Older Reviews – Rock and Pop

Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Looking for killer sound for both sides of this fun album? You’ve come to the right place! This unusually lively pressing combines a stunning A+++ side one with an equally wonderful, giving you White Hot Stamper sound from start to finish! The transparency here is exceptional, allowing you to hear all the musician’s contributions without the veiling and congestion that you get on most pressings. Sweet Emotion is a KNOCKOUT on this copy.  

Both A+++ sides have the kind of tight, meaty bottom end that is absolutely essential to this kind of music. While many copies we played suffered from a grainy, unpleasant top end, this one is smooth in all the right ways. It’s also got the kind of energy that makes this music still work well all these years later. Hot Stampers give you more presence, more weight down low and more fullness all around — the qualities that you really want for music like this.

I never really cared much for this band until recently, when I heard Sweet Emotion on my local classic rock station (The Octopus!) and realized that it would probably sound pretty amazing on a Hot Stamper vinyl version. Boy, was I right! It took quite a few copies and a whole lot of work, but the best sounding tracks on this one sound AMAZING. Sweet Emotion and Walk This Way are going to rock you!

Of course, not every copy sounds like this one. We’ve been picking these up for the last few months and I’m sorry to report that most of them leave much to be desired. This is bluesy hard rock a la The Faces, and if your copy is dull or smeared (as many of them are) you won’t get the full effect of this raw, ballsy rock ‘n’ roll. This ain’t polite music — you’re playing it for one reason and one reason alone: to ROCK OUT.

It’s hard to understand why this album didn’t get more love from audiophiles, while bands like Boston and Foreigner have gotten the full MoFi treatment. [No doubt somebody has recut this record on Heavy Vinyl by now.] All you have to do is drop the needle on the intro to Sweet Emotion and you’ll see why we decided to roll with this shootout. That’s not to say this is an amazing, top-shelf recording, but it certainly beats most of the dreck out there that passes for Audiophile-style classic rock. (If you disagree, I’ve got a nice copy of the Sheffield Track Record to sell you.)

TRACK LISTING (more…)

Neil Young / Rust Never Sleeps – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A great (A++) side one backed with an AMAZING (A+++) side two, this is without a doubt one of the very best sounding copies of Rust Never Sleeps we have ever had the privilege of playing here at Better Records. Side two simply cannot be beat. Drop the needle on Powderfinger to hear the Crazy Horse sound at its best — the raging guitars, the big meaty bottom end, and the kind of immediacy that puts Neil Young and his band of misfits right in your listening room. 

Tubey Magic in 1979? Yes, analog was still alive and well then — both sides of this copy prove it. The disastrously synthesized ’80s were on their way but thankfully they hadn’t gotten here yet.

This is a live recording with minimal overdubs. Crazy Horse is of course widely recognized to be one of the all time killer concert acts of its day, so it’s a bit of a shame that most of the copies we played this week made us want to go to sleep. The not-so-Hot copies failed in a number of ways: thin guitars or vocals, overly dry or edgy sound, and insufficient presence, just to name a few. It was the rare copy that made us forget we were listening to a record and allowed us to really get into the music.

Needless to say we had this record playing very very loud. Twenty db less than at the live event, sure, at least, but very very loud for a 18×20 living room in the suburbs. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – In Through The Out Door

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White Hot Stamper - Led Zeppelin - In Through The Out Door

  • You’ll find solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this outstanding copy of Zep’s final release
  • It’s all here: huge amounts of rock-solid bass, grungy guitars, breathy, natural vocals, and jump out of the speakers presence and energy
  • Fool In The Rain and All My Love are two of the best, and best sounding, tracks on the album
  • “The album’s opening number, ‘In the Evening,’ with its stomping rhythms and heavy, staggered riffs, suggests that Zeppelin haven’t deviated from their course, but by the time the rolling shuffle of ‘South Bound Suarez’ kicks into gear, it’s apparent that they’ve regained their sense of humor.”

