Shootout Winners – 2016

1958 – A Great Year for Recorded Music

 

  • This early pressing on the rainbow label earned excellent Double Plus (A++) grades for its wonderful sound
  • Both sides here are BIG, rich and Tubey Magical, yet clear and not the least bit thick or opaque
  • Turn down the lights and drop the needle to hear a living breathing Nat King Cole singing right in your very own listening room
  • “Highlights include “The Very Thought of You,” “But Beautiful,” “This Is All I Ask,” “For All We Know,” and “The More I See You”.

See all of our Nat King Cole albums in stock

We are HUGE fans of the album at Better Records, but it’s taken us a long time to pull together enough clean copies to make the shootout happen. Boy, was it worth all the trouble.

The presence and immediacy here of Nat King Cole’s vocals are ’50s Capitol Recording Magic at its best. Set the volume right and Nat is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. The selection of material and the contributions of all involved are hard to fault.

The sound is big, open, rich and full, with loads of Tubey Magic. The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy.

Midrange Magic to Die For

This Rainbow Label Capitol LP also has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from the DCC reissue (and no doubt any others that will be coming down the pike). As good as some think that pressing is, this one is dramatically more REAL sounding. (more…)

Feats Don’t Fail Me Now

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  • The best copy to hit the site in close to two years, with both sides rating at or near our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++)
  • Huge, spacious and three-dimensional with plenty of rich Tubey Magic – who knew it could sound this good?
  • 75% of the songs on both sides are absolute Little Feat Classics. What other album can boast such consistently good songwriting?
  • Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Fran Tate (the future Mrs. Billy Payne) contribute the lovely background vocals
  • “If Dixie Chicken represented a pinnacle of Lowell George as a songwriter and band leader, its sequel Feats Don’t Fail Me Now is the pinnacle of Little Feat as a group, showcasing each member at their finest.”

See all of our Little Feat albums in stock

It’s getting mighty hard to find clean copies of practically all the pre-Waiting For Columbus titles.

The good news we have to offer this time as opposed to last is that we can now clearly say that Feats Don’t Fail Me Now is the best sounding album of the first four the band recorded. We think the songs are great too; we would hope that goes without saying. Waiting For Columbus — their live masterpiece and inarguably the definitive recording statement by the band — has at least one song from this album on each of its four sides. That ought to tell you something. If only we could find good sounding copies! But enough about that album. Let’s talk about this one. (more…)

Ray Brown with The All-Star Big Band, Engineered by Ray Hall

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Ray Brown with The All-Star Big Band

These two sides offer bigger brass, more transparency and more presence than every other side we played save one!

This may become one of your favorite big band albums to demo or test with. Or you can just enjoy the hell out of it if you prefer. So transparent and tonally correct, this is a killer sounding copy. We put this one right up there with the best of the Verve jazz titles we’ve done to date.

This album sounds like a big room full of musicians playing live, which it surely was. The Tubey Magical richness of the 1962 recording is breathtaking – no modern record can touch it.

The best copies recreate a live studio space the size of which you will not believe. (more…)

A Killer Can’t Buy a Thrill (and Some Lessons We Learned)

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Can’t Buy A Thrill

  • An absolutely amazing sounding copy with both sides rating Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it!
  • SHOCKINGLY GOOD from start to finish — big, bold and Tubey Magical, with guitars and vocals that will jump out of your speakers
  • Hard To Fault (HTF) sound and fairly quiet vinyl too, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus on both sides
  • “Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were remarkable craftsmen from the start, as Steely Dan’s debut illustrates. Each song is tightly constructed, with interlocking chords and gracefully interwoven melodies, buoyed by clever, cryptic lyrics.” — Allmusic, 4 1/2 stars

From the moment the needle hit the groove on side one, we were treated to some of the best sound we’ve ever heard for this album.

Both sides have an incredibly tight and punchy bottom end, with the kind of energy and WHOMP that brings this music to life! The soundfield is BIG, WIDE, and OPEN, with a three-dimensional quality that we didn’t hear on other copies. The top end is silky sweet — just listen to the cymbals on Do It Again.

Dirty Work sounds superb here — rich and sweet mids, breathy brass, and lots of texture to the vocals. Often this track sounds dull and dubby, but it’s actually just a case of the mix being smoother than most of the other songs on the album. If this track sounds smooth, and the other songs sound right, the tonality is correct for the whole side, because that’s what the best copies sound like.

Flip the record over and the good times begin all over again. Elliot Randall’s guitar on Reeling In The Years has the meaty texture and uncanny presence to take the song to an entirely new level. Fire In The Hole is exceptionally dynamic with real weight to the piano, and the double tracked vocals on Turn That Heartbeat Over Again sound rich and poppy the way they should.

