Labels We Love – EMI/Harvest

Holst / The Planets / Previn / LSO – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2013

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The Planets / Previn / LSO

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

This Beyond White Hot Stamper Planets has Out Of This World sound on side two, where it earned a Four Plus sonic grade for its MINDBLOWING orchestral power, especially from the brass section, a subject we discuss at length below. 

This is some of the best sound I have ever heard coming out of my two speakers, if not THE best. Side two of this very copy takes the recording to a level we had no idea was possible. Out of the fifty or so copies of The Planets we’ve played in the last decade or so, this is without a doubt the best side two of them all.

We can only hope to find a side one as good in the next ten years. It probably exists, but will it take us another fifty copies to run into it? Only time will tell! (more…)

Crowded House – Woodface – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

This WHITE HOT STAMPER Woodface fulfills the promise of this extraordinarily well-recorded album beyond all expectations. We have an expression that we reserve for this kind of record — Master Tape Sound. When you drop the needle on a record this good you feel like you just threaded up the master tape and hit play. The effect so totally immerses you in the musical experience that you forget you’re listening to a record at all.

In your mind you have the sense that you’re hearing the music exactly the way the musicians, producers and engineers intended it to sound. It’s perfection. The sound is everything you want it to be as you experience every element of the music seemingly without limitation. It only happens when the right record meets the right stereo, and that means rarely, but when it does the memory of the sound becomes fixed in the mind like no other, and it never leaves.  (more…)

Mussorgsky / Pictures at an Exhibition / Muti – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky

Pictures at an Exhibition / Muti

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

This White Hot Stamper EMI Two-Pak gives you the complete Pictures at an Exhibition and the Firebird Suite with TOP PERFORMANCES and SUPERB SONICS from first note to last. It took two separate discs to make it happen, but we managed to find the two copies with sides that matched up in order to bring both of these works to LIFE. 

Much like Steinberg and the BSO’s performance of The Planets, he finds the music in the work that no one else can. (more…)

David Gilmour – David Gilmour – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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David Gilmour – David Gilmour

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

Side one here was about as good as they get, earning a grade between A++ and A+++. The sound is big, rich, and open. The bass is killer — tight with real weight — and the drums have lots of punch. The average copy doesn’t give you silky, extended highs like this one does — that’s for sure!

Side two is also excellent, rating A+ to A++. It shares many of the qualities that made side one so good, but could open up a bit more. Still, it’s a nice step up from most copies out there. (more…)

Massenet / Le Cid / Fremaux / City of Birmingham Symphony

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

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

This is a record that clearly belongs on a Super Disc list; if Harry hadn’t already put it there we certainly would have. (We would love to compile a Super Disc list of our own, but unless you have just the right copy of whatever title you find on the list, you may not have anything like Super Disc sound quality, so why a list at all? It creates more problems for audiophiles than it solves.)  (more…)

Queen – Hot Space

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  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy of Hot Space took top honors in our recent shootout
  • The best pressings – like this one – have plenty of bass and are smoother and fuller than the rest
  • Disco, funk, rhythm and blues, dance and pop music all found their way onto this 1982 release -the monster hit Under Pressure with none other than Mr. David Bowie closes out side two
  • “Hot Space is an essential cog for Queen completists… [it] has invention and ideas to spare.”

Queen albums in general are notoriously hard to find good sound for, and Queen albums from 1982 are probably even harder.

We’re guessing this album’s appeal is probably limited to fans of the band, but for those of you who want something different, or to hear Under Pressure sound good, we offer Hot Space with White Hot Stamper sound. (more…)

Pink Floyd – Piper at the Gates of Dawn

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  • An amazing Shootout Winning pressing with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from the first note to the last 
  • This shockingly well-recorded album is a big step up from many that followed and surely the best sounding Floyd until Meddle
  • We made a huge breakthrough during our shootout, discovering a very special label and stampers that took the sound to a whole new level
  • 5 stars: “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn successfully captures both sides of psychedelic experimentation — the pleasures of expanding one’s mind and perception, and an underlying threat of mental disorder and even lunacy; this duality makes Piper all the more compelling in light of Barrett’s subsequent breakdown, and ranks it as one of the best psychedelic albums of all time.”

Amazing sound for this classic early Floyd album featuring Syd Barrett! We did not expect to hear sound this good for the album. If you’ve played other versions of this one you’re going to be surprised — shocked even — at how big, rich and solid the sound is. Astronomy Domine and Interstellar Overdrive are especially impressive. We don’t think you’ll have much luck finding a copy with even one side this good, let alone two! (more…)

Queen – A Day At the Races

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout
  • Tie Your Mother Down and Somebody to Love are both wonderful sounding on this EARLY British pressing
  • It’s incredibly difficult to find big, bold, lively sound like this for Queen – it takes us years to do the shootout
  • “Its sleek, streamlined finish is the biggest indication that Queen has entered a new phase, where they’re globe-conquering titans instead of underdogs on the make.”

(more…)

Gerry Rafferty – City To City – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of City to City.

Listen to the chorus on the first track, The Ark. On the best copies it really gets loud without becoming harsh or shrill. So many popular albums have choruses (and guitar solos) that are no louder, and sometimes not even as loud, as the verses, which rob the songs of any real drama or power. This recording has the potential to give you a dramatic, powerful, loud chorus. It’s a thrill when you find a pressing that delivers on that promise. (more…)

Prokofiev / Symphonies No. 1 & 7 – Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

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What to listen for on this album? That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label the way they did back the day. I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles tend to make about the sound of records, my own included — to the limitations of the equipment, bad rooms and poor record cleaning. 

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that are possible today. (more…)