Top Artists – Brian Eno

801 – Clarity Was Never the Point

More of the Music of Brian Eno

Reviews and Commentaries for 801 Live

Some audiophiles get worked up listening for details in their favorite recordings. Is that where the music is – in the details? Lots of details come out when one copy is brighter than another.

Brighter ain’t necessarily better. Most of the time it’s just brighter. 

This album isn’t about clarity. It’s about the sound of a live Rock and Roll concert. It’s about the raw power of one of the most phenomenal rhythm sections ever captured in performance.

Next time you try out some audiophile wire or a new tweak, play this record to make sure you haven’t lost the essential weight and power of the sound. This album doesn’t care about your love of detail. It wants you to feel those bass notes going right through you. If the new wire can’t get that right, it’s got to go.

Our Hot Stamper Commentary for 801 Live Circa 2007

This is a one of my All Time Favorite records — a Desert Island Disc if there ever was one. I treasure this album. And I just now finally figured out how to tell the good ones from the not-so-good ones. I confess I was listening for the wrong things in the shootouts I was doing over the last few years, and in that I have the feeling I was not alone. I think this is a fairly common Major Audiophile Pitfall that we all get stuck in on occasion.

In this case I was trying to find a more transparent copy, one with more shimmer to the cymbals and air around the instruments. The first track is a little opaque and I wanted to be able to hear into the music better. I tried many import and domestic copies, but none of them seemed to have the particular qualities I was looking for. They all sounded different, but I could not for the life of me find one that sounded clearly better.

That was my mistake. I was guilty of Bad Audiophile Thinking.

This album isn’t about clarity. It’s about the sound of a live Rock and Roll concert. It’s about the raw power of one of the most phenomenal rhythm sections ever captured on tape.

I discovered that fact only a few days ago (03/07), [yes, this is a very old commentary, but it still holds up!] even though I have been listening to this album for 30 years. (It started when a college buddy played me the wildly original Tomorrow Never Knows from the album and asked me to name the tune. It’s so different from The Beatles version I confess it took me until the vocals came in and I recognized the lyrics.)

Having recently acquired another nice import, I cleaned it up and threw it on, just checking for condition and really not intending to get too involved in the sound. Immediately I was struck by how beefy the bass was. (The Legacy Focus’ speakers I currently audition with have three 12″ woofers that can really pump it out down low.)

I hadn’t played the record recently, not since the latest round of improvements, and I was hearing a solid bottom end that I never knew this record had. Was it a Hot Stamper? A magical copy?

Separating the Men from the Boys

I had to know, so it was shootout time. I won’t bore you with the details, but at some point I realized that what separates the men from the boys on this LP is bass. The copies with the most powerful, deepest bass, the stuff under 50 cycles, seem to get everything else right too. The bass is the foundation to the sound, and without it the guitars and voices don’t sound right. They sound relatively thin.

The bass-heavy copies are more dynamic too. They communicate the power of the music in a way that the leaner copies simply do not. With the leaner copies it’s a good album. With the bass-heavy copies YOU ARE THERE. (That’s assuming you play this record at the levels necessary for the suspension of disbelief effect to take hold, i.e., loud.)

I stumbled upon the secret to this album by accident. With all my training and all my effort over the years, I still wasn’t able to focus on the key elements in the music that needed to be reproduced properly for the music to work.

It was nothing less than a Milestone Event in the History of Better Records.


Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure

More Roxy Music 

More Brian Eno

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) or BETTER sides, this UK copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout
  • Roxy and their engineers and producers manage to capture a keyboard sound on their first two albums few bands in the history of the world can lay claim to
  • We’ve been working on this shootout for over ten years – here is one of the better copies we have to show for our effort
  • 5 Stars: “… another extraordinary record from Roxy Music, one that demonstrates even more clearly than the debut how avant-garde ideas can flourish in a pop setting.”
  • If you’re a Roxy fan, For Your Pleasure has to be considered a Must Own Title of theirs from 1973.
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Spacious, dynamic, present, with HUGE MEATY BASS and tons of energy, the sound is every bit as good as the music. (At least on this copy it is. That’s precisely what Hot Stampers are all about.)

Strictly in terms of recording quality, For Your Pleasure is on the same plane as the other best sounding record the band ever made, their self-titled debut.

