Top Artists – Paul Simon (with or without) Garfunkel

1A, or Is 1B Better? – Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

More Simon and Garfunkel

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Before we go any further, I have a question: Why are we guessing?

I received an email recently from a customer who had gone to great pains to do his own shootout for a record; in the end he came up short, with not a lot to show for his time and effort. It had this bit tucked in toward the end:

Some of [Better Records’] Hot Stampers are very dear in price and most often due to the fact that there are so few copies in near mint condition. I hate to think of all the great Hot Stampers that have ended up in piles on the floor night after night with beer, Coke, and seeds being ground into them.

Can you imagine all the 1A 1B or even 2A 2B masters that ended up this way or were just played to death with a stylus that would be better used as a nail than to play a record!

As it so happens, shortly thereafter I found myself on Michael Fremer’s old website of all places, where I saw something eerily similar in his review for the (no doubt awful) Sundazed vinyl. I quote below the relevant paragraphs.

So how does this Sundazed reissue hold up next to an original 1A Columbia pressing that I bought new when it originally was released (it still has the Sam Goody “C” Valley Stream sticker on it, with the $2.49 markdown written in pen)? Well, for one thing, when people say records wear out, I don’t know what they are talking about! Since it was first released more than forty years ago, I’ve played this record a hundred times at least, in Ithaca in my fraternity house, in Boston, in Los Angeles, in Hackensack and now and it still sounds fantastic. It’s quiet, it’s detailed, it’s three-dimensional and it still has extended, clean high frequencies.

No reissue could possibly touch an original 1A pressing of just about any Columbia title and that goes for this reissue, which is very good, but not as open, spacious, wideband, transparent and “tubey” as the original.

He later goes on to give this piece of advice:

If you can find a clean, reasonably priced used original 1A pressing, it’s definitely going to sound better, but if you can’t, this reissue sounds very good and you’ll not know what you’re missing.

The entire review can be found on his site for those who care to read it. If, as MF seems to believe, you won’t know what you’re missing on the Sundazed LP, you need to find yourself another hobby. If it’s anything like most of their cardboardy crap, it’s missing more than it’s finding. (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Wednesday Morning, 3 AM

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  • Earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades for sound on both sides, this early 360 stereo pressing is outstanding from first note to last
  • It’s clean, clear, open and spacious with lovely breathy vocals and plenty of Columbia Tubey Magic
  • You won’t find this kind of transparency or clarity on the typical vintage pressing, and the red label reissues are completely hopeless
  • Their one true Folk Duo album, featuring the original version of The Sound Of Silence

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Paul Simon – Live Rhymin’

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard for Paul Simon’s first live album
  • You get clean, clear, full-bodied, lively and musical ANALOG sound from first note to last
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl they’re making – the Tubey Magic, size and rock and roll energy of this very special vintage pressing simply cannot be beat
  • Features great versions of Simon classics, including The Boxer, Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Sound Of Silence and many more

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Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

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  • An outstanding copy of Simon’s second solo album, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is big, warm and full-bodied – it’s present and clear, never harsh or gritty the way so many are
  • Great songs including Kodachrome, Loves Me Like a Rock, Was a Sunny Day (and you probably know most of the other 7)
  • 5 stars: “Retaining the buoyant musical feel of Paul Simon, but employing a more produced sound, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon found Paul Simon writing and performing with assurance and venturing into soulful and R&B-oriented music.”

Most pressings don’t have anywhere near this kind of openness and transparency — and they don’t have this kind of richness or warmth either. It’s a real treat to hear these great songs finally get the sound they deserve.

On most pressings, Simon’s voice is a spitty, gritty mess — sure it’s present, but where is the sweetness and warmth? Well, as a copy like this proves, more of those qualities made it to the tape than you might think. (more…)

Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years – Our Four Plus Winner

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  • This KILLER pressing earned Shootout Winning QUADRUPLE Plus (A++++) sound on the first side and Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first
  • The immediacy of the vocals is striking, putting a living, breathing Paul Simon right between your speakers
  • An extremely tough album to find with the kind of big, spacious, Tubey Magical sound this pressing offers
  • Clean, clear and open are nice qualities to have, but the richer, smoother, more natural sounding copies are the ones that win our shootouts
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…he was never more in tune with his audience: Still Crazy topped the charts, spawned four Top 40 hits, and won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Vocal Performance.

