Labels We Love – Asylum

Tom Waits – Small Change

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  • Both sides of this vintage copy (only the second to hit the site in three years) were giving us the sound we were looking for, earning superb Double Plus (A++) grades
  • Recorded LIVE to 2-track by audio legend Bones Howe in 1976, no wonder the sound is so big, full-bodied, clean and clear
  • A tough record to find in the bins these days – Tom Waits still has plenty of die-hard fans here in L.A. and nobody wants to part with their copy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Small Change proves to be the archetypal album of his 70s work. A jazz trio comprising tenor sax player Lew Tabackin, bassist Jim Hughart and drummer Shelly Manne, plus an occasional string section, back Waits and his piano on songs steeped in whiskey and atmosphere…”


2-Packs – The Best Case for Dramatic Pressing Variations

More of the Music of The Eagles

Hot Stamper 2-packs Available Now

Presenting another entry in our series of Big Picture observations concerning records and audio.

Just today (3/16/15) we put up a White Hot Stamper 2-pack of the Eagles’ First Album. One of the two pressings that made up the 2-pack had a killer side two, practically As Good As It Gets. 

What was interesting about that particular record was how bad side one was. Side one of that copy — on the white label, with stampers that are usually killer — was terrible. The vocals were hard, shrill and spitty. My notes say “CD sound.”

When a record sounds like a CD it goes in the trade-in pile, not on our site.

We encouraged the lucky owner to play the bad side for himself, just to hear how awful it is. Yet surprisingly, one might even say shockingly, it has exactly the qualities that audiophiles and collectors are most often satisfied with: the right label, and, in this case, even the right stampers (assuming anyone besides us would know what the right stampers are).

The problem was it didn’t have the right sound.

I know our customers can hear the difference, but can the rest of the audio world? Most of my reading on the internet makes me doubt that they can. When some people say that the differences between pressings can’t be all that big, I only wish they could have played the two sides of this copy. Or  had higher quality reproduction so that these differences become less ignorable.

Our 2-pack sets combine two copies of the same album, with at least a Super Hot Stamper sonic grade on the better of each “good” side, which simply means you now have a pair of records that offers superb sound for the entire album.

Audiophiles are often surprised when they hear that an LP can sound amazing on one side and mediocre on the other, but since each side is pressed from different metalwork, aligned independently, and perhaps even cut by different mastering engineers from tapes of sometimes wildly differing quality, in our experience it happens all the time.

In fact, it’s much more common for a record to earn different sonic grades for its two sides than it is to rate the same grade.

That’s just the way it goes in analog, where there’s no way to know how a any given side of a record sounds until you play it, and, more importantly, in the world of sound everything is relative.

Since each of the copies in the 2-pack will have one good side and one noticeably weaker or at best more run-of-the-mill side, you’ll be able to compare them on your own to hear just what it is that the Hot Stamper sides give you. This has the added benefit of helping you to improve your critical listening skills. We’ll clearly mark which copy is Hot for each side, so if you don’t want to bother with the other sides, you certainly won’t have to.

Further Reading


Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark

Hot Stamper Pressings of Court and Spark Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

  • The sound is rich, warm and natural, with wonderful transparency, ambience and loads of Tubey Magic
  • Musically this is one of our favorite Joni albums here at Better Records, and probably her Best Recording as well
  • A proud member (along with Blue) of our Top 100 Rock and Pop albums – yes, it’s that good sounding when it’s mastered and pressed as well as this copy is
  • 5 stars: “[A] remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz … the music is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last.”
  • Court and Spark, along with For the Roses, are two of the best sounding albums in Joni Mitchell’s canon. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.
  • If you’re a Joni fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1974 is an absolute Must Own

Court and Spark deserves to be heard with all the clarity, beauty and power that our Hot Stampers reproduce so well. If there is a better sounding album with Joni Mitchell’s name on the cover, you’ll have to prove it to us.

What you hear is the sound of the real tape; every instrument has its own character because the mastering is correct and the vinyl — against all odds — managed to capture all (or almost all; who can know?) of the resolution that the tape had to offer. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – For The Roses

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More Singer Songwriter Albums

  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them on both sides, this early White Label Asylum pressing could not be beat
  • The sound is rich, warm and natural, with wonderful immediacy to Joni’s vocals and Tubey Magic for days – this is the amazing sound of Asylum in the Seventies, and nobody seems to talk about it but us
  • One of the best sounding Joni records, on a par with Court and Spark and Blue – fine company indeed
  • Marks and problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The lyrics here are among Mitchell’s best, continuing in the vein of gripping honesty and heartfelt depth exhibited on Blue…. More than a bridge between great albums, this excellent disc is a top-notch listen in its own right.”


