Labels We Love – Columbia/Epic

Gershwin / Con. In F & Rhapsody In Blue / Previn / Kostelanetz

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  • This Columbia Six Eye has Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound for the Rhapsody in Blue on side two – reasonably quiet vinyl too, especially for an early stereo LP
  • As would be expected, both sides are exceptionally rich and Tubey Magical, but the clarity, deep bass and powerful, dynamic sound of side two surprised the hell out of us – we’ve never heard the work reproduced with this kind of authority or fidelity
  • The first two movements of the Concerto in F found on side one earned a solid grade of Double Plus (A++) for their full brass and especially clear, solid, present piano, one with practically no trace of vintage analog tube smear
  • Performed with consummate skill and attention to detail – the results are magnificent!

Finally, the sound we’ve been searching for – rich, tubey and real, with nicely textured strings. The piano is solid, rich, high-rez and percussive — there is hardly any Old School smear or hardness to be heard, always important to the proper reproduction of any piano recording, whether the music is jazz, classical or rock. (We talk about smeary, hard pianos on many of our listings for those of you who take the time to read them.) (more…)

Weather Report – Heavy Weather – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

TWO AMAZING SIDES ON QUIET VINYL, including an A+++ side one! The sound was positively jumping out of the speakers and dynamic as all get out. The grit, grain and grunge of the typical pressing was nowhere to be found on EITHER side of this copy, and that alone puts it in a very special league. Drop the needle on either side and get ready for some of the most dynamic, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling jam-packed sound ever committed to vinyl.

As we noted on previous Hot Stamper listings of Heavy Weather, we’ve discovered that the key to the hot sounding pressings is a fairly simple one: the copies with high frequency extension and the tremendous energy that results from it are consistently the best sounding. You may have read elsewhere on the site that what separates many of the best Columbia LPs from their competition is an open, extended top end. For some reason, Columbia, more than any other label, seems to have a bad habit of making slightly dull records. Slightly dull does not work on this album. (more…)

Eddie Money – Eddie Money – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

TWO AMAZING SIDES, both clocking in at or just shy of our top grade of A+++! The typical pressing doesn’t sound anywhere near this good — which is a shame, because when you get a White Hot Stamper copy like this, the music is a lot of fun. 

Side One

A+++, absolutely As Good As It Gets! The bottom end is solid and punchy, the top is open and transparent, and there’s plenty of fullness and presence in the mids. Nothing else in our shootout could compare to this one!

Side Two

A++ to A+++, very nearly as good as side one! The life and energy here are off-the-charts. Pay particular attention to the drums — it’s a rare copy that reproduces them with this kind of snap and punch!

The average copy is way too compressed, which kills the highs (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, you know it 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 else forward.

Eddie Money don’t get no respect, and for the most part he doesn’t deserve any. He’s only made one good record: this one. Fortunately, it’s a GREAT one and we don’t have to play his other crappy ones. Thank God. This guy had so much promise, based soley on his debut here, and he turned into just another mainstream rock hack.

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 not for you. I love this album and I have played it scores of times. (more…)

Heart – Little Queen

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is a Classic Rock Demo Disc to beat practically anything you could throw at it. Love Alive and Barracuda on this copy will deliver the full Rock and Roll Power of your system. If you’ve got The Big Sound, this is the record that will truly show it off. 

Even though our graphic scale only goes to three pluses, you’ll know the Four Plus sound on this side one the moment you hear it.

You get HUGE meaty guitars, BIG bass, a smooth top end, full-bodied vocals, incredible rock energy and dynamics, loads of richness and incredible transparency.

There are plenty of commentaries that discuss the sound of this recording and what it can really do when you get hold of a good pressing… and have the system that can play it… and turn up the volume good and loud. We proudly present here a copy with the kind of Big Sound that we think backs up every claim we make. (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Finally, a Triple Plus (A+++) copy of Sly’s classic Stand album from 1969, one of the few times that this album has EVER sounded the way it is supposed to! Man, most copies of this album just plain suck — sonically of course.

Both sides here have lively punchy drums; a big soundfield, front to back and side to side; tonally correct vocals (which obviously are key and sound edgy and thin on most copies), and real resolution to the sound overall. Also just as importantly you lose the sibilance most copies suffer from and the smear on the horns goes away, thank goodness.

There are three Epic labels for this record; the originals are yellow, the first reissue is orange, and the last reissue is black. I can tell you that only one of those labels produced truly great sounding copies in our shootout. Beyond that you will have to buy a sample of each and do your own shootout. (more…)

Bruce Springsteen – Born In The U.S.A. – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

EXCELLENT SOUND and QUIET VINYL for BOTH SIDES of this ’80s classic from The Boss. Side one, at A+++, was the best we heard in our entire shootout! It’s tough to find great sounding copies of this album — or any Springsteen album for that matter — but this one is a HUGE step up, with the kind of clarity and fullness the typical pressing barely hints at.

