*Our Record Overview – The Good

Led Zeppelin – A Classic Records LP that Can Beat Most Pressings (!)

More Led Zeppelin

More Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: B

Another Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP reviewed.

Considering how bad (or at best mediocre) the average copy of the first Zep album sounds, let’s give credit where credit is due and say that Bernie’s remastered version on Heavy Vinyl is darn good (assuming you get a good one, something of course that neither I nor you should assume).

It’s without a doubt the best of all the Classic Zeppelin titles, most of which we found none too pleasing to the ear.

Our Thinking Circa 2010

We like the Classic, albeit with reservations. It’s without a doubt the best of all the Classic Heavy Vinyl reissues of the Zeppelin catalog, most of which are not very good and some of which are just awful.

Why is this one good? It’s tonally correct for one thing, and the importance of that cannot be stressed too strongly.

Two, it actually ROCKS, something a majority of pressings we’ve played over the years don’t.

Three, it’s shockingly dynamic. It may actually be more dynamic than any other pressing we have ever played.

If you aren’t willing to devote the time and resources necessary to acquire a dozen or more domestic and import copies, and you don’t want to spend the dough for one of our Hot Stamper copies, the Classic is probably your best bet.

We would agree now with almost none of what we had to say about this Classic title when it came out back in the day. We’ve reproduced it below so that you can read it here for yourself. It’s yet another example of a record We Was Wrong about. Live and learn, right?

Our Commentary from the ’90s

A Classic Winner! Zep 1 Rocks! Beats my best domestic copy (the former champ) and all the imports I”ve heard (at least 10 I would say), even the expensive Japanese Analog version I used to recommend.

This version is a little (deep) bass shy — 2 or 3 db at 40 helps a lot — but it’s cleaner and more dynamic than any other copy I have heard. Things get loud on this version that never got loud before. And that is, to quote one of my competitors, awesome!

Maybe Bernie trimmed the bass because it’s distorted, which would be a mistake, as the distortion is on the tape and rolling off the bottom end solves nothing. Zep II is the same way, maybe even more so.

Since 90% of all the audiophile systems I’ve ever heard were bass shy, this may not be as obvious as it should be. But Led Zeppelin without deep punchy bass emasculates the music in such a fundamental way that it’s hard to imagine this album could have much effect on its audience without it. It’s called head banging music for a reason. Like Wayne, Garth and their buddies driving down the road in Wayne’s World, when it’s really rocking you have an uncontrollable desire to bang your head up and down to the beat, and you need bass to make it rock. No bass, no headbanging.

Dean Martin – This Time I’m Swingin’

More Dean Martin

More This Time I’m Swingin’

xxxxx
xxxxx

  • A wonderful copy that lets this music swing the way it’s supposed to! Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • Both sides are incredible with big, clear and present sound — Deano’s vocals are Right On The Money
  • With Nelson Riddle arranging, the album has plenty of swing all right — and the brass sounds amazing here
  • 4 1/2 Stars in the All Music Guide: “…an easy swinging collection…”

If you’re a fan of the Capitol Sinatra sound you’ll love this record. It’s an exceptionally difficult title to find in anything but trashed condition. I’ve been a fan of this record for many years but this is the first copy we’ve been able to find that’s clean enough to go up on the site with White Hot Stamper grades.  (more…)

Ray Charles – The Genius of Ray Charles

More Ray Charles

More The Genius of Ray Charles

xxxxx

  • One of the few copies to ever hit the site and boy is it KILLER — Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • The sound is incredibly rich, full and Tubey Magical with tons of energy and a nice extended top end
  • Robert Christgau noted that “Charles tried many times, but except for Modern Sounds, he never again assembled such a consistent album in this mode.”
  • “Charles’ voice is heard throughout in peak form, giving soul to even the veteran standards.”

Tom Dowd engineered on Ampex 3 Track through an All Tube chain (this is 1959 after all), Quincy Jones did the arrangements, and Ray sang the hell out of this great batch of songs — all the ingredients in a recipe for soul are here.

Top tracks on the first side: Let The Good Times Roll, It Had To Be You and When Your Lover Has Gone. (more…)

Milt Jackson – Sunflower

More Milt Jackson

More Sunflower

xxxxx

  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – this copy of Sunflower is exceptionally musical and enjoyable
  • So open, with an extended top end, not gritty or crude, always resolving the musical information in a natural way – we loved it
  • These superstars guarantee this is real jazz: Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Freddie Hubbard et al.
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Recorded over two days in December of 1972 at Rudy Van Gelder’s home studio, vibraphonist Milt Jackson’s Sunflower is the first – and best – of his three albums for Creed Taylor’s CTI imprint. (And one of the finest offerings on the label.)”