Combine two sides this good and press them on fairly quiet vinyl and you have yourself an LP that’s practically a FLUKE. (more…)

Shootout Winners from 2016

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Ella Fitzgerald – Whisper Not

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

Both sides of this original stereo pressing are White Hot – Triple Plus all the way! Breathy, tubey, big and clear, this is the best sound we have ever heard for Whisper Not. Superb engineering from the man behind so many great sounding Verve records, Val Valentin. “These fine-tuned arrangements also provide the perfect launching pad for Fitzgerald to place her own stamp on material associated with other singers.”

More Ella Fitzgerald

More Shootout Winners from 2016

Two As Good As It Gets sides back to back. You get superb space and transparency, a three-dimensional soundfield, and full-bodied, immediate vocals.

The key to any Ella recording on Verve is to find the pressing with the most presence, breathiness, richness, tubiness and all that other good stuff that vintage analog records can give you, whilst minimizing the midrangy EQ that plagues most of her albums.

And it can be done. This copy is proof! Hardness and honkiness are no strangers to her records, but the best pressings make the EQ on her vocals sound maybe not perfect, but right for the music. (more…)

Miles Davis In Person – Friday Night and the Sound of Tubes

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Allow me to transcribe my notes:

Both Sides

The right sound — big, rich, tubey and real. Transparent. Rich, smooth, balanced. Horn gets huge and loud the right way. Piano is full. Solid bass.

No need to pick nits.

The Dog that Didn’t Bark in the Night

Normally our notes for the sound of the records we are shooting out against each other fall into two categories: what the record is doing right and what the record is doing wrong. You’ll note that in this case there was nothing wrong about the sound to write about.

I could have picked some nits, but when a specific pressing is so clearly superior to its competition, what’s the point?

Reissues

There are some very good sounding reissues from the ’70s that will eventually make it to the site. Again and again my notes made it clear that the sound could have used some tubes in the chain.

On this record, more than any other, the tubes potentially make all the difference.

Now keep in mind that we are talking only about 1961 tubes, not the stuff that engineers are using today to make “tube-mastered” records. Those modern records barely hint at the Tubey Magical sound of a record like this, if our experience with hundreds of them is any guide. We, unlike so many of the audiophile reviewers of today, have a very hard time taking any of the new pressings seriously. We think our position is pretty clear in that regard.

If you’ve ever heard a pressing that sounds like this one, you know there hasn’t been a record manufactured in the last forty years or so that has its sound. Right, wrong or otherwise, this sound is simply not part of the modern world we live in. If you want to be transported back to San Francisco circa 1961, you will need a record like this to do it.

See all of our Miles Davis albums in stock

 

 

At Ease With Coleman Hawkins – Another Triumph for Rudy Van Gelder

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This 1960 Saxophone Ballad session has to be seen as yet another recording triumph for Rudy Van Gelder. The best pressings of these OJC reissues from 1989 sound like the vintage jazz albums they emulate, and sometimes they even beat the originals at their own Tubey Magical game. They can be every bit as rich, sweet and spacious as their earlier-pressed brethren in our experience.

In the case of At Ease with Coleman Hawkins, we simply have never seen an original copy clean enough to buy, so we have no reference for what an original would sound like.

More Coleman Hawkins

But, having critically auditioned literally hundreds and hundreds of vintage jazz records over the course of the last few years, we’re pretty confidant we know what they are supposed to sound like.

And they sound just like the best copies of this very pressing.

What to Listen For (WTLF) (more…)

The Doors – L.A. Woman – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

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

The first White Hot Stamper version of L.A. Woman to EVER hit the site! This is a 2-pack set with a Triple Plus (A+++) copy for side one and a Double Plus (A++) copy for side two. The sound here goes DRAMATICALLY beyond the average copy — huge, super lively and very rich.

Engineered by the man responsible for the amazing sound on The Doors’ albums, BRUCE BOTNICK.

More of The Doors

We’ve been struggling with this album for YEARS with practically nothing to show for it until very recently. Most copies aren’t even as good as the CD, and just finding clean copies that have stampers with any potential has become incredibly difficult. Both of these copies have one real killer of a side and one that just doesn’t cut it. (The flipside of the Triple Plus side one is actually decent, but we wanted to pair it with the better side two we found to create a monster of a 2-pack.)

