Records that Sound Best in Stereo, not Mono

1A, or Is 1B Better? – Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

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Before we go any further, I have a question: Why are we guessing?

I received an email recently from a customer who had gone to great pains to do his own shootout for a record; in the end he came up short, with not a lot to show for his time and effort. It had this bit tucked in toward the end:

Some of [Better Records’] Hot Stampers are very dear in price and most often due to the fact that there are so few copies in near mint condition. I hate to think of all the great Hot Stampers that have ended up in piles on the floor night after night with beer, Coke, and seeds being ground into them.

Can you imagine all the 1A 1B or even 2A 2B masters that ended up this way or were just played to death with a stylus that would be better used as a nail than to play a record!

As it so happens, shortly thereafter I found myself on Michael Fremer’s old website of all places, where I saw something eerily similar in his review for the (no doubt awful) Sundazed vinyl. I quote below the relevant paragraphs. (more…)

Ray Charles – The Genius of Ray Charles

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  • One of the few copies to ever hit the site and boy is it KILLER — Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • The sound is incredibly rich, full and Tubey Magical with tons of energy and a nice extended top end
  • Robert Christgau noted that “Charles tried many times, but except for Modern Sounds, he never again assembled such a consistent album in this mode.”
  • “Charles’ voice is heard throughout in peak form, giving soul to even the veteran standards.”

Tom Dowd engineered on Ampex 3 Track through an All Tube chain (this is 1959 after all), Quincy Jones did the arrangements, and Ray sang the hell out of this great batch of songs — all the ingredients in a recipe for soul are here.

Top tracks on the first side: Let The Good Times Roll, It Had To Be You and When Your Lover Has Gone. (more…)

Dave Brubeck – Time Out

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  • An exceptional pressing – Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) on side one, an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two, big and open, with note-like bass and huge amounts of studio space
  • Original Six Eye stereo LPs in playable condition are getting tough to find nowadays – even this one has issues
  • 5 stars on Allmusic, an audiophile favorite and a great example of what’s phenomenally good about 1959 All Tube Analog recordings
  • “Dave Brubeck’s defining masterpiece, Time Out is one of the most rhythmically innovative albums in jazz history, the first to consciously explore time signatures outside of the standard 4/4 beat or 3/4 waltz time.”

Spacious and transparent, this copy has the big three-dimensional soundstage that makes this record such a joy to listen to. The piano has weight and heft, the drums are big and dynamic, and everything is relaxed and sweet — in short, this copy is doing pretty much everything we want a top quality Time Out to do.  (more…)

The Doors Waiting For The Sun – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Waiting For The Sun. 

My favorite of the first three Doors album, this one is imbued with more mystery and lyricism than any previous effort. The album shows them maturing as a band, smoking large amounts of pot and preparing for the wild ride of their next opus, the ambitious Soft Parade. Actually, as I listen to this album it reminds me more and more of that one. Now that it sounds as good as The Soft Parade I find I’ve gained a new respect for Waiting for the Sun.

In-Depth Track Commentary (more…)

Coltrane’s Sound – Forget the Reissues

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound, or close to it, on both sides of this early pressing of Coltrane’s Sound
  • An authentic Green and Blue Atlantic stereo pressing, the only version of the album that has the potential for Hot Stamper sound, which explains why this is only the second copy to hit the site since 2011
  • “This is one of the most highly underrated entries in Coltrane’s voluminous catalog. Although the same overwhelming attention bestowed upon My Favorite Things was not given to Coltrane’s Sound upon its initial release, both were actually recorded during the same three-day period in the fall of 1960… these recordings remain among Trane’s finest.”

This is yet another superb Tom Dowd recording of Coltrane in his prime, with support from the brilliant McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones.

Advice

Forget the later Red and Green Atlantic pressings. Every one we’ve ever played was flat, dry, and thin. They sound like the cheap reissues that we Atlantic churned out in the ’70s. Don’t get me wrong; there are some good sounding records on the Red and Green label, but you really have to know what you are doing, or be really lucky, to find them.

We’ve played them by the score, and found relatively few winners among a slough of losers. If you want to take your chances on some, knock yourself out, more power to you, but expect to come up with nothing to show for your time and money almost every time. That’s been our experience anyway.

