Top Artists – Joni Mitchell

The Story of Blue on Heavy Vinyl – A Milestone at Better Records

Thoughts on the so-called Definitive Vinyl Version

In 2007 a customer took issue with our choice here at Better Records to reject the sale of the newly Remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing of Blue put out by Rhino and mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray.

We actually used to give the record away for free with every purchase of a Hot Stamper Blue, making it easy for our customers to hear for themselves just how superior our Hot Stamper pressings, at every level, were.

We did this partly out of necessity. I had foolishly taken the advice of a Mr. Robert Pincus that the new version was indeed all it was cracked up to be and proceeded to put in an advance order for twenty copies to sell to our customers.

We were still selling Heavy Vinyl in 2007, but it would not be long before we decided to end the practice. Soon thereafter we were only selling records that we had cleaned and played and could guarantee both their superior sound quality and audiophile-quality playing surfaces.

So we had about twenty copies of Blue we did not think qualified as “better records” and decided to just give them away.

After spending quite a number of hours evaluating the new version, I got fairly worked up over the disappointing sound, worked up enough to write a very long commentary about the album, which I entitled Blue, The Game.

Rather than detailing the shortcomings of the new pressing, in this particular commentary, the first of its kind, I decided to take a different tack.

I implored the reader to do his own shootout for the album and tell me what he heard on the various pressings he might have at hand to work with. (Nothing much came of it of course, and not too surprisingly. Shootouts are hard and the vast majority of audiophiles are averse to them in our experience, hence the sorry state of audiophile records and the systems that fail to reveal their shortcomings — but that’s a horse that gets flogged regularly enough on this site. Enough is enough.)

Tom, 

I find it curious you are not carrying the new Joni Mitchell Blue vinyl issue. Even to the point of saying you can do better… for 25 bucks? After clicking on the LP cover and reading the comments from over the years it makes me wonder what your agenda really is. I paid $250 for a wonderful WLP and this Rhino issue smokes it, even as good as it is. I even have a Cd cut from this mastering session off the analog FLAT, not Dolby tapes and this vinyl even beats it…. of course just my opinion.

I have listened on $100,000 systems, all the way down to portable units, solid state and tube and there is no denying this is the definitive vinyl version….. and again for 25.00. What a bargain.

Maybe all you did was look at that Rhino sticker and think back to the Grateful Dead records they did a few years ago (horrible) and just assumed this wasn’t up to Better Records standards.

Thanks for reading. I enjoy your e mails and store….

Tom

Tom,

We don’t review records based on their labels or stickers. And of course we never assume anything about the sound of a record. We talk about this stuff all the time. Here’s a relevant quote:

My approach to reviewing records is pure skepticism: a record sounds good if it sounds good, regardless of how it was made, who made it, or why. I’ve heard lots of expensive so-called audiophile equipment do a pretty poor job of making music over the years, the owners of which had an armful of reasons for why the sound should be truly awe-inspiring. But it just wasn’t. Most fancy gold faceplates are nothing but lipstick on a pig in my opinion.

I heard Blue poorly reproduced at a friend’s house, and this is probably the best explanation for this letter writer’s inability to understand our position on Blue.

And paying $250 for a White Label Demo that apparently doesn’t sound good is the height of audiophile collector foolishness. That money should have gone for better equipment or room treatments or tweaks, something, anything, to make this guy’s stereo and room work better than they do. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Back In Black “It really beats the pants off of my George Marino remaster…”

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

Hey Tom,  

I’ve been spending time this week listening to the seven records that arrived from you last week, and have been having a fabulous time doing it. So I thought I’d write to say THANKS – you guys really know how to pick ‘em!

Top honors in the batch definitely goes to the AC/DC Back in Black Hot Stamper. Wow, does it ever ROCK! And it’s not even the best one you had – which makes me wonder just how amazing the best copies sound. It really beats the pants off of my George Marino remaster, to say nothing of my old Canadian pressing.

The sheer energy that leaps off the vinyl is incredible. To me, this record supports again the hypothesis that I first tested when I bought my Joni Mitchell Hot Stamper from you last fall: That I don’t have to wait until I manage to put together a really topnotch stereo system before I can enjoy at least some of what Hot Stampers have to offer.

Obviously, as my system gets better I imagine I’ll enjoy them even more; but even with my current budget-ish system, recently much improved with Aurios and an EAR 834p (both recommended by you – thank you!), the Back in Black Hot Stamper shines. There’s truly nothing finer than listening to a record that sounds that good!

Anyway, all in all, it’s a pleasure purchasing from you, so thanks again. I’ll be back for more once my budget allows. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Mingus

More Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for Joni Mitchell

  • Mingus finally returns to the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Rich, dynamic and natural, with low end weight, midrange presence and powerful, punchy bass
  • If you’re a fan of Joni’s more adventurous work you’ll find a lot to like here
  • Features “luminaries” including Herbie Hancock and some of Weather Report, who join Mingus in helping Joni bring these jazzy works to life
  • “… Mitchell could not have chosen any finer musicians than the sextet she ultimately incorporated into this work.”

