Masterpieces

Listening in Depth to Airto’s Masterpiece – Fingers

More from Airto

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This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto.

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.)

The Highs Are Back

This copy has the highs that are missing from so many of the CTI originals. When you play this against most copies there is an extension to the top end that you don’t hear elsewhere. Since this album is heavy on percussion, that difference is critical. The HARMONICS of the percussion are critically important to the music. When they go missing it’s as if the music seems to slow down, a strange effect but a fairly common one with rhythmically dense arrangements such as these.

With an extended top end the sound is SWEET, not HARSH. Believe us when we tell you, the last thing you want is a harsh sounding pressing of a Rudy Van Gelder recording. (Not unless you have a dull, dull, deadly dull stereo. Those “Old School” stereos are practically the only way one can tolerate some of his early recordings.)

With so many high frequency transients and such complex arrangements, this is a record that must be mastered (and pressed) with great skill or the result is going to be trouble. RVG, who both recorded and mastered the album, has a penchant for over-cutting records and being heavy handed when it comes to his favorite studio tricks, often to the detriment of instrumental fidelity. When his approach works, the resulting recordings are wonderful. When he gets too carried away with his “sound”, look out.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Fingers

This is the most problematical track on the entire album — please DO NOT JUDGE the album by this song! The sound is much better on the tracks that follow. This may have been an attempt to get that hot hit single sound for track one, the kind that would jump out of your radio speaker, but the effect can be a bit much, depending on how low distortion and high resolution your equipment is. The better your system, the less of a problem you will have getting this track to play well. If this track sounds decent, everything after it will really shine.

The biggest problem one typically runs into is a lack of bass and lower midrange. On the better copies the bass will be fine on the next track and those that follow.

Romance of Death

The guitar work on this track is stellar, some of the best musicianship on the album. Credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for making the guitar jump out of the mix. One of the things he can do, practically better than anyone, is make a lead instrument sound as big and as bold as you’ve ever heard it.

Merry-Go-Round

This track has a tendency to be overly compressed. Some stampers have so much added compression that the guitar and the percussion in the middle of the soundfield turn into undifferentiated muck. Those copies are what we refer to as “Not-So-Hot Stampers”.

Wind Chant

Side Two

Note that the sound on side two tends to be more open, rich and clear as a rule.

Parana

Perhaps my favorite track on the album; it builds into a chanting jam towards the end of its six minutes that grows to be as powerfully hypnotic as any I know. It’s the main reason this is a Desert Island Disc for me. I simply cannot get enough of Airto’s driving rhythms on this album. I’ve been playing this record my entire adult life and never once tired of it.

We wish Airto had made a string of albums as good as this one, but unfortunately we are not aware of any others of this quality. Which makes sense I suppose: one awe-inspiring masterpiece is more than most artists will ever produce.

San Francisco River
Tombo in 7/4

The Said and the Unsaid – Stravinsky’s Firebird on Mercury

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

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Another entry in our Thinking About Hot Stampers series.

For our recent shootout of The Firebird we had three minty, potentially hot copies of the Mercury with Dorati, as well as our noisy ref. (We have a noisy reference copy for just about every major title by now. We have been doing these shootouts for a very long time. After thirty years in the record business we have accumulated a World Class collection of great sounding records that just too noisy to sell.)

We had one FR pressing and two of the later pressings with the lighter label, the ones that most often come with Philips M2 stampers.

This is how we described the winner:

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy.

What we didn’t say — and what we never say in the listings — is what the second tier copies didn’t do as well as the shootout winner. (more…)

Today’s Mediocre LP – Pet Sounds on DCC

More Pet Sounds

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Sonic Grade: C-

The no-longer-surprising thing about our Hot Stamper pressings of Pet Sounds is how completely they trounce the DCC LP. Folks, it’s really no contest. Yes, the DCC is tonally balanced and can sound decent enough but it can’t compete with the best “mystery” pressings that we sell. It’s missing too much of the presence, intimacy, immediacy and transparency that we’ve discovered on the better Capitol pressings.

As is the case with practically every record pressed on Heavy Vinyl over the last twenty years, there is a suffocating loss of ambience throughout, a pronounced sterility to the sound. Modern remastered records just do not BREATHE like the real thing. Good EQ or Bad EQ, they all suffer to one degree or another from a bad case of audio enervation. Where is the life of the music? You can try turning up the volume on these remastered LPs all you want; they simply refuse to come to life.

Martin Birch Knows How to Get The Big Rock Sound on Vinyl

Martin Birch Engineered Albums with Hot Stampers

Martin Birch Engineered Albums We’ve Reviewed

 

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When you get a Hot Stamper presssing 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.

The vocalist is no doubt in a booth, but everyone else seems to be in a lively studio. With lovely extension up top this was a very sweet copy that cried out to be turned up good and loud. The louder we played it the better it sounded!

Domestic Vinyl?

Forget ’em, they’re clearly made from dubs. Some are better than others, but none can compete with the better British pressings such as this one..

With your permission we’d like to “borrow” some of the commentary from the listing we did a while back for Bad Company’s second album, since so much of what’s good about that record is exactly what’s good about this one.

What You Want from the Best Copies

The best pressings give you exactly what you want from this brand of straight ahead rock and roll: presence in the vocals; solid, note-like bass; big punchy drums, and the kind of live-in-the-studio energetic, clean and clear sound. (AC/DC is another band with that kind of live studio sound. With big speakers and the power to drive them YOU ARE THERE.)

