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Listening in Depth to Airto’s Masterpiece – Fingers

More from Airto

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This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto.

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.)

The Highs Are Back

This copy has the highs that are missing from so many of the CTI originals. When you play this against most copies there is an extension to the top end that you don’t hear elsewhere. Since this album is heavy on percussion, that difference is critical. The HARMONICS of the percussion are critically important to the music. When they go missing it’s as if the music seems to slow down, a strange effect but a fairly common one with rhythmically dense arrangements such as these.

With an extended top end the sound is SWEET, not HARSH. Believe us when we tell you, the last thing you want is a harsh sounding pressing of a Rudy Van Gelder recording. (Not unless you have a dull, dull, deadly dull stereo. Those “Old School” stereos are practically the only way one can tolerate some of his early recordings.)

With so many high frequency transients and such complex arrangements, this is a record that must be mastered (and pressed) with great skill or the result is going to be trouble. RVG, who both recorded and mastered the album, has a penchant for over-cutting records and being heavy handed when it comes to his favorite studio tricks, often to the detriment of instrumental fidelity. When his approach works, the resulting recordings are wonderful. When he gets too carried away with his “sound”, look out.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Fingers

This is the most problematical track on the entire album — please DO NOT JUDGE the album by this song! The sound is much better on the tracks that follow. This may have been an attempt to get that hot hit single sound for track one, the kind that would jump out of your radio speaker, but the effect can be a bit much, depending on how low distortion and high resolution your equipment is. The better your system, the less of a problem you will have getting this track to play well. If this track sounds decent, everything after it will really shine.

The biggest problem one typically runs into is a lack of bass and lower midrange. On the better copies the bass will be fine on the next track and those that follow.

Romance of Death

The guitar work on this track is stellar, some of the best musicianship on the album. Credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for making the guitar jump out of the mix. One of the things he can do, practically better than anyone, is make a lead instrument sound as big and as bold as you’ve ever heard it.

Merry-Go-Round

This track has a tendency to be overly compressed. Some stampers have so much added compression that the guitar and the percussion in the middle of the soundfield turn into undifferentiated muck. Those copies are what we refer to as “Not-So-Hot Stampers”.

Wind Chant

Side Two

Note that the sound on side two tends to be more open, rich and clear as a rule.

Parana

Perhaps my favorite track on the album; it builds into a chanting jam towards the end of its six minutes that grows to be as powerfully hypnotic as any I know. It’s the main reason this is a Desert Island Disc for me. I simply cannot get enough of Airto’s driving rhythms on this album. I’ve been playing this record my entire adult life and never once tired of it.

We wish Airto had made a string of albums as good as this one, but unfortunately we are not aware of any others of this quality. Which makes sense I suppose: one awe-inspiring masterpiece is more than most artists will ever produce.

San Francisco River
Tombo in 7/4

Ranking the Most Tubey Magical Rock Recordings

A Space in Time

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This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and too many others to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted. (Of course, as it turns out, recording technology only got worse as the decade wore on, and during the ’80s the sound of most records went off a cliff.)

Big Production British Rock & Roll just doesn’t get much better than A Space in Time.
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Peter Frampton and His Big Production Rock

Wind of Change For Sale

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More Peter Frampton

Frampton’s first solo album, Wind of Change, was recorded by the well-known engineer Chris Kimsey, who worked with the Stones and others too numerous to mention. To say that the sound of his albums varies considerably would be the understatement of the year. The first album (British only, FYI) is as rich, sweet, and Tubey Magical as practically anything you’ve ever heard (as well as overly tube compressed, its biggest fault).

More Chris Kimsey

More Engineers, Producers and Arrangers

I unashamedly confess to being a huge Frampton fan to this very day. Wind of Change has been a Desert Island Disc for me ever since I picked up my first copy while still in high school. I bought the first Frampton album as soon as it came out, probably based on a magazine review. Think I paid $3.08 for it; that was the discount price for an album at the little record store I frequented back in those days. It was in Leucadia, CA, not far from where I went to high school.
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Elvis Costello Arrayed His Armed Forces…

Armed Forces For Sale

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and Produced His Single Best Sounding Record

We consider Armed Forces to be one of the best sounding rock records ever made, and a copy like this is proof enough to back up our claim. The best copies are extremely transparent and silky sounding, but with unbelievably punchy, rock solid bass and drums.

The sound of the rhythm section of this album ranks up there with the very best ever recorded. Beyond that, the musical chops of this band at this time rank with the very best in the history of rock. Steve, Bruce and Pete rarely get the credit they deserve for being one of the tightest, liveliest backing bands ever to walk into a studio or on to a stage.

The song Oliver’s Army on the first side is a perfect example of what we’re talking about. Rock music doesn’t get much livelier than that. Skip on down to Green Shirt for another track that’s as punchy as they come.

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Check Out Our Forgotten Jazz Classics Section

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

Here’s a typical entry:

George Benson – White Rabbit

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We recently conducted another extensive shootout for White Rabbit and it was a BLAST. It always is. Benson and his funky jazz all-stars buds (Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock and Airto to name a few) tear through some great material here, and on both sides of this copy the sound as KILLER.

If you want to hear the best George Benson record we know of, this is the one. The Grammy-winning Breezin’ from 1976 is a perfectly good album but it’s quite a bit more commercial than the earlier White Rabbit here from 1972, his first album to make the top ten on the jazz charts. (more…)

Carlos Santana Knows: Louder Is Better

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.

Santana

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Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you TURN UP YOUR VOLUME.

