Top Artists – Elton John

Letter of the Week – “Talking Old Soldiers is possibly, no IS, the most holographic a vocal and piano recording that I’ve ever heard…”

Can our records possibly be worth these prices?

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

Hey Tom,   

Thank you VERY much for that one. Worth its weight in gold (last checked gold was $58.19 a gram, x 140 grams = $8,146.00) thus an absolute bargain for $750 – and have only listened to side two so far!

My god, Talking Old Soldiers is possibly, no IS, the most holographic a vocal and piano recording that I’ve ever heard, filling the room floor to ceiling and wall to wall with stunning realness right off the fresh master tape. Then into Burn Down The Mission, same thing, holy shxt! Best EVER.

More of those please and I owe you $7396.00. Lol.

All the best,
Mike S.

Mike, thanks so much for writing. As a special one time consideration, please keep the $7396 you owe us.

Best, TP


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

More Hot Stamper Testimonial Letters

 

Elton John – Just the Right Amount of Tubey Magic Is the Key

More of the Music of Elton John

More Titles Only Offered on Import Vinyl

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elton John

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on the best copies of Madman. For those of you who’ve experienced top quality analog pressings of Meddle or Dark Side of the Moon, or practically any jazz album on Contemporary, whether played through tubes or transistors, that’s the luscious sound of Tubey Magic, and it is all over the album.

The problem is that most British copies — the only ones that have any hope of sounding good in our experience — don’t have all the Tubey Magic that can be heard on the best copies. They are simply not as rich, tubey, and LUSH as the best that we’ve played.

This is the one quality that separates the winners of the shootout from the copies that came in second or third. Lushness isn’t the only thing to listen for of course. The rich copies can’t be too rich, to the point of being murky and muddy.

Achieving just the right balance of Tubey Magical Madman Sound with other qualities we prize such as space, clarity, transparency and presence is no mean feat.

It’s the rare copy that will do well in all these areas, and even our best Shootout Winning sides will have to compromise somewhere. There is always a balance to be struck between richness and clarity, with no copy able to show us the maximum amounts of both that we know are possible.

You’ll Know

Having said all that, it has been our experience that one copy in the shootout will make clear what the ideal blend of all the elements is — the right balance of Tubey Magic, clarity, space, weight, top end and much, much more.

When you find yourself lost in the music of Madman because the copy playing has the right sound, it shouldn’t be all that hard to recognize it. When the record is not only doing what it’s supposed to do, but doing more than you ever expected it could do, with more energy, more dynamics, more bass, more clarity, on a stage that’s wider, taller and deeper than you thought it could be, that’s when you know you have reached the highest level of sound.

Seeing All Sides

This will happen on each side independently of the other. That’s just the way records work. Sometimes a copy has two matching sides with that ideal blend — we jump for joy and happily award them our rare Triple Triple grade — but on a ridiculously difficult record to master and press properly such as Madman chances are good that one copy of the record will win for one side and a different copy will win for the other.

Engineering and Production

Elton John is one of the handful of artists to produce an immensely enjoyable and meaningful body of work throughout the ’70s, music that holds up to this day. The music on his albums, so multi-faceted and multi-layered, will endlessly reward the listener who makes the effort and takes the time to dive deep into the sound of his classic releases.

Repeated plays are the order of the day. The more critically you listen, the more you are sure to discover within the exceedingly dense mixes favored by Elton and his bandmates. And the better your stereo gets the more you can appreciate the care and effort that went into the production of the recordings.

Elton John albums always make for tough shootouts. His producers’ (GUS DUDGEON being the best of them) and engineers’ (KEN SCOTT and ROBIN GEOFFREY CABLE likewise the best) approach to recording — everything-but-the-kitchen-sink as a rule — make it difficult to translate their complex sounds to disc, vinyl or otherwise.

Everything has to be tuned up and on the money before we can even hope to get the record sounding right. Careful VTA adjustment could not be more critical in this respect.

