Top Artists – Sergio Mendes

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Equinox

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this wonderful copy of Equinox, along with vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find it
  • The breathy intimacy of the two wonderful female leads – Lani Hall and Janis Hansen – were brilliantly captured by the engineering team of Bruce Botnick and Larry Levine at A&M
  • It’s humble records like this one that blew my mind when I first discovered them back in the ’80s, with their dynamic, energetic, spacious sound, as well as shockingly good music that at the time I had no idea existed
  • “Watch What Happens,” “Night and Day,” “Wave” – Mendes brings his innovative Bossa Nova arranging skills to these timeless classics
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Equinox continues the scrumptiously winning sound that Sergio Mendes cooked up in the mid-’60s… Again, the mix of American pop tunes old and new and Brazilian standards and sleepers is impeccable, and the treatments are smooth, swinging, and very much to the point.”
  • 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.
  • Equinox is a good example of a record most audiophiles don’t know well but should.

These Sergio Mendes records can be surprisingly dynamic, but only the better copies (such as this one) will allow those dynamics to explode naturally, with the kind of ease that only analog is capable of reproducing correctly in our experience.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, we’re the world’s biggest fans of Sergio Mendes here at Better Records. Brasil ’66, Stillness, and this album are ALL Desert Island Discs for us, and we even enjoy the hell out of some of the later albums. You can search all you want, but outside of The Beatles you are going to have a very tough time finding the diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the breathy, multi-part female vocals, their unusually voiced multi-tracked harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us not forget, Mendes’ superb keyboard work anchoring as well as jazzing up the whole production.

His stuff never sounds dated to us, and we’ve never heard another artist do anything in the ’60s samba idiom nearly as well. We love Astrud Gilberto’s albums from the period, which no doubt served as a template for the style Sergio wanted to create with his new ensemble, but Brazil 66 is clearly a step up in every way: songwriting, arranging, production, and quality of musicianship.

Just play the group’s amazing versions of “Watch What Happens,” “Night and Day,” or “Jobim’s Wave” to hear the kind of Mendes Magic that makes us swoon. For we audiophiles, it just doesn’t get any better. (Well, almost. Stillness is still the Ultimate, on the level of a Dark Side of the Moon or Tea for the Tillerman, but Equinox is right up there with it.)

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Sergio Mendes And Brazil ’66 / Stillness – (Reversed Phase Copy)

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Stillness Is a Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

This was a SEALED copy of Stillness, one of my favorite records of all time. Side two of this album is possibly THE MOST MAGICAL side of an album I’ve ever played. I don’t know of any other record like it. It seems to be in a class of its own. It’s my current favorite test disc as well [or was at the time anyway]. All tweaks and equipment changes and room treatments must pass the Stillness test. To fail to make this record sound better is to fail completely. The production is so dense, and so difficult to reproduce properly, that only recently have I begun to hear just how good this record can sound. 

There is still plenty to discover locked in these grooves, and I enthusiastically accept the challenge to find all the sounds that Sergio created in the studio, encoded in this vintage vinyl record all those years ago.

The sound is AMAZING. But only on one condition. You must REVERSE YOUR ABSOLUTE PHASE! I discovered today (1/25/05) this fact and I owe Robert Pincus a debt of gratitude for suggesting it. These stampers have always sounded bright, upper midrangy and aggressive, with congested loud passages and thin bass. I just assumed that it was because of bad mastering. Bad mastering is the rule, not the exception, around here. I play badly mastered records all day long, searching for the exceptional pressings that for reasons unexplained succeeded in capturing the magic of the music in their grooves.

Reversing the absolute phase on this record today was a REVELATION. There before me was all the ambience, openness, sweetness, silkiness and warmth I had come to expect from the Hot Stampers. For the first time, these stampers showed their true colors.

But you need a special key to unlock the magic. You must either switch the positive and negative at the speaker, the amp, or at the head shell leads (which is what I do), or you must have a switch that inverts phase on your preamp. If you can’t do any of those, or are unwilling to do any of those, this is not the record for you.


