Record Lists of Various Kinds

Aretha Franklin – Live at Fillmore West

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  • A superb pressing of this classic live Aretha album with nearly Triple Plus (A+ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Aretha’s cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water is truly amazing, but really, there’s not a weak track here – her covers of current material take those songs to another level entirely
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The music here sparkles and crackles with the energy of a top-flight rhythm section — Cornell Dupree on guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums, and Jerry Jemmott on bass, with Billy Preston on organ, Curtis on saxophone, and the Memphis Horns… the most dramatic and deeply satisfying of Aretha Franklin’s live recordings, and is a historical document that every soul fan should own…”

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Eric Clapton – Money and Cigarettes

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  • Money and Cigarettes makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A superb pressing, with lovely richness and warmth, good space, separation between the instruments, and real immediacy throughout
  • ” Eric Clapton’s first album for Warner Bros. is an unexpected show of renewed strength after a debilitating illness and too many sleepy records… the simple, unaffected blues power at work here is surprising and refreshing.”

The one real flaw in the recording is the amount of compression the engineer used — it’s a bit heavy-handed. This is after all a radio-friendly pop album, so no surprise there.  (more…)

Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston

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  • An outstanding early Arista pressing, this copy earned seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them for its sound – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • this album has the kind of smooth, rich, tonally correct analog sound we thought they had forgotten how to record by 1985 – but here it is, thank goodness
  • Consistently strong material: You Give Good Love, Saving All My Love for You, How Will I Know, All at Once, and Greatest Love of All (the last of seven (!) singles released from the album)
  • “…introduced the world to ‘The Voice,’ an octave-spanning, gravity-defying melismatic marvel.”

Having done this for so long — 2020 marks our 33rd year in the record business — we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound — even as late as 1985! — is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.).

The music is not so much about the details in the recording; rather it lives or dies by its ability to recreate a solid, palpable, Whitney Houston singing and playing live in your listening room. The best copies had an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, and here it’s important to keep in mind that these tapes are now more than thirty years old, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard Whitney sound this good on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide. (more…)

The Kinks – Face To Face

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  • A very strong copy of this ’60s classic, one of the few to every make it to the site – they’re hard to find!
  • Both sides earned Double Plus (A++) grades, putting this pressing far ahead of the pack
  • It’s taken us ages to find this album with anything approaching smooth, full-bodied, musical sound
  • 5 big stars on Allmusic: “The Kink Kontroversy was a considerable leap forward in terms of quality, but it pales next to Face to Face, one of the finest collections of pop songs released during the ’60s.

Side two has four or five bubbles that make 4 or 5 light thumps under the music.

We’ve played plenty of copies of Face To Face over the years and most of them have left us cold. Let’s face it — The Kinks weren’t the most well-recorded band, so only the very best pressings of their albums can deliver sound that is both correct and audiophile-friendly. Not every album needs to be a hi-fi spectacular and that’s not what Kinks albums are about, but as audiophiles we can’t help but hope for copies that will bring the music to life without too many sonic limitations.

Most pressings are too thin, too grainy, and too gritty on the vocals. We’re willing to make some sonic sacrifices for music this good, but we can’t abide sound that leaves us wondering if the record on our table was previously played by someone with a bad needle. Of course, after hearing that same sound on so many copies, we recognized that the grit and grain were cut right on to the records.

Face To Face will never be a demo disc, but at least with our Hot Stampers is can finally sound mostly right. If you’re a Kinks fan, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s been worth the wait. (more…)

Whomp Factor on Little Queen – Testing with Love Alive – Parts One and Two

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Heart’s Little Queen has long been a favorite Test Disc. It works especially well as a test for something we here at Better Records like to call Whomp — the energy found at the low end of the frequency spectrum. Some call it slam, we prefer whomp.

The commentary is here to help guide you as you make changes to your system, insuring that you end up with more whomp without sacrificing equally important qualities found in the midrange and top end of your system.

Reality Check Parts One and Two

Take the song Love Alive.

The beginning section is chock full of lovely and quite subtle details (such as the autoharp and tabla) that seem to lose their magic on most systems. The autoharp is rich and chimey, and the tabla has some real low end extension. The recorders and flutes that join them are breathy and sweet, while the acoustic guitars heard throughout display all the tubey-magical harmonic richness found on our favorite Hot Stamper recordings, from the Eagles first album to Teaser and the Firecat. These qualities easily get lost in the sauce if you’re listening to the average copy, or the typical audiophile stereo. That’s Part One of the test — the opening. (more…)

Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz-Gilberto #2

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  • A KILLER sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Live Jazz sound from start to finish 
  • This original stereo pressing is the first copy to make it to the site in years – boy are these hard to find in this kind of clean condition with top quality sonics
  • Rich, tubey and musical, the sound is wonderful for these live performances of two very different groups, one featuring Getz, the other Jobim 
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Getz/Gilberto #2 holds its own with an appealing selection of fine jazz and bossa nova cuts.”

