Top Artists – Ella Fitzgerald

Letter of the Week – “I wonder if you’ve ever had another customer who doesn’t own a turntable buy a white hot stamper from you?”

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Aaron has been trying to help his audiophile friends learn the differences between good records and Heavy Vinyl records. This first story concerns Chuck, who sold Aaron the VPI table you see pictured. Aaron writes:

Chuck’s a real record guy. I played him some hot stampers, alongside the same record in heavy vinyl format.

First up was Rumours – white hot up against the Hoffman 45 mastering. He wanted to hear “you make loving fun,” so we did. The drums on the Hoffman are more prominent, and they grab you right away. Way out of balance to my taste. He said, “Hoffman’s done a great job with the drums. But it comes at the expense of Christine’s voice. That’s okay, I never loved her as a singer anyway.”

Next I busted out my holy grail, and played him my Zep 2 WHS. Followed up by the Jimmy Page remastering. The latter is indeed a decent record, Tom, as you say. But the clarity on the drums is superior on the Ludwig. [Clarity is not the word I would have chosen, but that’s another story for another day.]

As Chuck put it, “I never thought of this as a vocal record.” Plant’s voice just has so much more emotion on the hot stamper than on the Page version. He said, “the Page version takes out some of the humanity.” I totally agreed with that. Chuck was amazed that you were able to find and sell me a RL copy with such clean vinyl. I took the record off the table and showed it to him – he was amazed to see how scuffed it looked. It’d grade VG at best visually, but man does it play clean.

So, record after record, Chuck could hear what the hot stampers were doing. And, no doubt, the VPI table is making the hot stampers sound better, and in comparison, the heavy vinyl sounds even duller.

That said, this turntable is so much more revealing than my Clearaudio was, that there is always something delightful to listen to on my heavy vinyl records. They don’t sound worse, they sound better than they used to. It’s just that the gap between them and the hot stampers is only continuing to grow wider.

So, my man Chuck, who sold me his VPI turntable, saw the light. But then he shielded his eyes from it. Even though Chuck’s got a stack of 25 benjamins in his hand right now, I don’t think any of that is headed your way, Tom.


Aaron followed up this letter with one about another friend, Bill, who is now, with Aaron’s help, building his first great stereo. Aaron brought along a killer copy of Clap Hands in order to judge the speakers they would be auditioning in various audio salons. When Ella finally sounded right, that was it.

Bill closed the deal on the spot, and we retired to his home to sip some Japanese whiskey and listen to some music. As we chatted, he asked me more about the copy of Rumours I had played for him at my house last week.

It had made him bury his face in his hands and declare, “money can’t buy that sound.”

When he reminded me of how moved he was by what he heard in my listening room, and feeling loosened up by the whiskey, I confessed to him that, in fact, money CAN buy that sound. Just, a whole lot of money. Sure enough, a WHS of Rumours was available on your site, and he bought it without hesitation.

No turntable, buying hot stampers.

I wonder if you’ve ever had another customer who doesn’t own a turntable buy a white hot stamper from you? It’s actually a really good move. I’m now firmly of the opinion that anybody shopping for a stereo should bring along a hot stamper. Pick a favorite album, and buy a hot stamper to bring with you as you listen to equipment. Even if you don’t own a turntable, a hot stamper is going to reveal the character of the equipment you demo, in a way that no streaming or demo CD can do. The price of a hot stamper is small in the context of helping you to avoid making a bad stereo purchase.



I’m firmly of that opinion too: buy more Hot Stampers!

In order to judge equipment, you must have a record that is right, and one of our killer copies of Rumours is going to be right in ways that few other records are. We even advise you on what to listen for on practically every track on the album here.

I hope that when Bill finally gets a turntable that our Rumours sounds good on it. Judging equipment or turntable setup solely with female vocals — even vocals as good as Ella’s — is not something we recommend, a subject we discussed in some detail here.

When putting a speaker you want to purchase through its paces, you really need a basket of recordings. As a matter of fact, the song Dreams off of Rumours is actually a great test for speakers.

Pay special attention to: the sound of the snare.

When the snare is fat and solid and present, with a good “slap” to the sound, you have a copy with weight, presence, transparency, energy — all the stuff we ADORE about the sound of the best copies of Rumours.

Next time you are on the hunt for new speakers, see which ones can really rock the snare on Dreams. That’s probably going to be the speaker that can do justice to the entire Rumours album, as well as anything by The Beatles, and Neil Young’s Zuma, and lots of other favorite records of ours, and we expect favorites of yours too.

Years ago I played it for a small group of music lovers to demonstrate — to those whose minds were open enough to hear it —  that the real Ken Perry-mastered Rumours pressings just cannot be beat.

Let me know how Bill’s pursuit of better sound goes. With you to guide him, he has a good friend and a real ace in the hole.

And Robert Brook can help too. He has written a great deal about his quest to improve his system, room, setup and all the rest. He has approached the various problems he’s encountered scientifically, methodically and carefully, along these three fronts:

Aaron, as always, thanks for your letter and keep up the good work!

