Records that Are Good for Testing Transparency

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

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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David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name…

More David Crosby

More Hippie Folk Rock

  • The ultimate Hippie Folk Rock Demo Disc – both sides are shockingly transparent, with huge amounts of bass, silky highs, in-the-room vocals and TONS of Tubey Magic
  • 4 1/2 stars: ” If I Could Only Remember My Name is a shambolic masterpiece, meandering but transcendentally so, full of frayed threads. Not only is it among the finest splinter albums out of the CSNY diaspora, it is one of the defining moments of hungover spirituality from the era.”
  • If you’re an audiophile, this is a Demo Disc from 1971 that no record collection comprising Top Quality Recordings should be without
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

Here it is, folks… a TRUE ROCK DEMO DISC! A White Hot Stamper copy such as this will show you why we’ve long considered it one of the All Time Top Ten Rock Albums for Sound and Music. You will not believe how Tubey Magical and three-dimensional this album can be when you have a pressing with this kind of sound. The harmonic complexity and extension on the acoustic guitars are absolutely stunning!

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording? (We do applaud his decision not to add the Classic pressing of this title to the list, the way he did with so many other Classic pressings that have no business on anything called a Super Disc list.)

You Don’t Have to Be High to Hear It

When you drop the needle on this record, all barriers between you and the musicians are removed. You’ll feel as though you’re sitting at the studio console while Crosby and his no-doubt-stoned-out-of-their-minds Bay Area pals (mostly Jefferson Airplaners and Grateful Deads, see list below) are laying down this emotionally powerful, heartfelt music.

The overall sound is warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied… that’s some real ANALOG Tubey Magic, baby! And the best part is, you don’t have to be high to hear it. You just need a good stereo and the right pressing. (more…)

Finlandia – The Music of Sibelius and Grieg / Mackerras

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

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Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

  • Both sides are big, rich, transparent, spacious and dynamic – no Heavy Vinyl pressing can do what this record is doing
  • Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago
  • These spectacular works are played with feeling – we know of no better performance or better sound

Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1959 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from the early-’70s, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL. Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical.

You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original won’t sound as good, having been cut on cruder equipment.

And two, no modern recutting of the tapes (by the likes of Speakers Corner for example, but you can substitute any company you fancy) could begin to capture this kind of naturalistic orchestral sound. (more…)

Rod Stewart – Never A Dull Moment

More Rod Stewart

More British Blues Rock

  • Extremely well-recorded, full of great songs, Rod Stewart was on top of the world when he followed up the brilliant Every Picture Tells a Story with this album in 1972
  • The music comes alive on this vintage pressing, assuming you have your volume up good and loud
  • 5 stars in AMG, and simply “… a masterful record … He never got quite this good ever again.”

Listen to the percussion on Angel — you can really hear all the transients and the sound of the drum skins. The meaty guitar in the left channel sounds mind-blowingly good. The bass is deep and well-defined, and the sound of the drums is awesome in every way. Who has a better drum sound than Rod Stewart on his two best albums?

Along with Every Picture Tells A Story this is one of the two Must Own Rod Stewart albums. Practically every song here is a classic, with not a dog in the bunch. Rod Stewart did what few artists have ever managed to do: release his two best albums back to back.

And this Hot Stamper, not to overstate the obvious, is clearly the way to hear it. (more…)

Bach / The Fox Touch, Volume 1 – Not As Good As We Thought, Sorry!

[The review reproduced below was written in 2010. Recently I have played copies of these Crystal Clear organ recordings and been much less impressed.

The ambience is a fraction of what it should be, and the reason I know that is that the vintage organ recordings I play have dramatically more size and space than these audiophile pressings do.]

A classic case of Live and Learn. As we like to say, all these audiophile records sound great sitting on the shelf. When you finally pull one out to play it, you may find that it doesn’t sound the nearly as good as you remember it, and that’s a good thing. That’s a sign you are making progress in this hobby!

Ten years from now, if during that time you’ve worked hard on your stereo system, room, electricity and all the rest, your Heavy Vinyl pressings will have flaws you never knew were there.

Our customers know what I am talking about. Some have even written us letters about it.


Our old review, mea culpa.

    • White Hot on both sides, a DEMO DISC quality organ Direct to Disc recording
    • Full, rich, spacious, big and transparent, with no smear
    • The size and power of a huge church organ captured in glorious direct to disc analog
    • We’ve never been fans of Crystal Clear, but even we must admit this recording is Hard To Fault

Are we changing our tune about Audiophile records? Not in the least; we love the ones that sound right. The fact that so few of them do is not our fault. 

The methods used to make a given record are of no interest whatsoever to us. We clean and play the pressings that we have on hand and judge the sound and music according to a single standard that we set for all such recordings. Organ records, in this case, get judged against other organ records. If you’ve been an audiophile for forty years as I have, you’ve heard plenty of organ records.

Practically every audiophile label on the planet produced at least one, and most made more than one. Some of the major labels made them by the dozen in the ’50s and ’60s, and many of those can sound quite wonderful.

Who made this one, how they made it or why they made it the way they did is none of our concern, nor in our mind should it be of any concern to you. The music, the sound and the surfaces are what are important in a record, nothing else.

Richter was making recordings of this caliber for London in the ’50s. Clearly the direct to disc process is not revelatory when it comes to organ records (or any other records for that matter), but finding vintage Londons with quiet vinyl that sound as good as this disc does is neither easy nor cheap these days, so we are happy to offer our Bach loving customers a chance to hear these classic works sounding as good as they can outside of a church or concert hall.

