Top 100 Rock and Pop

After the Gold Rush – What a Record

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This is amazing copy of AFTER THE GOLD RUSH and a member of our Rock Hall of Fame.

It’s an album we admit to being just a bit obsessed with. We love the album and we hope you do too. If you have some time on your hands — maybe a bit too much time on your hands — please feel free to check out our commentaries.

Folks, your Hot Stamper collection is just not complete without a knockout copy of After The Gold Rush; that’s why we’ve named it a Better Records All Time Top 100 title. We built our reputation on finding records that sound like this, because who else can find a copy of this album that delivers so much magic? When you drop the needle on any track on side two, you’ll know exactly why we are able to charge these kind of prices for a record like this — because on the right system, it’ll sound like a million bucks! (more…)

The Beatles on Vinyl – An Audiophile Wake Up Call

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The sound of the best pressings of The Beatles — when cleaned with the Walker Enzyme fluids on the Odyssey machine — are truly revelatory.

So much of what holds their records back is not bad mastering or poor pressing quality or problems with the recording itself. It’s getting the damn vinyl clean. (It’s also helpful to have high quality playback equipment that doesn’t add to the inherent limitations of the recordings.)

Know why you never hear Beatles vinyl playing in stereo stores or audio shows? (Love doesn’t count; give me a break.)

Because they’re TOO DAMN HARD to reproduce. You have to have seriously tweaked, top-quality, correct-sounding equipment — and just the right pressings, natch — to get The Beatles’ music to sound right, and that’s just not the kind of stuff they have at stereo stores and audio shows. (Don’t get me started.)
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Zep II – 1990 to 2010

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Led Zeppelin II

 

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Here’s the story of my first encounter with a Hot Stamper Zep II.

I had a friend who had come into possession of a White Label Demo pressing of the second album and wanted to trade it in to me for the Mobile Fidelity pressing that I had played for him once or twice over the years, and which we both thought was The King on that album.

To my shock and dismay, his stupid American copy KILLED the MoFi. It TROUNCED it in every way. The bass was deeper and punchier. Everything was more dynamic. The vocals were more natural and correct sounding. The highs were sweeter and more extended. The whole pressing was just full of life in a way that the Mobile Fidelity wasn’t.
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A Thiller Like You Have Never Heard in Your Life

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This copy has Triple Plus Shootout Winning sound on side one!

  • A killer Top Copy: Triple Plus (A+++) on the first side, Double Plus (A++) on the second
  • The sound is huge — big, wide, deep, and open, with the kind of three-dimensional soundstaging that lets the music unfold in front of you and around you
  • Billie Jean and Beat It sound out of this world here, but that’s not fair to the rest of the album since every track does
  • “More than just a phenomenon…it is simply great music.” — AMG 5 stars

 

The sound on this copy is huge — big, wide, deep, and open, with the kind of three-dimensional soundstaging that lets the music unfold in front of you and around you as well. You get the bottom end punch that’s so crucial to this music and tons of energy as well. The bass is meaty and well-defined, showing you the rhythmic foundation that the music needs. The overall sound is transparent with amazing texture to practically every element.

Michael’s voice is marvelous on this copy — breathy, textured, and positively dripping with emotion (just listen to him break down on The Lady in My Life).

A Real Thrill(er)

Thanks to constant improvements in our stereo, we’re now getting this album to sound better than it ever has. Extended highs appeared where none had been before. We were hearing synthesizers buried deep in the mix we’d never heard. All of a sudden, these ’80s pop records had amazing analog magic.

If your system is up to the task, you won’t believe how big and lively this album sounds. Who woulda thunk it?

Good old Bernie Grundman handled the mastering and managed to do a really nice job; unfortunately, most copies of this mass-produced classic don’t give you all that much of the magic.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

See all of our Michael Jackson albums in stock

Listening in Depth to Pretzel Logic

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Pretzel Logic

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It’s positively criminal the way this amazingly well-recorded music sounds on the typical LP. And how can you possibly be expected to appreciate the music when it sounds like that?

