Record Labels We Love

Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess on the Six Eye Label

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

More Miles Davis / More Gil Evans

  • Insanely good sound on both sides of this original Columbia Six-Eye pressing with each earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Both sides are full of that old-school Columbia jazz Tubey Magic – the brass is full-bodied with lots of air, the bass is surprisingly well-defined, the top end is extended and sweet, and the soundfield is HUGE and three-dimensional
  • 5 stars: “It was Evans’ intimate knowledge of the composition as well as the performer that allowed him to so definitively capture the essence of both… No observation or collection of American jazz can be deemed complete without this recording.”
  • Teo Macero was the producer, Fred Plaut the engineer for these sessions in Columbia’s glorious sounding 30th Street Studio.
  • It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.
  • If you’re a fan of the marvelous collaborations of Davis and Evans circa 1959, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this album belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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The Beatles / Past Masters Volumes 1 & 2 – Digital Remastering at its Worst

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Beatles Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Beatles

Hall of Shame pressing and another album reviewed and found to be perfectly suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past.

The late-’80s import pressings of this album are bright (the tambourine on Hey Jude will tear your head off, for example) and aggressive and very digital sounding.

Unfortunately, if you want better sounding versions of these songs, you’re gonna have to buy lots of pressings of the band’s albums and singles and EPs in order to find good sounding versions of them, which is exactly what I did back in the ’80s. It took me years to do it.

In the ’90s, when I was actually selling this awful record (because my system was just too dark and unrevealing to show me how awful it was), I wrote:

These are all the songs that aren’t on the original 13 British albums, so for those of you with the MoFi Beatles box, these 2 LPs give you all the tracks you don’t have.  

This was written so long ago that we actually refer to the MoFi Beatles Box as something an audiophile would own.

To be clear, in this day and age, no serious audiophile who loves The Beatles should have the MoFi Box Set or Past Masters in his collection.


FURTHER READING

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Art Pepper – Which Is Better: Phil DeLancie Digital or George Horn Analog?

More of the Music of Art Pepper

More Jazz Recordings featuring the Saxophone

[This commentary was written many years ago.]

We’ve wanted to do Art Pepper Today for more than a decade, but the original Galaxy pressings were just too thick and dark to earn anything approaching a top sonic grade. Thirty years ago on a very different system I had one and liked it a lot, but there was no way I could get past the opaque sound I was now hearing on the more than half-dozen originals piled in front of me.

So, almost in desperation we tried an OJC reissue from the ’90s. You know, the ones that all the audiophiles on the web will tell you to steer clear of because it has been mastered by Phil DeLancie and might be sourced from digital tapes.

Or digitally remastered, or somehow was infected with something digital somehow.

Well, immediately the sound opened up dramatically, with presence, space, clarity and top end extension we simply could not hear on the originals. Moreover, the good news was that the richness and solidity of the originals was every bit as good. Some of the originals were less murky and veiled than others, so we culled the worst of them for trade and put the rest into the shootout with all the OJCs we could get our hands on.

Now, it’s indisputable that Phil DeLancie is credited on the jacket, but I see George Horn‘s writing in the dead wax of the actual record, so I really have no way of knowing whether Mr Delancie in fact had anything to do with the copies I was auditioning. They don’t sound digital to me, they’re just like other good George Horn-mastered records I’ve heard from this period.

And of course we here at Better Records never put much stock in what record jackets say; the commentary on the jackets rarely has much to do with the sound of the records inside them in our experience.

And, one more surprise awaited us as we were plowing through our pile of copies.

When we got to side two we found that the sound of the Galaxy originals was often competitive with the best of the OJCs. Which means that there’s a good probability that some of the original pressings I tossed for having bad sound on side one had very good, perhaps even shootout winning sound, on side two.

This is a lesson I hope to take to heart in the future. I know very well that the sound of side one is independent of side two, but somehow in this case I let my prejudice against the first side color my thinking about the second.

