Top Artists – Charles Mingus

Mingus / Pre Bird – Seeing into the Performance

More of the Music of Charles Mingus

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Charles Mingus

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A Guide of the Budding Analog Audiophile

Below is a link to the review he wrote after hearing a truly killer White Hot Stamper pressing of one of our favorite Mingus records, Pre-Bird.

He loved the used original pressing of the album that he had picked up recently, and wondered what our copy would sound like, so we loaned him one. Here are his observations after playing our Hot Stamper.

The W.H.Stamper of PRE BIRD Lets You “SEE” into the Performance!

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Mingus’s Pre Bird Makes the Case For the Hot Stamper

More of the Music of Charles Mingus

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Charles Mingus

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to the review he wrote recently for one of our favorite Mingus records, Pre-Bird.

Mingus’s PRE BIRD Makes the Case For the HOT STAMPER

A few quick thoughts on the album which which we hope will be of interest to our readers:

We used to think the early Limelight pressing shown here was so amazing sounding that finding better sound for this recording would simply be impossible, but the original Mercury showed us just how wrong we were – the right Mercury pressing takes the recording to another level, one we never imagined it could reach. (In our experience records do that from time to time. We’ve written about some of the ones we’ve played here.)

Here is a small excerpt from our most recent commentary for the album:

The best copies recreate a live studio space the size of which you will not believe (assuming your room can do a good job of recreating their room). (Here are some of the other recordings we’ve auditioned with exceptional amounts of size and space.

The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it — so high-resolution too.

If you love ’50s and ’60s large group jazz you cannot go wrong here. Mingus was a genius and the original music on this record is just one more album supporting the undeniability of that fact.

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Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um

More Charles Mingus

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

  • Don’t let the Columbia Red Label scare you off – this pressing boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Most of the later pressings sound as bad as you would expect, but if you know your stamper numbers, gems like this one will come your way eventually
  • A superb 30th Street Studio recording by the legendary Fred Plaut – if you like Kind of Blue, here’s another album with that sound (same year, same studio, same engineer)
  • The rich, sweet, spacious sound of the vintage tubes used to record the session is reproduced faithfully here – without that sound, it would just not be Ah Um
  • 5 stars: “Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist’s talents and probably the best reference point for beginners… Mingus’ compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultra-tight zenith on Mingus Ah Um”

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Charles Mingus – How Do the Original Mono Pressings Sound?

More of the Music of Charles Mingus

More Jazz Recordings with Hot Stampers

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Charles Mingus

Although this album is fairly common in mono, we found the sound of the mono pressing we played seriously wanting. It’s dramatically smaller and more compressed than even the worst of the other pressings we played in our shootout.

We will never buy another, and of course we would never sell a record that sounds as bad as this mono pressing does.

For those looking for the best sound, the mono pressing is hard to take seriously, and for that reason, we say Skip It.

For records that we think sound best in mono, click here.

Are You a Jazz Collector or an Audiophile?

If you’re a jazz collector, of course you want the mono. If you’re an audiophile who likes jazz, you should want the stereo.

And if you are a very serious audiophile who has a great deal of time and money tied up in his equipment and room, someone whose motto might best be summarized as “nothing but the best,” then you need one of our killer Hot Stamper pressings of the album.


Below you will find our moderately helpful advice for finding the best sounding pressings of Charles Mingus / Dynasty.

In our experience the album sounds best this way:

Mono or Stereo? Stereo! 

On Big Speakers at Loud Levels

On the Right Domestic Pressing 

On the Right Early Pressing

Which simply means that the 6 Eye label domestic stereo pressings win our shootouts, in this case without exception.

The 360 label pressings, Black Print or White Print, can sound very good, but they never win shootouts.

In general it is best to avoid pressings with the sticker you see to the left, from the Columbia Special Products series. They are rarely much better than awful, although there are a few exceptions to that rule.


Our Recent Hot Stamper Review

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

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Charles Mingus – Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus

More Charles Mingus

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • This original Impulse Stereo pressing boasts INCREDIBLE Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from the first note to the last – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Impulse released a Heavy Vinyl pressing in 1995, as did Speakers Corner in 2003, but neither can hold a candle to the real thing
  • Mingus was a genius and the original music on this record is just one more album’s worth of proof of the undeniability of that assertion
  • 5 stars: “It closes out the most productive and significant chapter of his career, and one of the most fertile, inventive hot streaks of any composer in jazz history.”

The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. So high-resolution too.

