Older Reviews – Rock and Pop

Led Zeppelin – 2 Originals of Led Zeppelin

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This is a Minty looking German Import Atlantic 2 LP set, consisting of Zep’s first two records. We dropped the needle on all four sides of this record and WOW! Side one of Zep II was SHOCKINGLY GOOD. Big bottom, lots of top, clean vocals — what more could you ask for? Our Rough Hot Stamper Grade: A+ or better. (Side two was more typical for this album, a bit recessed and flat. Oh well.)

On Zep I, again, side one was definitely the stand out. Very clean, punchy, smooth and sweet, and not smeary at all (which is unusual to say the least). Side two was a little midrangy and didn’t have the fullness and warmth that the best copies do. (more…)

Led Zeppelin on Prestigious Japanese Limited Edition Vinyl

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This is a classic Live and Learn listing from 2006.

I used to sell the German Import reissues of the Zep catalog in the ’90s. At the time I thought they we’re pretty good, but then the Japanese AMJY Series came out and I thought those were clearly better.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I now realize those Japanese pressings are bright as bright can be. Now, not-too-surprisingly, the German pressings sound more or less right (on most titles). They tend to be tonally correct, which is more than you can say for most Zep pressings, especially some of the Classics, which have the same brightness problem (as well as many other problems).

Peter, Paul & Mary – Peter, Paul and Mary – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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

TUBEY MAGICAL MASTER TAPE SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! We just finished a huge shootout for this album with Gold Labels, Green Labels and even a few later labels, and this EXCEPTIONALLY QUIET Gold Label copy was the Champion… for BOTH SIDES!

Peter, Paul & Mary records live and die by the quality of their midrange reproduction. These are not big-budget, high-concept multi-track recordings. They’re simple, innocent folk songs featuring exquisite vocal harmonies, backed by straightforward guitar accompaniment. If the voices aren’t silky sweet and delicate, while at the same time full-bodied and present, let’s face it — you might as well be listening to something else. (As we say below, the average copy will have you looking for another record to put on.)

The Breath Of Life

Steve Hoffman’s famous phrase is key here: we want to hear The Breath Of Life. If P, P & M don’t sound like living breathing human beings standing right between your speakers, toss yours and buy this copy, because that’s exactly what they sound like here. The TUBEY MAGIC of the MIDRANGE is practically off the scale. Until you hear it like this you almost can’t really even imagine it. It’s a bit disconcerting to hear each and every nuance of their singing reproduced so faithfully.

This is high-rez ’60s style; not phony and forced like so much of what passes for audiophile sound these days, but relaxed and real, as if the recording were doing its best to get out of the way of the music, not call attention to itself. This, to us, is the goal, the prize we must constantly strive to keep our eyes on. Find the music, leave the rest.

Blind Testing — It Works!

When we did the shootout for this album, the listening was done completely blindly; the era of the pressing was kept a secret from our listening crew until the sound had been evaluated. You might have assumed that the best sounding copy would be a Gold Label original — and in this case you’d be correct — but NONE of our other Gold Label copies even came close. Not one. (Which was especially shocking to us considering how many we had paid Collector Quality money for!)

Most of the time the Gold Label Warner Brothers pressings just sound like old records — muddy, dull, veiled, compressed and distorted. (more…)

Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

TWO WONDERFUL SIDES, capable of delivering the Nilsson Schmilsson GENIUS in a way few copies out there can! We’re just wild about Harry ’round these parts, but it’s unbelievably difficult to find copies of his albums that sound any good. Beyond that, most of the Nilsson records out there in used record land are noisy, thanks to that super-high-quality RCA Dynaflex vinyl. (Your sarcasm detector should be going off like crazy right about now.)

Ah, but here’s a Nilsson Schmilsson that’s dramatically more audiophile-friendly than other copies.

Harry’s vocals sound great throughout and the overall sound is BIG, present, powerful, spacious, smooth and rich. Side one earned each and every plus of its White Hot Stamper Three Plus (A+++) rating. Folks, that’s shorthand for a copy that’s As Good As It Gets! (more…)

Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Sings Newman – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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We’re huge Harry Nilsson fans here at Better Records, and it warms our hearts that many of our customers seem to be as well. We’ve been trying to track down great copies of this album for ages, but they are tough to come by in any condition and are often noisy and/or mediocre when we find ’em. This copy has the kind of rich, full, analog sound that we’ve been trying to find for years with so little luck.

Nilsson Sings Newman is the fourth Nilsson album, the one that came right before his masterpiece Nilsson Schmilsson. Harry is in fine form here, reinterpreting a dozen great Randy Newman songs with Newman himself accompanying on piano. We’ve enjoyed a number of Randy Newman’s songs over the years, but when you take his material and put a voice like Nilsson’s up front, the result is pure magic.

