Labels We Love – Atlantic/Atco

Led Zeppelin – Presence

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Here is a pressing with the power, the dynamic contrasts, the low end whomp, as well as the in-the-room midrange presence (pun only slightly intended) you’ve been waiting for
  • Featuring a stripped down, harder rock sound, Presence really benefits from the killer bottom end found on this early LP
  • “Presence has more majestic epics than its predecessor, opening with the surging, ten-minute Achilles Last Stand and closing with the meandering, nearly ten-minute Tea for One.”

We just finished a massive shootout for this album and were reminded just how HARD this album rocks. Achilles Last Stand, For Your Life and Nobody’s Fault But Mine are KILLER on a Hot Stamper pressing like this one. (more…)

Yes – 90125

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  • An original German Atco import pressing that was doing practically everything right, earning killer Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Both of these sides are spacious, solid and dynamic with huge bass and analog richness that’s hard to find on this album
  • There’s tons of life and energy here and the vocals sound just right
  • Marks 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: “A stunning self-reinvention by a band that many had given up for dead, 90125 is the album that introduced a whole new generation of listeners to Yes… there’s nary a duff track on the album.”

I’m pleased to report that we can now add 90125 to our small list of ’80s albums that can sound excellent on the right pressing. Drop the needle on “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and we bet you’ll agree.

So many copies we played were full of that digital grit and grain that we hear on so many records from the era. This one is an entirely different story. It has wonderful analog qualities, with more richness and smoothness than most pressings.

The recording itself is outstanding: punchy and lively with an especially beefy bottom end, the kind a good rock record needs. But you would never know it by playing the average pressing you might pick up for five bucks at your local used record store. The typical copy of this record is pretty average sounding. Let’s face it: Every mastering mistake that CAN be made WILL be made sooner or later with mass-produced vinyl like this.

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Crosby / Nash – Graham Nash / David Crosby

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  • An early Atlantic pressing with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The vocals are wonderfully breathy, smooth and sweet here – this recording is the very definition of Midrange Magic, thanks to the brilliant engineering of Bill Halverson
  • 4 stars: “This self-titled release is one of most impressive side project to arise from CSN. The best elements of each are readily available here, punctuated at every turn by their complicated vocal arrangements and air-lock harmonies.”

Where in the world did all the Midrange Magic that we were hearing on this copy of the album come from?

On a song like Where Will I Be the sound is so unbelievably transparent, open and intimate it sounds like an outtake from David Crosby’s first album, one of the ten best sounding rock records ever made. 

I was in high school when I first played this album and I remember being disappointed with it, mostly because I was expecting another Deja Vu. As I grow older I appreciate other qualities in a recording; I’ve come to appreciate this album for what it is: not the Grand Musical Statement that Deja Vu is, but a simpler, more intimate portrait of two artists at the start of a lifelong harmonious collaboration. With a damn fine batch of songs to sing.

Top Quality Sound

The Midrange Magic on some of these tracks is off the scale. The transparency is also remarkable, with richness and sweetness matched by few copies in our huge shootout.

Listen to the three-dimensional quality of the piano on the first track of side two. Skip to the second track and you will hear some of the best bass to be found on the side. The song is not about the bass, obviously, so we hasten to point out the vocals and harmonies — the sine qua non of any CSN or Y record — are Truly Right On The Money as well. (more…)

John Lewis – The Wonderful World Of Jazz

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  • This Atlantic reissue was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Bigger, richer, more Tubey Magical, with more extension on both ends of the spectrum and more depth, width and height than most other copies we played
  • An outstanding (and very hard-to-find) Jazz LP – a Better Records Top Recommendation from decades ago, and we are pleased to report that the music and the sound still hold up
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This is one of pianist John Lewis’ most rewarding albums outside of his work with the Modern Jazz Quartet. Three numbers (including a remake of ‘Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West’) showcase his piano in a quartet with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist George Duvivier, and drummer Connie Kay.”

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Led Zeppelin / III – We Needed to Do More R&D in 2008

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Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin III

A classic example of Live and Learn.

