Records that Are Good for Testing Big, Clear and Lively Choruses

Christopher Cross / Self-Titled

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  • The best pressings fuller, bigger, more lively and more Tubey Magical, in the best tradition of glossy late-’70s pop productions
  • This one swept the Grammy awards, with great songs including Sailing, Ride Like The Wind and Never Be The Same – Michael McDonald’s gorgeous harmonies are the icing on the cake
  • “While the hits like the dreamy “Sailing” and the surging “Ride Like the Wind” deserved all the attention, they’re hardly the only highlights here — to borrow a sports metaphor, this has a deep bench, and there’s not a weak moment here

If you like Michael McDonald, Toto, The Doobies, Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and countless other bands we have lovingly found a home for on our site, you will no doubt find much to like here. A guilty pleasure you say? When a record sounds this good there is nothing to feel guilty about.

Besides Michael McDonald’s amazing background vocals, listen for the contribution Michael Omartian (the producer) makes on the keyboards. The keyboards more than the guitars are really the driving force behind these songs. If you hear some Aja in his playing, that’s because he played on Aja too. He was also instrumental in many of the Direct to Discs Sheffield made, I’ve Got the Music in Me probably being the best known of the batch. (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

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  • With stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy will be tough to beat – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • 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.”

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War – The World Is A Ghetto

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  • A STUNNING copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • Both of these sides are so open and three-dimensional, with tons of bass and driving rhythmic energy like no other
  • 4 stars: “‘The Cisco Kid’ and ‘The World Is a Ghetto’ understandably dominated the album’s exposure, but there’s much more to enjoy here, even decades on. Beyond the quality of the musicianship, the classy, forward-looking production has held up remarkably well…”

Engineered by the brilliant Chris Huston, this recording displays all his trademark gifts. His mixes feature lots of bass; huge, room-filling choruses that get loud without straining or becoming congested; and rhythmic energy that few pop recordings could lay claim to in 1972.

As for the choruses, allow me to paraphrase another listing, the from Commoner’s Crown.

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that actually has actual, measurable, serious dynamic contrasts in its levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many songs. The first track on side two, Four Cornered Room, is a perfect example. Not only are the choruses noticeably louder than the verses, but later on in the song the choruses get REALLY LOUD, louder than the choruses of 99 out of 100 rock/pop records we audition. It sometimes takes a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically everything else you own is

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Christopher Cross – Listening for Choruses that Are Big, Clear, and Lively

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Hot Stamper Albums with Choruses that Are Big and Clear

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

There’s one test on side two that few copies do well on. The mostly instrumental section in the middle of Ride Like the Wind has a huge chorus singing in a wonderfully reverberant studio. Only the most transparent, most distortion-free copies let you clearly hear all their voices bouncing off the walls.

Take any two copies and listen for just this one effect and you will soon see that no two copies reproduce the reverberations identically, and many barely reproduce them at all.

Overall

The sound is full, rich, lively and even Tubey Magical in the best tradition of the glossy Pop Productions that were all the rage in the late-’70s. If you like Michael McDonald, Toto, The Doobies, Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and countless other bands we have lovingly found a home for in our Hot Stamper sections you will no doubt find much to like here.

A guilty pleasure you say? When a record sounds this good there is nothing to feel guilty about!

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Carl Orff / Carmina Burana / Jochum – Amazing on DG Vinyl

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  • A superb copy of this strikingly original work with outstanding Double Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – the orchestral power of display here is really something to hear if you have the system for it
  • This spectacular recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – here is the analog sound we love
  • We’ve auditioned quite a number of recordings of the work, and as far as we are concerned, on the right pressing this is the best sounding version that exists on vinyl
  • “With the direction of Eugen Jochum and the bonus of the incomparable rich, powerful voice of baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, this 1968 performance is a classic, and very probably the best, recording of the opera.”

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Sergio Mendes – Room Treatments Bring Out The Big Speaker Whomp Factor

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Reviews and Commentaries for Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66’s Debut

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Only the best copies are sufficiently transparent to grant the listener the privilege of hearing all the elements laid out clearly, each occupying a real three-dimensional space within the soundfield. 

With recent changes to some of our room treatments, we now have even more transparency in the mids and highs, while improving the whomp factor (the formula goes like this: deep bass + mid bass + speed + dynamics + energy = whomp) at the listening position.

There’s always tons of bass being produced when you have three 12′ woofers firing away, but getting the bass out of the corners and into the center of the room is one of the toughest tricks in audio.

For a while we were quite enamored with some later pressings of this album — they were cut super clean, with extended highs and amazing transparency, with virtually none of the congestion in the loud parts you hear on practically every copy.

But that clarity comes at a price, and it’s a steep one. The best early pressings have whomp down below only hinted at by the “cleaner” reissues. It’s the same way super transparent half-speeds fool most audiophiles. For some reason audiophiles rarely seem to notice the lack of weight and solidity down below that they’ve sacrificed for this improved clarity. (Probably because it’s the rare audiophile speaker that can really move enough air to produce the whomp we are talking about here.)

But hey, look who’s talking! I was fooled too. You have to get huge amounts of garbage out of your system (and your room) before the trade-offs become obvious. When you find that special early pressing, one with all the magic in the midrange and top without any loss of power down below, then my friend you have one of those “I Can’t Believe It’s A Record” records. We call them Hot Stampers here at Better Records, and they’re guaranteed to blow your mind.