The reason we audiophiles go through the trouble of owning and tweaking our temperamental equipment is we know how hard it is to appreciate good music which sounds bad. Bad sound is a barrier to understanding and enjoyment, to us audiophiles anyway.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Rikki Don’t Lose That Number

By far the biggest hit on this album and one of the biggest for the band, it’s also one of the clearest indicators of Hot Stamper Sound. The Horace Silver inspired intro is at its best when you can easily hear the acoustic guitar in the left channel doubling the piano. On most copies it’s blurry and dull, which causes it to get lost in the mix. Transparent copies pull it out in the open where it belongs.

That’s the first test, but the real test for this track is how well the (surprisingly) DYNAMIC chorus is handled. On a properly mastered and pressed copy, Fagen’s singing in the chorus is powerful and very present. He is RIGHT THERE, full of energy and drive, challenging the rest of the band to keep up with him. And they do! The best copies demonstrate what a lively group of musicians he has backing him on this track. (If you know anything about Steely Dan’s recordings, you know the guys in these sessions are the best of the best.)

Check out the big floor tom that gets smacked right before the first chorus. On the best copies the whomp factor is off the scale.

Shocking as it may seem, most copies of this album are DOA on this track. They’re severely compressed — they never come to life, they never get LOUD. The result? Fagen and the band sound bored. And that feeling is contagious.

Of course most audiophiles have no idea how dynamic this recording is because they’ve never heard a good pressing. Only a handful of the copies we played had truly powerful dynamics. These are Pretzel Logics with far more life than I ever dreamed possible. Hey, who knew?

(As an aside, back in 1976 I had my fifty favorite albums professionally cleaned on a KMAL record cleaning machine at the stereo store I worked at. They would give you a custom record sleeve along with the cleaning, and sure enough I found my original Pretzel Logic with its KMAL sleeve. My copy was pretty good but no Hot Stamper.)

So, yes, it really did take us thirty years to find the best copy!

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Frank Zappa Big Band Jazz Fusion Masterpiece

Waka/Jawaka

 

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  • This copy is an absolute KNOCKOUT, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • A Top 100 Title, and deservedly so: the sound is HUGE – big, rich, punchy, lively and clear
  • The size and power of a big band, Zappa style, with White Hot Stamper sound? There is (almost*) nothing like it
  • Rolling Stone raved that it’s “…some of the best material he’s done in years.”

See all of our Frank Zappa and Mothers of Invention albums in stock

(*Other than The Grand Wazoo, which can have sound every bit as good but is not the equal of Waka/Jawaka musically.)

What an incredible album. I know of no other music like it in the world. It’s not big band, it’s not rock, it’s not jazz, it’s a unique amalgamation of all three with an overlay of some of Zappa’s idiosyncratic compositional predilections (say that three times fast) thrown in for good measure.

In our opinion it’s nothing less than Zappa’s MASTERPIECE, the summation of his talents, and a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection. (We say that about a lot of records audiophiles don’t know well, but we’ve been doing it for most of our 27 years in this business and don’t see much reason to stop now.)

The Secret

Most copies, especially the WB brown label reissues, are dull and smeary with not much in the way of top end extension, failing pretty miserably at getting this music to come to life. This copy gets as much of what we like about the sound to actually come through the speakers as any copy we have ever played, and that makes it a very special copy indeed.

Not long ago we discovered the secret to separating the men from the boys on side one. On the lively, punchy, dynamic copies — which are of course the best ones — you can follow the drumming at the beginning of ‘Big Swifty’ note for note: every beat, every kick of the kick drum, every fill, every roll — it’s all there to be heard and appreciated. If that track on this copy doesn’t make you a huge fan of Aynsley Dunbar, I can’t imagine what would. The guy had a gift.

Big Swifty!

The 17-plus-minute-long Big Swifty is a suite in which each section slowly, almost imperceptibly blends into the next, so that you find yourself in a completely new and different section without knowing how you got there — that is, until you go back and play the album and listen for just those transistions, which is what makes it worth playing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times.

Big Swifty is a jazz suite with amazingly innovative work by Sal Marquez on trumpet. He single-handedly turns this music into a work of GENIUS. I can’t imagine a more talented player. Zappa on guitar is excellent as well. Aynsley Dunbar plays his ass off, only falling short when it comes time to do his drum solo on Waka/Jawaka. The interplay of each of these rock musicians is in the tradition of great jazz artists.

