Masterpieces and Personal Favorites

Peter Gabriel / Security

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  • One of the most important records in the Peter Gabriel canon, original and influential on so many levels
  • With the benefit of today’s technology, on a copy this good you hear into the soundfield in a way never possible before, picking out all the drummers and counting all the layers of multi-tracked choruses
  • “Security remains a powerful listen, one of the better records in Gabriel’s catalog, proving that he is becoming a master of tone, style, and substance…”

Man, does this album sound better than I remember it from back in the ’80s when I first played it. Stereos have come a long way since then, along with a host of other things that help records sound better, such as cleaning fluids, room treatments and all the rest. Now you can really hear INTO the soundfield in a way that simply was never possible before, picking out all the drummers and counting all the layers of PG’s multi-tracked choruses. On the best pressings, both sides are huge, and the music jumps out of the speakers. The balance is perfection.

This is not an easy album to find good sound for. Most copies are thick, opaque, turgid, veiled — pick your favorite adjective for mud, most copies fit the profile. When you find one like this, that has some real space and clarity, it’s amazing how much more sense the music makes.

The best copies have the kind of qualities that are not difficult to recognize:

  • presence, putting PG front and center;
  • dynamics, both micro and macro;
  • energy, allowing the rhythmic elements to bring out the life in the music;
  • transparency, so that we can hear all the way to the back of the studio; and
  • ambience, the air that surrounds all the players and their instruments

And of course we played the album VERY LOUD, as loud as we could. It’s the only way to get the massive drumming to sound right. (more…)

The Donovan You Don’t Know – In Concert

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We discovered a while back just what an excellent recording this is and now we know how magical the best copies can be. Only the very best copies delivered the kind of natural, immediate sound we were looking for.

There are a lot of Donovan records out there, but not a lot of them that sound like this! On top of that you get a great set of songs, including Mellow Yellow, Isle Of Islay, Celeste, and First There Is A Mountain (the song that became the main riff of the Allman Brothers’ famous Mountain Jam).|

Get in touch with your inner flower child and spin a copy of this album full of trippy hippie magic.

AMG Review

Flow in a Donovan concert is important, and here, presented as it occurred, listeners can drift right into the tidepool of magic. The band is a quintet with Harold McNair on flute and saxophones, Loren Newkirk on piano, Andy Tronosco on upright bass, Tony Carr on drums, and John Carr on bongos. Donovan plays acoustic guitar throughout.

The hippy mysticism and flower power poet is everywhere here. This isn’t rock star excess at all, but an organic, drenched-in-sunshine concert full of gentleness with a premium on good vibes… (more…)

Peter Frampton – Wind of Change

The Music of Peter Frampton Available Now

Peter Frampton Albums We’ve Reviewed

  • Frampton’s solo debut returns, now with Double Plus (A+++) sound on both sides and fairly quiet vinyl for an early UK pressing circa 1972
  • This vintage British pressing is the very definition of TUBEY MAGIC, with sound so rich and sweet it will make you want to take all your CDs and dump them in the trash (now that record stores don’t even want them anymore)
  • The best copies like this one keep what’s good about the recording while letting us hear into the soundfield with glorious transparency
  • 4 stars: “The sound is crisp, the melodies catchy, and Frampton’s distinctive, elliptical Gibson Les Paul guitar leads soar throughout…“

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’60s and ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd, Elton John and too many others to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

The best song Peter Frampton ever wrote (and performed) is on this very record, in White Hot Stamper sound no less: All I Wanna Be (Is by Your Side). It has the Tubey Magical sound WE LOVE here at Better Records.

However, the richness that makes British recordings from the era so good can easily go over the edge, turning the sound into a thick, mucky stew in which the individual sonic components become difficult to separate out. Think of the typically dull Who’s Next or early Genesis or Jethro Tull albums and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Only a select group of pressings are able to strike the right balance between Tubey Magic and clarity. This is one of those.

And as far as we can tell it’s the only version of the album that’s pressed from the master tape. The domestic A&M LPs are clearly made from dubbed tapes. They are as flat, small, smeary, veiled and opaque as any Heavy Vinyl pressing being made today, and we long ago gave up on them (i.e., domestic pressings of this album and Heavy Vinyl in general). (more…)

Sade – Promise

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  • Sade’s Best Album returns with stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides of this UK disc are guaranteed to be amazing sounding compared to whatever you’ve heard
  • There’s no denying the power of Sade’s sultry voice when you can actually hear it – she is on fire on this album
  • Her best song is on side one here – Is It a Crime – and the big band arrangement will surely send chills up and down your spine, especially with Triple Plus sound quality

Not many copies manage to have this kind of consistently sweet sound across both sides. Here are the kind of present, breathy vocals this music absolutely requires to work its magic.

If you know this album at all, you know that most pressings are just too damn dark sounding. Sade herself is typically recessed in the mix and veiled; it takes an exceptional copy such as this one to make her voice both present and breathy. (more…)

Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got

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  • This early UK pressing is big and rich with superb clarity and three-dimensional space that most pressings barely hint at
  • You won’t believe how good Nothing Compares 2 U sounds here – it’s surely one of the best torch songs ever written, and her performance of it (as well as the arrangement) is perfection
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…the album plays like a tour de force in its demonstration of everything O’Connor can do… it’s evidence that, when on top of her game, O’Connor was a singular talent.”

NOTE: The first two tracks on side one are on the low side of the grade. This record is rarely quite and this copy is no exception to that rule.