FURTHER READING

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More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Making Audio Progress 

Cannonball Adderley – A Forgotten Jazz Classic

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Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

  • An exceptionally rare and amazing sounding early stereo pressing (that’s the mono you see pictured btw) – it boasts Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last 
  • These originals are by far the best way to go, in stereo of course, putting Cannonball’s breathy, melodic sax right between your speakers, with the rest of the band – including Sergio Mendes on keys – spread out around him
  • Truly an undiscovered gem in the Adderley catalog – the audiophiles here at Better Records were digging both the music and especially the superb sound
  • Another top quality recording from the superbly talented Ray Fowler, the house engineer for Riverside and the man behind many of the best Thelonious Monk and Cannonball Adderley recordings done for that great jazz label
  • A Jazz Classic from 1963 that should appeal to any fan of Bossa Nova music
  • The complete list of titles from 1963 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

I think I first heard this album on the original pressing about ten years ago. Of course I liked it immediately; samba jazz and pop are two of my favorite styles of music, from Getz Au Go Go to Astrud Gilbert, on to Antonio Carlos Jobim and ending with the bottled-sunshine Pure Pop of Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66.

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1962 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Ye-Me-Le

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More of our favorite Sixties Pop albums

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this fun Brasil ’66 album on the early label – some remarkably quiet vinyl too for A&M in the sixties
  • “Norwegian Wood,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Easy to Be Hard” are among the great songs that have the potential to sound amazing
  • We’re huge Sergio Mendes fans here and it’s a thrill to hear copies like this bring his music to life

The first three tracks on side 1 are the best reason to own this album, especially the first two (“Wichita Lineman” and “Norwegian Wood”), which are as good as anything the group ever did. As I’m a big fan, that’s high praise!

The average LP of this album is terrible. Shrill, aggressive sound is the norm, but compression and overly smooth (read: thick and dull) sound are also problems commonly found on Ye-Me-Le. There’s also a noticeable “strained” quality to the loud vocal passages on almost every copy; only the best are free of it.

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Sergio Mendes And Brazil ’66 – Crystal Illusions

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More of our favorite Sixties Pop albums


  • Outstanding sound throughout, with both sides earning Double Plus (A++) grades – some remarkably quiet vinyl too for A&M in 1969
  • The sound on both sides here is jumping out, with Tubey Magic, space, extension top to bottom, and more detail than many of the other copies we played – huge soundstage as well
  • Yes, it’s a recording that has some problems, but the better copies are able to overcome most of them, and that’s precisely what we are offering here – a copy that gets the sound of this music right
  • 4 stars: “Dave Grusin is right there with a lush, haunting orchestral chart when needed; Lani Hall is thrust further into the vocal spotlight, as cool and alluring as ever.. Weird and overblown, but wonderful.”

If you are not familiar with Sergio and his magical band, this might not be the place to start. Try the first two albums or Stillness if you want to hear the best material recorded with the highest quality. This is a second tier album in the Sergio canon, and priced accordingly. There are of course some truly great songs on this one, just as there are on every Brasil ’66 album. I would draw your attention especially to the Otis Redding classic Dock of the Bay. Fans will no doubt find much to like here; others maybe not so much. If you get a thrill out of FINALLY hearing a famous album sound the way you always wished it could, this copy is for you!

What you’re looking for on Crystal Illusions is a copy that’s not thin, dry, harsh and edgy! If you own this album you know exactly what I am talking about. Most copies sound like CDs in that respect. And most Brazil ’66 CDs sound just as bad as you might think they would. Believe me, I know, I’ve bought practically all of them. Thank god for the treble control on my car stereo. (more…)

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill

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More Bossa Nova

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Fool on the Hill you’ve heard
  • Sergio’s unique rearrangement of two songs in particular here make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and title trackl
  • Top engineers for A&M, Henry Lewy and Larry Levine, capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of these wonderful female leads – Lani Hall, Karen Philipp and Gracinha Leporace
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Even though he had become thoroughly embedded in the consciousness of mainstream America, Mendes still managed to have it three ways, exposing first-class tunes from little-known Brazilian talent, garnering commercial hits, and also making some fine records.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and the band, this early pressing from 1968 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Two songs in particular make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and The Fool On The Hill. Both of them are given wonderfully original treatments. These songs hold their own against the originals, and that’s saying something.

Sergio took on many of the heavyweights of his day, and most of the time he succeeded in producing a uniquely satisfying version of well-known material. Superb original tracks by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell and others were given the Sergio Mendes latin pop treatment and came out much the better for it.

This vintage A&M pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

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Diminishing Returns in Audio? Sez Who?

The idea that we have reached the point of diminishing returns in audio is nothing but an old and pernicious Myth

Many, if not most, audiophiles are barely getting started. They just don’t know it. If they work really hard on their systems for the next five or ten years, they will eventually, slowly, with the passage of time come to realize how little they knew back in 2021.

If they don’t work hard — and let’s be honest, most won’t — they will never see but a tiny fraction of the progress that is possible. Those of us who have done the work know just how much is possible, and no one who has not done the work could possibly begin to understand what we are on about.

