Labels We Love – Warners

The Doobie Brothers – Minute By Minute

More of The Doobie Brothers

More Michael McDonald

  • An outstanding original Warner Bros. pressing of the band’s Masterpiece, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound
  • An Audiophile Quality Pop Music Production as close to perfect as one could possibly wish for, thanks to Ted Templeman and Donn Landee
  • 4 stars: “…this is where the ‘new’ Doobie Brothers really make their debut, with a richly soulful sound throughout and emphasis on horns and Michael McDonald’s piano… It’s still all pretty compelling even if its appeal couldn’t be more different from the group’s earlier work. The public loved it, buying something like three million copies, and the recording establishment gave Minute by Minute four Grammy Awards, propelling the group to its biggest success ever.”

This is undoubtedly the band’s masterpiece, assuming you’re a Michael McDonald fan, and we very much are fans here at Better Records. We can now definitively say that the quality of the sound matches the quality of the music. What a wonderful sounding pop record. This is Donn Landee at his best — tonally correct, spacious, clear and sweet, with big bass and vocal choruses that can really take off when called upon. With Ted Templeman running the show this is an Audiophile Quality Pop Music Production that’s as close to perfect as one has any right to expect. (more…)

Grateful Dead – Self-Titled “Skull and Roses”

More of the Grateful Dead

More Live Recordings of Interest

  • An early WB Green Label pressing of the 2 LP “Skull & Roses” live album with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all FOUR sides
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard or you get your money back – it’s as simple as that
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these classic rock records – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 stars: “Coming off of the quantum-leap success of the studio country-rock efforts Workingman’s Dead (1969) and American Beauty, Grateful Dead offers up a pair of new Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter compositions – ‘Bertha’ and ‘Wharf Rat’ – both of which garnered a permanent place within the band’s live catalog. However, ‘The Other One’ – joined in progress just as Billy Kreutzmann fires up a blazing percussion solo – sprawls as the album’s centerpiece.
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this classic from 1971 belongs in your collection.

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Tower of Power – Back To Oakland

More Tower of Power

More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • With solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish, this copy was doing just about everything right
  • Our Hot Stamper pressings are rich, warm and dynamic, with plenty of Analog Tubey Magic
  • 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
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Back to Oakland had tougher, funkier and better-produced cuts, stronger vocals from Lenny Williams, and included an excellent ballad in ‘Time Will Tell,’ and a rousing tempo in ‘Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream).'”

We love this funky music and have long been delighted with how wonderful the best pressings can sound. This may be Tower of Power’s best; certainly it’s one of their most consistent and well-recorded.

When you hear it on a Hot Stamper like this, there is little in the recording to criticize. The brass is textured with just the right amount of bite (but not to the point of sounding gritty). In addition, the soundstage is wide and three-dimensional, with the kind of transparency that allows you to hear into the music all the way to the back wall of the studio (assuming your system resolves that kind of information).

The most obvious effect is that all the horns are separated out from one another, not all smeared together, with plenty of space around the drums, guitars and vocals as well. The sound is freely flowing from the speakers, not stuck inside them.

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Best Practices

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

More of the Music of The Doobie Brothers

Recently we did one of our regular shootouts for Takin’ It To The Streets, using pressings we know from experience to have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them as carefully as we always do. Then we unplugged everything in the house we could get away with, carefully warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next couple of hours playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that the others do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given pressing reproduces those passages.

The process could not be more simple. The first step is to go deep into the sound. There you find something special, something you can’t find on most copies. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

The Rich, Smooth Sound of Seventies Analog

Credit Donn Landee (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records.

Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.


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Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

James Taylor / Gorilla – A Soft Rock Favorite from 1975

More of the Music of James Taylor

More Personal Favorites

This is soft rock at its best, made up primarily of love songs, and helped immensely by the harmonically-gifted backing vocals of Graham Nash and David Crosby.

Rolling Stone notes that “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”

If you are not a fan of the mellow James Taylor this is not the album for you. I just happen to be such a fan.

Taylor’s sixth album contains consistently engaging, well-produced, well-written, memorable, singable (or hummable) songs that hold up to this day. (more…)

The Grateful Dead – Barncard Knocked It Out of the Park with This One

More of the Music of The Grateful Dead

Hot Stamper Pressings of Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

The crowning glory of the Grateful Dead, this is their MASTERPIECE. Albums like this come along once in a band’s life — if they’re lucky. This is the zenith of the Grateful Dead. Workingman’s Dead is a good album. American Beauty is a great one.

If you don’t have a killer copy yet, it’s time to get on the bus. Stephen Barncard is the recording engineer responsible for this album, Deja Vu, Brewer and Shipley’s Tarkio, and a host of other amazingly rich, sweet and natural, mostly acoustic recordings that stand head and shoulders above the bulk of their contemporaries. American Beauty is one of them.

All the Elements Come Together for Once

All of the elements necessary to take this music to an entirely new level are here, my friends: smooth, sweet vocals; rich, meaty bass; an open and airy top end; top-notch presence and so forth. The sound is so spacious and transparent that you can easily pick out each of the instruments and follow them over the course of the songs.

The acoustic guitars sound magical on this one, and I can’t believe how wonderful these guys’ voices sound. The Tubey Magic and immediacy on this copy are going to STUN you.

You could choose any track you wanted to and find lovely sound here, but I’d recommend Ripple and Attics Of My Life for starters. Most copies suffer from a glaring lack of highs, but just listen to the ride cymbals on this one to find out that the top end is still alive and well here.

Here are some other records we’ve played that can often have No Real Top End.

Ambrosia – Life Beyond L.A.