This original Verve Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even 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 a real jazz club, this is the record for you. It’s what Vintage Records 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. (more…)

Steely Dan – Countdown to Ecstasy

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  • This early Black Label Shootout Winning pressing boasts stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • The only real rock album this band ever made actually ROCKS on this pressing, and that’s what makes listening to vinyl of the highest quality FUN
  • Only 8 tracks (so the band can stretch out). and every one is guaranteed to sound better than you have ever heard it
  • 5 stars: “Smart, conflicted bands from Weezer to the Eels owe Steely Dan big time… because on Countdown to Ecstasy, the band was human, not just brainy. Like Exile on Main Street, this is a record where Steely Dan let slip their extraordinary mask of sarcasm, and could not disguise the joy in these excellent songs, or the fact that they were having a blast playing them.”

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Ambrosia’s Debut – An Album that Takes Everything We’ve Got and Then Some

Ambrosia

Commentaries and Letters for Ambrosia’s Debut

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During our most recent Hot Stamper shootout we were reminded of a fact that had slipped our minds: Trying to get this record to sound right is a truly humbling experience. Without a doubt it deserves the title for Most Difficult to Reproduce in the Rock and Pop category. (Yes, we know, there is no such thing, we just made it up.) 

This record will bring any stereo to its knees, including one like ours, which is tuned and tweaked within an inch of its life. Everything has to be working at its absolute best before I would even consider any attempt to play the album. It’s not enough to have the stereo warmed up and cookin’, with everything in the house unplugged. The electricity from the pole needs to be at its best, not that grungy garbage you get in the middle of the day or around dinner time, when all your neighbors have their appliances going. You need that late-at-night, two o’clock in the morning everybody-has-gone-to-bed-and-turned-off-all-their-stuff electricity for this bad boy to work its magic.

I learned an important lesson from a shootout we conducted not long ago, which boils down to this: You can play hard-to-reproduce records all day long if your system is tuned up and working fine. Ours has to be, every day. The shootouts we do require that everything is working properly or we simply couldn’t do them. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – Nice ‘N’ Easy

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  • An outstanding pressing of Nice ‘N’ Easy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl for Capitol from this era too
  • The reproduction of Sinatra’s voice is exactly what you would expect from a Hot Stamper – he sounds rich, smooth, tonally correct and above all REAL
  • Take this one home and play it against whatever audiophile pressings you own – it’s guaranteed to SMOKE any and all versions you may have in your collection, or your money back
  • 5 stars: “… a breezy collection of mid-tempo numbers arranged by Nelson Riddle. Nice ‘N’ Easy doesn’t have a touch of brooding sorrow — it rolls along steadily, charming everyone in its path.”

Definitely one of the most fun Sinatra albums, especially when it sounds like this!

It’s tough to find great sound for this album — most copies are pretty mediocre and the MoFi is nothing special. 

The immediacy of the vocals on this copy is nothing short of stunning. You get real weight down low, serious energy, a fully extended top end, and tons of that old-time analog tubey magic.

Tubey Magic Is Key

The best copies have the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even 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 Frank and 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 Nice ‘N’ Easy 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 1960
  • 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.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top (to keep the strings from becoming shrill) did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we heard them all.

And we know a fair bit about the man’s recordings at this point. As of today, we’ve done commentaries for more than 21 different Sinatra shootouts, and that’s not counting at least another ten titles that either bombed or were sold off years ago.

What We’re Listening For on Nice ‘N’ Easy

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Nice ‘N’ Easy
That Old Feeling
How Deep Is The Ocean
I’ve Got A Crush On You
You Go To My Head
Fools Rush In

Side Two

Nevertheless
She’s Funny That Way
Try A Little Tenderness
Embraceable You
Mam’selle
Dream

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Breaking slightly from his pattern of a swing album following the release of ballads set, Frank Sinatra followed No One Cares with Nice ‘N’ Easy, a breezy collection of mid-tempo numbers arranged by Nelson Riddle. Not only is it the lightest set that he recorded for Capitol, it is the one with the loosest theme… Nice ‘N’ Easy doesn’t have a touch of brooding sorrow — it rolls along steadily, charming everyone in its path.

The Fifth Dimension – Live!!

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  • Live!! finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on all FOUR sides
  • Bones Howe once again engineered, which means you can be sure the tonality is correct from top to bottom and the breath of life is captured beautifully in the midrange
  • The sound here is rich and full-bodied with much less grain and much more Tubey Magic than every other copy we played
  • Hal Blaine on the drums, Joe Osborne on bass and Larry Knechtel on keyboards – not too shabby!
  • 4 stars: “The performance offers an adequate sampling of the 5D’s classics and concurrent pop songs that attendees would likely be familiar with.”

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