Labels We Love – Warners

Peter, Paul & Mary – Album 1700 – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

LOVELY MASTER TAPE SOUND ON SIDE TWO, plus unusually quiet vinyl throughout! Side one is excellent as well, earning an A+ – A++ grade in our big shootout this week. We went through a big stack of Gold Label originals and various Green Label pressings and we didn’t hear a better sounding side two on any of them. Check out the extended top end, the stellar transparency, and the superb clarity — that’s what we like to hear on this album!

It’s getting harder and harder for us to track down enough clean copies of these old PP&M records to get proper shootouts going. Bad surfaces are deadly on an album like this, so we have to be very selective when finding copies in the bins. (more…)

Ry Cooder – Ry Cooder

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this vintage Reprise pressing of Cooder’s debut album from 1970
  • If you want to hear the brilliant Lee Herschberg’s All Analog Recording skills brought to bear on so many different instruments serving an assortment of sonic textures, this is the copy that will let you do it
  • 4 stars: “Cooder’s debut creates an intriguing fusion of blues, folk, rock & roll, and pop, filtered through his own intricate, syncopated guitar; Van Dyke Parks and Lenny Waronker’s idiosyncratic production… Cooder puts this unique blend across with a combination of terrific songs, virtuosic playing, and quirky, yet imaginative, arrangements.”

The music reminds me a lot of early Little Feat, which is a good thing. The sound is somewhat similar as well, which is to say that it is natural and musical, nothing like the hyped-up hi-fi sound of his TAS-listed album Jazz — and that’s a good thing as well.

There are some great songs here, including My Old Kentucky Home, One Meat Ball and How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live. It may even be his best album. (more…)

Elvis Costello – Spike

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  • A superb sounding copy of Elvis Costello’s Last Really Good Album with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • This copy showed us a Spike we never knew existed — so much energy and presence to the sound, it came jumping out of the speakers and simply refused to mind its manners. Elvis should be proud. Why don’t more records sound like this?
  • This is one of the best batches of songs Elvis (and his buddy Paul McCartney) ever wrote!

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Ambrosia – One Eighty

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

This is smooth, rich ANALOG at its best, easy on the ears as we like to say.

This is clearly the poppier side of Ambrosia, containing as it does two of their highest-charting mainstream hits, Biggest Part of Me (#3) and You’re the Only Woman (#13). I myself of course prefer the proggy first two albums, falling as they do into the broad category of Art Rock where my favorite albums by Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, Supertramp, 10cc, later-period Beatles, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Traffic and so many others from the last forty-plus years can be found.

These artists’ recordings tend to be big, powerful and exceedingly hard to reproduce, which, probably more than anything else, accounts for my becoming a serious stereo enthusiast while still in my teens. (My mother had to co-sign the loan I needed to purchase the currently-state-of-the-art ARC SP3A-1 preamp I coveted. I remember it being $600+ at a time when I was earning roughly $2 an hour. That had to hurt, but I did it. Bought a D-75 amp after I paid it off too.)

The Music

One Eighty (recorded on 1/80, get it?) kicks off with a real rocker: Ready, which is a great name for an opening track and really gets the album off to a high-energy start. Side two opens with my favorite track on the album, Livin’ On My Own. I actually used to demonstrate my system with it: the bass is huge, way up in the mix and really punchy. Additionally there are powerful multi-tracked vocal harmonies in the chorus that are wall-to-wall, surprisingly dynamic, yet sweet (all things considered; this is a modern recording after all).

One Eighty has an excellent mix of rock and softer pop ballads. The last track, Biggest Part Of Me, no matter how many times you’ve heard it, on the radio or elsewhere, is an exceptionally well-produced (designed?) piece of songcraft that will tug at anyone’s heartstrings, anyone who has a heart that is (if I may quote the title of the best song Burt Bacharach ever wrote). On a big audiophile system it should be both powerful and emotional. (more…)

The Association – Goodbye, Columbus

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

This green label original pressing TROUNCED our other copies. Recorded by Bones Howe, the midrange is pure tubey magic! If you have the kind of system that brings out that quality in a recording, you will get a lot out of this one. It’s so good, it made me appreciate some of the instrumentals on the album which I had previously dismissed as filler. When you hear them sound this good, you can actually enjoy them!

You get rich, sweet, open, textured, natural, tonally correct sound here on side, A++ all the way! Side two is almost as good at A+, with some smear causing us to drop the grade.