And since the drumming throughout this record is so crucial to the music itself, a copy that really gets that right is one that gets everything right.

A Desert Island Disc

What more can I say? If you love Zappa you need this record. If you want to expand your musical horizons and hear big band like you’ve never heard it before, this is the record for you. I’ve listened to this album literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. It gets better every time I play it.

Blue Labels and Reissues

By the way, the Blue Label originals are quite a bit better than the later Warner Brother reissues. I would avoid any reissues for Zappa’s albums; we’ve never heard a good one. And that includes the Classic Records reissue of Hot Rats.

Listening in Depth to Led Zeppelin

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

We always have a great time doing Zep IV shootouts. It’s one of those all-too-rare cases where amazing music and amazing sonics coexist on the same slab of vinyl. You just need to find the right slab, a proposition that turns out to be much harder than it sounds.

You probably know by now just how tough it is to find audiophile quality sonics on this album. Far too many copies just leave us cold, but the best pressings, whether British or domestic, are so good, and so much fun at the loud volumes we employ, that it ends up being worth all the time, trouble and expense it takes to wade through the vinyl dreck to find them.

But the best copies are so good, and so much fun, that it was definitely worth the trouble. Because the best copies ROCK, and it is a positive THRILL to hear this record rock the way it was meant to. If you have big speakers and the power to drive them, your neighbors are going to be very upset with you.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Black Dog

The key to both of the first two tracks is to find a copy with a solid bottom end. Next look for an extended top end, easily heard on all the splashing cymbals.

Now listen for a tonally correct Robert Plant. The copies with lots of top will typically have him sounding too bright. The copies with little in the way of high frequency extension will have him sounding veiled and dull.

One out of ten copies (with potentially good stampers) will get all three right: the top, the bottom and his voice. When you hear it you know it immediately, but you sure do have to go through a lot of copies before you have much of a chance of hearing it!

Rock and Roll

“[Rock and Roll] was a little tough to record because with the hi-hat being so open and [Bonham] hitting it that hard it was difficult to control. But I managed somehow or another.”

Andy Johns

“The best copies prove once and for all that these are some of most up-front, lively and above all real sounding rock cymbals ever put on tape.”

Tom Port

The Battle of Evermore
Stairway to Heaven

Side Two

Misty Mountain Hop

Note that the vocals for the first track are always somewhat edgy on even the best copies. After playing scores and scores of copies, having adjusted the VTA every which way we could, no copy did not have at least a bit of an edge on Plant’s vocal. We’re pretty sure it’s that way on the tape. Our job is to find the copy that reproduces it as cleanly and accurately as possible.

Four Sticks
Going to California
When the Levee Breaks

When The Levee Breaks is rarely mastered properly and consequently rarely sounds the way it should. If the cymbals or the double-tracked harmonicas on your copy don’t get at least a little gritty you probably have an overly smooth copy, and it’s even possible that it’s made from a second or third generation tape. On the best copies both are alive with presence and energy.

And the room around the drums is huge, as is that famous 26″ Ludwig bass drum.*

The Classic Records reissue corrects this problem somewhat, but at a cost. They’ve completely robbed the song of all the Zep magic. It’s not as big, not as open, not as rich, not as lively, not as punchy, and so on — but the cymbals are clean. Is that the tradeoff we should be happy to live with? If you’re on our site you already know the answer.


*Andy Johns interviewed about recording When the Levee Breaks

The drum sound on When The Levee Breaks is one of Johns’ greatest contributions to IV

One night Zeppelin were all going down the boozer and I said, ‘You guys bugger off but Bonzo, you stay behind because I’ve got an idea.’ So we took his kit out of the room where the other guys had been recording and stuck it in this lobby area. I got a couple of microphones and put them up the first set of the stairs.

It wasn’t just the stairwell that got that famous, earthy delay sound though…

I used two Beyerdynamic M160 microphones and I put a couple of limiters over the two mics and used a Binson Echorec echo device that Jimmy Page had bought. They were Italian-made and instead of tape they used a very thin steel drum.

