Our Top 100 Rock and Pop List

Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Songs for Beginners.

This is one helluva well recorded album. Most of the credit must go to the team of recording engineers, led here by the esteemed Bill Halverson, the man behind all of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young albums. Nash was clearly influenced by his work with his gifted bandmates, proving with this album that he can hold his own with the best of the best.

Some songs (We Can Change The World, Be Yourself) are grandly scaled productions with the kind of studio polish that would make Supertramp envious. 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.

Others (Sleep Song, Wounded Bird) are quiet and intimate. Their subtlely is highlighted by the big productions surrounding them. This is that rare album in which every aspect of the production, from the arrangements to the final mix, serves to bring out the best qualities in the songs, regardless of scale.

The recording is of course superb throughout, in the best tradition of Crosby Stills and Nash’s classic early albums: transparent, smooth and sweet vocals, with loads of midrange magic ; deep punchy bass; lovely extension on the top to capture the shimmer of the cymbals and harmonic trails of the acoustic guitars; with the whole balanced superbly by one of our all-time heroes, Glyn Johns. (more…)

Blood, Sweat and Tears – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2009

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

In my opinion this is the BEST SOUNDING rock record ever made. I may be biased by the fact that I like the music so much; nevertheless, on a big stereo a Hot Stamper pressing like the one is nothing less than ASTOUNDING. It has the power of LIVE MUSIC. You don’t find that on a record too often, practically never in fact. I put this record at the top of The Best Sounding Rock Records of All Time List for good reason — it’s in a class of its own.

Our last big shootout was back in early 2008. Since we never tire of discussing the Revolutionary Changes in Audio that have occurred over the last quite eventful year (really more like five quite eventul years) , we here provide you with yet another link to that commentary. Suffice to say, this record, like most good records, got a whole lot better.

(Some records do not, but that’s another story for another day.) We noted some new qualities to the sound that we would like to discuss; they’re what separated the men from the boys this time around. Note that we have left the exhaustive Track by Track Commentary from the last shootout in the listing. It took a long time to write it, and the vast majority of it is still true. We might quibble with some of it, but for the most part we think you will get a lot of out it, so there it will stay.

A Milestone

As I’ve noted before, this record is a milestone in the history of popular music. Not only is it The Most Successful Fusion of Rock and Jazz Ever. It’s also One of the Finest Recordings of Popular Music Ever. The sound is nothing short of amazing. Just the drums alone are enough to win awards: the kick drum has real kick, the snare is, in my opinion, the best rock snare ever recorded, the cymbals shimmer like real cymbals; almost everything is right with this record. Especially the music.

What We Learned This Time Around

All the best qualities of the best copies stayed the same; this is to be expected. If records you know well over a long period of time suddenly start to sound different, you can be pretty sure that you’ve made an audiophile error in your system somewhere. You need to find it and figure out how to fix it as fast as possible, although as a rule this process can turn out to be very time consuiming and difficult. The first place I would look is to any changes in wire, whether speaker, interconnect or power cord. It has been my experience that this is where most of the bad sound in audiophile systems comes from. Much commentary to that effect can be found in The Better Blog. (more…)

The Best Sounding Record on the Site?

 The Original Soundtrack

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On any given day a White Hot side one of The Original Soundtrack could very well be the best sounding record on the site.

“On any given day” being a day when we don’t have a hot German copy of Dark Side of the Moon to offer, or a killer Eagles first album, or a top copy of the self-titled BS&T, or an RL Zep II, or a White Hot Teaser and the Firecat. Most days we don’t have such records on the site, and on those days this 10cc album is a recording Tour De Force that would be bigger, bolder, more dynamic, and more powerful than anything we could throw against it.
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The Band – The Band (2011)

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

Holy mother of god, this is one KNOCKOUT copy of The Band’s self-titled masterpiece! Both sides earned our top grade of A+++ and beat the pants off every other copy — including quite a few RL-mastered originals — in the shootout. On top of that, both sides play between Mint Minus and Mint Minus Minus, which is pretty dan quiet for this album. We love this music, but most copies out there have flimsy sound, trashed vinyl, or both. Here’s the exceedingly rare copy that does just about everything right WITHOUT the typical crackly campfire surface noise!

This Capitol Green Label pressing mastered by Robert Ludwig has TWO KILLER SIDES. When you play either side of this copy, you are going to lose your mind. It’s got Master Tape clarity, You Are There presence, and unbelievable transparency. Drop the needle on Night They Drove Old Dixie Down or Up On Cripple Creek and get ready for some SERIOUS MAGIC! (more…)

2-Packs – The Best Case for Dramatic Pressing Variations

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Just today (3/16/15) we put up a White Hot Stamper 2-pack of the Eagles’ First Album. One of the two pressings that made up the 2-pack had a killer side two, practically As Good As It Gets. 

