Top Artists – Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder – Talking Book

More Stevie Wonder

  • This is a Talking Book that sounds the way you always hoped it would, with seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides
  • Richer, warmer, more natural, more relaxed, this is what vintage analog is all about, that smooth sound that never calls attention to itself and lets the music just flow
  • So many great songs: “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “Tuesday Heartbreak,” “You’ve Got It Bad Girl,” “Superstition,” and many, many more
  • 5 stars: “What had been hinted at on the intriguing project Music of My Mind was here focused into a laser beam of tight songwriting, warm electronic arrangements, and ebullient performances — altogether the most realistic vision of musical personality ever put to wax…”
  • One customer who loved his Hot Stamper pressing of the album took our critics to task in a letter he wrote to us not long ago
  • If I could recommend one Stevie Wonder album to every audiophile and music lover, it would be Fulfillingness’ First Finale. No record collection should be without it, and Innervisions as well, the two albums which happen to be his best sounding with his best music. (Talking Book and Songs in the Key of Life, in that order, would be right behind them.)

Those of you familiar with this record will not be surprised to learn that these shootouts are TOUGH. Very few copies are any better than mediocre, and the Motown vinyl holds many of the better sounding pressings back with excessive noise and grain.

This copy is more dynamic, open and transparent than most pressings by far. There’s ton of space around all of the instruments, the bass is big and punchy and the vocals are present, warm and tonally right on the money. (more…)

Stevie Wonder on Heavy Vinyl – Is This a Well-Engineered Album?

More of the Music of Stevie Wonder

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

This commentary was written more than ten years ago. I’ve just gone to this reviewer’s website to make sure the quote below is accurate, and everything you need to see is still up and as misguided as ever.

Some audiophiles never learn, and a great deal of this blog is devoted to helping audiophiles avoid the errors this reviewer and others like him have been making for decades. In the mid-90s I wrote my first commentary about the awful audiophile records this person had raved about in a review printed in one of the audiophile rags. In the years since it seems that nothing has changed. Bad sounding audiophile pressings make up the bulk of this person’s favorable reviews to this day.

How it is possible to spend so much time doing something yet learn so little in the process? It is frankly beyond me.

I put the question to you again:

Is This a Well-Engineered Album?

How on Earth could anyone possibly know such a thing?

Some background. Years ago our first Hot Stamper shootout for Songs in the Key of Life had us enthusiastically singing its praises:

HOT STAMPERS DISCOVERED for one of the funkiest and most consistent double albums of all time! It’s beyond difficult to find great sounding Stevie Wonder vinyl, but here’s a copy that proves it’s possible if you try hard enough. So many copies are terrible in so many different ways — we should know, we played them. And just to be clear, this copy is far from perfect as well, but it did more things right in more places than we ever expected it would or could. And that means it showed us a great sounding Stevie Wonder record we never knew existed.

But a well known reviewer says it’s a bad recording. Does he know something we don’t?

Not exactly. The fact is he doesn’t know something we do, something he, like anybody else, could have found out had he simply done more homework than he was willing to do. (We call them shootouts, but homework is certainly a serviceable and in some ways even more accurate description: it’s work and you do it at home.)

All it takes is one good copy to falsify the assertion this fellow makes. We in fact found more than one. But I’m quite sure we do things very differently at Better Records than they do at any reviewer’s digs, including this reviewer’s basement lair.

As you may know, a few years back he got in a bit of a dust-up over his initially negative review (since revised, a story in itself) of the Speakers Corner pressing of the album. We found it refreshing for this reviewer to be making critical comments about an in-print heavy vinyl reissue, but he eventually warmed somewhat to the sound of the record after hearing from the mastering engineer. We honestly don’t care all that much about any of it, but we couldn’t help but notice this paragraph in his review:

As with many productions of the era, there was a noticeable decrease in sound quality on this album compared to earlier Wonder releases, though no doubt the engineers thought they were making better sound here with “more”: more compression, more use of effects, more tracks and newer, more complex boards, but what was really happening was less transparency, diminished dynamics, narrower and flatter soundstages and especially less extension. This production sounds closed in, distant and listless. Bass lacks real thrust and extension and there’s little shimmer from the cymbals. “Boxy” is the operative adjective.

Really? I wonder how many different pressings this fellow evaluated before reaching his conclusions. He certainly couldn’t have heard one that sounded like the one we played. All four sides were transparent and dynamic, and I’d certainly never characterize any of them as flat, distant, listless or closed in.

And boxy? Not a chance. And we certainly have no trouble recognizing boxy sound when we hear it.

