Top Artists – Bread

Bread and Elektra on Vinyl – Balancing Richness and Tubey Magic with Transparency, Clarity and Speed

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Manna has the clear signature of Elektra from the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s unmistakably ANALOG, but that double-edged sword cuts both ways. Richness and Tubey Magic (the kind you had in your old ’70s stereo equipment) often comes at the expense of transparency, clarity, speed and transient information (the things your ’70s equipment probably struggled with).

We heard a lot of copies that were opaque, smeary and dull up top, so the trick for us (and for those of you doing your own shootouts) is to find a copy with the resolving power and transparency that will cut through the thickness. (more…)

Bread – Notes on the Shortcomings of a Hot Stamper

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Back in the 2000s, we felt we owed our Hot Stamper customers a more complete picture of the good and bad qualities we heard in our shootout for practically every record we played.

The idea was that the buyer could listen along for what the record was doing well and what it might not be doing so well. If you noticed that the top end was a little soft, well, that’s what we might have heard too. We would put that shortcoming, and any others we thought worth mentioning, right there in the listing.

Over the years, in order to avoid having to write every listing from scratch, we streamlined the process and dropped the criticisms.

Below you can see a typical example of an older listing. This is how we used to recognize when a record was Super Hot as opposed to White Hot.

This commentary on the famous recording of The Firebird with Dorati discusses the same issues in more depth.

Side One

A++, with good balance and lots of rockin’ energy. It’s transparent — just listen to how clear the drums are on the first track. It’s a bit dry and doesn’t have all the top end extension of the best, so Super Hot is a fair grade we think.

Side Two

A++! Big and clear, yet rich, open, and Tubey Magical without being compressed or thick. None of the smear that plagues the average copy either. Could use more top end to help the harmonics on the percussion and guitars, but this is still a STRONG A++ side.


FURTHER READING

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

The Music of Bread – It’s Pure Pop for Now People, and We Love It

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100+ Reviews of Our Favorite Pure Pop Albums

The best copies of Bread’s third album have amazingly sweet and rich 1971 ANALOG sound on both sides. That big rich bottom end and the volume of space that surrounds all the instruments and singers are the purest and most delightful form of Audiophile Candy we know.

The acoustic guitars? To die for. Talk about Tubey Magical Analog, this copy will show you just what’s missing from modern remastered records (and modern music generally). Whatever became of that sound?

This record put Bread’s heavily Beatles-inflected Pure Pop back on the charts after their the single from their previous album, On The Waters, made it to Number One, that song of course being Make It With You. “If”, the big hit off this album, went to number five, but we like it every bit as much as that earlier chart topper. Both represent the perfect melding of consummate songcraft and pure emotion.

We used to think that only the Best of Bread album could get those two songs to sound as luscious and Tubey Magical as they do when they’re playing in our heads, but it seems we were wrong — they’re positively amazing on the best copies of Manna.

A Double Edged Sword

Manna has the clear signature of Elektra from the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s unmistakably ANALOG, but that double-edged sword cuts both ways. Richness and Tubey Magic (the kind you had in your old ’70s stereo equipment) often comes at the expense of transparency, clarity, speed and transient information (the things your ’70s equipment probably had more trouble with).

We heard a lot of copies that were opaque, smeary and dull up top, so the trick for us (and for those of you doing your own shootouts) is to find a copy with the resolving power and transparency that can cut through the thickness. Look for breath on the vocals (reverb too!) and extended vocal and guitar harmonics; if those two qualities are strongly evident you can’t be too far off the mark. More presence, bigger bass (the bass is HUGE on the best copies), more size, energy and space: these will help take you to the highest (Super Hot and White Hot) levels.

Speaking of bass, notice how prominent, big and clear the bass guitar is on many of these songs. This is not a sound we hear nearly enough. During the shootout we were lovin’ it. The Legacy Focus in our reference system has three twelve-inch woofers per channel. They do a lovely job with this kind of big-bottom-end recording, the kind of recording for which Botnick and The Doors (and Love too, let’s not forget them) are justly famous.

Where is that sound today? We miss it.

