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Elvis Costello / Armed Forces

Armed Forces is one of the best sounding rock records ever made. The hottest copies have unbelievably punchy, rock-solid bass and drums.

Hot Stamper Pressings of Armed Forces Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Armed Forces

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Peter Frampton – Somethin’s Happening (and It’s Not Very Good)

This is the Frampton’s third album, released in 1974. A year later he would release the wonderful Frampton album, tour it, and record the tour, which turned into Frampton Comes Alive. Finally the world would hear what a wonderful songwriter, singer, guitarist and all around performer the man had always been, starting with Humble Pie and reaching his zenith with his first solo album, Wind of Change, his Magnum Opus and a Desert Island Disc for your truly.

All the songs from this album that he played live are dramatically better live than they are in the studio.

Frampton produced Somethin’s Happening and the production is piss-poor, as is the sound.

I’ve never heard this record sound better than passable, whether on domestic or British vinyl. I gave up finding something better decades ago. The album is just not worth it.

As far as Peter Frampton’s body of work through the ’70s is concerned, it is clearly his worst sounding album

The records he released in the ’80s are even worse — no surprise there — and the music is every bit as bad.

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Linda Ronstadt – Hasten Down The Wind

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Hot Stamper Pressing on the Asylum Label

  • A vintage Asylum pressing that earned outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them from first note to last
  • This copy is doing pretty much everything right, particularly on side two — huge, rich and lively, with Linda’s vocals reproduced to near perfection
  • “Her big but pretty voice is a stunning instrument for expressing feelings, particularly intense feelings that require a slightly understated delivery… a fine album that begs closer inspection than, I fear, many of us are willing to give to Linda Ronstadt’s art. Like the best moments of the preceding nine, though, the best moments of Hasten Down the Wind will be with us a long, long time.”
  • If you’re a fan of the lovely Ms Ronstadt, her 1976 release is surely one that belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1976 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

The sound is rich, smooth, full-bodied and natural on both sides. In other words, this is Classic Analog from the ’70s, recorded by none other than Val Garay, one of our favorite engineers.

Most pressings of this album have quite obvious problems. If you own the record see if you don’t notice some of them on your own copy.

Some have a phony boosted top end, a subject we have discussed on Linda’s records before.

Some are just too fat and Tubey. Perhaps the result of too much Aphex Aural Excitement?

Some are thick, some are thin, some are too clean, some are not clean enough, every sonic issue you can imagine can be heard on this album if you have enough copies to play, and we had plenty.

We know that this copy is about as correct as can be. We know because we cleaned and played it and listened to it critically in comparison to other copies, and we did it all by ourselves. (Of course we did. There’s really no other way to do it.)

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The Doors – Alive, She Cried

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More Live Recordings of Interest

  • An outstanding copy of the 1983 release of The Doors’ second official live album, with seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl too – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus on both sides – they don’t come quieter in our experience
  • This pressing has the kind of powerful low end that lets the wild music of the live Doors really take off
  • “Gloria” and “Little Red Rooster,” in particular, sound exceptionally good – big, lively and immediate
  • Recorded at concerts from 1968 to 1970 in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Boston and Copenhagen

The recordings here come from different concerts, so naturally some songs sound better than others. “Gloria” and “Little Red Rooster” are probably the best sounding songs on here, and that works out well because The Doors are on fire for those two numbers!

Many copies we played lacked bass in a big way, but this one’s got a strong bottom end that lets the music work. The sound is richer and fuller than most of what we heard elsewhere. Many copies were so clean that they sounded like CDs.

This pressing really communicates the energy of a Doors concert, which is exactly what we want from a live album. The clarity, presence, transparency, and energy are all outstanding on this original pressing.

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Joni Mitchell – Hejira

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

  • This original Asylum pressing was doing just about everything right, earning excellent Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides
  • Most copies we played were too compressed or veiled to involve you in the music, but this one has the big, rich, clear sound of analog at its best that Joni’s spacey “beatnik jazz” needs to work its magic
  • Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • “Joni Mitchell’s Hejira is the last in an astonishingly long run of top-notch studio albums dating back to her debut… Performances are excellent, with special kudos reserved for Jaco Pastorius’ melodic bass playing… This excellent album is a rewarding listen.”

We played a ton of copies and heard a lot to dislike. Many copies have a tendency to sound phony, a case of heavy-handed EQ in the mastering perhaps. When a copy sounds glossy, it loses its natural warmth and starts to sound like any old audiophile LP. We’re ideally looking for something akin to Blue here, and not the sound you find on Patricia Barber LPs. (Gratuitous maybe, but it feels like it’s been too long since we took a swipe at that junk. But I digress…)

Plenty of copies had natural sound but no real life or presence to speak of. It’s a sound you could live with until you heard a good one, but there’s no going back once you’ve heard what the album’s really capable of. A copy like this one gives you lots of richness and warmth without sacrificing the texture to the instruments or the breath to Joni’s voice. The percussion really comes through, the bass has more weight and the immediacy of the vocals put Joni front and center, just where she should be.

