Top Engineers – Frank Laico

Tony Bennett – For Once In My Life

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For Once In My Life

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  • This vintage pressing gives Tony the sound he deserves, with excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both of these early stereo sides
  • Amazing vocal reproduction courtesy of the brilliant engineering of Frank Laico at his favorite studio (and ours), Columbia 30th Street studios
  • We are not big soundstage guys here at Better Records, but we can’t deny the appeal of the space to be found on a record as good as this

Everything that’s good about Vocal Recordings from the ’50s and ’60s is precisely what’s good about the sound of this record.

The huge studio the music was recorded in is captured faithfully here. The height, width and depth of the staging here are extraordinary. We are not big soundstage guys here at Better Records, but we can’t deny the appeal of the space to be found on a record as good as this.

Transparency and Tubey Magic are key to the sound of the orchestra and you will find both in abundance on these two sides.

Albums such as this live and die by the quality of their vocal reproduction. On this record Mr. Tony Bennett himself will appear to be standing right in your listening room! The space of your stereo room will seem to expand in all directions in order to accommodate them, an illusion of course, but nevertheless a remarkably convincing one.

On this record, like so many others you may have read about on the site, the right amount of Tubey Magic — and by that we mean a very healthy amount — makes all the difference.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal 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 Tony Bennett singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 51 years old), 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 less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

What outstanding sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1967
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Copies with rich lower mids did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural ambience and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to pressings from every era and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

They Can’t Take That Away From Me
Something In Your Smile
Days Of Love
Broadway Medley:
– Broadway
– Crazy Rhythm
– Lullaby Of Broadway
For Once In My Life

Side Two

Sometimes I’m Happy
Out Of This World
Baby Dream Your Dream
How Do You Say Auf Wiedersehen
Keep Smiling At Trouble (Trouble’s A Bubble)

AMG Review

Those of you who think of “For Once In My Life” as a Stevie Wonder song, reconsider. True, Wonder took it to #2 in 1968, but Tony Bennett’s ballad version was a pop chart entry (his last) and an Easy Listening Top 10 more than a year earlier. On the accompanying album Bennett made his by-now usual selections of standards (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me”), Broadway and Hollywood material, and choices from the catalogs of songwriter favorites such as Leslie Bricusse and Cy Coleman.

Learning the Record

For our shootout for For Once In My Life we had at our disposal a variety of pressings we thought should have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for sides two, three and four.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that the other pressings do not do as well, using a few carefully chosen passages of music, it quickly becomes obvious how well a given copy can reproduce those passages. You’ll hear what’s better and worse — right and wrong would be another way of putting it — about the sound.

This approach is simplicity itself. First you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we never pretended it was. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained step by step precisely how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection.

Do It Again

As your stereo and room improve, as you take advantage of new cleaning technologies, as you find new and interesting pressings to evaluate, you may even be inclined to do the shootout all over again, to find the hidden gem, the killer copy that blows away what you thought was the best.

You can’t find it by looking at it. You have to clean it and play it, and always against other pressings of the same album. There is no other way to go about it if you want to be successful in your hunt for the Ultimate Pressing.

For the more popular records on the site such as the Beatles titles we have easily done more than twenty, maybe even as many as thirty to forty shootouts.

And very likely learned something new from every one.

Miles Davis – Filles de Kilimanjaro

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Filles de Kilimanjaro

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  • A KILLER sounding stereo pressing with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish, just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This Columbia 360 Label LP boasts rich, full-bodied, clear sound with the space and three-dimensionality that was difficult to find on the later pressings we played
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… this middle ground between the adventurous bop of the mid-’60s and the fusion of the late ’60s is rewarding in its own right, since it’s possible to hear great musicians find the foundation of a new form. For that alone, Filles de Kilimanjaro is necessary listening.” 

These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.

This is one of the all-time classic progressive jazz albums, and a copy like this allows you to appreciate the contributions of Miles and his top-notch band (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and the great Ron Carter on most of the songs). This one’s not as “out there” as Bitches Brew, but it gives you a taste of the various directions these guys would take in the years to come. (more…)

Alberta Hunter – Amtrak Blues – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

Alberta Hunter – Amtrak Blues

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

Absolutely amazing sound – Alberta is uncannily present and real on this copy. This is High Fidelity Top Quality Uncolored Studio Sound like few records you’ve heard. 