You rarely learn much from experiments you haven’t run. Of course, by not doing anything you get to keep all your evidence-free opinions and half-baked theories, so why rock your own boat and make any effort to prove yourself wrong? We talk about the subject of audiophile ignorance here. And we talk about how often we have been wrong here.


[This commentary was written in 2005 or thereabouts. It’s still true though!]

I often read this comment in audio magazines regarding the piece of equipment under review, as if to say that we are so close to audio perfection that a gain of a few percent is the most we can hope for from this or that new megabuck amp or speaker. In my experience the exact opposite is true. 

There are HUGE improvements to be made on a regular basis, even without spending all that much money (keeping in mind that this is not exactly a poor man’s hobby).

If you are actively involved in seeking out better equipment, trying new things, and tweaking the hell out of your system as much as time and patience permit, I think an improvement of 10-25% per year in perceived sound quality is not an unreasonable expectation. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Look Around

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More Bossa Nova

  • This superb pressing boasts Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • We go CRAZY for the breathy multi-tracked female vocals and the layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, as well as the piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself
  • “The Look of Love” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” are the epitome of the group’s ability to create Bossa Nova Magic
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Sergio Mendes took a deep breath, expanded his sound to include strings lavishly arranged by the young Dave Grusin and Dick Hazard, went further into Brazil, and out came a gorgeous record of Brasil ’66 at the peak of its form.”

As you may have noticed, we here at Better Records are HUGE Sergio Mendes fans. Nowhere else in the world of music can you find the wonderfully diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the girls’ breathy multi-tracked vocals and the layers and layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the crucially important, always tasteful keyboards and arrangements of Sergio himself.

Most copies of Look Around are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled, smeary and full of compressor distortion in the loud parts. Clearly, this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure. Our Hot Stamper pressings are the ones that are as far from that kind of sound as we can find them. We’re looking for the records that have none of those bad qualities. I’m happy to report that we have managed to find some awfully good sounding copies for our Hot Stamper customers. (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Another Spitty and Thin MoFi

Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found wanting.

So spitty and thin! Why, in God’s name, why?

When you have a recording that is already plenty bright, adding top end and taking out more lower midrange is the last thing in the world you should be doing. Since that is standard operating procedure for MoFi and other Half-Speed mastering outfits around this time, that’s exactly the approach they ended up taking.

Those of you who have had the opportunity to play the Mobile Fidelity pressing of this record should know what a disaster it is.

Is brighter better? Apparently Mobile Fidelity thinks so. And they did the same thing to Gordon Lightfoot’s album. His voice sounds so phony on the MoFi that you’d swear it’s a bad CD.

But it’s not a bad CD. It’s an expensive audiophile record!

If you’ve spent any time on this site, you should know by now that many audiophile records sound WORSE than the typical CD. The typical CD does not have an equalization curve resembling a smile. The classic smile curve starts up high on the left, gets low in the middle, and rises again at the end, resulting in boosted bass, boosted top end, and a sucked out midrange — the Mobile Fidelity formula in a nutshell. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Room Treatments Bring Out The Big Speaker Whomp Factor

More of the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Reviews and Commentaries for Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66’s Debut

Only the best copies are sufficiently transparent to grant the listener the privilege of hearing all the elements laid out clearly, each occupying a real three-dimensional space within the soundfield. 

With recent changes to some of our room treatments, we now have even more transparency in the mids and highs, while improving the whomp factor (the formula goes like this: deep bass + mid bass + speed + dynamics + energy = whomp) at the listening position.

There’s always tons of bass being produced when you have three 12′ woofers firing away, but getting the bass out of the corners and into the center of the room is one of the toughest tricks in audio.

For a while we were quite enamored with some later pressings of this album — they were cut super clean, with extended highs and amazing transparency, with virtually none of the congestion in the loud parts you hear on practically every copy.

But that clarity comes at a price, and it’s a steep one. The best early pressings have whomp down below only hinted at by the “cleaner” reissues. It’s the same way super transparent half-speeds fool most audiophiles. For some reason audiophiles rarely seem to notice the lack of weight and solidity down below that they’ve sacrificed for this improved clarity. (Probably because it’s the rare audiophile speaker that can really move enough air to produce the whomp we are talking about here.)

But hey, look who’s talking! I was fooled too. You have to get huge amounts of garbage out of your system (and your room) before the trade-offs become obvious. When you find that special early pressing, one with all the magic in the midrange and top without any loss of power down below, then my friend you have one of those “I Can’t Believe It’s A Record” records. We call them Hot Stampers here at Better Records, and they’re guaranteed to blow your mind. (more…)