Engineering

On the better Hot Stamper copies, the ones with especially sweet and rich ANALOG sound, the credit obviously must go to their brilliant engineer, Armin Steiner, the man responsible for recording some of the best sounding, most Tubey Magical Chart-Topping Pop Rock for this band throughout the ’70s. As would be expected from success on such a scale, Steiner has more than a hundred other engineering credits. He’s also the reason that Hot August Night is one of the best sounding live albums ever recorded.

When you find his name in the credits, there’s at least a chance that the sound will be very good. You need the right pressing of course, but the potential for good sound should be your working hypothesis. Now all it takes is some serious digging in the record bins, tedious cleaning and even more tedious critical listening to determine if you’ve lucked into a diamond in the rough. Or, if you prefer, allow us do all that work for you. After 30 years in the business, we’re gotten pretty good at it.

Pure Pop For Now People

When you hear sound this good, it allows you to appreciate the music even more than the sound. This is in fact the primary raison d’etre of this audiophile hobby, or at least it’s supposed to be. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of The Everly Brothers or The Beatles. It’s Pure Pop for Now People, to quote the famously waggish Nick Lowe.

Analog Heaven

In many ways this recording is state-of-the-art. Listening to the acoustic guitars on the best copies brings back memories of my first encounter with an original Pink Label Tea for the Tillerman. Rich, sweet, full-bodied, effortlessly dynamic– that sound knocked me out twenty plus years ago [now 30 plus], and here it is again! Of course I’m a sucker for this kind of well-crafted pop. If you are too then this will no doubt become a treasured demo disc in your home as well.

Pay close attention to the sound of the drums. We really like the way famous session player Mike Botts’ kit is recorded, not to mention his Hal-Blaine-like — which means god-like — drumming skills.

An Endless Supply

Audiophiles with high quality turntables literally have an endless supply of good recordings such as this to discover and enjoy. No matter how many records you own, you can’t possibly have even scratched the surface of the vast recorded legacy of the last sixty years (the first stereo recording dating from 1954, the year of my birth, good timing on the part of my parents). That’s the positive thought for the day.

We here at Better Records are happy to help you in your quest to find recordings that do justice to the music you have yet to hear.

Old Records Age Well

One further note. As your stereo improves, records like this only get better. Here I speak from experience. There are no shortcomings in this recording to be revealed by better equipment, in stark contrast to the vast majority of audiophile pressings and remasterings flooding the market these days, which to us perfectly embody the worst kind of desiccated, lifeless and often just plain weird sound we excoriate in listing after listing in our Audiophile Hall of Shame.

If you make a change to your stereo (or room or cleaning regimen or something else that affects the fidelity) and this record sounds better, more than likely you did the right thing.

Bread – Manna

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  • Tubier, more transparent, more dynamic, with that “jumpin’ out of the speakers” quality that only The Real Thing (an old record) ever has
  • A superb album, featuring one of the strongest rockers the band ever recorded, “Let Your Love Go”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… this is a record that is laid-back and even tempered, which isn’t a bad thing — it results in a fine listen, especially since the group’s songwriting remains at the high standard instituted on that first Bread album.”
  • This title from 1971 is clearly one of Bread’s best, and one of their best sounding recordings as well
  • The complete list of titles from 191 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • A lot of great records came out in 1971. We have reviewed a total of 132 of them to date, not bad!

(more…)

Bread – The Best of Bread

  • With two seriously good sides, this pressing will show you just how good Bread’s music can sound on All Analog vinyl
  • A Better Records Desert Island Disc if there ever was one — believe me, there are scores of them
  • This is one of the rare Greatest Hits compilations (and this band had a LOT of hits) that is sonically competitive with the original albums
  • You’ll find most of the best Bread ballads here, including Make It With You, Everything I Own, Baby I’m A Want You, and If
  • All Music on their first album – “… effectively the birth of Californian soft rock…” (We think this applies equally well to all of their early material)

A Better Records Desert Island Disc if ever there was one. Believe me, there are plenty of them.

Listening to these acoustic guitars brings back memories of my first encounter with a British original of Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman. Rich, sweet, full-bodied, effortlessly dynamic — that sound knocked me out thirty years ago, and here it is again. I guess I’ve just always been a sucker for this kind of well-crafted pop. (I was buying Bread album in the early Seventies while still in high school.) If you are too, then this killer copy of The Best of Bread will no doubt become a treasured disc in your home as well.