This may not be Zep’s best album, but there are some great songs here, and the music really works when the sound is this good! (more…)

Boz Scaggs – Slow Dancer

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This is an album of wonderful white soul music. As a bonus, it also happens to be very well recorded. The problem we ran into on copy after copy was a brighter than ideal tonal balance, hard vocals and, on those copies that don’t extend fully on the top and bottom, a somewhat squashed, peaky midrange.

The better copies deal with those issues and, for the most part solve them. There’s lovely texture to the strings, plenty of punchy rich bass, and all the elements of the recording are properly balanced, something they still knew how to do back in the all analog days of 1974, I’m glad to report. (more…)

Steve Miller Band – Sailor – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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SUPER HOT STAMPERS DISCOVERED AT LAST for this crazy SMB album engineered by the man himself, Glyn Johns! We just finished a big shootout for this trippy, bluesy LP and were pleased to find that the best copies really do give you that analog magic we’ve come to expect from Mr. Johns’ recordings.  

We have paired up two Capitol Rainbow Label pressings here to give you excellent sound for both sides. This will allow you to do your own shootout at home to see just how special the good sides really are. If you don’t want to bother with the inferior sides and leave the tedious work of playing bad sounding records to us, we’ll understand!

This album is a far cry from Miller’s poppier later work a la Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams. The music is psychedelic, bluesy and downright strange if you ask me. As we listened to these songs over and over I couldn’t believe how unique this album is. It’s a real pastiche of tripped-out ’60s styles, but it doesn’t sound all that similar to any of their contemporaries since it goes in so many directions. The open, spacious and tubey magical sound that Glyn Johns got here lets you make sense of all the crazy elements. You don’t need to know the lyrics to Space Cowboy to get the idea that these guys were probably pretty serious “midnight tokers.” (more…)

Little Feat – Dixie Chicken – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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White Hot Stamper sound on side two — yes, it is possible, and this very copy is Proof with a capitol P. Most copies of this album sound like cardboard, especially the later pressings on the palm tree and tan labels. To get the best sound you need originals of this album, and Warner Brothers green label originals are getting pretty darn hard to find as more and more collectors and audiophiles are coming to the realization that the unending stream of heavy vinyl reissues flooding the market leaves a lot to be desired. (Our desire for them is at zero as we no longer bother to order the stuff.)

Folks, this is no demo disc by any means, but the later pressings strip away the two qualities that really make this music work and bring it to life: Tubey Magic and Big Bass. This side two has both in SPADES.

Listen to how breathy and transparent the chorus is on the first track. Now layer that sound on top of a fat and punchy bottom end and you have the formula for Little Feat Magic at its funky best. This is the sound they heard in the control room, of that I have no doubt, and it is all over this side two. No side of any copy we played was better.

This is A Triple Plus As Good As It Gets Little Feat Sound, the best we have ever heard for any of the early albums. (more…)

Got Old Records? Played ‘Em Lately? What Did You Think of the Sound?

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It’s not that most copies of 5th sound bad; it’s that most of them just sound like old records — thick, dull, opaque, smeary, closed-in, two-dimensional, lifeless and boring.

You know that sound. It’s on a lot of the records we play, and no doubt on a lot of the records you own, especially the records you haven’t cleaned and played in a while (it’s there; you just aren’t aware of it).

Pull out your old copy of 5th. Back in the day it sounded just fine, but if you’ve been listening to mostly better records lately (assuming you haven’t fallen into the Heavy Vinyl trap), doubtlessly on much improved equipment than you had 40 years ago, your old A&M copy probably doesn’t sound as good as you remember it.

The records may not have changed, but your stereo and your standards should have.

Couple that with improved listening skills and before long the average old record starts to sound a lot more average than you wish it did. Even today’s better pot can’t fix the problems of most vintage pressings (or the Heavy Vinyl and CD reissues which are two of the biggest jokes ever played on the audiophile public).

But we can fix the problems — well, not really: we’re just finding the copies that managed to be mastered and pressed without the problems — and our Hot Stampers are 100% legal to boot! (more…)

Supertramp – Indelibly Stamped – Reviewed in 2010

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This is a British Original pressing with the best sound I have ever heard for this album. It’s sweeter, smoother, more delicate and more tonally correct overall than any American copy I have ever heard.

