Labels We Love – Polydor

King Crimson – Red – Reviewed in 2009

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

This is a Minty British Polydor red label import LP. These British imports are consistently superior to their domestic counterparts. We do not even bother to pick up domestic King Crimson albums anymore; the sub-generation tapes they are made from cause them to be smeary, veiled and compressed. If there are good ones out there we sure haven’t heard them.

As for this copy, both sides are tubey magical and sweet, again, qualities sorely lacking in domestic pressings. Both sides are however a bit recessed compared to the best we’ve played. Side two is especially dynamic though; the sound really jumps in places. (more…)

The Who By Numbers – More Bass or More Detail, Which Is Right?

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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 Who by Numbers.

With Doug Sax mastering from the real tape, you get a Rock Solid Bottom End like you will not believe. Talk about punchy, well-defined and deep, man, this record has BASS that you sure don’t hear too often on rock records. 

And it’s not just bass that separates the Men from the Boys, or the Real Thing from the Classic Reissue for that matter. It’s WEIGHT, fullness, the part of the frequency range from the lower midrange to the upper bass, that area that spans roughly 150 to 600 cycles. It’s what makes Daltry’s voice sound full and rich, not thin and modern. It’s what makes the drums solid and fat the way Johns intended. The good copies of Who’s Next and Quadrophenia have plenty of muscle in this area, and so do the imports we played.

But not the Classic. Oh no, so much of what gives Who By Numbers its Classic Rock sound has been equalized right out of the Heavy Vinyl reissue by Chris Bellman at BG’s mastering house. Some have said the originals are warmer but not as detailed. I would have to agree, but that misses the point entirely: take out the warmth — the fullness that makes the original pressings sound so right — and you of course hear more detail, as the detail region is no longer masked by all the stuff going on below it. Want to hear detail? Disconnect your woofers — you’ll hear plenty of detail all right! (more…)

Buckingham Nicks – Buckingham Nicks – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

TWO WHITE HOT A+++ SIDES! The overall sound is UNBELIEVABLY rich, sweet, open, spacious, and transparent. Most copies suffer from a seriously bloated bottom end, but the bass on this one is nice and tight. The other big problem with the typical copy is a harsh top end, but the highs here are much sweeter and never aggressive.

Those of you who read our commentary for Commoner’s Crown will recognize this bit, lifted practically whole from the listing. The British Sound? This record has it in spades:

The sound is rich and full in the best tradition of English Rock, with no trace of the transistory grain that domestic rock pressings so often suffer from. The bass is deep, punchy, full up in the mix and correct. There’s plenty of it too, so those of you with less than well controlled bass will have a tough time with this one.

But never fear; it’s a great record to tweak with and perfect for evaluating equipment.

Things have changed as we never tire of saying here at Better Records, but in a way you could say they have stayed the same. This used to be a demo disc, and now it’s REALLY a Demo Disc. You will have a very hard time finding a record with a punchier, richer, fuller, better-defined, dare I say “fatter” bottom end than the one found on both these sides.

Notice how there is nothing — not one instrument or voice — that has a trace of hi-if-ishness. No grain, no sizzle, no zippy top, no bloated bottom, nothing that reminds you of the phony sound you hear on audiophile records at every turn. Silky-sweet and tubey-magical, THIS IS THE SOUND WE LOVE.

We Love The Music Too Of Course

We really enjoy this album here at Better Records. It’s a wonderful preview of things to come for these two. Check out the wonderful early version of Crystal. On the best copies, it is warm, rich, and sweet — just like it is on the best copies of the Fleetwood Mac self-titled LP. In fact, many parts of this album bring to mind the best of ’70s Fleetwood Mac. Fans of the self-titled LP and Rumours are going to find A LOT to like here.

What We’re Listening For

There are a couple of qualities that set that Top Copies apart. The biggest problem with this record is sound that gets too fat and too rich. There has to be transparency to the sound that lets us listen into the studio. When Stevie is singing, almost always double-tracked by the way, Lindsay is often doing harmony vocals well behind her, double-tracked as well. You want to be able to hear PAST her all the way back to him and hear exactly what he’s doing. Most copies don’t let you do that.

The other problem is smeary guitar transients. The multi-tracked acoustic guitars tend to be rich and sweet on practically every copy you can find; this is not the problem. When they lack transient information, the right amount of “pluck”, they also tend to lack harmonic information, the overtones of the notes. Put those two together and you get a blobby mass of smeared guitars overlaid onto one another — not an irritating sound, but not a pleasing one either.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Crying In The Night
Stephanie
Without A Leg To Stand On
Crystal
Long Distance Winner

Side Two

Don’t Let Me Down Again
Django
Races Are Run
Lola (My Love)
Frozen Love

AMG Review

While it will be hard to find, this lone album cut by a young and ambitious (and still romantically attached) Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham a short two years before joining Fleetwood Mac is well worth digging out for your turntable… Buckingham Nicks is an engaging listen and served as a proving ground of sorts for both artists’ songwriting chops and for Buckingham’s skills as an emerging studio craftsman. Crisp, ringing acoustic guitars and a bottom-heavy rhythm section (using the talents of Waddy Watchel, Jim Keltner, and Jerry Scheff) framed the pair’s songs in a sound something akin to FM-ready folk-rock. Lesser known tracks like the glistening opener, “Crying in the Night,” from Nicks and Buckingham’s lonely-guy lament, “Without a Leg to Stand On,” are on a par with their later mega hits.

Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced

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Are You Experienced

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

STUNNING SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! It is no easy task trying to find good copies of this album (or any Hendrix album, really). This one is absolutely killer. The bottom end is big and weighty, the top is open and transparent, and there’s plenty of rich, full tubey magic. It’s going to be incredibly hard to find a pressing that comes anywhere close to this one.

No matter what version you’ve been playing, we guarantee you’ll be blown away by the energy and punch on this one. 

Ready to go on a trip? You’ve come to the right place. While the sound is not Demo Quality on every track, the acid-drenched soundscapes created by Jimi and engineer Eddie Kramer are certainly going to be exciting to the kind of audiophile who still digs Classic Rock. Unfortunately, most copies are missing a lot of the magic — the space, the tubes, the ambience, the size, the weight. (more…)

Bryan Ferry – Boys And Girls – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

This domestic pressing has STUNNINGLY GOOD SOUND on side two! It’s the best we’ve ever heard the album — super high-resolution transparency coupled with amazing immediacy. And talk about energy — the sound here positively JUMPS out of the speakers!

This side two blew our minds with its distortion-free sound, transparency and its punchy, note-like bass. The recording space is wall to wall HUGE, with amazing depth and three-dimensionality that’s only hinted at by most of the pressings we played. It’s meaty and punchy down low and there’s plenty of extension up top.  (more…)

Jimi Hendrix – Axis: Bold As Love

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Axis: Bold As Love

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

What a copy! Super rich and full-bodied with a wide, tall soundstage and plenty of punch, this is exactly the right sound for this music. It sure ain’t easy to find good-sounding Hendrix records, and most copies of Axis are positively painful. You need rich, full tonality and plenty of space up top if this album is going to work, and on those counts this copy certainly delivers! 

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Jimi Hendrix – Hendrix In The West

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Hendrix In The West

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

We’re still surprised at how well recorded the album is, and a pressing like this allows you to really hear the live Jimi Guitar God Magic.

Rock and roll Legend EDDIE KRAMER, the man who engineered these live recordings, really knocked it out of the park. Drop the needle on Little Wing and you are going to be FLOORED. (more…)

Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland

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Electric Ladyland

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

Sides three and four of this bad boy are OFF THE CHARTS, earning our top grade of A+++. Side three manages to combine superb transparency and presence with rich Tubey Magic and a strong, rockin’ low end — not an easy balance to strike! The guitars here, obviously one of the main draws on a Hendrix album, sound phenomenal.

Side four is every bit as good, with tons of rockin’ energy and serious immediacy coupled with smooth, natural tonality. Again, most copies fail miserably at finding that balance. A+++, White Hot Stamper material all the way. Whew!

Sides one and two are excellent as well, clocking in at A++ to A+++ and A++ respectively. Side one is clear and full with a big, punchy low end and plenty of rock energy. Side two is generally the weakest side in terms of sound, and that’s true here as well, but at A++ this one blows away what we found on the typical pressings. Tubey Magical with a nice, solid low end, the music really comes across here. (more…)

Roxy Music – Manifesto

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Manifesto

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  • A killer copy of Manifesto, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • Big, rich and lively throughout – the Tubey Magic on this early UK pressing will show you just how good this Rhett Davies’ recording can sound
  • This one may have won our shootout, but it has some minor condition issues, so we’re keeping the price down  
  • “The songs ending each side fade out with real grace and leave you hanging, wanting more — drenched in a romance out of reach.” Rolling Stone

Good pressings of Manifesto are hard to come by — this kind of rich, full-bodied, musical sound is the exception, not the rule. And there’s actual space and extension up top as well, something you certainly don’t hear on most pressings. (more…)

Derek and the Dominos – Layla

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  • With a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides two, three and four, this copy delivers top quality sound for this famously difficult recording – exceptionally quiet vinyl too! 
  • Some of our favorite Clapton songs are here: Bell Bottom Blues, Tell The Truth, Little Wing, Layla and Have You Ever Loved A Woman?
  • One of the most difficult albums to find audiophile sound for, but a lot easier for us now that we know what pressings can actually sound good
  • Clapton’s greatest album: “But what really makes Layla such a powerful record is that Clapton, ignoring the traditions that occasionally painted him into a corner, simply tears through these songs with burning, intense emotion.”

Outstanding sound for all four sides of this classic album. Unless you plan on playing a very big pile of copies you will be hard-pressed to find a copy with sound like this. (more…)