Personal Favorites

The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet

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  • An outstanding vintage London pressing of this surprisingly well-recorded Stones album from 1968, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound throughout and fairly quiet vinyl, all things considered
  • The long lost Tubey Magic of these early pressings has them sounding better than we ever thought possible with the audio equipment of the day
  • This is exactly the way you want Beggars Banquet to sound and it sure doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it
  • One of a select group of Rolling Stones Must Own titles we prize above all others – Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed round out the trio
  • 5 stars: “Basic rock & roll was not forgotten, however: ‘Street Fighting Man’… was one of their most innovative singles, and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’… was an image-defining epic.”
  • If you’re a Stones fan, this vintage pressing of their 1968 classic belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • No Expectations, the second song on the first side, is one of the greatest Demo Tracks for Tubey Magical Guitar Reproduction we know of. The next year, Glyn Johns would pull off another acoustic guitar recording of that quality with Love in Vain on Let It Bleed.

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Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

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  • Tired of the crude, congested, hard, harsh and otherwise unpleasant sound of most pressings? The solution is right here!
  • Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, Everyday People, You Can Make It If You Try — what a killer lineup of songs
  • 5 stars: “Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment. …everything simply gels here, resulting in no separation between the astounding funk, effervescent irresistible melodies, psychedelicized guitars, and deep rhythms.”
  • This is a Must Own Soul Classic from 1969 that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1969 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Simply Red / A New Flame – A Personal Favorite

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More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • This excellent UK import copy of A New Flame boasts Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • The key qualities for a record from this era are richness, smoothness, naturalness and Tubey Magic — with those, and clarity and presence, you have pretty much everything you need for a top quality pressing
  • Simply Red’s third (and in our opinion their BEST) album – this is where it all came together for the band, with “It’s Only Love” and “A New Flame” being the two best tracks the group ever recorded
  • Their cover of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” on side two sounds FANTASTIC

This outstanding UK import pressing has some of the best sound we have ever heard for the album, Simply Red’s third and in my opinion their BEST.

This is where it all came together for the band, especially in the writing department. These songs about love (few popular songs are about anything else when you stop to think about it) harken back to the days when there was such a thing as “Blue-Eyed Soul Music,” a cross between real soul music and the standard radio-friendly pop song. Hall and Oates, Smokey Robinson (not exactly blue-eyed but definitely the right sound); the music of these artists combines pop craftsmanship with real soul.

I love this album. Every track is good; the slow ones are the best but unlike their previous records the uptempo tracks are taken at a more modest and listenable pace. The two tracks that open side one are two of the best the band ever recorded.

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AC/DC – Back In Black

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 More Top 100 Rock and Pop Titles

  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish, this Back In Black ROCKS like nothing you’ve heard
  • Both sides play with exceptionally (and unusually) quiet surfaces for a Robert Ludwig original
  • RL is the king on this title, which means the conventional wisdom is right for once!
  • It’s been years since we got hold of a copy that sounds this good and plays this quietly – it’s one of only a handful to hit the site with both sides graded Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • Top 100, and if you turn it up good and loud, one of the biggest, boldest, hardest rockin’ records ever made
  • 5 stars: “… tawdry celebration of sex is what made AC/DC different from all other metal bands — there was no sword & sorcery, no darkness, just a rowdy party, and they never held a bigger, better party than they did on Back in Black.”
  • Robert Ludwig used humungous amounts of tube compression on Back in Black, and we’re glad he did. All that compression is at least partly responsible for it being a Rock Demo Disc of the highest order.

You probably never thought you’d ever use an AC/DC LP as a Demo Disc, but this copy will have you reconsidering that notion — it’s ALIVE with Rock and Roll Power Chords like nothing you have ever heard.

For Riff Rock you just can’t do much better than Back In Black. AMG gives it 5 Stars and rightfully so. Musically it’s got everything you’d want from this genre of heavy rock — a tight, punchy rhythm section; raging guitar riffs; and deliciously decadent lyrics screamed to perfection.

What took us by surprise was 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 pressing that rocks like this one.

The transparency and clarity are shocking — we heard texture on the guitars and room around the drums that simply weren’t to be found on most copies, plus tons of lovely analog reverb and natural studio ambience.

And of course the bottom end is big, beefy, and rock-solid, just the way we like it. I ask you, what album from 1980 sounds better than Back in Black?

