Older Reviews – Rock and Pop

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…)

Little Feat – Dixie Chicken – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

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.

That WB Sound

Side one earned a grade of A+ to A++. It lacked the top end that lets the sound open up in the choruses, a very common problem with early WB pressings which have a marked tendency to be dull. (We know; we’ve played them by the hundreds, from Deep Purple to the Doobie Brothers to America to Van Morrison and scores of others too numerous to mention. There are ten dull WB pressings for every one that’s bright. )

The bass is excellent and the piano really sounds right on Dixie Chicken, but when you flip the record over you will hear what it could have sounded like (and practically never does).

The MoFi

We’ve never bothered to order one. This is an album about rhythm. Half-Speed mastered records have bad bass and consequently lack rhythmic drive. Why would anyone want to half-speed master an album such as this? The obvious answer is not that it’s a good idea, but, if it’s the only idea you have, because you are in the half-speed mastering business, then half-speed master is precisely what you are going to do.

Good idea or bad idea, it’s the one idea you have. As the old saying goes, if all you have is a hammer everything looks olderlike a nail.warn (more…)

Supertramp – Indelibly Stamped – Reviewed in 2010

More Supertramp

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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…)

Joni Mitchell – For The Roses

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this White Label Asylum pressing was one of the best we played in our recent shootout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is especially rich, warm and natural, with exceptional immediacy to Joni’s vocals and Tubey Magic for days
  • One of the best sounding Joni records, on a par with Court and Spark and Blue – fine company indeed
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The lyrics here are among Mitchell’s best, continuing in the vein of gripping honesty and heartfelt depth exhibited on Blue…. More than a bridge between great albums, this excellent disc is a top-notch listen in its own right.”

This copy has real energy and dynamics that just could not be heard on most of the pressings we played. With dynamics AND the warmth and richness found here, this copy will be hard to beat.

Listen to how huge the piano is. No two copies will show you the same piano, which makes it a great test for sound. Both sides have clear, present, breathy vocals, about as good as Joni can sound on vinyl, which is saying a lot. (more…)

Supertramp – Breakfast In America – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

This listing reflects our thinking about the album circa 2009.

As you can imagine, a lot has changed since then.

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TWO KILLER SIDES ON THIS ROCKIN’ LATE ’70s CLASSIC! I am not at all ashamed to say that we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and a copy like this will certainly help show you why. Side one has incredible A+++ Master Tape Sound and side two is just a plus behind. Drop the needle on Gone Hollywood or The Logical Song to hear how powerful this music can sound when you have the right pressing. 

The average copy of this record is grainy, thin, shrill and aggressive sounding. When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the highs are sweet and silky. This is a bright recording, so if the highs aren’t correct, it pretty much ruins the record.

A Big & Bold Breakfast

Side one is ALIVE! It has BIG, PUNCHY sound that will fill up your living room and then some. It’s exceptionally transparent with superb clarity and lots of extension on the top end. The vocals sounds AMAZING — natural and correct with lots of texture. It’s a high-definition, high-resolution side one cut just right with super low distortion — you can really appreciate every last detail of this recording. The saxophone on The Logical Song sounds amazing. On a great copy like this one, it really brings to mind the big, ballsy sax solo on Pink Floyd’s Money. We rate this side one an A+++ — that’s Master Tape Sound, folks, As Good As It Gets.

Side two is nearly as amazing with a BIG punchy bottom end and wonderful clarity. Take The Long Way home sounds particularly good, with lots of extension up top and tons of energy. The A+++ side one opens up just a bit more, but other than that I don’t think you’ll find this side doing too much wrong.

Other Options?

The MoFi of this album is a nightmare, of course. It is TOO BRIGHT. The last thing in the world this album needs is brightening.

[We played a copy recently that was too smooth. Go figure!]

The Simply Vinyl copy is a bit smooth, but very enjoyable, and preferable to the MoFi. But you can’t beat the real thing, and this is it.

