Heavy Vinyl Winners

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – Sinatra At The Sands – Mobile Fidelity Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B

Another MoFi LP reviewed.

It’s pretty good. Compressed and veiled, but the tonality is correct. I give it a B. It will beat the vast majority of reissues, which tend to be thin, gritty, and woefully lacking in Tubey Magic. And the vinyl will be quiet, which is something not many of the best pressings can offer. 

But who wants to listen to a B grade record when we you can buy A and A+ pressings from us?

What Hot Stampers of Sinatra At The Sands 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 1966
  • 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 space of the Sands

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.

What to Listen for

There is some edge on Sinatra’s voice on every side of every copy; it’s so common it’s got to be on the tape. Those copies with less edge and grit on the vocals which are not overly smooth or dull tend to do very well in our shootouts.

Also, richness is very important. We look for a combination of rich, Tubey Magical sound that still maintains a fair amount of space, clarity, transparency and freedom from smear.

The original label pressings (always in stereo; the monos are really a joke) are richer and thicker as a rule.

The pressings with the orange two-tone labels tend to be thinner and clearer. A high percentage of them are way too modern, bright and gritty, and we throw them right in the trade-in pile.

Finding the copy with “best of both worlds” sound is the trick. Pressings on both labels have won shootouts in the past. With this album we do what we always do. We play the record without looking at the label and simply grade the quality of the sound coming out of the speakers. Any other approach is liable to fall prey to unconscious biases. As we like to say, record shootouts may not be rocket science, but they’re a science of a kind, one with strict protocols developed over the course of many years to insure that the results we arrive at are as accurate as we can possibly make them.

My First Time

Back in the early ’70s this was actually the album that first introduced me to honest-to-goodness “audiophile” sound.

I was at my local stereo store listening to speakers one day, and the salesman made a comment that the speakers we were listening to (the old Infinity Monitors with the Walsh tweeter) sounded “boxy”. I confessed to him that I didn’t actually know what that meant or what it would sound like if it weren’t boxy.

So he hooked up a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10s and put Sinatra at the Sands on. I was amazed at how the sound just floated in the room, free from the speakers, presenting an image that was as wide and deep as the showroom we were in. That speaker may have many flaws, but boxiness is definitely not one of them.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Come Fly With Me 
I’ve Got a Crush on You 
I’ve Got You Under My Skin 
The Shadow of Your Smile 
Street of Dreams 
One for My Baby (And One More for the…

Side Two

Fly Me to the Moon

One of the best tracks on the album. It can have SUPERB sound!

One O’Clock Jump 
The Tea Break 
You Make Me Feel So Young

Side Three

All of Me 
The September of My Years

Another high point and one of the best reasons to own this album. This is a much better performance than the famous studio version which was such a big hit in its day.

Luck Be a Lady 
Get Me to the Church on Time 
It Was a Very Good Year 
Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me 
Makin’ Whoopee

Side Four

Where or When 
Angel Eyes 
My Kind of Town 
A Few Last Words 
My Kind of Town (Reprise)

AMG Rave Review

In many ways, Sinatra at the Sands is the definitive portrait of Frank Sinatra in the ’60s. Recorded in April of 1966, At the Sands is the first commercially released live Frank Sinatra album, recorded at a relaxed Las Vegas club show. For these dates at the Sands, Sinatra worked with Count Basie and his orchestra, which was conducted by Quincy Jones.

Like any of his concerts, the material was fairly predictable, with his standard show numbers punctuated by some nice surprises. Throughout the show, Sinatra is in fine voice, turning in a particularly affecting version of “Angel Eyes.” He is also in fine humor, constantly joking with the audience and the band, as well as delivering an entertaining, if rambling, monologue halfway through the album. Some of the humor has dated poorly, appearing insensitive, but that sentiment cannot be applied to the music.

Basie and the orchestra are swinging and dynamic, inspiring a textured, dramatic, and thoroughly enjoyable performance from Sinatra.

Tchaikovsky / The Nutcracker – Ansermet (Reviewed in the ’90s)

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More music conducted by Ernst Ansermet (1883-1969)

The Nutcracker – Ansermet

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Sonic Grade: B?

Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90 when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

“Superb! New records just don’t sound any better! This is the complete Nutcracker Ballet as conducted by Ansermet for Decca, a record that sets a standard of performance and sound that is unlikely ever to be equaled, and almost certainly not to be surpassed.”

Peggy Lee – Latin ala Lee!

More Peggy Lee

Latin ala Lee!

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  • Superb sound throughout for Lee’s 1960 release with both sides rating a solid Double Plus (A++) or very close to it
  • Everything that’s good about All Tube Vocal Recordings from the ’50s and ’60s is precisely what’s good about the sound of this record
  • “The rhythms are not only authentically Afro-Cuban, but surprisingly strong and rarely watered down. The rest of the arrangements, though breezy and pop-slanted, support Lee’s vocals perfectly. And though her voice isn’t quite as strong as it had been during the ’50s, Lee uses the cracks on her high notes to accentuate the songs.” – Allmusic

This vintage Capitol LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (more…)

Chabrier / Espana – Argenta – A Speakers Corner Winner

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894) 

Espana – Argenta 

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Sonic Grade: B

This is a Speakers Corner Decca 180 gram LP reissue of the famous Argenta performance, a recording which can sound positively amazing on the right original London, but only about 2 out of 10 copies actually do. (And where in the world are you going to find 10 clean copies of a record that’s practically 50 years old?)

This pressing gets you most of the way there, on reasonably quiet vinyl, for a lot less money. (more…)

The Doors – Strange Days – Rhino and DCC Reviewed

More The Doors

More Strange Days

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Sonic Grade: DCC: B / Rhino: C

It’s not easy for us to find copies of Strange Days that outperform the DCC, but our best Hot Stampers beat it handily. We also put our original copies up against the 180g version from the Doors Box Set and it was an absolute bloodbath. We understand that a well-known reviewer likes the sound of those Doors pressings (along with just about every heavy vinyl reissue that hits his table) but we here at Better Records prefer to set higher standards. We think you deserve better, and at these prices the record better deliver a world of sound that the heavy vinyl pressing only hints at. And it does. (more…)

Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik – Munchinger – Speakers Corner (Reviewed in the ’90s)

More of the music of Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik – Munchinger

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

We were impressed with the Speakers Corner pressing of this album when it came out back in 1994. We wrote: “Probably the best sound and performance of the Eine Kleine available — highly recommended!  

We haven’t played a copy in years, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. (more…)

Stravinsky / The Firebird Suite / Ansermet – Speakers Corner (Reviewed in the ’90s)

More Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) 

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Sonic Grade: B

One of the better Speakers Corner Deccas. We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway. (more…)

Massenet – Le Cid Ballet & Meyerbeer – Les Patineurs – Speakers Corner Reviewed

More of the music of Jules Massenet (1842-1912) 

Le Cid Ballet & Meyerbeer 

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Sonic Grade: B

Finally a version of Le Cid that we can enjoy! Superb sound with a performance to match! No more suffering through the hi-fi-ish Doug Sax/ Acoustic Sounds rebutchering of the Fremaux on Klavier.  

Audiophiles in droves bought into that one, apparently not noticing the overblown bass and spark-spark-sparkling top end. Thankfully we now have this Decca from Speakers Corner to demonstrate proper orchestral balance. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac – A MoFi Winner

More Fleetwood Mac

More Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac

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Sonic Grade: B

Another MoFi LP reviewed, and this one is actually pretty good

The Mobile Fidelity pressing of this album can actually sound quite good (if you get hold of a decent copy that is). Audio perfection it ain’t, but all in all it’s a very enjoyable record. Its strengths are many and its faults are few. Let’s give credit where credit is due; the MoFi is rich, transparent, sweet, and natural, and you won’t hear us saying that about very many MoFi pressings.

It belongs in their Top Ten, toward the bottom I would guess, due to its own sloppy bottom, but that’s half-speed mastering for you. Like most new audio technologies it was a giant step in the wrong direction: backwards. (more…)

Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges – Back to Back – A Classic Records Winner

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

As I recall this was one of the better sounding Classic titles from their Verve series, and the music is excellent. Finding a clean original is no mean feat as I’m sure you can imagine.