If you love ’50s and ’60s jazz you cannot go wrong here. Mingus was a genius and the original music on this record is just one more album’s worth of proof of the undeniability of that fact. (more…)

Charles Mingus – Pre Bird

More Charles Mingus

More Jazz Recordings

  • You’ll find INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout this original Mercury Stereo LP, only the second time this pressing has made it to the site
  • We used to think the early Limelight pressing was impossible to beat, but this killer original Mercury showed us just how wrong we were – it takes the recording to another level
  • This copy sounds like a big room full of musicians (25 in all!) playing live, which is exactly what it was
  • The Tubey Magical richness of this 1960 recording (released in 1961, and again in 1965 as Mingus Revisited) is breathtaking – no modern record can touch it
  • Two tracks are contrapuntal arrangements of two swing era pieces, whereby “Take the “A” Train” (left channel) is paired with a simultaneous “Exactly Like You” (right channel), and likewise “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” with “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”.

The best copies recreate a live studio space the size of which you will not believe (assuming your room can do a good job of recreating their room). The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it -so high-resolution too.

If you love ’50s and ’60s jazz you cannot go wrong here. Mingus was a genius and the original music on this record is just one more album’s worth of proof of the undeniability of that fact.

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Charles Mingus / Ah Um – Uncleaned Originals vs. Cleaned Reissues

More of the Music of Charles Mingus

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Charles Mingus

The letter below sheds some light on a vitally important mastering issue: specifically, the answer to the question, Which are better sounding, originals or reissues?

The letter finishes this way.

“Incidentally, just a couple of days ago I conducted my own shootout between the Red Label “Mingus Ah Um” I bought from you a few weeks back and my pristine, Six Eye White Label Promo original. To my surprise, you were absolutely right about the greater clarity of the former (starting with the snare drum on the first track).

“If I had to choose between them when selecting half a dozen “desert island” LPs (and “Mingus Ah Um” would definitely be one), the Red Label version would be the pick. Much obliged for the edification.”

We of course could not agree more. We wrote back:

Once you hear the sound of “old school mastering” and get to know it, you can recognize it for what it does right and what it too often does wrong. Then, and only then, can you appreciate what is really happening when switching from newer to older pressings, what is being gained and what is being lost.

It’s the kind of Home Audio Exercise we constantly talk about on the site. And there’s a good reason for that.

As we never tire of saying, hearing is believing.

LATEST NEWS

We do not want to give the wrong impression about Ah Um. At least one of the original stereo pressings, properly cleaned, assuming we have a few to play, will win the shootout every time.

Which one will win we never know. But one of them will.

No Red Label pressing from the ’70s will beat a top quality Six-Eye.

But if you have an original and it is not cleaned right, which is almost always going to be the case, since most cleaning fluids and machines these days do not do a very good job of making your records sound the way they should, then our Red Label reissue can beat your copy. Which is what our letter writer found to be true.

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Charles Mingus – Mingus Dynasty

More Charles Mingus

More Jazz Recordings

  • An original 6-Eye Stereo copy with superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • This pressing is rich and tubey, yet still clear and spacious, with a notably solid and articulate bottom end that does a superb job of captureing the beauty of Mingus’s double bass
  • Bucketfuls of studio ambience, and Tubey Magic to die for – this 30th Street recording shows just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • Be careful though – a record with this kind of sound will make all your Heavy Vinyl pressing sound as washed out, lifeless and veiled as we know them to be, news that may come as quite a shock
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Mingus Dynasty is still an excellent album; in fact, it’s a testament to just how high a level Mingus was working on that an album of this caliber could have gotten lost in the shuffle.”

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

If innovative Large Group Jazz is your thing, you should get a big kick out of this one. If you like the sound of relaxed, tube-mastered jazz — and what red blooded audiophile doesn’t — you can’t do much better than the Mingus recordings on Columbia from this era. (We’ve now done shootouts for the album before this one and the one to follow. Both are amazing, musically and sonically.) The warmth and immediacy of the sound here are guaranteed to blow practically any record of this kind you own right out of the water.

Both sides of this very special pressing are huge, rich, tubey and clear. As soon as the band got going we knew that this was absolutely the right sound for this music. There was practically nothing that could beat it, in any area of reproduction.

Amazing Tubey Magic

For we audiophiles, both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1960 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy should be just the record for you.

It’s spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

This is the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is of course a CD of the album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable could care less.

We played a handful of later pressings that didn’t really do it for us. They offer improved clarity, but can’t deliver the tubey goodness that you’ll hear on the best early pressings. We won’t be bothering with them anymore. It’s tubes or nothing on this album.