Joni Mitchell / Shadows and Light

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  • An excellent copy of Mitchell’s second live album with Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides of these vintage Asylum pressings
  • The sound is full-bodied, lively and dynamic, with wonderful immediately to Joni’s remarkably present and breathy vocals
  • If you’re a fan of Joni’s more experimental work from the mid to late ’70s, this album is a Must Own
  • “…it serves as a good retrospective of her jazzy period from 1975-1979. As expected, she assembles a group of all-star musicians including Pat Metheny (guitar), Jaco Pastorius (bass), Lyle Mays (keyboards), and Michael Brecker (saxophone) who give these compositions more energy than on the studio recordings.”

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in exceptionally clean shape. Most of the will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG

Four outstanding sides! We recently had a huge shootout for this famous double album and this copy blew our minds with Double Plus sonics and reasonanbly quiet vinyl from start to finish. In the high-stakes game of Better Records Double Album Poker, that’s a full house, man! This one gives you the kind of you are there immediacy and transparency that put you front and center for a late ’70s jazzy Joni Mitchell show. Not too many copies will do that!

Joni’s voice is breathy and present with real texture, and the three-dimensional imaging gives the music a real sense of space — just like you’d get at a concert. This helps convey the intimacy of the songs and the performances, and isn’t that what we audiophiles got in this crazy hobby for in the first place?

Good luck finding another copy that sounds this good and plays this quiet on all four sides! It was a huge project to clean and play so many pressings of this double LP, and I wouldn’t expect that we’ll get around to this shootout again any time too soon. If you’re a fan of Joni and particularly of her work from this era, you don’t want to miss out on this one.


The Eagles / The Long Run

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More Joe Walsh

  • A vintage copy with a rockin’ “Long Run” like you have never heard, earning killer Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on both sides, just shy of our Shootout Winner – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is full, rich and vibrant with impressive punch down low and nice extension up top
  • The best songs prove that the Eagles were still at the height of their powers, at least some of the time…
  • The first two songs on both sides are practically as good as it gets for mainstream rock from this era – they’re playlist staples of Classic Rock stations from coast to coast to this day
  • “The Long Run is a chilling and altogether brilliant evocation of Hollywood’s nightly Witching Hour, that nocturnal feeding frenzy first detailed by Warren Zevon on his haunting Asylum debut (Warren Zevon, 1976) and the equally powerful Excitable Boy.” – Rolling Stone

The last song on side two, “The Sad Cafe,” is also standout. Others, as they used to say in school, ‘need improvement.’

But five Killer Eagles songs is nothing to sneeze at. This is an album that belongs in your collection, even if you choose to only listen to the best material on it.


The Eagles / The Long Run – The True Test for Side One

More of the Music of The Eagles

More Records with Specific Advice on What to Listen For

Want to know if you have a good side one on your copy? Here’s an easy test.

Timothy B Schmit’s vocal on I Can’t Tell You Why rarely sounds right.

Most of the time he’s muffled, pretty far back in the soundstage, and the booth he’s in has practically no ambience.

On the good copies, he’s not exactly jumping out of the speakers, but he’s clear, focused, and his voice is breathy and full of emotional subtleties that make the song the heartbreaking powerhouse it is.

This is why you need a Hot Stamper. Most copies don’t let you FEEL the song.

And the rest of the band is cookin’ here as well. From the big, full-bodied bass to the fat, punchy snare, the best sides are doing practically everything we want them to.

Further Reading


The Eagles / On The Border – A Must Own Country Rock Classic

More Eagles

More Country and Country Rock

  • An outstanding British SYL copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides of this criminally underrated California Country Rock Classic
  • If you’ve never heard one of these early pressings, you have simply never heard this album sound the way it should, mastered with the correct polarity, for one thing
  • “You Never Cry Like A Lover” and “The Best Of My Love” (their first No. 1) offer Glyn Johns magically delicious DEMO DISC quality sound
  • We’re HUGE fans of the album here at Better Records; it’s some of the most sophisticated, well-crafted, heartfelt music these guys ever made, and that’s saying a lot coming from us – we’ve been big fans for decades
  • This killer album from 1974 belongs in your collection.
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. On the Border is a good example of a record most audiophiles don’t know well but should.

