Masterpieces of Soul, R’n’B, Blues, etc.

Janis Joplin – I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

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  • This outstanding 360 Stereo pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This copy has the ideal combination of openness and transparency, coupled with the richness and solidity of vintage analog
  • When Janis starts singing, watch out – her voice positively JUMPS out of the speakers, something we didn’t hear her do on many of the other copies in our shootout
  • Features Try, one of Janis’s All Time Classics — and with these grades you can be sure it sounds positively amazing here

This Columbia 360 Stereo pressing is THE CURE for Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues!

Drop the needle on the great song Try and just listen to how crisp, punchy, and BIG the drums sound.

The bottom end has real weight and the top end is silky and extended. The overall sound is rich, full, and smooth.

ENERGY is the key element missing from the average copy, but not on this bad boy (or girl if you prefer). The electric guitars are super Tubey Magical and the bass is solid and punchy.

On many copies — too many copies — the vocals are pinched and edgy. Here they’re breathy and full — a much better way for Janis to sound. There’s a slight amount of grit to the vocals at times and the brass as well, but the life force on these sides is so strong that we much preferred it to the smoother, duller, deader copies we heard that didn’t have that issue.

On copy after copy we heard pinched squawky horns and harsh vocals, not a good sound for this album. Janis’ voice needs lots of space up top to get good and loud, and both of these sides have it in spades.

Few other copies had this combination of openness and transparency on the one hand, and full, rich tonality on the other. (more…)

Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign on Mediocre Sundazed Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: C

Commenting about the first Hot Stamper pressing of this album ever to come our way, we noted:

This original Stax LP has AMAZING sound. You could not make this record sound any better. We really liked the  Sundazed copy of this record until we heard this bad boy. It MURDERS their pressing! It has far more life, energy and presence than the Heavy Vinyl pressing. We always suspected that a good original would be better but we had no way of knowing since all the copies we saw were beat to death.

Off the Wall Vs. Thriller – Which One Has More Tubey Magic?

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ABSOLUTELY STUNNING SOUND for this White Hot Stamper pressing!

Both sides cannot be beat — both have the BIG M.J. SOUND that jumps out of the speakers and fills the room. We’ve never heard a copy that was so full of ANALOG MAGIC!

The vocals are PERFECTION — breathy, full-bodied, and present. The top end is extended and sweet, with tons of ambience the likes of which I’ve never heard before.

Normally when you have a copy with strong midrange presence it will be somewhat sibilant in places. Not so here. For some reason this copy has all the highs, but it’s cut so clean it practically doesn’t spit at all. Even on the song I Can’t Help It, which normally has a problem in that respect. Since that’s my favorite song on this album, and probably my favorite MJ song of all time, hearing it sound so good was a revelation.

Better Sound than Thriller?

Yes. As consistently brilliant as Thriller may be musically — it is the biggest selling album of all time after all — speaking strictly in terms of sonics the sound of the best copies of Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, and more ANALOG than Thriller.

Thriller is clearly more aggressive and processed-sounding than Off the Wall. The Girl Is Mine or Human Nature from Thriller would fit just fine anywhere on Off the Wall, but could the same be said for Beat It or Thriller? Just thinking about them you can hear the artificiality of the sound of both those songs in your head. Think about the snare that opens Beat It. I’ve never heard a snare sound like that in my life. Practically no instrument on Off the Wall has that kind of overly processed EQ’d sound.

Choruses Are Key

The richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality is most apparent on Off the Wall where you most always hear it on a pop record: in the biggest, loudest, densest, climactic choruses.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly grow to be without crossing the line into distortion or congestion. On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record. On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is the biggest and loudest element in the mix, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-track screaming “Who I am” about three quarters of the way through the track. Those are clearly exceptions though. Usually it’s the final chorus that gets bigger and louder than anything else.

A pop song is usually structured so as to build more and more power as it works its way through its verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording — one with real dynamics — that part should be very loud and very powerful.

Testing Off the Wall

It’s almost always the toughest test for a pop record, and it’s the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album’s largest scaled productions are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have. Our Top 100 is full of the kinds of records that reward that listening at loud levels.

We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s what vintage analog pressings do so brilliantly. They do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and certainly no substitute. If you’re on this site you probably already know that.

To bring this discussion back to the subject at hand, the loudest choruses on Off the Wall are richer, smoother, sweeter and more free of processing artifacts than those on Thriller. (more…)

Flack / Hathaway – Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

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  • An outstanding copy, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades throughout, making this the best copy to hit the site in many years!
  • There’s Tubey Magic, sweetness and spaciousness all over this recording – when it all comes together on Where Is The Love, you won’t believe how good it sounds
  • One of our favorite duet albums, Flack and the woefully underrated Soul Man Donny Hathaway are in top form here
  • Allmusic raves: “A duet classic, and perhaps the most popular album Roberta Flack made. ‘Where Is the Love’ dominated urban contemporary radio for almost the entire year, while ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ was just as influential…”