Best, TP

Further Reading

Ella Fitzgerald – Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book

More Ella Fitzgerald

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Recordings

  • These early Verve Stereo pressings are close to the BEST we have ever heard, with roughly Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on all FOUR sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • This copy will teleport a living, breathing Ella Fitzgerald directly into your listening room like no album of hers you have ever heard
  • The First Lady of Song’s voice is noticeably breathier, fuller, more relaxed and more musical here than on practically all the other stereo copies we played
  • The mono pressings were constistenly flat, dry and veiled – lesson learned, we will never bother with another one
  • The single disc pressing of volume 2 was ridiculously bright – based on this shootout, it seems clear that the original double album is the only way to go
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book is an exquisite album, a classic in vocal jazz, and one of Fitzgerald’s best recordings.”


Ella Fitzgerald – The Duke Ellington Songbook, Volume Two

More Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald Albums We’ve Reviewed

  • An excellent Verve Mono reissue with wonderful sound on all FOUR sides
  • Forget the originals – like so many of the early songbook pressings, they suffer from painfully hard and honky mastering EQ (and gritty sounding vinyl)
  • We know whereof we speak when it comes to early Ella records – we’ve played plenty of them and found that most just don’t sound very good
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout* — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Duke’s spectacular catalog dazzles, and his sprightly, lush textures are transfigured under Fitzgerald’s warm-timbred voice and elegant, precise delivery… each tune as familiar as it is delightful to hear in this new context.”
  • If you’re a fan of Ella’s, this Top Title from 1957 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This mono reissue is the only way to find the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from modern records. As good as the best of those pressings may be, this record is going to be dramatically more REAL sounding.


Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Porgy and Bess

More Ella Fitzgerald

More Louis Armstrong

  • Boasting FOUR outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, these vintage Stereo Verve pressings were giving us the sound we were looking for on this Ella and Louis classic – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Spacious, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, with Ella and Louis front and center, this is the sound you want for their brilliant collaboration from 1958
  • If you’ve never heard exceptionally well recorded male and female vocals from the 50s, this is a great opportunity to have your mind blown
  • Two vocal giants came together to perform Gershwin’s timeless opera, revered by both music lovers and audiophiles to this day
  • 4 1/2 stars: “What’s really great about the Ella and Louis version is Ella, who handles each aria with disarming delicacy, clarion intensity, or usually a blend of both.”


Ella Fitzgerald / Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie – Classic Records Reviewed

Hot Stamper Pressings of Ella Fitzgerald’s Albums Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie

Sonic Grade: F

There is no reissue, and there will never be a reissue, that will sound as good as a good vintage pressing of Clap Hands.

The Classic Heavy Vinyl Reissue is a disgrace. I would rather play the CD.

(20 years ago, when I still had a CD player in my system, the CD was one of my favorites for testing, along with Blue and dozens of other well-recorded vocal albums.) 

Long time customers know that I have been raving about this album from way back in 1990 or so – ever since I first heard it in fact. I consider it the finest female vocal album in the history of the world. I could go on for pages about this music. Suffice to say this is a record that belongs in every human being’s record collection.

Just not the Classic Records pressing of it.

Is it the worst version of the album ever made?

That’s hard to say. But it is the worst sounding version of the album we’ve ever played, and that should be good enough for any audiophile contemplating spending money on this kind of trash. Our advice: don’t do it.


Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie in Stereo

More Ella Fitzgerald

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • This vintage Verve Stereo pressing boasts a STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to a superb Double Plus (A++) side two
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early stereo pressing will put Ella in the room with you – it lets her performance come to life
  • Our single Favorite Female Vocal album here at Better Records, one that gets better with each passing year
  • “Another typically wonderful LP of Ella Fitzgerald in her prime…this is an excellent (and somewhat underrated) set.” [It is definitely not underrated by us, we think it’s the best record the lady ever made]
  • These are the stampers that always win our shootouts, and when you hear them you will know why – the sound is big, rich and clear like no other
  • We’ve discovered a number of titles in which one stamper always wins, and here are some of the others
  • If you’re a fan of Ella’s, or vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals in general, this title from 1961 belongs in your collection.

Folks, if you’re in the market for one of the most magical female vocal recordings ever made, today is your lucky day.

We’re absolutely crazy about this album, and here’s a copy that more than justifies our enthusiasm. You will have a very hard time finding better sound than we are offering here.

Longtime customers know that I have been raving about this album for more than two decades, ever since I first heard it back around 1995. I consider it the finest female vocal album in the history of the world. I could go on for pages about this record. 

It is clearly a Vocal Demo Disc of the highest quality. Suffice it to say this record belongs in every right-thinking Music Lover’s collection.

Fans of The First Lady of Song are encouraged to give this one a very hard look. It’s not cheap but this kind of quality never is. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis

  • You’ll find very good Hot Stamper sound or BETTER on both sides of this early mono pressing – if only a record of this quality could be found on quieter vinyl!
  • One of the greatest duet albums of all time, if not THE GREATEST – a Desert Island Disc to beat them all
  • Problems in the vinyl is sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around it if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz… Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Ella and Louis is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a fan of vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals, this 1956 release is an absolute Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Click and pop counters might want to give this one a miss. It’s not as quiet as a modern pressing would be, but it’s as quiet as this title can be found on vintage ’50s Verve vinyl. If you have a top quality, heavily tweaked front end and a quiet cartridge, you might be good to go, but if you are picky about your surfaces, we recommend you give this one a miss.

