Labels We Love – Decca/London/Argo

Cat Stevens – The World of Cat Stevens

More Cat Stevens

More Folk Rock

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  • Cat Stevens 1970 compilation album returns with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish and British Decca vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find it
  • These sides are doing most everything right — the sound is rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, Cat’s vocals are present, and there is plenty of studio space on the recording
  • Everything you want in a Folky Pop Star recording are here
  • Not an easy record to find in audiophile playing condition with top quality sound – it took us years to get this shootout going

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this recording. 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…)

The Rolling Stones – Out of Our Heads

More Rolling Stones

More Rock Classics

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  • This is one of the best copies to ever hit the site — as good as we’ve ever heard with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • These British sides impressed us with their Tubey Magical, fairly natural sound
  • With top engineers like Dave Hassinger and Glyn Johns one would hope for better sonics, but this is as good as it gets as far as we know
  • 4 1/2 stars: “In 1965, the Stones finally proved themselves capable of writing classic rock singles that mined their R&B/blues roots, but updated them into a more guitar-based, thoroughly contemporary context. The first enduring Jagger-Richards classics are here…”

Like the really good Decca version of Aftermath, this record has amazing transparency, rich bass and relatively little distortion compared to other versions we have played. Also, like Aftermath, some songs sound much better than others. That’s just the way old Stones record are. Part of this album was recorded in Hollywood and part of it was recorded in Chicago — that may explain some of the variation in the quality of the sound.

By the way, stick with true stereo on this album; the mono pressings — at least the ones we played — aren’t worth anybody’s time (scratch that: any audiophile’s time). (more…)

Does Anybody (Other than Us) Ever Talk About the Dry String Tone of Some London Pressings?

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Not that we know of. If audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them are listening critically to these famous recordings on high quality equipment, why do they never talk about this problem?

Here is what we noticed when we played a big batch of Nutcracker recordings on London and Decca:

On some copies of this album the strings are dry, lacking Tubey Magic. This is decidedly not our sound, although it can often be heard on the hundreds of London pressings we’ve played over the years.

And we imagined that this might be the culprit:

If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange, the one that so many moving coils have these days, you may not notice this tonality issue nearly as often as we do.

Our Dynavector 17Dx Karat is ruler flat and quite tonally unforgiving in this regard. It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in all but the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.

We discussed the issue in a commentary entitled Hi-Fi Beats My-Fi If You Are At All Serious about Audio.

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

Can we really be hearing all these things that nobody else seems to be hearing? Things like:

If audiophiles and audiophile reviewers are hearing these things on the records they review, in magazines and audiophile forums, why aren’t they discussing them?

Case in Point

We occasionally take the time to create a little “test” to see if audiophiles — customers or just visitors to the blog, makes no difference to us — can hear a specific quality we’d noticed when auditioning a record. Normally this would be a quality that jumped out at us when playing the record, and we were just curious as to whether it jumped out at anybody else.

On this version of Sweet Baby James we heard something that took us by surprise, an artifact we subsequently dubbed an “EQ Anomaly.” We put the question of what this anomaly might be to our readers and waited for someone to spot it. And here is what we got in return. (more…)

Albeniz / Turina – Iberia / Danzas Fantasticas / Ansermet

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

More Spectacular Orchestral Recordings

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  • This SUPERB classical release finally returns to the site with STUNNING sound, earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides
  • We have some good sounding reissues with condition issues, but they do not win shootouts the way the right originals do
  • A huge hall, correct string tone, spacious and open as practically any orchestral recording you can find
  • Listen to the plucked basses – clear, not smeary, with no sacrifice in richness. Take it from us, the guys that play classical recordings by the score, this is hard for a record to do!
  • Ernst Ansermet conducted some of the best sounding records ever made — here are some of the ones we’ve reviewed

The sound of this copy is so transparent, undistorted, three-dimensional and REAL, without any sacrifice in solidity, richness or Tubey Magic, that we knew we had a real winner on our hands as soon as the needle hit the groove.

We were impressed with the fact that it excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way. (more…)

Bartok / Concerto for Orchestra / Solti

More of the music of Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

Hot Stamper Pressings of Recordings by Kenneth Wilkinson

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  • This superb classical release finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Huge hall, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • The sound here is glorious, full of all of the qualities that make listening to classical music in analog so involving
  • There are many great recordings of the work, and we had plenty to choose from, but for sonics and performance combined, Solti’s Decca recording from 1965 could not be beat
  • “Solti’s Concerto for Orchestra with the LSO was one of the finest of its day and remains so. Highly recommended.”

