Masterpieces

U2 – The Joshua Tree – Our Shootout Winner for 2018

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. A STUNNING pressing with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and Double    Plus (A++) on the first
. Both sides here are incredible — big, full and musical with a solid bottom end and        lots of energy
. One of the best copes from our most recent shootout and on fairly quiet vinyl too
. 5 stars on Allmusic: “A powerful, uncompromising record that became a hit.”

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The soundstage is huge, and the overall quality of the recording is big and bold. Most copies of this album are either thin, shrill and agressive — like most U2 albums — or thick and veiled. This one is actually smooth and natural sounding, with the added benefit of some deep punchy bass! It conveys the ENERGY and POWER of the music, and that makes it a very unusual pressing indeed.

’80s vinyl is almost always tricky in terms of sound, and U2 is not a band we associate with audiophile-quality sonics. We’ve been through a number of their albums now, including this title, War and October, and while Demo Quality Sound may never be in the cards for these guys, we have at very least found pressings that do a better job communicating the music. I don’t want to throw on a record that just sounds like a CD when I have access to so much amazing sounding vinyl, but clean and play enough copies of this album and eventually you’ll find one like this copy that gives you something to enjoy.

Bottom line? While this may not be a record that’s going to blow anyone’s mind like a killer copy of Zuma or Deja Vu, it does a very good job of bringing this music to life in a way that most copies out there just won’t. If you’re a fan of U2, you won’t find a better sounding copy than this.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Where the Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
With or Without You
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still

Side Two

Red Hill Mining Town
In God’s Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Exit 4
Mothers of the Disappeared

Listening in Depth to Electric Light Orchestra – A New World Record

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Listening in Depth

 

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As a result of Jeff Lynne’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production approach, it will be the rare copy that provides enough transparency and resolution to bring out all the elements in these incredibly dense mixes, strings included. But when you find a copy that does, what a THRILL it is. This is the band’s MASTERPIECE in my humble opinion. For audiophiles ELO on LP doesn’t get any better.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Tightrope

Both sides start off with a uptempo rocker, and this side’s is Tightrope.

Watch your string tone. If it’s shrill or grainy you are going to find yourself in trouble on practically every song on A New World Record — they all have strings and lots of them.

You need richness in the lower mids, harmonic extension up top, and just plain highly resolving sound if the strings are going to sound right in the mix.

Note that sometimes the highs get better on a record as it plays. Check to see if you don’t have more top end by the second track, or even halfway through this one. Happens to us all the time. (more…)

Helen Humes – Songs I Like to Sing

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Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Helen Humes – Songs I Like to Sing

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

Side one has OFF THE CHARTS, A+++ Master Tape Sound. It’s amazingly tubey magical, yet incredibly clean and clear — something you can’t get from the tube-mastered originals. Helen’s voice is PERFECTION — breathy, full, and sweet. The orchestra sounds JUST RIGHT — just listen to the nice bite of the brass. The overall sound is super full-bodied and rich and very transparent.

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Side two is nearly as amazing — natural, warm, and silky sweet. There’s tons of ambience, loads of energy, and a whole lot of deep, punchy bass. Listen to all that ambience around her voice! Later Pressings Have The Real Sound

We prefer later pressings of this album to the Black Label originals, which sound tube mastered and have a bit of echo added to them. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other, but this seems to be the more accurate reproduction of what happened in the recording session, and I know this is the one I would rather listen to.

Without a doubt it’s one of my all time favorite jazz albums. The amazing Marty Paich (Art Pepper Plus Eleven) did the arrangements for this group of top musicians, which includes Art Pepper, Ben Webster, Barney Kessel, Shelly Manne, Jack Sheldon and Leroy Vinnegar, just to name the ones whose work I know well. Does it get any better?

My Favorite Big Band Vocal Album Ever

This is my favorite Big Band Vocal album ever. It belongs in any serious record collection. (more…)

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire

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Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire

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

This WHITE Hot Stamper Birds of Fire has a side one that will blow your mind. Turn this one up and prepare yourself for the kind of sound that perhaps one out of fifty records has to offer, with cymbal crashes that really crash, bass that threatens to move your house off its foundation, and the kind of jazz rock fusion POWER that few groups in the history of music have ever been capable of. It’s 100% guaranteed to bring your stereo to its knees. Was it really possible to encode this kind of energy onto a slice of vinyl decades ago? This side one proves it was.

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We tried doing a shootout for this album in 2008 and failed miserably. At that time, not that long ago when you think about it, there was no way we could get this music to play so LOUD, so CLEANLY, and with such CORRECT TONALITY, from the deepest bass to the highest highs, complete with the wild swings in dynamics that the recording captures so well.