And the crazy thing about Amtrak Blues is that it was recorded in 1980 (when Alberta was 83), not a decade we expect good sound to come from. But this is no ordinary recording. Behind the album is none other than legendary Columbia engineer FRANK LAICO (more…)

Miles Davis – Miles In The Sky

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Miles In The Sky

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

WONDERFUL SOUND on both sides of this Columbia 360 Label pressing! We just finished a big shootout for this wonderful Miles Davis album and this copy was dramatically better sounding than most. Both sides have excellent bass, correct sounding brass, wonderful transparency and loads of tubey magic. The music is wonderful, Miles with his classic ’60s quintet (Hancock, Shorter, Carter, Williams) with the addition of George Benson on one song.

Miles is backed by his classic ’60s crew — Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter & Tony Williams. (more…)

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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Bitches Brew

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

STUNNING MASTER TAPE A+++ SOUND ON SIDES ONE AND FOUR. We had no idea this music could sound anywhere near this good; every Hot Stamper shootout we had tried before this week was a complete bust. It’s not an easy album to find in clean condition, let alone a copy that sounds like this and plays quietly throughout! If jazz-fusion is your bag, sides one and four of this copy will take you on a trip like few other records could. You can hear right in to the soundfield, and you can be sure that there’s a whole lot going on in there.

Our favorite track on this album, Miles Runs The Voodoo Down, is found on the A+++ side four, which means the sound for it is OFF THE CHARTS.

The incredible musicianship and Teo Macero’s innovative production each help take these jazz-fusion soundscapes to places most folks had never imagined before. And a copy like this one takes the entire production to a whole new level. I can’t begin to tell you how many crappy copies have hit our table over the years, but after finding this one I’m really glad we never gave up on this album. It’s the copy that finally made the music work for us. (more…)

Tony Bennett – I’ve Gotta Be Me

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I’ve Gotta Be Me

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  • KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish for this original 360 label Columbia pressing
  • Both sides here wonderfully rich, full-bodied, and as Tubey Magical as you would expect from Columbia in 1969 
  • Brilliant engineering by Frank Laico, the man who recorded I Left My Heart In San Francisco and Sketches of Spain, among others
  • Tony Bennett was in fine form and still able to sing the hell out of these songs in 1969 – when you hear the quality of his voice on this very album you will perhaps appreciate the toll this century has taken on him
  • Vintage record guys with top quality turntables – like us – get to hear Tony the way he should be heard, with his voice at the peak of its powers.

(more…)

Dave Brubeck – Time Out on Classic Records

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More Time Out

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Sonic Grade: D

When we did a shootout for this record way back in October of 2007 we took the opportunity to play the Classic Records 200 gram pressing. Maybe we got a bad one, who knows, but that record did not sound remotely as good as the real thing (6 eye or 360, both can be quite good). The piano sounded thin and hard, which was quite unexpected given the fact that we used to consider the Classic LP one of their few winners and actually recommended it.

As we said in our shootout: “We dropped the needle on the Classic reissue to see how it stacked up against a serious pressing. Suffice it to say, the real Time Out magic isn’t going to be found on any heavy vinyl reissue!”

 

 

Another 30th Street Studio Knockout – This One’s from Tony Bennett

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Columbia 30th Street Studios

Everything that’s good about All Tube Vocal Recordings from the ’50s and ’60s is precisely what’s good about the sound of this record.

The huge studio the music was recorded in is captured faithfully here. The height, width and depth of the staging here are extraordinary. We are not big soundstage guys here at Better Records, but we can’t deny the appeal of the space to be found on a record as good as this.

Transparency and Tubey Magic are key to the sound of the orchestra and you will find both in abundance on these two sides.

Albums such as this live and die by the quality of their vocal reproduction. On this record Mr. Tony Bennett himself will appear to be standing right in your listening room, along with the 38 other musicians from the session (actually they’re probably sitting).

The space of your stereo room will seem to expand in all directions in order to accommodate them, an illusion of course, but nevertheless a remarkably convincing one.

(more…)

Dave Brubeck’s Bossa Nova USA – Who Knew?

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Who knew? Not us and not anybody else it seems. We are not aware that any of the audiophile cognoscenti have ever taken this recording seriously, but that just goes to show how uninformed — or perhaps more likely underinformed — they’ve always been.

Gems such as this sit undiscovered even after thousands of pages of audiophile record reviews have been written. Then, along come a handful of guys in Thousand Oaks, California many years later, 52 to be exact, and reveal to the world a heretofore all but unknown yet nonetheless amazing Brubeck record.

And they back up everything they say with actual records that sound as good as they say they will. (more…)