Records that Are Good for Testing Tubey Magic

Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Trilogy

More Emerson, Lake and Palmer

More Prog Rock

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this vintage UK Island pressing
  • ANALOG at its Tubey Magical finest – you’ll never play a CD (or any other digital sourced material) that sounds as good as this record as long as you live
  • An excellent recording that really shines on a good pressing like this, courtesy the engineering brilliance of Eddie Offord
  • 4 stars: “Every track on this album has been carefully thought, arranged, and performed to perfection…”

It’s not easy to find great copies of this album. This kind of prog rock demands big, bold sound, and not all copies have the size or low end weight to pull it off. Keith Emerson’s organ needs to extend all the way down, or it just doesn’t work. Both sides here have a great bottom end, and some real texture and space up top.

“From The Beginning” has the kind of analog magic that made it a staple in practically every stereo store I walked into back in the ’70s.

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Cat Stevens / Teaser & The Firecat – Two Tracks Are Key

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

Just ran across the following in an old listing. We’re nothing if not consistent here at Better Records!

And if you are ever tempted to pick up one of those recently remastered versions on heavy vinyl, don’t do it. There is simply no one alive today making records that sound like these good originals. Not to these ears anyway. We may choose to indulge ourselves in the audacity of hope, but reality has to set in sooner or later. After thirty years of trying, the modern mastering engineers of the world have nothing to show for their efforts but a pile of failures. The time to call it quits has come and gone. Let’s face facts: when it comes to Teaser and the Firecat, it’s the Real Thing or nothing.

If you’re looking for an amazing Demo Quality Rock Recording, you’ve come to the right place.

If you want a timeless Classic Rock Record, it’s here too.

They just don’t know how to make them like this anymore. Those of you waiting for audiophile vinyl reissues with the kind of magic found on these originals will be in your graves long before it ever comes to pass.

Analogue Productions tried and failed — more than once — to produce a good sounding Heavy Vinyl pressing of Tea for the Tillerman.

You can be sure there is little chance they would have better luck with Teaser and the Firecat.

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Living Stereo Tubey Magical Sound from 1958

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Edvard Grieg

Reviews and Commentaries for Peer Gynt

As much as I like Fjeldstad’s Peer Gynt on Decca/London with the LSO, I have to say that Odd Gruner-Hegge (love that first name!) and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra turn in the better of the two performances. To these ears theirs is more lyrical; it flows more naturally both within and between the individual movements.

Joy

The Oslo Phil also gives me more of a sense that they are feeling the joy in the playing of these works; I do not get quite the same feeling from the LSO. As we worked our way through more and more Living Stereo copies, the Oslo Phil.’s enthusiasm and love for the music became recognizably stronger, and, as one would expect, more agreeable and involving.

Our preference for this performance is of course a matter of taste; we cannot be sure you will feel the same. No doubt you have a version of the Fjeldstad on hand for comparison purposes, perhaps the Speakers Corner pressing (which we used to like quite a bit), but any will do. I expect that playing a handful of select movements from the two performances back to back will show this one to be superior.

To be fair, both are superb. A sizable group of other recordings were auditioned, but we found no others that were comparable in terms of both sound and performance.

The Sound

In comparing the sound I would call it a toss-up, perhaps with the tie going to the Fjeldstad. The Decca is bigger and clearer, but has some aspects to the miking that strike me as infelicitous. The brass in places seems to jump out and call attention to itself, which never happens on the RCA. Although less of a Demo Disc, the sound of the Gruner-Hegge performance was slightly more involving, or is it the performance that draws you in? As usual, separating the sound of the music from the music itself is no easy task, if it is even possible at all.

Side One

Rich, tubey, yet open and clear, with lovely string textures, especially in the lower strings, as would be expected of any Living Stereo recording from 1958. Anitra’s Dance (sounding very much like a movement from Scheherazade) is superb here and would qualify to demo your system with, assuming you have the system a large orchestral recording such as this requires.

As the record plays the top end extends and the space of the hall becomes more clear and 3-D.

