Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

Bob Dylan / The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – We Preferred the Mono in 2016

More of the Music of Bob Dylan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Bob Dylan

Back in 2016 we liked the Mono pressings of this album best. We wrote:

We greatly prefer the best Mono pressings to the best stereo copies, but they are very hard to come by.

This is our favorite of the early Dylan albums for both music and sound. We’re picking up both mono and stereo copies when we see them clean (which is rare) but the best mono copies truly take this music to a whole new level.

Now we like them both, and we like the stereo pressings maybe even a bit better.

Live and learn we say!


Mono, Stereo, Reprocessed Stereo, We’ve Played Them All!

On this Dylan album, the mono and stereo pressings both have the potential to sound amazingly good.

Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

Other records that sound their best one way or the other can be found using the links below.

Mono or Stereo? Stick with Mono

Mono or Stereo? Stick with Stereo

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Benny Carter / Jazz Giant – Is the OJC Really 100x Worse?

More of the Music of Benny Carter

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

The OJC versions of Contemporary Records are typically thin and somewhat opaque, as well as tizzy up top, the kind of sound one often hears on CDs (and that CD lovers for some reason never seem to notice).

Some OJC pressings, however, can be excellent when you chance upon the right copy. The pressings that were mastered and put out by Contemporary in the mid-’70s (until they were bought by Fantasy) are almost always superior to the OJCs, but these rules of thumb break down so badly and so often that the only workable approach is just to play as many different copies of the album as you can get your hands on and simply let them sort themselves out sonically.

This of course is exactly how we conduct our shootouts. We make a lot of mistakes, but when all is said and done, we rarely fail to come up with the goods, the goods being phenomenal sounding pressings of important music, pressings that are dramatically superior to any others.

Although we’ve liked the OJC of Jazz Giant in the past, last time around the OJC versions were quite a bit smaller and less energetic than our “real” Contemporary stereo pressings. They were a big step down from our killer shootout winner.

The notes read “100x better” if that tells you anything (!)

A clear case of Live and Learn.

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Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Further Out (Mono)

More Dave Brubeck

Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout, this vintage 6-Eye Mono pressing will be very hard to beat – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • It’s extremely unlikely that any mono pressing will win a shootout, but just to keep us on our toes, we like to put some monos of famous albums in our shootouts from time to time to see how they measure up
  • This 2+ early pressing was the best of the bunch, and it’s guaranteed to beat the pants off any modern Heavy Vinyl pressing ever made
  • These sides are so Tubey Magical, rich, full-bodied and warm, yet clear, lively and dynamic
  • This copy demonstrates the big-as-life Fred Plaut Columbia Sound at its best – better even than Time Out(!)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The selections, which range in time signatures from 5/4 to 9/8, are handled with apparent ease (or at least not too much difficulty) by pianist Brubeck, altoist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright, and drummer Joe Morello on this near-classic.”
  • Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

Time Further Out is consistently more varied and, dare we say, more musically interesting than Time Out.

If you want to hear big drums in a big room, these Brubeck recordings will show you that sound better than practically any record we know of. These vintage recordings are full-bodied, spacious, three-dimensional, rich, sweet and warm in the best tradition of an All Tube Analog recording.

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Bob Dylan – Leave It Dry, Or Add Some Reverb?

More of the Music of Bob Dylan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Bob Dylan

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, on some tracks the mono pressing 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?

To see our current selection of Hot Stamper pressings that we think sound better in mono, click here.

To see our current selection of Hot Stamper pressings that we think sound better in stereo, click here.

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Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie in Stereo

More Ella Fitzgerald

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • A STUNNING pressing of Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • We have a devil of a time finding copies that sound this good, play this quietly, and have no audible marks or wear
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early stereo pressing will put Ella in the room with you – it lets her performance come to life
  • Only the best pressings bring her performance to life the way this one does
  • 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.” [It is definitely not underrated by us, we think it’s the best record the lady ever made]
  • If you’re a fan of Ella’s, or vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals in general, this Top Title from 1961 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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.

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…)

Julie London – Julie (in Stereo)

  • This STUNNING vintage Liberty stereo pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl for a Julie London album too (don’t get me started)
  • 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.”
  • If you’re a fan of Julie’s, this is a Top Title from 1957 that we think belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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. (more…)

Andre Previn, Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer Were Hard to Beat in 1957

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

The piano sounds uncannily lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom. I can’t think of many records off the top of my head that get a better piano sound than this one.

Both sides are rich and Tubey Magical in the right way, because they’re still clear and reproduce the space of the room.

Warmth turned out to be key to the sound of the best copies.

When the piano sounds warm and smooth everything else in the recording seems to fall into place.

That was the problem with the OJC pressing we played — like so many of the OJC pressings we have played over the years, we found it to be somewhat thin tonally, with a brittle top end, not remotely the right sound for a vintage Contemporary recording.

With tight, deep bass and an extended top, both sides are analog at its best.

Like we said, ROY DUNANN and HOWARD HOLZER in 1957 are hard to beat.

This is an Older Jazz Review.

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Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’

More Bob Dylan

  • This 360 stereo pressing offers outstanding sound from first note to last
  • 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.”
  • If you’re a fan of the man, this title from 1964 is clearly one of his best, and one of his best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1964 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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…)

Ella Fitzgerald / Like Someone In Love – Good in Mono, Better in Stereo

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this MONO original pressing from 1957 (the only way to fly) will be hard to beat
  • Ella’s voice is noticeably breathier, fuller, more relaxed and more musical here than it is on most of the other copies we played
  • An album that is beyond difficult to find with decent surfaces and undamaged inner grooves – most copies we get in are just trashed
  • “Most of the songs are veteran standards, Stan Getz’s warm tenor helps out on four tunes, and her voice was so strong and appealing during this era that all of her recordings from the mid- to late ’50s are enjoyable and easily recommended.”

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one, assuming you can put up with some ticky vinyl. This is about as quiet as we can find them. Like Someone in Love is five times rarer than Clap Hands, and twice as likely to be noisy.

The sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably hasn’t heard, and that’s the best reason to demonstrate a stereo!

The space is huge and the sound so rich. The vocals have dramatically less hardness and the orchestra — especially on side two — is not brash for once.

Prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie in Mono

More Ella Fitzgerald

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • A STUNNING Mono pressing of Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
  • Our single Favorite Female Vocal album here at Better Records, one that gets better with each passing year
  • We have a devil of a time finding copies that sound good and have no audible marks or wear, but on this title there is simply no way around problems with the vinyl
  • 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
  • “Another typically wonderful LP of Ella Fitzgerald in her prime…this is an excellent (and somewhat underrated) set.” [It is definitely not underrated by us, we think it’s the best record the lady ever made]
  • If you’re a fan of Ella’s, or vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals in general, this Top Title from 1961 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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…)