Masterpieces of Rock and Jazz

Fleetwood Mac – Mystery To Me – Whomp Factor on “Why”

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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 the album.

That bass drum tells you a lot about your deep bass reproduction, but we prize a little something called whomp here at Better Records every bit as much. It’s the WEIGHT and POWER you sense happening down below that translates into whomp factor. (This is the frequency area that screens and small dynamic drivers have the most trouble with. You need to be able to move lots of air under, say, 200 cycles to give the music a sense of real power down below. Few systems I’ve run into over the last thirty years can really pull it off.) 

That bass drum tells you a lot about your deep bass reproduction, but we prize a little something called whomp here at Better Records every bit as much. It’s the WEIGHT and POWER you sense happening down below that translates into whomp factor.

“Why”

Speaking of the song “Why,” I have to confess that it’s my favorite Fleetwood Mac song of all time. 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.) (more…)

Oscar Peterson Trio – West Side Story

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West Side Story

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  • A superb copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish 
  • Rich, solid bass; you-are-there immediacy; sound that’s just jumping out of the speakers, this copy had the sound we were looking for
  • Which wouldn’t mean much if the music wasn’t swingin,’ but it is – this could very well be the best record Oscar Peterson ever made
  • Credit engineer Bob Simpson, the man behind the legendary Belafonte at Carnegie Hall recording from a couple of years before
  • An absolute Must Own – for sound and music this is our pick for The Best Oscar Peterson album of All Time

I’ve known this was a well recorded album since I first heard the DCC gold CD back in the ’90s. It sounded great to me at the time — I had nothing to compare it to — but it sure didn’t sound like this.

In fact, Oscar Peterson’s West Side Story is actually one of the best jazz piano recordings I’ve ever played. In its own way it’s every bit as good as another killer piano trio recording we discovered many years ago, The Three.

Both belong in any right thinking audiophile’s jazz collection. Both are phenomenal Demo Discs on the best pressings.

The Right Sound from the Get Go

Side starts out with a solid, full-bodied piano and snare drum, a sure sign of great sound to come. This side was rich and full. That rich tonality is key to getting the music to work. It keeps all the instrumental elements in balance. The natural top on this side is just more evidence that the mastering and pressing are top drawer. Great space and immediacy, powerful driving energy — this side was hard to beat.

And side two was every bit as good! The sound was jumpin’ out of the speakers. Ray Brown’s bass is huge, probably bigger than it would be in real life, but I can live with that. Once again, with this kind of extended top end, the space of the studio and harmonics of the instruments are reproduced brilliantly.

Verve in ’62 – Hard to Beat

This vintage 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.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What amazing West Side Story sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1962
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We Listen For on West Side Story

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The instruments aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer — Bob Simpson in this case — worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Something’s Coming 
Somewhere 
Jet Song

Side Two

Tonight 
Maria 
I Feel Pretty
Reprise

AMG  Review

West Side Story was a bit of an unusual session for several reasons. First, the popularity of both the Broadway musical and the film version that followed meant that there were many records being made of its music. Second, rather than woodshed on the selections prior to entering the studio, the Oscar Peterson Trio spontaneously created impressions of the musical’s themes on the spot. “Something’s Coming” seems like a series of vignettes, constantly shifting its mood, as if moving from one scene to the next. Ray Brown plays arco bass behind Peterson in the lovely “Somewhere,” while the feeling to “Jet Song” is very hip in the trio’s hands. The snappy interplay between the musicians in the brisk setting of “Tonight” turns it into a swinger. “Maria” initially has a light, dreamy quality, though it evolves into a solid groove.

Nat “King” Cole’s – Love Is The Thing

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Love Is The Thing

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  • A lovely pressing of this audiophile favorite, with Double Plus (A++) sound and fairly quiet vinyl on both sides to rival the best pop vocal recordings we know of
  • Nat himself sounds especially immediate and real, and the strings are much less of a problem here than they are on most pressings
  • If all you know of this album is the weirdly unnatural remix DCC did (on Analogue Productions vinyl too) this pressing will be nothing less than a revelation
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Nat King Cole’s collaborations with Gordon Jenkins rank among the finest from either artist or arranger. 1957’s Love Is the Thing remains the epitome of the pair’s undeniable compatibility, and it topped the album charts for eight weeks.”

Love Is The Thing has always been one of the better Nat “King” Cole recordings we play. The music is sublime, and on the right copy the sound can be superb. Armed with a much larger variety of pressings to play, including some interesting “finds” among them, our recent shootout convinced us that it actually is The Best. We have never heard the man sound better than he does on the best copies of this very recording.

One of the key elements we noticed on the best of the best was the quality of relaxation in Nat’s performance. He sings so effortlessly on the good sounding pressings. On some pressings that casual quality is not nearly as noticeable. (more…)

Bloomfield-Kooper-Stills – Super Session – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Man’s Temptation, track 3 on side one, has got some seriously bright EQ happening (reminiscent of the first BS&T album), so if that song even sounds tolerable in the midrange you are doing better than expected.

Clean Cutting

What you get with this copy is some of the most transparent, lowest distortion, cleanest cutting we’ve ever heard. This copy is high-rez like you will not believe, with an unusually extended top end on both sides.

Turn It Up

Most copies are far too bright and phony sounding to turn up loud; the distortion and grit are just too much at higher volumes. On a copy like this, with more correct tonality and an overall freedom from distortion, you can TURN IT UP and LET IT ROCK.

Season of the Witch sounds amazing at loud levels on this copy, with its big build-ups and quiet breakdowns. It is nothing less than a thrill to just let it blast away at the levels we were listening at. The band is RIGHT THERE.

