Records that Sound Best on the Original

Andre Previn & His Pals – Gigi

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  • A KILLER sounding original Black Label Stereo pressing with Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last    
  • If you have never heard an All Tube Analog piano trio recording by Roy DuNann from the Golden Age of Tape, you are really in for a treat with this phenomenal sounding LP
  • Exceptionally (I’m tempted to write impossibly) quiet vinyl throughout – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “André Previn’s ten records for Contemporary during 1957-1960 were among the finest jazz recordings of his career… Best known among the songs are “I Remember It Well” and “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” but the trio also uplifts and swings the other lesser-known tunes.”

This vintage Contemporary Black Label pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak my stereo and many of those that were owned by friends. 

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Wellthings have certainly changed.

I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you are should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Heroes Are Hard To Find

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  • A STUNNING copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first 
  • Both sides here are super clean, clear and open, providing lots of space for the musicians to occupy. It’s not midrangy, but instead, rich and full, with sweet, silky vocals. This is the sound you want on Heroes Are Hard to Find
  • “… the album is one of their most cohesive yet diverse… Heroes is a minor gem that retains its effortless pop charms and contains some buried jewels in the extensive Fleetwood Mac catalog.” – All Music 

Biggest Problems

Hard, midrangy vocals are far and away the biggest problem we ran into on copy after copy. The other problems we encountered are the ones common to all records: smear, lack of top or bottom end, opacity, etc.

What to Listen For

On side one, listen for the quality of the tambourine reproduction on the first track. If your copy has no top end — most will not — that tambourine will underwhelm and the brass that carries the song will probably lack the kind of harmonic extension and clarity that help distinguish the different horns from each other. They won’t sound right individually or collectively. (more…)

Ray Charles – Have a Smile With Me

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout
  • The richness in the vocals and the wonderfully Tubey Magical sound makes this copy especially impressive
  • It’s not easy to find a Ray Charles record from the Sixties that plays this quietly: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • AMG writes, “…He elevates the material with soulful vocals and good arrangements, particularly when the Raeletts back him up (as they do on half the tracks).”

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top (to keep the female backup singers, the Raelets. sweet and clear) did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record. We know, we hear practically all of them whenever we sit down to do one of these shootouts. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – It’s Monk’s Time

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It’s Monk’s Time

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

This may be the best sounding Thelonious Monk album to ever hit the site. We can thank the brilliant Columbia engineers for their service to one of the authentic geniuses of jazz.

And if you own the Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl reissue, please buy this copy and hear what you’ve been missing.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Lulu’s Back In Town
Memories Of You
Stuffy Turkey

Side Two

Brake’s Sake
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Shuffle Boil

AMG Review

It’s Monk’s Time (1964) contains some of the best — if not arguably the best — studio sides that the pianist cut during his final years as a recording musician…

From four sessions in early 1964, It’s Monk’s Time gathers four quartet and two solo sides, presenting the pinnacle of what these musicians offered stylistically as well as from the standpoint of presentation.

There is sense of mischievous playfulness in Monk’s nimble keyboard work, especially notable on the beautifully off-kilter unaccompanied opening to “Lulu’s Back in Town,” and the same practically impish quality also drives the solo performance on “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”

Fleetwood Mac – The Original Fleetwood Mac

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

We played this copy against a number of British Imports and this copy was clearly the undisputed champion. The sound here is OUT OF THIS WORLD. The music on this album was recorded when they were still a blues band — tracks left off their early albums for one reason or another. As is so often the case with unreleased material, these songs do not have that overproduced, too-many-generations-of-tape sound. This sounds like Fleetwood Mac live in the studio most of the time. In other words, awesome. If the drum sound on the first track isn’t enough to convince you this is an amazing sounding record, I don’t know what would. 

These British imports are the way to go. The domestic copies are definitely made from a dub. They sound good, but they don’t sound this good!

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Drifting 
Leaving Town Blues 
Watch Out 
A Fool No More 
Mean Old Fireman 
Can’t Afford To Do It

Side Two

Fleetwood Mac
Worried Dream
Love That Woman
Allow Me One More Show 
First Train Home 
Rambling Pony No. 2

AMG Review

As far as odds and ends packages go, Original Fleetwood Mac (1971) is an undeniably strong collection culled primarily from the band’s first incarnation, featuring John McVie (bass/guitar), Mick Fleetwood (drums), Peter Green (guitar/vocals), and Jeremy Spencer (guitar/piano/vocals).