When you hear sound this good, it makes you appreciate the music even more than the sound. Over the years I’ve even come to enjoy the rockers on side two. I used to consider side two the weak part of the album. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of the Everly Brothers or The Beatles. It’s Pure Pop for Now People, to borrow a good line from Nick Lowe.

Of course, by Now People, I’m referring to people who appreciate the music that came out more than thirty years ago. Whenever I hear a pop record with sound like this, I have to ask myself, “What went wrong with popular recordings over the last two or three decades? Why do none of them ever sound like this?”

Not to worry. Audiophiles with good turntables have literally an endless supply of good recordings to discover and enjoy. No matter how many records you have, you can’t have scratched the surface of the recorded legacy of the last 60+ years. That’s the positive thought for the day. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just another step on your journey through the world of music.

One further note. Records like this only get better over time. There are no shortcomings in this recording to be revealed by better equipment, in painfully stark contrast to the vast majority of audiophile pressings and remasterings that reveal their phony, lifeless and often just plain weird sound as your stereo and critical listening skills improve. In other words, if you make a change to your stereo and this record starts to sound better, you did the right thing. (more…)

Thinking About the Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars of Bread and Cat Stevens

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More Cat Stevens

In many ways this recording is state-of-the-art. Listening to the Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars on the best copies brings back memories of my first encounter with an original Pink Label Tea for the Tillerman. Rich, sweet, full-bodied, effortlessly dynamic– that sound knocked me out twenty-odd years ago, and here it is again. 

Of course I’ve always been a sucker for this kind of well-crafted pop. If you are too then a Hot Stamper copy of Manna will no doubt become a treasured demo disc in your home as well.

Audiophiles with high quality turntables literally have an endless supply of good recordings such as this to discover and enjoy. No matter how many records you own, you can’t possibly have even scratched the surface of the vast recorded legacy of the last sixty years. (The first stereo recordings date from 1954, the year of my birth, good timing on the part of my parents.) That’s the positive thought for the day.

We here at Better Records look forward to helping you find recordings that do justice to the music you have yet to hear. (more…)

Bread / On The Waters – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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Hot Stampers have finally been discovered for the most consistent and BEST SOUNDING of the Bread albums (not counting the Best of Bread compilation, one of our long time favorites here at Better Records, but a compilation nevertheless). This is the record that put their heavily Beatles-inflected Pure Pop on the map, and at the top of the charts with their Number One hit single Make It With You.

We used to think that only the Best of Bread album could get that song to sound as luscious and Tubey Magical as it does when we hear it in our heads, but it seems we were wrong — it sounds positively amazing on the best copies of On The Waters. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of the Everly Brothers or The Beatles. (more…)

Bread / Self-Titled

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Side two of Bread’s debut here — the one that shows the heaviest influence of The Beatles, this being 1969 — is smoother, silkier, and sweeter than any copy we’ve EVER played. There’s TONS of life and energy and the clarity and resolution are nothing short of superb. The sound is clean and clear without losing any of the Tubey Magical Warmth we prize so highly here at Better Records. The bottom end here is deep and punchy with stellar definition. Side two rates an A++ to A+++, the best we’ve heard. (It may not get any better.) Bruce Botnick only recorded one album with Bread but it’s clearly one of the best sounding in their catalog, no surprise there. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “…the bass from this pressing is just ridiculously deep, solid and tight.”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

I’m listening to this Bread Hot Stamper… just stunning. The simple 3 minute songs… Keyboards coming out of the speakers and the bass from this pressing is just ridiculously deep, solid and tight. I can’t believe how much I love this music in all its glory.

Andy

Bread – The Best of Bread Vol. 2 – Reviewed in 2010

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This very nice looking Elektra Butterfly Label LP has the best sound I’ve ever heard for this compilation. Keep in mind that this is an album of mostly weak material, not in the class with the first ’Best of Bread’ by a long shot. However, some of these songs sound quite good here, easily better than the typical Bread album from which they are taken. Listen to ‘Been Too Long On The Road’ or ‘He’s A Good Lad’ to hear the best sounding Bread.