I will concede that many copies of this record would benefit from more extension up top, but that still leaves this person with a batting average low enough to have him surfing the pine on just about any softball team he cared to join.

Our Hot Stamper Copy From Way Back Proves It

Sides one and four both earned very good grades. The sound is richer, sweeter, and fuller than what we heard elsewhere. Many copies we played had a phony hi-fi quality that drove us crazy, but the sound here is exceedingly natural. We also heard a ton of copies that added a nasty bite to Stevie’s vocal; I’m pleased to say that’s not an issue here. Both of these sides are positively brimming with energy, so don’t let anyone tell you that the production is listless. It might sound that way on a typical copy, but not even close on this one.

Sides two and three are darn good as well. Side two could stand to be a bit more open and side three could use a little more top end, but they’re still miles ahead of the sound on most copies out there.

Both sides have excellent presence and lovely texture to the vocals.

The Four Cornerstones of Hot Stampers

This reviewer and anyone else who thinks this is not a well-recorded album is making one or more of the following mistakes:

1.) Not playing enough copies to find a good one.
2.) Not cleaning the copies properly in order to get them to sound their best.
3.) Not playing them back properly.
4.) Not listening to them critically.

To find and appreciate Hot Stampers you have to do all four. We discuss each and every one of them in scores of commentaries and listings on this very site. None of this should come as news to anyone by now.

If you want to make judgments about recordings — not the small number of pressings you might have at your disposal, but the actual recording that they are made from — you have to do your homework, and you have to do it much more thoroughly than most audiophiles (including the one quoted) seem to think is necessary.

Wrong? Welcome to the Club

He keeps coming up with the wrong answer, but so would we if we couldn’t find enough copies, clean them right, play them right, or listen critically to them on an accurate, highly-resolving stereo.

And here’s how we know that the above statement is true. 

We used to not do it this way, and we were pretty much in agreement with this fellow about the sound of the album.

We would have described the sound using terms not that different from the ones he used.

Through most of the 80s and 90s, I too was a one-man band, and I was wrong about a great many recordings, for reasons blindingly obvious to me now.

I simply did not have the resources to clean and play enough copies of a given album to make accurate judgments about their sound. Small sample sizes dramatically increase the probability of a misjudgment being made, especially when you are working with sample sizes of one or two. You need five copies at a minimum, and ten is better.

And that assumes you are playing copies with potential for top quality sound, which on this title would mean no Japanese pressings, no imports from other countries, and no later reissues. None of those would ever have a chance of winning a shootout.

So you would need to plan on having five or ten good vintage pressings to clean and play. (67, however, is way too many. Three days is a long time to play the same album, no matter how good an album it is.)

How It Used to Be

It’s an open question as to whether we could have played Songs in the Key of Life properly ten years ago. I have my doubts. But the good news in audio is that things change. It’s amazing how many records that used to sound bad now sound pretty darn good. The blog is full of commentaries about them. Every one of them is proof that comments about recordings are of limited value.

The recordings don’t change. Our ability to find, clean and play the pressings made from them does, and that’s what the Hot Stamper Revolution is all about.

You have a choice. You can choose to go with this reviewer’s approach, which is in fact the approach that most audiophiles tend to use. Then it’s simply a matter of accepting that many “recordings” don’t live up to your standards. Prepare to allot a fair amount of time to complaining about such an unfortunate state of affairs.

Follow Us

Or you can follow our approach and hear those very same albums sound much better than you ever thought possible. This has the added benefit of freeing up time that would normally be spent bitching about the bad sound of some album, which in turn makes more time available for pleasurable listening to the actual record you got from us.

You also probably won’t feel the need to go on audiophile forums to argue the merits of this or that pressing. You will already own the pressing that settles the argument.

Keep in mind that your pressing only settles the argument for you; nobody else will believe it. And why should they? They have never heard your copy. It would take quite a leap of faith to believe that your copy sounds so much better than the one they own, when the one they own looks just like it. But this is precisely what Hot Stampers are all about. Records may look the same but if your equipment is any good they sure don’t sound the same.

What We Offer

Unfortunately we can’t do it all for you. Most of what is important in audio you have to learn to do for yourself. We can find you the best sounding pressings; that’s the easy part. Figuring out how to play them, and learning how to critically listen to them, well, that’s a fair bit harder. That part takes a lifetime. At least.

This hobby is supposed to be fun; sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. But if you enjoy doing it at least some of the time, and you make a good effort, and devote the proper resources to it, you will no doubt take enormous pleasure from it.

