Labels We Love – Warners

Seals & Crofts – Summer Breeze

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  • An outstanding pressing of Summer Breeze with Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish, and exceptionally quiet vinyl too – some of the quietest we have ever found
  • With tons of Tubey Magical richness in the midrange (particularly on side two) – the kind that was still abundant on analog tape in 1972 – this is a wonderful sounding album of folk pop
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Summer Breeze offered an unusually ambitious array of music within a soft rock context – most artists tried to avoid weighty subjects in such surroundings… the most highly regarded of all of Seals & Crofts’ albums.” (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

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Reviews and Commentaries for Rumours

  • With seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER from start to finish, this early pressing of Fleetwood Mac’s Magnum Opus will be very hard to beat
  • Tubey Magical Analog – the sound is open, spacious and transparent, with a huge three-dimensional soundfield
  • A Better Records Top 100 title – when you hear it sound as good as it does here, you’ll know why we’ve long considered Rumours an Audiophile Demo Disc
  • If you own the album on two 45 RPM discs (you know the one), allow us to send you a copy that will beat the pants off that modern mediocrity – this one!
  • 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
  • 5 stars: “Each tune, each phrase regains its raw, immediate emotional power—which is why Rumours touched a nerve upon its 1977 release, and has since transcended its era to be one of the greatest, most compelling pop albums of all time.”
  • If you’re a Fleetwood Mac fan, this undeniable classic from 1977 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1977 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

When you hear a good copy of Rumours, it’s very easy to understand why this is one of the best-selling pop music albums of all time. Just about everyone knows how great these songs are, but I bet you didn’t know they could sound like this!

It’s tough finding Hot Stamper copies of this album. With over 75 sets of stamper numbers for each side, it’s an extremely taxing project, even for us. We know some of the better stampers and have been acquiring them since then in preparation for this shootout. (more…)

Van Morrison – His Band And Street Choir

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Reviews and Commentaries for Van Morrison

  • With Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last, this is an outstanding Palm Tree pressing of Van’s shockingly underrated album from 1970 – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The band is swinging, the material top-notch – “Domino,” “Crazy Face,” “Blue Money” and other classics are right here
  • The Best Sounding Van Morrison Album, a classic of 1970 Tubey Magical analog, and his only title to make our Top 100
  • “As ‘Domino’ opens the album with a show of strength, ‘Street Choir’ closes it with a burst of both musical and poetic energy which is not only better than anything else on the album but may well be one of Van’s two or three finest songs.” – Rolling Stone
  • For Rock and Pop 1970 Might Just Be the Best Year of Them All

This is the album that came out between Moondance (in the same year in fact, 1970) and Tupelo Honey, but for some reason, it don’t get no respect. We think that’s insane — the material on this album is stellar and the sound on the best pressings is out of this world!

Here’s a copy that really makes our case for us. Both sides of this vintage Warner Bros. pressing sound AMAZING! We went through a massive stack of copies and let me tell you — most of them sure don’t sound like this! Take this one home for some of the best Van Morrison sound you will ever hear.

For years I thought that Moondance was the best sounding album in the Van Morrison catalog. His Band And Street Choir is even better. One reason for that would have to be that Robert Ludwig mastered it, and he can usually be counted on to do an excellent job.

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Donald Fagen / The Nightfly

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

  • With two outstanding sides, this early pressing is guaranteed to be a huge improvement over anything you’ve heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Punchy and high-resolution, check out the cymbals and muted guitar on “I.G.Y.” — they sound Right On The Money here
  • If you are looking for a shootout winning copy, let us know – with such good music and sound, we hope to get another shootout going again soon
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A portrait of the artist as a young man, The Nightfly is a wonderfully evocative reminiscence of Kennedy-era American life; in the liner notes, Donald Fagen describes the songs as representative of the kinds of fantasies he entertained as an adolescent during the late ’50s/early ’60s, and he conveys the tenor of the times with some of his most personal and least obtuse material to date.”

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


Energetic and present, this copy is on a completely different level than most pressings. We just finished a big shootout for Donald Fagen’s solo effort from 1982 (just two years after Gaucho and the end of Steely Dan) and we gotta tell you, there are a lot of weak-sounding copies out there. We should know; we played them.

