*Our Record Overview – The Good

Nat King Cole – Nat King Cole Sings/ George Shearing Plays

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

Excellent sound on both sides! We picked up a bunch of pressings of this great collaboration album featuring the vocals of Nat King Cole and the piano work of George Shearing. The better pressings like this one are wonderful sonically, putting Cole’s voice right up front with lots of breath and texture. It’s very tough to find great sound for Nat King Cole, so here’s a rare chance to hear what he can sound like on a strong pressing.

We played a bunch of these and most of them were pretty mediocre. The mono copies were uniformly awful — small, congested and gritty. The Hot Stamper copies give you fuller vocals, more transparency, more weight to the piano and lots of tubey warmth. (more…)

John Mayall with Eric Clapton – Blues Breakers

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  • Two outstanding sides for what gets our vote as John Mayall’s best album – with Double to Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout, just shy of our shootout winner
  • Richer, smooth and livelier than practically any copy we heard, with Tubey Magic and space you won’t believe
  • The British Decca vinyl on this amazing pressing is about as quiet as we ever expect to find for this album
  • 5 stars on Allmusic: “Bluesbreakers was Eric Clapton’s first fully realized album as a blues guitarist — more than that, it was a seminal blues album of the 1960s, perhaps the best British blues album ever cut, and the best LP ever recorded by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.”

This copy is guaranteed to be DRAMATICALLY superior to most British and all domestic pressings, the MoFi Gold CD and every other version that you’ve ever played. This is it folks! They cut this one right. It sounds the way you always wished it would sound. (more…)

Elton John – Empty Sky – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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Empty Sky

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

The undiscovered gem in the Elton John catalog! This original British Import demonstrates just how good a recording this is. The sound is excellent and the music is surprisingly good — and weird in a fun way! It certainly bears little relation to the middle-of-the-road pop songs Elton’s been making since the ’80s. These guys were young and figuring out their sound here, and this album takes Elton to some pretty interesting places. A fun debut album that is certainly worth a listen if you’re a fan of the classic albums that were to follow.

We’ve had dozens of these on our shelves for years but struggled to get this shootout done until recently. The main thing holding us back was how noisy most copies are, even the minty looking ones. Anyone who’s played DJM Brit pressings knows those guys had a very hard time pressing quiet vinyl. (more…)

Elton John – Elton John – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Elton John – Elton John

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

This original DJM British pressing has a SUPERB Demo Disc Quality side two and a wonderful A++ side one! You could easily play a hundred records from the ’70s and not hear one that sounds this good. The richness and sweetness of this side have to be heard to be believed. We would be very surprised if this copy didn’t become your favorite Elton John record — it’s an absolute knockout.

As is usually the case for this album and specifically these Brit DJM pressings, the vinyl is a bit noisy — Mint Minus Minus with constant moderate surface noise under the music.

Folks, if you’re looking for Classic Rock that still appeals to sophisticated adults forty plus years after it came out, this is the album for you. It’s one of the four Classic Elton John records (five if you count GYBR) that belong in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection.* (more…)

10cc – How Dare You!

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  • You’ll find solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this outstanding early UK pressing of 10cc’s fourth album, How Dare You! – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This wonderful LP will show you that 10cc’s commitment to Audiophile Recording Quality was – at the time – beyond reproach 
  • Forget the dubby domestic stuff and the no-doubt-awful Heavy Vinyl, this early British pressing is huge, spacious and rich, with prodigious amounts of bass, like no other copy you’ve heard
  • 4 stars: “…a well-crafted album that shows off 10cc’s eccentric humor and pop smarts in equal measure… it remains a solid album of witty pop songs that will satisfy anyone with a yen for 10cc.”

With this superb British pressing some of you who might consider yourselves more devoted fans of the band will finally be able to hear what a good recording this is. The typical domestic copy is a disaster as are some of the British originals and reissues; we should know, we cleaned them, played them and heard them for ourselves. (more…)

Supertramp – Crisis? What Crisis? – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS? is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it. 

We love the album and we hope you do too. If you have some time on your hands — maybe a bit too much time on your hands — please feel free to check out our commentaries.

This link will take you to our other SUPERTRAMP albums. 

This album ticks off a number of boxes that are important to understanding records and their reproduction.

  • The original is not the way to go on this album, at least not on the domestic pressings. There are currently 70+ listings discussing this idea and there could easily be double that if we took the time to create them.
  • This recording is Difficult to Reproduce. We described some of the challenges in a recent shootout-winning listing:

The overall sound is as big and bold as it gets, with huge amounts of difficult-to-control, or perhaps we should say difficult-to-reproduce, UPPER MIDRANGE musical information.

Layer upon layer of multi-tracked guitars, voices, keyboards, percussion instruments and more build up in the loudest and most dynamic passages. The good copies keep it all clean, separate and undistorted, and the bad copies make a hash of it.

  • The recording is yet another that we found can really come alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

And boy does this record get LOUD when it wants to. One pop record out of a hundred has dynamics like those found on the best pressings of CWC. Dark Side of the Moon has them. Blood Sweat and Tears has them. Thick as a Brick too. We love that sound but we sure don’t hear it that often. When we do we sit up and pay attention!

And when it gets this loud, it had better be mastered and pressed right or it will tear your head off. Only the best copies get better as they get louder.

  • Years ago we actually used to prefer the Half-Speed Mastered pressing, made by Jack Hunt for A&M, to the domestic and British copies we had been doing our shootouts with. Eventually, with improvements to every aspect of our playback system, as well as the record cleaning technologies we developed, we came to see the error of our ways.
  • There are a large number of commentaries associated with being wrong. Unlike practically any audiophile reviewer we have ever encountered, we don’t have a problem with making mistakes. If you already know it all, how can you learn anything?
  • We go out of our way to mention the records that helped us to Live and Learn something. Besides the fact that we are the only record sellers in the world who do comprehensive records shootouts, admitting to our mistakes would be enough to make us unique in the world of audiophiles
  • Here’s more on the benefits to be gained by Making Mistakes. We discussed the issue recently on a copy of Led Zeppelin’s Presence that wasn’t exhibiting the problems we had ascribed to it in recent listing.