Many of you have probably forgotten how good this album is (assuming you were ever familiar with it in the first place) probably because the typical domestic copy you would have played back in the day is fairly hard on the ears. Most pressings, even the British ones, barely hint at the kind of sound you’ll hear on this vintage UK pressing (the only kind we sell of course).

The LIFE and ENERGY of this pressing are going to knock you right out of your seat. Most copies leave you with a headache, but this one will have you begging to turn up the volume.

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this album. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings). (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Rockin’ Out to Simple Dreams

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Linda Ronstadt

Clearly this is one of Linda’s best albums, and I would have to say, based on my fairly extensive experience with her recorded output, that it is in fact THE BEST SOUNDING record she ever made.

I love Heart Like a Wheel, but it sure doesn’t sound like this, not even on the Triple Plus copies that win our shootouts. (Roughly 150 other listings for the Best Recording by an Artist or Group can be found here.)

I confess to having never taken the album seriously, dismissing it as a commercial collection of pop hits with about as much depth as the L.A. River — but I was wrong wrong WRONG.

This is a great sounding album on the right pressing, not the compressed piece of grainy cardboard we’ve all been playing for years, unaware of the tremendous sound quality lurking in the grooves of other copies, the ones that were blessed with the right stampers, the right vinyl and a healthy amount of fairy dust wafting over the press that day.

That’s what Hot Stamper shootouts are all about — finding those copies, the ones no one knows exist.

This Is a Real Band

Until a Hot Stamper found its way onto our turntable, we had absolutely no idea the album could sound like this, or that the music was so good.

The first thing that came to mind when I looked inside the fold open cover and saw all the guys who back Linda up on the album is that this is a real rock band. These are not a bunch of studio cats punching a time card. These guys are a band, and they know how to ROCK; just listen to the way they come blasting out of the gate on It’s So Easy. Linda is with them all the way, giving one of the best performances of her career.

Song after song, this super-tight band with the hot female lead (!) show that they can rock with the best of them. And do beautiful ballads (Blue Bayou) too.

Folks, I hereby testify that a Hot Stamper copy of this very album gave me a newfound respect for Linda beyond her work on Heart Like a Wheel. This is the album that shows she can do it all, as the All Music Guide points out, and I’m a believer.


Tom Waits – Nighthawks At The Diner

More Tom Waits

  • Excellent sound for this Tom Waits classic, with Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides of these vintage Asylum pressings – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A superb recording, with much credit due to Waits’ constant collaborator Bones Howe, who produced and engineered
  • It’s a live-in-the-studio romp through Los Angeles with Waits playing the role of tour guide, and the results are wonderful
  • “As entertainment, Nighthawks at the Diner is one of Waits’ most thoroughly enjoyable albums … it’s hard to imagine anyone not being charmed by it.”

At its best, this album has the immediacy and energy of a real live performance, but the typical copy just doesn’t bring it to life. This one is a big step up on all four sides, with the kind of life and clarity we just don’t hear often enough.

This album was recorded live at The Record Plant back in 1975, and while I can’t be certain, it sure seems there are no overdubs or post-performance additions. There’s a touch of hardness to the vocals at times, but it was on every copy we played and it’s obviously on the tape. It’s the kind of sound we hear on Johnny Cash records and it just seems like a by-product of the microphones these guys used. It doesn’t seem to far a reach to imagine that an iconoclast like Waits might prefer an old-timey microphone sound that doesn’t soften or smooth his vocal style. (For those in search of buttery vocals, there’s usually an Al Stewart record or two on the site. This ain’t the one for you.)

We played quite a few copies and while we were absolutely blown away by the better pressings; the typical copies left us cold. When you have a copy that’s veiled and lacks presence, the magic is gone.

I’m not very familiar with the musicians that make up the backing band here, but they are a top-notch crew. The way they interact with Waits as he spins stories, songs, and even a few jokes is in the very best jazz tradition. Waits actually hooked up with the great drummer Shelley Manne to record his next album (the classic Small Change) so this is a man who clearly knows how to pick a band.