Labels We Love – Reprise

Dean Martin – Dream With Dean – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

This side one gets it JUST RIGHT. My notes read, “WOW! Master Tape Sound! So clear and unprocessed. Right amount of tubey magic. Dynamic and present like no other!” — hopefully that gives you a taste of just how much we loved the sound here. Side two is nearly as good but doesn’t have quite as much presence.  

This is my favorite Dean Martin record of all time; just Dean and a jazz guitar quartet behind him (featuring Contemporary favorites Barney Kessel and Red Mitchell!) doing standards. On the best copies, the immediacy is absolutely mind-blowing. It’s a shame that there aren’t more Frank Sinatra records that sound like this! (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Clouds

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  • Triple Triple! A stunning copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish- this is As Good As It Gets, folks! 
  • Check out the clear transients on Joni’s guitar — you can really hear her moving her hands around the fretboard and pulling on the strings
  • It’s tough to find this album in clean shape with this kind of warm, natural sound (something the new reissue is no doubt profoundly lacking)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Clouds is a stark stunner, a great leap forward for Joni Mitchell. Vocals here are more forthright and assured than on her debut and exhibit a remarkable level of subtle expressiveness. Guitar alone is used in accompaniment, and the variety of playing approaches and sounds gotten here is most impressive.”

The best sounding copies of Clouds are the ones that put Joni and her guitar right there in your living room. The copies with veiled vocals really don’t allow the music to come to life, and the copies where her voice is too forward come across as unnatural and hi-fi-ish. It takes an exceptional copy to strike the right balance and put both the voice and guitar right between your speakers, not under a blanket or in your lap.

The intimacy of the recording is simply breathtaking, but most pressing can’t begin to do it justice, especially the reissues, which tend to be thin and edgy and sorely lacking in Tubey Magic. You have not begun to hear these songs with this kind of realism and power unless, like us, you’ve cleaned and played plenty of copies and lucked into a truly killer Hot Stamper. (more…)

The Kinks – Kinda Kinks in Stereo

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Kinda Kinks

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  • Very good Hot Stamper sound on both sides of this original STEREO copy of The Kinks’ sophomore release
  • There’s a healthy dose of the Tubey Magical Richness these recordings need in order to work on this copy
  • The monos win the shootouts but the better original stereo pressings can sound quite good on their own terms
  • “…this album showcased a much more sophisticated sound… it also put them right in the front of the British Invasion pack for seriousness and complexity, out in front of where the Beatles or almost any of the competition were in early 1965…”

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Jimi Hendrix – Rainbow Bridge – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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Rainbow Bridge

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

THE NEW ALL-TIME CHAMPION FOR SIDE ONE! We played over a dozen copies this week, split evenly between domestics and Brit imports — and this bad boy absolutely MURDERED the competition.

Drop the needle on Dolly Dagger or Pali Gap and prepare to be floored! You won’t believe the big-time presence, the mindblowing energy, or the massive WHOMP factor! This copy has the tightest bass we’ve ever heard for this album, plus an unbelievable amount of Tubey Magic. (more…)

The Kinks – Something Else – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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Something Else

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

This Original Reprise Tri-Color Steamboat Label pressing is one of the best sounding Kinks records we’ve ever had the pleasure of playing here at Better Records. It sounds nothing like the typically dull and smeary domestic Kinks LPs we are used to hearing. The overall sound is lively, musical, and natural. Drop the needle on No Return for wonderful sound and music — it’s got a bit of a Jobim vibe. 

After dropping the needle on a wonderful sounding copy a few months back, we started pursuing these in the hopes of getting a proper shootout together. It didn’t happen easily or inexpensively — clean looking copies of this one go for as much as $50 in the local bins, and that’s obviously with no guarantee of good sound or quiet vinyl. We found a few good ones and a few stinkers, but this copy went beyond our expectations. It’s got punchy bass, great energy, and real texture to everything. Most copies tend to be too smooth and veiled, but this one passed our tests with flying colors.