Side Two

The opening is exciting and sounds amazing on this copy — it doesn’t get any better than this folks!

The top is extremely open and clean yet the strings are never bright nor shrill. So transparent and spacious.

The last movement has some Wagnerian touches. The string tone of the lower strings is hard to fault, and the overall sound at the end is lively and exciting without ever crossing the line into hi-fi-ishness. This is the mark of an exceptionally good record!

Rarity

It has taken us years of serious searching to come up with the pile of copies we were able to play in our shootout. To find a copy of this record in anything but beat condition has been difficult and time-consuming to say the least. The powerfully dynamic Hall of the Mountain King is at the end of side one and unless you have a very well-cared-for copy the inner groove distortion will be painful indeed.

By the way, none of the better copies in the shootout were quieter than this one. Mint Minus Minus is going to be as quiet as these pressings get. 

Peter Gabriel Names a Third Record After Himself

More Peter Gabriel

More Art Rock Records

  • It’s been quite a few years since our last shootout – finding clean, quiet, early pressings of this album has been especially difficult for many years and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier
  • A Must Own for Gabriel fans, this album is widely considered his breakthrough work as a solo artist
  • Listen closely and you’ll recognize Phil Collins’ now-signature (but at the time revolutionary) drum sound on several of the tracks, including “Intruder,” one of the best tracks on the album
  • 5 stars: “Generally regarded as Peter Gabriel’s finest record, his third eponymous album finds him coming into his own, crafting an album that’s artier, stronger, more song oriented than before.”
  • If you’re a fan, this is a Peter Gabriel classic from 1980 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1980 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

With this, his third release, Gabriel established himself as a true force in the rock world. (more…)

Eagles – Self-Titled

More Eagles

More Country and Country Rock

  • A truly outstanding early pressing, earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them on both sides
  • This is as quiet as they come, folks – no marks play, and the vinyl is often quieter than Mint Minus Minus, exceptional for this title
  • You will be floored by the huge, rich, Tubey Magical guitars exploding out from your speakers on Take It Easy
  • One of the Best Sounding Rock Records Ever Made, a member of our Top Ten and without a doubt Glyn Johns’ engineering (and producing) Masterpiece
  • A Top 100 Tubey Magical Demo Disc that is guaranteed to blow your mind on a pressing that sounds as good as this one does

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in clean shape. Most of them will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG, and it will probably be VG+. If you are picky about your covers please let us know in advance so that we can be sure we have a nice cover for you.


It will not take the lucky owner of this record long to recognize what we’ve known for years: the Eagles first album is clearly and inarguably one of the Best Sounding Rock Recordings Ever Made. Almost all the qualities we look for on this album can be found on this very copy.

The Eagles first album is without a doubt Glyn Johnsmasterpiece — rock records simply do not sound any better in our experience. It’s exactly the kind of record that makes virtually ANY Audiophile pressing pale in comparison. Everything you could ask for as an audiophile is here, and more.

We’ve been up on our soapbox for years telling people how amazing this record can be, and here’s a copy that backs up our position from start to finish. (more…)

Peter, Paul & Mary – Gold Versus Green

More Peter, Paul and Mary

More Folk Rock

In previous shootouts we felt strongly that the best Gold Label copies had the lock on Tubey Magic, while the best Green Label pressings could be counted on to offer superior clarity.

That was quite a few years ago, and as we never tire of saying, things have changed.

Now the Gold Label pressings have the ideal combination of Tubey Magic and clarity.

In fact, based on our recent shootout we would state categorically that the best originals are clearly better in every way, with the most vocal presence, the most harmonic resolution, the most space, the most warmth and intimacy, the most natural string tone on both the guitars and bass — in sum, the most of everything that allows a Hot Stamper vintage LP to be the most sublime musical experience available to any audiophile fortunate enough to own it.

Steve Hoffman’s famous phrase is key here: we want to hear The Breath Of Life. If these three gifted singers don’t sound like living, breathing human beings standing across from you — left, right and center — toss your copy and buy this one, because that’s exactly what they sound like here.

