Five Star Albums

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic

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  • Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum of the guitars, along with the kind of richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern remasterings.
  • Becker and Fagen spared no effort in the recording of this album – the mix is PERFECTION
  • A Top 100 Album and our pick for The Best Sounding Steely Dan Recording of Them All
  • 5 stars: “Steely Dan made more accomplished albums than Pretzel Logic, but they never made a better one.”

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Led Zeppelin II – Stan Ricker Versus Robert Ludwig

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

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Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

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Here is the story of my first encounter with a amazing sounding copy of Zep II.

I had a friend who had come into possession of a White Label Demo pressing of the album and wanted to trade it in to me for the Mobile Fidelity pressing that I had played for him once or twice over the years, and which we both thought was The King on that album.

To my shock and dismay, his stupid American copy KILLED the MoFi. It TROUNCED it in every way. The bass was deeper and punchier. Everything was more dynamic. The vocals were more natural and correct sounding. The highs were sweeter and more extended. The whole pressing was just full of life in a way that the Mobile Fidelity wasn’t.

The Mobile Fidelity didn’t sound Bad. It sounded Not As Good. More importantly, in comparison with the good domestic copy, in many ways it now sounded wrong.

Let me tell you, it was a watershed moment in my growth as a record collector. I had long ago discovered that many MoFi’s weren’t all they were cracked up to be. But this was a MoFi I liked. And it had killed the other copies I had heard in the past.

So I learned something very important that day. I learned that hearing a good pressing is the best way to understand what’s wrong with a bad pressing. (more…)

Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Looking for killer sound for both sides of this fun album? You’ve come to the right place! This unusually lively pressing combines a stunning A+++ side one with an equally wonderful, giving you White Hot Stamper sound from start to finish! The transparency here is exceptional, allowing you to hear all the musician’s contributions without the veiling and congestion that you get on most pressings. Sweet Emotion is a KNOCKOUT on this copy.  

Both A+++ sides have the kind of tight, meaty bottom end that is absolutely essential to this kind of music. While many copies we played suffered from a grainy, unpleasant top end, this one is smooth in all the right ways. It’s also got the kind of energy that makes this music still work well all these years later. Hot Stampers give you more presence, more weight down low and more fullness all around — the qualities that you really want for music like this.

I never really cared much for this band until recently, when I heard Sweet Emotion on my local classic rock station (The Octopus!) and realized that it would probably sound pretty amazing on a Hot Stamper vinyl version. Boy, was I right! It took quite a few copies and a whole lot of work, but the best sounding tracks on this one sound AMAZING. Sweet Emotion and Walk This Way are going to rock you!

Of course, not every copy sounds like this one. We’ve been picking these up for the last few months and I’m sorry to report that most of them leave much to be desired. This is bluesy hard rock a la The Faces, and if your copy is dull or smeared (as many of them are) you won’t get the full effect of this raw, ballsy rock ‘n’ roll. This ain’t polite music — you’re playing it for one reason and one reason alone: to ROCK OUT.

It’s hard to understand why this album didn’t get more love from audiophiles, while bands like Boston and Foreigner have gotten the full MoFi treatment. [No doubt somebody has recut this record on Heavy Vinyl by now.] All you have to do is drop the needle on the intro to Sweet Emotion and you’ll see why we decided to roll with this shootout. That’s not to say this is an amazing, top-shelf recording, but it certainly beats most of the dreck out there that passes for Audiophile-style classic rock. (If you disagree, I’ve got a nice copy of the Sheffield Track Record to sell you.)

TRACK LISTING (more…)

Cheap Trick – At Budokan

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  • You’ll find STUNNING sound on this true classic from Cheap Trick, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sonic grades or close to them – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This one is doing everything right, with deeper bass, less distortion, grungier guitars, and the kind of LIVE ROCK and ROLL ENERGY that Cheap Trick is known for
  • One of only two Cheap Trick albums that cuts it for us sonically and musically (the other being Dream Police)
  • 5 stars: “With their ear-shatteringly loud guitars and sweet melodies, Cheap Trick unwittingly paved the way for much of the hard rock of the next decade, as well as a surprising amount of alternative rock of the 1990s, and it was At Budokan that captured the band in all of its power.”

The first pressings of this record come with an OBI strip and a Japanese style lyric and photo booklet, giving the impression that this is a Japanese pressing. But it’s clearly domestic, so kudos have to go to Epic Records for doing a wonderful imitation that would practically fool any record collector.

Most of the copies we have to offer will come with the booklet, while the OBI strips are long gone.

This is probably the only Cheap Trick record most casual fans will ever need. The live versions of ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ and ‘I Want You To Want Me’ are AS GOOD AS IT GETS. Where would Classic Rock Radio be without catchy pop like this? Nowhere man! (more…)

Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland

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  • An outstanding copy of Electric Ladyland with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on all FOUR sides
  • Big, clear, tubey, sweet ANALOG sound – we played it good and loud and it was ROCKIN’!
  • Probably the best-recorded of Hendrix’s studio albums – huge studio space and Tubey Magical richness are key to the best sound
  • 5 stars: “…not only one of the best rock albums of the era, but also Hendrix’s original musical vision at its absolute apex.”

*NOTE: On side four, a mark makes 10 moderate to loud pops at the beginning of Track 1, Still Raining, Still Dreaming.

Some of Jimi’s best songs can be found here, including Crosstown Traffic, Voodoo Child (Slight Return) and his incendiary cover of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower. All four sides have truly killer sound, big and full-bodied with a MUCH better low end than you’ll find on most. You get enough energy and weight to make the rock songs really ROCK, and enough clarity and transparency to bring out the more spacey, psychedelic elements that Jimi and Eddie Kramer worked so hard on.

