Records that Are Good for Testing Speed

Passion Flower Is Clearly Better Than For Duke

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pablo Recordings

More Reviews and Commentaries for Our Favorite Pablo Recordings

This is one of the all time great Pablo sleepers.

Why is no one else writing about records like these? The music is wonderful and the sound is top drawer on the best copies. If you’ve tried and failed with other Pablo Zoot Sims records, fear not: this title is one of the best we have ever played, musically and sonically.

The ensemble is huge, probably at least a dozen pieces at any given time, and all that energy is captured on the best copies with tremendous engineering skill. The lively arrangements are by none other than Benny Carter, a man who knows his jazz. His career started in the ’20s(!) and lasted into this century if you can believe it. I consider myself fortunate to have seen him play locally when he was more than 90 years old. He stlll had it, kind of.

What to Listen For

Clarity and transients.

Thickness and fatness were common problems with Passion Flower — many copies were overly rich and somewhat opaque. It’s not necessarily a bad sound, but it becomes more and more irritating as you find yourself struggling to hear into the musical space of the studio. Smear is a problem too; many copies were lacking the transient information of the best.

In a nutshell, our Hot Stamper pressings are the most transparent copies that are tonally correct, with the least amount of smear.

forduke

Better Sound than a Direct Disc?

Musically Passion Flower is everything that For Duke isn’t, and although it may not be a Direct to Disc recording, it sure sounds better to these ears than that pricey TAS List Super Disc. The insufferably dead room For Duke was recorded in has forever ruined the album for me. I can’t stand that sound (which helps explain our aversion to Heavy Vinyl around these parts — the sound of the new remasters is consistently lacking in space, ambience and three-dimensionality).

Passion Flower was engineered by Bob Simpson at the RCA recording studios in NY, and Dennis Sands in Hollywood. These guys know a lot more about recording a large jazz ensemble than a couple of audiophiles who owned a stereo store and could record in their showroom at night and on the weekends.

Experience is surely a great teacher in this regard.

Incidentally, Dennis Sands is the engineer for one of the All Time Great Basie recordings on Pablo, Farmers Market Barbecue.


FURTHER READING

Bob Simpson Engineered Albums with Hot Stampers

Bob Simpson Engineered Albums We’ve Reviewed

Dennis Sands Engineered Albums We’ve Reviewed

David Grisman – Hot Dawg

More David Grisman

  • David Grisman’s 1978 release finally returns to the site with STUNNING Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout, just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides are clear and lively, with the all-important Tubey Magic that was missing from many of the copies we played
  • Transparency, speed and freedom from smear are key to the best copies – this one showed us just how good the record can sound
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Grisman’s lively ‘Dawg’s Bull’ and guitarist Tony Rice’s upbeat ‘Devlin’ set a high standard at the opening of the album, yet the remaining tracks continue to meet the high watermark of the first two songs.”

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Rockin’ the Mandolin with Loggins and Messina

More of the Music of Loggins and Messina

More Country and Country Rock

A recent White Hot Stamper pressing of L&M’s fourth release demonstrates pretty convincingly just what an amazing DEMO DISC this album can be. When Jim Messina rips into his mandolin solo half way through Be Free your jaw is likely to hit the ground. On the best copies it positively LEAPS out of the left speaker.

I can’t recall another pop or rock recording that captures either the plucked energy or the harmonic nuances of the instrument better. To hear such a well-recorded mandolin on a copy of this quality is nothing less than a THRILL.

This copy gives us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthusiasm; harmonically-rich guitars, mandolins, dobros and the like, as well as a three-dimensional soundstage that reveals the space around them all.

What to Listen For

What typically separates the killer copies from the merely good ones are two qualities that we often look for in the records we play: transparency and lack of smear.

Transparency allows you to hear into the recording, reproducing the ambience and subtle musical cues and details that high-resolution analog is known for.

Note that most Heavy Vinyl pressings being produced these days seem to be quite Transparency Challenged. Lots of important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate regular pressings — is simply nowhere to be found.

Lack of smear is also important, especially on a recording with so many plucked instruments. The speed and clarity of the transients, the sense that fingers are pulling on strings, strings that are ringing with tonally correct harmonics, is what makes these L&M records so much fun to play.

The best copies really get that sound right, in the same way that the best copies of Cat Stevens’ records get the sound of stringed instruments right.

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Freddie Hubbard / Sky Dive – Blurry, Thick, Veiled, Dull or Slow?

More of the Music of Freddie Hubbard

More recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

More Jazz on CTI

That’s too often the sound we hear on the Heavy Vinyl records being pressed these days. From time to time we get hold of some to audition just to see what they’ve done with (to?) the titles we know well.

We sure don’t have any intention of selling them. That would be against our principles. And the very name of our operation: Better Records. It’s rare for anything pressed on Heavy Vinyl to qualify as a Better Record, which is why so many of them can be found in our Heavy Vinyl Disasters section.

Not sure why so few reviewers and audiophiles notice these rather obvious shortcomings, but we sure do, and we don’t like it when records sound that way.

But that sound can be found on plenty of vintage pressings too. We should know, we’ve played them by the tens of thousands!

