Masterpieces of Rock and Jazz

David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name… – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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If I Could Only Remember My Name

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

THE ULTIMATE PSYCH ROCK DEMO DISC! Both sides are shockingly transparent with tight bass, silky highs, full-bodied vocals and TONS of Tubey Magic. 

No CD ever made could compete with the amazing analog sound of a record like this, and after twenty five years of that technology failing to do its job I’m pretty sure no CD (or SACD, or any other digital media for that matter) ever will.

These stampers are different from the ones I used to think were the best about ten or twelve years ago. For a long time I didn’t play this record, and then a while back, when this whole Hot Stamper thing took off, I grabbed my personal hot copy and a bunch of others, cleaned them up and did a big shootout.

As is so often the case, I discovered that my previous conclusions had to be reexamined in the light of contrary evidence. (This is, after all, a science. Or is it an art? I can never keep those two straight.) The stampers I used to like were still wonderful, but these “new” stampers were even more magical. These particular pressings have a transparency and delicacy that my old system, as good as it was, simply wasn’t capable of resolving.

After even more upgrades to the room and the stereo (including the amazing EAR 324 phono stage that resolves at a much higher level than anything I had owned before), we couldn’t be sure that these magical stampers would still be the best. After shooting out nearly a score of top contenders, we checked out the dead wax on the champions and saw that our most recent favorite stampers were still the king. (As we noted before, the person listening to the record never knows which actual pressing is playing, which we feel helps to keep everybody honest. In audio you can convince yourself of anything if you want it to be true badly enough.)

You Don’t Have to Be High to Hear It

Side one here has INSANELY GOOD SOUND! This copy has it all — amazing transparency, breathtaking clarity, super low distortion, breathy vocals, uncanny immediacy and lots of life. Master Tape Sound is the phrase we reserve for A+++ sides like this. When you drop the needle on this record, all barriers between you and the musicians are removed. You’ll feel as though you’re sitting at the studio console while Crosby and his no-doubt-stoned-out-of-their-minds Bay Area pals (mostly Jefferson Airplaners and Grateful Deads) are laying down this emotionally powerful, heartfelt music. Laughing has OUT OF THIS WORLD sound — warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied… that’s some real ’60s tubey magic, baby! And the best part is, you don’t have to be high to hear it. You just need a good stereo and the right pressing.

By the way, the first track has that “home recording” sound and always sounds weak compared to the rest of this album. Don’t expect any wonders, even from a copy like this. By one minute into track two, you’ll understand why we freaked out over this copy.

Side Two Is Right Up There With It

Side two is nearly as amazing! The highs are PERFECTION — silky, delicate, airy and sweet. The vocals are breathy with amazing presence and lots of texture. The acoustic guitars are super clean and clear with just the right balance of pluck and body. The overall sound is exceptionally dynamic and lively with tons of tubey magic. It’s so transparent, so spacious, and incredibly clear. We rate side two A++ – A+++, making this a knockout copy from start to finish.

Barncard’s Masterpiece

(We all owe a debt of gratitude to the superbly talented recording engineer on this project, Stephen Barncard. We like his work so much we created a whole bundle for him, which you can see on the left. This album is probably his masterpiece. It fully deserves its standing as one of our Top Five Best Rock Recordings of All Time, which can also be seen on the left.)

Your Reward Awaits You

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, records like this are the reward for owning the right stereo equipment and having it properly tweaked. There is no way in the world I could have played this album 10 years ago remotely as well as I can now. It only makes me appreciate the music even more.

James Taylor on Warners / Rhino 180g Vinyl EQ Anomaly Test

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Sweet Baby James

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

There is one obvious and somewhat bothersome fault with this new pressing, an EQ issue. Anybody care to guess what it is? Send us an email if you think you know. Hint: it’s the kind of thing that sticks out like a sore thumb, the kind of obvious EQ error I can’t ever recall hearing on an original.

Our Heavy Vinyl Review

This Warner Brothers 180g LP is the BEST SOUNDING Heavy Vinyl reissue to come our way in a long long time. Those of you who’ve been with us for a while know that that’s really not saying much, but it doesn’t make it any less true either, now does it? Let’s look at what it doesn’t do wrong first.

It doesn’t sound opaque, compressed, dry and just plain dead as a doornail like so many new reissues do. It doesn’t have the phony modern mastering sound we hate about the sound of the new Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it.)

The new Sweet Baby James actually sounds like a — gulp — fairly decent original.
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Avoid Making this Rookie Record Collecting Mistake

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Record Shopping Day Video!

Not sure how much of this video you can stand — nothing could interest me less than a couple of audiophile / vinyl enthusiasts spouting off on what they think about some random records sitting in a local store’s bins — but one or two bits caught my eye. I thought it might possibly be of service to share them with you.

Is there any value to the comments of these two collectors? If you care about what music they like, perhaps.  Anything about what to look for on the label or jacket that might correspond to better sound?  If it’s there I sure didn’t see it, but I admit to speeding through most of it so I can’t say for sure.

