Labels We Love – RCA

David Bowie – The Lodger – Our Shootout Winner from Way Back

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

White Hot Stampers for Lodger discovered — this wasn’t easy, folks! We’ve been trying to find a great sounding Lodger for years but it’s taken us until now, which should tell you just how tough it is to get a killer copy of this album. This one has the best side one we’ve ever heard and a strong side two to boot.

Side one has the correct balance of elements, just what we were looking for. It’s rich and smooth but not overly so, it’s got a nice top end but never gets aggressive, and it’s got a serious bottom end but never gets too thick or bloated. There’s lots of texture and body to the synths, which really brings Eno’s contributions to life in a way that didn’t happen on most copies. The vocals are clean and clear with good presence. We gave it an A+++.

Side two is clean, clear, natural and balanced. The vocals sound right and the bass is tight and punchy. Side one gives you a little more in the way of energy and presence, but this is still one of the stronger side twos we’ve heard in all these years. We rated it A+ to A++. (more…)

Harry Nilsson – A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

AMAZING SOUND AND WONDERFUL MUSIC! We just finished our first huge shootout for this great album and this one was a BIG step up over most of the pressings we played. This is one of the better sounding orchestral-backed male vocal albums that we know of, and on a copy like this the sound can be MINDBLOWINGLY GOOD. Side one is rich, lush and warm; more importantly, the vocals are PERFECTION.

Side one earned an A+++ grade, which means this copy is going to be incredibly hard to beat no matter how many copies you have access to. The orchestra sounds excellent and the vocals are Right On The Money. There’s tons of ambience, shocking immediacy and lots of punch to the bottom end. You are not going to believe how big and lush the sound of this record is. Guaranteed to make your jaw drop or your money back! (more…)

Elvis Presley – On Stage February 1970 – Our Shootout Winner from 2017

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

With two Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning sides, this original RCA Orange Label copy simply could not be beat. This is Elvis doing songs made famous by others, proving that he can still out-rock and out-soul practically anybody alive. With ten million copies sold to date, this album’s appeal has transcended its time and must be considered a true Elvis Classic.

finding these later pressings with such good sound, so Tubey Magical, rich and smooth despite their reissue labels, has been a bit of a godsend. (more…)

David Bowie – Pin-Ups – Forget the Original British Pressings

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

We just finished our biggest-ever shootout for this fun Bowie album and this one was DRAMATICALLY better than most other copies. We played copies from all over the world — England, Germany, France, Canada, and the good ol’ USA — and heard all kinds of bad sound.

So what were the worst copies we heard? Hands down it was the British Originals, believe it or not. They tend to be dull, thick, and lifeless — not a good match for this punky, energetic material. [We have since found some very good sounding Brit originals but, that said, to date they have never won a shootout.]

On the other side, many of the other copies we heard were bright and grainy. It’s very tough to find a copy that strikes a balance, but we finally managed to dig up a handful that did the job. (more…)

David Bowie – Low – Our Shootout Winner from Long Ago

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

[This is an old listing that we ourselves are fairly skeptical of. We present it as more of a historical document than a guide to finding good sound on Low.]

This is the first Hot Stamper copy of Low to ever hit our site, and it’s a darn good one — especially on side one, where all the “pop” songs are found. We just had a huge shootout for this album featuring all the copies we’ve picked up over the years, and this domestic (!) pressing shocked us by blowing away our Brit copies on side one.

If you aren’t interested in the instrumental Bowie/Eno synth-heavy soundscapes that fill side two, this is THE copy to own.

I’ve said it on the site numerous time, but I spent a good portion of the ’70s playing art-rock records like Taking Tiger Mountain, Crime Of The Century and Deceptive Bends. I remember being blown away when Low came out, and it was a blast to hear how good a Hot Stamper pressing can sound on a highly-evolved stereo system today. Side one of this album features the more traditional (not really the right word, but I digress) Bowie rockers like Sound and Vision and Be My Wife, while side two sounds more like the instrumental synth music of Kraftwerk or Eno. (more…)

David Bowie – Station To Station

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

Here’s an amazing White Hot Stamper copy of one of the toughest nuts to crack in the whole Bowie catalog! Full, punchy and present with a wide open soundstage and super dynamics, this is exactly the right sound for this material. This is dense, difficult music, and the typical pressing just can’t do it justice! Bowie fans, I’m sure you’ll agree this has been a long time coming.