Those of you looking for a cheaper, quieter alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on one of our Hot Stampers should look into the original Speakers Corner pressing or the CD, both of which we’ve played and both of which are quite good. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald / Whisper Not and Comments on Her Pablo Period

Hot Stamper Pressings of Ella Fitzgerald’s Albums Available Now

Ella Fitzgerald Albums We’ve Reviewed

Our commentary from ten or fifteen years ago. Please to enjoy.

Whisper Not is one of the best Ella records we’ve played in a very long time. I’m telling you, this is Ella at her best! Having just played a lovely sounding copy of Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie, an album that tends to err on the bright side, I now realize that this album has the opposite problem — it’s a little bit smoother in places than it should be. Of course that’s a much more tolerable problem than the reverse.  

These are the comments for the last copy we had on the site.

For whatever reason, I’ve never stumbled upon a clean copy of this record. Consequently, I’d never heard it up until recently.

But my local record store had one sitting in the bin one day in lovely condition, which presented me with the perfect opportunity to find out whether this album presented the early “good” Ella or the later “bad” Ella.

Because some time in the ’60s she started making bad records. I know. I’ve played them. Misty Blue comes to mind but there are more than a dozen that we used to have on this blog in the Hall of Shame, and we will be putting them back up here at some point.

Everything she ever did for Pablo comes to mind. Some of you out there have told me that you actually like some of her Pablo material, but I cannot share your enthusiasm for those recordings. In my opinion she had completely lost it by the time she hooked up with her old buddy Norman Granz in the ’70s.

On the cover of this record she looks a little frumpy, and I was afraid this album was going to be frumpy too. I’m glad to say that the opposite is true. This album swings with the best she’s ever recorded. A lot of the credit much go to Marty Paich, one of my all-time favorite arrangers. Ever since I heard what he did for Art Pepper on his Modern Jazz Classics record for Contemporary I have been a big fan. This album just solidifies my love for the guy.

A couple of high points on this record: Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, the song Ella sang on her masterpiece, Clap Hands, is here rearranged for the players at hand, and the interpretation is fresh and moving. The song I Said No is filled with silly double entendres and is a hoot.

But I have to say those are two high points picked almost at random. Every track on this album is wonderful. I think this is one of her three or four best recordings ever. (Another is the Johnny Mercer songbook album.)

Anyway, take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one.


Letter of the Week – “The stereo is immersive and big. The mono is palpable and solid.”

Hot Stamper Pressings of Ella Fitzgerald’s Albums Available Now

Ella Fitzgerald Albums We’ve Reviewed

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

Hey Tom, 

No two copies of a record sound the same. To put an even finer point on it, not even two White Hot Stampers sound the same.

I’ve been delightfully going back and forth between the stereo and mono white hots of Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie and taking great interest (and pleasure… and some frustration…) with how different they sound.

The stereo is immersive and big. The mono is palpable and solid. I prefer the band on the stereo, but the mono puts Ella in the room with me. Since this album is all about Ella, I’ll be returning the stereo.

Thank you for the chance to hear both versions. Your generous return policy is helping me build a collection of records I really love.



Thanks for your letter.

It is indeed interesting to take two top copies of the album — our White Hot Stamper pressings — and play them against each other. In this case it is even more interesting because you were able to compare the best sounding Mono pressing with the best sounding Stereo pressing, something, by the way, we would do in the course of every shootout for this album.

We’ve written about the album extensively, and you can find our commentaries using the link below:

As for your preference for the mono, we can’t disagree with you about the sound. We used to prefer the mono ourselves. Lately we prefer the stereo. This is probably something that would be both system-dependent and listener-dependent. To each his own.

Either way, mono or stereo, when you play one of our White Hot Stamper pressings, you are hearing the greatest female vocal recording of all time with better sound than you would have ever thought possible.

At least that’s the way we feel about it.


Ella Fitzgerald / Like Someone In Love – Good in Mono, Better in Stereo

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this MONO original pressing from 1957 (the only way to fly) will be hard to beat
  • Ella’s voice is noticeably breathier, fuller, more relaxed and more musical here than it is on most of the other copies we played
  • An album that is beyond difficult to find with decent surfaces and undamaged inner grooves – most copies we get in are just trashed
  • “Most of the songs are veteran standards, Stan Getz’s warm tenor helps out on four tunes, and her voice was so strong and appealing during this era that all of her recordings from the mid- to late ’50s are enjoyable and easily recommended.”

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one, assuming you can put up with some ticky vinyl. This is about as quiet as we can find them. Like Someone in Love is five times rarer than Clap Hands, and twice as likely to be noisy.

The sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably hasn’t heard, and that’s the best reason to demonstrate a stereo!

The space is huge and the sound so rich. The vocals have dramatically less hardness and the orchestra — especially on side two — is not brash for once.

Prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD. (more…)