Only a small handful of Hot Stamper copies have ever hit the site and none of them have rated as highly as this. The last time we got around to this shootout was two years ago, which should tell you something about how hard the right pressings are to come by. And make no mistake — the less-than-right pressings are often DREADFUL sounding. We’ve been looking for great L.A. Woman sound on vinyl for decades and it took us until relatively recently to have anything to show for it.

More Shootout Winners from 2016

Argybargy Rocks on UK Vinyl

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Our Shootout Winner from 2016

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

If you think you might enjoy the mashup of Pub Rock and New Wave that this group unleashed on the pop music scene of the ’70s and ’80s I could not recommend any album of theirs more highly than Argybargy.

Squeeze’s prime period with Jools Holland on keyboards encompasses four albums, any of which is worth owning. The band really gets going with their second album, Cool for Cats (1979), pulls it all together and takes it to another level for their breakthrough third, Argybargy (1980), and produces two more of high quality, East Side Story (1981, produced mostly by Elvis Costello) and the darker but equally brilliant Sweets from a Stranger (1982).

I’m a huge fan of all four, as well as two from their later days, the amazing-to-this-day Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985) and the weaker but enjoyable Babylon and On (1987). I play all of them on a regular basis.

If you’re a fan of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson and probably quite a few other lesser-knowns from this era, Squeeze is the band for you. I put them right up there with Elvis Costello and Peter Gabriel in the pantheon of British Pop Music of the era.

The Sound

There’s plenty of Tubey Magical richness and smoothness on the best British pressings — such as this one — qualities the domestic pressings are sorely lacking. If you want to hear this music right, on vinyl it’s British or nothing, and with one of our White Hot Stamper pressings it’s British and everything — everything that’s good about this recording is captured on this very side two. And side one is awful good as well.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Extension up top was hard to come by on most pressings. When you hear those lovely hights you can hear how much they add to the sound.

The overall sound is rich and tubey, not dry, thin or modern. Clarity and space are nice but not if they come at the expense of the smooth, rich, natural sound of tubes (whether there are tubes in the chain or not).

Track Commentary

The Track Listing tab above has background on a few of the songs that may be of interest to you, courtesy of Wikipedia.


This is one of the band’s Masterpieces as well as a Desert Island Disc for yours truly.

What qualifies a record to be a Masterpiece needs no explanation. We will make every effort to limit the list to one entry per artist or group, although some exceptions have already occurred to me, so that rule will no doubt be broken from time to time. As Ralph Waldo Emerson so memorably wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”

For a record to come to my Desert Island Disc, said record: 1) must have at some time during my fifty years as a music lover and audio enthusiast been played enthusiastically, fanatically even, causing me to feel what Leonard Bernstein called “the joy of music”; 2) my sixty year old self must currently respect the album, and; 3) I must think I will want to listen to the music fairly often and well into the future (not knowing how long I may be stranded there).

How many records meet the Desert Island Disc criteria? Certainly many more than you can see when you click on the link, but new titles are coming online as time permits.

 

 

 

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu – Latest Developments

Deja Vu

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There are two areas in which we would like to amend some of the previous comments we’ve made about Deja Vu. The first has to do with early pressings. Many years ago we wrote the following:

As we noted in previous commentary, the originals are uniformly awful. Want some inside info on stampers to avoid, free of charge? C and D are pretty bad news most of the time.

Although that’s still true — Deja Vu is a very difficult album to find with good sound no matter what stampers you have — we now know that there are very good sounding copies, Shootout Winning copies in fact, with early stampers.
That’s area number one. Area number two is part of this old piece of advice.

If you bought the Classic Record and you can’t tell what’s wrong with it, this may not be the right hobby for you. I highly recommend you buy the Joe Gastwirt mastered CD and either play it on your system or take it to a hi-fi store in your area. It’s tonally correct and undistorted. The Classic version is neither. Now when a stupid $15 CD is correct in a way that a $40 LP is not, something is very very wrong.

The part where we said this may not be the right hobby for you if you like Classic’s godawful remastering of Deja Vu is still true, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish in the audio hobby. If you’re not too picky about sound quality and just want to play new records, perhaps because old records are hard to find and often noisy, then fine, the Classic should get that job done for you. We of course want nothing to do with it because we want good sounding vinyl, and the Classic is definitely not good sounding by any stretch of the imagination.

No, the problem we see above is that we were recommending the currently available CD. Yes, it’s mostly tonally correct and not distorted, but it has as bad a case of dead-as-a-doornail sound as any badly remastered CD I have ever heard. There is no top, there is no space, there is no life, there is no immediacy, there is no Tubey Magic — in short there is almost nothing left of what makes the best copies of Deja Vu so good. We’ve known this for about five years, just never got around to correcting the record.

(more…)