As evidenced by the material, this quartet are an unmistakably blues-based combo. Early on they distinguished themselves as not only interpreters of traditional fare, but skilled composers, especially Green, who penned the vast majority of these selections…

Green’s total envelopment of the blues, coupled with equally inspired guitar craft, illuminate the traditional “Drifting” and “First Train Home,” as well as an adventurous, hopped-up cover of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” titled “Rambling Pony No. 2.”

“Watch Out” reveals Fleetwood Mac’s decidedly jazzier visage. While the driving upbeat rhythm is deeply rooted in a Chicago-style delivery, Green’s fretwork is undeniably fresh, giving the outing fuel for the combo’s fiery contributions.

Fleetwood Mac – Greatest Hits

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an incredible A+++ side one! The transparency and lack of distortion are shocking, and the clarity and presence are out of this world. If you’re a fan of early Fleetwood Mac, this copy will blow you away. Nothing else in our shootout came close. 

Revolutions in Audio anyone?

How else would this record have come to sound so much better? This copy wasn’t the only one that sounded great; a number of them did.

Better cleaning technologies have a lot to do with it too, but they alone cannot account for this much of a difference, something in the “night and day” range. We make improvements to our stereo regularly. If you do too, then this record may just blow your mind the way it did ours!

Like any good vintage British pressing, the sound is smooth, rich and full. This is ANALOG baby; they don’t make ’em like this anymore because they don’t know how.

We Love the Early Fleetwood Mac

This is the first iteration of the band from way back in the day, back when they were playing their unique brand of Blues Rock with Peter Green leading the band — about as far from Rumours as you can get. If you like British Blues Rock I don’t think any other band can hold a candle to the Mac from this period. Clapton may have been considered a god but Green is the better guitar player; this album is proof of that.

The best track that the early F Mac ever did? Oh, it’s here all right: “Need Your Love So Bad”. If that one doesn’t get to you deep in your soul, check your pulse. You may be dead.

What to Listen For

Many pressings are compressed, murky, veiled and recessed, especially the early ones. To find one that is transparent, clear, present and punchy is no mean feat.

On either side listen for the drums to punch through the mix.

Mick Fleetwood is banging the hell out of his toms on Black Magic Woman. If it doesn’t sound like he’s really banging away, you need a better copy (or a better stereo; one must always be open to the possibility that the system may not be up to reproducing punchy drums properly).

Oh Well Part 1 has some big drums too, so now you can check both sides of your copy. Oh joy.

Side One

A+++, As Good As It Gets! These songs sound like the originals wished they did! (Note that most British pressings of early Mac are pretty bad sounding. This pressing will murder 98% of what’s out there.)

Side Two

A++ to A+++, very nearly as good as side one! The drums are punchy and present, the vocals are breathy and textured, and the dynamics and energy are off-the-charts. The typical copy just doesn’t come close.

Finding the Magic

Here is commentary for the copy we had years ago that you may find of interest.

This record was returned by one of my customers for poor sound quality, so I threw it back on the turntable to see if I was mistaken. Hearing the first track again was painful — it’s the worst sounding song on the album! Bright, thin and spitty. Whatever tape they got for The Green Manalishi, it was the wrong one.

But then Oh Well starts up, and it’s full of midrange magic, ambience and transparency. The sound varies from track to track after that, but if your stereo can’t find the magic on records like this one, you seriously need to look into some better equipment. We recommend VPI turntables and lots of other equipment, as well as tweaks that can make all the difference in the world. This record sounds amazing over here and it should at your house too.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

The Green Manalishi
Oh Well (Part 1)
Oh Well (Part 2)
Shake Your Money Maker
Need Your Love So Bad
Rattle Snake Shake

Side Two

Dragonfly
Black Magic Woman
Albatross
Man Of The World
Stop Messin’ Round
Love That Burns

AMG Review

Unissued, unfortunately, in the United States, this is a well-chosen, concise 12-song best-of covering the Peter Green era. Besides “Black Magic Woman,” “Albatross,” and “Man of the World,” it includes the hard-to-find (in the States, anyway) British hit single “The Green Manalishi.”

Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um – Our Shootout Winner from 2018

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

This freakishly good 360 beat our best 6 Eye Stereo original, not to mention every other pressing in our shootout as well – darn quiet too. Another amazing 30th Street Studio recording by the legendary Fred Plaut – if you like Kind of Blue, here’s another album with that sound (same year, same studio, same engineer).