In 2008 we simply had not done our homework well enough. I had been an audiophile for at least 33 years by then, and a professional audiophile record dealer for 21.

Sure, by 2008 we had auditioned plenty of the pressings that we thought were the most likely to sound good: the original and later domestic pressings, the early and later British LPs, some early and later German pressings, maybe a Japanese import or two. In other words, the usual suspects.

We already knew the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl was unbelievably bad; no need to put that in a shootout. It earned an “F” right out of the gate for its bright and harsh sound.

The result? We were roughly in the same position as the vast majority of audiophiles. We had auditioned a number pressings of the album and thought we knew enough about the sound of the album to pick a clear winner. We thought the best original British Plum and Orange label pressings had the goods the no other copies could or would have. (Years later we would get hold of another one, clean it up and put it in a shootout.)

But of course, like most audiophiles who judge records with an insufficiently large sample size, we turned out to be completely wrong.

Logic hadn’t worked. None of the originals would end up winning another shootout once we’d discovered the right reissues.

But in 2008, we hadn’t stumbled upon the best pressings because we hadn’t put enough effort into the only approach that actually works.

What approach is that? It’s trial and error. Trial and error would eventually put us on the path to success. We had simply not conducted enough trials and made enough errors by 2008 to find out what we know now.

We hadn’t made the breakthrough we needed to make in order to know just how good the album could sound.

We reproduce below the commentary for the 2008 listing that gets it wrong.

The best British originals are good records, but none of them would win a shootout these days up against the superior import pressings we discovered around 2015 or so.

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This Is the Kind of Thing You Notice When You Play Scores of Copies of the Same Album

More of the Music of Hall and Oates

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Hall and Oates

If you have a copy or two laying around, there is a very good chance that side two will be noticeably thinner and brighter than side one. That has been our experience anyway, and we’ve been playing batches of this album for well over a decade. To find a copy with a rich side two is rare indeed.

Most copies lack the top end extension that makes the sound sweet, opens it up and puts air around every instrument. It makes the hi-hat silky, not spitty or gritty. It lets you hear all the harmonics of the guitars and mandolins that feature so prominently in the mixes.

If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, is full of TUBEY MAGIC, and has consistently good music, look no further.

Until I picked up one of these nice originals I had no idea how amazing the record could sound. For an early ’70s multi-track pop recording it’s about as good as it gets. It’s rich, sweet, open, natural, smooth most of the time — in short, it’s got all the stuff audiophiles like you and me LOVE. (more…)

Dr. John – Desitively Bannaroo

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  • This early Atco pressing was doing just about everything right, earning seriously good sonic grades on both sides
  • Richness and plenty of tight bass are key to bringing the rhythmically challenging music of New Orleans to life, and here there is plenty of both
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl they’re making – for Tubey Magic and energy, this is the only way to go
  • “As in In the Right Place, Mac has taken advantage of the specialized production talents of Allen Toussaint (at Toussaint’s own Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans), and has again used the fabled New Orleans band The Meters as his studio group. Each of the 12 cuts on the LP has been well-conceived, clearly thought-out, and reveals a new level of musical depth for the doctor.”

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The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

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  • A Sticky Fingers like you’ve never heard, with superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – reasonably quiet vinyl too, about as quiet as we can find them
  • If this price seems high, keep in mind that the top copy from our most recent shootout went for $1100, and the vinyl was no quieter
  • If you have never heard one of our Hot Stamper pressings of the album, you (probably) cannot begin to appreciate just how amazing the sound is
  • A landmark Glyn Johns / Andy Johns recording, our favorite by the Stones, a Top 100 Title (of course) and 5 stars on Allmusic (ditto)
  • Q magazine said this was “the Stones at their assured, showboating peak … A magic formula of heavy soul, junkie blues and macho rock.”
  • 5 stars: “With its offhand mixture of decadence, roots music, and outright malevolence, Sticky Fingers set the tone for the rest of the decade for the Stones.”

This is the best record the Stones ever made, with Let It Bleed and Beggars Banquet right up there with it but just a half-step behind.