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Charles Mingus – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

More Charles Mingus

  • Charles Mingus’s avant-garde jazz masterpiece makes it back to the site with superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • This copy is overflowing with the kind of rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that can only be found on vintage vinyl
  • One of the most acclaimed jazz records of the 20th century – a dizzying blend of jazz and classical, and also elements of African music and Spanish themes
  • 5 stars: “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is one of the greatest achievements in orchestration by any composer in jazz history. Charles Mingus consciously designed the six-part ballet as his magnum opus, and — implied in his famous inclusion of liner notes by his psychologist — it’s as much an examination of his own tortured psyche as it is a conceptual piece about love and struggle.”

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Letter of the Week – “…so much more engaging and rich than I was used to.”

This posting on an audiophile forum was made not long ago by a good customer who authorized me to print it here. (It started out on Hoffman’s forum but was quickly taken down as the subject of Hot Stampers is forbidden.)

I have added the paragraph titles and the bolding you see. The title is the author’s.

Better Records Hot Stampers: Or, how I learned to stop collecting and love listening

We are witnessing an absolute explosion in vinyl. It’s thrilling, but it has also become frankly overwhelming.

What matters? The experience of listening, of course. But, how do we know, I mean, how do we really know, what listening experiences are going to be sublime?

Too often, collectability becomes our proxy for listening. We’ve all done it – chasing a near mint early pressing, a Japanese or German pressing, a re-press from a label we trust. We all end up with multiple copies of our favorite records, but only listen to one or two of them. And whether we sell them or not, it brings us some comfort to see their going rates on Discogs continue to climb. For me at least, FOMO was a strange driver of my buying habits. I regretted records I didn’t purchase, far more often than I regretted purchases I did make, even as I have about a year’s worth of listening in records still sealed on the shelf. I’m even afraid to open some of them because I can see their value is rising. Isn’t that silly?

My Philosophy Was Off-Base

I love records. Listening to them, curating a collection, is a joyful hobby. It gets at some need I can’t quite name. But, of course, records shouldn’t be only for collecting. They are for the pleasure of listening. My philosophy was pretty off-base. I didn’t even perceive it that way, and here’s what got me to realize it, and get out of it.

Last summer, I came across an original mono pressing of Mingus Ah Um in one of my local shops. It was labelled as a “top copy” and the surface looked pretty good. The price was a little absurd, and considering I had the [MoFi] OneStep and the Classic Records pressings, I wasn’t sure I needed it. But, this is an album I loved, even as a kid, even on digital, and a first pressing held a lot of allure. I took some time to think about it, do some online comparison shopping, and by the time I got back to the shop, it was gone.

In a fit of pique, I bought the copy Better Records was selling. It was listed as a Super Hot Stamper, and it was slightly cheaper than the copy the shop was selling. With a 30-day no-questions-asked return policy, it seemed a safe bet.

An Initially Disappointing Hot Stamper Reissue Pressing

Well, you can imagine my disappointment when it arrived a few days later. Nicely boxed for shipping, I unsleeved what was clearly a later pressing. My disappointment magnified when the needle dropped and the first thing I heard was surface noise. I’ve been conditioned by the heavy vinyl renaissance to equate surface noise with a bad-sounding record.

But then, the instruments kicked in, and from the first notes I could tell I was listening to something really different. It was clear, forward, and dynamic. Nothing harsh, even in the horns, but so much more engaging and rich than I was used to. It was the drum solo partway through the first track that convinced me I was hearing something special in this pressing. I sat and listened to the entire record without doing anything else, and for me, something that holds my attention to where I don’t want to grab my phone or a book is part of what defines a peak listening experience.

Columbia Abraxas Versus MoFi Abraxas – A Toss-up

What next? They also had a Super Hot Stamper of Abraxas listed. Owning the MoFi One Step, along with a few other pressings, and this being another album I’ve loved for years, I decided to take the challenge that Better Records makes, and see if their copy could unseat my others.

The presentation of the hot stamper and the onestep are really different. The hot stamper reaches out and grabs you. The percussion is forward, hitting you right in the chest. The onestep is huger, it fills the room with a massive soundstage.

The instruments on the onestep are less differentiated, except (on my system, at least, which tends to be bright) for the chimes and hi-hat hits, which absolutely stand out on the onestep. The onestep has some tape hiss I don’t hear on the hot stamper early pressing. I love a black background, which my tube preamp doesn’t really have in the first place, so I find that tape hiss a little objectionable, since it further compromises a weak spot in my system.