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Edmundo Ros / Latin Hits I Missed – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More Exotica

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

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

and a Record We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

It’s unfortunate that Edmundo Ros and his orchestra command so little respect these days from the general record buying public. As for audiophiles, it’s doubtful that many even know who he or they is/are. We at Better Records are doing our best to change all that, continuing with this, the second Ros title we’ve managed to find with amazing sound and music since the first one went up in 2013.

It’s one of the liveliest, best sounding Phase 4 titles we have heard in quite a while. Stampers simply do not get much hotter than these.  

From the perspective of a level playing field, I cannot think of too many rock records that sound as BIG and DYNAMIC as this very pressing, nor many that are as spacious and clear. As good as the best German pressings of Dark Side of the Moon may be, the White Hot eight hundred dollar killer copies we have from time to time, this recording is every bit as exciting and in most ways more lifelike, with uncannily accurate instrumental timbres. (more…)

Rossini / Overtures with Maag – The Best on Record

More of the music of Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)

More of Our Favorite Performances with Top Quality Sound

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one and a side two that’s not far behind, the orchestral power of display here is positively PHENOMENAL
  • This Decca Tree recording is overflowing with the kind of rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that can only be found on vintage vinyl
  • Performances and sound like no other – Maag’s William Tell is in a league of its own
  • “You’d think Maag would approach the scores the way most conductors do: gung-ho and hell bent for leather. He doesn’t. In fact, Maag displays a good deal of reserve, calculating his interpretations for the biggest payoff. For instance, in William Tell he keeps the opening sections in check, and then he builds the final segment into a most-exciting whirlwind, the conclusion carrying you away.”

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Rachmaninoff / Concerto No. 2 – Katchen / Solti

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

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  • An outstanding reissue pressing of this superb recording with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • I’ve known how good this reissue can sound for more than twenty years – it is guaranteed to beat any and every pressing you have of the work or your money back
  • Big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the sound that simply does not exist except in the world of the properly cleaned, properly pressed vintage LP
  • On both of these sides you’ll hear rich strings, clear horns, a piano that is full-bodied and natural, with a solid low end (the kind you rarely hear on record but is nonetheless strikingly obvious in the presence of the real instrument)
  • “Is the pulse even, building in steady crescendo, or do those famous opening measures find some subtle phrase within? Most settle for the former; not so, Katchen and Solti – and that pretty much describes the attitude of these artists in this piece altogether: searching for and finding the phrase within the obvious.”

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The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request

More Rolling Stones

Reviews and Commentaries for Their Satanic Majesties Request

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, this British pressing will be very hard to beat – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Released right before the raging bluesy rock of Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed
  • This is some crazy Stones music, with loads of psychedelic madness and a number of catchy tunes
  • It’s a lot of fun on a pressing that sounds as good as this one, with the space, clarity and richness that only vintage vinyl can offer in such abundance
  • Every one of the original Decca stereo pressings we’ve played has come up short against these recuts from the Seventies
  • 4 stars: “Never before or since did the Stones take so many chances in the studio… a fascinating anomaly in the group’s discography”.

This is the Stones at their most experimental, so there are plenty of strange effects and trippy arrangements. Only the best copies manage to make sense of it, but when you find one this music is a lot of fun.

If you’re looking for the raging bluesy rock of Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed, you’ll find some of that here but also a lot of psychedelia too. You do get some great rockers though — Citadel, 2000 Man, and 2000 Light Years From Home to name a few. She’s A Rainbow is the poppiest song here, and on this copy it sounds WONDERFUL. (more…)

The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed

More of The Moody Blues

Reviews and Commentaries for The Moody Blues

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  • The Moody Blues’ Masterpiece finally returns to the site with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this early British pressing – the vinyl is exceptionally quiet for this 60+ year old title as well
  • The sound is huge, rich and lively throughout – you need this kind of space for the orchestral parts to work their Moody Magic
  • An Album Experience beyond practically anything that had come before (Sgt. Pepper excluded)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Days of Future Passed became one of the defining documents of the blossoming psychedelic era, and one of the most enduringly popular albums of its era.”

This album is more than 50 years old for god’s sake! In those 50 years I’d forgotten how good it is.

“Tuesday Afternoon” is the Perfect Pop Song, with the whole of side two flowing effortlessly from it as each song (each day) is linked by means of the surrounding orchestrations until it reaches its zenith with the climax of “Nights in White Satin.”

The sound is very much a part of the entire experience. The strings of the orchestra sound as sweet as any Decca, the soundstage wide and deep as any symphonic recording.

For those of you who still think Mobile Fidelity is the king on this one, here’s a record that demonstrates what a real orchestra sounds like. (more…)