You won’t be bitching about the sound of Songs in the Key of Life like most audiophiles and those who write for them. You will instead be enjoying the sound of Songs in the Key of Life like those of us here at Better Records.

And One More Thing

Speakers Corner says they make all their records from original master tapes. No one should believe them without proof, especially since proof would be so easy to supply. Put a picture of the master tape boxes on your website for all to see. When they show you those pictures, then you can believe it. Until then I would be highly skeptical. Labels lie about these things all the time, and I see no reason to believe Speakers Corner is any more careful with the truth than the other companies producing reissues.


Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life

More Stevie Wonder

  • You’ll find seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound on all FOUR sides of this copy of Stevie Wonder’s epic double album – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Tubey Magical Richness, with the immediacy and transparency too few copies offer – here you will find the qualities that are essential to getting the best sound from Stevie’s Magnum Opus
  • A true musical genius (according to Eddie Murphy) here joins forces with other legends including Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and Deniece Williams
  • 5 stars: “…Stevie Wonder’s longest, most ambitious collection of songs… that — just as the title promised — touched on nearly every issue under the sun, and did it all with ambitious (even for him), wide-ranging arrangements and some of the best performances of Wonder’s career.”
  • Songs In the Key of Life is a Grammy Winning Must Own Album from 1976,

Double albums are usually very tedious work for us, but this one had us smiling and tapping our feet all the way through to the end of the last side. I’m sure you don’t need a rundown of why this is such a great album, but the 5 star AMG review is an excellent read for those who want to be reminded. (more…)

Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale

More Stevie Wonder

More Soul, Blues and R&B


  • An early Tamla pressing of Stevie Wonder’s 1974 Soul Masterpiece with superb Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides
  • Finding the right balance between Tubey Magical Richness and Transparency is the trick, and we think this copy strikes that balance as well as any pressing we’ve heard
  • “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and “You Haven’t Done Nothing” were the big hits but the other tracks on the album are where the REAL Stevie Wonder MAGIC can be found
  • 4 1/2 stars [but we give it 5]: “The songs and arrangements are the warmest since Talking Book, and Stevie positively caresses his vocals on this set, encompassing the vagaries of love, from dreaming of it (‘Creepin”) to being bashful of it (‘Too Shy to Say’) to knowing when it’s over (‘It Ain’t No Use’).”
  • 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. Fulfillingness’ First Finale is a good example of a record most audiophiles don’t know well but should.
  • If you’re a Stevie Wonder fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1974 is clearly one of his best, his two best in our opinion, just a tad behind his masterpiece, Inner Visions

We’re big fans of Stevie here at Better Records, but it’s always a challenge to find good sound for his albums. Tons of great songs here, including the ones everybody knows, Boogie On Reggae Woman and You Haven’t Done Nothing. Both sound WONDERFUL on this pressing.


For the first time in my life, over the course of the last five years or so I’ve really gotten to know the album well, having found a CD at a local store to play in the car (and now I also have a cassette to play in my Walkman while working out).

I’ve listened to Fulfillingness’ First Finale scores of times. I now see that it is some of the best work Stevie Wonder ever did, right up there with Innervisions and ahead of any other Stevie Wonder album, including Talking Book and Songs in the Key of Life.

The best songs on the album to my mind are the quieter, more heartfelt and emotional ones, not the rockers or funky workouts. My personal favorites on side one are: Smile Please. Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, Too Shy to Say and Creepin’, which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are all the songs that weren’t hits.

On side two the two slowest songs are the ones I now like best: It Ain’t No Use & They Won’t Go When I Go (famously and brilliantly covered by George Michael on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 in 1990). (more…)

Letter of the Week – “I am still amazed by the negativity I read sometimes about your records and prices…”

More of the Music of Stevie Wonder

More on the Subject of Hot Stamper Pricing

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

Hey Tom,   

I also offer my humble apologies for ordering one LP at a time, it started with that (insanely good by the way) 4-star pressing of my wife’s favorite Stevie Wonder record, then, I have been waiting for a solid B-52 pressing for years now, so I had to grab it and just today, I noticed the Bee Gees… just glad nobody snatched it before me, seriously, this is the HARDEST Bee Gees record to get in any condition at all !!

I am still amazed by the negativity I read sometimes about your records and prices… we talked about it before but, for god’s sake, nobody is forced to buy anything. Plus, you have very fair prices for hot stampers that are great pressings of the best records, if the luxury items are not your cup of tea.

Still keeping my eyes open for a 4-star (or maybe 5 stars 😉 Hunky Dory one day. Would not mind a similar grade for a copy of Southern Accent too !!


