Masterpieces of Rock and Jazz

Kansas – Leftoverture – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Audiophile Record debunked.

Way too bright and thin. What were they thinking?

It’s the sound that most audiophiles are fooled by to this day! Brighter and more detailed is rarely better. Most of the time it’s just brighter. Not many half-speed mastered audiophile records are dull. They’re bright because the audiophiles who bought them preferred that sound. I did. Hopefully we’ve all learned our lesson, expensive and painful as it may have been. 

The average copy of this record is so bright, thin, aggressive and transistory it will peel the paint in your living room and leave your ears bleeding.

Unmusicality

The best copies get rid of a problem that quickly becomes irritating as you play track after track: a certain “squaky, pinched” sound to the guitars. Bad copies of the album have that sound through and through, along with excessive amounts of grain and grunge. The guitars are very prominent in the mix on practically every song here, so when the guitars sound sour, the track as a whole does too.

These mastering and pressing problems make the overall sound simply UNMUSICAL. The way we found that out was simple. We cleaned and played lots of copies, and every once in a while we heard one that allowed the music to breathe, open up, sound balanced, make sense even.

Those copies showed us a Leftoverture we didn’t know existed and gave us a goal to shoot for with all the other copies we played. After hearing such a truly killer copy we often go back and downgrade the ratings for the copies we thought were the best. Such is the way with these shootouts. (more…)

Nat “King” Cole’s Love Is The Thing – The Breatkthrough We Were Waiting For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

Love Is The Thing has long been one of the best sounding Nat “King” Cole recordings we had auditioned over the years. With a large variety of copies to play, including some interesting “finds” among them, we now know it actually is The Best. We have never heard the man sound better than he does on the hottest copies of this very album.

Of course we’re always on the lookout for Nat King Cole albums with good sound. In our experience that is not nearly as easy as one might expect. Far too many of his recordings are drenched in bad reverb and can’t be taken seriously. At least one we know of has his voice out of phase with the orchestra on most of the copies we played, putting a quick end to that shootout.  (more…)

America’s Phenomenal Debut on a Phenomenally Good Sounding Pressing

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  • An incredible sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • One of our favorite Hippie Folk Rock albums – the instruments and voices seem to be right in your listening room
  • The Tubey Magical acoustic guitars on this record are a true test of stereo reproduction – thanks Ken Scott!
  • “America’s debut album is a folk-pop classic, a stellar collection of memorable songs that would prove influential on such acts as the Eagles and Dan Fogelberg…”

This is clearly America’s best album, and on the better pressings like this one the sound is worthy of Demo Disc status. You’ll find the kind of immediacy, richness and harmonic texture that not many records (and even fewer CDs) are capable of reproducing.

The version we are offering here has the song A Horse With No Name. Some copies without that song can sound very good as well, but with grades these good this copy is going to be very hard to beat.

Interestingly A Horse With No Name never sounds quite as good as the rest of the album. It was recorded after the album came out in 1971 and added to later pressings starting in 1972. Unlike the rest of the album, it was not engineered by Ken Scott at Trident, but by a different engineer at Morgan Studios. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie – Our Favorite Female Vocal Album of All Time

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A distinguished member of the  Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

The first “Triple Triple” MONO copy to ever hit the site — A+++ from start to finish. Our knockout mono pressing here was fuller, more natural and more involving than any copy we heard in our shootout. with immediacy to put Ella practically in the room with you, it’s her performance that really comes to life. It’s our single Favorite Female Vocal album here at Better Records, one that gets better with each passing year.

Check out what the lucky owner of this copy had to say about it.

PR Writes

As you probably know, I own superb copies of the stereo. They both fade into pastel in comparison with this mono. (more…)

Court and Spark – Joni’s Best Sounding Record

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides!
  • The sound is rich, warm and natural with wonderful transparency, ambience and loads of Tubey Magic
  • One of our very favorite Joni albums here at Better Records, and probably her Best Sounding Album
  • “[A] remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz … the music is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last.” – AMG 5 Stars

Stunning sound for this White Hot Stamper! Court and Spark deserves to be heard with all the clarity, beauty and power that only the best Hot Stamper pressings can convey.

What you hear is the sound of the real tape; every instrument has its own character, because the mastering is correct and the vinyl — against all odds — managed to capture all (or almost all; who can know?) of the resolution that the tape had to offer.

Tubey Magic Is the Key to Court and Spark (more…)

The Five Men and Women Who Recorded My Favorite Fleetwood Mac Album

Mystery to Me

 

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The album is Mystery to Me, and it contains  my favorite Fleetwood Mac song of all time, “Why”, written by the lovely Christine McVie. Considering how many great songs this band has recorded over the last thirty plus years, that’s really saying something. (“Need Your Love So Bad” off Pious Bird is right up there with it. “Beautiful Child’ from Tusk would be in the Top Five, as would “Oh Well Parts 1 and 2” from Then Play On.)

