Masterpieces of Rock and Pop

Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

The hottest copy — by far — of Fly Like An Eagle to ever hit the site! We’ve been collecting these for years in hope of finding a knockout pressing, but shootout after shootout stalled. They pressed tons of copies of this album and most of them sound terrible — grainy, dry and flat. We went into this shootout without high expectations this week, but we were BLOWN AWAY by the sound of the best copies. And here’s one that just couldn’t be beat, earning A+++ grades on BOTH SIDES. (more…)

Queen – A Night at the Opera – Our Shootout Winner from 2017

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

Triple Plus (A+++) on side one and nearly that on side two (A++ to A+++) make this the best copy to ever hit the site. The sound is HUGE with WHOMP like nothing you have ever heard on this album – finally, the code has been cracked.

We noted on the site last time around:

As we are fond of pointing out (although we wish it were not the case), for some reason it’s incredibly tough to find good-sounding Queen albums, which is why you almost never see them on the site. (News of the World and The Game are much easier to find with good sound.)

Most of the copies of this album we played weren’t even worth putting a grade on. We wouldn’t bother trying to sell a record that sounded as bad as those dogs. This copy gets it mostly right and that alone makes it exceptional. For Queen, mostly right is hard to come by.

All that is still true, but here’s the copy that has all of the Queen Magic you heard in your head — and only in your head — while Bohemian Rhapsody was playing on the radio.

Here’s the pressing that finally can let you hear that BIG, BOLD sound in your very own listening room. You can even play it for your audiophile friends now. (more…)

The Pretenders – Learning To Crawl – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

This copy has real rock and roll energy in its grooves, a quality which earned it serious points here at Better Records. With Robbie McIntosh having joined the band, this is first and foremost a ROCK GUITAR record; his jangly, grungy riffs drive every song.

Think of Middle of the Road — everything that’s good about this band on this album is there in the song: it’s uptempo, with a driving beat and guitars well up in the mix. Only the best pressings convey the energy and enthusiasm of the band while avoiding the grunge, flatness and hardness that make the typical pressing all but unlistenable at loud volumes.

This is where Chrissie Hynde matured into a top class songwriter; every track is good and many are brilliant. We’ve been through a lot of pressings of this album over the years: Japanese, British, domestic; you name it, we’ve played it, and nothing could beat our good domestic pressings. (more…)

Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells

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

You’ll find incredible Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this British Virgin LP – this one is doing everything right! The space, the richness and the clarity all combine to make this a powerful listening experience. It’s incredibly hard to find good sounding copies of this record – this is the first White Hot copy to hit the site in a long time.

These sides sound good from top to bottom — the top end extension brings out the harmonics in the bells, and the deep bass really brings the organ to life. Many copies are smeary and veiled, but this one has no such problems.

There is a lot going on here, and unless you have a clear and transparent copy like this one it just turns into a mess. This one has all the presence and space required to bring this music to life, with no attendant sacrifice in richness or Tubey Magic. (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…)

Randy Newman – Sail Away

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

Side one of this Original Reprise pressing has A+++ Master Tape Sound! It’s open and spacious, with vocals that are tonally Right On The Money (ROTM).

We hear so many records that went off the rails somewhere in the recording, the mixing, the mastering, or the pressing, so it was a real treat to hear a record like this with absolutely no trace of heavy-handed fixing or phony EQ! What you hear on this record has got to be extremely close to what the guys in the control room heard as it was being recorded. This is no-frills, nothing-fancy, old-school analog, and we love it!

Tons of great songs on this one, including Political Science, You Can Leave Your Hat On, Last Night I Had a Dream and the wonderful title track. AMG goes nuts about this album, giving it the full 5 stars and calling it “musically adventurous” and “one of Newman’s finest works.” (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…)

Harry Nilsson – Son of Schmilsson – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

We had a great time shooting out a big stack of these, as we’re just wild about Harry here at Better Records. Unfortunately, most copies out there are too dark and grainy to get all that excited about. Here’s a copy that tells a much different story —both sides have good energy, smooth and sweet vocals, and nice extension up top. Drop the needle on Turn On Your Radio or The Lottery Song and we bet you fall in love with this one!

What Shootout Winning 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 1971
  • 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 of course the only way to hear all of the above

Ken Is The Man

It’s yet another triumph from one of our favorite engineers, KEN SCOTT (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century and many more).

This is one of Nilsson’s best albums, sonically and musically. (With Ken Scott at the board at Trident Studios the sound has to be good, doesn’t it?) Side one is amazingly good from start to finish. On the two CD set of Nilsson’s greatest hits (which is excellent, by the way) almost all of side one from this album is used, as well as the best material on side two here, which includes Spaceman and The Most Beautiful World In The World. In other words, this album has more than half a dozen of the best songs Nilsson ever wrote.

Nilsson Schmilsson and the album simply titled Harry are the other two superb Nilsson records that I highly recommend. Harry is my favorite of all his albums, maybe because it was so different from anything that I’d ever heard up to that point. A Little Touch… is also a personal favorite — standards done in the Nilsson style — is wonderful.

By the way, if the documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) is on the box, you should definitely check it out. Most of us here have seen it by now and it’s a ton of fun. (more…)