Side One

A++, big and clear with absolutely ZERO smear! The bass is solid and tight, and there’s more transparency here than on the typical pressing. So good!

Side Two

We awarded this side a rare A++++ grade, reserved for the kind of sound that makes us completely rethink the possibilities of a recording! Super spacious and three-dimensional with an amazingly extended top end, this absolutely blew away everything else in our shootout. Rich and Tubey Magical with incredible energy and no smear at all, this is doing everything we want it to. AMAZING! (more…)

Bloomfield / Kooper / Stills – Super Session – A MoFi Winner

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Sonic Grade: B

Another MoFi LP reviewed.

Super Session is one of the best-sounding MoFi pressings. The midrange sounds wonderful — silky sweet and transparent. Not having been cut by Stan Ricker, the top end doesn’t have that SR/2 boost. Overall it’s a very nice sounding record, and the music just can’t be beat. 

Don McLean – American Pie

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  • Two excellent sides with each rating Double Plus (A++) or close to it
  • The singers and musicians are balanced by a big, solid piano – this kind of fullness and solidity are key to the best copies
  • The title track and Vincent sound great here, and the vinyl plays about as quiet as we can find
  • “If you’ve ever cried because of a rock & roll band or album, or lain awake nights wondering or sat up talking through the dawn about Our Music and what it all means and where it’s all going and why, if you’ve ever kicked off your shoes to dance or wished you had the chance, if you ever believed in Rock & Roll, you’ve got to have this album.” – Rolling Stone 

This Number One album from 1971 has surprisingly excellent sound on both sides. It’s dynamic too — the end of American Pie gets good and loud, with a very solid piano holding it all together. (more…)

Stephen Stills – Bill Halverson’s Engineering Masterpiece?

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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 the album.

When all the elements are working together as they do here, the music on Steve Stills’ first album is postively AMAZING. Until I hear something better, I’m going to have to call this BILL HALVERSON‘s Engineering Masterpiece.* Yes, on the best copies it’s that good.

*We have now heard something even better, an album from earlier in the same year in fact, Deja Vu.

We’ve had an unbelievably hard time finding copies that lived up to our expectations, prompting much of my crew to argue that it just could not be done. We didn’t find copies that sounded just as good as I remembered — no, we found copies that went BEYOND what I had hoped for.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Both sides are rich and full-bodied, as well as transparent, with lots of separation between the parts. Most copies tend to be murky, thick, and veiled. The overall sound here is airy, open, and spacious, with TONS of ambience. (more…)

Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue

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Midnight Blue

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  • An outstanding copy of this amazing RVG recording with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • One of our All Time Favorite Blue Note albums for music and sound – is there a better bluesy Jazz Guitar album?
  • Both sides are rich, full and Tubey Magical with excellent clarity and a lovely bottom end
  • AMG 5 Stars – if there were a Top 100 Jazz List on our site, Midnight Blue would be right up at the top of it
  • Jazz Improv Magazine puts the album among its Top Five recommended recordings for Burrell, indicating that “[i]f you need to know ‘the Blue Note sound’, here it is.”

Midnight Blue is our favorite Kenny Burrell album of all time, at least in part because it’s one of the All Time best sounding Blue Notes. 

If you already own a copy of Midnight Blue and you don’t consider it one of the best sounding jazz guitar records in your collection, then you don’t have a copy that sounds the way this one does! In other words, you don’t know what you’re missing. (And if you own the Classic Records release, or any other Heavy Vinyl pressing from the modern era, then you really don’t know what you are missing.) (more…)

Deep Purple – Machine Head

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Machine Head

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  • Two killer sides clocking in at Double Plus (A++) – the sound is HUGE, with real energy, presence and whomp – exceptionally quiet vinyl too!
  • Amazingly spacious and three-dimensional, no doubt the result of the album being recorded practically live in the studio
  • Their superbly talented engineer, Martin Barre, recorded the big, bold, rich, smooth sound of British Rock about as well as anyone ever did
  • 5 stars: “Machine Head was anything but a one-trick pony, introducing the bona fide classic opener “Highway Star,” which epitomized all of Deep Purple’s intensity and versatility while featuring perhaps the greatest soloing duel ever between guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and organist Jon Lord.”

When you get a Hot Stamper pressing like this one, Machine Head is a True Rock and Roll Demo Disc. Since our stereo is all about playing these kinds of records, and playing them at good loud levels as nature — and the artists — intended, we had a helluva time with Machine Head.

It had the kind of presence and energy that puts most copies of this album to shame. It’s also amazingly spacious, the result no doubt of it being recorded practically live in the studio. On the best copies, you can really hear the sound bouncing off the studio walls, just as you can on the best Zep, AC/DC and Bad Co. albums. You can just tell they are all playing this one live: it’s so relaxed and natural and REAL sounding. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Mystery To Me – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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More Mystery To Me

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Here it is, folks — the best sounding copy of Mystery To Me to ever hit our site. This copy positively DOES IT ALL — it’s super open and spacious with tons of energy and incredible presence. The bottom end is just KILLER and there’s dramatically more richness and fullness than you get on most copies out there. 

It’s beyond difficult to find great sounding copies of this album, which is why it’s been about four years since we last had these on the site.

Mystery To Me is my All Time Favorite Fleetwood Mac album, and this White Hot Stamper copy has the sound that I always DREAMED this album could have, but didn’t — until now. This is just the second Hot Stamper shootout that we’ve been able to do, since clean copies with the right stampers are ridiculously hard to come by. I’m not kidding. I have spent the last ten years and more trying to find the right stampers for this record. I can tell you I was dead wrong so many times in the past that I had almost given up. Time and time again, just when I thought I had it figured out, I would go back and play my so-called “hot” copy, to find myself miserably disappointed all over again. (more…)