The Audio Revolution Is Alive and Well and making progress all the time. It’s never too late to join in the fun. (These Sound Improvements really made a difference in our system and they can make a difference in yours, guaranteed.)

The amazing engineer Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century) is the man responsible for the superb sound here, but the explosive dynamics are not just for show. They’re here for a reason. This music requires that level of sonic realism; better yet, DEMANDS it. In truth, the sound is not only up to the challenge of expressing the life of the music on this album, it positively ENHANCES it. (more…)

Michel Legrand – Legrand Jazz

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Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Michel Legrand – Legrand Jazz

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

A 4 1/2 Star Album In The All Music Guide!

This original Six Eye Mono Hot Stamper is THE NEW ALL-TIME CHAMPION LEGRAND JAZZ! It has a LIFE and IMMEDIACY that is not usually found on any pressing of this album — mono or stereo. It’s the kind of difference that can be heard from another room.

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The sound is smooth, sweet, and SILKY. The flute sounds exceptionally good — it’s rich and surrounded by lots of ambience. There’s a wonderful breathy quality to the horns and just enough deep bass. No other copy we’ve ever played has sounded nearly as full-bodied as this one. We don’t know if we’ll ever hear a better copy.

One of my favorite jazz albums and also an excellent TEST DISC for stereo set up and tweaking.

As this is one of my all-time favorite jazz records (see the commentary below), I can’t recommend this record any more highly.

Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

We have a section for many of the worst records we have auditioned: The Better Records Hall of Shame.

We have a section for all the Heavy Vinyl Rock and Jazz Records we have reviewed on the site to date.

Listening in Depth to Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

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Listening in Depth

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The Brit copies may take top honors for side one (“sweetness, openness, tubey magic, correct tonality, presence without aggressiveness, well-defined note-like bass, extended airy highs”) but the Hot Stamper Cotillion copies KILL on side two. They really ROCK, with greater dynamic contrasts and seriously prodigious bass, some of the best ever committed to vinyl.

The Brits tend to be a bit too “pretty” sounding. They’re too polite for this bombastic music. This music needs the whomp down below and lots of jump factor to work its magic.

The Brits are super-low distortion, with a more open, sweeter sound, especially up top, but the power of the music is just not as powerful as it can be on these very special Cotillions.

This Cotillion on side one is a rare gem indeed, one of the best domestics we’ve ever heard. It’s not quite as smooth and sweet as some, but it’s every bit as good in most other areas, and better in the bass. The Cotillion pressings of this album have bass that puts 99% of all the rock records in the world to shame. (And 100% of the half-speed mastered records!)

This is a case where, to get the ultimate sound, you not only need two copies, you need two copies made in different countries!

Not Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

The organ that opens side two is always going to break up a tiny bit. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. In fact, if it DOESN’T break up for you, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that either your copy or your stereo is too smooth. We played somewhere between two and three dozen copies this week, and you just can’t find a hot copy without at least a hint of distortion on the organ. (more…)

The Pentangle

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This is an honest-to-goodness Demo Disc. When for a (thankfully) brief time back in the ’70s I was selling audio equipment, the song “Pentangling” was a favorite demo cut to play in the store. The sound of the string bass and snare drum are amazingly natural; I don’t know of any other pop album from the era that presents the vibrant timbre of those two instruments better.

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The Transatlantic British originals can be quite good as well, but are very tough to come by in good condition these days, and pricey when you find them. This record easily qualifies for our Top 100 List, it’s that good (but unfortunately too rare to make the cut).

The Best Sides

The true foundation of the music is provided by two legendary guitar heavyweights, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. With Jacqui McShee’s almost unbearably sweet vocals soaring above them, this album presents the classic lineup at its best, with superior sonics to boot.

It’s Acoustic!

The unprocessed folky sound found throughout the album has its audiophile credentials fully in order, especially in the area of guitar harmonics, as well as drums that sound like real drums actually sound. (How many of the ’70s rock albums in our Top 100 have that natural drum sound? Not many when you stop to think about it.) (more…)

Harry Nilsson – Harry

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Forgotten Rock and Pop Classics

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Harry Nilsson – Harry

A distinguished member of the Better Records Pop Hall of Fame and a Forgotten Classic from one of our favorite singer songwriters of the last fifty years, Mr. Harry Nilsson.

This forgotten gem sank like a stone in 1969, but time has treated this album well; it stil holds up. The production is superb throughout. Judging by this early Nilsson’s album, it appears he was already a pro in the studio, as well as an accomplished songwriter, and, more importantly, the owner of one of the sweetest tenors in popular music, then or now.

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We just finished a big shootout for this fun album and this copy defeated everything we threw up against it — on both sides. The sound is clean, clear and present with lots of tubey magic and high-resolution. It’s also unusually transparent with lots of space between the various instruments. You’ll have a ridiculously hard time finding another copy that sounds as good as this one.