Of all the people who should know better…

Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority

More Chicago

  • An outstanding Columbia 360 Stereo pressing of the band’s 2-LP debut with Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides
  • These sides boast some of the best sounding, boldest arrangements for a horn-based rock band we’ve ever heard
  • “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “I’m A Man” and “Questions 67 and 68” are simply incredible here
  • “In April of 1969, the four sides of Chicago Transit Authority unleashed a formidable and ultimately American musical experience… an unheralded synthesis of electric guitar wailin’ rock & roll to more deeply rooted jazz influences and arrangements.”

It’s difficult to find copies that do this big production music justice, but we got hold of a hot one here. If you’re a fan (and we think you should be, of the early band at least) you won’t believe how good this album can sound on the right pressing. All four sides here are rich and full, punchy and solid, with great energy and dynamics.

Huge Sound Can Be Yours

We love this album here at Better Records. It’s amazing that this hard-rockin’ band from 1968 could be the same band that gave us “You’re The Inspiration” and other power-schlock ballads in the ’80s. Have they no shame?

Fortunately, this isn’t your Mom’s Chicago. Here, with their freshman effort, the band stands on the threshold of becoming True Rock Legends. Even today the album still sounds fresh. Who can argue with the brilliance of tracks such as “Beginnings,” “I’m a Man” and “Questions 67 and 68”? This is as good as the band ever got, man! It’s all here.

All four sides boast some of the boldest arrangements for a horn-based rock band ever. These boys have no problem standing toe to toe with the likes of Blood Sweat And Tears. If you don’t find yourself turning the stereo up during “Beginnings,” this music is not for you. The energy they bring to their cover of Spencer Davis’ “I’m A Man” positively puts the original to shame. They jam its rock and roll groove, then take it places nobody else would even think to go.

What The Best Sides Of Chicago Transit Authority 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 1969
  • 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 these records are the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find pressings that sound as good as these two do.

Kath’s Guitar Wizardry

The late Terry Kath was a Master of the Guitar, way ahead of his time in both songwriting and technique. In a VH1 interview with founding member and horn player Walter Parazaider, the world discovered that none other than Jimi Hendrix was a huge fan of Kath’s. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has heard Kath’s solos on ‘I’m A Man’.

The meaty tone and nuanced texture of his sound are evident all over this album. It’s also a precursor to so many other players that followed him in the four decades since his debut, many of whom would be nowhere without his genius.

What We’re Listening For On Chicago Transit Authority

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Peter Cetera and Big Bass

Not many musicians qualify to be placed on the list of Most Underrated, but if there were any justice in this world Peter Cetera’s name would be found right up at the top. His bass playing alone — forget his singing, which is as good as any pop singer of his generation — qualifies him for Most Talented (but for some reason) Most Overlooked Musician. The huge bass sound Peter got out of his axe is the meat and potatoes of this album.

Talk about beefy bass; this album is the poster boy for rock solid bottom end. When you have a copy of this album with a hot side three, you have a Rock Bass Demo Disc LP par excellence.

Again, it’s hard to believe this is the same guy that sang and played on “Hard To Say I’m Sorry.” His jazz-rock chops anchor the rhythm section with the kind of energy a band with as many pieces as this one simply cannot do without. Chicago boasts seven top players, but Cetera’s brilliance cuts through on practically every song. People may not be able to appreciate his playing because they have bad records or bad stereos, but we’re here to rectify that situation, as least the record part of it.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

A Must Own Rock Record

Chicago Transit Authority is a Demo Disc Quality recording that belongs in any serious Rock Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Introduction
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

A tough one right off the bat. If you have an aggressive sounding copy you’ll know it pretty quick. Grit and grain in the vocal on this track will have you running for the nearest exit. Conversely, you still need presence without smear or the brass won’t have the bite of the real thing, and a Chicago album without good brass is pretty pointless.

They really put their best foot forward with this cut — a true sing-along anthem.

Beginnings

THE best Chicago song of all time! Pop music just does not get any better. The one-two punch of that amazing trombone solo followed by the equally amazing trumpet solo still knocks me out.

Part of what makes Chicago’s brass so distinctive is the infrequent use of saxophone in the brass section. The Chicago brass is darker and heavier than, say, that of Blood Sweat and Tears, and that Heavy Brass Sound was never better than on this, their first album.