We’ve been picking copies up for more than a year in the hopes that we’d have some killer Hot Stamper copies to offer, but most of them left us cold. Flat, edgy and bright, like a bad copy of Graceland, only a fraction had the kind of magic we find on the better Steely Dan albums.

Both sides here are incredibly clear and high-rez compared to most pressings, with none of the veiled, smeary quality we hear so often. The vocals are breathy, the bass is clear and the whole thing is open and spacious.

How Analog Is It?

The ones we like the best will tend to be the ones that sound the most Analog. The more they sound like the average pressing — in other words, the more CD-like they sound — the lower the sonic grade. Many will not have even one Hot Stamper side and will end up in the trade-in pile.

The best copies sound the way the best copies of most Classic Rock records sound: tonally correct, rich, clear, sweet, smooth, open, present, lively, big, spacious, Tubey Magical, with breathy vocals and little to no spit, grit, grain or grunge.

That’s the sound of analog, and the best copies of The Nightfly have that sound.

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Little Feat – Waiting For Columbus

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Reviews and Commentaries for Waiting for Columbus

  • A killer copy of Waiting For Columbus with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on the first THREE sides, and excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on the fourth – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the best sounding live rock and roll sound you will ever hear outside of a concert venue
  • If you want to understand the unique appeal of the band, there’s no better place to start than right here
  • 4 1/2 stars: “There’s much to savor on Waiting For Columbus, one of the great live albums of its era, thanks to rich performances that prove Little Feat were one of the great live bands of their time.”
  • 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 of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Waiting for Columbus is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

This is an amazingly well-recorded concert, and what’s more, the versions the band does of their earlier material are much better than the studio album versions of those same songs in every case.

Fat Man In A Bathtub on this album is out of this world, but you could easily say that about a dozen or more of the tracks on this double album. Which simply means that you will have a very hard time listening to any of the studio versions of these songs once you’ve heard them performed with the kind of energy, enthusiasm and technical virtuosity Little Feat brought to this live show. (I saw them twice with Lowell and they were amazing both times.) (more…)

Van Morrison – Beautiful Vision

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More Folk Rock

  • An original WB pressing with outstanding grades on both sides
  • This copy was clearly fuller, livelier and more present than most of the others we played, with lovely Tubey Magic and good extension on both ends
  • “[It’s] a stronger articulation of what Morrison was attempting to do on Common One — much like how Wavelength got A Period of Transition right … [T]he record reveals such charming moments as ‘She Gives Me Religion,’ ‘Beautiful Vision,’ and Cleaning Windows,’ a skipping light R&B tune that became one of his latter-day standards.”

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Joni Mitchell – Blue

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Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

  • With two Double Plus (A++) or BETTER sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Joni’s 1971 masterpiece sound this good
  • Full-bodied and balanced with the kind of smooth musicality that’s not always easy to find for Blue
  • A Better Records Top 100 title that belongs in any audiophile music collection worthy of the name
  • 5 stars: “Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell’s songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity…”
  • Everything changed for us in 2007 with the release of the Hoffman/Gray-mastered Rhino pressing of Blue, a record that made us ask ourselves, “Why are we selling records that we would not want to own or listen to ourselves?”
  • It was truly a kicked-in-the-head-by-a-mule moment for all of us here at Better Records, and I am glad to say one kick was all it took

The best copies bring out the breathy quality to Joni’s voice, and she never sounds strained. They are sweet and open, with good bass foundation and transparency throughout the frequency range.

The best pressings (and our better playback equipment) have revealed nuances to this recording — and of course the performances of all the players along with it — that made us fall in love with the music all over again. Of all the tough nuts to crack, this was the toughest, yet somehow copies emerged from our shootouts that made it easy to appreciate the sonic merits of Blue and ignore its shortcomings.

Hot Stampers have a way of doing that. You forget it’s a record; it’s now just Music. The right record and the right playback will bring this music to life in a way that you cannot imagine until you hear it. That is our guarantee on Blue — better than you ever thought possible or your money back.

