Top Engineers – Henry Lewy

Joni Mitchell – Wild Things Run Fast

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this copy has Joni rockin’ like you will not believe
  • Her last great record – fortunately for us audiophiles it’s spacious, open and powerful with present vocals and solid bass
  • Relatively quiet, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus throughout – they don’t come any quieter in our experience
  • “On her first new studio album of original material in five years, Joni Mitchell achieved more of a balance between her pop abilities and her jazz aspirations, meanwhile rediscovering a more direct, emotional lyric approach. The result was her best album since the mid-’70s.”

One of our favorite Joni Mitchell albums and one of the few good reasons to listen to new music in the ’80s. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Court And Spark – Rating the DCC LP

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Sonic Grade: B

The DCC — Not Bad! 

Steve’s version is very musical; it’s rich and natural sounding, which of course makes it very enjoyable. You can do a lot better but you sure can do a lot worse. Opaque, veiled, lifeless, dull sound is the norm for Court and Spark — most copies are dead as a doornail. If they’re not dead, they’re likely to be thin and gritty. The DCC is a big improvement over the average domestic pressing. (The original Brit imports are fairly competitive with the DCC; the later Brits with the K catalog numbers suck as a rule.)

The Nautilus Half-Speed is pretty but lifeless, like so many of their pressings. I would grade it about a C. Don’t waste your money.

But Nothing Beats a Hot Stamper, Right?

Right.

As we are so fond of pointing out, the real thing just can’t be beat. Now is this a case where a little bump around three thousand cycles is fooling us into believing we are hearing more breath in Joni’s voice, more space around her piano? Is it adding more definition to all the instruments in the wonderfully complex orchestral passage at the heart of Down to You? Is that what it is, a click or two on the old Equalizer?

We’ll let you be the judge. We obviously don’t think so. Our Hot Stamper copies do everything better. The bass is better: tighter, punchier, with more note-like definition. The top end is better: more extended and airier. There’s more weight to the lower mids and upper bass without sounding overly rich or bloated. It can’t all be caused by a 3k bump then, right?

Right.

Now that we’ve addressed that logical fallacy, let’s talk about some of the real issues at play with Court and Spark.

Vinyl Issues

It is the rare copy that plays Mint Minus on either side. Most are Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus, and almost every copy has some noise at the beginning of side one, which as you recall opens with a solo piano.

This Copy Rocks

This copy has it all: the kind of transparency that allows you to see into the soundfield like never before; presence and immediacy in Joni’s breathy, emotional vocals; air and ambience around all the instruments; and tubey magical guitars. (Listen especially to the electric guitar on Down To You. That’s the sound we love here at Better Records! Even if your system is all transistor, that guitar will sound like you own the best tube equipment in the world.)

But not tubey mush — the trumper on Trouble Child has a nice clear tone to it, with its leading edge transients rendered correctly; not the smeary sound of an old Mac, but the clarity of transistors. On the same record!

We Know That Sound — It’s The Master Tape!

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 recording had to offer.

Bottom Line?

It’s awesome. One of the handful of records by Joni that belong in any serious record collection, and an absolute must own for audiophiles.

Court and Spark – Joni’s Best Sounding Record

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides!
  • The sound is rich, warm and natural with wonderful transparency, ambience and loads of Tubey Magic
  • One of our very favorite Joni albums here at Better Records, and probably her Best Sounding Album
  • “[A] remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz … the music is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last.” – AMG 5 Stars

Stunning sound for this White Hot Stamper! Court and Spark deserves to be heard with all the clarity, beauty and power that only the best Hot Stamper pressings can convey.

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.

Tubey Magic Is the Key to Court and Spark (more…)

Joni Mitchell’s Blue – A Landmark Singer-Songwriter Album from 1971

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  • Stunning sound throughout for arguably Joni’s greatest album with both sides earning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Stunning immediacy and presence coupled with superb richness and warmth – this is the right sound 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…” 

You’ve probably heard us say this before, but top quality copies of Blue are few and far between. It’s not just the toughest nut to crack in Joni’s catalog, it’s one of the most difficult albums in ALL OF POP MUSIC to get to sound right. (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill

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  • Sergio’s unique rearrangement of two songs in particular here make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and The Fool On The Hill
  • We rarely have had good copies on the site up in recent years – these are tough to come by in clean condition with this kind of sound
  • 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.

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.

What do the best Hot Stamper pressings give you? (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Look Around – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

We were fairly impressed with the Speakers Corner pressing of this album when it came out on Heavy Vinyl years ago. Since then we have learned a lot. Their version is okay, not bad, but by no stretch of the imagination can it compete with any Hot Stamper pressing on our site. 

Audiophile Sound to Die For

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 breathy multi-tracked female vocals and their layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the critically important piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Harvest

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Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Harvest.

Many copies we played would work for the heavy songs and then fall short on the softer numbers. Others had gorgeous sound on the country-tinged numbers but couldn’t deliever any whomp for the rockers. Only a select group of copies could hold their own in all of the styles and engage us from start to finish; we’re pleased to present those exceptional pressings as the Hot Stamper copies of Harvest that so many of you have been begging for.

Harvest is undeniably one of the most beloved albums in all of classic rock. We get letters all the time from customers hoping to get their hands on Hot Stamper copies, but we’ll never have the supply to keep up with the demand. It’s a tough nut to crack, because a Hot Stamper Harvest has to get so many things right — the lovely pedal steel guitar on Out On The Weekend, the LSO on A Man Needs A Maid and There’s A World (engineered by Glyn Johns), Neil’s grungy electric guitar on Alabama, and so much more.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Out on the Weekend

We love the sound of the drums on Neil Young records — think of the punchy kick drum on After The Gold Rush and the punchy thwack of the snare on Zuma. On the best copies, this song should have the kind of BIG, BOLD Neil Young drum sound we’ve fallen in love with. The pedal steel guitar sounds out of this world on our Hot Stampers. (more…)

Turntable Set Up Advice – Using Court and Spark

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Court and Spark.

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 they sound 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 used to. (more…)

Leonard Cohen – Recent Songs


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018

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  • Another BR rarity — Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Here you will find a big, spacious soundstage and rich, natural vocals virtually no other copy in our shootout could compete with
  • Fairly quiet vinyl on both sides — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “The first thing Leonard Cohen’s music fans noticed about his sixth new studio album, given the typically open-ended title Recent Songs, was that, musically, it marked a return to the gypsy folk sound of his early records…” – All Music

See all of our Leonard Cohen albums in stock

This 1979 album marks Cohen’s return to the simple folk arrangements of his early albums. The songs are as stunning as ever, but only the best pressings really do them justice. As you might expect, the key elements here are going to be vocals, acoustic guitars and Cohen’s trademark female backup vocalists (Jennifer Warnes among them). This one really gets them all right, with the kind of big, spacious soundstage and full, rich tonality most of the copies in our shootout could not compete with. (more…)