If we’re not hearing the sound we want, we keep messing with the adjustments until we do. There is no getting around sweating the details when sitting down to test a complex recording such as this. If you can’t stand the tweaking tedium, get out of the kitchen (or listening room as the case may be). Obsessing over every aspect of record reproduction is what we do for a living. Pink Floyd’s recordings require us to be at the top of our game, both in terms of reproducing their albums as well as evaluating the merits of individual pressings.

When you love it, it’s not work, it’s fun. Tedious, occasionally exasperating fun, but still fun nonetheless.


Further Reading

Records that Sound Best on the Right Early Pressing 

Records that Sound Best on the Right Import Pressing

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

  • An excellent early British pressing with big, bold Double Plus (A++) sound on all FOUR SIDES
  • Finding a copy with no marks or issues is no easy task these days, and the DJM vinyl on this pressing is about as quiet as these UK LPs ever are
  • There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals, in-your-listening-room midrange presence and no shortage of rock and roll energy
  • Overflowing with great songs, way too many to list – “Candle In The Wind,” “Bennie And The Jets,” and “GYBR” all sound outstanding here
  • A Top 100 Title: “…its individual moments are spectacular and the glitzy, crowd-pleasing showmanship that fuels the album pretty much defines what made Elton John a superstar in the early ’70s.”
  • If you’re an Elton John fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of his from 1973
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

GYBR has the best rocker Elton and Bernie ever wrote: Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. Of course, it’s one of the tracks on side four we used to test with — if you’re going to listen to GYBR all day, why not play the songs that are the most fun to play? On the good pressings, the song just KILLS. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “Wish You Were Here is maybe the best sounding record I’ve ever heard…”

More Letters and Commentaries for Wish You Were Here

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

Hey Tom,  

I want to say a big THANK YOU for the Hot Stampers you sent to me.

Wish You Were Here is maybe the best sounding record I’ve ever heard (as you know I have a lot of Hot Stampers). I’m so amazed and lucky – I can’t describe it. The copy sounds out of this world with soooo well-defined bass, stunning clarity, warmth and richness, immediacy, astonishing transparency…

It murders my old copy.

Another Passenger and Honky Chateau are also Demo Discs of the highest order. 

Erik S.


FURTHER READING

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Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Elton John – Too Low For Zero

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides of this early British import LP – exceptionally quiet viny too
  • There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals and plenty of rock and roll energy
  • I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues – the best song Elton’s done in the last 35 years – is the a good reason to own the album
  • One of engineer Bill Price’s best efforts behind the boards in the ’80s, and Chris Thomas’s production is State of the Art as usual
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Happily, this is a reunion that works like gangbusters, capturing everybody at a near-peak of their form.”
  • If you’re an Elton John fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1983 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1983 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Much of the production – the smooth, sweet harmony vocals, the rich, grungy guitars, the solid, warm piano – reminds me of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, one of the classics from back in the day when Gus Dudgeon was running the show.

Caribou (1974) and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) have a similarly glossy, perfectionist approach to production as well. It was 1975’s Rock of the Westies that went off in another direction.

The next six albums, from Blue Moves to Jump Up, at least to these ears, don’t sound good enough or have the kind of consistent material that was the hallmark of the six albums recorded from 1970 to 1973. Four of those are in our Top 100 Rock and Pop album list, and all four are Must Owns in my book. Pop music just doesn’t get any better.

So if Too Low For Zero reminds us in any way of those albums, especially in the songwriting department now that Bernie Taupin has rejoined team Elton after a too-long hiatus, that is all to the good.

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Elton John / Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – What to Listen For

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

The richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality is most obvious where you often hear it on a Pop Rock Big Production like GYBR: in the loudest, densest, most climactic choruses.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly become without crossing the line into distortion or congestion.

On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record.

On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is bigger and louder than anything on the record, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-tracked screaming “Who I am” about three quarters of the way through the track. Those, however, are clearly exceptions to the rule. Most of the time it’s the final chorus of a pop song that gets bigger and louder than what has come before.