The extended song structures, ranging from seven to ten minutes in length, leave plenty of room for the band and the orchestra to stretch out. (more…)

Bread – Baby I’m-A Want You – Check Out Those Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars

More Bread

More Baby I’m-A Want You

xxxxx

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

Bread’s fourth album has wonderfully sweet and rich 1972 ANALOG sound. The acoustic guitars are to die for on the title track. Talk about Tubey Magic, this copy has got bucketfuls of it on the voices and guitars. Whatever happened to that sound I wonder?

Listen for the delicate space up high above the music on the title track. This copy has the extended top end that opens up the sound and lets the music breathe.

The average copy is dull, compressed, congested and squawky in the midrange, all good reasons that explain why we simply haven’t been able to do many of Bread’s albums outside of the Greatest Hits and the first album. Most copies are so bad sounding that it seems pointless to even try — pointless only until a copy like this comes along to make us (and other Bread fans) believers. 

Pure Pop For Now People

When you hear music sound this good, it makes you appreciate the music even more than the sound. This is in fact the primary raison d’etre of this audiophile hobby, or at least it’s supposed to be. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of the Everly Brothers or The Beatles. It’s Pure Pop for Now People, to quote the famous wag Nick Lowe.

Of course, by Now People, I’m referring to people who appreciate music that came out close to forty years ago. Whenever I hear a pop record with sound like this, I have to ask myself “What has gone wrong with popular recordings for the last three or four decades?”

I can’t think of one recording of the last twenty years that sounds as good as this Bread album. Are there any? (more…)

Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Solti on Decca/London

More Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

More Symphony No. 4 – Solti

xxxxx
xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

Deep bass; rich, smooth strings, lots of lovely hall space – this copy was right up there with the best we heard, and clearly won the shootout for side two. You will hear immediately why this side two could not be beat – it’s wonderful. (more…)

Van Halen on DCC – Not My Idea of Good Sound

More Van Halen

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing and another DCC LP debunked.

As I recall it isn’t very good — thick and dull and closed-in; in other words, boring — but I played it quite a while ago. If your copy sounds better, more power to you, but I bet it doesn’t. Any copy we sell is guaranteed to blow the doors off of it — as well as any other pressing you own — or your money back.

Go ahead and turn up your nose if you like, but this music is widely considered classic rock by now. I’m not going to pretend it’s on a level with After The Gold Rush or Zep II, but this album does exactly what it’s trying to do — it really ROCKS.

Donn Landee

Credit DONN LANDEE (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records.

Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.

Badly Mastered LPs

Visit our Hall of Shame to see what are in our opinion some of the worst sounding records ever made.

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more intolerable.

Andre Previn & His Pals’ West Side Story – Our Shootout Winner

More Andre Previn / More Shelly Manne

More West Side Story

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This superb sounding Black Label Stereo Contemporary pressing has close to Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on side two. Side one earned a Double Plus, which makes this by far the best copy to ever hit the site and a great way to hear this classic piano trio swingin’ in 1959. This is yet another Demo Disc for Contemporary, more brilliant work from house engineer Roy Dunann. 

One of Previn’s best piano trio records, this album was recorded in 1959 by Roy Dunaan when he was at the height of his engineering powers. You will not find many piano trio records with sound better than this.

Note on the vinyl condition: it’s rare to find any Black Label original in audiophile playing condition, and almost none will play better than the Mint Minus Minus this one plays.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Something’s Coming 
Jet Song 
Tonight 
I Feel Pretty

Side Two

Gee, Officer Krupke! 
Cool 
Maria 
America

AMG Review

The last of a series of showtune albums recorded by the trio of pianist Andre Previn, bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Shelly Manne finds the all-star group focusing on the music of West Side Story. As usual, the melodies are treated respectfully yet swingingly, and Andre Previn in particular excels in this setting. Recommended.

Earth, Wind, Fire and the Neverending Search for Balance

More Earth, Wind & Fire

More the Neverending Search for Balance

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises. As is usually the case when plowing through a big pile of copies, we learned pretty quickly that what makes the sound work is having these two qualities in balance:

1) Richness / Smoothness 
2) Transparency

When the vocals are thin and pinched, as they often are, the resulting edginess and harshness in the midrange take all the fun out of the music. Every track has group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color.

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices (and brass) start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

But richness and fullness are not enough. They must be balanced with TRANSPARENCY. (more…)

Listening for Harmonically Correct Acoustic Guitars on America’s Debut

More America

More America – America

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo fidelity. As it says below, most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. They often sound veiled and dull, and on a copy with a bit too much top end they will have an unnatural hi-fi-ish sparkle.

(This kind of sparkle can be heard on practically every record Mobile Fidelity made in the ’70s and ’80s. Tea for the Tillerman, Sundown, Year of the Cat, Finger Paintings, Byrd at the Gate, Quarter Moon in a 10 Cent Town — the list would be very long indeed, and these are just the records with prominent acoustic guitars!) 

The key song on side one that we use to test is Three Roses. There are three sonically-separated individuals each playing six string acoustic guitars, and when this side is cut right the guitars sound just gorgeous: sweet, with all their harmonic structures intact. (It’s also my favorite song on side one.) (more…)