The Sound of Vintage Vinyl

This vintage Reprise pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (For proof just check out the mediocre pressing Steve Hoffman mastered for Rhino on Heavy Vinyl. (more…)

America / History: America’s Greatest Hits

More America

More Hippie Folk Rock

  • With excellent grades from start to finish, this early Warner Bros. Palm Tree pressing is doing just about everything right
  • These sides are BIGGER and RICHER and have more of the rock solid energy that’s missing from the average copy
  • “Master Tape” sound lets this compilation of gems hold its own against the originals
  • 4 1/2 stars: “History: Greatest Hits perfectly spotlights both the polished and layered production of British studio legend George Martin and the West Coast tones of the band’s folk-pop style. An essential collection for fans who like their ’70s folk with a pop sheen, loads of hooks, and top-drawer arrangements.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this classic from 1975 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

THE BIG SOUND on both sides lets this Greatest Hits compilation hold its own against the originals. They have plenty of bottom end that drives these songs with energy and life. Listen for the bells on ‘Tin Man‘; they have the correct transients and harmonics.

You never quite get back all of the Tubey Magic of the originals, but the detail and richness should be enough to make you fall in love with this high quality George Martin (re)production.

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The Turn Up Your Volume Test – Bonnie Raitt’s Home Plate

More of the Music of Bonnie Raitt

Reviews and Commentaries for Records that Sound Their Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

This is a classic case of a record that really starts to work when the levels are up. It’s so free from distortion and phony processing it wants to be played loud, and that’s the level this music works at. It’s the level it was no doubt mixed at, and that mix sounds pretty flat at moderate levels. If you want to hear the real rockin’ Bonnie Raitt you gots to turn it up!

Like a lot of the best recordings from the mid-’70s, the production and recording quality are clean and clear, and we mean that in a good way. There is very little processing to the sound of anything here; drums sound like drums, guitars like guitars, and Bonnie sings without the aid of autotuning –– because she can sing on-key, and beautifully. Her vocals kill on every song. (Her dad had a pretty good set of pipes too.)

Her Best Material

What sets this album apart from others made around this period is the strength of the material. Every song on side one would fit nicely on a greatest hits album, they’re that good. The reason side one has always been a personal favorite is that it ends with the best track on the album, maybe the best song Bonnie ever sang, the excruciatingly heartfelt ballad, My First Night Alone Without You. If that one doesn’t hit you hard, something somewhere is very wrong. 


More Hot Stamper Commentary from 2008

This original WB Palm Tree label LP has THE BEST SIDE ONE we have ever heard here at Better Records. “A Triple Plus” sound means you’re probably hearing the album better than they did when they played back the master tape in the control room. (Studio monitors being what they are.) Since this is one of my three favorite Bonnie Raitt albums — the others being Sweet Forgiveness and Nine Lives — and quite possibly the best sounding album she ever made, it goes without saying that this is THE Must Own Bonnie Raitt Hot Stamper Pressing of All Time.

Nine Lives? Luck of the Draw?

What about the Capitol albums she recorded with Don Was?

Man, they sure don’t sound like this! That stuff is way too digital, overly-processed and modern sounding for my taste, not to mention my delicate hearing.

The first two she did for Capitol are fine albums in their own right, but she was already out of gas by the time she got accepted by the record buying public and the Grammy Award committee.

That was 1989; this album is from 1975 when she still had her groove on. You may gain a lot of wisdom as you age from thirty-six to fifty, but you don’t gain a lot of rock and roll energy (or any other kind, for that matter).

The Big Sound

This a big production, with horns and strings and lots of wonderful sounding instruments thrown into the mix such as tubas, mandolins and autoharps to name just a few. Getting all these sounds onto the vinyl of the day is a tough challenge, but some copies had the goods, and this is one of them.

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The Grateful Dead – American Beauty

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More Hippie Folk Rock

  • A superb copy of American Beauty with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The acoustic guitars are magical on this copy, and you won’t believe how wonderfully breathy and sweet these guys’ voices sound
  • American Beauty is one of Stephen Barncard‘s greatest recording achievements – the richness and clarity are really something here
  • We completed our most recent shootout just last month (with the top copy going for $899), but with some luck we might get another one going early next year
  • 5 star Top 100 album – “A companion piece to the luminous Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty is an even stronger document of the Grateful Dead’s return to their musical roots. American Beauty remains the Dead’s studio masterpiece.”

We managed to find enough clean early pressings to get this always-fun shootout going once again, and this copy had most of the qualities we were listening for. This is an amazingly well-recorded album — and a member of our Top 100, of course — but it takes a special copy to let the recording’s qualities shine the way this one does!

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.

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.

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