Records that Are Good for Testing in General

Buckingham Nicks / Self-Titled

More Lindsey Buckingham

More Stevie Nicks

  • A superb pressing of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks’ one and only album, with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Rich and Tubey Magical with a massive bottom end – this is a true Bass Demo Disc (much like the first Mac album they sang on)
  • Recording Engineer great Keith Olsen went for a very rich, very smooth sound, in the tradition of Classic British Folk Rock
  • “An engaging listen and served as a proving ground of sorts for both artists’ songwriting chops and for Buckingham’s skills as an emerging studio craftsman. Crisp, ringing acoustic guitars and a bottom-heavy rhythm section framed the pair’s songs…”

We really enjoy playing this album here at Better Records. It’s an obvious preview of things to come for these two (and the engineer too!). Check out the wonderful early version of “Crystal.” On the better copies, it is warm, rich, and sweet — just like it is on the better copies of the Fleetwood Mac self-titled LP. In fact, many parts of this album bring to mind the best of ’70s Fleetwood Mac. Fans of the self-titled LP and Rumours are going to find A LOT to like here.

(more…)

Miles Davis / Kind of Blue – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

Hot Stamper Pressings of Kind of Blue Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

Kind of Blue is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it.

Some highlights include:

Kind of Blue checks a lot of boxes for us here at Better Records.

  1. It’s a Core Jazz Title, one that belongs in any serious audiophile’s record collection
  2. It’s a Jazz Masterpiece
  3. It’s a Personal Favorite
  4. It was recorded by one of the greats, Fred Plaut
  5. It was produced by another one of the greats, Teo Macero
  6. It was recorded at Columbia’s famed 30th Street Studio
  7. And some of the greatest jazz artists of their day played on it:

Bass – Paul Chambers

Drums – Jimmy Cobb

Piano – Bill Evans

Piano – Wynton Kelly

Tenor Saxophone – John Coltrane

Alto Saxophone – Cannonball Adderley


Oscar Peterson Trio / Live From Chicago – Why Are There So Many Bad Sounding Pressings?

More Oscar Peterson

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Oscar Peterson

Some copies are poorly mastered, so poorly that Ray Brown’s bass all but disappears from the trio!

Other copies made Thigpen’s snare sound hard and too forward in the mix.

This is obviously just a mastering EQ problem, since the good copies, such as this one, get all those elements to balance beautifully.

One of the Strobe label copies we played had such a boosted top end it was positively distorted. (The RIAA curve does not allow that kind of top end boost without causing serious problems.)

The Piano

If you have big, full-range speakers one of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano is WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, warm, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. This is what good live recordings tend to do well. There isn’t time to mess with the sound. Often the mix is live, so messing around after the fact is just not an option. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn out stampers and bad vinyl and five gram needles that scrape off the high frequencies. But a few — a very few — copies survive all such hazards. They manage to capture these wonderful musical performances on vinyl, showing us the sound we never expected from Verve. This is one.

The trio is made up of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, here recorded live at the height of their respective powers. Peterson really puts on a great show. He’s made an awful lot of records during his career and most of them aren’t very good. This is one of the exceptions. “If You Could See Me Now” is another one.

Dire Straits / Love Over Gold – Testing with Piano and Snare

More of the Music of Dire Straits

More Love Over Gold

Telegraph Road does something on this copy that you won’t hear on one out of twenty pressings: It ROCKS. It’s got ENERGY and DRIVE.

Listen to how hard Allan Clark bangs on the piano on side one — he’s pounding that piano with all his might. No other copy managed to get the piano to pop the way it does here, clear and solid.

Wow, who knew? Maybe this is the reason HP put the record on the TAS Super Disc List. (I rather doubt he’s ever heard a copy this good, but who’s to say?)

Best test for side two?