Please note: we award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side one here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus! (more…)

Paul Simon – Hearts and Bones

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  • Hearts and Bones returns to the site for the first time in almost 10 years, with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last – mostly quiet vinyl too
  • Compared to every other copy in our recent shootout, this one was bigger and bolder with more Tubey Magic, clarity and separation
  • Turn this one up good and loud (which you can do when the sound is THIS good) and you’ll have a living, breathing Paul Simon standing right between your speakers
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… his most personal collection of songs, one of his most ambitious, and one of his best. It retains a personal vision… Simon’s most impressive collection in a decade and the most underrated album in his catalog.”

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Paul Simon – Graceland

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame and a record that ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale.

Super transparent and hi-res with no attendant sacrifice in low end or fullness, this is about as tonally balanced as Graceland gets. The top end is more delicate and extended, which was not true for most of the copies we played.

There’s a much more pleasant smoothness here, standing in sharp contrast to the typically grainy, spitty copy, with more weight down low and more presence to Simon’s vocals.

We listen to piles of pressings of Graceland regularly. We know the range of sound on the album, what constitutes good, better and best, and we know precisely what qualities the premier copy must have in order to win one of our shootouts.

Above all the thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It has many other good qualities as well: It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals.

The better copies have all these qualities to some degree, but the one quality a good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s especially good about the sound of the record.

Without clarity the music doesn’t work. The shortest definition of a Hot Stamper is that it’s the pressing where the music works. You can be sure that any Hot Stamper copy on our site has at least that going for it. (more…)

The Graceland Remastering Disaster Part 2

Analogplanet Visits Sterling Sound and Interviews Mastering Engineer Ryan K. Smith

The interviewer apparently does not know how bad the new version sounds, but we had no trouble recognizing its awfulness here at Better Records and, as a public service, set about  describing what we heard on our site.

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from? Having played at least 50 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded very much like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can’t say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing? (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

THE FIRST WHITE HOT STAMPER FOR THIS ALBUM TO EVER HIT THE SITE! We love this music, but let me tell you the truth — this is not a shootout we ever look forward to doing. The sound of the average copy is POSITIVELY PAINFUL. If you play a couple dozen copies, you’ll probably turn up a good one eventually, but you’re better off letting us do that dirty work. 

This original Columbia 360 Sound pressing has EXCELLENT SOUND on side one and SUPERB SOUND on side two. If you know anything about this album and its recording history, you know how BOLD a statement that is. The typical copy of this album is a sonic disaster.

You would have to look far and wide to find a copy that isn’t plagued with transistory, gritty, opaque and/or unmusical sound. Fortunately for you, dear Better Records customer, you don’t have to look any further than your email in-box to find an amazing sounding BOTW, because we found it for you. And here it is!

Side two has MASTER TAPE SOUND. It’s more open and more transparent than any other copy we played, and the clarity is mind-boggling. The bottom end is PERFECTION, the voices are silky and delicate, and the acoustic guitars are Right On The Money. When you drop the needle on The Only Living Boy In New York, you’re not going to believe the tubey magical analog that’s going to pour out of your speakers. It’s rich, warm, and sweet, yet incredibly clean and clear. That’s what a White Hot Stamper is all about.

Side one is excellent as well, if not quite in a league with the all-time best side two. It’s open, transparent, and natural with real depth to the soundfield. The vocals are breathy and sweet, just what you want from an S + G record. Cecilia sounds incredible here, with lots of punch and great energy.

The Latest Findings

One of the most interesting findings in this shootout was that no Red Label copy scored as high as the best 360 Label copies. The later labels can be very clean and clear, but ultimately they lack the midrange magic, warmth and sweetness of the best early pressings. Since this recording has a problem in all those areas to start with, most red label copies are completely devoid of the Simon & Garfunkel magic, the kind of magic that is so wonderfully evident on their two previous outings: Parsley, Sage… and Bookends. (more…)

Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends – Here’s an Audio Exercise You Can Do at Home

Musically side two is one of the strongest in the entire Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre (if you’ll pardon my French). Each of the five songs could hold its own as a potential hit on the radio, and no filler to be found whatsoever. How many albums from 1968 can make that claim?

The estimable ROY HALEE handled the engineering duties. Not the most ‘natural” sounding record he ever made, but that’s clearly not what he or the duo were going for. The three of them would obviously take their sound much farther in that direction with the Grammy winning Bridge Over Troubled Water from 1970.

The bigger production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.

The Wrecking Crew provided top quality backup, with Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano and keyboards.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Bookends Theme
Save the Life of My Child
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