Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

Julie London – Julie (in Mono)

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  • This outstanding vintage Liberty MONO pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • In-the-room presence, preternaturally breathy vocals, and boatloads of wonderful Tubey Magic
  • This amazing sleeper of a record belongs right up at the top of Ms. London’s oeuvre (25 albums strong) along with Julie Is Her Name – high praise indeed
  • 4 stars: “Usually put into a torch song setting, this release allows London to shed that garment and become jazzy. Instead of being sultry, she becomes dazzling and sparkling. She also becomes more adept at phrasing and timing and takes a risk or two in the tradition of a jazz singer.”

The great Jimmy Rowles plays piano, handled the arrangements and fronts the big group here, taking the music in a wonderfully jazzy direction that suits Julie’s vocal style perfectly.

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 Julie London singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now more than 63 years old), 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. (more…)

Ornette Coleman / Ornette on Tenor – Demo Disc Jazz Sound

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  • A big, bold, KILLER sounding Atlantic pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • This is one of the BEST sounding jazz albums we have played in many months – it is ALIVE with energy and dynamic contrasts
  • We had a superb original Plum and Orange Mono pressing and as good as that one may be, this stereo pressing takes the music to another level entirely (on big speakers at loud levels of course)
  • Compare this pressing to anything ever recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and you may be in for quite a shock
  • Engineered by the team of Tom Dowd and Phil Iehle, the men behind some of Coltrane’s most iconic, best sounding albums for Atlantic
  • 5 stars in Downbeat – Allmusic notes: “It’s an understatement to say that Ornette Coleman’s stint with Atlantic altered the jazz world forever, and Ornette on Tenor was the last of his six LPs (not counting outtakes compilations) for the label, wrapping up one of the most controversial and free-thinking series of recordings in jazz history… far ahead of its time.

A Big Speaker Record

Let’s face it, this is a BIG SPEAKER recording. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It demands to be played LOUD. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended if you play it at moderate levels.

This is also the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Systems driving Big Dynamic Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound that I can enjoy. Anything less is just not for me.

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Barney Kessel / Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By

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  • Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By finally returns to the site with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Contemporary Stereo sound on both sides
  • Their stuff just doesn’t get any better than this. Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom — this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best
  • For those of you who appreciate what Roy DuNann (and Howard Holzer on other sessions) were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP is a Must-Own
  • Unless you already have it, which is doubtful considering how hard it is to find a copy in clean condition
  • Barney Kessel and his five reed players take these standards and make magic with them — for fun, relaxing jazz it’s hard not to love this one

This vintage Black Label Contemporary Stereo LP from has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND. No other copy we played was in a class with this bad boy — it does it ALL.

How can you beat a Roy DuNann recording of five reeds, piano, guitar and a rhythm section that includes Shelly Manne and Red Mitchell? The timbre of the instruments is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off.

The Demo Disc sound on this copy is really something to hear – all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio. It’s pretty much everything you want in a recording from this era. I’d love to keep it but when would I have time to play it? I can assure you I will sleep very well knowing that it’s going to a good home. (more…)

Gerry Mulligan – Gerry Mulligan Meets Stan Getz

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Mulligan, Gerry - Gerry Mulligan Meets Stan Getz - Nearly White Hot Stamper 2-Pak

  • Mulligan and Getz’s 1957 collaboration arrives on the site with this superb 2-pack offering Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Full, rich, and spacious with tons of Tubey Magic and, better yet, not the least bit dry, hard or transistory
  • Practically impossible to find in stereo with audiophile playing surfaces – it took two different pressings to get two good sides, and they are very good indeed
  • “Produced by [Norman] Granz, Getz And Mulligan In Hi-Fi captures the two saxophone giants as they showcase a world class duet which provided them with a superb rhythm section featuring Lou Levy, proud member of The Stan Getz Quartet at the piano who play with impeccable style and well-conceived ideas that swing with unique vitality, while Ray Brown’s bass solidify the combo’s edge.”

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Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie

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More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

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  • This Mono pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • We have a devil of a time finding copies that sound good, play quietly, and have no audible marks or wear
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early pressing will put Ella in the room with you – more than anything else, it lets her performance come to life
  • Our single Favorite Female Vocal album here at Better Records, one that gets better with each passing year
  • “Another typically wonderful LP of Ella Fitzgerald in her prime…this is an excellent (and somewhat underrated) set.”

Folks, if you’re in the market for one of the most magical female vocal recordings ever made, today is your lucky day.

We’re absolutely crazy about this album, and here’s a copy that more than justifies our enthusiasm. You will have a very hard time finding better sound than we are offering here.

Longtime customers know that I have been raving about this album for more than two decades, ever since I first heard it back around 1995. I consider it the finest female vocal album in the history of the world. I could go on for pages about this record. Suffice it to say this record belongs in every right-thinking Music Lover’s collection.

Our last shootout was early 2019. Fans of The First Lady of Song are encouraged to give this one a very hard look. It’s not cheap but this kind of quality never is. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – Sings of Days of Wine and Roses…

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  • This original Reprise stereo pressing has PHENOMENAL Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last
  • This is one of the best sounding Sinatra recordings we know of from any era – a true Male Vocal Demo Disc
  • It’s big, lively, clear and present, with the kind of Tubey Magical richness we flip out for here at Better Records
  • Don’t judge the album by its cover – the music is wonderful from beginning to end and so is the sound
  • “Featuring a selection of Oscar-winning standards, ranging from 1934’s ‘The Continental’ to 1962’s ‘Days of Wine and Roses,’ Academy Award Winners is professional and stylish album… Sinatra is charming and lively…while Riddle’s charts are light and entertaining.”