Tape would wear out and you’d have to keep replacing it. But this wafer-thin drum worked on the same principle as a wire recorder. It was magnetised and had various heads on it and there were different settings. They were very cool things!

And so playing at that particular tempo on ‘Levee the limiters had time to breathe and that’s how Bonzo got that ‘Ga Gack’ sound because of the Binson. He wasn’t playing that. It was the Binson that made him sound like that. I remember playing it back in the Stones’ mobile truck and thinking, ‘Bonzo’s gotta f**king like this!’ I had never heard anything like it and the drum sound was quite spectacular.

What was Bonham’s reaction to hearing the track back?

I said: ‘Bonzo, come and listen to this, dear chap.’ And he came in and said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s more f**king like it!’ And everyone was very happy. I guess I must have done it as a one-off thing and I didn’t start using that technique of room mics all the time until later in the ’70s with people like Rod Stewart. Jimmy picked up on it and used it on ‘Kashmir’. When The Levee Breaks came out quite well and people still ask me about it when I appear on music biz panels and what-not.

More Led Zeppelin

We Get Letters – This One Is on Rumours

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This week’s letter [from quite a few years ago] comes from our good customer Roger, who was blown away by our Hot Stamper pressing of Rumours. Roger did his usual thorough shootout of our Hot Stamper against his own pressings. The results? Another knockout for our Hot Stamper pressing!

 

Hi Tom,

Just a quick note on the Fleetwood Mac Rumors Hot Stamper I just bought. I have a Nautilus pressing and my original pressing I bought in college when it came out. I have never liked this record as much as Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac, perhaps partly because its sonics were somewhat inferior.

So I played the Nautilus and quickly remembered what a piece of sonic detritus this thing is. How can audiophile labels like Nautilus put out something that is as thin, bright, flat, and compresssed as this thing is? It obviously reinforces your point that most audiophiles are lemmings when it comes to audiophile records. If some audiophile guru said the Japanese pressing of Girl Scout Troup #657 singing the Girl Scout Theme Song was sonic nirvana, it would show up on every internet record website for $50 each.

Next up was my original pressing with an F16 matrix on side one, and man, what a relief after following the Nautilus disaster. In fact, I resisted buying a pricey hot stamper because I always felt my pressing to be pretty darned good, which it was. So I was shocked to hear just how much better the hot stamper was.

I played Dreams on side one and it took all of about 5 seconds of hearing the massive bass and startlingly dynamic cymbal crashes on this track to find the hot stamper worth every penny I paid for it. If the drum kit on Oh Daddy doesn’t get your pants flapping, time for a new stereo. Voices were eerily present, guitars had great detail, pianos had weight just like in real life (we have a piano in our house), and best of all, the highs were arrayed in space and were delicate and detailed.

Since the Nautilus is too thin to make a good frisbee and would probably fetch big bucks on ebay I will stuff it back on my shelf forever, unless I need a good laugh, and add the HS Rumors to my favorite recordings.

Roger


Roger, thanks as always for the insightful review. The sad fact of the matter is that the Nautilus Digitally Remastered Half Speed — Yes, you heard that right — is actually better than the average reissue, and probably better in most ways than the average grainy domestic original, which is pretty much unbearably edgy and gritty, especially if it hasn’t been cleaned right.

So what does the typical audiophile do? He buys the Nautilus, finds the sound better than his crappy domestic pressing — not noticing that there’s no bass on the Half Speed because his system has no bass in the first place — and stops there. It is what it is.

You took it a step further, finding a good domestic pressing, F16, far superior to the Nautilus, and figured that the sound of that LP was pretty much what the recording had to offer. You probably went through a few to get that one I’m guessing.

Ah, but now you have a pretty good idea of just how AMAZING the recording really is. (Our Triple Plus Crazy Expensive Hot Stamper copy was even better, but it takes $750 to get a record like that from us, and who has that kind of money?) Let’s face it: there are only so many hours in the day, and there are an awful lot of titles one might want to do one’s own shootouts for. Not to mention leaving time to listen for pleasure. How on earth can anyone be expected to go through all the rigmarole (defined as “a long and complicated and confusing procedure” and boy, that word sure fits the bill when it comes to record shootouts!) necessary to find a copy of Rumours good enough to enjoy?