Smear is by far the most common problem with the copies we played. When the transient bite of the trumpet is correctly reproduced, maintaining its full-bodied tone and harmonic structures, you know you have a very special copy of Sky Dive (or First Light or Red Clay, etc., etc.).

When the sound is blurry, thick, veiled, dull or slow, you have what might be considered something more like the average copy.

Rudy gets one hell of a lively trumpet sound in this period of his career. If you have a good pressing of one of his early ’70s jazz recordings the sound can be positively EXPLOSIVE, with what feels like all the size and power of live music.

If you don’t have a hot copy of Red Clay, get one. It’s some of the best funky jazz ever recorded. No collection should be without it.

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

More of the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

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

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. (more…)

Varese / Arcana / Mehta – Speed Is Key

More of the music of Edgar Varese (1883-1965)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

More Recordings conducted by Zubin Mehta

  • Incredible sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades  
  • DEMO DISC QUALITY form start to finish — amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality
  • A recording that allows your speakers to disappear completely like no other
  • A powerful Test Disc as well – use this one to check your speed and staging, subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this

Incredible sound for this CRAZY 20th Century music, featuring wild and wacky works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (not one, not two, but three bass drums!). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

But the main reason audiophiles will LOVE this album is not the music, but the SOUND. Ionisation has amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one.

It also makes a superb test disc. Subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this. The instrumental palette is large and colorful, giving the critical listener plenty to work with.

And this copy is perfect for testing because is is nearly FLAWLESS in its sound. No other copy could touch it. Many copies are not especially transparent, spacious or three-dimensional, and lack extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum.

The SPEED of the percussion is also critical to its proper reproduction. No two pieces of electronics will get this record to sound the same, and some will fail miserably. If vintage tube gear is your idea of good sound, this record may help you to better understand where its shortcomings lie.

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Unsolicited Audio Advice – In the Market for New Speakers? See How Well They Handle the Energy of Far More Drums

More Dave Brubeck

More Columbia 30th Street Studio Recordings

Reviews of Recordings Made at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio

brubeck in the studio733

The drum solo Joe Morello lets loose on Far More Drums is one of the best on record. I was playing that very song recently and it occurred to me that it is practically impossible for a screen or panel speaker of any design to reproduce the sound of those drums properly, regardless of how many subs you have.

Most of the music is not in the deeper bass anyway. It’s the whack of instruments whose energy is in the lower midrange and midrange that a screen speaker will struggle with. A good large-driver dynamic speaker fed by fast electronics can handle the energy in that range with ease.

This is precisely the right album to take with you next time you head to your local stereo store to audition speakers. It will help clarify the issues. Screen speakers do many things well, but drums are not one of them in my experience.

If drums are important to you, do yourself a favor and buy a dynamic speaker, the bigger the better. (more…)

The Monty Alexander 7 – Listening for Speed and Smear

What to Listen For – Smear

What to Listen For – Speed

More Recordings by Val Valentin with Hot Stampers

Clear piano notes, first and foremost.

Any smear or loss of speed (a problem with hi-fi equipment since the beginning of time) detracts from the fun. 

Next, the tonality of the best copies is rich and solid. Accept nothing less.

And, finally, the proper reproduction of the percussion instruments is critically important to the energy and drive of the music. The better you hear them — without losing the weight and richness of the piano — the more you will enjoy your copy of the record.

No two copies will reproduce all these elements equally well. On high quality equipment with the volume turned up good and loud the winners are easily separated from the losers. (more…)

Varese et al. / Percussion Music / New Jersey Percussion Ensemble

TAS List Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

WHITE HOT stampers on side one of this CRAZY FUN 20th Century Percussion Music album, featuring classical works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (piano and voice also make appearances). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

But the main reason audiophiles will love this album is not the music, but the SOUND. Ionisation has amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one. And the bottom end is BIG and powerful, probably the main reason the album has been on the TAS Super Disc for decades. If you’ve got full range speakers with big woofers and like to play your music loud, this record will give your system quite a workout.

With the invention of new instruments and increased cross-cultural exchange in the 20th century, composers’ interest in writing for percussion exploded, creating a uniquely modern genre that embraced both the future and the ancient past. The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble was founded in 1968 to perform this new literature, here performing works by Varèse, Cowell, and others.

It also makes a superb test disc. Subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this. The instrumental palette is large and colorful, giving the critical listener plenty to work with.

And this copy is perfect for testing because is is nearly FLAWLESS in its sound on side one. No other copy could touch it. Many copies are not especially transparent, spacious or three-dimensional, and lack extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum.

The SPEED of the percussion is also critical to its accurate reproduction. No two pieces of electronics will get this record to sound the same, and some will fail miserably. If vintage tube gear is your idea of good sound, this record may help you to better understand where its shortcomings lie. (more…)

The Notting Hillbillies – Missing…

  • A superb sounding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • These sides get the sound of the plucked instruments with all the speed. body and harmonic information they need to sound their best
  • 4 stars: “… a low-key, joyous run-through of mostly traditional, blues-based songs with a handful of originals… Despite the high-profile presence of Knopfler, the Notting Hillbillies succeed in sounding like a band with Knopfler often taking a backseat to his bandmates… a delightful record that doesn’t overstay its welcome.”

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