The TUBEY MAGIC of the midrange is practically off the scale. Until you hear it like this you really can’t even imagine it. It’s a bit shocking to hear each and every nuance of their singing reproduced so faithfully, sounding so much like live music.

This is high-rez ’60s style; not phony and forced like so much of what passes for audiophile sound these days, but relaxed and real, as if the recording were doing its best to get out of the way of the music, not call attention to itself. This, to us, is the goal, the prize we must constantly strive to keep our eyes on. Find the music, leave the rest.

The Mids Are Key

Peter, Paul & Mary records live and die by the quality of their midrange. These are not big-budget, high-concept multi-track recordings. They’re simple, innocent folk songs featuring exquisite vocal harmonies, with straightforward guitar and double bass accompaniment (and a few more instruments thrown in for good measure at this later stage of the game).

If Peter, Paul and Mary’s voices aren’t silky sweet and delicate, while at the same time full-bodied and present, let’s face it, you might as well start looking for another record to play.

The best copies convey the surprisingly moving artistry, taste and energy of the group’s performance in the studio all those years ago. When Peter, Paul and Mary start to sing good and loud on some of these tracks, not only can you really hear them belting it out, you FEEL it too. (more…)

Elton John – Just the Right Amount of Tubey Magic Is the Key

More of the Music of Elton John

More Titles Only Offered on Import Vinyl

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elton John

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on the best copies of Madman. 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 the album.

The problem is that most British copies — the only ones that have any hope of sounding good in our experience — don’t have all the Tubey Magic that can be heard on the best copies. They are simply not as rich, tubey, and LUSH as the best that we’ve played.

This is the one quality that separates the winners of the shootout from the copies that came in second or third. Lushness isn’t the only thing to listen for of course. The rich copies can’t be too rich, to the point of being murky and muddy.

Achieving just the right balance of Tubey Magical Madman Sound with other qualities we prize such as space, clarity, transparency and presence is no mean feat.

It’s the rare copy that will do well in all these areas, and even our best Shootout Winning sides will have to compromise somewhere. There is always a balance to be struck between richness and clarity, with no copy able to show us the maximum amounts of both that we know are possible.

You’ll Know

Having said all that, it has been our experience that one copy in the shootout will make clear what the ideal blend of all the elements is — the right balance of Tubey Magic, clarity, space, weight, top end and much, much more.

When you find yourself lost in the music of Madman because the copy playing has the right sound, it shouldn’t be all that hard to recognize it. When the record is not only doing what it’s supposed to do, but doing more than you ever expected it could do, with more energy, more dynamics, more bass, more clarity, on a stage that’s wider, taller and deeper than you thought it could be, that’s when you know you have reached the highest level of sound.

Seeing All Sides

This will happen on each side independently of the other. That’s just the way records work. Sometimes a copy has two matching sides with that ideal blend — we jump for joy and happily award them our rare Triple Triple grade — but on a ridiculously difficult record to master and press properly such as Madman chances are good that one copy of the record will win for one side and a different copy will win for the other.

Engineering and Production

Elton John is one of the handful of artists to produce an immensely enjoyable and meaningful body of work throughout the ’70s, music that holds up to this day. The music on his albums, so multi-faceted and multi-layered, will endlessly reward the listener who makes the effort and takes the time to dive deep into the sound of his classic releases.

Repeated plays are the order of the day. The more critically you listen, the more you are sure to discover within the exceedingly dense mixes favored by Elton and his bandmates. And the better your stereo gets the more you can appreciate the care and effort that went into the production of the recordings.

Elton John albums always make for tough shootouts. His producers’ (GUS DUDGEON being the best of them) and engineers’ (KEN SCOTT and ROBIN GEOFFREY CABLE likewise the best) approach to recording — everything-but-the-kitchen-sink as a rule — make it difficult to translate their complex sounds to disc, vinyl or otherwise.