Play David Watts or No Return on side one for the best sound, and Afternoon Tea or Waterloo Sunset on side two for the same. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Future Games

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  • An awesome pressing with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on both sides, just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too! 
  • The sound is HUGE on this early pressing – it’s also wonderfully sweet and spacious, two qualities that are key to the best sounding copies of Future Games
  • Fleetwood Mac practically invented Space Rock, which reached its apotheosis in 1973 on Mystery to Me, my personal favorite by the band
  • A criminally underrated Fleetwood Mac album which is unlike anything you’ve heard, and a Better Records favorite for more than 40 years 

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Fleetwood Mac – Future Games – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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More Future Games

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

Finally, SUPERB SOUNDING STAMPERS have been discovered for this wonderful Fleetwood Mac album, a personal favorite from 1971! We can GUARANTEE you have never heard one that sounds like this, because practically every copy we’ve ever played sounded like an old cassette. Unless you have a very special copy — domestic, not Brit, more about that later — and know how to clean it right, the pressing you own of Future Games will have virtually no top end, no real ambience, and no presence to speak of.

The band will sound like it’s playing somewhere near the back wall of your listening room, maybe even behind it. In other words dead as a doornail. This is exactly how the album sounded for the first thirty years or so that I was listening to it. 

Not long ago I ran across a copy that blew my mind and I’ve been digging them up in preparation for this shootout ever since. Of course the stereo has gotten quite a bit better of late, which helped the album immensely; check out our Revolutionary Changes in Audio commentary for the latest improvements.  (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Mystery To Me – Whomp Factor on “Why”

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More Mystery To Me

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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 the album.

That bass drum tells you a lot about your deep bass reproduction, but we prize a little something called whomp here at Better Records every bit as much. It’s the WEIGHT and POWER you sense happening down below that translates into whomp factor. (This is the frequency area that screens and small dynamic drivers have the most trouble with. You need to be able to move lots of air under, say, 200 cycles to give the music a sense of real power down below. Few systems I’ve run into over the last thirty years can really pull it off.) 

That bass drum tells you a lot about your deep bass reproduction, but we prize a little something called whomp here at Better Records every bit as much. It’s the WEIGHT and POWER you sense happening down below that translates into whomp factor.

“Why”

Speaking of the song “Why,” I have to confess that it’s my favorite Fleetwood Mac song of all time. Considering how many great songs this band has recorded over the last thirty plus years, that’s really saying something. (“Need Your Love So Bad” off Pious Bird is right up there with it.) (more…)

Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps – Just How Good Is a Second Tier Neil Young Album?

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Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings. 

AMG raves about this album, giving it 5 big stars. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s half a star MORE than they gave Harvest.) We like the album just fine, but I doubt we would want to go quite that far. Sure, these are great songs, but give us After The Gold Rush, Zuma or Harvest (all Top 100 titles, Hot Stampers of which are sometimes in stock) over this one any day.

Still, a second tier Neil Young album (by our standards) usually will beat a first tier album from just about anybody else making records in 1979. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Penguin

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More Penguin

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this was one of the better copies we played in our recent shootout  
  • This early Reprise LP is a huge step up from most – this copy is full-bodied, smooth and musical – classic Fleetwood Mac sound
  • One of my favorite songs on the album is one of Christine McVie’s best from this period, Did You Ever Love Me – on this pressing it’s rich and sweet exactly the way it should be
  • “Fleetwood Mac’s first album made after the departure of Danny Kirwan features the additions of guitarist Bob Weston and singer Dave Walker… This album gave Fleetwood Mac its best U.S. chart showing yet…”

This is the rare copy that strikes the right balance between richness and texture. So many copies sacrifice one for the other, but not here. Fully extended on both top and bottom, with big bass and plenty of energy, this pressing is getting Penguin right. 

On the best pressings, the sound is positively JUMPING out of the speakers in a way that is completely unexpected. We often talk about the size of the soundfield on a particular pressing, side to side, bottom to top, and even more often about the energy found on one copy relative to another. On this copy, we were surprised by a Penguin that was bigger and more energetic than most of the pressings we heard in our shootout. (more…)