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More Prog Rock

  • This copy had the most energy, the punchiest bass, and the biggest, most immediate, most powerful presentation of any copy in our shootout
  • The sound is solid and rich, the vocals breathy and immediate, and you will not believe all the space and ambience – which of course are all qualities that Heavy Vinyl records have far too little of, and the main reason we have lost all respect for the bulk of them
  • “[The album] marked a bit of a move away from their lush arrangements and introduced a more raw, aggressive progressive rock / jazz influence.”

This White Hot Stamper Ambrosia LP was a THRILL to hear, especially at the volumes at which we played it! The transparency and openness were off the charts, and unmatched by any other copy in our shootout. We’re big fans of this band here at Better Records — we love their take on complex, Big Production Rock.

It’s also yet another example of the value of taking part in the myriad revolutions in audio. If you never want your prized but sonically-challenged records to sound any better than they do right now, this minute, don’t bother to learn how to clean them better, play them back better or improve the acoustics of your room. No one can make you do any of those things. The only reason you might have for doing them is that it will allow you to enjoy more of your favorite music with much better sound. Is that a good enough reason? If you’re on this site I’m guessing it is.

That’s the reason we do it. We want records like this one, which didn’t start sounding good until about 2005, and now sound MUCH better than we ever thought they could, to keep getting better and better. Why shouldn’t they?

And these improvements we talk about so much have allowed us to enjoy records we could never fully enjoy before because they never really sounded all that good to us. Now they do, and they will keep getting better, as more and more developments come along in all areas of analog reproduction.

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Christopher Cross / Self-Titled

More Christopher Cross

  • The best pressings fuller, bigger, more lively and more Tubey Magical, in the best tradition of glossy late-’70s pop productions
  • This one swept the Grammy awards, with great songs including Sailing, Ride Like The Wind and Never Be The Same – Michael McDonald’s gorgeous harmonies are the icing on the cake
  • “While the hits like the dreamy “Sailing” and the surging “Ride Like the Wind” deserved all the attention, they’re hardly the only highlights here — to borrow a sports metaphor, this has a deep bench, and there’s not a weak moment here

If you like Michael McDonald, Toto, The Doobies, Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and countless other bands we have lovingly found a home for on our site, you will no doubt find much to like here. A guilty pleasure you say? When a record sounds this good there is nothing to feel guilty about.

Besides Michael McDonald’s amazing background vocals, listen for the contribution Michael Omartian (the producer) makes on the keyboards. The keyboards more than the guitars are really the driving force behind these songs. If you hear some Aja in his playing, that’s because he played on Aja too. He was also instrumental in many of the Direct to Discs Sheffield made, I’ve Got the Music in Me probably being the best known of the batch. (more…)

Peter, Paul & Mary – Gold Versus Green

More Peter, Paul and Mary

More Folk Rock

In previous shootouts we felt strongly that the best Gold Label copies had the lock on Tubey Magic, while the best Green Label pressings could be counted on to offer superior clarity.

That was quite a few years ago, and as we never tire of saying, things have changed.

Now the Gold Label pressings have the ideal combination of Tubey Magic and clarity.

In fact, based on our recent shootout we would state categorically that the best originals are clearly better in every way, with the most vocal presence, the most harmonic resolution, the most space, the most warmth and intimacy, the most natural string tone on both the guitars and bass — in sum, the most of everything that allows a Hot Stamper vintage LP to be the most sublime musical experience available to any audiophile fortunate enough to own it.

Steve Hoffman’s famous phrase is key here: we want to hear The Breath Of Life. If these three gifted singers don’t sound like living, breathing human beings standing across from you — left, right and center — toss your copy and buy this one, because that’s exactly what they sound like here.

The TUBEY MAGIC of the midrange is practically off the scale. Until you hear it like this you really can’t even imagine it. It’s a bit shocking to hear each and every nuance of their singing reproduced so faithfully, sounding so much like live music.

This is high-rez ’60s style; not phony and forced like so much of what passes for audiophile sound these days, but relaxed and real, as if the recording were doing its best to get out of the way of the music, not call attention to itself. This, to us, is the goal, the prize we must constantly strive to keep our eyes on. Find the music, leave the rest.

The Mids Are Key

Peter, Paul & Mary records live and die by the quality of their midrange. These are not big-budget, high-concept multi-track recordings. They’re simple, innocent folk songs featuring exquisite vocal harmonies, with straightforward guitar and double bass accompaniment (and a few more instruments thrown in for good measure at this later stage of the game).

If Peter, Paul and Mary’s voices aren’t silky sweet and delicate, while at the same time full-bodied and present, let’s face it, you might as well start looking for another record to play.

The best copies convey the surprisingly moving artistry, taste and energy of the group’s performance in the studio all those years ago. When Peter, Paul and Mary start to sing good and loud on some of these tracks, not only can you really hear them belting it out, you FEEL it too. (more…)

James Taylor – Gorilla

More James Taylor

More Personal Favorites

  • Two insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides for one of James Taylor’s best softer rock albums
  • Soulful JT at his best, an underappreciated album by our man and one that belongs in your collection
  • Mexico, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) and I Was A Fool To Care are standouts – there are no weak tracks here
  • Rolling Stone notes, “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”

This is soft rock at its best, made up primarily of love songs, and helped immensely by the harmonically-gifted backing vocals of Graham Nash and David Crosby.

Rolling Stone notes that “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”

To be honest, the recording of Gorilla itself cannot compete with the likes of Sweet Baby James or JT, both of which are Top 100 Titles. It can be a very good sounding record, but not a great one, certainly not in the same league as those two. (more…)