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Helen Humes – A Forgotten Jazz Vocal Classic

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

  • This vintage Contemporary pressing is close to the best we have ever heard, with stunning Nearly Master Tape sound from start to finish, just shy of our Shootout Winner – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Both of these sides are amazingly Tubey Magical, yet incredibly clean and clear — something you can’t get from the tube-mastered originals
  • Helen’s voice is PERFECTION — breathy, full, and sweet; and the orchestra sounds JUST RIGHT — just listen to the nice bite of the brass
  • 5 stars: “One of the high points of Helen Humes’ career, this Contemporary set features superior songs, superb backup, and very suitable and swinging arrangements by Marty Paich. Humes’ versions of ‘If I Could Be With You,’ ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy,’ and ‘Million Dollar Secret,’ in particular, are definitive… This classic release is essential and shows just how appealing a singer Helen Humes could be.”

This vintage Contemporary pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What The Best Sides Of Songs I Like To Sing! Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Later Pressings Have The Real Sound

We prefer later pressings of this album to the Black Label originals, which sound tube mastered and have a bit of echo added to them. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other, but this seems to be the more accurate reproduction of what happened in the recording session, and I know this is the one I would rather listen to.

Without a doubt it’s one of my all time favorite jazz albums. The amazing Marty Paich (Art Pepper Plus Eleven) did the arrangements for this group of top musicians, which includes Art PepperBen WebsterBarney KesselShelly ManneJack Sheldon and Leroy Vinnegar, just to name the ones whose work I know well. Does it get any better?

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Crowded House – Woodface

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Reviews and Commentaries for Crowded House

  • An outstanding European import pressing of Crowded House’s 1991 Pop Masterpiece boasting Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • The care and effort that went into every aspect of the recording and production of Woodface more than justifies the effort we put into finding this excellent copy – one of the better sounding copies we have played
  • It is our opinion that this is some of the most original, melodic, hook-laden, sophisticated popular music recorded in the last thirty years, the kind that should find favor with any audiophile who likes the popular music, starting with The Beatles and ending who knows when
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The songs are easily their finest to date, combining flawless melodies and the outstanding harmonies of the brothers’ perfectly matched voices.”

This excellent copy of Woodface fulfills the promise of this extraordinarily well-recorded album beyond all expectations. The effect so totally immerses you in the musical experience that you forget you’re listening to a record at all. In your mind, you have the sense that you’re hearing the music exactly the way the musicians, producers, and engineers intended it to sound. The sound is everything you want it to be as you experience every element of the music without limitation. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

  • Outstanding solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout this Black Label original on vinyl that’s about as quiet as they ever play
  • The piano sounds lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom
  • This copy makes it clear that this is a Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, and that’s saying a lot
  • It’s also our favorite jazz piano performance by Andre Previn on record
  • Only a handful of copies of this title have made it on the site in the last few years – finding them in audiophile condition is getting harder (and more expensive) than ever these days
  • “Previn’s piano is the lead voice and his virtuosity, good taste, melodic improvising, and solid sense of swing are chiefly responsible for the music’s success.”

I have a very long history with this album, going back decades. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned, was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak all the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP (I sold off the old one years ago) but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was.

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James Taylor / Dad Loves His Work – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the Music of James Taylor

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This Hot Stamper original Columbia is THE KING, the Best Sounding Copy we have ever played — the sound was OUT OF THIS WORLD! In fact, side two went so far beyond what we’ve come to expect from this album that we had to award it the rare Four Plus (A++++) grade.

We no longer give Four Pluses out as a matter of policy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t come across records that deserve them from time to time.

Even recordings that are as heavily processed as this one. We don’t have a problem with that approach when it works as well as it does here. Mud Slide Slim this is not. It’s also 1981, not 1971. We prefer the recordings from 1971, undeniably the Golden Age for rock and pop recording quality[1], but we know that to expect the sound of the ’70s in 1981 would simply be setting oneself up for disappointment.

Those days are gone, as are the amazing sounding pressings that came out then, and nobody, repeat nobody, pressing records today can figure out how they did it.

The soundstage and depth on our best Hot Stamper copies is HUGE — this is without a doubt the most spacious recording by James Taylor we’ve ever heard. If you want your speakers to disappear, replaced by a huge studio full of musicians playing their hearts out, this is the album that can do it.

