Records that Sound Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

  • An outstanding early British pressing with big, bold Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on three sides and superb Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on the fourth
  • There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals, in-your-listening-room midrange presence and no shortage of rock and roll energy
  • Overflowing with great songs, way too many to list – Candle In The Wind, Bennie And The Jets, and GYBR all sound killer here
  • A Top 100 Title: “…its individual moments are spectacular and the glitzy, crowd-pleasing showmanship that fuels the album pretty much defines what made Elton John a superstar in the early ’70s.”

GYBR has the best rocker Elton and Bernie ever wrote: Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. Of course, it’s one of the tracks on side four we used to test with — if you’re going to listen to GYBR all day, why not play the songs that are the most fun to play? On the good pressings, the song just KILLS. (more…)

Peter Frampton – Wind of Change

The Music of Peter Frampton Available Now

Peter Frampton Albums We’ve Reviewed

  • Frampton’s solo debut returns, now with Double Plus (A+++) sound on both sides and fairly quiet vinyl for an early UK pressing circa 1972
  • This vintage British pressing is the very definition of TUBEY MAGIC, with sound so rich and sweet it will make you want to take all your CDs and dump them in the trash (now that record stores don’t even want them anymore)
  • The best copies like this one keep what’s good about the recording while letting us hear into the soundfield with glorious transparency
  • 4 stars: “The sound is crisp, the melodies catchy, and Frampton’s distinctive, elliptical Gibson Les Paul guitar leads soar throughout…“

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’60s and ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd, Elton John and too many others to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

The best song Peter Frampton ever wrote (and performed) is on this very record, in White Hot Stamper sound no less: All I Wanna Be (Is by Your Side). It has the Tubey Magical sound WE LOVE here at Better Records.

However, the richness that makes British recordings from the era so good can easily go over the edge, turning the sound into a thick, mucky stew in which the individual sonic components become difficult to separate out. Think of the typically dull Who’s Next or early Genesis or Jethro Tull albums and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Only a select group of pressings are able to strike the right balance between Tubey Magic and clarity. This is one of those.

And as far as we can tell it’s the only version of the album that’s pressed from the master tape. The domestic A&M LPs are clearly made from dubbed tapes. They are as flat, small, smeary, veiled and opaque as any Heavy Vinyl pressing being made today, and we long ago gave up on them (i.e., domestic pressings of this album and Heavy Vinyl in general). (more…)

The Rolling Stones / Exile On Main Street – A Good Test for Grit and Grain

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More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

The best copies will tend to have the qualities detailed below, and the more abundant these qualities are on any given pressing, the higher its grade will be.

Yes, it is a science, an empirical one, which can only be carried out by the use of strict protocols and controls, but it sure ain’t rocket science. All you need is the system, the room, the records, the time and the will to do the painstaking critical listening required to carry out the task.

It can be done, but you could spend a lifetime meeting audiophiles of the vinyl persuasion and never run into a single one who has made the effort more than a handful of times.

To be honest, shootouts are a bitch. If you aren’t getting paid to do them the way we are, finding the motivation to devote the time and energy required to do them right — not to mention the piles of copies of each record you will need — is daunting to say the least.

So, back to the question: what to listen for? (more…)

Toto – Self-Titled

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Toto

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  • This copy of Toto’s debut boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from the first note to the last
  • Toto’s albums have the kind of analog sound we love here at Better Records – they’re rich, huge and present, with tons of Tubey Magic and wall to wall spaciousness
  • Lukather’s overdriven guitar adds so much power to the music – the perfect combo of Grungy guitars and Rock Star vocals makes Hold the Line a staple of rock radio to this day
  • 4 stars: “Toto’s rock-studio chops allowed them to play any current pop style at the drop of a hi-hat: one minute prog rock, the next hard rock, the next funky R&B. Singles like “I’ll Supply the Love” made the charts, and “Hold the Line” hit the Top Ten.”

This is analog, make no mistake about it. Those smooth sweet vocals, open top and rich full bottom are a dead giveaway that you are playing a record and not a CD. (I understand the CD for this title is awful; bright, thin and downright painful. This is the problem with the CD: if they do a bad job making it, and you no longer own a turntable, what are your options? Squat, pretty much.)

Pop production techniques were very advanced by 1978, providing plenty of natural sounding roomy reverb around the vocals and guitars. Lukather’s overdriven, distorted guitar has near-perfect tonality; it adds so much power to the music.

Just like the Hot Stampers for Aqualung, when the guitar sounds this good, it really makes you sit up and take notice of the guy’s playing. When the sound works the music works, our definition of a Hot Stamper in seven words or less.

Turn up the volume? You better believe it!

(more…)

Led Zeppelin / Houses of the Holy – Listening in Depth

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You really get an understanding of just how much of a production genius Jimmy Page was when you listen to a copy of Houses with the kind of resolution and transparency found on our best copies.

To take just one example, listen to how clearly the multi-tracked guitars can be heard in the different layers and areas of the soundstage. On some songs you will have no trouble picking out three, four and even more guitars playing, each with its own unique character. The clarity of the better copies allows you to recognize — perhaps for the first time — the special contribution each makes to the finished song.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song

Check out the guitars — the sound should be warm, sweet and delicate. There are some dead quiet passages in this song that are almost always going to have some surface noise. Most copies start out a bit noisy but almost always get quieter as the music goes along.

Over the Hills and Far Away

This is a great test track for side one. It starts with lovely acoustic guitars before the Monster Zep Rock Chords come crashing in. If both parts of the song sound correct and balanced, you more than likely have a winner. And the bigger the dynamic contrast between the parts the better.

