Our Top 100 Rock and Pop List

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.

As is so often the case, I discovered that my previous conclusions had to be reexamined in the light of contrary evidence. (This is, after all, a science. Or is it an art? I can never keep those two straight.) The stampers I used to like were still wonderful, but these “new” stampers were even more magical. These particular pressings have a transparency and delicacy that my old system, as good as it was, simply wasn’t capable of resolving.

After even more upgrades to the room and the stereo (including the amazing EAR 324 phono stage that resolves at a much higher level than anything I had owned before), we couldn’t be sure that these magical stampers would still be the best. After shooting out nearly a score of top contenders, we checked out the dead wax on the champions and saw that our most recent favorite stampers were still the king. (As we noted before, the person listening to the record never knows which actual pressing is playing, which we feel helps to keep everybody honest. In audio you can convince yourself of anything if you want it to be true badly enough.)

You Don’t Have to Be High to Hear It

Side one here has INSANELY GOOD SOUND! This copy has it all — amazing transparency, breathtaking clarity, super low distortion, breathy vocals, uncanny immediacy and lots of life. Master Tape Sound is the phrase we reserve for A+++ sides like this. When you drop the needle on this record, all barriers between you and the musicians are removed. You’ll feel as though you’re sitting at the studio console while Crosby and his no-doubt-stoned-out-of-their-minds Bay Area pals (mostly Jefferson Airplaners and Grateful Deads) are laying down this emotionally powerful, heartfelt music. Laughing has OUT OF THIS WORLD sound — warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied… that’s some real ’60s tubey magic, baby! And the best part is, you don’t have to be high to hear it. You just need a good stereo and the right pressing.

By the way, the first track has that “home recording” sound and always sounds weak compared to the rest of this album. Don’t expect any wonders, even from a copy like this. By one minute into track two, you’ll understand why we freaked out over this copy.

Side Two Is Right Up There With It

Side two is nearly as amazing! The highs are PERFECTION — silky, delicate, airy and sweet. The vocals are breathy with amazing presence and lots of texture. The acoustic guitars are super clean and clear with just the right balance of pluck and body. The overall sound is exceptionally dynamic and lively with tons of tubey magic. It’s so transparent, so spacious, and incredibly clear. We rate side two A++ – A+++, making this a knockout copy from start to finish.

Barncard’s Masterpiece

(We all owe a debt of gratitude to the superbly talented recording engineer on this project, Stephen Barncard. We like his work so much we created a whole bundle for him, which you can see on the left. This album is probably his masterpiece. It fully deserves its standing as one of our Top Five Best Rock Recordings of All Time, which can also be seen on the left.)

Your Reward Awaits You

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, records like this are the reward for owning the right stereo equipment and having it properly tweaked. There is no way in the world I could have played this album 10 years ago remotely as well as I can now. It only makes me appreciate the music even 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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Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks – What To Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

Many copies have no bass, while other copies are bright, a combination which ruins the sound of the acoustic guitars that dominate the album. On the better Hot Stamper pressings the bass will be deep and well-defined and the tonal balance will be correct.

The copies that fared the best in our shootouts were rich, warm, tubey and full-bodied — in other words, analog sounding. 

What To Listen For

It’s nice when the copy in hand has all the transparency, space, layered depth and three-dimensionality that makes listening to records such a fundamentally different experience than listening to digitally-sourced material, but it’s not nearly as important as having that rich, relaxed tonal balance. A little smear and a lack of resolution is not the end of the world on this album. Brightness, along with too much grain and grit, can be. 

What To Listen For — Side Two

The harmonica on the second track is devilishly difficult to get right. If there is any aggressiveness or grit in the sound of your copy, you will have no trouble recognizing it when that harmonica starts to play. (more…)

Frank Zappa – Waka/Jawaka – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Waka/Jawaka.

Problems? 

Not long ago we discovered the secret to separating the men from the boys on side one: TRANSPARENCY.

On the lively, punchy, dynamic copies — which are of course the best ones — you can follow the drumming at the beginning of ‘Big Swifty’ note for note: every beat, every kick of the kick drum, every fill, every roll. (more…)

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…)

James Taylor – Sweet Baby James

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • Just listen to all that lovely echo – it’s a dead giveaway that both sides have resolving power far beyond the other copies you may have heard 
  • A Top 100 Title, inarguably a Masterpiece – Fire and Rain and Suite for 20 G (one of JT’s All Time Best) are out of this world here
  • 5 Stars: “Sweet Baby James launched not only Taylor’s career as a pop superstar but also the entire singer/songwriter movement of the early ’70s that included Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and others…”

Vocal reproduction is key to the best sounding copies of Sweet Baby James as it is on so many Folkie Pop Rock albums from the era.

To find a copy where Taylor’s vocals are front and center — which is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet, tonally correct and Tubey Magical is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off. (more…)

Free – Fire and Water

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  • A superb copy of the band’s third studio album with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound – reasonably quiet vinyl to this title too   
  • Stunning Live-in-the-Studio Rock Sound that must be heard to be believed – All Right Now sounds fantastic
  • The recording sounds more alive than 99 out of 100 rock records we’ve played, and we’ve played the best sounding rock records ever made
  • Top 100 and 4 1/2 stars: “From Paul Kossoff’s exquisite and tasteful guitar work, to Paul Rodgers’ soulful vocals, this was a group that was easily worthy of the mantle worn by Cream, Blind Faith, or Derek & the Dominos.”

To find a copy that plays this quietly and sounds this good is no mean feat, but here one is!

This is one of our favorite recordings and a member of our Top 100, but it only works when you get the right pressing. This one has the big, spacious soundstage and punchy bottom end to bring it to life! (more…)