My reply to David, in part:

The general ignorance and lack of curiosity of the audiophile community is really something, but who am I to complain? I held many of the same mistaken ideas about Heavy Vinyl up until about 2000, so let’s be fair and give the audiophile community another twenty years and hope they catch on the way we did here at Better Records.

But of course they won’t. We had to work very hard for more than twenty years to get to where we are now and most audiophiles don’t seem very interested in doing that. It takes time, effort and discipline to create, tweak and tune a system to be revealing and accurate. When it gets to be resolving and accurate enough, such a system can reveal to anyone how lacking the modern remastered LPs audiophiles love to collect really are.

Why would audiophiles want to put in all the work it takes to create such a system?

It would mean they would have to stop collecting all the new, fancily-packaged records being released these days.

Instead, they would have to start digging through the used record bins where actual good sounding records can be found and spend their nights and weekends cleaning them and critically listening to them to separate the winners from the losers.

Seems like a rough row to hoe.

We know exactly how rough it is, we hoed it.


Stevie Wonder’s Second Masterpiece

More of the Music of Stevie Wonder

Hot Stamper Pressings of Soul Masterpieces Available Now

Over the course of the last year or two, for the first time in my life I’ve really gotten to know the album well, having found a CD at a local store to play in the car. I’ve listened to Fulfillingness’ First Finale scores of times and now see that is some of the best work Stevie Wonder ever did, right up there with Innervisions and miles ahead of any other Stevie Wonder album.

To my mind the best songs on the album are the quieter, more heartfelt and emotional ones, not the rockers or funky workouts. My personal favorites on side one are: Smile Please. Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, Too Shy to Say and Creepin’, which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are all the songs that weren’t hits.

On side two the two slowest songs are the ones I now like best: It Ain’t No Use & They Won’t Go When I Go (famously and brilliantly covered by George Michael on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 in 1990).

If you take one of our Hot Stampers home see if you don’t find something very special about the tracks I have noted above.


Our original pressings have the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl.

Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but new records do not, ever.

What is lost in these newly remastered recordings?

Lots of things, but the most obvious and bothersome is transparency.

And that also turns out to be the main issue with Fulfillingness. Many copies are thick and opaque.

Finding the right balance between Tubey Magical Richness and Transparency is the trick, and we think our best copies strike that balance as well as it can be struck.


Stevie Wonder – Music of My Mind

More Stevie Wonder

  • A STUNNING copy of this Stevie Wonder classic, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Anyone who has followed the site for a while surely knows how difficult it is to find the pre-Innervisions Stevie Wonder titles with top quality sound and clean surfaces
  • This pressing gives you everything you ever hoped for from this music and then some — it’s full-bodied and spacious with plenty of the all-important Tubey Magic that only the right pressings have to offer
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Music of My Mind was also the first to bear the fruits of his increased focus on Moog and Arp synthesizers, though the songs never sound synthetic, due in great part to Stevie’s reliance on a parade of real instruments — organic drumwork, harmonica, organs and pianos — as well as his mastery of traditional song structure and his immense musical personality… his first truly unified record…”


Stevie Wonder – Innervisions

More Stevie Wonder

Hot Stamper Pressings of Innervisions Available Now

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this is an all around killer pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the funkiest audiophile-quality discs money can buy, but you need a copy that sounds as good as this one to make that case
  • The key qualities are richness, warmth, Tubey Magic, and clarity, and here you will find a healthy dose of all four
  • “Stevie Wonder applied his tremendous songwriting talents to the unsettled social morass that was the early ’70s and produced one of his greatest, most important works, a rich panoply of songs addressing drugs, spirituality, political ethics, and what looked to be the failure of the ’60s dream — all set within a collection of charts as funky and catchy as any he’d written before.”

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Stevie Wonder singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)

Stevie Wonder – The Woman In Red

More Stevie Wonder

  • The Woman In Red finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Surprisingly good sound, perhaps the best sound Stevie Wonder got after about 1976 – we were shocked as you no doubt are
  • A superb collection, including I Just Called To Say I Love You and Love Light in Flight
  • “An ingenious jump from his trademark, spectacular, blend of Funk, R&B and Soul, contaminated with Pop, Disco, Gospel and Reggae, to a brand new Synth-pop/Pop-soul sound that characterizes his ’80s works.”


Letter of the Week – “Your Indianapolis pressing of Music Of My Mind had more extension than my prized Hollywood pressing.”

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

Hey Tom,   

Just wanted to tell you that your Indianapolis pressing of Music Of My Mind had more extension than my prized Hollywood pressing.

Also Highway 61 was exactly what I hoped for.