The first bit I refer to above is at 18:42.  The album in question is the legendary Kind of Blue. At this point the unseen helmet-cammed audiophile picks up the record, recognizes the original cover, and proceeds to pull the record out to see what era the pressing is from.

Drat! The disappointment in this audiophile’s voice is palpable as he drops the record back in the bin with his dismissive comment that  “it’s a later pressing.”

But we here at Better Records would be falling all over ourselves to get our hands on that later pressing. Those late pressings can and often do win shootouts. We would never look down our noses at a Red Label Columbia jazz LP, and neither should you.

Our intrepid audiophile explorer does much the same thing about 23 minutes in. It seems pretty clear to us that he has no respect for such reissues, another example of one of the most common myths in record collecting land, the myth that the  original pressing is always, or to be fair, usually better. (more…)

AC/DC – Back In Black – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner

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

Musically Back In Black has everything you’d want from this kind of hard rock — a tight, punchy rhythm section; raging guitar riffs; and deliciously decadent lyrics screamed to perfection. What surprised us is how amazing this music sounds on the right copy. You’ve probably heard these songs a million times, but we bet you haven’t heard them sound like this. This is the kind of record that you’ll want to keep turning up. The louder you play it, the better it gets — but only if you’ve got a great pressing like this.

Side two earned our rare A++++ grade. Our sonic grade graphics only go up to three pluses, but this side two took it all the way to four!

We awarded this copy our very special Four Plus A++++ grade on side two, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a recording to a level never experienced by us before, a level we had no idea could even exist. We estimate that about one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade. You can’t get much more rare than that. (more…)

Mel Torme With The Marty Paich Dek-tette

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  • A KILLER copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second; exceptionally quiet vinyl too!
  • Both sides here are incredibly rich and smooth with wonderfully breathy vocals and a solid bottom end
  • “Mel Tormé with the Marty Paich Dek-tette is a vocal masterpiece, an extremely satisfying record achieved only by a fusion of an excellent voice, an excellent band, and excellent material.” – All Music, 5 Stars

This vintage Bethlehem pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry

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  • This KILLER copy of King’s beloved Tapestry earned top honors — Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides are big, full and Tubey Magical yet still clean, clear and open – you will hear that the dark veils of most copies have finally been lifted
  • This album is clearly Carole’s masterpiece – it’s loaded with great songs, and they all sound fantastic here
  • 5 stars: “…an intensely emotional record, the songs confessional and direct; in its time it connected with listeners like few records before it, and it remains an illuminating experience decades later.”

Audiophile sound is not easy to find on Tapestry. As we’ve been saying for twenty years, most copies are either dull and murky or edgy and thin, and on half the ones that DO sound good the vinyl is noisy. On a copy like this, though, the sound gets out of the way and lets you focus on the MUSIC — and make no mistake, the music on this album is as good as it gets from Carole King. (more…)

James Taylor – Sweet Baby James

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • Just listen to all that lovely echo – it’s a dead giveaway that both sides have resolving power far beyond the other copies you may have heard 
  • A Top 100 Title, inarguably a Masterpiece – Fire and Rain and Suite for 20 G (one of JT’s All Time Best) are out of this world here
  • 5 Stars: “Sweet Baby James launched not only Taylor’s career as a pop superstar but also the entire singer/songwriter movement of the early ’70s that included Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and others…”

Vocal reproduction is key to the best sounding copies of Sweet Baby James as it is on so many Folkie Pop Rock albums from the era.

To find a copy where Taylor’s vocals are front and center — which is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet, tonally correct and Tubey Magical is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off. (more…)

Peter Frampton – Wind of Change

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  • Incredible Demo Disc sound throughout: Triple Plus (A+++) on side two and close to that (A++ to A+++) on side one 
  • This British original 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
  • “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. (more…)

The Doobie Brothers – Minute By Minute – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This is undoubtedly the band’s MASTERPIECE, assuming you’re a Michael McDonald fan, and we very much are fans here at Better Records. With this Super Hot Stamper side two we can now definitively say that the quality of the sound matches the quality of the music. What a WONDERFUL sounding pop record. This is Donn Landee at his best — tonally correct, spacious, clear and sweet, with vocal choruses that can really take off when called upon. With Ted Templeman running the show this is an Audiophile Quality Pop Music Production that’s as close to perfect as one has any right to expect.   (more…)

David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name…

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If I Could Only Remember My Name

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

BEYOND TRIPLE TRIPLE! This Top Copy had a side one that blew us away enough to earn FOUR Pluses!

Here it is, folks… a TRUE ROCK DEMO DISC! A White Hot Stamper copy such as this will show you why we’ve long considered it one of the All Time Top Ten Rock Albums for Sound and Music. You will not believe how Tubey Magical and three-dimensional this album can be when you have a pressing with this kind of sound. The harmonic complexity and extension on the acoustic guitars are absolutely stunning!

Please note that the grading scale pictured above only goes up to three pluses, as that is our standard top grade. Every now and then we’ll hear a side of an album we know well that goes beyond our expectations and our ref copies to earn a fourth plus. This side one did just that! (more…)