The snare drum on Industrial Disease. Play five copies of the album and listen for how much snap there is to the snare on each of them. It will be obvious which ones get the transient attack right and which ones don’t. (If none of them do try five more copies!) (more…)

Oscar Peterson / The Trio – Live From Chicago

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Oscar Peterson

xxx

  • Tonally correct from top to bottom and as transparent as any vintage recording you’ve heard, the combination of clarity and Tubey Magic here is hard to beat
  • The Trio, including Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, are in fine form on these live recordings from the London House in Chicago; if you want to hear one of the great jazz trios at the height of their powers, this is the ticket!
  • “…[Peterson] was generally in peak form during this era. He sticks to standards on this live [album] (a good example of the Trio’s playing), stretching out ‘Sometimes I’m Happy’ creatively for over 11 minutes and uplifting such songs as ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,’ ‘Chicago’ and ‘The Night We Called It a Day.'”
  • If you’re a fan of Oscar’s, this Top Title from 1961 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Peterson really puts on a great show. He’s made an awful lot of records during his career and most of them aren’t especially noteworthy. This album is clearly an exception to that rule. (If You Could See Me Now is another one.)

This pressing was a HUGE step up from the other copies we played in our recent shootout. This killer copy has the immediacy that puts you front and center at The London House for a great jazz show. Ray Brown is his usual incredible self on bass.

(more…)

Yes / Fragile – Roundabout Vs. South Side of the Sky

yes__fragiMore of the Music of Yes

Reviews and Commentaries for Fragile

This shootout taught us that track one is not as well recorded as the rest of side one. On copy after copy, and there were well over a dozen, it was the other big track on side one, South Side of the Sky, that had consistently better sound.

You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are especially full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track. A lesser amount of these qualities can be heard on the first.

We play both songs, but we play them in reverse order, knowing that the mind-boggling sound is really going to be on South Side, not so much Roundabout.

This record should give any record you own a run for its money. It’s as BIG and as BOLD a statement about raising the bar for rock recordings as any I know. Without a doubt one of the Best Rock Recordings of all time.

A well known audiophile record reviewer opined on his website that Fragile “was never a very good recording to begin with… cardboardy, compressed and somewhat cloudy and distant.”

Perhaps his old copy sounded like that, or maybe it sounded like that on his stereo, but I can assure you that if you have the system designed to play a  for iour Hot Stampers sure don’t. The typical pressing of Fragile can be painful — smeary and dull with plenty of distortion. If you know the magic stamper numbers and you spend the time to clean and play enough copies, you’re bound to hear some serious magic.

Of course, that’s a lot of work, and some people are probably too busy typing out lists of their pricey equipment to be bothered with such things.

Evolution

My equipment was forced to evolve in order to be able to play the scores of challenging recordings issued by Yes and other groups in the ’70s. You could say that the albums of Yes informed not only my taste in music but the actual stereo I play that music on.

I’ve had large scale dynamic speakers for the last four decades, precisely in order to play records like this, the kind of music I fell in love with fifty years ago.

Hot Stamper Pressings with Big, Clear Choruses Available Now

Testing for Big, Clear and Lively Choruses

Mad Dogs, Englishmen and Copies with Bad Stampers

The weaker copies have a tendency to sound smeary and congested. Listen for good transients and not too much compression. Many are also somewhat opaque as well as dull up top; try to find the ones with some degree of transparency and as much top end extension as you can (the percussion will be helped most of all by the extended top).

And of course you need to find a copy that rocks, as this is a definitely a Rock Concert, although what it most reminds me of is Ray Charles doing a choice set of modern pop classics, mixing it up by off-handedly throwing in a few hits of his own. See how they all fit together? That’s how the pros do it. (The main pro in this case is Leon Russell, the mastermind of the whole operation.)

Biggest Problems

Well, for one thing, if you get the wrong stampers on this record you will discover, as we did, that it’s clearly been mastered from a badly transferred dub tape. The “cassette-like” sound quality will not be hard to recognize. If you have stumbled onto one of those pressings, give up on it and try your luck elsewhere, making sure to note the bad stampers. That’s how we do it; there is in fact no other way. Trial and error is the name of the record hunting game.