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Earth, Wind, Fire and the Neverending Search for Balance

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises. As is usually the case when plowing through a big pile of copies, we learned pretty quickly that what makes the sound work is having these two qualities in balance:

1) Richness / Smoothness 
2) Transparency

When the vocals are thin and pinched, as they often are, the resulting edginess and harshness in the midrange take all the fun out of the music. Every track has group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color.

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices (and brass) start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

But richness and fullness are not enough. They must be balanced with TRANSPARENCY.

More Earth, Wind and Fire

More Recordings by George Massenburg

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Ry Cooder – Self-Titled

More Ry Cooder

More Debut Albums of Interest

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this vintage Reprise pressing of Cooder’s debut album from 1970 – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • If you want to hear the brilliant Lee Herschberg’s All Analog Recording skills brought to bear on so many different instruments serving an assortment of sonic textures, this is the copy that will let you do it
  • 4 stars: “Cooder’s debut creates an intriguing fusion of blues, folk, rock & roll, and pop, filtered through his own intricate, syncopated guitar; Van Dyke Parks and Lenny Waronker’s idiosyncratic production… Cooder puts this unique blend across with a combination of terrific songs, virtuosic playing, and quirky, yet imaginative, arrangements.”

The music reminds me a lot of early Little Feat, which is a good thing. The sound is somewhat similar as well, which is to say that it is natural and musical, nothing like the hyped-up hi-fi sound of his TAS-listed album Jazz — and that’s a good thing as well.

There are some great songs here, including My Old Kentucky Home, One Meat Ball and How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live. It may even be his best album. (more…)

Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale

More Stevie Wonder

More Soul, Blues and R&B

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  • Finding the right balance between Tubey Magical Richness and Transparency is the trick, and we think this copy strikes that balance as well as any pressing we’ve heard
  • Boogie On Reggae Woman and You Haven’t Done Nothing were the big hits but the other tracks on the album are where the real Stevie Wonder MAGIC can be found
  • 4 1/2 stars [but we give it 5]: “The songs and arrangements are the warmest since Talking Book, and Stevie positively caresses his vocals on this set, encompassing the vagaries of love, from dreaming of it (“Creepin'”) to being bashful of it (“Too Shy to Say”) to knowing when it’s over (“It Ain’t No Use”).”

We’re big fans of Stevie here at Better Records, but it’s always a challenge to find good sound for his albums. Tons of great songs here, including the ones everybody knows, Boogie On Reggae Woman and You Haven’t Done Nothing. Both sound WONDERFUL on this pressing.

But…

For the first time in my life, over the course of the last five years or so I’ve really gotten to know the album well, having found a CD at a local store to play in the car (and now I also have a cassette to play in my Walkman while working out).

I’ve listened to Fulfillingness’ First Finale scores of times. I now see that it is some of the best work Stevie Wonder ever did, right up there with Innervisions and ahead of any other Stevie Wonder album, including Talking Book and Songs in the Key of Life.

The best songs on the album to my mind are the quieter, more heartfelt and emotional ones, not the rockers or funky workouts. My personal favorites on side one are: Smile Please. Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, Too Shy to Say and Creepin’, which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are all the songs that weren’t hits.

On side two the two slowest songs are the ones I now like best: It Ain’t No Use & They Won’t Go When I Go (famously and brilliantly covered by George Michael on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 in 1990). (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry

More Carole King

Reviews and Commentaries for Tapestry

  • This KILLER copy of King’s beloved Tapestry earned top honors – Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • Big, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, yet still clean, clear and open – finally, the dark veil obscuring the sound of most copies has been lifted
  • This album is clearly Carole’s masterpiece – it’s loaded with great songs, and they all sound solid and correct here, two qualities which are critically important to the sound of the album
  • 5 stars: “…an intensely emotional record, the songs confessional and direct; in its time it connected with listeners like few records before it, and it remains an illuminating experience decades later. A remarkably expressive and intimate record, it’s a work of consummate craftsmanship.”

Audiophile sound is not easy to find on Tapestry. As we’ve been saying for twenty years, most copies are either dull and murky or edgy and thin, and on half the ones that DO sound good the vinyl is noisy. On a copy like this, though, the sound gets out of the way and lets you focus on the MUSIC — and make no mistake, the music on this album is as good as it gets from Carole King.

We went nuts for this album during our big shootout. Since most of the time we’re playing testosterone-fueled, raging classic rock, it was a nice change of pace for us — and certainly easier on our poor eardrums! Our man JT makes an appearance playing acoustic guitar on a number of tracks, most notably You’ve Got A Friend, and his pals Russ Kunkel and Danny Kootch turn up too, with Kootch handling most of the electric guitar duties.

What’s surprising, if you haven’t played this album in a while, is how good non-hit tracks like “Home Again” can be. But there aren’t many of those non-hits on this album, and that’s a good thing; almost every song was a hit or received a lot of radio play. The quality of the material is that good. (more…)

Carly Simon – Boys In The Trees

More Carly Simon

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  • A KILLER copy with Shootout Winning Triple (A+++) sound from start to finish and the first to hit the site in quite a while!
  • This copy has the sound we were looking for on BOTH sides of the album: rich and sweet, with the kind of TRANSPARENCY that lets you hear every breath Carly takes
  • This pressing is just doing its job — showing you what’s really on the master tape — and not too many of the copies we played were able to do that
  • “… what really made the album a winner was that Simon had had a couple of years to write some strong songs in her unflinching, reflective style, and she continued to explore the loves and mores of her age and class movingly.” – All Music

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