The sound is exactly what you want from a Stones album, with deep punchy bass and dynamic, grungy guitars. This record is to be played loud like it says on the inner sleeve and the surface noise is to be ignored. The louder you play it, the less bothersome the noise will be. This album ROCKS and it was not made to be listened to in a comfy chair while sipping wine.

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AC/DC / Back In Black – None Rocks Harder

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Reviews and Commentaries for Back in Black

This review was written shortly after we discovered what an amazing recording Back in Black was as we were finally getting around to doing our first big shootout for the album, in 2008 or thereabouts.

Robert Ludwig must have had a phenomenally good transistor cutting system in 1980, aided in no small part by superbly musical tube compressors, perhaps the same ones he used on Led Zeppelin II, and we’re fortunate that he did. All that massive compression is at least partly responsible for Back in Black being one of the Best Sounding Rock Records Ever Made.

Our review from 2008 follows:

If you love HUGE drums, meaty guitars, and monster riffs as much as we do, you’re going to freak out over the MASTER TAPE SOUND ON BOTH SIDES. Moments after dropping the needle we heard a prominent low octave to the intro bells that we hadn’t noticed on other copies. We kept our fingers crossed and waited for the band to kick in, hoping for some serious bottom end power. And man oh man, it was there all right! I am pleased to report that the whomp factor on this copy was nothing short of MASSIVE.

I ask you, what album from 1980 sounds better than Back in Black?

Hell’s Bells has HUGE sound and in-the-room presence. The transparency and clarity are shocking — we heard texture on the guitars and room around the drums that simply weren’t to be found elsewhere, plus tons of echo and ambience. The vocals simply could not be any better — they’re breathy and full-bodied with loads of texture. The bottom end is big, beefy, and rock-solid. You probably never thought you’d ever use an AC/DC LP as a Demo Disc, but this side one will have you reconsidering that notion — it’s ALIVE!

Imagine our delight when it turned out that side two was just as good! Everything you could ask for from this music is here, and it won’t take you very long to realize that for yourself when you play You Shook Me All Night Long. The energy, presence, immediacy and tonality are all SUPERB. I don’t think you could find a better sounding side two no matter what you did!

This link will take you to all the titles we have available in the None Rocks Harder series .

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AC/DC – Back In Black

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  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish, this Back In Black ROCKS like nothing you’ve heard
  • Both sides play with exceptionally (and unusually) quiet surfaces for a Robert Ludwig original
  • RL is the king on this title, which means the conventional wisdom is right for once!
  • It’s been years since we got hold of a copy that sounds this good and plays this quietly – it’s one of only a handful to hit the site with both sides graded Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • Top 100, and if you turn it up good and loud, one of the biggest, boldest, hardest rockin’ records ever made
  • 5 stars: “… tawdry celebration of sex is what made AC/DC different from all other metal bands — there was no sword & sorcery, no darkness, just a rowdy party, and they never held a bigger, better party than they did on Back in Black.”
  • Robert Ludwig used humungous amounts of tube compression on Back in Black, and we’re glad he did. All that compression is at least partly responsible for it being a Rock Demo Disc of the highest order.

You probably never thought you’d ever use an AC/DC LP as a Demo Disc, but this copy will have you reconsidering that notion — it’s ALIVE with Rock and Roll Power Chords like nothing you have ever heard.

For Riff Rock you just can’t do much better than Back In Black. AMG gives it 5 Stars and rightfully so. Musically it’s got everything you’d want from this genre of heavy rock — a tight, punchy rhythm section; raging guitar riffs; and deliciously decadent lyrics screamed to perfection.

What took us by surprise was how amazing this music sounds on the right copy. You’ve probably heard these songs a million times, but we bet you haven’t heard them sound like this. This is the kind of record that you’ll want to keep turning up. The louder you play it, the better it gets — but only if you’ve got a pressing that rocks like this one.

The transparency and clarity are shocking — we heard texture on the guitars and room around the drums that simply weren’t to be found on most copies, plus tons of lovely analog reverb and natural studio ambience.

And of course the bottom end is big, beefy, and rock-solid, just the way we like it. I ask you, what album from 1980 sounds better than Back in Black?

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