And be very thankful if you happen to run into one of these early Atlantic stereo pressings, especially if it plays as quietly as this one does. Few Classic Coltrane albums survived the jazz lovers of the day and their awful turntables. (more…)

Marty Robbins – More Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs

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  • Stunning sound throughout for this original Columbia Six-Eye stereo LP; Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • Transparency and Tubey Magic are critical to the sound of the arrangements and you will find both are abundant here  
  • Very quiet for an early Columbia Six-Eye pressing – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus throughout
  • “Robbins’ originals are authored in an authentically vintage style, interspersed with public domain titles that are the real article…” – All Music

Two superb sides, with the kind of ’60s Tubey Magical Analog Sound that’s been lost to the world of recorded music for decades — decades I tell you! Nobody can manage to get a recording to sound like this anymore and it seems clear to us that no one can remaster a recording like this nowadays, if our direct experience with more than hundred such albums counts as evidence.

Albums such as this live and die by the quality of their vocal reproduction. On this record Mr. Marty Robbins himself will appear to be standing right in your listening room, along with the other other musicians playing on the sessions of course. (more…)

Jimmy Smith – Bashin’

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Bashin’ is back after a two and a half year hiatus, and it’s back with a vengence — both sides here are Super Hot, with some of the best sound we have ever heard for the album. In the past we’ve complained about “Rudy Van Gelder’s somewhat over the top echo-drenched brass”, but on a copy such as this there is nothing to complain about!

All that reverb on the brass sounds RIGHT. If you have a top quality front end (and the system that goes with it), this recording will be amazingly spacious, three-dimensional, transparent, dynamic, and open.

With a bit more weight and whomp down low this copy would have been competitive with the best we played. Everything above two hundred cycles is here!

Copies of this album are sometimes so SOUR or dull (or both) that they go right in the trade pile. Add to that the difficulty of finding copies that are scratch-free and not too noisy and you have one tough shootout. Inner Groove Distortion caused by the non-anti-skate-equipped turntables of the day is a chronic problem with vintage jazz records, and this title is typically no exception — except in this case! The record has no IGD and plays mostly Mint Minus, as quiet an original as we have ever heard. (more…)

Benny Carter – Jazz Giant on Contemporary

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

HUGE DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! This Contemporary LP sounds AMAZING — it has a wide and open soundfield that really allows you to hear into the music. Drop the needle on track three (Carter’s Own ’A Walkin’ Thing’) to hear these guys really swinging! The sound is so natural, and it really jumps out of the speakers. This knocked our original Stereo Records pressing out of the ballpark — it wasn’t even close.

Sometimes the OJC versions of Contemporary Records are excellent. Those tend to be the ones we sell. But most of the time the pressings that were mastered and put out by Contemporary in the mid-’70s (until they were bought by Fantasy) are superior. 

My understanding is that Bernie Grundman was cutting a lot of records for Contemporary in those days. If that’s true he was doing a great job because those are some wonderful sounding records.  

If you like the sound of Contemporary Records, you won’t find a better example than this! You may remember that Acoustic Sounds did a version back in the ’90s, which was a complete disaster. I haven’t heard the recent 45 RPM version, but I seriously doubt that it sounds like this.

TRACK LISTING

Old Fashioned Love 
I’m Coming Virginia 
A Walkin’ Thing 
Blue Lou 
Ain’t She Sweet 
How Can You Lose 
Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me

AMG Review

Benny Carter had already been a major jazz musician for nearly 30 years when he recorded this particularly strong septet session for Contemporary. With notable contributions from tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, trombonist Frank Rosolino and guitarist Barney Kessel, Carter (who plays a bit of trumpet on “How Can You Lose”) is in superb form on a set of five standards and two of his originals. This timeless music is beyond the simple categories of “swing” or “bop” and should just be called “classic.”

Jimmy Smith – Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides and one of the better copies from our most recent shootout
  • If you dig Oliver’s Nelson’s swingin’ BIG BRASS as much as we do you are in for a treat with this stereo pressing
  • The best sides have the kind of analog richness, warmth, and smoothness that make listening to records so involving 
  • Slaughter On Tenth Avenue is the monster track leading off here, and it swings the way Walk on the Wild Side does – like crazy, man!

This is some of the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for any RVG recording of Jimmy Smith with arrangements by Oliver Nelson (Claus Ogerman also took on some of the arranging duties; his work with Antonio Carlos Jobim is superb in all respects). (more…)

Perez Prado – “Prez”

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  • A Shootout Winning copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – this bad boy is a HUGE step up from anything Perez Prado record you have ever heard, guaranteed 
  • With Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation like you will not believe; this copy is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience
  • The driving, syncopated, heavily percussive arrangements add immensely to the fun, with the timbre of every scratcher and drum rendered in glorious Technicolor sound
  • This is Vintage All Tube Analog at its best – the magic hidden in the grooves of the record really comes through on this pressing

This SUPERB sounding copy of Prez has a lot in common with the other Living Stereo / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Henry Mancini, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Ted Heath, Martin Denny and a handful of others. Talk about making your speakers disappear, these records will do it! (more…)