Side Two

Questions 67 and 68

When the chorus comes in the bass had better be tight or the whole thing will turn to mud. The best copies have tons of energy and life on this song. Though not a hit, it still stands as one of the best tracks on the album and a real highpoint for early-period Chicago.

Listen
Poem 58

Side Three

Free Form Guitar
South California Purples
I’m a Man

Not the typical audiophile’s first choice in a Demonstration Quality track, but if you have the right kind of stereo (a big one, natch) and a top quality pressing (for side three anyway), watch out.

This track has the power to knock you right out of your socks. The bass part that Cetera opens the song with has an unbelievably solid tone. At the same time it’s harmonically rich and has subterranean power that must be heard to be believed. Holy Smokes does it ever sound good!

Side Four

Prologue
Someday
Liberation

AMG 4 Star Review

Few debut albums can boast as consistently solid an effort as the self-titled Chicago Transit Authority (1969). Even fewer can claim to have enough material to fill out a double-disc affair. Although this long- player was ultimately the septet’s first national exposure, the group was far from the proverbial “overnight sensation.”… In April of 1969, the four sides of Chicago Transit Authority unleashed a formidable and ultimately American musical experience. This included an unheralded synthesis of electric guitar wailin’ rock & roll to more deeply rooted jazz influences and arrangements. This approach economized the finest of what the band had to offer — actually two highly stylized units that coexisted with remarkable singularity.

CBS Studios

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

Recording studio

Having been a church for many years, it had been abandoned and empty for sometime, and in 1949 it was transformed into a recording studio by Columbia Records.

“There was one big room, and no other place in which to record”, wrote John Marks in an article in Stereophile magazine in 2002.

The recording studio had 100 foot high ceilings, a 100 foot floorspace for the recording area, and the control room was on the second floor being only 8 by 14 feet. Later, the control room was moved down to the ground floor.

“It was huge and the room sound was incredible,” recalls Jim Reeves, a sound technician who had worked in it. “I was inspired,” he continues “by the fact that, aside from the artistry, how clean the audio system was.”

Musical artists

Many celebrated musical artists from all genres of music used the 30th Street Studio for some of their most famous recordings.

Bach: The Goldberg Variations, the 1955 debut album of the Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, was recorded in the 30th Street Studio. It was an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), the work launched Gould’s career as a renowned international pianist, and became one of the most well-known piano recordings. On May 29, 1981, a second version of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould was recorded in this studio, and would be the last production by the famous studio.

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded almost exclusively at the 30th Street Studio during his years under contract to Columbia, including his album Kind of Blue (1959). Other noteworthy jazz musicians having recorded in this place: Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck.

In 1964, Bob Dylan and record producer Tom Wilson were experimenting with their own fusion of rock and folk music. The first unsuccessful test involved overdubbing a “Fats Domino early rock & roll thing” over Dylan’s earlier, recording of “House of the Rising Sun”, using non-electric instruments, according to Wilson. This took place in the Columbia 30th Street Studio in December 1964. It was quickly discarded, though Wilson would more famously use the same technique of overdubbing an electric backing track to an existing acoustic recording with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”.


Check out more of our Hot Stamper pressings made from recordings engineered at the legendary CBS 30th Street Studio

 

Steely Dan / Katy Lied – Our Favorite Dan Album of Them All

More Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Katy Lied

  • An outstanding early ABC pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Our pick for the best Dan album of them all, a Masterpiece of Jazzy Swing Pop that is sure to reward hundreds of plays in the decades to come
  • Take it from The Dan: “The sound created by musicians and singers is reproduced as faithfully as possible, and special care is taken to preserve the band-width and transient response of each performance.”
  • Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you, especially for this title, which is almost never quiet
  • 5 stars: “Each song is given a glossy sheen, one that accentuates not only the stronger pop hooks, but also the precise technical skill of the professional musicians drafted to play the solos.”

The covers for these original Katy Lied pressings on ABC always have at least some edge, seam or ringwear. We will of course do our best to find you a cover with the fewest problems, but none of them will be perfect, or even all that close to it. It is by far the hardest Steely Dan album to find good covers for.

