Good Records

A Planets for the Ages

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Beyond White Hot

  • After a lengthy shootout hiatus we proudly present the best side two of this album to hit the site since 2013
  • Out Of This World sound on side two, where it earned a Four Plus sonic grade for its MINDBLOWING orchestral power
  • Side one earned a seriously good grade of Double Plus (A++) – it’s rich, clear and dynamic, with weighty brass
  • A TAS List Super Disc, with a performance by Previn and the LSO that’s as spectacular as the sound
  • This copy has some condition issues – those of you looking for a quiet copy will have to wait for the next shootout in 2018 or thereabouts

Note that by the second movement on each side the playing condition is quieter, about Mint Minus Minus. The first movement on each side is somewhat tickier than that, hence the EX++ grade.

This copy has a side two that is so off the charts we ended up giving it Four Pluses. A Four Plus copy has to meet a standard higher than our regular top grade, and we define that standard as “better than we ever imagined any copy could ever sound.”

The first side here is doing what the best copies always do — it’s correct from top to bottom, full of energy, transparent, and musical. You would not think it could get much better, and that means it earns a very high grade.

This side two has some of the BEST sound we have ever heard for the work, and that’s saying something considering the scores of recordings we have played of this famous and famously well-loved piece.

Fortunately for audiophiles who love The Planets but are disappointed by most performances, a group that includes us to be sure, the amazing sound found on this copy is coupled with a superb performance.

As you might imagine, on a big system this would make for a powerful listening experience, which is exactly the experience we ourselves had during our recent shootout. This copy actually deserves its place on the TAS List.

Both side earned their strong grades for their powerful energy and orchestral excitement, especially from the brass section, a subject we discuss at length below.

EMI pressings tend to be lightly ticky in the quieter sections and these are no exception.

Side Two

This side is so dynamic, powerful, smooth and natural we felt that it went beyond any other side two we have ever played. These qualities earned it Four Pluses.

The War Test — Side One

War, the first movement, has the string players “bouncing” their bows upside down to create the effect you hear, a technique known as “col legno”. It’s not fingers plucking the strings; it’s the wood of the bows bouncing on the strings. The quality of that technique is so obvious and correct sounding on the good copies and so blurry and indistinct on the bad ones that you could almost judge the whole first side by that sound alone. When it’s right it’s really right.

And of course the players are spread out wider and the soundfield is so much more transparent when these types of sonic qualities are brought out. This bouncing bow test makes it easy to separate the better copies from the also-rans when it comes to smear, resolution, transparency and the like.

The Saturn Test — Side Two

This was the real revelation in our recent shootout (2013). We had on hand performances by Steinberg on DG, Previn and Boult on EMI, as well as Mehta and Karajan on London — well known and highly regarded Golden Age recordings one and all. (I gave up on the Solti with the London Phil years ago; that opaque later London sound just won’t cut it on the high-rez stereos of today.) None of the above could match either the performance or the sound of Saturn on the EMI by Previn and the LSO.

The brass is so BIG and POWERFUL on EMI’s recording that other orchestras and recordings frankly pale in comparison. Until I heard one of our top EMI pressings show me brass with this kind of weight and energy, I simply had no idea it was even possible to play the work this powerfully. The lower brass comes in, builds, gaining volume and weight, then calms down, but soon returns and builds relentlessly, ever and ever louder. Eventually the trumpets break out, blasting their way forward and above the melee the heavier brass has created below.

Quite honestly I have never heard anything like it, and I heard this work performed live in late 2012! In live performance the members of the brass section, being at the back of the stage, were at least 100 feet away from me, perhaps more. When playing the best EMI pressings the brass were right there in front of me, eight to ten feet away. In a way this is of course unnatural, but that fact takes nothing away from the subjective power of the experience.

Only the conductor can stand at the podium, but the EMI producers and engineers (the two Christophers in this case) have managed to put the listener, at least in this movement, right there with him.

The EMI Sound

EMI’s are usually recorded with a mid-hall perspective, which is somewhat distant for our taste. That’s not our sound. We prefer the Front Row Center seats (especially at these prices). That said, when an EMI from the ’70s is recorded, mastered and pressed properly, it actually sounds more like the real thing, more like the live performance of orchestral music in a concert hall.

It’s uncanny how real the best copies of this record sound. For a recording of The Planets it has no equal in our experience.