For our first Hot Stamper listing in 2014 we had written:

One of the best sounding Reprise-era Sinatra recordings we know of.

Having just listened to a slough of top Sinatra titles, I feel it’s my duty to inform the record buying public — at least that small fraction of the public that comes to this site — that the above statement is somewhat inaccurate. It should have read:

One of the best sounding Sinatra recordings we know of from any era.

And the reason for the change is simple enough: I simply cannot recall ever hearing a better sounding Frank Sinatra record in my life. (more…)

Dave Brubeck – Time Out

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Reviews and Commentaries for Time Out

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  • This Six-Eye Stereo pressing boasts out of this world Demo Disc Sound, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them on both sides – Time Out captures the ambience and huge space of Columbia’s studio like no other record has
  • A knockout pressing of Brubeck’s astonishingly well recorded Jazz Classic, a record that belongs in every audiophile’s collection
  • Early stereo LPs in clean condition like this one are getting awfully tough to find nowadays…
  • “Buoyed by a hit single in Desmond’s ubiquitous Take Five, Time Out became an unexpectedly huge success, and still ranks as one of the most popular jazz albums ever. That’s a testament to Brubeck and Desmond’s abilities as composers, because Time Out is full of challenges both subtle and overt — it’s just that they’re not jarring.”

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Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Mono Versus Stereo

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The noisy (aren’t they all?) mono copy we keep around as a reference presents Dylan and his guitar in a starkly immediate, clear and unprocessed way. The stereo version of the album is simply that sound with some light stereo reverb added.

More than anything else the mono pressing on some tracks sounds like a demo. It’s as if the engineers threw up a mic or two, set the EQ for flat and proceeded to roll tape. This is a good sound for what it is, but it has a tendency toward dryness, perhaps not on all of the tracks but clearly on some. Certainly the first track on side one can have that drier sound.

What the stereo reverb does is fill out the sound of Dylan’s voice respectfully. The engineers of the late ’50 and ’60s had a tendency to drown their singers in heavy reverb, as anyone who’s ever played an old Tony Bennett or Dean Martin album knows all too well.

But a little reverb actually benefits the vocals of our young Mr. Dylan on The Times They Are A-Changin’, and there is an easy way to test that proposition. When you hit the mono button on your preamp or phono stage, the reverb disappears, leaving the vocal more clear and more present, but also more dry and thin. You may like it better that way. Obviously, to some degree this is a matter of taste.

The nice thing about this stereo copy, assuming you have a mono switch in your system (which you should; they’re very handy), is that you have the option of hearing it both ways and deciding for yourself which approach you find more involving and enjoyable — if not necessarily truthful.

We suspect your preference will be both listener- and system-dependent. Isn’t it better to have the option and be able to make that determination for yourself? (more…)

What We Listen For – Timbre, Richness, Tubey Magic and Freedom from Artificiality

 

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This Home Audio Exercise entry was inspired by the wonderful qualities of the Contemporary recording you see pictured, qualities brought to our attention while doing a shootout of various pressings of the album in early 2009. 

We addressed a number of issues in our commentary: first and foremost what we were listening for on the album (and what we were hearing). A bit of mono versus stereo (in this case both can be good), followed by some Audiophile Equipment bashing.

We highly recommend you make every effort to find yourself a copy of this album and use it to test your own equipment. The right pressing can be both a great Demo Disc and a great Test Disc.

Two of the best sounding jazz guitar records in the history of the world were made by Barney Kessel for Contemporary: this one, and Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By. (We have a fabulous mono copy on the site as I write this.) I used to have them both in my personal collection. [This was written many years ago when I actually had a personal collection. With 40,000 records in stock I don’t need a collection of my own anymore. Any record I might want to play is in stock, waiting to be shot out.]

Such a wonderful idea for an album. The melodies from Bizet’s Carmen are unforgettable and perfect fodder for jazz improvisation. Don’t think that this is just guitar and rhythm. This is a full band with lots of horns, clarinets of all kinds, bassoons, oboes, flutes, piano, vibes — the variety of sounds to be found on this album is practically unlimited. And with Roy DuNann’s engineering, you will never hear richer, fuller sound with more accurate timbers for all the instruments mentioned above. The guy was a genius. His recordings define High Fidelity for me. I know of none better. (more…)

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

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  • This 360 stereo pressing offers outstanding sound from first note to last, with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades – relatively quiet vinyl too
  • The keys to this stark recording – just Bob, his acoustic guitar, and harmonica – is correct tonality, as well as vocal presence with breathy intimacy, and here you get a good helping of all three
  • If you’ve played the MoFi or Sundazed LP, on the CD, the Tubey Magic here might just blow your mind
  • “These are beautifully crafted, tightly focused mini-masterpieces. And they have a radical edge, a political toughness, that one rarely finds in the folk music of the period. …the songs are uncompromising in their anger and unsparing in their analysis.”

Just about everything you could want in the sound is here: wonderful clarity, mindblowing transparency, clearly audible transients on the guitar, breathy texture to the vocals, full-bodied acoustic guitars, and more. If you’ve played other copies of the album — on MoFi, Sundazed or Columbia LP, on the CD, on whatever — the immediacy of the vocals and the Tubey Magic of the midrange are going to blow your mind. (more…)