A pop song is usually designed to build momentum as it works its way through the verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording — one with real dynamics — that part of the song should be very loud and very powerful.

Testing the Climaxes

The climax of the biggest, most dynamic songs are almost always the toughest tests for a pop record, and it’s the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album’s largest scaled productions are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have sitting in front of two speakers. Our Top 100 is full of records that reward that kind of intense listening at loud levels.

We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s precisely what the best vintage analog pressings do so brilliantly. In fact they do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and certainly no substitute. If you’re on this site you probably already know that.

Two to Listen For

Number one: Too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression, there will be too many elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space in the upper part of the midrange, causing congestion and a loss of clarity.

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Elton John’s Caribou Is Usually Noisy and Sounds Bad – But Why?

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elton John

There’s a good reason you’ve practically never seen this album for sale on our site. In fact there are quite a number of good reasons.

The first one is bad vinyl — most DJM pressings of Caribou are just too noisy to sell. They can look perfectly mint and play noisy as hell; it’s not abuse, it’s bad vinyl.

Empty Sky is the same way; out and out bad vinyl, full of noise, grit and grain.

The second problem is bad sound. Whether it’s bad mastering or bad vinyl incapable of holding onto good mastering, no one can say. Since so many copies were pressed of this monster Number One album (topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic):

  • Perhaps they pressed a few too many after the stampers were worn out.
  • Or pulled too many stampers off the mother.
  • Or made too many stampers from the father.
  • Or used crap vinyl right from the start.

Of course there’s not an iota of evidence to back up any of these assertions, but I just thought I would throw them all out there as a topic for speculation.

Speaking of speculation, have you noticed how much audiophiles and audiophile reviewers love to talk about things that they have no empirical evidence for, one way or the other? (More on unproductive speculation here.)

Very little of that sort of thing can be found on our site. We like to stick to the sound of the records we’ve played and leave most of the “reasoning” about the sound to others.

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Letter of the Week – ” Big, warm, mushy and limp, yes.”

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to their Heavy Vinyl Counterparts

More Heavy Vinyl Commentaries and Reviews

One of our good customers had this to say about some records he played recently:

Hey Tom, 

I just had to drop you a brief note, to say THANK YOU, for your writings regarding DCC pressings many years back.

I was just going back through them on your site, after I unearthed my DCC pressings this afternoon and gave a couple of them (i.e., Elton’s Madman; Joni’s Court and Spark) a spin – as I recall y’all being the first to speak truth in the face of overwhelming adoration regarding these (when they first were released).

OMG. They are COMPLETELY lifeless, with ZERO energy! Big, warm, mushy and limp, yes. Probably sound comforting (at some level) on a low-budget lean solid state system. But on a system with any level of transparency and truth-to-pressing, YIKES. It just made me sad.

THEN, I went online, and checked the current PRICES for these pressings (of which I own several sealed), and I got SUPER HAPPY! People are paying some serious coin for these turkeys – so I can be well rid of them, and take that cash and buy some more of YOUR awesome pressings! Win-win! 👍😊

Warmest regards

Steve

Steve,

Thanks for your letter. A few thoughts:

The sound I think you are hearing that you refer to as lifeless and lacking in energy is really the result of Kevin Gray’s lousy cutting chain. The sound you hear on your DCC albums is the precisely the sound I had heard on this DCC album many years ago. Played back to back with the properly mastered, properly pressed originals, the DCC was shockingly lacking in many of the most important qualities a record can have.

Low resolution cutters like the ones used to cut the DCC discs sound dead and and boring, even when the mastering choices are good ones and no obvious compression is being used. (Kevin Gray famously does not have a way to put compressors into his chain, as my friend Robert Pincus at Cisco found out when he cut 52nd Street and could not get some aspects of it to sound right. It needed compression and there was none to be had.)

I have been beating this long-dead horse for about fifteen years now. Any time I actually do play one of the DCC records these days it usually sounds worse than I remember it.