Of course the reason I hadn’t heard those problems is that over the last year or so we fixed them. How I don’t really know.

Maybe the main improvements happened just last week with the cartridge being dialed in better. Or maybe it was that in combination with the few new room tweaks. Or maybe those changes built upon other changes that had happened earlier; there’s really no way to know. You have to get around to doing the annual shootout for any given record in order to find out how far you’ve come, or if you’ve come any way at all. Fortunately for us the improvements, regardless of what they might be or when they might have occurred, were incontrovertible. The album was now playing at a higher level.

It’s natural to blame sonic shortcomings on the recording; everyone does it. But in this case We Was Wrong. The grain and distortion we mentioned are no longer a problem on the best copies. We’ve worked diligently on every aspect of record cleaning and reproduction, and now there’s no doubt that we can get Presence to play much better than we could before. This is why we keep experimenting, and why we encourage you to do the same.

  • Without a doubt Crisis? What Crisis? is a Big Speaker album, in exactly the same way that Crime of the Century, the only other Supertramp album engineered and produced by Ken Scott, is. Our commentary:

Playing a Hot Stamper copy at loud levels with big woofers will have your house quaking. Add to that the kind of ENERGY that the better pressings have in their grooves and the result is an album guaranteed to bring most audiophile systems to their knees, begging for mercy.

This is The Audio Challenge that awaits you. If you don’t have a system designed to play records with this kind of SONIC POWER, don’t expect to hear Crime of the Century the way Ken and the boys wanted you to. The album wants to rock your world, and that’s exactly what our Hot Stamper pressings are capable of doing.

  • Supertramp is certainly one of the most influential and important bands in my growth as a music lover and audiophile, joining the ranks of Roxy Music, Ambrosia, 10cc, Steely Dan, Yes, Bowie and countless others, musicians and bands who seemed to me dedicated to exploring and exploding the conventions of popular music.My equipment was forced to evolve in order to be able to play the scores of challenging recordings issued by these groups in the ’70s. You could say that the albums of Supertramp and others (The Beatles of course) informed not only my taste in music but the actual stereo I play that music on. It’s what Progress in Audio is all about. I’ve had large scale dynamic speakers for the last four decades, precisely in order to play records like this, the kind of music I fell in love with back in the ’70s.
  • And Large Scale Orchestral Recordings surely represent one of the tougher challenges to a system, which is precisely what makes them a good choice for selecting records with which to evaluate equipment or tweak your stereo.
  • In case you haven’t seen it on the site, here is a quick rundown on what we use to evaluate the very special pressings we call Hot Stampers, Our Playback System, a work in progress to be sure.
  • Rather than continue to go on for days like this, let’s wrap it up with a shout out to one of the Engineering Giants of the ’60s and ’70s, KEN SCOTT, the man at the board for albums such as Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century, Birds of Fire and many, many more.

 

Falla / Three Cornered Hat (Complete Ballet) / Ansermet

More of the music of Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)

Three Cornered Hat (Complete Ballet)

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

This London is energetic, dynamic, spacious, transparent, rich and sweet. James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these 1961 sessions in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology.  (more…)

Gerry Mulligan Quartet – What Is There To Say?

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What Is There To Say?

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

This Six Eye stereo LP put every other copy we played to shame on side one with shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound. Side two earned a Double Plus (A++) grade for its explosive dynamics and rich, full-bodied, Tubey Magical sax sound. Tubier, more transparent, more dynamic, with that “jumpin’ out of the speakers’ quality that only The Real Thing ever has. Hard to imagine any reissue, vintage or otherwise, can hold a candle to the sound of this amazing record. 

Recorded at Columbia’s 30th Street studios, here is a record that sounds like Kind of Blue, Ah Um and Time Out, for the simple reason that all were recorded in the same studio using the same equipment and perhaps even the same engineers. (more…)

Gershwin / Concerto In F & Rhapsody In Blue / Kostelanetz

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

This early Columbia 360 Label pressing has Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides. Exceptionally rich and Tubey Magical from start to finish. The sound on this vintage pressing is natural and above all musical. Both works are performed with consummate skill and attention to detail, the result magnificent. 

I’ve always loved these performances, but the crude, smeary and painfully-shrill-when-loud Columbia recording quality has always been a barrier to their enjoyment. So many copies suffer from upper-midrangy, glary, hard sound and blary brass. I’ve come to accept that this is nothing more nor less than the “Columbia Sound.” As a consequence we rarely put much effort into surveying their vintage pressings; the good ones are just too hard to find. (more…)

Dr. John – In The Right Place

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” sound for this Must Own Dr. John album – both sides earned our top grade of A+++
  • SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND – who knew how well recorded this album was? (Certainly not the audiophile press)
  • We don’t know of any other Dr. John album with sound remotely as good, and the modern albums of his we’ve played were just awful
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Dr. John finally struck paydirt here and was certainly In the Right Place. With the hit single “Right Place Wrong Time” bounding up the charts, this fine collection saw many unaware listeners being initiated into New Orleans-style rock.”

Punchy drums, solid bass, smooth vocals, extended highs — this album was produced, recorded and mastered by superbly talented individuals who deserve a lot of credit for the work they have done here.

If you like Little Feat this album should be right up your alley. And if you like this album and don’t know little feat, the link on the left will take you to their music. They’re one of the all time great bands of the ’70s (and still going as far as I know). (more…)