My thirteen year old prefers the MoFi; I prefer the hot stamper. At this point, the hot stamper is bound to be a lot cheaper than you’d pay for the MoFi, and you can consider it a toss-up between the two – they have different attributes.

I Try Buying a Similar Pressing on Discogs

I’m an empiricist, so naturally I looked up the matrix numbers on Discogs. For $30 I purchased a copy that had matching matrix numbers, at least as close as I could get them. (You feel kinda stupid when you send a discogs seller three messages saying, “but would you say that’s a faint N or a faint Z scrawled in the deadwax?” Enough already. Just buy the stupid thing.)

The discogs copy had a family resemblance to my hot stamper in terms of its sound, and it was also in near mint condition with no evident listening damage. But, the experience is different. The hot stamper simply sounds more real and immediate. I recognize what I’m describing is the complete opposite of A/B double-blind testing, but which is the copy I keep putting on, feeling engrossed and enlivened by with spin after spin? (The miniscule writing in the dead wax was indeed not identical, so the experiment wasn’t perfect, but it was enough for me to have trust that hot stampers are a good value proposition for me. It sure beats buying a stack of copies at $5-$25 and picking out your favorite from them.)

Now I’m now ten Hot Stampers in, and planning to cool it, at least for a little while. I’ve been able to get many of my favorites (Stardust, Rumors, Mahavishnu, some Zeppelin, some Ella, some Beatles) in Hot Stamper format. That’s good enough for me while I start thinking about a speaker upgrade.

I can say this has been true in my experience – no matter how many other pressings of a title you have, if you buy a Better Records Hot Stamper, you can play it in a “shootout” against the rest of your stack of that title, and you will find that either it bests them all, or at very least, it gives you a different presentation that you will value and want to hold on to. For me, this has been true for ten of the eleven purchases I’ve made. Try it sometime. Even if you start with the regular hot stampers, you’ll hear they are different.

Listenability Versus Collectibility

So, although I have a very collectable collection that I hope and expect will hold its value over the years to come, it is with joy, relief, and a sense of relaxation that I shift my record-buying focus now to listenability rather than collectability. As we cope with the ever-growing onslaught of new pressings and inflation in the prices we’re seeing on discogs, listenability is a great way to cut through the noise and put your record-buying money where it matters.

It is really hard to buy for listenability anywhere other than on Better Records. Maybe if you have a friend who wants to sell you some of his records, you could do it. But, if you’re buying on Discogs or ebay, you’re not buying for how things sound. Occasionally, you can hear listening descriptions as part of the seller’s grading, but those are not comparisons to other pressings of the same title. And, as much as I like to support my local record stores, when it comes to listening first as a basis for buying, you can basically forget about it.

I’ve been formulating these thoughts for a while, but not sure why I’d want to post them. I mean, who wants to drive more customers to this guy when I still want to buy his merchandise, and some titles already sell out within seconds of listing, before I can even make up my mind? But, here you have it. Merry Christmas, I guess. Add my voice to the choir – you can buy better records hot stampers with confidence.

Dear AB_BA,

Thanks for writing about your experiences playing our Hot Stamper pressings against others in your collection. We encourage our customers to do their own shootouts. It is the only way to know exactly what the strengths and weaknesses of any pressing you may own might be. Naturally, we enthusiastically welcome the challenge when someone wants to play our records head to head with whatever other pressings they may own.

You liked your MoFi Abraxas about as well as the Hot Stamper, and we are fine with that. As we like to say, as you continue to make progress in all aspects of audio, check back with us in five years and let us know what your MoFi sounds like then. We know our Abraxas will be fine. We’ve been playing Hot Stampers of that title since 2006 or thereabouts and the best originals are still winning our shootouts fifteen years later.

It is a truly extraordinary recording, with guitars that get louder in the mix than 99 out of 100 rock records we have ever heard.

Compared to What?

Shootouts are the only way to answer the most important question in all of audio:

Compared to what?

Without shootouts, how can you begin to know the specific characteristics of the sound of the pressings you own?

Are the chimes and hi-hats “right” on the MoFi? I am guessing I would not agree with you that they are better. Having never played their One Step pressing, it’s probably wise that I not comment further.

But…

Any label that would release a record that sounds as bad as this one has some explaining to do.

You bring up a number of good subjects, the kind we have been writing about for decades, and we have a great many commentaries you may find of interest. A couple that spring to mind:

Hot Stampers Versus Collector Pressings

Ah-Um Reissues Versus Originals

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