Labels We Love – Parlophone/Apple

The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

The Beatles

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band

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

This British Import Parlophone pressing has, without a doubt, ONE OF THE BEST SIDE TWOS WE’VE EVER HEARD. I guarantee you’ve never heard A Day In The Life sound as good as it does here — we sure haven’t! The superb presence, clarity, and transparency allow elements to come through that are lost on all but the very hottest copies. Take a listen to how clear the piano comes through in the mix and compare it to any other copy you can find to see what I’m talking about.

Talk about energetic, jumpin’ out of the speakers, zero distortion sound! This A+++ side two is a MONSTER. The bottom end has all the weight, the mids are as tubey magical as they come, and the top end is fully extended and silky sweet. I’d feel good putting this side up against anything you could throw at it. Heck, I’d be surprised if the master tape itself sounded significantly better! (more…)

The Beatles on Vinyl – An Audiophile Wake Up Call

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The sound of the best pressings of The Beatles — when cleaned with the Walker Enzyme fluids on the Odyssey machine — are truly revelatory.

So much of what holds their records back is not bad mastering or poor pressing quality or problems with the recording itself. It’s getting the damn vinyl clean. (It’s also helpful to have high quality playback equipment that doesn’t add to the inherent limitations of the recordings.)

Know why you never hear Beatles vinyl playing in stereo stores or audio shows? (Love doesn’t count; give me a break.)

Because they’re TOO DAMN HARD to reproduce. You have to have seriously tweaked, top-quality, correct-sounding equipment — and just the right pressings, natch — to get The Beatles’ music to sound right, and that’s just not the kind of stuff they have at stereo stores and audio shows. (Don’t get me started.)
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Paul McCartney – McCartney – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

This stunning 2-pack of McCartney’s solo debut has AMAZING A+++ SOUND FROM START TO FINISH! It’s been AGES since we’ve heard a copy like this. Both sides have the kind of clarity, transparency and immediacy you need for this album to sound its best. Those qualities let you hear all the detail, nuance, and texture to the instruments that you just don’t get on the average pressing.

Both of the copies in this 2-pack have one amazing side and one side that just didn’t meet our standards, so we combined them to give you excellent sound for the entire album.

We recently finished another challenging shootout for this Better Records favorite and were thrilled to come up with a copy like this. It’s always been tough to find great sound and quiet vinyl for this album, and this time around was a NIGHTMARE. Most copies just don’t deliver, and most of the ones that do don’t pass our stringent condition check.

The presence and immediacy of this copy on both sides are OFF THE CHARTS! The sound is HUGE — wide, open, and SUPER transparent. There’s tons of ambience, lots of breath to the vocals, real depth to the soundfield and INCREDIBLE amounts of energy.

You don’t find many copies with this much Tubey Magic. Paul’s vocals are rich and full bodied, and the acoustic guitars are warm and sweet. The bass is tight and punchy, just the way we like it. If this copy sounded any better, my head might explode. (more…)

The Hollies – Hollies Sing Hollies

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  • A stunning copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last 
  • Both sides here were doing everything right — clean, clear and full-bodied with a big punchy bottom end
  • “After delving into more “serious” music with the Dylan album, the Hollies return to their pop roots with this fine effort… as usual, there is inconsistency in the quality of songwriting. However, even the most inconsequential tunes boast a good melody and solid musicianship… this is a good effort that maintains a balance between lightweight and serious pop material.” – All Music

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The Beatles – Help – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

Folks, you may have noticed that not many copies of Help with knockout sound make it to the site very often. They’re just not easy to find, but we’re happy to report that our last shootout produced some real knockouts! If you like your Beatles albums to sound rich, natural, lively and clear — and who doesn’t — you can’t go wrong here.

Both sides here are truly killer, and better than the typical pressing in almost every way. The soundstage is bigger and more three-dimensional, the overall tonality is fuller and richer, and there’s a level of presence here that just doesn’t exist on most copies. (more…)

Paul McCartney – Wild Life – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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Wild Life

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

This Apple UK Import LP has TWO outstanding sides! We were not all that familiar with the album going into this shootout, but after spending the day listening to copies like these we found ourselves LOVING IT!

Let’s face it: finding good sounding McCartney records with the exception of the first album is practically impossible. From Ram on it’s slim pickings, even on import. Most of those later albums sound like cassettes; they’re as dead as the proverbial doornail. They bore us to tears.

Wild Life stood up and showed us that there’s more good sound to be found after McCartney’s debut. Band On The Run on the right imports can sound quite good, but I would say without hesitation that the best copies of Wild Life kill it in the sonics department.