But of course there’s a lot more to the sound of the best copies than a big soundstage.

Tonality is key.

As usually happens in these shootouts, we learned that there’s so much more to this album than just great songs. What really makes this music work on the best copies was the result of two qualities we found were in fairly short supply:

(1) Correct Tonality

Most copies have a phony MoFi-like top end boost in the 10k region that we found irritating as hell. The longer we listened the less we liked the copies that had that boost, which adds a kind of “sparkle” to cymbals and guitars that has no business being there.

Now if you’re a MoFi fan and you like the boosted highs that label is famous for, don’t waste your money buying a Hot Stamper copy from us. Our copies are the ones with the correct and more natural-sounding top end. The guitars will sound like real guitars and the voices will sound like real voices.

(2) Lower Midrange and Bottom End Weight

When the vocals sound thin, bright and phony, as they do on so many copies of this album (partly no doubt the result of the grainy crap vinyl Columbia is infamous for) that hi-fi-ish sound takes all the fun out of the music. Many tracks have background vocals and big choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, with the full lower midrange weight that that image implies.

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, causing Taylor and crew’s voices to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

Transparency and That Feeling of Reality

Transparency is always a big deal on pop recordings such as this. Of course this has to be a multi-miked, multi-tracked, overdubbed pop record — they don’t make them any other way — but it doesn’t have to FEEL like one.

When you get a good copy it feels like all these guys are live in the studio. They may have their own mics, and are certainly being placed artificially in the soundfield to suit the needs of the track (kick drum here, hand-claps over there), but the transparency of the killer pressings makes them sound like they are all in the same room playing together, clearly occupying their own share of the space in the studio.

This is one of our favorite Taylor albums here at Better Records. It’s the last album by the man that bears any resemblance to the genius of his early work. It’s steeply, steeply downhill after DLHW. (Case in point: His specials for PBS of the last few years are a positive cure for insomnia, with every song slowed down and all the energy drained from the material.)

But he still had fire in his belly when he made this one — one listen to Stand and Fight is all the evidence you need; the song rocks as hard as anything the guy ever did. (And it’s got plenty of cowbell, always a good sign.)

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Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark

Hot Stamper Pressings of Court and Spark Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

  • The sound is rich, warm and natural, with wonderful transparency, ambience and loads of Tubey Magic
  • Musically this is one of our favorite Joni albums here at Better Records, and probably her Best Recording as well
  • A proud member (along with Blue) of our Top 100 Rock and Pop albums – yes, it’s that good sounding when it’s mastered and pressed as well as this copy is
  • 5 stars: “[A] remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz … the music is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last.”
  • Court and Spark, along with For the Roses, are two of the best sounding albums in Joni Mitchell’s canon. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.
  • If you’re a Joni fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1974 is an absolute Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Court and Spark deserves to be heard with all the clarity, beauty and power that our Hot Stampers reproduce so well. If there is a better sounding album with Joni Mitchell’s name on the cover, you’ll have to prove it to us.

What you hear is the sound of the real tape; every instrument has its own character because the mastering is correct and the vinyl — against all odds — managed to capture all (or almost all; who can know?) of the resolution that the tape had to offer. (more…)

Oscar Peterson Trio – West Side Story

More Oscar Peterson Trio

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • A vintage Verve stereo pressing with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them throughout
  • Rich, solid bass; you-are-there immediacy; energy and drive; instruments that are positively jumping out of the speakers – add it all up and you can see that this copy had the sound we were looking for
  • Which wouldn’t mean much if the music wasn’t swingin,’ but it is – every track shows just how good this trio was in 1962
  • Credit engineer Bob Simpson, the man behind the legendary Belafonte at Carnegie Hall live recording from a couple of years before
  • An absolute Must Own – for sound and music, this is our pick for The Best Oscar Peterson Album of All Time

This album checks off a number of important boxes for us here at Better Records:

  1. It’s a Jazz Demo Disc (on the right stereo pressings)
  2. It’s the Best Sounding Oscar Peterson album we know of
  3. It’s a Jazz Masterpiece, and, lastly,
  4. It’s a Personal Favorite of yours truly

I’ve known this was a well-recorded album since I first heard the DCC gold CD back in the ’90s. It sounded great to me at the time — I had nothing to compare it to — but it sure didn’t sound like this. (more…)