I’m guessing that very few people have ever heard this record sound this good. The average copy is really a piece of trash, as is the awful 180 gram version that was recently remastered. This is the way to go.

Ranking the Most Tubey Magical Rock Recordings

A Space in Time

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This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’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 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. (Of course, as it turns out, recording technology only got worse as the decade wore on, and during the ’80s the sound of most records went off a cliff.)

Big Production British Rock & Roll just doesn’t get much better than A Space in Time.
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Peter Frampton and His Big Production Rock

Wind of Change For Sale

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More Peter Frampton

Frampton’s first solo album, Wind of Change, was recorded by the well-known engineer Chris Kimsey, who worked with the Stones and others too numerous to mention. To say that the sound of his albums varies considerably would be the understatement of the year. The first album (British only, FYI) is as rich, sweet, and Tubey Magical as practically anything you’ve ever heard (as well as overly tube compressed, its biggest fault).

More Chris Kimsey

More Engineers, Producers and Arrangers

I unashamedly confess to being a huge Frampton fan to this very day. Wind of Change has been a Desert Island Disc for me ever since I picked up my first copy while still in high school. I bought the first Frampton album as soon as it came out, probably based on a magazine review. Think I paid $3.08 for it; that was the discount price for an album at the little record store I frequented back in those days. It was in Leucadia, CA, not far from where I went to high school.
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Carlos Santana Knows: Louder Is Better

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.

Santana

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Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you TURN UP YOUR VOLUME.

This album needs to be played LOUD. I used to demonstrate that specific effect a few years ago when I found my first shockingly good Hot Stamper copy back in the late ’90s. I would play the first minute or so of track one at a pretty good level. There’s lots of ambience, there’s a couple of guys who shout things out, there’s a substantial amount of deep bass, and the whole recording has a natural smooth quality to it (which is precisely what allows you to play it at loud volumes).

Then I would turn it up a notch, say about 2-3 DB. I would announce to my friends that this is probably louder than you will ever play this record, but listen to what happens when you do. The soundstage gets wider and deeper, all those guys that shout can be heard more clearly, you start to really feel that deep bass, and when the song gets going, it REALLY gets going.

The energy would be fantastic.
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A Psych Masterpiece

More Spirit

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This is one of our favorite albums here at Better Records, and a true ’60s Psych Pop Masterpiece! The sound can be amazing as well, although you’d never know that listening to the average pressing. This copy gives you wall to wall width and layered studio depth like you will not believe, the kind of space you hear on engineering classics like Dark Side of the Moon and A Space in Time.

Fired Up

Want a glimpse into the kind of energy the band was generating in the studio? Drop the needle on Fresh Garbage, the opening track, and you will hear this band come alive in a way you probably never imagined you’d ever hear them. It’s positively startling how immediate and lively the sound is here.

This is the band at their best, fired up and ready to show the world that The Doors are not the only SoCal rock band with innovative ideas about rock music and the performing chops to pull them off, not to mention the studio wizards who managed to get it all down on tape with State-of-the-Art ’60s Rock sound quality.

The Doors Vs. Spirit

If I had to choose between The Doors’ first album and Spirit’s, say for a nice drive up the coast with the top down, no contest, Spirit would get the nod (not to take anything away from The Doors mind you). I had the album on 8 Track back in high school and played it to death. Doing this shootout, hearing the album sound so good after so many years, was nothing less than a THRILL. (I went right up to Amazon and bought a CD for the car. Might just take a drive up the coast.)
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Robin Black’s Two Engineering Masterpieces

More on THICK AS A BRICK

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Thick As A Brick is quite possibly the BEST SOUNDING ALBUM Jethro Tull ever made. It’s dynamic; has really solid, deep punchy bass; transparency and sweetness in the midrange; tubey-magical acoustic guitars and flutes; in other words, the record has EVERYTHING that we go crazy for here at Better Records. I can guarantee you there is no CD on the planet that could ever do this recording justice. The Hot Stamper pressings have a kind of MAGIC that just can’t be captured on one of them there silvery discs.

We play quite a few original British and domestic copies of this record when we do these shootouts and let me tell you, the sound and the music are so good I can’t get enough of it. Until about 2007 this was the undiscovered gem (by me, anyway) in the Tull catalog. The pressings I had heard up until then were nothing special, and of course the average pressing of this album is exactly that: no great shakes. But with the advent of better record cleaning fluids and much better tables, phono stages and the like, some copies of Thick As A Brick have shown themselves to be AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUNDING. Even the All Music Guide could hear how well-engineered it was.

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This Is Not a Cheap Hobby If You Want to Do It Right

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Rick sent us a letter recently after having played his first Hot Stamper, the first record he ever bought from us. At $300 it wasn’t cheap, but the best things in life never are, and certainly there is little in the world of audio that’s cheap and much good. This is not a cheap hobby if you want to do it right, and even tons of money doesn’t guarantee you will get good sound. It’s far more complicated than that. To quote Winston Churchill, it takes “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Churchill went on to say “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs… Victory, however long and hard the road may be…”

Now, he wasn’t talking about audio, but he could have been, and I certainly am. It takes resources — money and labor — to get the sound you want. That is the victory I am aiming at.

Rick here no doubt heard the sound he was looking for on our Hot Stamper McCartney album, and then some, judging by his letter.
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