If you want the ultimate nexus of music and sound for McCartney, a Hot Stamper of the first album is the way to go. Expect to pay (us anyway) at least $500 for such a record, which is neither here nor there. This album is MUCH BETTER sounding than we ever suspected, and it’s much better music than we were led to believe by the critics. If you aren’t happy with it we will give you your money back. (more…)

The Beatles – Help – Germans Versus Brits

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

We’ve heard some excellent German pressings before, but this time [circa 2011] nothing could match up to our best Brit copies. What the best British copies have is more of the TUBEY MAGIC that can typically be heard on early pressings, due no doubt to the fact that they are mastered with tube equipment.

One reason we were so crazy about the German pressings is how amazingly clean and clear they can be. I can’t tell you how many distorted Brit copies we’ve played of this album over the years.

Some of the old cutting equipment clearly adds its own layer of distortion to the distortion that already exists on the tape for many of these Imports. A clean, clear, super low distortion Brit copy like this one is certainly the exception and NOT the rule. (more…)

The Beatles – Let It Be – Our 4 Plus Shootout Winner from 2013

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

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including a MIND-BLOWING A++++ SIDE ONE for this White Hot Stamper 2-pack! At its best, this album has the real power of live music, but it takes a special pressing to make it happen. Both of these copies had one stunning side and one that just didn’t impress us, so we’ve paired them up to give you incredible sound for the entire album!

So many copies of Let It Be lack the kind of energy and transparency that you need to bring this music to life, but these killer sides did EVERYTHING we were looking for. It doesn’t get any better than this, folks!

Side One

A++++ — nothing else in our shootout came close! Super spacious with serious immediacy and presence, this one knocked us out from the moment we dropped the needle. This level of clarity and transparency is typically accompanied by a hard, thin midrange, but you won’t hear anything like that here! The mids are just as rich and Tubey Magical as we could ask for (and we ask for a lot!). Absolutely stunning!

Side Two

A+++, easily the best side two in our shootout. Big and clear, rich and full-bodied, with tons of presence and detail, this is exactly the way we want this music to sound. White Hot Stamper material, all the way!

Boring? Not This Copy!

We just finished another big shootout for this great album, and it still surprises me how BORING the average British copy is. (Of course, the German pressings and the domestic copies are even worse, but you probably already knew that.)

You’ve got to do a lot of work to find a copy of Let It Be that doesn’t sound murky, sleepy, thick and/or veiled. We went through a massive stack of nothing but British imports and only a select few were FUN and INVOLVING enough to merit the Hot Stamper designation.

The Beatles: Rock Band

On a copy like this the natural rock n’ roll energy of a song such as Dig A Pony will blow you away. There’s no studio wizardry, no heavy-handed mastering, no phony EQ — just the sound of the greatest rock band of all time playing and singing their hearts out. It’s a thrill that you don’t really get from the more psychedelic albums like Sgt. Pepper’s or Magical Mystery Tour. (more…)

The Beatles – Please Please Me – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series, this time for The Beatles’ amazing debut from 1963, Please Please Me.

The first Beatles record is nothing short of amazing. It captures more of the live sound of these four guys playing together as a rock and roll band than any record they ever made afterwards. (Let It Be gets some of that live quality too and makes a great bookend for the group.)

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

I Saw Her Standing There

Like any of the boys’ most radio ready singles, this song tends to be a bit bright. If this track sounds at all dull, there’s probably no hope for the rest of this side.

Misery

This track should sound lively and punchy. The best copies have excellent bass definition and superb clarity, allowing you to appreciate how the wonderful bounce of the rhythm section really energizes the song.

Anna (Go to Him)

Does it get any better? This is the real Beatles magic baby!

Chains

Note that the vocals on this track are not as well recorded as they are on the track above. As a rule they’re a bit edgier and not as transparent.

Go back and forth between the two songs a number of times and we think you will hear exactly what we mean. Although this difference is more audible on the better copies, it should still be noticeable on any Hot Stamper pressing.

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Paul McCartney – McCartney

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McCartney

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  • This copy of McCartney’s Apple debut boasts killer Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from first note to last
  • Both sides are big and rich, with plenty of low end, strong midrange presence and the kind of spatiality that will fill your entire listening room
  • Record Collector highlighted “Every Night”, “Junk,” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” as songs that “still sound absolutely effortless and demonstrate the man’s natural genius with a melody.”
  • A Top 100 pick and Paul McCartney’s One and Only Masterpiece – a Must Own when it sounds this good!

*NOTE: A mark makes three very light ticks at the end of track four, Every Night.

The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. The music jumps right out of the speakers and fills up the room. (more…)