Previn Vs. Mehta

This 1974 release is widely considered one of the great recordings of The Planets. Previn is simply outstanding throughout. He’s not going after effects, he’s making all the pieces fit.

Of course it trounces the Mehta recording that many audiophiles, HP included, are seemingly enamored with (see the notes below). We certainly never have been. EMI knows how to make an orchestra sound like a seamless whole, unlike the Decca recording engineers who appear to take perverse pride in awkwardly spotlighting every section. (Was it a Phase 4 experiment gone wrong? That’s my guess.)

And the average London or Decca pressing of The Planets is lackluster, so opaque and smeary it’s barely second-rate, a fact that most audiophile record collectors have mostly failed to appreciate since it first appeared on Harry’s Super Disc list.

More Recordings of The Planets

It Ain’t Easy

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John Baldry – It Ain’t Easy

  • For its debut on the site, we present this amazing sounding British original pressing, with a Triple Plus (A+++) side one (the Rod Stewart side)
  • Side two (the Elton John produced side) was outstanding as well, earning a Double Plus (A++) for its rich, tubey sound
  • No wonder side one sounds like the best of Rod Stewart & The Faces’ early-’70s albums – Mike Bobak engineered them
  • “The backing band on Stewart’s side include fellow Face and future Rolling Stone, Ron Wood, on electric guitar and acoustic guitarist Sam Mitchell, who appeared on many of Stewart’s early-’70s solo albums.”

Here’s how this shootout got started.

A few years ago while I was working on the site I had music on youtube playing. The song “Flying” came on from the It Ain’t Easy album, and when the chorus came in I could not believe how big, rich and powerful it sounded — this, on computer speakers!

I tracked down my copy of the album, the domestic Green Label WB pressing with a different cover you no doubt have seen in your local record store bin and threw it on the table for a quick listen. In moments it was obvious that my domestic original was a big step down sonically from what I imagined the source for the youtube video sound would have been.

CD or LP, didn’t matter. My copy was made from dub tapes and as a consequence had very little of the magic I’d swooned over. (more…)

Brian Eno’s Masterpiece

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Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Taking Tiger Mountain

  • TRIPLE TRIPLE (A+++) – it’s been ages since we’ve heard a copy that sounds as amazing as this one
  • Superb Demo Disc sound on both A+++ sides, huge and open like you will not believe
  • The superb clarity and transparency here let you appreciate all of Eno’s mastery — amazing texture and detail
  • 5 stars on Allmusic, a Top 100 title, and without a doubt Eno’s Masterpiece
  • Highest Recommendation from your friends at Better Records. This is an album we think you will love!

See more of our Brian Eno albums in stock

TWO SUPERB SIDES on this Killer White Hot Stamper pressing of Brian Eno’s MASTERPIECE — one of my All Time Favorite Albums, a real Demo Disc of twisted pop. This British Sunray original pressing takes the sound to a level BEYOND all others. This copy has deep, punchy bass that exceeded my wildest expectations, energy like I couldn’t believe, and a wonderful smoothness that you just don’t get on most copies. (more…)

Our Favorite Weather Report Album

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Sweetnighter

  • A killer copy hasn’t hit the site in a while, but here’s one with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) Demo Disc sound on both sides
  • Boogie Woogie Waltz was one of the most mindblowing tracks found on any album from 1973
  • The sound is huge, spacious, lively, transparent and punchy – this is jazz fusion that really rocks
  • ” It is the groove that rules this mesmerizing album, leading off with the irresistible 3/4 marathon deceptively tagged as the “Boogie Woogie Waltz” and proceeding through a variety of Latin-grounded hip-shakers.” 4 stars

See all of our Weather Report albums in stock

The top end is fully extended here in a way that most copies barely hints at, and the overall sound is amazingly transparent and three-dimensional. The brass is full and rich, the percussion lively and present, and the bass is weighty and defined. All the stuff we look for on a Classic Weather Report album is here.

Note especially that the energy is excellent, and both sides are also very high-rez; the echo trails from all the studio reverb go on for days.

Better Than Heavy Weather?

This is our favorite Weather Report album here at Better Records. Heavy Weather is arguably a more ambitious and more accomplished piece of work. But Sweetnighter is so original and rhythmically compelling that we find ourselves enjoying it more. I don’t know of any other album on the planet like it. We only know of two Must-Own Weather Report albums, this one and Heavy Weather. They both belong in your collection if you’re a fan of jazz fusion. (more…)

160+ RCA Living Stereo Albums Reviewed

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RCA Living Stereo Albums

in Stock

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RCA Living Stereo Recordings

We’ve Auditioned

Chet’s later remixed and re-recorded version, released in 1961, seems to have the better sound overall, but the difference in the best sounding original pressing and the best sounding later version would probably not be obvious to most listeners without the two versions playing side by side.

