT

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More of Our Favorite Artists’ Best Sounding Albums

  • This STUNNING copy of Taylor’s breakthrough album from 1977 boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • It’s a superb recording – a member of our Top 100, in fact – but it takes a pressing like this to show you just how BIG and LIVELY it can sound
  • The big hits “Your Smiling Face” and “Handy Man” both sound great here – thanks Val Garay!
  • This and Sweet Baby James are the man’s best recordings, and his best albums too, but he has so many great albums that it almost seems unfair to him to point that out
  • 4 stars: “JT was James Taylor’s best album since Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon because it acknowledged the darkness of his earlier work while explaining the deliberate lightness of his current viewpoint, and because it was his most consistent collection in years.”

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