This is one of the better sounding copies from our most recent shootout. We were lucky enough to acquire a few clean LPs over the course of the last year, and this was far and away better than most copies.

A Jazz Masterpiece from Charlie Mingus

What the best sides of this 1959 album have to offer is clear for all to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl domestic pressings like this one offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1959
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the keyboards, guitars and drums having the correct sound for this kind of recording
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now

Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Vintage Vinyl

This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Charles Mingus playing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Better Get It in Yo’ Soul 
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat 
Boogie Stop Shuffle 
Self-Portrait in Three Colors
Open Letter to Duke

Side Two

Bird Calls 
Fables of Faubus 
Pussy Cat Dues 
Jelly Roll

AMG 5 Star Rave Review!

Charles Mingus’ debut for Columbia, Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist’s talents and probably the best reference point for beginners. While there’s also a strong case for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady as his best work overall, it lacks Ah Um’s immediate acccessibility and brilliantly sculpted individual tunes… It simply isn’t possible to single out one Mingus album as definitive, but Mingus Ah Um comes the closest.

Fred Plaut and the Legendary CBS Studios

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

Recording Studio

Having been a church for many years, it had been abandoned and empty for sometime, and in 1949 it was transformed into a recording studio by Columbia Records.

“There was one big room, and no other place in which to record”, wrote John Marks in an article in Stereophile magazine in 2002.

The recording studio had 100 foot high ceilings, a 100 foot floorspace for the recording area, and the control room was on the second floor being only 8 by 14 feet. Later, the control room was moved down to the ground floor.

“It was huge and the room sound was incredible,” recalls Jim Reeves, a sound technician who had worked in it. “I was inspired,” he continues “by the fact that, aside from the artistry, how clean the audio system was.”

Musical Artists

Many celebrated musical artists from all genres of music used the 30th Street Studio for some of their most famous recordings.

Bach: The Goldberg Variations, the 1955 debut album of the Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, was recorded in the 30th Street Studio. It was an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), the work launched Gould’s career as a renowned international pianist, and became one of the most well-known piano recordings. On May 29, 1981, a second version of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould was recorded in this studio, and would be the last production by the famous studio.

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded almost exclusively at the 30th Street Studio during his years under contract to Columbia, including his album Kind of Blue (1959). Other noteworthy jazz musicians having recorded in this place: Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck.

In 1964, Bob Dylan and record producer Tom Wilson were experimenting with their own fusion of rock and folk music. The first unsuccessful test involved overdubbing a “Fats Domino early rock & roll thing” over Dylan’s earlier, recording of “House of the Rising Sun”, using non-electric instruments, according to Wilson. This took place in the Columbia 30th Street Studio in December 1964. It was quickly discarded, though Wilson would more famously use the same technique of overdubbing an electric backing track to an existing acoustic recording with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”.

Fred Plaut, Engineer Extraordinaire

Frederick “Fred” Plaut was a recording engineer and amateur photographer. He was employed by Columbia Records during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, eventually becoming the label’s chief engineer.

Plaut engineered sessions for what would result in many of Columbia’s famous albums, including the original cast recordings of South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, jazz LPs Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty by Charles Mingus.

Wikipedia


Check out more of our Hot Stamper pressings engineered by Fred Plaut.

The Everly Brothers – The Golden Hits…

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Our original Gold Label stereo LP here has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s no doubt missing from whatever 180g reissue has been made from the 50+ year old tapes. As good as that pressing may be, we guarantee that this one is dramatically more REAL SOUNDING. It gives you the sense that Phil and Don are right in the room with you.  (more…)

Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy

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

This is Eno’s Masterpiece as well as a Desert Island Disc for yours truly. On the right pressing this is a Twisted Pop Demo Disc like nothing you have ever heard. If you have a big speaker and the kind of high quality playback that is capable of unraveling the most complicated musical creations, with all the weight and power of live music, this is the record that will make all your audio effort and expense worthwhile.

That’s the kind of stereo I’ve been working on for forty years and this album just plain KILLS over here.

Art Rock

That being said, it may not be the kind of thing most music loving audiophiles will be able to make much sense of if they have no history with this kind of Art Rock from the ’70s. I grew up on Roxy Music, 10cc, Eno, The Talking Heads, Ambrosia, Supertramp, Yes and the like, bands that wanted to play rock music but felt shackled by the chains of the conventional pop song. This was and still is my favorite kind of music. (more…)