On another note, do not assume that Brit copies are the best on Supertramp. Like all records, some are good and some aren’t. I’ve bought a lot of Brit copies of Crisis? What Crisis? over the years, and when I finally found the time to sit down to listen to them against my old favorite version, the A&M Half Speed (!), they mostly sucked — too bright, dull, sour — you name the flaw, every one of them had at least one unacceptable quality. Not a single winner in the bunch, ouch.

Brit pressings of Crime of the Century are a mixed bag as well; even the best stampers do not guarantee good sound, as the same A5/B6 original copy I have in my collection sounds bad on at least one side on two other copies I found, and those are not easy records to find! Imagine my disappointment. I practically cried when I played those copies and heard the mediocre sound. (more…)

Cat Stevens / Teaser & The Firecat – Overview of the Reissues

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It is my contention that there is no audiophile pressing on the face of the Earth that can compete with the best sounding originals of Teaser and the Firecat. Of ANY music. The best copies of Teaser have a sound I have never experienced with any modern-mastered record. There is a magic in its grooves that may simply be impossible to capture with the cutting equipment currently in use. Perhaps one day I’ll be proven wrong, but that day is clearly not yet upon us.

Island 25th Anniversary LP

I remember fifteen years ago when Acoustic Sounds was selling the then in-print 25th Anniversary Island pressing (10U, as I recall) for $15, claiming that it was a TAS list record. If you’ve ever heard that pressing, you know it has no business going anywhere near a Super Disc List. It’s mediocre at best and has virtually none of the magic of the good original pressings. I refused to sell it back in those days, for no other reason than it’s far from a Better Record. I don’t like misrepresenting records and I don’t like ripping off my customers. That pressing was a fraud and I was having none of it.

The Anadisq

In case you don’t already know, one of the worst sounding, if not THE WORST SOUNDING VERSION OF ALL TIME, is the Mobile Fidelity Anadisq pressing that came out in the ’90s. If you own that record, you really owe it to yourself to pull it out and play it. It’s just a mess and it should sound like a mess, whether you have anything else to compare it to or not.

It’s also on the TAS Super Disc list, which is sad. Really, really sad. (more…)

Van Morrison – Saint Dominic’s Preview – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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TWO AMAZING A+++ SIDES ON QUIET VINYL — this will likely be the best sounding Van Morrison you hear in your entire life! We’ve played a ton of these over the years and it’s not all that often that we hear a copy that so capably presents the music. Both sides are very rich and super full-bodied with exceptional clarity and mindblowing YOU ARE THERE immediacy. We almost never find copies of Moondance or Astral Weeks that sound anything like this, and when we do they go for much more money.

We’ve been huge fans of this album for ages and don’t understand why it doesn’t get more respect. This is the album that comes right after Tupelo Honey and His Band And The Street Choir, so that should tell you something.

The typical copy of this record has a major HONK problem, much the way Moondance does. If you play a few copies, you’ll notice the pinched quality to the vocals and the hardness and edge in the midrange. The Hot Stamper copies were mastered without that annoying sound, and that’s part of what makes them so darn good. (more…)

The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed

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  • This outstanding pressing of The Moody Blues’ Masterpiece earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – relatively quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is huge, rich and lively throughout – you need this kind of space for the orchestral parts to work their Moody Magic
  • An Album Experience beyond practically anything that had come before (Sgt. Pepper excluded)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Days of Future Passed became one of the defining documents of the blossoming psychedelic era, and one of the most enduringly popular albums of its era.”

This album is more than 40 years old for god’s sake! In those 40 years I’d forgotten how good it is.

“Tuesday Afternoon” is the Perfect Pop Song, with the whole of side two flowing effortlessly from it as each song (each day) is linked by means of the surrounding orchestrations until it reaches its zenith with the climax of “Nights in White Satin.”

The sound is very much a part of the entire experience. The strings of the orchestra sound as sweet as any Decca, the soundstage wide and deep as a symphony. For those of you who still think Mobile Fidelity is the king on this one, here’s a record that demonstrates what a real orchestra sounds like. The Moodies used Decca’s best classical engineers, not their pop ones, and those guys know the way unamplified instruments should sound. (more…)