What was interesting about that particular record was how bad side one was. Side one of that copy — on the white label, with stampers that are usually killer — was terrible. The vocals were hard, shrill and spitty. My notes say “CD sound. ” When a record sounds like a CD it goes in the trade-in pile, not on our site.

We encouraged the lucky owner to play the bad side for himself just to hear how awful it is, yet surprisingly, one might even say shockingly, it has exactly the qualities that audiophiles and collectors are most often satisfied with: the right label, and, in this case even the right stampers (assuming anyone besides us would know what the right stampers are). (more…)

Shoot Out The Lights – Loud Versus Live Versus The Heavy Vinyl Reissue

Shoot Out The Lights

 

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Here’s a thought: if 180 gram records are supposed to be an improvement over the original pressings, why is it that they NEVER sound Big and Bold like this pressing? And I do mean never; I’ve played hundreds of them over the years and have yet to hear this kind of sound on any of them. At this point I would have to conclude that it is simply not possible.

If you have big speakers, a large listening room and like to play your records loud, there is no modern reissue that will ever give you the thrill that a record like this can. (Of course, to fully appreciate the effect it obviously helps if you have a White Hot Stamper copy to play.)

Loud Versus Live

I’ve seen Richard Thompson on a number of occasions over the years, and as loud as my stereo will play, which is pretty darn loud, I could never make his guitar solos 20 dB louder than everything else, because it’s not on the record that way. That’s why live music can’t be duplicated properly in the home: the dynamic contrasts are much too great for the typical listener or his stereo.

Having said that, when you actually do turn this record up, way up, you get the feeling of hearing live music, and that’s not easy to do! Only the best recordings, in my experience, can begin to give you that feeling. We discuss this subject in a number of commentaries under the heading of Turn Up Your Volume.
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David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name… – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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If I Could Only Remember My Name

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

THE ULTIMATE PSYCH ROCK DEMO DISC! Both sides are shockingly transparent with tight bass, silky highs, full-bodied vocals and TONS of Tubey Magic. 

No CD ever made could compete with the amazing analog sound of a record like this, and after twenty five years of that technology failing to do its job I’m pretty sure no CD (or SACD, or any other digital media for that matter) ever will.

These stampers are different from the ones I used to think were the best about ten or twelve years ago. For a long time I didn’t play this record, and then a while back, when this whole Hot Stamper thing took off, I grabbed my personal hot copy and a bunch of others, cleaned them up and did a big shootout. (more…)

James Taylor on Warners / Rhino 180g Vinyl EQ Anomaly Test

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.

Sweet Baby James

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

There is one obvious and somewhat bothersome fault with this new pressing, an EQ issue. Anybody care to guess what it is? Send us an email if you think you know. Hint: it’s the kind of thing that sticks out like a sore thumb, the kind of obvious EQ error I can’t ever recall hearing on an original.

Our Heavy Vinyl Review

This Warner Brothers 180g LP is the BEST SOUNDING Heavy Vinyl reissue to come our way in a long long time. Those of you who’ve been with us for a while know that that’s really not saying much, but it doesn’t make it any less true either, now does it? Let’s look at what it doesn’t do wrong first.

It doesn’t sound opaque, compressed, dry and just plain dead as a doornail like so many new reissues do. It doesn’t have the phony modern mastering sound we hate about the sound of the new Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it.)

The new Sweet Baby James actually sounds like a — gulp — fairly decent original.
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AC/DC – Back In Black – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner

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

Musically Back In Black has everything you’d want from this kind of hard rock — a tight, punchy rhythm section; raging guitar riffs; and deliciously decadent lyrics screamed to perfection. What surprised us is how amazing this music sounds on the right copy. You’ve probably heard these songs a million times, but we bet you haven’t heard them sound like this. This is the kind of record that you’ll want to keep turning up. The louder you play it, the better it gets — but only if you’ve got a great pressing like this.

Side two earned our rare A++++ grade. Our sonic grade graphics only go up to three pluses, but this side two took it all the way to four!

We awarded this copy our very special Four Plus A++++ grade on side two, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a recording to a level never experienced by us before, a level we had no idea could even exist. We estimate that about one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade. You can’t get much more rare than that. (more…)

Jethro Tull – Aqualung

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  • This wonderful copy of Jethro Tull’s fourth studio album earned oustanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides 
  • The sound is excellent from start to finish – big, punchy, present, tubey and bursting with Rock and Roll energy
  • A Better Records Top 100 title that still floors us on the better copies, with sound that will jump right out of your speakers
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… one of the most astonishing progressions in rock history… the degree to which Tull upped the ante here is remarkable… Varied but cohesive, Aqualung is widely regarded as Tull’s finest hour.”

Folks, for hard-rockin’, Tubey Magical, ’70s Arty Proggy Rock in ANALOG, it just does not get much better than Aqualung. You need the right pressing to bring it to life though, and this one is certainly up to the task. (more…)