Difficult to Reproduce Recordings

Getz Au Go Go – A Bossa Nova Classic

xxxxx

  • Truly superb sound for this incredible recording, Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • Amazingly present, immediate and REAL — musically and sonically, this is one of our favorite jazz albums
  • This is an incredibly tough album to find with the right sound and decent surfaces, which is the main reason it’s been years since we did the shootout
  • 4 stars on Allmusic: “Highly recommended for all dimensions of jazz enthusiasts.” [We would of course give it the full 5 Stars]

This Stan Getz record has the kind of LIVE JAZZ CLUB SOUND that audiophiles like us (you and me) dream of. More importantly, this ain’t no Jazz at Some Stupid Pawnshop — this is THE REAL THING. Stan Getz, Gary Burton, Kenny Burrell and the lovely Astrud Gilberto, the living embodiment of Cool Jazz, are coming to a listening room near you.

This is about as good a copy as has ever hit the site. Fans of cool jazz — in point of fact, some of the coolest jazz ever recorded — take note. 

Cool Jazz Is Right

I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of this Getz album than any other, including those that are much more famous such as Getz/Gilberto (which doesn’t sound as good by the way). This one is (mostly) live in a nightclub and it immediately puts you in the right mood to hear this kind of jazz.

Listening to side one I’m struck with the idea that this is the coolest jazz record of cool jazz ever recorded. Getz’s take on Summertime is a perfect example of his “feel” during these sessions. His playing is pure emotion; every note seems to come directly from his heart.

What really sets these performances apart is the relaxed quality of the playing. He seems to be almost nonchalant, but it’s not a bored or disinterested sound he’s making. It’s more of a man completely comfortable in this live setting, surrounded by like-minded musicians, all communicating the same vibe. Perhaps they all got hold of some really good grass that day. That’s the feeling one gets from their playing. As one is listening, there’s a certain euphoria that seems to be part of the music. This is definitely one of those albums to get lost in. (more…)

Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom

xxxxx

  • Imperial Bedroom finally returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Geoff Emerick engineered, creating a unique sound – forget the painfully bad domestics, these imports are the only way to go
  • This dense, darkly serious album contains some of the best songs EC ever wrote – the last of his True Classics
  • 5 stars: “Costello’s music is complex and intricate, yet it flows so smoothly, it’s easy to miss the bitter, brutal lyrics…the detail and the ornate arrangements immediately peg Imperial Bedroom as Costello’s most ambitious album.”

Six of Elvis’s first seven albums received a Five Star rating from Allmusic, the exception being Almost Blue, and we generally would agree with that assessment (although Get Happy should probably get Four Stars also, not Five).

Which is to say that Elvis Costello is a brilliant artist whose albums work as albums, a fact that is in danger of being lost in a world of single song downloads and greatest hits packages. We record-playing audiophiles are inclined to start at the beginning of a side and let it flow through to the end, and that is clearly the best way to appreciate and enjoy the work of this very gifted man. (more…)

Prokofiev / Love for Three Oranges Suite / Dorati

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame. 

Huge hall space, wonderfully textured strings – it’s easy to forget just how REAL a recording like this from 1957 can sound. With almost none of the Mercury nasality on the strings or the brass, we were knocked out by the sound and, of course, the legendary performance.

My notes for side one read: Big hall! Transparent! Zero smear! Dynamic! Huge Bass! Realistic! If that sounds like the kind of record you would like to play for yourself, here it is.

The Scythian Suite was also very good but it seems to get a bit congested (tape overload? compressor overload?) on the loudest parts. It does sound amazing in the quieter passages. It’s not distorted, just brash. It’s very dynamic of course, as is side one. That’s Mercury’s sound.

This was obviously a record the previous owner did not care for. We acquired a copy of LSC 2449 in the same batch, but unfortunately that was a record the owner must have loved — it’s just plain worn out. (We kept it as a reference copy for a future shootout which, considering how rare the record is, may never come to pass.)

In the heyday of the ’90s, when these records were all the rage, this copy would have sold for at least $1000 and probably more. And the copy that sold for that would have been very unlikely to sound as good as this one, if only for the fact that cleaning technologies have advanced so much over the last ten years or so. (more…)

Bruce Springsteen – Born In The U.S.A. – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

xxx

EXCELLENT SOUND and QUIET VINYL for BOTH SIDES of this ’80s classic from The Boss. Side one, at A+++, was the best we heard in our entire shootout! It’s tough to find great sounding copies of this album — or any Springsteen album for that matter — but this one is a HUGE step up, with the kind of clarity and fullness the typical pressing barely hints at.

We’re not the world’s biggest Springsteen fans here at Better Records (as you may have gathered by now) but when this sound is this good we can certainly get down and rock with The Boss.