Siren, Avalon and Country Life are all musically sublime, but the first album and this one are the only two with the kind of dynamic, energetic, powerful sound that Roxy’s other records simply cannot show us (with the exception of Country Life, was is powerful but a bit too aggressive).

The super-tubey keyboards that anchor practically every song on the first two albums are only found there. If you want to know what Tubey Magic sounds like in 1972-73, play one of our better Hot Stamper Roxy albums.

Roxy and their engineers and producers manage to capture a keyboard sound on their first two albums that few bands in the history of the world can lay claim to. I love the band’s later albums, but none of them sound like these two. The closest one can get is Stranded, their third, but it’s still a bit of a step down. (more…)

801 / 801 Live – None Rocks Harder

A Member of the Prestigious “None Rocks Harder” Club

Reviews and Commentaries for 801 Live

The best Island copies of this album ROCK HARDER than practically any record we’ve ever played. If you have the system for it, this one will bring a Live Art Rock concert right into your living room!

This is a BIG SPEAKER record. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at fairly loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It’s right at the top of the list of my Favorite Albums — a Desert Island Disc if ever there was one. I stumbled across it more thirty years ago and I’ve loved it ever since. It all started when a college buddy played me the wildly original Tomorrow Never Knows from the album and asked me to name the tune. Eno’s take is so different from The Beatles version that I confess it took me an embarrassingly long while to catch on.

Click here to see more titles that have earned a place on our None Rocks Harder List

Adventures in Music and Sound

Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno were founding members of Roxy Music.

AMG calls Roxy Music the “most adventurous rock band of the early ’70s” and I’m inclined to agree with them.

Roxy are certainly one of the most influential and important bands in my growth as a music lover and audiophile, joining the ranks of Supertramp, Ambrosia, 10cc, Steely Dan, Yes, Bowie and countless others, musicians and bands who seemed to me dedicated to exploring and exploding the conventions of popular music.

My equipment was forced to evolve in order to be able to play the scores of challenging recordings issued by these groups in the ’70s.

You could say that the albums of Roxy Music and others informed not only my taste in music but the actual stereo I play that music on. I’ve had large scale dynamic speakers for the last four decades, precisely in order to play records like this, the kind of music I fell in love with more than forty years ago.

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Roxy Music / Self-Titled

  • An excellent UK pressing of Roxy Music’s debut, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – this is some of the most dynamic sound the band achieved
  • Andy Hendriksen’s engineering (over the course of a week!) is superb in all respects – we think the best pressings of this first album reveal a recording that is superior to any other by the band
  • A Top 100 album, Roxy’s Masterpiece, and a Must Own Desert Island Disc of Glamorous Arty Rock
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Falling halfway between musical primitivism and art rock ambition, Roxy Music’s eponymous debut remains a startling redefinition of rock’s boundaries. Simultaneously embracing kitschy glamour and avant-pop, Roxy Music shimmers with seductive style and pulsates with disturbing synthetic textures.”

Folks, this is a true Demo Disc in the world of Art Rock. It’s rare to find a recording of popular music with DYNAMICS like these.

The guitar solo at the end of “Ladytron” rocks like you will not believe.

In both music and sound, this is arguably the best record the band ever made. Siren, Avalon and Country Life are all musically sublime, but the first album has the kind of dynamic, energetic, POWERFUL sound that their other records simply fail to show us. And we’ve played them by the dozens, so there’s a pretty good chance we will never find copies with the abundant richness and power we find here.

We hope you will agree with us that it was entirely worth the wait, as this album is a MASTERPIECE of Art Rock, Glam Rock and Bent Rock all rolled into one.

AMG calls Roxy Music the “most adventurous rock band of the early ’70s” and I’m inclined to agree with them. Roxy is certainly one of the most influential and important bands in my growth as a listener and audiophile, along with the likes of Supertramp, Ambrosia, 10cc, Steely Dan, Yes, Bowie and others, groups of musicians dedicated to exploring and exploding the conventions of popular music.