These soulful duets sound wonderful. The best sides are big, bold, open and transparent with a huge three-dimensional soundfield, strong presence, good rhythmic energy, and wonderfully dynamic leads and choruses. (more…)

Johnny Nash – I Can See Clearly Now

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  • Johnny Nash makes his site debut with this SUPERB pressing of his Number One Album, boasting Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – mostly quiet vinyl too  
  • When we first dropped the needle on a copy of the album, we were knocked out by just how RICH and SMOOTH the chorus was on the title track
  • Here was a Top Quality Analog Recording to rival the best releases of 1972, one that we had practically never heard of – and of course, the shootout produced an even better copy that the one we’d auditioned
  • 4 stars: “Nash’s buoyant, breezy, optimistic classic proved to be a phenomenal record holding the number one pop position for four weeks… It’s a tribute to its high quality that I Can See Clearly Now was in print almost three decades after its original release.”

Seventies Analog

Produced in 1972, the best copies of I Can See Clearly Now are rich, smooth and sweet in the best tradition of the ANALOG record.

Less than ten years later the warm, rich analog sound we Old School Audiophiles prize would go completely out of style. Those later years were a difficult time for audiophiles who liked the pop music of the day but not the pop sound of the day. Heavy-handed processing, as well as the overuse of synthesizers and drum effects, with the whole of the production slathered in digital reverb, not to mention a puzzling lack of bass foundation, have resulted in many of the albums recorded after 1980 being all but impossible to enjoy on a modern high-end system.

For some reason, the ’70s seems to get little respect from audiophiles, when in fact a high percentage of the best recordings we know of were made in that arbitrarily designated ten year period. A rough count leads me to think that more than half of our Top 100 Rock Albums were recorded in the years spanning 1970-79, which is very unlikely to be a statistical anomaly.

The pool of well-recorded albums was simply wider and deeper. Great sounding records like this one were made by the hundreds, their numbers falling off precipitously in the decades that followed. Fortunately for us hard core analog holdouts, we have easy access to the best of the ’70s recordings, still widely available in their original format: the vinyl LP.

Like many of our favorites from the ’70s, this one is not well known in audiophile circles, but we hope to change that with this wonderful sounding pressing. Both the sound and the music are worth your time, and if you find that you don’t agree with us about the music or the sound, feel free to return the record, at our expense even. (more…)

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – East-West

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on this Gold Label stereo pressing of the band’s sophomore release – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • It’s tough to find an original with good sound and audiophile surfaces – a copy that plays this quietly is almost unheard of!
  • Big and full-bodied with a huge bottom end – Elektra was killing it in ’66
  • 5 stars: “… it was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s greatest achievement… East-West captures a great group in high flight as the bandmembers join together in something even more remarkable than their estimable skills as individuals would suggest, and its importance as a nexus point between rock, blues, jazz, and world music cannot be overestimated.”

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Tower of Power – Back To Oakland

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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.

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. (more…)

Anita Baker – Rapture

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  • This quiet-storm classic earned outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades for sound on both sides and plays on exceptionally quiet vinyl to boot
  • Rapture is one of the best sounding recordings from the era – with all due respect to Whitney Houston, if I could have only one album of ’80s soulful female vocals, it would have to be this one
  • Key to the sound is richness and Tubey Magic, along with strong midrange presence, and on this Super Hot Stamper you get all three
  • 5 stars: “Rapture gave Baker one moving hit after another, including ‘Sweet Love,’ ‘Caught up in the Rapture,’ ‘Same Ole Love,’ and ‘No One in This World.'”

A Soul Classic — winner, and deservedly so, of 2 Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song and Best R&B Female Vocal. (more…)

Donny Hathaway – Live

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  • Stunning sound throughout for this superb live album with both sides earning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Hathaway and his band are on fire here playing for an enthusiastic small club audience – this is the best album the man ever made and a true Must Own
  • Clean originals of this Classic Soul album are practically impossible to find in audiophile condition, and this one has its fair share of problems, but with music and sound this good, it’s a lot easier to overlook them
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Donny Hathaway’s 1972 Live album is one of the most glorious of his career… Live solidified Hathaway’s importance at the forefront of soul music.”

This is an absolutely superb recording. The best copies capture the feeling of a live club like few recordings you’ve ever heard. The enthusiasm of the crowd, the honest, emotive performances, the superb musicianship — it’s all there on a Shootout Winning Hot Stamper copy like this! (more…)

Muddy Waters – Folk Singer

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More Folk Singer

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  • An outstanding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound, or close to it, on both sides – quiet vinyl too 
  • Folk Singer is an exceptional live-in-the-studio recording, with some of the best sound Muddy Waters ever managed
  • This ’80s reissue is guaranteed to trounce any heavy vinyl pressing you’ve heard of it or we’ll give you your money back!
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Muddy’s “unplugged” album was cut in September of 1963 and still sounds fresh and vital today. It was Muddy simply returning to his original style on a plain acoustic guitar in a well-tuned room…”

This 1963 recording pressed on ’80s vinyl 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.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real person singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)