If you aren’t familiar with this album, it’s a few more steps down the path she started taking on Court and Spark. The musicians include Larry Carlton and Jaco Pastorius, so that should give you an idea about the jazz-fusion direction of the arrangements. It was a fun album to get to know and on a copy like this one, it really rewards multiple listens.

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What We Listen For – The Basics

What Makes This Enya Pressing a Hot Stamper?

More Advice on How to Find Your Own Hot Stampers

Specifically, what are the criteria by which a record like this should be judged?

Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings:

  • energy,
  • vocal presence,
  • frequency extension (on both ends),
  • transparency,
  • harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key),
  • rhythmic drive,
  • tonal correctness,
  • fullness,
  • size,
  • space,
  • Tubey Magic,

and on down through the list.

When we can get all, or almost all, of the qualities above to come together on any given side, we provisionally award it a grade of “contender.”

Once we’ve been through all our copies on one side, we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner for that side.

Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides matched up.

It may not be rocket science, but it is a science of a kind, one with strict protocols that we’ve developed over the course of many years to insure that the results we arrive at are as accurate as we can make them.

The result of all our work speaks for itself. We guarantee you have never heard this music — really, any music — sound better than it does on one of our Hot Stamper pressings, or your money back.


Paul McCartney’s Must Own Masterpiece

More of the Music of Paul McCartney

More Recordings by Robin Black

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 it’s done well.

The recording also has an unprocessed quality which we have always found attractive, with some songs sounding more like demos than finished takes, about as far from Abbey Road as it is possible to get.

In our experience, the real McCartney Magic is only found on the best domestic Apple pressings. We’ve never heard an import that did much for us, and the later CBS issues are hardly worth the vinyl they’re pressed on.

This album, like Unplugged and Band on the Run (and not a whole lot else) is SUPERB from start to finish. At the end of side two you want MORE. I wish I could say that about the rest of his discography.

McCartney Checks Off Some Big Boxes for Us

It’s a Must Own record.

It’s a Rock and Pop Masterpiece.

And it’s a Personal Favorite of mine, one which I have been obsessed with since I first discovered how well recorded the album was sometime in the early ’90s.

The blog you are on now as well as our website are both devoted to very special records such as these.

In my opinion, this is also a record that should be more popular with audiophiles. If you have not heard this classic, check it out.

It is the very definition of a Big Speaker album. The better pressings have the kind of ENERGY in their grooves that are sure to leave most audiophile systems begging for mercy.

This is The Audio Challenge that awaits you. If you don’t have a system designed to play records with this kind of size and power, don’t expect to hear them the way McCartney, engineer Robin Black and anybody else involved in the production wanted you to.

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Steely Dan – Gaucho

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Reviews and Commentaries for Gaucho

  • This copy is guaranteed to handily beat any pressing of Gaucho you have ever played, especially the awful Ron McMaster Heavy Vinyl LP
  • This superb pressing has three-dimensional ambience, tubey richness, you-are-there immediacy, tight bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic on every track
  • 4 stars in the AMG, 4 1/2 in Rolling Stone, and one of this exceptionally well recorded band’s Three Best Sounding Albums – a true Must Own
  • “Despite its coolness, the music is quite beautiful. With its crystalline keyboard textures and diaphanous group vocals, ”Gaucho” contains the sweetest music Steely Dan has ever made.” New York Times
  • If you’re a Steely Dan fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1980 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1980 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Kansas – Leftoverture

  • This early Kirshner pressing was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the better copies from our most recent shootout – the sound is big, full and lively with real Prog Rock Energy and a huge, punchy bottom end
  • Kansas’s most consistent and engaging album, their true masterpiece by our lights – a copy as good as this will show you the awesome ENERGY the band brought to their music
  • “Undoubtedly their finest album, Leftoverture warrants Kansas a spot right alongside Boston and Styx as one of the fresh new American bands who combine hard-driving group instrumentation with short, tight melody lines…” – Rolling Stone

On the hottest of our Hot Stampers the recording is a glorious example of the Big Rock Sound we love here at Better Records. Wall to wall and floor to ceiling barely begins to do it justice. Like so many of the great rock recordings we offer, when you play one of our Hot Stampers, the sound commands your attention.

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Crowded House – Woodface

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Reviews and Commentaries for Crowded House

  • An outstanding European import pressing of Crowded House’s 1991 Pop Masterpiece boasting Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • The care and effort that went into every aspect of the recording and production of Woodface more than justifies the effort we put into finding this excellent copy – one of the better sounding copies we have played
  • It is our opinion that this is some of the most original, melodic, hook-laden, sophisticated popular music recorded in the last thirty years, the kind that should find favor with any audiophile who likes the popular music, starting with The Beatles and ending who knows when
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The songs are easily their finest to date, combining flawless melodies and the outstanding harmonies of the brothers’ perfectly matched voices.”

This excellent copy of Woodface fulfills the promise of this extraordinarily well-recorded album beyond all expectations. The effect so totally immerses you in the musical experience that you forget you’re listening to a record at all. In your mind, you have the sense that you’re hearing the music exactly the way the musicians, producers, and engineers intended it to sound. The sound is everything you want it to be as you experience every element of the music without limitation. (more…)