Bones Howe produced and engineered the show here; Bones is a man who knew his way around a studio as well as practically anybody in the ’60s. He’s the one responsible for all the tubey magic of this recording and so many others from the era, including the Association’s masterpiece, Insight Out. That’s his sound. Those of you who appreciate that sound will find much to like here. If, on the other hand, you prefer the sound of a band like, oh, Dire Straits, a group with a dry, processed, transistory approach to recording, the sound of this LP is unlikely to move you as much as it moved us here at Better Records. (more…)

America’s Debut – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

TUBEY MAGICAL practically MASTER TAPE SOUND on side one! A good sounding copy of this album is a real treat; a superb sounding copy like this one is an EXPERIENCE! We’ve been playing this album for years but I cannot recall a copy with a more extended top end than the ones here. The transparency is off the charts. Side one is natural, relaxed, musical, sweet, tonally correct from top to bottom and overflowing with Tubey Magic.

These green label Warner Brothers originals — like most records — are sonically all over the map. The biggest problem these pressings suffer from is a lack of extreme top to provide harmonics for the guitars. On the average copy the guitars are veiled and dull.

Equally problematic is smear, the loss of transient information. The best copies have guitars that are being played by fingers, with the subtle plucking of same naturally followed by the note produced. So many copies just present you with the note. You don’t really notice what’s missing until you hear a good pressing and suddenly you are aware of the players and their fingers making these sounds. This is one of the main qualities that we listened for to separate the winners from the also-rans. (more…)

Ambrosia – Life Beyond L.A.

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

This White Hot Stamper Ambrosia LP has the kind of sound you would never expect to find in the grooves of this album. It was a THRILL to hear, especially at the volumes at which we played it! The transparency and openness were off the charts, and unmatched by any other copy in our shootout. We’re big fans of this band here at Better Records — we love their take on complex, big production rock!

It’s also yet another example of the value of taking part in the myriad revolutions in audio. If you never want your prized but sonically-challenged records to sound any better than they do right now, this minute, don’t bother to learn how to clean them better, play them back better or improve the acoustics of your room. No one can make you do any of those things. The only reason you might have for doing them is so that you can enjoy more of your favorite music with much better sound. Is that a good enough reason? If you’re on this site I’m guessing it is.

That’s the reason we do it. We want records like this one, which didn’t start sounding good until about 2005, and now sound MUCH better than I ever thought they could, to keep getting better and better. Why shouldn’t they?

And these improvements we talk about so much have allowed us to enjoy records we could never fully enjoy before because they never really sounded all that good to us. Now they do, and they will keep getting better, as more and more developments come along in all areas of analog reproduction. (more…)

Neil Young – After the Gold Rush – Listening in Depth

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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 After the Gold Rush.

Folks, a Hot Stamper collection of the Greatest Records of All Time would not be complete without a knockout copy of After the Gold Rush. That’s why it’s been a Better Records All Time Top Ten Rock Title right from the start. We built our reputation on finding Demo Disc Quality recordings like this. Who else can offer you a copy of the album that delivers this kind of ANALOG MAGIC?

Side One

Tell Me Why

Just listen to those Tubey Magical acoustic guitars. You know right away that you’re about to have a sublime musical experience. Nothing sounds that way but analog. (more…)

Neil Young’s Guitar Masterpiece – Danger Bird

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Listen to the way Danger Bird opens. Each instrument, one by one, slowly, deliberately, one could almost say haltingly, feeds into the mix, until the churning guitars give way to Neil’s spare vocal — fatalistic, doomed, already resigned to some fate he barely understands. 

Even though the song has just begun, you sense that Neil feels a weight and a darkness bearing down on him, that it’s ongoing, that it’s already started, that somehow you’re coming into it in the middle, well after the weight of it has begun to crush and perhaps even kill him. He knows the story of Danger Bird all too well.

It’s as powerful and intense a piece of music as any I have ever experienced; sublime in its simplicity, transcendental in effect. You feel yourself swept along, an out of body experience that you can’t control. When Neil launches into the first of many guitar solos the sense of journeying or exploring with him the imaginary musical world he is creating is palpable. He doesn’t seem to know where it will lead and neither do you. There is no structure to reassure you, no end in sight, only the succession of notes that play from moment to moment, first tensing, then relaxing; cresting, then falling away.

Music has the power to take you out of the world you know and place you in a world of its own making. How it can do that nobody knows. Whatever Neil tapped into to make it happen on Danger Bird, he succeeded completely. If you’re in the right frame of mind, in the right environment, with everything working audio-wise, a minute into this song you will no longer be sitting in your comfy audio chair. You won’t know where you are, which is exactly where you should be. (more…)

George Benson – Breezin’ – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Excellent sound for George Benson’s 1976 classic Breezin’! This copy should blow the doors off your old copy or any MoFi pressing — guaranteed. It’s got all the elements this smooth masterpiece needs to come to life today, almost 40 years later if you can believe it. There’s tons of energy, strong presence, excellent bass and a huge soundfield with real depth. You can hear right into the music, something just not possible on most copies out there.   

This album features the huge hit “This Masquerade” and lots of other strong material as well. Benson is at the top of his game, with blazing guitar lines accompanied by his scat vocals at many times. No one else ever did music like this so well again, in our humble opinion. (more…)