Masterpieces of Rock and Jazz

Weather Report – Heavy Weather – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame. 

TWO AMAZING SIDES ON QUIET VINYL, including an A+++ side one! The sound was positively jumping out of the speakers and dynamic as all get out. The grit, grain and grunge of the typical pressing was nowhere to be found on EITHER side of this copy, and that alone puts it in a very special league. Drop the needle on either side and get ready for some of the most dynamic, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling jam-packed sound ever committed to vinyl.

As we noted on previous Hot Stamper listings of Heavy Weather, we’ve discovered that the key to the hot sounding pressings is a fairly simple one: the copies with high frequency extension and the tremendous energy that results from it are consistently the best sounding. You may have read elsewhere on the site that what separates many of the best Columbia LPs from their competition is an open, extended top end. For some reason, Columbia, more than any other label, seems to have a bad habit of making slightly dull records. Slightly dull does not work on this album. (more…)

Roxy Music – Roxy Music – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

The legendary first Roxy Music album returns to the site in tip top White Hot Stamper form, boasting no less than an incredible A+++ White Hot Side Two coupled with a superb A++ Super Hot Side One! Folks, it doesn’t get much better than this!

In considering both music and sound, this is arguably the best record the band ever made. Siren, Avalon and Country Life are all musically sublime, but the first album has the kind of dynamic, energetic, POWERFUL sound that their other records simply never show us. And we’ve played them by the dozens, so there’s a pretty good chance we will never find copies with the abundant richness and power we found here. (more…)

Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

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A while back we did a monster-sized shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second release, an album we consider THE Best Sounding Rock Record of All Time. In the midst of the discussion of a particular pressing that completely blew our minds — a copy we gave a Hot Stamper grade of A with Four Pluses , the highest honor we can bestow upon it — various issues arose, issues such as: How did this copy get to be so good? and What does it take to find such a copy? and, to paraphrase David Byrne, How did it get here?

Which brings us to this commentary, which centers around the concept of outliers.

Wikipedia defines an outlier this way: “In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.” In other words, it’s something that is very far from normal. In the standard bell curve distribution pictured below, the outliers are at the far left and far right, far from the vast majority of the data which is in the middle.

In the world of records, most copies of any title you care to name would be average sounding. The vertical line in the center of the graph shows probability; the highest probability is that any single copy of a record will be at the top of the curve near the middle, which means it will simply be average. The closer to the vertical line it is, the more average it will be. As you move away from the vertical line, the data point — the record — becomes less and less average. As you move away from the center, to the left or the right, the record is either better sounding or worse sounding than average. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This original Capitol Orange Label LP has TWO SUPERB sides, with side two earning our top grade of A+++ for its White Hot sound! And side one was nearly as good at A++ to A+++. These are the highest grades we are awarding to any copy on the site, folks. It doesn’t get any better. The sound is uncharacteristically smooth, sweet, clear and Tubey Magical, light years from the grungy grit and grain that plagues most copies of Heart Like a Wheel.

Things are different since our last big shootout back in 2009. We learned a lot about the record and have added plenty of new commentary to back it up. If you’re a fan check it out.

Let’s be honest: the average copy of this album is an audio disaster. Those of you who love this album as much as we do are going to be shocked when you hear how wonderful it can sound. We bet you never imagined it could be this good, and we happily back up that bet with a full money back guarantee!

This shootout was no small project — we dropped the needle on more than a DOZEN copies.This is the only one to earn better than a Super Hot Stamper grade (A++) on both sides. I’ve been playing this album for years, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on HLAW. On top of that it’s also full-bodied, lively, and super-transparent. The vocals are breathy and full with incredible immediacy. Folks, the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here. (more…)

Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection

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

A side two for the ages — it beat our best Ref Copy to earn a Four Plus (A++++) grade. Both sides are stunning with superb Demo Quality sound: huge, rich, spacious, dynamic and lively. An incredible recording and longtime member of our Top 100 — our pick for Elton’s very best music and sound. 

We rate records with a Four Plus grade so rarely that we don’t even have a graphic for it on our Sonic Grade chart seen above. The scale only goes up to three pluses, but this side two blew our minds to earn a fourth!  

This is an incredible recording, but finding killer pressings like this is no walk in the park. We’ve had countless copies with promising sound that were just not in any condition to sell, and plenty of clean ones that just didn’t sound good.