We’re not the world’s biggest Springsteen fans here at Better Records (as you may have gathered by now) but when this sound is this good we can certainly get down and rock with The Boss.

So many copies left us cold with a flat, dry sound. If you’re bored by the first chorus of the title song, that’s a bad sign, and that was exactly our experience with most of the pressings that hit the table. When we threw this one on, things changed considerably. Bruce was really screaming, the drums were really pounding, and before we knew it we were really rockin’ out and enjoying the music. 

Side one gives you a very strong bottom end with more PUNCH than we found anywhere else. The top end is open and extended with a silky quality — dramatically better than the gritty, grainy, edgy sound we heard up top on copy after copy. The vocals sound wonderful with plenty of presence and texture, and the soundfield has some actual depth. Many copies we played had a slightly smeary quality, but not this one — the clarity is superb and you can clearly hear transients on just about all the instruments. 

Side two is very good as well but not quite as exceptional. The bottom end has lots of weight and there’s good energy all around, but the vocals could use a little more presence. Our ultimate sides also opened up a bit more, but I think you’ll find this side a step up over whatever you’ve been playing up to now. Drop the needle on Dancing In The Dark for some of the best sound on the side. (more…)

Shostakovich & Ravel / Piano Concerto No. 2 & more / Bernstein – Reviewed in 2011

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

Super Hot Stamper or BETTER sound for the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No.2, which is positively SUPERB on this later Columbia pressing. It’s shockingly transparent, rich and sweet, with wonderful depth and clarity. Where is the shrill, upper-midrangy, glary, hard sound we’ve come to expect from ’60s Columbia recordings like this one?

Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you. Right here on this very side two, the Ravel side. It’s typical Columbia from the period, with nasally, pinched upper-mids, the kind which make the strings and brass screech and blare at you in the worst way.

If Columbia’s goal was to drive the audiophile music lover screaming from the room, on this side two they have succeeded brilliantly. On side one they’ve failed; it sounds great! (more…)

Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

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A while back we did a monster-sized shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second release, an album we consider THE Best Sounding Rock Record of All Time. In the midst of the discussion of a particular pressing that completely blew our minds — a copy we gave a Hot Stamper grade of A with Four Pluses , the highest honor we can bestow upon it — various issues arose, issues such as: How did this copy get to be so good? and What does it take to find such a copy? and, to paraphrase David Byrne, How did it get here?

Which brings us to this commentary, which centers around the concept of outliers.

Wikipedia defines an outlier this way: “In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.” In other words, it’s something that is very far from normal. In the standard bell curve distribution pictured below, the outliers are at the far left and far right, far from the vast majority of the data which is in the middle.

In the world of records, most copies of any title you care to name would be average sounding. The vertical line in the center of the graph shows probability; the highest probability is that any single copy of a record will be at the top of the curve near the middle, which means it will simply be average. The closer to the vertical line it is, the more average it will be. As you move away from the vertical line, the data point — the record — becomes less and less average. As you move away from the center, to the left or the right, the record is either better sounding or worse sounding than average. (more…)

Duke Ellington – Newport Jazz Festival 1958 – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

If you are a fan, this record will be a thrill. If you’re unfamiliar with the Duke’s music, I can’t imagine a better introduction than this.

This LP also includes Gerry Mulligan’s only performance with the Ellington band. Paul Gonsalves’s saxophone performance is superb and worth the price of the album alone. The clarinet parts on Princess Blue are out of this world — Ellington at his best!

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

TWO KILLER SIDES including a STUNNING Demo Quality A+++ side one! Bring over your audio buddies and blow their minds by dropping the needle on America — I guarantee that they’ve never heard it sound like this before (unless, of course, they happen to be one of our top-shelf Hot Stamper customers already). Everything you’d hope for on a killer pressing of this album is right here on this side one, and most of it is on the A++ side two as well.

This Original Columbia 360 Label pressing has DEMO QUALITY SOUND. We know well that the average copy makes it hard to believe that a pressing like this exists, but one quick drop of the needle on any track will show you the light. We played a couple dozen copies this week and most of them weren’t fit to serve dinner on.

This one’s got the SILKY SWEETNESS and TUBEY MAGICAL ANALOG sound that Bookends demands! If your old copy left you with the idea that this is not an audiophile quality recording, we can’t say we’re surprised — most copies just plain stink.

Both sides are rich, sweet, and unusually full-bodied. A copy like this one really conveys the emotional quality of these songs in a direct and powerful way. If you love Bookends as much as we do, you’re gonna flip out when you hear this copy.

Just drop the needle on any track for a taste of what this album is supposed to sound like. I can’t tell you how many disappointing copies of Bookends that we’ve played over the last few years, and especially this last week. The typical copy is hardly worth the vinyl it’s pressed on — the spit and grain are pretty much intolerable. (more…)