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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.

Check Out Our Forgotten Jazz Classics Section

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

Here’s a typical entry:

George Benson – White Rabbit

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We recently conducted another extensive shootout for White Rabbit and it was a BLAST. It always is. Benson and his funky jazz all-stars buds (Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock and Airto to name a few) tear through some great material here, and on both sides of this copy the sound as KILLER.

If you want to hear the best George Benson record we know of, this is the one. The Grammy-winning Breezin’ from 1976 is a perfectly good album but it’s quite a bit more commercial than the earlier White Rabbit here from 1972, his first album to make the top ten on the jazz charts. (more…)

Santana – Inner Secrets

Our Killer White Hot Stamper copy!

 

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Just one of the  distinguished members of our Rock and Pop Hall of Fame that we’ve added recently (now 200+ strong!).

It’s also another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

It’s 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.)

What to Listen for

On side two the final guitar solo Santana takes on Well All Right gets LOUDER in the mix than any guitar solo on any rock record with which I am familiar. The sound gets louder after the first chorus, then louder still right before the second solo, and then the solo itself gets even louder until it seems to be as loud as live music. (Operative word: seems.)

Some copies get loud and some do not. Some stereos are dynamic and some are not. If you have the right stereo, set at the right volume, and THIS copy, you will hear something that not one out of one hundred audiophiles (or music lovers) have ever heard on a record — LIVE ROCK SOUND.

What makes it possible to play this record so loud and still enjoy it? Simple. Just like Nirvana, when the sound is smooth and sweet, completely free of aggressive mids and highs, records get BETTER as they get LOUDER. (This of course assumes low distortion and all the rest, but the main factor is correct tonality from top to bottom, and this record has it.)

Jump Factor

There were about a half dozen different stampers for each side that we did the shootout with. Like other Hot Stampers you may have read about, sometimes the instruments and voices just JUMP out of the speakers. When that happens I usually write “It’s Alive!” on the post-it, and I know exactly what to do with it — it goes right in the Contender pile, to be compared with the other top contender copies. It’s definitely a crazy Hot Stamper; just how hot we still need to find out.

Which is what happens in Phase Two of these affairs. We go back through all the best copies to see in what areas they really shine and in what areas they may fall a bit short of the best. Occasionally a record will come along that just murders what I thought was the best.

Of course there’s no way to know what accounts for any of the sound we hear. Not for sure anyway. It’s just interesting to ponder what makes one record sound one way and the next record, with stampers as little as one letter off in the alphabet — sometimes with exactly the same stampers! — sound so different from one another.
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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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Is the Original Better? Not on This Album It Ain’t

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.

Crisis? What Crisis?

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This is an older listing that illustrates how We Was Wrong when we thought the best domestic copies were not competitive with the A&M Half-Speed or better British pressings.

We touch on other much-loved themes in this commentary, such as the myth that the original pressing is going to be better than a reissue or later stamper. On this album that is definitely not the case.

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an A+++ SIDE ONE! It’s not the A&M Half Speed, and it’s not a British pressing either. It’s domestic folks, your standard plain-as-day A&M pressing, and we’re as shocked as you are. Hearing this copy (as well as an amazing Brit; they can be every bit as good, in their own way of course) was a THRILL, a thrill that’s a step up in “thrillingness” over our previous favorite pressing, the Half Speed.
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Good Sound As Late As 1979?!

Albums from 1979 in stock

All albums from 1979

 

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Who knew that good sounding records were still being recorded in 1979?

Candy-O comes to mind, but the B-52s’ first album has virtually none of the grit and Roy Thomas Baker heavy-processing of that one, and a lot more Tubey Magic to boot — when you get a pressing like this of course.

Both of these sides are superb, with the kind of huge, spacious soundstage and amazingly rich, full-bodied tonality that earned this recording its place in our Top 100. Talk about jumpin’ out of the speakers! Every instrument is clear and present, laid out right there in the listening room.

