Labels We Love – Columbia/Epic

The Recordings of Weather Report – These Three Didn’t Make the Grade

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These are just some of the Weather Report recordings we’ve auditioned over the years and found wanting. Without going into specifics we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place in your audiophile collection.

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more inexcusable.

What Are Some Good General Rules for Acquiring Records with the Highest Quality Sound?

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The Riverside pressings we’ve auditioned of both The Thelonious Monk Orchestra – At Town Hall and Thelonious Monk Quartet Plus Two – At The Blackhawk were just awful sounding. The OJC reissues from the ’80s, although better, were not overflowing with the rich, natural, relaxed sound we were looking for either.

Ah, but a few years back we happened to drop the needle on one of these good Milestone Two-Fers. Here was the sound we were looking for and had had so little luck in finding.

Which prompts the question that should be on the mind of every audiophile: What are the rules for collecting records with the best sound quality?

The answer, of course, is that there are no such rules and never will be.

There is only trial and error. Our full-time staff has been running trials — we call them shootouts and needle drops — for more than twenty years now, with far more errors than successes. Such is the nature of records. It may be a tautology to note that the average record has mediocre sound, but it nevertheless pays to keep that rather inconvenient fact in mind.

Even worse, if you make the mistake of pinning your hopes on a current reissue — and you unfortunately find yourself a member of that small minority of audiophiles with reasonably high standards and two working ears — your disappointment is almost guaranteed. (more…)

Dave Brubeck – Time Changes

More Dave Brubeck

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

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  • This early 360 Stereo pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side two and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on side one – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • With a breathy sax, lively and present piano, and a smooth, full sounding orchestra on some of these tracks, this is just the right sound for this music
  • The legendary CBS 30th Street Studios in New York deliver another amazing Demo Disc for Dave Brubeck and his famous fellow jazzmen
  • Produced by the legendary Teo Macero, this is the fourth entry in Brubeck’s time signature series of classic jazz

Production and Engineering

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.

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Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

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More Singer Songwriter Albums

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  • An outstanding copy of Simon’s second solo album, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is big, warm and full-bodied – it’s present and clear, never harsh or gritty the way so many are
  • Great songs including Kodachrome, Loves Me Like a Rock, Was a Sunny Day (and you probably know most of the other 7)
  • 5 stars: “Retaining the buoyant musical feel of Paul Simon, but employing a more produced sound, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon found Paul Simon writing and performing with assurance and venturing into soulful and R&B-oriented music.”

Most pressings don’t have anywhere near this kind of openness and transparency — and they don’t have this kind of richness or warmth either. It’s a real treat to hear these great songs finally get the sound they deserve.

On most pressings, Simon’s voice is a spitty, gritty mess — sure it’s present, but where is the sweetness and warmth? Well, as a copy like this proves, more of those qualities made it to the tape than you might think. (more…)

Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man

More Leonard Cohen

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides are doing everything right — big, rich and full of Tubey Magic with a wonderfully extended top end and a more natural sound than most other copies we heard
  • Top tracks here include First We Take Manhattan, Take This Waltz, and the classic Everybody Knows
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A stunningly sophisticated leap into modern musical textures, I’m Your Man re-establishes Leonard Cohen’s mastery….”

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Willie Dixon / I Am The Blues – First Question: How Big Is the Sound?

More Willie Dixon

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It was pretty easy to separate the men from the boys in this shootout. A quick drop of the needle on each side would immediately answer our number one question: “How BIG is the sound?” The copies that lacked top end extension or heft in the bottom end were just too uninvolving. This is the BLUES, baby — you think it’s supposed to sound small and distant?

Another problem we ran into on many copies was excessive smoothness. When a copy was overly rich or smeary, it usually lacked the “gritty” feel that music like this should have.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m listening to the blues I am not looking for glossy sound. Give me the raw texture and the detail that was put on the tape. I don’t want the sound to be “fixed” after the fact, and  I definitely don’t want it to be modified to give it more audiophile appeal. (more…)

Paul Simon – One-Trick Pony

More Paul Simon

Singer Songwriter Albums

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  • One-Trick Pony makes its Hot Stamper debut here with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Notably richer and livelier than every other pressing we played, with plenty of Tubey Magic and good weight down low
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, presence and energy on this copy than anything else around, and that’s especially true for whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently being foisted on an unsuspecting record buying public
  • “Tasty licks abound from the fretwork of Eric Gale, Hiram Bullock, and Hugh McCracken, and the rhythm section of Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, and Richard Tee is equally in the groove. This is the closest thing to a band album Simon ever made, and it contains some of his most rhythmic and energetic singing. . .”

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Dave Brubeck’s Bossa Nova USA – Who Are We to Talk?

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

More Dave Brubeck

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Who knew? Not us and not anybody else it seems. We are not aware that any of the audiophile cognoscenti have ever taken this recording seriously, but that just goes to show how uninformed — or perhaps more likely underinformed — they’ve always been.

Gems such as this sit undiscovered even after thousands of pages of audiophile record reviews have been written. Then, along come a handful of guys in Thousand Oaks, California many years later, 52 to be exact, and reveal to the world a heretofore all but unknown yet nonetheless amazing Brubeck record.

And they back up everything they say with actual records that sound as good as they say they will.

But wait just a minute. We sold an early pressing ourselves back in 2010 for $30 as a “nice sounding” record, nothing more, so who are we to talk?

Which simply goes to show that the decade we spent perfecting the Record Shootout has finally paid off for Bossa Nova U.S.A. Now we can clean them better, play them better, hear them better, and, with a big stack to work with, find one that sounds as good as this one does. (more…)

Eddie Money / Self-Titled – A Personal Favorite from 1977

A Well Recorded Album that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

Hot Stamper Pressings of Eddie Money’s Debut Available Now

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  • Two incredible sides each earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it; the first copy to hit the site in many years!
  • Bruce Botnick‘s engineering ensures the sound is big and lively – this early pressing is full-bodied, with wonderfully present vocals, and plenty of punchy bottom end
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the way to go
  • “With much of the same urgency Money stands as perhaps a lighter but still gutsy-voiced Bruce Springsteen. His performance exudes a certain authenticity of main line rock without seeming derivative or repetitious.” – Billboard 

The average copy is way too compressed, which kills the top end (by making the cymbals aggressive) and the vocals too midrangy. When you’ve got a copy of Eddie Money’s debut album that’s doing what it’s supposed to do, you know pretty quickly. The highs are sweet and extended, the vocals are present, but without any spit or strain, and there is solid bass and low end propelling everything else forward.

Eddie Money has only made one good record in our opinion — this one. Fortunately, it’s a GREAT one and we don’t have to play any of his others! This guy had so much promise, based solely on his debut here. He lost his brilliant guitarist and arranger, Jimmy Lyon, soon after this first album was made, and that may account for his slide into mediocrity. But this record is outstanding from first note to last. If at the end of the second track — a cover of You Really Got A Hold On Me — you are not rockin’ out, then Eddie Money is just not for you. I love this album and I have played it countless times. (more…)

Tony Bennett – If I Ruled The World / Songs For The Jet Set

More Tony Bennett

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

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  • Bennett’s wonderful 1965 release finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • These sides are exceptionally spacious and three-dimensional, as well as relaxed and full-bodied – Tony is right in the room with you on this one
  • “Employing Sinatra arranger Don Costa, Tony Bennett put together a concept album similar to Sinatra’s Come Fly with Me.”

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