Bob Weston, I learned recently, did the arrangement. He plays the lap guitar you see pictured below. His guitar work throughout the album, along with the wonderfully complex arrangements he provided for both Why and other songs on the album, make this music a powerful and engaging listening experience forty years on.

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The fold-open cover looks like this. You figure out what they were going for because I sure can’t.

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From Bob Weston’s Bio (not sure where I found it)

The band recorded another album, the inspiring “Mystery To Me”. It contained such Mac classics as “Hypnotized”, “Emerald Eyes”, and the song “Why” which was a Bob Weston arrangement (a fact sadly left off the album’s liner notes). It is also interesting to note that Bob Welch’s song, “Good Things (Come To Those Who Wait)” was dropped at the last minute (but not before thousands of record sleeves and lyric inserts had been printed) in favor of a song suggested by Weston, the Yardbird’s “For Your Love”, which was also released as a single.

Eager to support the promise of “Mystery To Me”, the band scheduled a tour of the States. The tour had already begun, when Mick Fleetwood noticed something was awry. Bob Weston, always the ladies’ man, was spending a whole lot of time with Mick’s wife, Jenny. Not surprisingly, it became increasingly difficult, as the tour progressed, for the two musicians to appear on stage together. And Jenny did nothing to dispel his worst suspicions. Mick toughed it out as long as he could, but by the end of October it was clear someone had to go. Road Manager John Courage did the deed: Bob Weston was fired on October 26, 1973. And so ended one of the most magical lineups the band ever produced.

Sketches Of Spain on Six Eye in Stereo

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1960 – It Was a Very Good Year

When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the sound is truly MAGICAL. (AMG has that dead right in their review.) Tons of ambience, Tubey Magic all over the place; let’s face it, this is one of those famous Columbia recordings that shows just how good the Columbia engineers were back then. The sound is lively but never strained. Davis’s horn has breath and bite just like the real thing. What more can you ask for?

We Was Wrong in the Past About HP and Six Eye Labels

In previous commentary we had written:

Harry Pearson added this record to his TAS List of Super Discs a few years back, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording?

Of course you can be quite sure that he would have been listening exclusively to the earliest pressings on the Six Eye label. Which simply means that he probably never heard a copy with the clarity, transparency and freedom from distortion that these later label pressings offer.

The Six Eyes are full of Tubey Magic, don’t get me wrong; Davis’s trumpet can be and usually is wonderful sounding. It’s everything else that tends to suffer, especially the strings, which are shrill and smeary on most copies, Six Eyes, 360s and Red Labels included.

Over the course of the last few years we’ve come to appreciate just how good the right Six Eye stereo pressing can sound.

In fact, the two copies earning the highest grades were both original stereo pressings. Other pressings did well, but none did as well as the originals. This has never been our experience with Kind of Blue by the way. The later pressings have always done the best job of communicating the music on that album. (more…)

The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Sticky Fingers.

A QUICK TEST: The best copies have texture and real dynamics in the brass. The bad copies are smeared, grainy and unpleasant when the brass comes in. Toss those bad ones and start shooting out the good ones. Believe me, if you find a good one it will be worth all the work.

And don’t forget to Turn Up Your Volume. (more…)

Barbra Streisand – Guilty – Bab’s Best and Most Underrated Album (By Too Many Audiophiles Anyway)

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This ain’t no zombie audiophile BS, the kind of sleep-inducing reverb-drenched trash that passes for “female vocals” in bad audio showrooms around the globe. (Paging Diana Krall.) This is Barbra and The Bee Gees at the peak of their Pop Powers. It just doesn’t get any better.

This is THE BEST ALBUM Babs ever made, and you can take that to the bank. It’s also one of the best sounding, if not THE best sounding of her later Monster Pop Productions. Can’t say for sure as I haven’t played all that many. Her first album is a true Demo Disc as well, but that one’s all about the Tubey Magical ’60s Columbia era, the Golden Age of Natural Sound, a world away from Guilty and its layers and layers of tracks. Having said that, there are multi-tracks and then there are multi-tracks. (more…)

Our Better Records Hall of Fame for Jazz – Now 355 Strong

 The Better Records Hall of Fame for Jazz

We’ve been searching for years trying to find just what kind of Lush Life pressing — what era, what label, what stampers, mono or stereo, import or domestic — had the potential for good sound.

No, scratch that. We should have said excellent sound. Exceptional sound. We’ve played plenty of copies that sounded pretty good, even very good, but exceptional? A pressing of that caliber had eluded us — until 2016. (more…)