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801 – 801 Live

More Brian Eno

More Live Recordings of Interest

  • 801 Live IS BACK and rocks harder than ever on this early Island import copy with excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We shot out a number of other imports and this one had the presence, bass, and dynamics that were missing from most of the other copies we played, not to mention that LIVE ROCK and ROLL ENERGY that old records have and new records don’t
  • Recorded at Queen Elisabeth Hall in September 1976 – one of only three gigs the group (a side project of Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera) did over a two-month period
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This album marks probably one of the last times that Eno rocked out in such an un-self-consciously fun fashion, but that’s not the only reason to buy it: 801 Live is a cohesive document of an unlikely crew who had fun and took chances. Listeners will never know what else they might have done if their schedules had been less crowded, but this album’s a good reminder.”

801 Live ranks near the top of the list of my All Time Favorite Albums — a Desert Island Disc if ever there was one.

I stumbled across it decades ago and have loved it ever since. (It started when a college buddy played me the wildly original “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the album and asked me to name the tune. Eno’s take is so different from The Beatles version that I confess it took me an embarrassingly long while to catch on.)

What’s especially interesting about this copy is that we went crazy for it even though it did not have the best bass of the copies we played, which, as you will see below, clearly contradicts what we had previously written. We thought that the copies with the best bass had the best everything else too, but that was not what we heard this time around.

THIS copy got the music to work its magic, and it did it with most, but not all, of the bass of the best. Not sure how to explain it. Rules were made to be broken maybe?

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Talking Heads’ Masterpiece – More Songs About Buildings and Food

More of the Music of Talking Heads

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of More Songs.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

I don’t think these guys (and gal) ever put together a better group of songs. The ultimate pressings of Little Creatures go a step further sonically, but the best copies of this one can sound incredible, if not quite Demo Disc worthy.

We’re huge fans of late ’70s / early ’80s Art Rock and New Wave music, and these guys are obviously some of the best in the biz. I’d be hard pressed to name another act from the era who put out so many good records.

Along with this album, More Songs About Buildings And Food, Fear Of Music, and Little Creatures are all works of genius. ’77 is full of good ideas, but it doesn’t sound like a fully realized work of art the way the next four albums did.

Key Test Tracks

With Our Love turned out to be one of the better tests for side one. The picking of the rhythmic guitar in the intro told us just about everything we needed to know about smear, veiling and resolution. On most copies the instrument is simply blurry, the notes mashed together. When you get a copy with its transients intact, resolving properly and clearly right there in front of you, you have the makings of a Hot Stamper side one.

My other test track for side one was Warning Signs. This is a great track for evaluating transparency and bass. On the average copy you’d never know how much ambience exists around the drums. Hint: it’s a lot.

Our favorite copies have a fair amount of WHOMP down low, giving the bass guitar that rich, beefy sound that we’re simply crazy for here at Better Records. Once you’ve heard a copy with well-defined, note-like bass, nothing less will do.

Artists Only

A great test track for side two is Artists Only. The guitars in the intro section are almost unbearable to listen to on most copies. I recognize that I am somewhat sensitive to harsh high frequencies, but I’m literally in pain when I listen to an overly compressed, overly midrangy copy. There’s got to be a better way!

Wait, there is. Find a copy that actually has a sweet top end. It makes all the difference.

Take Me to the River

One of the best sounding tracks on the album is the awesome cover of Al Green’s Take Me To The River. Most copies are very skimpy with the amount of bottom end information you get.

Pay attention to the opening before the keys start. The best pressings give you texture on the bass that you won’t find on most. When everything’s working right you’ll also hear ambience around the organ that’s nowhere to be found on the average pressing.

The bass should be tight, punchy, and fairly deep. We wouldn’t mind if some of the tracks were mixed with a bit more punch to the bottom end, but far be it from us to tell Brian Eno and Rhett Davies how to do their jobs. At least on some copies the bass has the kind of power that brings a song like Take Me To the River to heights you probably never imagined it could go.

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Roxy Music – The First Two Albums Are the Band’s Best Sounding

More of the Music of Bryan Ferry

More of the Music of Roxy Music

This album is a MASTERPIECE of Art Rock, Glam Rock and Bent Rock all rolled into one. Spacious, dynamic, present, with HUGE MEATY BASS and tons of energy, the sound is every bit as good as the music. (At least on this copy it is. That’s precisely what Hot Stampers are all about.)

Strictly in terms of recording quality, For Your Pleasure is on the same plane as the other best sounding record the band ever made, their first.

Siren, Avalon and Country Life are all musically sublime, but the first album and this one are the only two with the kind of dynamic, energetic, POWERFUL sound that Roxy’s other records simply cannot show us (with the exception of Country Life, was is powerful but a bit too aggressive).