This album needs to be played LOUD. I used to demonstrate that specific effect a few years ago when I found my first shockingly good Hot Stamper copy back in the late ’90s. I would play the first minute or so of track one at a pretty good level. There’s lots of ambience, there’s a couple of guys who shout things out, there’s a substantial amount of deep bass, and the whole recording has a natural smooth quality to it (which is precisely what allows you to play it at loud volumes).

Then I would turn it up a notch, say about 2-3 DB. I would announce to my friends that this is probably louder than you will ever play this record, but listen to what happens when you do. The soundstage gets wider and deeper, all those guys that shout can be heard more clearly, you start to really feel that deep bass, and when the song gets going, it REALLY gets going.

The energy would be fantastic.
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A Psych Masterpiece

More Spirit

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This is one of our favorite albums here at Better Records, and a true ’60s Psych Pop Masterpiece! The sound can be amazing as well, although you’d never know that listening to the average pressing. This copy gives you wall to wall width and layered studio depth like you will not believe, the kind of space you hear on engineering classics like Dark Side of the Moon and A Space in Time.

Fired Up

Want a glimpse into the kind of energy the band was generating in the studio? Drop the needle on Fresh Garbage, the opening track, and you will hear this band come alive in a way you probably never imagined you’d ever hear them. It’s positively startling how immediate and lively the sound is here.

This is the band at their best, fired up and ready to show the world that The Doors are not the only SoCal rock band with innovative ideas about rock music and the performing chops to pull them off, not to mention the studio wizards who managed to get it all down on tape with State-of-the-Art ’60s Rock sound quality.

The Doors Vs. Spirit

If I had to choose between The Doors’ first album and Spirit’s, say for a nice drive up the coast with the top down, no contest, Spirit would get the nod (not to take anything away from The Doors mind you). I had the album on 8 Track back in high school and played it to death. Doing this shootout, hearing the album sound so good after so many years, was nothing less than a THRILL. (I went right up to Amazon and bought a CD for the car. Might just take a drive up the coast.)
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Santana – Inner Secrets

Our Killer White Hot Stamper copy!

 

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Just one of the  distinguished members of our Rock and Pop Hall of Fame that we’ve added recently (now 200+ strong!).

It’s also another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

It’s a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house. When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.)

What to Listen for

On side two the final guitar solo Santana takes on Well All Right gets LOUDER in the mix than any guitar solo on any rock record with which I am familiar. The sound gets louder after the first chorus, then louder still right before the second solo, and then the solo itself gets even louder until it seems to be as loud as live music. (Operative word: seems.)

Some copies get loud and some do not. Some stereos are dynamic and some are not. If you have the right stereo, set at the right volume, and THIS copy, you will hear something that not one out of one hundred audiophiles (or music lovers) have ever heard on a record — LIVE ROCK SOUND.

What makes it possible to play this record so loud and still enjoy it? Simple. Just like Nirvana, when the sound is smooth and sweet, completely free of aggressive mids and highs, records get BETTER as they get LOUDER. (This of course assumes low distortion and all the rest, but the main factor is correct tonality from top to bottom, and this record has it.)

Jump Factor

There were about a half dozen different stampers for each side that we did the shootout with. Like other Hot Stampers you may have read about, sometimes the instruments and voices just JUMP out of the speakers. When that happens I usually write “It’s Alive!” on the post-it, and I know exactly what to do with it — it goes right in the Contender pile, to be compared with the other top contender copies. It’s definitely a crazy Hot Stamper; just how hot we still need to find out.

Which is what happens in Phase Two of these affairs. We go back through all the best copies to see in what areas they really shine and in what areas they may fall a bit short of the best. Occasionally a record will come along that just murders what I thought was the best.

Of course there’s no way to know what accounts for any of the sound we hear. Not for sure anyway. It’s just interesting to ponder what makes one record sound one way and the next record, with stampers as little as one letter off in the alphabet — sometimes with exactly the same stampers! — sound so different from one another.
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This Is Not a Cheap Hobby If You Want to Do It Right

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Rick sent us a letter recently after having played his first Hot Stamper, the first record he ever bought from us. At $300 it wasn’t cheap, but the best things in life never are, and certainly there is little in the world of audio that’s cheap and much good. This is not a cheap hobby if you want to do it right, and even tons of money doesn’t guarantee you will get good sound. It’s far more complicated than that. To quote Winston Churchill, it takes “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Churchill went on to say “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs… Victory, however long and hard the road may be…”

Now, he wasn’t talking about audio, but he could have been, and I certainly am. It takes resources — money and labor — to get the sound you want. That is the victory I am aiming at.

Rick here no doubt heard the sound he was looking for on our Hot Stamper McCartney album, and then some, judging by his letter.
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Is the Original Better? Not on This Album It Ain’t

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.

Crisis? What Crisis?

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This is an older listing that illustrates how We Was Wrong when we thought the best domestic copies were not competitive with the A&M Half-Speed or better British pressings.

We touch on other much-loved themes in this commentary, such as the myth that the original pressing is going to be better than a reissue or later stamper. On this album that is definitely not the case.

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an A+++ SIDE ONE! It’s not the A&M Half Speed, and it’s not a British pressing either. It’s domestic folks, your standard plain-as-day A&M pressing, and we’re as shocked as you are. Hearing this copy (as well as an amazing Brit; they can be every bit as good, in their own way of course) was a THRILL, a thrill that’s a step up in “thrillingness” over our previous favorite pressing, the Half Speed.
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