Everything has to be tuned up and on the money before we can even hope to get the record sounding right. Careful VTA adjustment could not be more critical in this respect.

If we’re not hearing the sound we want, we keep messing with the adjustments until we do. There is no getting around sweating the details when sitting down to test a complex recording such as this. If you can’t stand the tweaking tedium, get out of the kitchen (or listening room as the case may be). Obsessing over every aspect of record reproduction is what we do for a living. Pink Floyd’s recordings require us to be at the top of our game, both in terms of reproducing their albums as well as evaluating the merits of individual pressings.

When you love it, it’s not work, it’s fun. Tedious, occasionally exasperating fun, but still fun nonetheless.


Further Reading

Records that Sound Best on the Right Early Pressing 

Records that Sound Best on the Right Import Pressing

Listening for Harmonically Correct Acoustic Guitars on America’s Debut

More of the Music of America

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of America

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo fidelity. As it says below, most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. They often sound veiled and dull, and on a copy with a bit too much top end they will have an unnatural hi-fi-ish sparkle.

This kind of sparkle can be heard on many records Mobile Fidelity made in the ’70s and ’80s. Tea for the Tillerman, Sundown, Year of the Cat, Finger Paintings, Byrd at the Gate, Quarter Moon in a 10 Cent Town — the list of MoFis with sparkling acoustic guitars would be very long indeed, and these are just the records with prominent acoustic guitars!

Three Roses and Rainy Day

The key song on side one that we use to test is Three Roses. There are three sonically-separated individuals each playing six string acoustic guitars, and when this side is cut right the guitars sound just gorgeous: sweet, with all their harmonic structures intact. (It’s also my favorite song on side one.)

The real test on side two is the song Rainy Day. Lots of guitars, and when the close-miked descending guitar figure comes in after the first few couplets, if it’s too bright, you’re going to know it. This song is the hardest one to cut and almost never sounds right. Some copies are cut JUST RIGHT. The vocals are breathy, the guitars are full-bodied, and the overall sound is airy, open, and spacious.

On the best copies Rainy Day is Demo Disc material — they just don’t know how to make acoustic guitars sound like that anymore. You have to go back to 50-year-old records like this one to find that sound.

Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency, all the things that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings).

Of course, many 50 year old records are beat to death, and many of them don’t sound any good anyway. It’s no mean feat to find quiet, superb pressings of albums like this, but you can be sure that Better Records is up to the task.

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Fleetwood Mac / Greatest Hits

More Fleetwood Mac

More British Blues Rock

  • An excellent vintage British pressing on the original CBS Solid Orange label with Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Big, rich, energetic, with tons of Analog Tubey Magic, this original Orange Label UK pressing has exactly the right sound for this music
  • “Oh Well, Parts One and Two,” “Black Magic Woman,” “Man of the World,” and the surprise Number One single “Albatross” are all here and guaranteed to blow your mind
  • Peter Green is hands down our favorite British Blues Guitarist of All Time – play this record and you will surely see why we feel that way
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

If you’re a fan of Fleetwood Mac, this copy is guaranteed to blow your mind. Like all the best vintage British pressings, the sound is smooth, rich and full. This is Old School ANALOG, baby. They don’t make ’em like this anymore because they don’t know how to.

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David Crosby – Cowboy Movie Is a Key Track

More of the Music of David Crosby

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of David Crosby

Note how Crosby’s voice is “chesty” on the best sounding copies. Some make him sound like he’s all mouth and no diaphragm. When his voice is full-bodied and solid, that’s when he sounds more like a real person and less like a pop recording of a person. All credit must go to Stephen Barncard.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, not exactly a tough call if you ask us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording? 

Listening Test

One of our key test tracks for side one is Cowboy Movie, and one thing that separated the best pressings from the lesser ones was the sound of the hand claps. It’s a dense mix and they are not easy to hear, but on the best copies there is audible echo and ambience around them, with a richer “flesh on flesh” quality to their sound. Not many pressings had it, and the ones that did tended to do most other things well also. Which is what makes it a good test! (more…)