Ready to go on a trip? You’ve come to the right place. While the sound is not Demo Quality on every track, the acid-drenched soundscapes created by Jimi and producer Eddie Kramer are certainly going to be exciting to the kind of audiophile who still digs Classic Rock. Unfortunately, most copies are missing a lot of the magic — the space, the tubes, the ambience, the size, the weight. (more…)

B.B. King – Live In Cook County Jail

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • Bigger and bolder, with more bass, more energy, and more of that “you-are-there-immediacy” of a live performance that set the best vintage pressings apart from reissues, CDs, and whatever else might be out there
  • 5 star: “Live in Cook County Jail is one of those great concerts that the record company was smart enough to be there to capture, documenting B.B. firing on all cylinders in front of an audience that’s just damn happy for him to be there.”

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Neil Young / Rust Never Sleeps – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A great (A++) side one backed with an AMAZING (A+++) side two, this is without a doubt one of the very best sounding copies of Rust Never Sleeps we have ever had the privilege of playing here at Better Records. Side two simply cannot be beat. Drop the needle on Powderfinger to hear the Crazy Horse sound at its best — the raging guitars, the big meaty bottom end, and the kind of immediacy that puts Neil Young and his band of misfits right in your listening room. 

Tubey Magic in 1979? Yes, analog was still alive and well then — both sides of this copy prove it. The disastrously synthesized ’80s were on their way but thankfully they hadn’t gotten here yet.

This is a live recording with minimal overdubs. Crazy Horse is of course widely recognized to be one of the all time killer concert acts of its day, so it’s a bit of a shame that most of the copies we played this week made us want to go to sleep. The not-so-Hot copies failed in a number of ways: thin guitars or vocals, overly dry or edgy sound, and insufficient presence, just to name a few. It was the rare copy that made us forget we were listening to a record and allowed us to really get into the music.

Needless to say we had this record playing very very loud. Twenty db less than at the live event, sure, at least, but very very loud for a 18×20 living room in the suburbs. (more…)

Santana – Abraxas

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Santana - Abraxas - Nearly White Hot Stamper 

  • With two outstanding sides each rating a Double Plus (A++) for sound, this copy is guaranteed to rock like no other you’ve ever heard
  • The sound is rich, full-bodied and musical with punchy drums and guitar solos that really get LOUD
  • 5 stars on Allmusic, and a Top 100 title for its blistering solos that soar into space
  • “America was never the same after Carlos Santana discovered the smoldering Afro-Cuban magic of Tito Puente. A sinuous cha cha cha that sounds as if it had been waiting for Santana’s soulful guitar licks to reinvent it, the Puente-penned “Oye Como Va” became the pillar of U.S. Latin rock.” -Rolling Stone

This copy is smooth, sweet, rich, full-bodied, and SUPER dynamic. The vocals are shockingly present and clear, with breath and body like nothing you have ever heard. Just listen to all that room around the drums!

The sound is transparent, open, and spacious, with life and rhythmic energy to spare. The bass is deep, tight, and note-like, exactly what this music needs to REALLY ROCK!

Both sides have an exceptionally big soundfield, which opens up and allows you to appreciate all of the players’ contributions. That’s a BIG deal for this music. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better than Abraxas.

Abraxas Rocks

This is 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.)

You may have heard me say this before, but it’s important to make something clear about this music. It doesn’t even make sense at moderate listening levels. Normal listening levels suck the life right out of it. You can tell by the way it was recorded — this music is designed to be played back at LOUD levels, and anything less does a disservice to the musicians, not to mention the listener, you. (more…)

Elton John / Honky Chateau – Our Thoughts Circa 2007

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This British Import Honky Chateau is THE BEST SOUNDING COPY WE’VE EVER HEARD — BY FAR! We just finished a big shootout for this wonderful album, and this copy took top honors with MASTER TAPE SOUND!

This has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a spot on our Top Rock LPs List. A Hot Stamper copy like this really tells you why. The highs are silky sweet, the vocals are full-bodied and breathy, and the tonal balance is perfection from top to bottom.

If you have any doubts that Elton John was a pop music genius, just play this record. It’s all the proof you will need. Drop the needle on any track — you just can’t go wrong.

There’s no need to go on and on about the sonic qualities of this copy. Everything you’d ever want from this record is here in abundance. Folks, this copy is the epitome of what we call Master Tape Sound — on both sides.

Two mastering approaches

The original British copies of this record, with the leatherette cover, have two distinctly different mastering approaches.

The earliest pressings tend to be very lively, but a bit hi-fi-ish and aggressive in places. I used to think these were the best.

The later British originals tend to sound dull and muddy.

It’s been almost two years since we’ve done a shootout for this album. It’s beyond difficult to find clean copies of this album, let alone ones that have Hot Stamper sound. There was a time when we liked a certain British stamper that we thought split the difference between the mastering approaches mentioned above. The copies we played this time around with that stamper were practically unacceptable this time around.

Our best domestic pressings actually bettered many of the Brit copies with our old favorite stamper. Improvements in our stereo and evaluation process have allowed us to discover the stampers with The Real Sound.

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Genesis – Foxtrot

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  • An outstanding copy of this early Peter-Gabriel-led Genesis album from 1972 with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • One of the tougher Genesis albums to find with good sound – this British Charisma LP is much more impressive than most of what we’ve played over the years, and is guaranteed to trounce any domestic or Heavy Vinyl pressing you may have heard
  • 5 stars: “Foxtrot is where Genesis began to pull all of its varied inspirations into a cohesive sound — which doesn’t necessarily mean that the album is streamlined, for this is a group that always was grandiose even when they were cohesive, or even when they rocked, which they truly do for the first time here. This is the rare art-rock album that excels at both the art and the rock, and it’s a pinnacle of the genre because of it.”

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