I suppose we owe a debt of gratitude to Harry Pearson for pointing out to us with his TAS List what a great record this is, although I’m pretty sure anybody playing this album would have no trouble telling after a minute or two that this copy is very special indeed.

This original Living Stereo pressing from 1961 has 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 control room hearing the master tape being played back, or, better yet, the direct feed from the studio, this is the record for you. It’s what Golden Age 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 less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

See all of our Chet Atkins albums in stock

 

Ambrosia – How Novel Patterns Emerge

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Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Ambrosia

When you sit down to play ten or twelve copies of an album, one right after the other, patterns in the sound are going to emerge from that experience, patterns which would be very likely to pass unnoticed when playing one copy against another or two over the course of the twenty or thirty minutes it would take to do it.

In the case of this album, the pattern we perceived was simply this: About one or two out of that dozen or so will have punchy, solid, rich, deep bass. (There is a huge amount of bass on the recording so recognizing those special copies is not the least bit difficult if you have a full-range speaker and a properly treated room.)
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Oliver Nelson’s Masterpiece from 1962

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See all of our Oliver Nelson albums in stock

For those of you who still cling to the idea that the originals are better, this record will set you straight.

Yes, we can all agree that Rudy Van Gelder recorded it, brilliantly as a matter of fact. Shouldn’t he be the most natural choice to transfer the tape to disc, knowing, as we must assume he does, exactly what to fix and what to leave alone in the mix?

Maybe he should be; it’s a point worth arguing.

But ideas such as this are only of value once they have been tested empirically and found to be true. (more…)

Looking for 5 Star Albums? We’ve Got Hot Stamper Pressings of 200+

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Like Truth here.

The soundstage is absolutely HUGE, while the presence and transparency of this copy go way beyond most pressings. Great rock and roll energy too of course — without that you have nothing on this album.

Note how spacious, big, full-bodied and DYNAMIC side one is. That’s why it’s White Hot. I am pleased to report that the whomp factor on this side was nothing short of MASSIVE. With tons of bass this side has what it takes to make the music ROCK.

One of the most surprising things we learned in our first big shootout from 2014 was how well recorded the album is. It’s yet another triumph from one of our favorite engineers, Ken Scott.

In many ways it sounds like the first Zep album, and that’s a good thing. The sound is a perfect fit for the music. In recent interviews Jeff Beck has been saying that Jimmy Page stole his idea for a Heavy Rock Band playing electrified blues. Based on the evidence found on the two sides of this very album I would say he has a point.

Allmusic Five Star Albums in Stock

Allmusic Five Star Albums We’ve Reviewed

Oscar Peterson Trio – Live From Chicago

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More Oscar Peterson

What to Listen For you ask?

Some copies are poorly mastered, so poorly that Ray Brown’s bass all but disappears from the trio! Other copies made Thigpen’s snare sound hard and too forward in the mix. This is obviously just a mastering EQ problem, since the good copies, such as this one, get all those elements to balance beautifully.

One of the Strobe label copies we played had such a boosted top end it was positively distorted. (The RIAA curve does not allow that kind of top end boost without causing serious problems.)

The Piano

If you have big, full-range speakers one of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano is WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, warm, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. This is what good live recordings tend to do well. There isn’t time to mess with the sound. Often the mix is live, so messing around after the fact is just not an option. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn out stampers and bad vinyl and five gram needles that scrape off the high frequencies. But a few — a very few — copies survive all such hazards. They manage to capture these wonderful musical performances on vinyl, showing us the sound we never expected from Verve. This is one.

The trio is made up of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, here recorded live at the height of their respective powers. Peterson really puts on a great show. He’s made an awful lot of records during his career and most of them aren’t very good. This is one of the exceptions. “If You Could See Me Now” is another one.

More Recordings on Verve

 

Please Please Me – Listening in Depth

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Please Please Me

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) on PPM.

The Beatles’ first album is overflowing with sonic qualities prized by audiophiles and music lovers alike: Tubey Magic, energy, immediacy, richness, breathy vocals; in short, all the stuff you will never hear — or not hear to the same extent — on anything but the best vintage analog vinyl LPs.
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