This copy has the all-important rock energy we look for, although rocking is not quite what Steely Dan are up to here. Cameron Crowe calls it “…absolutely impeccable swing-pop”, a four word description that gets to the heart of the music far better than any combination of adjectives and nouns containing the word “rock.” (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Symphony No. 4 in Living Stereo – What Does It Sound Like Now?

The Music of Tchaikovsky Available Now

Album Reviews of the Music of Tchaikovsky

Years ago we wrote:

This is a 1s/5s Shaded Dog. TAS List (or at least it used to be). Probably the reason HP likes this LP so much is that it has a very wide soundstage. It also has good solid weight. A little soft on top, but that comes with the territory.

This is a very old review, probably from about 15 years ago. I don’t think I could recommend this record today. It probably belongs on this list, but I cannot truthfully say that it does one way or another. As I recall, the copies I’ve played more recently were not impressive.

If I played it today, would I find it to be as bad as this Living Stereo pressing? Who knows? That experiment has not been run.

Classic Records remastered a version of the album in 1995. In another listing we mentioned that Classic had the habit of  equalizing their classical records to make them all but intolerable on a modern hi-fidelity system:

Classic, as is their wont, boosted the upper midrange, and that, coupled with their transistory mastering equipment, makes the strings brighter, grainier and yet somehow lacking in texture and sheen compared to the originals (a clear sign of a low-res cutting chain).

Once you recognize that quality in the sound of a record it’s hard to ignore, and I hear it on practically every Classic Record I play. This commentary has more on the subject.

RCA is more famous for its string tone than anything else. If the strings on the Classic Records LPs don’t bother you, you can save yourself a lot of money by not buying vintage RCA pressings, and get a lot quieter vinyl to boot.

Here are some other records that are good for testing string tone and texture.

Another label you are no doubt familiar with used to make ridiculously bright classical records. Here is one of their worst.

If you would like to see other records with string tone we found to be too bright, click here.

Some Advice

We much prefer Mravinsky’s performances of the later symphonies, but good sounding copies of his records are just too hard to find, and may in fact not be findable, so we have never actually done a shootout for any of them.

Earth, Wind & Fire – Spirit

More Earth, Wind and Fire

More Recordings by George Massenburg

  • This outstanding pressing of Spirit boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big, clear, tubey, sweet ANALOG sound – we played it good and loud and it was ROCKIN’!
  • If you like Pop Music, Soul Music, or EWF’s groundbreaking hybridization of the two, you have to love these classic albums from the ’70s
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… the soul powerhouse didn’t let anyone down (either commercially or creatively) on the outstanding Spirit, which boasted hits ranging from the optimistic “On Your Face” and the passionate funk classic “Getaway” to the poetic ballad “Imagination”… even if one didn’t take EWF’s calls for unity, hard work, self-respect, and faith in God to heart, they had no problem with their solid grooves.”

Every track Maurice White ever produced was a testimony to his deep understanding and prodigious talent for crafting the perfect pop song, complete with arrangements for nine pieces as tight as the matching sequined suits the band wore. Fortunately for we analog types, EWF was an audiophile-oriented band, producing some of the best sounding ’70s multi-track recordings of the day. “Getaway” is killer on this copy.

There may in fact be a few too many multi-tracks, causing the typical copy of the record to get strident and congested in the loud vocal passages, contributing to the somewhat hot upper mids in some of the mixes (which is no doubt the fault of George Massenburg, whose engineering on even his best days tends to be somewhat sparkly).

Even though we are not in the business of selling typical copies — what we offer are very good ones at the very least, and superb ones at the upper end of the range — we should be clear that these problems can be heard to some degree on even the best copies we auditioned.

What we’re looking for is sound that is as rich, smooth, sweet, and tonally correct as we can find. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it really can’t be, anyway. It just has to be the best we can find after going through a big pile of copies, because if we can’t find it I don’t know how anyone else can. It’s the same process no matter who does it, and who else does it at this scale but us? It may not take a village, but it at least takes a sizeable crew to sort through a dozen or more copies of the same album time and time again.