Clean copies of this album — heck, clean Bowie records in general (at least for the most part) — are getting harder and harder to find. You can find British copies on eBay if you’re willing to be patient and drop some dough, but most of them don’t sound right. The typical domestic pressing ain’t much better but copies with certain stampers can be excellent. The bad news is that copies with the very same stampers can sound awful too, so the only way to find a good one is to clean and play a number of pressings and hope to get lucky. (Or you could buy one of our Hot Stampers and save yourself the struggle!). (more…)

Mussorgsky / The Power of the Orchestra / Leibowitz – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This Shaded Dog pressing of the famous TAS List Super Disc title has TWO AMAZING SIDES, including a side two that is White Hot! We have never heard a copy with such a huge hall sound and so much weight down low. As we said last time we did a shootout for this title in 2007: “DEMO DISC QUALITY ORCHESTRAL SOUND like you will not believe. Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this for huge orchestral dynamics and energy.” 

As you know, if you’ve been on our site for any length of time at all, we’ve made a good number of significant improvements to our stereo and room since 2007, so it’s entirely accurate to say we have never heard this kind of Demo Disc sound for this album until now, because we haven’t!

Side One

A++. The hall is wide and deep as any you will hear. Tons of power and weight down low. A touch dark, otherwise it would have earned the full Three Plus top grade.

Side Two

A+++, White Hot and Hard to Fault! The strings are so richly textured — who does it better than Wilkinson? Cymbal really crash on this side, something you rarely hear correctly reproduced on recordings.

This could easily become your go-to record for demonstrating not just the Power of the Orchestra, but the power of Old Analog! (more…)

Mussorgsky / The Power of the Orchestra / Leibowitz – Awesome In Mono

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This is the kind of record that the mono cartridge owners of the world worship. And for good reason. But you don’t need to have a mono cartridge to hear how good — in fact, how much BETTER — this copy sounds than most of the stereo pressings out there.

I found out about mono classical records one day when I got a mono copy of The Power Of The Orchestra, VCS 2659. It sounded better than any stereo recording of that work I had ever heard. All the instruments were so much more solid sounding, so palpable, so free from distortion, that it made me recognize for the first time what the mono record lovers of the world were talking about. (more…)

Harry Nilsson – Son of Schmilsson – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

We had a great time shooting out a big stack of these, as we’re just wild about Harry here at Better Records. Unfortunately, most copies out there are too dark and grainy to get all that excited about. Here’s a copy that tells a much different story —both sides have good energy, smooth and sweet vocals, and nice extension up top. Drop the needle on Turn On Your Radio or The Lottery Song and we bet you fall in love with this one!

What Shootout Winning sides such as these 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 1971
  • 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 studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is of course the only way to hear all of the above

Ken Is The Man

It’s yet another triumph from one of our favorite engineers, KEN SCOTT (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century and many more).

This is one of Nilsson’s best albums, sonically and musically. (With Ken Scott at the board at Trident Studios the sound has to be good, doesn’t it?) Side one is amazingly good from start to finish. On the two CD set of Nilsson’s greatest hits (which is excellent, by the way) almost all of side one from this album is used, as well as the best material on side two here, which includes Spaceman and The Most Beautiful World In The World. In other words, this album has more than half a dozen of the best songs Nilsson ever wrote.

Nilsson Schmilsson and the album simply titled Harry are the other two superb Nilsson records that I highly recommend. Harry is my favorite of all his albums, maybe because it was so different from anything that I’d ever heard up to that point. A Little Touch… is also a personal favorite — standards done in the Nilsson style — is wonderful.

By the way, if the documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) is on the box, you should definitely check it out. Most of us here have seen it by now and it’s a ton of fun. (more…)

David Bowie – Let’s Dance

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

With Let’s Dance the name of the game is ENERGY, and boy does this copy have it! Both sides have the deep, punchy bass and sweet, extended highs that Bowie’s music needs to come ALIVE. With that big bass and smooth top end this is one record you can turn up GOOD and LOUD without fear of fatique. On a big pair of dynamic speakers you will really get your money’s worth from the best Hot Stamper pressings. 

Compression? No Thank You!

Most copies we came across during our extensive shootout were painfully compressed and thin. Sure, they could convey some of the enormous energy of this recording, but the highs always ended up being brittle and edgy. Subsequently the vocals would lose presence and the whole operation turned smeary. When this happens, tracks like “Modern Love” turn the joy of the music into boredom and even outright misery.

But the good ones boggle the mind, they practically defy understanding. How did they get that much punchy note-like bass onto a piece of vinyl, not to mention all those silky sweet highs? (more…)