I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, a brilliant and unique piece of work, is widely considered one of the best albums of the ’90s. I positively love the album. The emotion is every bit as naked and compelling as that found on Joni’s Blue, and I do not say that lightly. I know the power of Blue, and this album has that kind of power. This is some heavy heavy stuff. Hearing it sound right is a thrill you won’t soon forget. (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues / Volume III – An Audiophile Record with Honest-go-Goodness Real Music

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  • This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for Volume III, clearly the best sounding title in the series
  • A superb pressing with energy and presence that just jumps right out of your speakers – this is but one of the qualities that separates the truly Hot Stampers from the pack

What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tambourines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around. That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Janis Joplin – Pearl

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  • Richer, clearer and more tonally correct, with more energy and presence, all qualities that help to bring this music to life
  • Janis’s vocals sound right on the money here – smooth enough to let you crank this one up good and loud without the sound getting hard and edgy
  • 5 stars: “Janis Joplin’s second masterpiece (after Cheap Thrills), Pearl was designed as a showcase for her powerhouse vocals, stripping down the arrangements that had often previously cluttered her music or threatened to drown her out.”

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in clean shape. Most of them 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, and it will probably be VG+. If you are picky about your covers please let us know in advance so that we can be sure we have a nice cover for you.

Both sides are noticeably sweeter and more open up top than the average copy. Most everything that we look for in a Hot Stamper Pearl is happening on this copy: presence to the vocals; weight to the piano; texture and definition to the bass; a Tubey Magical midrange; freedom from grit and grain and so forth.

It’s not a perfect record — no copy of Pearl will ever be — but it’s better in all the ways that make the music really work. That’s what a Hot Stamper is all about!

None of this is to say that you’ll put this one on your top shelf with your Ajas and your Tea for the Tillermans, but this copy has the kind of sound you’d never guess was possible listening to the average copy. (more…)

Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Mona Bone Jakon

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  • With Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second, this copy of Cat Stevens’ brilliant third album will be very hard to beat
  • So transparent, open, and spacious, nuances and subtleties that escaped you are now revealed as never before 
  • When you play I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on this vintage pressing, we think you will agree with us that this is one of the greatest Folk Rock albums of them all
  • “A delight, and because it never achieved the Top 40 radio ubiquity of later albums, it sounds fresh and distinct.”

So many copies excel in some areas but fall flat in others. This side one has it ALL going on — all the Tubey Magic, all the energy, all the presence and so on. The sound is high-rez yet so natural, free from the phony hi-fi-ish quality that you hear on many pressings, especially the reissues on the second label.

Right off the bat, I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of Folk Pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other Folk Pop recordings that are as good but we know of none that are better.

Mike Bobak was the engineer for these sessions from 1970. He is the man responsible for some of the best sounding records from the early ’70s: The Faces’ Long Player, Cat Stevens’ Mona Bone Jakon, Rod Stewart’s Never a Dull Moment, The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One, (and lots of other Kinks albums), Carly Simon’s Anticipation and more than his share of obscure English bands (of which there seems to be a practically endless supply).

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this album. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with the richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and remasterings). (more…)

Annie Lennox – Diva

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  • This vintage import offers outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER for both sides of this Annie Lennox classic from 1992
  • Dramatically bigger, richer, smoother, more transparent and just more ANALOG sounding than any other copy you’ve heard, guaranteed or your money back
  • “State-of-the-art soul pop, Annie Lennox’s solo debut is sonically gorgeous…” – Rolling Stone
  • “Diva glides with a rich, feminine dignity that stands tall in pop history.” – Slant

By 1992 records like this were only released on import vinyl and typically went out of print soon after they started their descent down the pop charts. I used to sell them back in the day and supplies were extremely limited and unpredictable. And once they were gone they were virtually never reissued. All of those factors conspire to make the cost of acquiring the mintiest pressings from overseas fairly high, and of course the main reason you have never seen the album on our site before.

Be that as it may, we have this copy available and it is not only wonderful sounding but the music is every bit as good as I remember it. (more…)

Blondie – Parallel Lines

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Reviews and Commentaries for Parallel Lines

  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard for Parallel Lines
  • The energy and enthusiasm of the band on this Retro Power Pop Classic really comes through here, and that’s not a claim you can make about very many copies
  • There’s not a bad song to be found anywhere, and lots of great ones: One Way Or Another, Heart Of Glass, Hanging On The Telephone, etc.
  • 5 stars: “Blondie’s best album,” which is actually a bit of an understatement – it’s by far their best album

All the Blondie magic you could ever want is in these grooves. The truly powerful sound of this Power Pop Classic really comes through on this bad boy — and that’s simply not a claim you could make about too many copies out there in record land, which tend to be flat, opaque and compressed. Not so here. This one just plain ROCKS.

Can this kind of music get any better? This album is a MASTERPIECE of Pure Pop, ranking right up there with The Cars first album. I can’t think of many albums from the era with the perfect blend of writing, production and musicianship under the guidance of producer Mike Chapman (The Knack) Blondie achieved with Parallel Lines.

As expected, if you clean and play enough copies of a standard domestic major label album such as Parallel Lines eventually you will stumble upon The One, and boy did we ever. The very best copies in our recent shootout were OFF THE CHARTS with presence, breathy vocals, and punchy drums. On top of that they were positively swimming in studio ambience, with every instrument occupying its own space in the mix and surrounded by air. (more…)