As one’s stereo improves, and one actually has good records to play, the shortcomings of these audiophile pressings become less and less tolerable, and now, in 2022, with all the Revolutions in Audio that have come our way, they sound so third-rate one would be hard-pressed to sit through one.

We think this is a clear sign of progress.

Lucky for you there are still audiophiles who have not made the progress you’ve made. They are still willing to pay premium prices for these records, and that means you won’t have to take a haircut on them.

Think about this though.

I liked those DCC records just fine when they came out. Said lots of nice things about them. Back in the ’90s, when you first bought some, you liked them just fine too.

The audiophiles buying them today are not idiots and fools. They are exactly where we were in those days. We learned, and they can learn too. There is hope for everybody!

But you had help. You got hold of some Hot Stampers, and that raised the bar for your listening experience beyond any Heavy Vinyl pressing ever made. The obviously superior sound of the Hot Stamper pressings you acquired — or found on your own — made it easy to hear what was wrong with the reissues and their “audiophile sound.”

As long as the fans of Heavy Vinyl stick with Heavy Vinyl, how are they ever going to learn how mediocre their records are?

It is a problem that has no easy solution. We sure haven’t found one.

These people are stuck, and the more we attack their records, the more they defend them in order to avoid feeling bad about themselves, a classic example of the pernicious results of the natural human need to avoid cognitive dissonance.

You are the living proof that some can hear, some can tell the difference, and some can make progress in this crazy hobby of ours. Thanks again for your letter.

Best, TP


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Elton John / Honky Chateau – A Must Own Classic

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Reviews and Commentaries for Honky Chateau

  • Honky Chateau contains some of the most Tubey Magical High-Production-Value rock music ever recorded – thanks Ken Scott!
  • Not the quietest copy we’ve ever played – Mint Minus Minus to EX++ on both sides – but obviously one of the better sounding
  • 5 stars: “The most focused and accomplished set of songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin ever wrote … It’s one of the finest collections of mainstream singer/songwriter pop of the early ’70s.” 

If you doubt that Elton John was an unusually gifted Pop Music Genius for much of the ’70s, just play this record. These eleven tracks should serve as all the proof you could possibly need. There’s not a dog in the bunch, and most of these songs are positively brilliant. Drop the needle on any track, you simply can’t go wrong.

Honky Chateau has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a prized spot on our Rock and Pop Top 100 List. It’s a shining example of just how good High-Production-Value rock music of the ’70s can be.

The amount of effort that went into the recording of Honky Chateau is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, The Who, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and far too many others to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

The sides that had sound that jumped out of the speakers, with driving rhythmic energy, worked the best for us. They really brought this music to life and allowed us to make sense of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music.

Big Production Tubey Magical British Rock just does not get much better than Honky Chateau. (more…)

Elton John / Tumbleweed Connection and the Tubey Magical Top Ten

More Records with Exceptionally Tubey Magical Sound

Reviews of Tubey Magical Demonstration Quality Discs

The Tubey Magic Top Ten

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on Tumbleweed Connection. For those of you who’ve experienced top quality analog pressings of Meddle or Dark Side of the Moon, or practically any jazz album on Contemporary, whether played through tubes or transistors, that’s the luscious sound of Tubey Magic, and it is all over Elton John’s Masterpiece, Tumbleweed Connection

Ranked strictly in terms of Tubey Magic, I would have to put this album on our list of Most Tubey Magical Rock Recordings of All Time, right up there with, in no particular order:

  • Sgt. Pepper (1967),
  • Meddle (1971),
  • Dark Side of the Moon (1973),
  • Dire Straits / Self-Titled (1977, and clearly the outlier in this group),
  • The Eagles (1972),
  • Tommy (1969),
  • The Doors (1967),
  • Ziggy Stardust (1972),
  • A Space in Time (1970)

This has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a Top Ten spot on our Top 100 list. Engineered by Robin Geoffrey Cable at Trident, there is no other Elton John recording that is as big and powerful as Tumbleweed.