Turn your volume up good and high in order to get the full effect, then stand back and let the boys have at it.

The Crunge (more…)

Casino Royale Can Be Amazing on the Right Copy, If You’ve Got the System For It…

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

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This is a record that has its share of problems, but if you’ve got the system for it (huge, heavily tweaked, fast, free from obvious colorations and capable of tremendous resolution), the best pressings are sure to impress.

Having heard the best sounding pressings I now understand why this has been such a highly regarded long-term resident of the TAS Superdisc List. The best copies are SUPERDISCS… while the average copy of this album is anything but. Who could take such harsh, grainy, thin, veiled, compressed sound seriously? What was Harry Pearson smokin’?

I can honestly and truthfully say that until we discovered the Hot Stampers for this album, I never thought this record deserved the praise Harry heaped upon it. Now I do. I once was blind but now I see, or something like that.

And by the way, does his copy sound as good as this one? Let’s face it: the late Harry Pearson was simply not the kind of guy who would sit down with five or ten copies and shoot them out.

When you listen to the average pressing of Casino Royale, you get the feeling that you’re hearing a standard-issue, boxy, lightweight, blary ’60s soundtrack. Perhaps you hear some promise in the recording, but it’s a promise that’s unfulfilled by the record on your turntable. This copy will completely redefine what you know about the sound of this music.

The space is big and the sound relatively rich (although the sound does vary quite a bit from track to track). The vocals have notably less hardness than most and the orchestra is not as brash as it can be on so many of the copies we audition. Huge amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies, and critical to The Look of Love.

The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD. (more…)

Stevie Ray Vaughan – The Sky Is Crying

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A Top 100 Title

  • This STUNNING pressing boasts insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second, which means the nearly seven minutes of Little Wing on this side one is guaranteed to present you with some of the most amazing sound you’ve ever heard
  • Some of the most blistering performances of electric blues we have ever had the pleasure of rocking out to
  • Hands down the best sounding SRV recording — Little Wing is an absolute monster on this side one and a Demo track to beat them all
  • 4 stars: “Doing away with vocals, Vaughan augments Hendrix’s concise two-and-a-half minute original, turning the track into a nearly seven-minute-long electric tour de force. The cover would earn Vaughan his sixth Grammy, for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, in 1992.”

This is one of the most blistering recordings of electric blues we’ve ever played. Few other records recorded in the ’80s have this kind of BIG, BOLD sound. Maybe none. The sheer impact and wallop of this music is a real treat, but only if you have the right pressing (and the right kind of stereo to play it on, of course).

Stevie’s take on Jimi’s Little Wing is the surest proof that SRV was one of the greatest Electric Blues Guitarists of All Time. I know of no other guitar showcase to compete with it.

Turn it up good and loud and you will be amazed at how dynamic the guitar solos are.

Sonically it’s a knockout, with one of the tallest, widest, and deepest soundstages I have ever heard on record. It brings to mind Gilmore’s multiple solos on Money from the hottest Dark Side of the Moon pressings, high praise indeed.

Little Wing deservedly won SRV the Grammy in ’92 for Best Rock Instrumental.

And, if you want to hear Stevie channel Wes Montgomery instead of Jimi Hendrix, take a listen to Chitlins Con Carne. (more…)

Eagles / Hotel California – Rockin’ Out to Victim of Love

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Reviews and Commentaries for Hotel California

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This commentary was written at least ten years ago.

Victim of Love is a classic case of yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

It’s the sound of this five piece tearing it up LIVE IN THE STUDIO. It’s also the track where the DCC just falls apart for us. Where did the rock and roll energy go? The DCC makes it sound like the band just doesn’t care, which was certainly not our experience when were playing any of the killer Hot Stampers we came across. Just the reverse was true; we had them turned up full blast and they ROCKED.

In fact I might go so far as to say that Victim of Love is the best sounding track on the whole album. It’s punchy, real and MUSICAL in a way that nothing else on the album is, because it’s being played by a real band, live. The energy and coherency of the sound is like nothing else you will hear on Hotel California, and possibly on any other Eagles record. (more…)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Self-Titled

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  • Wow – Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish for the band’s debut and vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find
  • These sides are exceptionally low-distortion, solid, dynamic, with the neutral tonality completely missing from the current spate of reissues
  • Featuring classics such as I Put a Spell on You, the extended-length jam Susie Q (8:37, perfect for Underground Radio), The Working Man, Porterville and more
  • 4 stars: “CCR’s self-titled debut album was gloriously out-of-step with the times, teeming with John Fogerty’s Americana fascinations. … the band’s sound is vibrant, with gutsy arrangements that borrow equally from Sun, Stax, and the swamp.”

It’s unlikely you will be demonstrating your system with this record, but you may find yourself enjoying the hell out of it for what it is — an early example of Roots Rock that still holds up today.

This is an album that’s nearly impossible to find with excellent sound and clean surfaces. This is one of the best copies we’ve managed to come across. (more…)

Carlos Santana Knows: The Louder His Guitar Gets, the Better It Sounds

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Reviews and Commentaries for Abraxas

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Abraxas is yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better than Abraxas.

This is a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own home.

When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so the point is moot.)

You may have heard me say this before, but it’s important to make something clear about this music. It doesn’t even make sense at moderate listening levels. Normal listening levels suck the life right out of it. You can tell by the way it was recorded — this music is designed to be played back at LOUD levels, and anything less does a disservice to the musicians, not to mention the listener, you.

(more…)