After doing the shootout with some other domestic copies, I put this record in the pile to be cleaned, and today I played it. Like many British pressings of British Rock albums, there is a whole layer of grunge and distortion that has been removed. A veil has been lifted, and you hear into the music in a way that was never before possible. There is no question this record is made from the master tape and the domestic pressings are made from dubs.

This is only the 2nd British copy I have ever seen (in clean condition anyway). My experience with British mastering is that it is all over the map, just like American mastering. Other British copies probably do not sound like this one, but I have no way of being sure.

I thought my last Hot Stamper copy was better sounding than this one, but that was only true for the track Potter, which on this Brit copy sounds a bit tame. Everything else is better here. It’s easy to make a mistake like that when you’re only comparing one song. (more…)

Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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For the first time ever on our site, here’s BORN TO RUN available in Hot Stamper form with a very good side one and a side two that’s as good as we ever expect to hear! It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out why we’ve never put up a Hot copy before: most copies of this album sounds just plain awful, a fact that will not surprise any of you who have tried to find a good one.

I wish I could tell you that this record sounded as good as After The Gold Rush or Sgt. Pepper’s, but it just ain’t so. Mindblowing sound is simply not in the cards for this album, I’m sorry to report. The Boss and his crew are known for their great songs, not the sound of their recordings. There are better copies and worse copies of course, but none of them are going to become the kind of record you’d demo your stereo with.

That said, if you’re a fan of this album, I’m betting you’ve never heard it sound this good. We played a ton of copies — White Label Promos, originals, later pressings — and didn’t hear very many that were in the ballpark with this one, particularly on side two.

Side one is super transparent with a punchy bottom end. Springsteen’s vocals sounds JUST RIGHT — textured and breathy with real immediacy. Like nearly every copy we’ve ever heard, the top end isn’t quite what we’d like it to be. Still, the sound was enjoyable enough to earn a grade between A+ and A++.

Side two was much better. In fact, we don’t think you could find one that sounds any better! Compared to the average copy there’s less grit, less edge and more energy. The bottom end is strong and the brass actually sounds good. We gave this side our top grade of A+++ because it did exactly what we needed it to do for this music — it just plain ROCKED.

As I’ve said, the typical pressing is an absolute sonic nightmare. Gritty, grainy, edgy and dull, with recessed vocals and a lightweight bottom end. I was not blown away by even the best copies, but at least I could appreciate the music. I’m pretty sure that’s all we can ask for when it comes to The Boss on vinyl. (more…)

Santana / Abraxas – A True Demo Disc in the World of Rock Recordings

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  • Abraxas UNBOUND – this “Triple Triple” (A+++) copy has two mindblowing sides – at loud volumes it’s like Live Music in your very own listening room – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • When a record is this tonally correct, huge, powerful and energetic, the music has power you never imagined
  • AMG gives it 5 stars for its music, and we call it a Top 100 Demo Disc – the blistering solos that soar into the huge space of the studio on pressings like this
  • “America was never the same after Carlos Santana discovered the smoldering Afro-Cuban magic of Tito Puente. A sinuous cha cha cha that sounds as if it had been waiting for Santana’s soulful guitar licks to reinvent it, the Puente-penned “Oye Como Va” became the pillar of U.S. Latin rock.”

This copy is smooth, sweet, rich, full-bodied, and SUPER dynamic. The vocals are shockingly present and clear, with breath and body like nothing you have ever heard. Just listen to all that room around the drums!

The sound is transparent, open, and spacious, with life and rhythmic energy to spare. The bass is deep, tight, and note-like, exactly what this music needs to REALLY ROCK!

Both sides have an exceptionally big soundfield, which opens up and allows you to appreciate all of the players’ contributions. That’s a BIG deal for this music. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better than Abraxas.

Abraxas Rocks

This is a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house.

When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.)

You may have heard me say this before, but it’s important to make something clear about this music. It doesn’t even make sense at moderate listening levels. Normal listening levels suck the life right out of it. You can tell by the way it was recorded — this music is designed to be played back at LOUD levels, and anything less does a disservice to the musicians, not to mention the listener, you. (more…)