This copy really delivers on the sound side — you get stunning immediacy, big-time presence, tons of depth to the soundfield, full-bodied vocals, amazing transparency, and BOATLOADS of Tubey Magic. Elton John fans, today is your lucky day.  (more…)

Bread – On The Waters – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More Bread

More On The Waters

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

Hot Stampers have finally been discovered for the most consistent and BEST SOUNDING of the Bread albums (not counting the Best of Bread compilation, one of our long time favorites here at Better Records, but a compilation nevertheless). This is the record that put their heavily Beatles-inflected Pure Pop on the map, and at the top of the charts with their Number One hit single Make It With You.

We used to think that only the Best of Bread album could get that song to sound as luscious and Tubey Magical as it does when we hear it in our heads, but it seems we were wrong — it sounds positively amazing on the best copies of On The Waters. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of the Everly Brothers or The Beatles. (more…)

Dean Martin – Dream With Dean – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

This side one gets it JUST RIGHT. My notes read, “WOW! Master Tape Sound! So clear and unprocessed. Right amount of tubey magic. Dynamic and present like no other!” — hopefully that gives you a taste of just how much we loved the sound here. Side two is nearly as good but doesn’t have quite as much presence.  

This is my favorite Dean Martin record of all time; just Dean and a jazz guitar quartet behind him (featuring Contemporary favorites Barney Kessel and Red Mitchell!) doing standards. On the best copies, the immediacy is absolutely mind-blowing. It’s a shame that there aren’t more Frank Sinatra records that sound like this! (more…)

Captain Beefheart – Clear Spot – A Desert Island Disc

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and the Captain’s MASTERPIECE of bent rock.

Side one earned an A++ grade for its powerful energy and exceptional fullness and richness. When we flipped this copy over we were surprised to find that it was even BETTER, with all of the above qualities and more: the punchiest, tightest, most note-like bass; more presence in the vocals and guitars; and the most clarity sacrificing the tubey magical richness the best copies have to offer. Folks, this is without a doubt the best copy we have ever put on the site.

This shootout had a troubled history — the domestic pressings we played were almost without exception defectively pressed, and I mean really defectively pressed, to the point where the vinyl roar was unbearable. How this happened is a complete mystery to us, but a word of advice: don’t buy any copy of this album that you can’t play in advance of purchase or easily return. Chances are good you will get one that is defective. We took a bath on most of the copies we owned; they looked fine and played like sh*t. And they weren’t cheap either. (more…)

John Lennon – Imagine

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

This is the highest rated copy of Imagine to ever hit the site! As crazy as that sounds, it’s true — these are next to impossible to find, they tend to cost big bucks when you do track them down, they’re almost always noisy, and they very rarely sound very good. If it wasn’t ridiculously difficult to find Hot Stamper pressings of Imagine, it certainly would not have taken us until 2015 to offer one.

This is the highest rated copy of Imagine to ever hit the site! As crazy as that sounds, it’s true — these are next to impossible to find, they tend to cost big bucks when you do track them down, they’re almost always noisy, and they very rarely sound very good. If it wasn’t ridiculously difficult to find Hot Stamper pressings of Imagine, it certainly would not have taken us until 2015 to offer one.

Both sides here are excellent. capturing the essence of what Lennon and Phil Spector (and let’s not forget Yoko, who also gets a producer credit here) were going for. The sound is big, lively and very open — most copies aren’t nearly this transparent. It’s also very rich and full-bodied (especially on side one) with excellent presence. The bottom end is solid and punchy and Lennon’s vocals sound natural and clear throughout. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin I – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2014

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

It’s hard to imagine any copy beating this one! The vinyl is Mint Minus throughout, and the sound is INSANELY GOOD! The chances of finding these surfaces with this sound — we’ll let you do the math. If you’re a fan of this album – and who isn’t – this is the copy you want. Side one blew our minds and earned a grade of A++++!

  • A truly stunning copy, with top grades and exceptionally quiet vinyl
  • We gave side one here a Four Plus grade, going way beyond what we were expecting – the soundstage is absolutely huge
  • Triple Plus sound for side two, incredible in its own right with super high resolution and plenty sweet, rich Tubey Magic
  • A 5 star album in the AMG, and a true classic 

More A++++ Hot Stamper Pressings. (more…)