All tracks were engineered by the legendary Eddie Kramer, then selected and mixed by the equally legendary Glyn Johns. (more…)

Is The Pink Label The Hot Ticket for Jethro Tull’s Brilliant Stand Up Album?

Jethro Tull Albums Available Now

More Reviews and Commentaries for Stand Up

Well, it certainly can be, but sometimes it isn’t, and failing to appreciate that possibility is a classic case of misunderstanding a crucially important fact or two about records. Audiophile analog devotees would do well to keep these facts in mind, especially considering the prices original British pressings are fetching these days.

Simply put: Since no two records sound alike, it follow that the right label doesn’t guarantee the right sound. A shootout years ago illustrated both of these truths.

We had a number of Pink Island British pressings to play — if you hit enough record stores often enough, in this town anyway, even the rarest pressings are bound to show up in clean condition from time to time — along with Sunrays (aka Pink Rims), Brits, early Two Tone domestics and plain Brown Label Reprise reissues. All of them can sound good. (We do not waste time with German and Japanese pressings, or any of the later Chrysalis label LPs. Never heard an especially good one.)

What surprised the hell out of us was how bad one of the Pink Label sides sounded. It was shockingly thin and hard, practically unlistenable. Keep in mind that during our shootouts the listener has no idea which pressing is being played, so imagine hearing such poor reproduction on vinyl and then finding out that such bad sound was coming from a copy that should have been competitive with the best, on the legendary Pink Island label no less. (Of course the other Pinks were all over the map, their sides ranging from good to great.)

Hearing one sound this bad was completely unexpected, but hearing the unexpected is what we do for a living, so I suppose it shouldn’t have been. Having dubious looking reissues and the “wrong” pressings beat the originals and the so-called “right” pressings from the “right” countries is all in a day’s work here at Better Records.

The audiophiles who collect records by label are asking for trouble with Stand Up. If the want the best sound, that is.

(more…)

Little Feat / Feats Don’t Fail Me Now

  • The best copy to hit the site in close to two years, with both sides rating at or near our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++)
  • Huge, spacious and three-dimensional with plenty of rich Tubey Magic – who knew it could sound this good?
  • 75% of the songs on both sides are absolute Little Feat Classics. What other album can boast such consistently good songwriting?
  • Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Fran Tate (the future Mrs. Billy Payne) contribute the lovely background vocals
  • “If Dixie Chicken represented a pinnacle of Lowell George as a songwriter and band leader, its sequel Feats Don’t Fail Me Now is the pinnacle of Little Feat as a group, showcasing each member at their finest.”

It’s getting mighty hard to find clean copies of practically all the pre-Waiting For Columbus titles.

The good news we have to offer this time as opposed to last is that we can now clearly say that Feats Don’t Fail Me Now is the best sounding album of the first four the band recorded. We think the songs are great too; we would hope that goes without saying. Waiting For Columbus — their live masterpiece and inarguably the definitive recording statement by the band — has at least one song from this album on each of its four sides. That ought to tell you something. If only we could find good sounding copies! But enough about that album. Let’s talk about this one. (more…)

Jackson Browne / Late for the Sky – Lovin’ That Rich, Smooth Asylum Sound

More Jackson Browne

More 5 Star Albums

  • This outstanding pressing of Browne’s third album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This one was bigger and bolder, with more Tubey Magical richness on Jackson’s voice, than most of what we played
  • We love the rich, smooth, natural sound that Asylum was known for, and this copy has a healthy dose of each of those qualities
  • It’s getting harder and harder to find these in good condition these days – the man has a lot of fans, and they prefer to hear him on vinyl
  • 5 stars from AMG and Rolling Stone calls it the “quintessential Browne album,” saying the “… open-ended poetry achieves power from the nearly religious intensity that accumulates around the central motifs; its fervor is underscored by the sparest and hardest production to be found on any Browne album yet… as well as by his impassioned, oracular singing style.”
  • If you’re a fan of the man, this title from 1974 is clearly one of his best, and one of his best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here. (more…)