Two of Joni’s more famous late ’70s songs are on here — God Must Be A Boogie Man and The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey. If you like the more adventurous music that Joni produced at different stages of her career, this should make a wonderful addition to your collection. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – For The Roses

More Joni Mitchell

More Singer Songwriter Albums

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this White Label Asylum pressing was one of the best we played in our recent shootout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is especially rich, warm and natural, with exceptional immediacy to Joni’s vocals and Tubey Magic for days
  • One of the best sounding Joni records, on a par with Court and Spark and Blue – fine company indeed
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The lyrics here are among Mitchell’s best, continuing in the vein of gripping honesty and heartfelt depth exhibited on Blue…. More than a bridge between great albums, this excellent disc is a top-notch listen in its own right.”

This copy has real energy and dynamics that just could not be heard on most of the pressings we played. With dynamics AND the warmth and richness found here, this copy will be hard to beat.

Listen to how huge the piano is. No two copies will show you the same piano, which makes it a great test for sound. Both sides have clear, present, breathy vocals, about as good as Joni can sound on vinyl, which is saying a lot. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – An Overview

Joni Mitchell

1968 Song to a Seagull
1969 Clouds
1970 Ladies of the Canyon
1971 BlueTop 100, TAS List
1972 For the Roses – Some of her best sound
1974 Court and SparkTop 100, TAS List, her best sounding recording

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Turntable Testing Using Court and Spark and a Yellow Pad

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

Hot Stamper Pressings of Court and Spark Available Now

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There are loud vocal choruses on many tracks, and more often than not at their loudest they sound like they are either breaking up or threatening to do so. I always assumed it was compressor or board overload, which is easily heard on Down to You. On the best copies there is no breakup — the voices get loud and stay clean throughout.

This assumes that your equipment is up to the job. The loudest choruses are a tough test for any system.

Setup Advice

If you have one of our hottest Hot Stampers, try adjusting your setup – VTA, Tracking Weight, Azimuth, Anti-Skate (especially! Audiophiles often overlook this one, at their peril) — and note how cleanly the loudest passages play using various combinations of settings.

Keep a yellow pad handy and write everything down step by step as you make your changes, along with what differences you hear in the sound.

You will learn more about sound from this exercise than you can from practically any other. Even shootouts won’t teach you what you can learn from variations in your table setup.

And once you have your setup dialed in better, you will find that your shootouts go a lot smoother than they used to. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

Hot Stamper Pressings of Court and Spark Available Now

  • The sound is rich, warm and natural, with wonderful transparency, ambience and loads of Tubey Magic
  • Musically this is one of our favorite Joni albums here at Better Records, and probably her Best Recording as well
  • Court and Spark recently joined Blue on our Top 100 Rock and Pop List for 2019 – yes, it’s that good sounding when it’s mastered and pressed as well as this copy is
  • 5 stars: “[A] remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz … the music is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last.”

Court and Spark deserves to be heard with all the naturalness, clarity, beauty and power that our Hot Stamper pressings reproduce so well.

What you hear is the sound of the real tape; every instrument has its own character because the mastering is correct and the vinyl — against all odds — managed to capture all (or almost all; who can know?) of the resolution that the tape had to offer. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Ladies Of The Canyon

More Joni Mitchell

More Singer-Songwriter Albums

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • Ladies of The Canyon is a very strong album for Joni, with some of her most well known, seemingly timeless songs: Morning Morgantown, For Free, Big Yellow Taxi, Woodstock, The Circle Game and more
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Yet another essential listen in Mitchell’s recorded canon.”

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Joni Mitchell – The Hissing of Summer Lawns

More Joni Mitchell

More Jazz Rock Fusion

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  • Joni’s superb 1975 release finally returns with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from top to bottom
  • Lots of Tubey Magic, textured synths, big bass and breathy vocals – this copy brings Joni’s jazzy folky fusion to life
  • Check out the big bottom end on The Jungle Line, which features the Drummers Of Burundi
  • Who made a more original, forward looking and interesting album in 1975 than this? I can’t think of anyone, can you?
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Joni Mitchell evolved from the smooth jazz-pop of Court and Spark to the radical Hissing of Summer Lawns, an adventurous work that remains among her most difficult records [as difficult as it is brilliant] … a strange and beautiful fusion of jazz and shimmering avant pop.”

Both sides here are airy, open, and spacious, with plenty of ambience. The bottom end is tight and punchy throughout with good solid weight, and the top end is silky sweet. Many copies of this album have a phony hi-fi “glare” that made us wince, but the sound here is warm and natural.

After hearing a few copies that bored us to tears years ago we had pretty much given up on finding good sound for this album, but once we found some truly hot Hot Stampers we found ourselves really enjoying this sophisticated Jazzy Folk Pop music. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Blue

More Joni Mitchell

Actual Properly Mastered Copies of Blue Available Now

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Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

  • Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout for arguably Joni’s greatest album
  • Full-bodied and balanced with the kind of smooth musicality that’s not always easy to find for Blue
  • A Better Records Top 100 title that belongs in any audiophile music collection worthy of the name
  • 5 stars: “Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell’s songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity…”

This vintage Reprise pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (For proof just check out the mediocre Blue Steve Hoffman mastered for Rhino on Heavy Vinyl.  (more…)