So many copies left us cold with a flat, dry sound. If you’re bored by the first chorus of the title song, that’s a bad sign, and that was exactly our experience with most of the pressings that hit the table. When we threw this one on, things changed considerably. Bruce was really screaming, the drums were really pounding, and before we knew it we were really rockin’ out and enjoying the music.

Side one gives you a very strong bottom end with more PUNCH than we found anywhere else. The top end is open and extended with a silky quality — dramatically better than the gritty, grainy, edgy sound we heard up top on copy after copy. The vocals sound wonderful with plenty of presence and texture, and the soundfield has some actual depth. Many copies we played had a slightly smeary quality, but not this one — the clarity is superb and you can clearly hear transients on just about all the instruments. The transparency and energy go far beyond what you could hope to hear on a typical copy.

Side two is very good as well but not quite as exceptional. The bottom end has lots of weight and there’s good energy all around, but the vocals could use a little more presence. Our ultimate sides also opened up a bit more, but I think you’ll find this side a step up over whatever you’ve been playing up to now. Drop the needle on Dancing In The Dark for some of the best sound on the side. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Truly a Country Rock Masterpiece

xxx
xxx

  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them, this copy was giving us KILLER sound for Linda Ronstadt’s Best Album
  • Both sides here are rich, full-bodied and warm, with harmonically rich guitars and real immediacy to Linda’s heartfelt vocals
  • A Must Own Classic, the best album Ms Ronstadt ever made, and a True Country Rock Masterpiece virtually without peer
  • 5 stars: “What really makes HLAW a breakthrough is the inventive arrangements that producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt, and the studio musicians have developed. …[they] help turn Heart Like a Wheel into a veritable catalog of Californian soft rock, and it stands as a landmark of ’70s mainstream pop/rock.”

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 46 years by my calculation, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on the album. Folks, we heard it for ourselves: the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here on practically every song.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing. (more…)

Yes, We’re Getting Awfully Close To The Edge…

Are Your Planets Aligned?

A word of caution: Even our Hottest Stamper copies can sound problematical unless your system is firing on all cylinders. Your electricity has got to be cooking, you’ve got to be using the right room treatments, and ideally you should be using a demagnetizer such as the Talisman on the record itself, your cables (power, interconnect and speaker) as well as the individual drivers of your speakers.

This is a record that’s going to demand a lot from the listener, and we want to make sure that you’re up to the challenge. If you don’t mind putting in a little hard work, here’s a record that will reward you many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process.

We’d started and abandoned this shootout multiple times in the previous decade; the typical sounding copy was just too painful to listen to, and the better pressings weren’t doing what we had hoped they would. Where was the Tubey Magical analog sound with the HUGE whomp factor that we’d been hearing on the best copies of Fragile and The Yes Album? We just could not find that sound on Close to the Edge.

As futile as our previous attempts were, we decided in 2008 that we would take another stab at it. After all, there had been quite a few changes around here that had the stereo working really well —  the addition of the Odyssey Record Cleaning Machine and Walker Enzyme solution to our cleaning process, the Talisman Magnetic Optimizer, the third pair of Hallographs we added years back, tons of smaller tweaks, and a few other tricks that we’re going to have to leave hidden up our sleeves for now.

The Planets Align

Think about it: This is a highly COMPLEX recording, with HUGE organs, light-speed changes, lots of multi-tracking, and what amounts to an OVERLOAD of musical information. Can you imagine how irritating that would sound on a third-rate copy? We didn’t have to imagine it — we lived through it! (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

xxxxx

  • A stunning copy that is absolutely guaranteed to rock your world like no other – QUADRUPLE Plus (A++++) on side one and Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) on side two 
  • Insane Rock and Roll ENERGY like nothing you have ever heard – the sound is exceptionally full-bodied, smooth and solid, making it possible to get the volume up good and high where it belongs
  • So many immortal rockers on one album: Black Dog, Rock & Roll, Stairway, When the Levee Breaks, and more, sounding better than you’ve ever heard them
  • 5 stars: “Encompassing heavy metal, folk, pure rock & roll, and blues, Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album is a monolithic record, defining not only Led Zeppelin but the sound and style of ’70s hard rock.”

*Stairway to Heaven has the usual ticky intro.

Please note: we award the Four Plus (A++++) grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. We rarely find records with this kind of sound, just a few times a year at most — this is the only one on the site at this time.

Side one shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear it you will know why we gave it that fourth plus!

It is a positive THRILL to hear this record rock the way it was meant to. If you have big speakers and the power to drive them, your neighbors are going to be very upset with you when you play this copy at the listening levels it was meant to be heard.

