A List of Personal Favorites

Caldera – Carnavalito! Louder Is Better

Records You Can Buy that Sound Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

Carnavalito is a track that really comes ALIVE when you Crank Up the Volume. I played it FULL BLAST on two different occasions for audiophile friends of mine just to show them what happens when a Big Speaker Stereo meets a Large Scale Recording with absolutely AMAZING audiophile quality sound — BIG and BOLD, wall to wall and then some!

It’s my favorite track not only for the album as a whole but for the band’s entire recorded output. It just doesn’t get any better than this if you have the system for it.

Hearing the megawatt energy in the section when the soprano saxophonist jumps in, right into an ongoing orgy of wild percussion, who then proceeds to blow his brains out — now that is a thrill beyond belief. Played REALLY LOUD it’s about the closest to The Real Thing, the Live Event, that you will ever hear in your living room. (Unless you have a very large living room and lots of latin jazz musician friends.)

Even a year ago there was no way I could get that music to play that LOUD, that CLEANLY, and that tonally CORRECT, from the deepest bass to the highest highs, with the wild swings in dynamics that the recording captures so well. The Audio Revolution Is Alive and Well and making progress all the time. It’s never too late to join in the fun.

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Peter Gabriel – Security

More Peter Gabriel

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  • A stunning copy of Security with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • 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. (more…)

The Band – Music From Big Pink

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Forget all those veiled, lifeless, ambience-free, vague sounding Heavy Vinyl pressings – THIS is the sound of the album
  • This copy resolves the intricacies of the recording that make repeated plays the order of the day for us audiophiles
  • 5 stars: “…as soon as “The Weight” became a singles chart entry, the album and the group made their own impact, influencing a movement toward roots styles and country elements in rock. Over time, [the album] came to be regarded as a watershed work in the history of rock, one that introduced new tones and approaches to the constantly evolving genre.”

We guarantee you have never heard Music from Big Pink sound as good as it does on this very copy. There’s plenty of the all-important Tubey Magic and real weight to the bottom. You’ll have a VERY hard time finding one that sounds this good, if our experience is any guide.

This copy has the kind of sound we look for in a top quality Band record: immediacy in the vocals (so many copies are veiled and distant); natural tonal balance (most copies are at least slightly brighter or darker than ideal; ones with the right balance are the exception, not the rule); good solid weight (so the bass sounds full and powerful); spaciousness (the best copies have wonderful studio ambience and space); and last but not least, transparency, the quality of being able to see into the studio, where there is plenty of musical information to be revealed in this sophisticated recording. (more…)

Basia – Time and Tide

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  • This outstanding pressing of Time and Tide boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is rich and Tubey Magical, yet transparent and spacious in the way that only the best vintage pressings ever are
  • Allmusic: “This is sophisticated pop music that sounds ideal for playing in any number of upholstered locations — a black-tie cocktail party, a fashion-show runway, the back seat of a limousine. Basia’s lightly accented voice adds an exotic flavor to the Euro-disco style of the music.”

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Tchaikovsky / Piano Concerto #1 / Richter/ Karajan

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides and reasonably quiet DG vinyl make this one powerful Demo Disc set
  • Without a doubt some of THE BEST SOUND we have ever heard for this recording!
  • The huge space of a real concert hall seemingly transported right into your listening room
  • Richter is magnificent – our favorite performance of the Tchaikovsky First bar none

This reasonably quiet White Hot Stamper DG pressing has without a doubt some of THE BEST SOUND we have ever heard for this recording! Dynamically, Powerfully Hot, with the huge space of a real concert hall seemingly transported right into your listening room. With this copy, all you need do is close your eyes and your speakers will disappear, replaced by Karajan and the VSO at the height of their glorious powers.

On both sides the piano is weighty, solid and powerful. Once the needle has dropped you will quickly forget about the sound and simply find yourself in the presence of some of the greatest musicians of their generation.

Audio Myths Exploded

Yes, both the originals and the reissues can be good on this record. Don’t buy into that audiophile canard that “original equals better.”

Two Stunning Sides

Really, really BIG and really, really CLEAR like no other copy we played. It’s nothing less than phenomenal! Lively, present and real, with sweet strings and a big bottom end.

The piano is clearly present and solid. The heavy compression of most copies is much less of a problem here; the levels stay correct right through to the big finish (which is really really big).

If you have the transparency in your system to be able to hear it (we didn’t even three years ago), listen for how clearly both the left and right hand can be heard at the piano. It’s shocking how big and clear these sides are, yet still as rich and as solid as any we played. That’s what we call White Hot Stamper sound.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

The pizzicato playing of the strings early in the piece are a great test. Transients, transparency and spaciousness will vary dramatically in these three areas on every pressing you play. This one excelled in every one of these areas. A true Demo Disc.

THE Tchaicovsky First Piano Concerto Recording

Since this is our favorite performance of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto of all time. Even the copies with minor shortcomings in the sound are so good that we quickly find ourselves ignoring them and being lost instead in the performance. (more…)

Is The Pink Label The Hot Ticket for Jethro Tull’s Brilliant Stand Up Album?

More on Stand Up

Hot Stamper Jethro Tull Albums Available Now

standup

Well, it certainly can be, but sometimes it isn’t, and failing to appreciate that possibility is a classic case of misunderstanding a crucially important fact or two about records. Audiophile analog devotees would do well to keep these facts in mind, especially considering the prices original British pressings are fetching these days.