We summed up our shootout with this final thought or two:

You would have to go through at least 25 or more copies of this record to even hope to find one in a league with our best pressings. That’s a lot of record hunting, record cleaning and record playing! (If you know anything about this record, you know that the average domestic pressing of this album is quite average sounding; the good ones are few and far between.)

And the stampers, as we’ve come to learn, aren’t the whole story. For one thing, there are at least 75 different side ones and 75 different side twos, all cut by Ken Perry at Capitol on the same three cutters from the same tapes — but they all sound different! (Ken also cut the original English and Japanese pressings; his KP is in the dead wax for all to see. The two import KP copies that I heard were quite good, by the way. Not the best, but very good. He only cut the originals though, so practically every import copy you can find will be a reissue made from a dub, ugh.)

So this is the service we offer. If you already have a job and don’t need another one, we are happy to find you the pressing that has the sound you’ve been searching for but could never find. It’s what we do best, and it positively warms our hearts to know that fellow audiophiles like Roger are sharing in the kind of musical thrill that only comes from playing a truly killer LP.

Until next time,
TP

More Fleetwood Mac

McCartney’s Must Own Masterpiece

McCartney

 

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We have been touting McCartney’s first solo album for more than a decade. Ever read a word about it in an audiophile context elsewhere? Of course you haven’t! The audiophile world doesn’t know and doesn’t care about great albums like this one, but we at Better Records LIVE for albums with sound and music of this caliber. It’s a permanent resident of our Top 100 List for a reason: no other solo album by a Beatle can touch it.

As for surface issues, we wish we could find them quiet, but that is simply not an option, especially considering how dynamic the recording is. We’ve used every trick in the book to try to get copies of this album to play Mint Minus, but it’s not usually in the cards. Maybe I’m Amazed, in particular, seems to be noisy on nine copies out of every ten. If you’re looking for a copy without any surface noise, you’re probably better off tracking down the DCC Gold CD, which is actually quite good.

But no CD is ever going to sound like our record, not now, not ever. This is where I simply can’t understand how the typical audiophile can make the tradeoff for flat, average sound with quiet vinyl — the sound of these Heavy Vinyl reissues that have sprouted up all over the place, each one worse than the last — and the wonderful, but slightly noisy, sound to be found on the best originals.

Of course the obvious answer is that it is simply too much work to find enough original copies to clean and play in order to come across that needle in a haystack: the Hot Stamper pressing.

See all of our Paul McCartney albums in stock

The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. It sounds like it’s recorded live in the studio, but of course that’s impossible, because Paul plays practically all the instruments himself! It just goes to show how good a multi-track studio recording can sound when done well.

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Some of the Better Sounding Live Albums We’ve Played, Starting with Deep Purple’s Classic Made In Japan

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Made in Japan

Machine Head Live? That would not be far off, and the fact they brought Martin Birch along with them all the way to Japan in order to engineer a live album that was only supposed to sell to the Japanese market (!) could not have been more fortuitous for us audiophiles.

Machine Head is clearly one of the best sounding hard rock records ever made, and Made In Japan, its successor, sounds more like a top quality studio production than any live album I’ve ever heard. It’s shocking how clean and undistorted the sound is. Equally shocking is the fact that it’s every bit as big and lively as a Hard Rockin’ Live Album should be.

This is a combination the likes of which we have never heard.

More Great Live Albums with Commentary

We’ve raved about a number of live albums over the years. Some of the better sounding ones that come readily to mind (in alphabetical order) are Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, David Live, Johnny Cash At San Quentin, Donny Hathaway Live, The Jimi Hendrix Concerts, Performance – Rockin The Fillmore, Live Wire – Blues Power, Waiting For Columbus, Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out and Live at Leeds. I would be proud to have any of them in my collection.

Having just played a stack of copies of Made In Japan I’d put it right up there with the best of the best. In terms of Tubey Magic, richness and naturalness — qualities that are usually in very short supply on live albums — I would have to say that the shootout winning copies of Made In Japan would be very likely to take Top Honors for Best Sounding Live Album of All Time. Yes, the sound is that good.