Funky Brazilian Music For Audiophiles

This is one of my favorite albums, one which certainly belongs in any Audiophile’s collection. Better sound is hard to find — when you have the right pressing. Unfortunately those are pretty hard to come by. Most LPs are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled and full of compressor distortion in the louder parts: this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

But we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and have since Day One. One of the first records I ever played for my good audio buddy Robert Pincus (Cisco Records) to demonstrate the sound of my system was Sergio’s syncopated version of Day Tripper off this album. That was more than thirty years ago, and I can honestly say I have never tired of this music in the decades since.

Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s Co-Masterpiece – Tumbleweed Connection

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  • A KILLER copy of Elton John’s classic with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides of this original DJM pressing
  • The sound here is richer, with much less transistory grain, and more of the All Important Tubey Magic than every other copy we played
  • An incredible recording and longtime member of our Top 100 — our pick for Elton’s very best music and sound
  • 5 stars: “….their most ambitious record to date… A loose concept album about the American West… draws from country and blues in equal measures…”

The Tubey Magic Top Ten

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on this recording. For those of you who’ve experienced top quality analog pressings of Meddle or Dark Side of the Moon, or practically any jazz album on Contemporary, whether played through tubes or transistors, that’s the luscious sound of Tubey Magic, and it is all over Tumbleweed Connection

Ranked strictly in terms of Tubey Magic I would have to put this album on our list of Most Tubey Magical Rock Recordings of All Time, right up there with, in no particular order:

  • Sgt. Pepper (1967),
  • Meddle (1971),
  • Dark Side of the Moon (1973),
  • Dire Straits (1977, and clearly the outlier in this group),
  • The Eagles (1972),
  • Tommy (1969),
  • The Doors (1967),
  • Ziggy Stardust (1972),
  • A Space in Time (1970)

This has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a Top Ten spot on our Top 100 list. Engineered by Robin Geoffrey Cable at Trident, there is no other Elton John recording that is as big and powerful as Tumbleweed.

A copy like this really tells you why we love this album so. The highs are silky sweet, the vocals are full-bodied and breathy, and the tonal balance is perfection from top to bottom. And big drums, monstrously big, can’t forget those. (more…)

Pink Floyd – The Wall

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Letters and Commentaries for The Wall

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides, this copy of The Wall is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other pressing you’ve heard
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of Floyd’s magnum opus from 1979, this is the way to go
  • The Wall demands big, bold, explosively dynamic ANALOG sound, and here is a copy that delivers on that promise
  • Grungy electric guitars, breathy vocals, HUGE punchy drums, earth-shaking bass and room-filling ambience are all here like you’ve never heard before
  • One of the best sounding rock recordings of all time – here is a copy that will make our case

We spend a ridiculous amount of time cleaning, playing, and comparing copies of this classic double album for our shootouts and let me tell you, there are a lot of weak copies out there.

What do these kinds of top grades give you for The Wall? Top-notch clarity and transparency, mind-blowing immediacy, weight to the bottom, extension up top, HUGE open soundfields, real texture to all the instruments, TONS of energy with serious dynamics, BIG punchy drums and loads of natural ambience.

Pink Floyd tends to be an amazingly well-recorded band, and this album is certainly no exception. If you’ve taken home one of our Hot Stampers for Dark Side of the Moon, Meddle, or Wish You Were Here, then you certainly know what we’re talking about. (more…)

Michael Jackson / Thriller – Thoughts on Thriller, Circa 2006

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Reviews and Commentaries for Thriller

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

This pressing has a side two that is so amazing sounding that it COMPLETELY CHANGED my understanding and appreciation of this album. The average copy is a nice pop record. This copy is a MASTERPIECE of production and engineering.

After playing a bunch of these we noticed some recurring shortcomings on most of the pressings. Either they lacked extension on the top end or they lacked bass definition and weight, or both. When this copy hit the table, the first thing we noticed was that the top end was Right On The Money and the bottom end was also Right On The Money. Not surprisingly, the middle fell right into place.

It ended up having the most ambience, the most transparency, the most resolution, the most dynamic contrasts, the most presence — in short, it had more of EVERYTHING than any copy we’ve ever heard. The lesson to be learned there may be that when the extremes are somehow properly transferred to the vinyl, the middle will take care of itself. Since the extremes seem to be the hardest thing to get right, at least on this record, that might explain why so many copies don’t quite cut the mustard.

Side one fits perfectly into this theory. The bottom end is MEATY with plenty of punchy, solid bass, but the top end is lacking a bit of extension compared to the very best. The result is that there’s a trace of hardness in the vocals that shouldn’t be there. If you can add a dB or two of extreme highs, EVERYTHING will sound right on side one. It all comes back to life.

I remember twenty years ago playing Thriller and thinking they were all so transistory, spitty, and aggressive sounding. Well, I didn’t have a Triplanar tonearm, a beautiful VPI table and everything that goes along with it back then. Now I can play this record. I couldn’t back then. All that spit was simply mistracking. The record is no different, it just sounds different now. In other words, this record is a great test. If you can play this record, you can play practically anything.

Loggins & Messina – Full Sail

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  • Excellent Double Plus sound or better on both sides
  • Our first shootout for the album – it’s been a long time coming
  • Both sides are clean, clear, lively and present with deep punchy bass
  • “[Messina] achieves a musical flow that’s exhilarating …”

Practically all copies have a midrange equalization problem, with a lack of lower mids and boosted upper mids, which often thins out the vocals and leads to hardness and honkiness.

The better copies manage to keep the EQ anomalies within bounds while giving us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthusiasm; harmonically-rich guitars, and a three-dimensional soundstage that reveals the space around them all. (more…)