Many copies we’ve played were too gritty, grainy, and thin sounding to get excited about. This one’s got the richness, fullness and smoothness that we’ve been hoping for. The overall sound is lively and dynamic with excellent immediacy. The vocals are breathy, the piano has nice weight and the tonal balance is right on the money.

There’s some surface noise behind the music, pretty much always the case on this album (and also true for most old RCA vinyl on any album — it’s practically never quiet). I don’t think you could find a copy that sounds much better and plays any quieter no matter what you did. Most of the time the surfaces aren’t really a bother, but those of you who are fanatical about such a thing are advised to take a pass on this one. You’ll be missing some lovely music and wonderful sound however. (more…)

Pink Floyd – Obscured By Clouds – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

EXCELLENT SOUND and some seriously strange music! This obviously isn’t Floyd’s greatest album, but we still found a lot to like about this record and specifically this copy. It’s a British Import Harvest Green Label pressing that rates close to A+ on both sides — slightly better on side one, not quite there on side two. Those of you who enjoy Meddle will certainly get a lot out of this one.

We rated side one between A+ and A++. The second and the fifth tracks were our favorites on this side, while the fourth track honestly left us a bit cold. We played other copies that couldn’t come near this side in terms of clarity, transparency or bass definition.

Side two has a bit of a thick, Moody Blues-esque sound. It’s tonally correct from top to bottom with good energy. The lead guitar sounds particularly good, as does the organ.

Don’t expect a fully realized album a la Dark Side, because this ain’t that. It’s a nice collection of songs and instrumentals that should provide a nice thrill to Floyd fans who really dig the prog-psych aspect of the band. (more…)

Henry Mancini – Mr. Lucky Goes Latin

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This very nice looking RCA Living Stereo Popular White Dog LP is a superb example of Living Stereo tubey magic at its best. Ideal for your bachelor pad! Skip track one on side one and go straight to Slow Hot Wind to hear some Mancini magic.

Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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This is an album that almost never sounds good. We’ve spent a ton of money over the years chasing British originals and various other pressings looking for that Pink Floyd magic, but most copies were terribly disappointing sonically. This was the best copy we’ve heard in many years — richer, bigger sounding and more solid than everything else we were able to put against it. It’s far from a Demo Disc but if you like this music I don’t think you can find better sound for it. 

Atom Heart Mother is from Pink Floyd’s early psych years, and it’s not a pop album by any means. In truth it’s fairly bizarre, kicking off with a side long orchestral piece before settling into songs on the second side. There’s a lot to enjoy here, but if you aren’t familiar with the album you may want to check it out on youtube before laying out the big bucks we charge for a copy that sounds as good as this one does. (more…)

Dave Mason – Certified Live – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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

Unlike Frampton Comes Alive, recorded at different venues, Certified Live was recorded at one location, the Universal Amphitheatre, resulting in very little variation in the sound from track to track. The variation in the sound from side to side is the kind of variation we hear on virtually every pressing we play, since no two sides of a record ever really sound exactly the same. 

We like our ’70s Rock Records to be rich and full; that’s what live Rock Concerts have always sounded like to us and we see no reason to revise our biases now. It’s what good analog does effortlessly and what even the best digital finds difficult to achieve.

A common problem with many of the sides we played was strain or congestion in the loudest passages. Another was sound that’s too “clean.”

It’s not hard to figure out what the best pressings do well that the average ones struggle with.

The Shootout Winning sides are simply bigger, fuller, more clear, more present, more transparent, more punchy, and have more space and energy than the other pressings we played. A couple of minutes in on any side and you know if it has The Big Sound or not. We’re happy to report these four sides are some of the biggest and liveliest we heard.

I’ve actually seen Dave Mason twice in the last five years or so; he tours relentlessly and always puts on a good show. Check him out if he comes to your town. Remarkably he plays these songs nowadays about as well as he ever did, which is very well indeed. (more…)

Van Morrison – Into The Music – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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

Two incredible sounding sides for this great Van Morrison album, one that Allmusic calls one of his best records! Not a lot of casual Van Mo fans are familiar with this album, but after a big shootout we were left very impressed with the sound of the best pressings and the quality of the music throughout. Morrison’s catalog after the early ’70s leaves plenty to be desired, but this one is a real return to form.

Side one is richer and fuller than most copies with much better bass. You get excellent presence and energy that are missing from the typical copy and the overall sound is clean, clear and natural. We gave it an A++ grade.

Side two is even better — A+++ all the way. It’s unusually dynamic with real immediacy, lots of texture to the instruments and amazing separation letting you hear every last detail. Most copies weren’t nearly this rich and practically none of them were this solid down low.

If you need a new Van Morrison album in your life and you want to have one with excellent sound, give this White Hot copy of Into The Music a spin — we think you’ll be as impressed as we were. In fact, we guarantee it… or your money back! (more…)