This copy is dramatically better than most of them out there, and we’ve graded it accordingly — A+++ for both sides. The sound is full-bodied and energetic with a punchy bottom end. The sound is incredibly clean and clear — just listen to the acoustic guitar transients. Harry’s vocals sound wonderful with big time presence and loads of texture. The cover of Mother Nature’s Son should blow you away!

The average copy suffers, most notably, from a honky sound to the vocals. It seems to be an EQ problem, since it affects a very large percentage of copies with earlier stampers and not as many of the later pressings. The later copies have problems of their own, though, so you can’t just assume that the copies with high numbers will sound better — they don’t always, and the earlier ones can sound amazing when you’re lucky. It just goes to show that (all together now…) you can’t know anything about the sound of a record without playing it, and to take it a step further, you can’t really know much about the sound of an album without cleaning and critically listening to multiple copies. But that’s a lot of hard work, and who has the time?

(Oh yeah. We do!)

What Were You Doing In 1969?

If the answer is “Recording an album of innocent, touching, and completely unironic pop music,” well, you could only be Harry Nilsson.

This album is simply wonderful, and it’s wonderful on a number of different levels. It’s wonderful in a way that strongly appeals to my contrarian nature (you can’t love LPs without having at least a small streak of contrarianism).

The idea of doing a nostalgic, wistful, unapologetically sweet album, as innocent as a Norman Rockwell painting — an album with songs about puppies; rainmaking; old railroads; holding hands; a broken-down old dancer; Mother Nature’s son; patriotically marching down Broadway in a World War II parade; hanging out with a dancing bear; sending flowers to the one you love—how could an album full of songs like these be recorded by a Pop Star in 1969!

You remember 1969. Protests against the Vietnam war. Hippies and the countercultural revolution. Chemical mind expansion in full swing. Tuning in, turning on and dropping out. Trying to keep up with the easy riders, not the Joneses. With all this happening, one mostly unsuccessful songwriter with an oddly Swedish name — just one in fact) — comes along and produces a record that flatly refuses to acknowledge any of it is going on. Nostalgia hadn’t even been invented yet and here was an album full of it, whose first song declares that “Dreams are nothing more than wishes, and a wish is just a dream you wish to come true”, followed by “If only I could have a puppy, I’d call myself so very lucky.” Either this Nilsson guy was incredibly naive or he had some kind of balls. A few albums down the road we realized it was the latter.

Looking for 5 Star Albums? We’ve Got Hot Stamper Pressings of 250+

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Like Truth here.

The soundstage is absolutely HUGE, while the presence and transparency of this copy go way beyond most pressings. Great rock and roll energy too of course — without that you have nothing on this album.

Note how spacious, big, full-bodied and DYNAMIC side one is. That’s why it’s White Hot. I am pleased to report that the whomp factor on this side was nothing short of MASSIVE. With tons of bass this side has what it takes to make the music ROCK.

One of the most surprising things we learned in our first big shootout from 2014 was how well recorded the album is. It’s yet another triumph from one of our favorite engineers, Ken Scott.

In many ways it sounds like the first Zep album, and that’s a good thing. The sound is a perfect fit for the music. In recent interviews Jeff Beck has been saying that Jimmy Page stole his idea for a Heavy Rock Band playing electrified blues. Based on the evidence found on the two sides of this very album I would say he has a point.

Allmusic Five Star Albums in Stock

Allmusic Five Star Albums We’ve Reviewed

John Klemmer – Touch

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Forgotten Jazz Classics

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John Klemmer – Touch

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

This Super Hot Stamper copy of Touch is one of the best sounding records Mobile Fidelity ever made, and the ONLY record of theirs I know of that can’t be beat by a standard real-time mastered pressing.

We’re talking DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND here. The spaciousness of the studio and the three-dimensional placement of the myriad percussion instruments and bells within its walls make this something of an audiophile spectacular of a different kind — dreamy and intensely emotional.

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Mobile Fidelity, maker of some of the worst sounding records in the history of audio, is the KING on this title.
Klemmer says pure emotion is what inspired the album’s creation. Whatever he tapped into to find the source of that inspiration he really hit pay dirt with Touch. It’s the heaviest smooth jazz ever recorde. Musically and sonically, this is the pinnacle of Klemmer’s smooth jazz body of work. I know of none better. (If you want to hear him play more straight-ahead jazz try Straight from the Heart on Nautilus.)

High Frequency Testing

MOFI was famous for demonstrating on an actual scope that the standard domestic ABC pressing had nothing above about 8 or 10 thousand cycles up top, which is why they all sound insufferably dull and dead. Some MoFi copies have no real top end either, which is the reason to we do these shootouts — to find the copies that are actually mastered and pressed right, not just the ones that should have been. (more…)