Fortunately we did manage to find copies in which the sound was big — “wall to wall” as we like to say — and on the best of them the presence of the vocalists puts them right in front of you. For the most part you can clearly make out each of the voices that make up the harmonically-complex choruses. What a sound! Nobody harmonizes better than these guys, partly because no other band has anyone remotely as talented as the preternaturally gifted Philip Bailey to sing the superhuman falsetto parts the way he does.

For audiophiles who like to play their music loud, the sound on the best copies can be GLORIOUS!

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The Beatles – Abbey Road

More of The Beatles

More Top 100 Rock and Pop Albums

  • An Out-Of-This-World UK pressing of The Beatles’ last and arguably greatest album, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • The “medley” on side two in Triple Plus sound? On today’s modern systems, this copy can take you on a trip with The Beatles you could not have imagined was even possible when the record was released
  • The stereo to play it didn’t exist back then, but it does now!
  • This pressing might just give you a new appreciation for one of the Greatest Rock Albums of All Time, The Beatles’ Final Musical Statement, their Magnum Opus (along with Sgt. Pepper, of course)
  • 5 stars, a permanent member of the Better Records Top 100, and a true rock and pop Demo Disc

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Bach / Suite No. 2 / Janigro – Reviewed in 2007

Our 2007 listing for this album presented it this way:

A 1S/1S Indianapolis pressing with A1 metal mothers from 1960 with sweet sound.

Perfectly fitting for these Baroque pieces recorded in Italy.

UPDATE 2022

In 2007, we typically did not have the number of copies needed for a shootout, so records such as this one would be auditioned and, if they sounded good, sold on that basis. We judged records like this one on their absolute sound as opposed to the Hot Stamper shootout approach we use today, which gives us the record’s relative sound.

1s doesn’t mean much to us now, and even back then we knew better than to put much stock in it. We had been actively selling Living Stereo and other vintage Golden Age pressings starting in the late ’80s.

We knew from playing scores of them that often the best sounding pressings had stampers between 10s and 20s. This was true for LSC 1817, 2446 and no doubt many others that I can no longer remember.

This commentary addresses the issue — or should I say the myth? — of the 1s stamper.

Our 2007 Review

For those of you who are fans of this kind of music, you will find much to like on this rare early pressing.

It’s the first stereo recording of Bach’s Second Orchestral Suite for Flute and Strings.

The Solisti di Zagreb comprises 7 violinists, 3 violists, two cellists, in addition to Janigro and one double bass player. This album features three outstanding soloists: Jean-Pierre Rampal on flute, Robert Veyron-Lacroix on harpsichord and Jelka Stanic on violin.


This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of these older reviews are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding the best sounding pressings we started developing in the early 2000s. We found the records you see in these listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described in the listing and priced according to how good the sound and surfaces seemed to us at the time.

We were often wrong back in those days, something we have no reason to hide. Audio equipment and record cleaning technologies have come a long way since then.

Nowadays, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions along with a number of other pressings, awarded sonic grades, then carefully condition checked for surface noise.

As you may imagine, this approach requires a great deal of time, effort and skill, which is why we currently have a highly trained staff of about ten. No individual or business without such a committed group could possibly dig as deep into the sound of records as we have, and it is unlikely that anyone, besides us, would ever be able to do the kind of work we do.

Every record we offer is unique, and 100% guaranteed to satisfy or your money back.


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Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

More Classical and Orchestral Commentaries and Reviews

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

Bill Evans – Conception

More Bill Evans

  • This wonderful Milestone Two-Fer from 1981 boasts STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on the other three – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy that’s this well balanced, big and lively, with wonderful clarity in the mids and highs
  • 4 stars: “Even in 1956, Evans had his own chord voicings and a lyrical yet swinging style… A strong start to a significant career.”
  • “In addition, there is a full album of previously unreleased music: an alternate take of ‘No Cover, No Minimum,’ an unaccompanied version of ‘Some Other Time’ from 1958 and four solo pieces that Evans cut in 1962, his first recordings after the tragic death of his bassist Scott LaFaro.”
  • If you’re a Bill Evans fan, this All Tube Recording released in 1957 should make a welcome addition to your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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