The super-tubey keyboards that anchor practically every song on the first two albums are only found there. If you want to know what Tubey Magic sounds like in 1972-73, play one of our better Hot Stamper Roxy albums. Roxy and their engineers and producers manage to capture a keyboard sound on their first two albums that few bands in the history of the world can lay claim to.

I love the band’s later albums, but none of them sound like these two. The closest one can get is Stranded, their third, but it’s still a noticeable step down.

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Brian Eno – Another Green World

More Brian Eno

More Art Rock Records

  • An outstanding Polydor UK import pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • We shot out a number of other imports and this one had the presence, bass, and dynamics that were missing from many other copies we played
  • 5 stars: “A universally acknowledged masterpiece, Another Green World represents a departure from song structure and toward a more ethereal, minimalistic approach to sound… Eno’s gift for melodicism and tight focus here keep the entirety of the album in the forefront of the listener’s consciousness, making it the perfect introduction to his achievements even for those who find ambient music difficult to enjoy”
  • Note that the reviewers are mistaken. Eno’s One True Masterpiece is Taking Tiger Mountain
  • If you’re an Eno fan, or perhaps a fan of mid-’70s Art Rock, this title, a personal favorite of mine from 1975, is surely a Must Own.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

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David Bowie / Heroes – It Took Ages to Break the Sound Barrier (Because the Conventional Wisdom Turned Out to Be So Wrong))

More of the Music of David Bowie

Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

Our intuition that the British originals would sound the best turned out to be incorrect.

In the audiophile record collecting world, intuitions have a bad track record, but more than a few audiophiles — many of whom are addicted to sharing their “record knowledge” on audiophile forums — seem to be unaware of this fact.

Taking a page from one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, we’ve opted to use a more scientific approach to discovering the best sounding record pressings, and we encourage you to do likewise. 

We pioneered the evidence-based approach to finding the best sounding pressings, and, like all good scientists, we shared it with everyone. Some in the audiophile community have taken it to heart, but most have chosen to put their faith in reviewers, forum posters, common sense and logic. None of these produce consistently good results, but those who use these methods are loathe to doubt them and only rarely if ever learn the error of their ways.

Once a decision has been made and a specific pressing acquired, you could call it door number three I suppose, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias immediately kick in to justify the result, and soon enough the game is over. The prize has been won. It’s the best prize ever. It does everything right, everything you hoped for.

Behind door number three was not the best sounding copy of the record. You don’t have the best sounding pressing (well, you might, but if you did it would be entirely the result of chance, since you carried out no experiments), but as long as you think you do, and, like most audiophiles, you play records only for yourself, and purely for enjoyment, you have no way of  discovering where on the spectrum of worst to best your choice would sit. As long as you think you have the best, you have the best. How could there ever be any evidence offered to the contrary?

Making an effort to prove yourself wrong is surely the key to making progress in this hobby. Nothing will do more to improve the quality of your record collection, of that we are convinced.

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Phil Manzanera / Diamond Head

More Roxy Music

More of Our Best Art Rock Records

  • This superb pressing of Phil Manzanera’s debut album boasts Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Two excellent sides – Demo Disc quality sound barely begins to describe the size and power of this recording
  • This album is an amazing SONIC BLOCKBUSTER, with sound that will positively leap out of your speakers
  • A shockingly well-recorded album from the ultra-talented Rhett Davies – this is his Engineering Masterpiece

The wind is at your back here because this is one seriously well-recorded album. If this copy doesn’t wake up your stereo, nothing will.

Like its brother, 801 Live, this album is an amazing sonic blockbuster, with sound that positively leaps out of the speakers. Why shouldn’t it? It was engineered by the superbly talented Rhett Davies at Island, the genius behind Taking Tiger Mountain, the aforementioned 801 Live, Avalon, Dire Straits’ first album and many many more.

If we could regularly find copies of this Audiophile Blockbuster (and frankly if more people appreciated the album) it would definitely go on our Top 100 Rock and Pop List. In fact, it would easily make the Top Twenty from that list, it’s that good.

Looking for Tubey MagicRhett Davies is your man. Just think about the sound of the first Dire Straits album or Avalon. The best pressings of those albums — those with truly Hot Stampers — are swimming in it. (more…)