Simply put: Since no two records sound alike, it follow that the right label doesn’t guarantee the right sound. A recent shootout illustrated both of these truths.

We had a number of Pink Island British pressings to play — if you hit enough record stores often enough, in this town anyway, even the rarest pressings are bound to show up in clean condition from time to time — along with Sunrays (aka Pink Rims), Brits, early Two Tone domestics and plain Brown Label Reprise reissues. All of them can sound good. (We do not waste time with German and Japanese pressings, or any of the later Chrysalis label LPs. Never heard an especially good one.)

What surprised the hell out of us was how bad one of the Pink Label sides sounded. It was shockingly thin and hard and practically unlistenable. Keep in mind that during our shootouts the listener has no idea which pressing is being played, so imagine hearing such poor reproduction on vinyl and then finding out that such bad sound was coming from a copy that should have been competitive with the best, on the legendary Pink Island label no less. (Of course the other Pinks were all over the map, their sides ranging from good to great.)

Hearing one sound this bad was completely unexpected, but hearing the unexpected is what we do for a living, so I suppose it shouldn’t have been. Having dubious looking reissues and the “wrong” pressings beat the originals and the so-called “right” pressings from the “right” countries is all in a day’s work here at Better Records. (more…)

The Dynamic Energy of Neil Young and His Crazy Pals – They’re LIVE in the Studio

More Neil Young

More on Zuma

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Hot Stampers are all about finding those rare and very special pressings that manage to represent the master tape at its best.

Notice I did not say ACCURATELY represent the master tape, because the master tape may have faults that need to be corrected, and the only way to do that is in the mastering phase.

I can tell you without fear of contradiction that fidelity to the master tape should never be, and rarely is, the goal of the mastering engineer.

Which, as a practical matter, means that flat transfers are usually a mistake.

Chesky is famous for boasting that their early remasterings of the Living Stereo catalog were flat transfers. They sure sound flat all right. If there is a more clueless bunch of audiophiles on the planet than the people running Chesky you would have a hard time proving it to me.

But I digress.

Whether we like or dislike the presentation of any given recording is of course a matter of taste. When listening we constantly make judgments about the way we think the recording at any moment ought to sound, based on what we like or don’t like about the sound of recordings in general and how our stereos deal with them. (more…)

Holst and Previn – A Planets for the Ages

More on The Planets

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

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  • After a lengthy shootout hiatus we proudly present the best side two of this album to hit the site since 2013
  • Out Of This World sound on side two, where it earned a Four Plus sonic grade for its MINDBLOWING orchestral power
  • Side one earned a seriously good grade of Double Plus (A++) – it’s rich, clear and dynamic, with weighty brass
  • A TAS List Super Disc, with a performance by Previn and the LSO that’s as spectacular as the sound
  • This copy has some condition issues – those of you looking for a quiet copy will have to wait for the next shootout in 2018 or thereabouts

This copy has a side two that is so off the charts we ended up giving it Four Pluses. A Four Plus copy has to meet a standard higher than our regular top grade, and we define that standard as “better than we ever imagined any copy could ever sound.” (more…)

Frank Zappa – Listening in Depth to Hot Rats

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

Side One

Peaches En Regalia

This track tends to be a bit dull and could use a little sweetening on the top end on almost any copy you find. 1 or 2 dB at 10k might be just what the doctor ordered.

Willie the Pimp

This is one of the two extended tracks on the album; the second track on each side is “the long one,” and they both suffer from the same slight upper midrange boost. This song and The Gumbo Variations on side two are both difficult to turn up due to their tendency to be slightly aggressive.

Son Of Mr. Green Genes

One of the best sounding tracks on the album, and probably the best sound to be found on side one.

Side Two

Little Umbrellas

Possibly the best sounding song Zappa ever recorded. With the right pressing, the sound is PERFECTION.

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Brian Eno – Before And After Science

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  • This outstanding copy of Before And After Science on the Island Black Label boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Here you will find that rare combination of silky highs and deep low end, with huge amounts of space in the middle, three qualities among many that make this album an especially magical listening experience
  • I know whereof I speak- I must have played this album at least two hundred times in the 43 years that have passed since I first bought a copy
  • If you’re a fan of Art Rock or Prog Rock or just like something a little different, this is an album that belongs in your collection
  • 5 stars: “Despite the album’s pop format, the sound is unique and strays far from the mainstream. The music on Before and After Science at times resembles Another Green World (“No One Receiving”) and Here Come the Warm Jets (“King’s Lead Hat”) and ranks alongside both as the most essential Eno material.”

*NOTE: On side one, a mark makes 1 loud stitch followed by 1 moderate pop one-quarter inch from the end of Track 3, Kurt’s Rejoinder. On side two, a mark makes 1 moderate, then 1 moderately light, stitch a quarter inch from the end of Track 1, Here He comes.

Side one, the rock side, strongly relies on its deep punchy bass to make its material come to life and rock (or should we say art rock?). Eno’s vocals are clear and present with virtually no strain. Phil Collins’ drumming is energetic and transparent and perfectly complemented by Percy Jones’ simultaneously acrobatic and hard-driving bass work. (more…)