You better be ready to rock because this copy has the ENERGY and WHOMP that will make you want to. Zep IV demands loud volumes, but practically any copy will punish you harshly if you try to play it at anything even approaching live levels. I never met John Bonham, and it’s probably too late now, but I imagine he would feel seriously disrespected if he found out people were playing his music at the polite listening levels audiophiles seem to prefer. The term “hi-fidelity” loses its meaning if the instruments are playing at impossibly low levels. If the instruments could never be heard that way live, where is the fidelity? (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Ye-Me-Le

xxxxx

  • Insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this fun Brasil ’66 album
  • The overall sound here is incredibly rich and full-bodied with tons of energy and a very natural, musical sound
  • Norwegian Wood, Wichita Lineman and Easy to Be Hard are among the great songs that have the potential to sound amazing
  • We’re huge Sergio Mendes fans here and it’s a thrill to hear copies like this bring his music to life

The first three tracks on side 1 are the best reason to own this album, especially the first two (Wichita Lineman and Norwegian Wood), which are as good as anything the group ever did. As I’m a big fan, that’s high praise!

The average LP of this album is terrible. Shrill, aggressive sound is the norm, but compression and overly smooth (read; thick and dull) sound are also problems commonly found on Ye-Me-Le. There’s also a noticeable “strained” quality to the loud vocal passages on almost every copy; only the best are free of it. (more…)

Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular – Our Favorite Record for Cartridge Setup

xxxxx

Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular just happens to be our favorite Test Disc, eclipsing all others in the areas of naturalness and difficulty of reproduction. Any tweak or new room treatment — we seem to do them almost weekly these days — has to pass one test and one test only — the Bob and Ray Test. 

This record has the power to help you get to the next level in audio like no other. Six words hold the key to better sound: The Song of the Volga Boatman.

For the purpose of mounting new carts, our favorite track is The Song of the Volga Boatman on Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular (LSP 1773). It’s by far the most difficult record we know of to get to sound right.

There are about twenty places in the music that we use as tests, and the right setting is the one that gets the most of them to sound their best. With every change some of the twenty will sound better and some will sound worse. Recognizing when the sound is the biggest, clearest, and most balanced from top to bottom is a skill that has taken me twenty years to acquire.

It’s a lot harder than it looks. The longer you have been in audio the more complicated it seems, which may be counterintuitive but comports well with our day-to-day experience very well.

All our room treatments and tweaks must pass The Bob and Ray Test as well. It’s the one record we have relied on more than any other over the course of the last year or two.

Presenting as it does a huge studio full of brass players, no record we know of is more dynamic or more natural sounding — when the system is working right. When it’s not working right the first thirty seconds is all it takes to show you the trouble you are in.

If you don’t have a record like that in your collection you need to find one.

It will be invaluable in the long run. The copy we have is so good (White Hot, the best we have ever played), and so important to our operation here, that it would not be for sale at any (well, almost any) price.

The Bob and Ray Trombone / Trumpet Test

One of the key tests on Bob and Ray that keeps us on the straight and narrow is the duet between the trombone and the trumpet about half way through The Song of the Volga Boatman. I have never heard a small speaker reproduce a trombone properly, and when tweaking the system, when the trombone has more of the heft and solidity of the real instrument, that is a tweak we want to pursue. The trumpet interweaving with it in the right rear corner of the studio tests the transients and high frequency harmonics in the same section. With any change to the stereo, both of those instruments are going to sound better. For a change to be positive they must both sound better. (more…)

Ambrosia and Its Elusive Hot Stamper Pressings – “Press On!”

 ambrosiasomewhere

Sage Advice from Calvin Coolidge

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”Calvin Coolidge

If you substitute “finding Hot Stamper pressings” for the words “the human race” you will surely appreciate the point of this commentary.

Our story today revolves around the first Hot Stamper listing we have ever done for Ambrosia’s second — and second best — album. It took us a long time to find the right pressing. Do you, or any of the other audiophiles you know, keep buying the same album over and over again year after year in hopes of finding a better sounding copy? We do — have been for more than twenty years as a matter of fact — and here’s why.

Around 2007 I stumbled upon the Hot Stampers for this record — purely by accident of course, there’s almost no other way to do it — and was shocked — shocked — to actually hear INTO the soundfield of the recording for the first time in my life, this after having played copy after frustratingly opaque copy for roughly thirty years.

Yes, the stereo got better and that helped a lot. Everything else we talk about helped too. But ultimately it came down to this: I had to find the right copy of the record. Without the right record it doesn’t matter how good your stereo is, you still won’t have good sound. Either the playback source has it or it doesn’t.

It’s not what’s on the master tape that matters; it’s what’s on the record. (more…)