The Best of ’79

This recording reminded me of a really good Don Landee / Ted Templeman production, the kind you hear on JT or Simple Dreams or the better Doobie Brothers albums. Everything is laid out clearly: there’s a space created for every part of the frequency spectrum from the lowest lows to the highest highs, with nothing crowding or interfering with anything else. The production is professional, clean, clear and REAL sounding everywhere you look. (more…)

You Too Can Get an Old Buffalo Springfield Record to Sound This Good

More Last Time Around

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Not long ago we found a White Hot Stamper pressing of Last Time Around that really blew our minds. We were surprised to hear some of the breathiest, silkiest vocals we’ve ever heard on ANY Buffalo Springfield album, with startling presence and immediacy to boot! This side two had BY FAR the most energy and life of any side of any copy we’ve ever played. Man, does it ROCK.

Even as recently as 2010 we would not have expected to find that kind of sound on a vintage ’60s pop/rock album. We know better now.

When you get hold of the right copy and know how to clean it and play it right, these vintage pressings (well, the White Hot ones anyway) are a damn sight better than the vast majority of audiophiles think they are. How is such apparently never-before-possible sound being heard now, 45 years after the record came out? Our answer can be found below. 

Tubey Magical Midrange

 The kind of MIDRANGE MAGIC on this pressing let us hear into the music in a way we (and you too I’m guessing) never imagined was possible.

Most copies have no bass, no real top, and are compressed so badly they sound more like cardboard than vinyl. But not this copy — it breaks the mold, revealing to the world (well, our world anyway, the world at Better Records) that those badly recorded Buffalo Springfield records from the ’60s weren’t so badly recorded after all.

It Only Takes One

Badly mastered, badly pressed, yes, we can all agree on that.

But all it takes is an amazing sounding copy like this one to disprove the theory that these are bad recordings — an inconvenient truth shall we call it? — and we found more than one. The proposition that this band’s records can’t sound good has officially and definitively been falsified. (more…)

Top 100 – Why Not This Amazing Phil Manzanera Record?

Like its brother 801 Live, this album is an amazing SONIC BLOCKBUSTER, with sound that positively leaps out of the speakers. Why shouldn’t it? It was engineered by the superbly talented Rhett Davies at Island, the genius behind Taking Tiger Mountain, the aforementioned 801 Live, Avalon, Dire Straits’ first album and many, many more.
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Val Garay Rocks the Sound of JT

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.

JT

 

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The good copies REALLY ROCK on a song like Honey Don’t Leave L.A. or I Was Only Telling A Lie, yet have lovely, sweet transparency and delicacy on the ballads such as Another Grey Morning or There We Are.

Just turn up the volume and play the opening to Honey Don’t Leave L.A. — this is James Taylor and his super tight studio band at the peak of their powers. Russ Kunkel hits the drum twice, then clicks his sticks together so quickly you can hardly notice it, then goes back to the drums for the rest of the intro. On a superb copy like this one, the subtleties of his performance are clearly on display. (Until copies like this one came along, we had never even noticed that stick trick. Now it’s the high point of the whole intro!)

Sound Equals Music

As audiophiles we all know that sound and music are inseparable. After dropping the needle on a dozen or so copies, all originals by the way, you KNOW when the music is working its magic and when it’s not. As with any pop album there are always some songs that sound better than others, but when you find yourself marvelling at how well-written and well-produced a song is, you know that the sound is doing what it needs to do. It’s communicating the Musical Values of the material.

The most important of all these Musical Values is ENERGY, and boy do the best copies have it!
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The Debut of Pretenders II

Our White Hot Shootout Winner

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for The Pretenders’ second album – both sides earned our top grade of A+++
  • With loads of solid, punchy bass and the richest, smoothest vocal reproduction, this pressing simply could not be beat
  • This original British pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce
  • “What’s more the unique American voice of Hynde matched with the tribal beat of Martin Chambers and spangly guitar of Honeyman-Scott was as close to perfect as a band could get in the late 70s.”

If any of this commentary looks familiar there’s a simple explanation for that fact; it’s lifted practically wholesale from our listings for the first Pretenders album.

The two albums are twins, with the same engineer, the same producer, even the same band members, something that was regrettably and tragically to change soon enough.

Tubey Magic Is Key

This original British pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

Forget the dubby domestic vinyl, these Brit pressings are the only way to go. (more…)