Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

Mussorgsky / The Power of the Orchestra / Leibowitz – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

This Shaded Dog pressing of the famous TAS List Super Disc title has TWO AMAZING SIDES, including a side two that is White Hot! We have never heard a copy with such a huge hall sound and so much weight down low. As we said last time we did a shootout for this title in 2007: “DEMO DISC QUALITY ORCHESTRAL SOUND like you will not believe. Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this for huge orchestral dynamics and energy.” 

As you know, if you’ve been on our site for any length of time at all, we’ve made a good number of significant improvements to our stereo and room since 2007, so it’s entirely accurate to say we have never heard this kind of Demo Disc sound for this album until now, because we haven’t!

Side One

A++. The hall is wide and deep as any you will hear. Tons of power and weight down low. A touch dark, otherwise it would have earned the full Three Plus top grade.

Side Two

A+++, White Hot and Hard to Fault! The strings are so richly textured — who does it better than Wilkinson? Cymbal really crash on this side, something you rarely hear correctly reproduced on recordings.

This could easily become your go-to record for demonstrating not just the Power of the Orchestra, but the power of Old Analog! (more…)

Mussorgsky / The Power of the Orchestra / Leibowitz – Awesome In Mono

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This is the kind of record that the mono cartridge owners of the world worship. And for good reason. But you don’t need to have a mono cartridge to hear how good — in fact, how much BETTER — this copy sounds than most of the stereo pressings out there.

I found out about mono classical records one day when I got a mono copy of The Power Of The Orchestra, VCS 2659. It sounded better than any stereo recording of that work I had ever heard. All the instruments were so much more solid sounding, so palpable, so free from distortion, that it made me recognize for the first time what the mono record lovers of the world were talking about. (more…)

Mussorgsky / The Power of the Orchestra / Leibowitz – Awesome In Stereo (2007)

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

DEMO DISC QUALITY ORCHESTRAL SOUND like you will not believe. We put two top copies together to bring you the ultimate-sounding Pictures At An Exhibition. Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this for huge orchestral dynamics and energy.

One side of each copy rates A Triple Plus — our highest sonic grade. The sound is out of this world. 

We had to do it that way, for one simple reason: Pictures stretches over both sides of this record, and no copy we played had two good sides, which means that if you were to own only one LP of this set, some part of the work would not sound nearly as good as the rest. This is always a problem with classical recordings: one good sounding side is not enough.

On top of that there are always condition issues with old Living Stereo records. So few are quiet. We love the sound but the vinyl leaves much to be desired. Here are some comments from a previous comparison package (with minor changes of course). (more…)

Barney Kessel – Carmen – Transparency Is Key

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The best Hot Stamper Original Yellow Label Mono pressings have the Tubey Magic we’ve come to expect from Contemporary circa 1958, with that warm, rich, full-bodied sound that most engineers can’t begin to understand. However, some pressings in our shootout managed to give us an extra level of transparency and ambience that the original pressings rarely do. 

There’s a room around this drum kit. So many copies don’t show you that room, not if they have the full sound that a copy like this does. (It’s amazing all the detail you can hear in a leaned-out record, but what good is that? The sound is leaned out! If you like that sound buy the OJC or the CD. Leave these wonderful originals to those of us who know the sound we’re after.)

I had the OJC pressing of this record years ago and couldn’t get in to the music. The OJC’s tend to be a bit on the thin side and it killed my enjoyment of this album. (more…)

Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain – Mono Shootout Winner in 2008

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

This Mono Six Eye Columbia original pressing is the WINNER and [not-at-all] CURRENT CHAMPION of our Sketches of Spain shootouts. This record always sounded so thin and aggressive, with Miles’ horn always somewhat pinched and sour, but now it sounds wonderful. Who knew this record could sound so good?

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs.

Let’s talk about this mono copy. It is clearly more transparent, with less distortion, than any other copy we heard (and this means out of more than twenty!) There may be better sounding pressings out there, but I would be surprised to find one that would be more than a marginal improvement over what I’m hearing on this copy — and that goes for both sides. (more…)

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’

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

This amazing Mono pressing is the first Triple Triple copy to ever hit the site! Both A+++ sides are incredibly rich and warm, with dynamics and smoothness to the harmonica you almost never hear. As impressive as the best stereo copies can be, the mono version is our preferred mix for the album.  (more…)

Barney Kessel – Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By – Our Mono Shootout Winner

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

This Triple Triple (A+++) mono pressing blew everything else out of the water – nothing could touch it! 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.

This Minty Original Yellow Label Contemporary Mono LP from 1956 has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND! No other copy we played was in a class with this bad boy — it does it ALL. For those of you who appreciate the sound that 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).

It’s got all the top qualities of the recording we discuss below, and the least amount of shortcomings. Really, nothing could touch it. It’s pretty much everything you want in a record like this. I’d love to keep it but when would I have time to play it? Instead I’ll sleep well knowing that it’s going to a good home.

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.

From an audiophile point of view, how can you beat a Roy DuNann recording of five reeds, piano, guitar and a rhythm section that includes Shelly Manne and Red Mitchell? It’s audiophile heaven. The sound is gorgeous, all tube, live-to-two-track direct from the Contemporary studio. (more…)

John Coltrane – Plays For Lovers

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Plays For Lovers

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  • This superb compilation has Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound for side two – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • It’s rich, warm and natural, with loads of ambience and the Tubey Magic that was still on the tapes fifty years ago (and is surely long gone by now)
  • 4 stars: “… these half-dozen selections provide evidence of his tremendous facility and musical sensitivity… For anyone who is even nominally curious about Coltrane, or simply wants an excellent anthology of the man at his most alluring, John Coltrane Plays for Lovers pretty much says it all. Included are nearly 40 minutes of examples that acknowledge his remarkable capacity for naturally exquisite balladry.”  

We were pleasantly surprised to find that the remastering into stereo for this title from the mono tapes carried out in 1969 was done delicately, with an ear to keeping the tonal balance correct and the spread of stereo information to a minimum.

As proof, note that this pressing actually beat our true mono pressings on side one. If we had twenty mono copies no doubt one of them would have beaten even this side one. Getting five or six clean copies of this album, mono, stereo or otherwise, is hard enough these days. Twenty is out of the question.

Readers may wish to check out the especially insightful Allmusic review to gain a better understanding of this very special group of ballads. (more…)

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

STUNNING A+++ SOUND AND QUIET VINYL ON BOTH SIDES! Breathtakingly 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 does everything we want it to.

Listen to the drums on Everybody’s Jumpin’ . This album was recorded on a big sound stage and there is a HUGE room which can clearly be heard surrounding the drum kit. Add to that that some of the drums are in the left channel and some of the drums are in the right channel and you have one big drum kit — exactly the way it was intended to sound. (more…)

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow

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  • This outstanding stereo copy of the band’s sophomore release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) from first note to last
  • It’s the rare copy of this ’60s Psych Classic that has this kind of freedom from distortion, as well as clarity, openness, and spaciousness
  • An incredibly difficult album to find with audiophile sound, but this copy has the goods and will beat whatever you throw at it
  • 5 stars: “Every song is a perfectly cut diamond … a groundbreaking piece of folk-rock-based psychedelia that hit — literally — like a shot heard round the world…”

Check out the breathy vocals on Today — now THAT is what we call the magic of vintage analog!

This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even 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…)