Top Engineers – Lee Herschberg

Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

This Reprise original tri-color label stereo LP has EXCELLENT SOUND on both sides. This, in my opinion, is the best sounding Sinatra record on Reprise. It’s so rich, sweet, and tubey magical you would think it was prime Capitol period Sinatra but it’s not — it just sounds that way. 

The sound is amazingly rich, warm, and sweet — that’s old tube mastering for you. Of course, that also means that it’s a bit smeary and the bass is pretty tubby. Still, what you’re involved with a record like this for is Sinatra’s voice and Jobim’s guitar and both sound WONDERFUL. Side one is a bit more open and transparent than side two, so it earned an extra half-plus.

If you like romantic music, you will be hard pressed to find a better album than this one. The song Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars perfectly encapsulates the mood of this album. My favorite track here is Dindi. Sinatra is the king of lost loves, and the song Dindi offers him another opportunity for regret. Nobody does it better than Frank. It’s a cliche to say he wears his heart on his sleeve, but the man made a career out of it. If the cliche fits…

The Rhino 180 gram LP mastered by Kevin Gray is a nice record, but this is the real thing. There is a richness, a sweetness and a naturalness here that you virtually never find on modern remasterings.

Frank Sinatra / Duke Ellington – Francis A. & Edward K. – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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

An amazing pressing of a superb recording, this White Hot Stamper really gets this music right!

Recorded one year after the remarkable Sinatra-Jobim record that we treasure here at Better Records, Sinatra takes the opportunity to work with one of the greatest bandleaders in the history of jazz, the Duke himself.

We had good luck with the stereo originals on the lovely Blue and Green Reprise labels — they can be as big, rich and warm as Sinatra’s legendary Capitol recordings when you find the right pressing, and that’s really saying something. (more…)

Rickie Lee Jones – Pirates

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

The typical copy of this album has a number of problems: midrange honk; hardness to the vocals; lack of presence; congestion; insufficient energy; blunted transients; grainy highs and so on. The Warner Bros. team of this era (Herscberg, Titleman, Waronker, etc.) brought us some wonderful recordings, but you’d never know it from listening to the typical ’80s WB Tan Label LP, which tend to be pretty poor. Of course, search hard enough and you can find a copy that delivers some of the magic of the master tape, and that’s exactly what we have here. (more…)

Randy Newman – 12 Songs

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It’s taken a long time, but we’ve finally found a 12 Songs that truly knocked us out. Randy Newman fans are going to flip out over this one.

You get a very strong bottom end, lovely richness and warmth, real space and separation between the instruments and wonderful immediacy throughout. The heavy, “swampy” vibe of the music comes through well without the sound getting too murky or muddy.

This is a tough album to come by in clean condition, so I wouldn’t expect us to find another copy this amazing any time soon. Don’t miss this chance to hear just how wonderful this album can sound.

Problems to Watch For

Some of the more common problems we ran into during our shootouts were slightly veiled, slightly smeary sound, with not all the top end extension, the kind that is only found on the best copies. 

Smeary, veiled, top end-challenged pressings were regularly produced over the years. They are the rule, not the exception. (more…)

Randy Newman – Sail Away

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

Side one of this Original Reprise pressing has A+++ Master Tape Sound! It’s open and spacious, with vocals that are tonally Right On The Money (ROTM).

We hear so many records that went off the rails somewhere in the recording, the mixing, the mastering, or the pressing, so it was a real treat to hear a record like this with absolutely no trace of heavy-handed fixing or phony EQ! What you hear on this record has got to be extremely close to what the guys in the control room heard as it was being recorded. This is no-frills, nothing-fancy, old-school analog, and we love it!

Tons of great songs on this one, including Political Science, You Can Leave Your Hat On, Last Night I Had a Dream and the wonderful title track. AMG goes nuts about this album, giving it the full 5 stars and calling it “musically adventurous” and “one of Newman’s finest works.” (more…)

Randy Newman – Little Criminals – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

TWO STUNNING A+++ SIDES, making this by far the best copy to ever hit our site! We recently finished our second-ever shootout for Little Criminals and it was a blast. We’ve only found out recently just how good the best sounding pressings of Randy Newman’s records can sound, and we were quite pleased with how rich, full and dynamic the Hot Stampers of this album are.

This album features the big hit “Short People” as well as a number of other great songs, including “Baltimore” which, as far as we’re concerned, is one of the best songs Newman ever wrote.

Both sides here absolutely knocked us out — nothing else in our shootout came close! The soundstage is super open and three-dimensional, the vocals and piano are full and present, and there’s absolutely no trace of thinness or edge.

This was Newman’s first commercially successful album and they stamped out a ton of them. The average copy is thin, dry, and stuck in the speakers — what a shame. Play enough of them, though, and eventually you might find a copy like this one, with wonderfully analog rich and full-bodied sound and the kind of presence that carries the music out of the speakers. (more…)

Ry Cooder – Into the Purple Valley – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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More Into the Purple Valley

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

TUBEY MAGICAL A+++ MASTER TAPE SOUND (and relatively quiet vinyl) ON BOTH SIDES. All of the elements you could ask for from this kind of music are here: superb clarity; amazing richness and warmth; correct tonality; serious energy and immediacy; texture to the vocals and so on. I don’t think you could do anything to these songs to make them sound any better.

We’ve become pretty big Ry Cooder fans here at Better Records, and an amazing pressing like this one will show you exactly why. We played a big stack of these this week, and you’re going to have a very difficult time finding a copy that can keep up with this one!

This copy was Right On The Money from top to bottom and from start to finish. It’s got the kind of presence and energy needed to bring these old songs to life. Most copies we played suffered from an overly clean quality, lacking richness and warmth almost entirely. Not this one though — it’s full of that old analog tubey magic, the kind that keeps guys like you and me digging in bins and spinning dusty old records instead of going digital.

There’s A Good Reason Audiophiles Love Ry

Ry’s music holds special appeal to us audiophiles, as he’s always throwing instruments into the mix that you hardly ever hear on your standard rock album. I wish I could tell you everything he plays on this album, but I’d just be guessing if I tried. (Wikipedia credits him for guitar, bass, and mandolin, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that there’s more to it than that.) This I can tell you — when the man picks up an instrument, he can sure play the heck out of it, and it’s an audiophile’s treat to hear how naturally he incorporates these sounds into his songs. (more…)

Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones

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

TWO STUNNING A+++ SIDES! This is an excellent recording, but you’d never know that listening to the average pressing. This copy is a big step up from the average pressing with real fullness and weight, plus SIZE and ENERGY that must be heard to be believed!

The sound throughout is A+++, absolutely As Good As It Gets! Big and lively with real dynamics and ambience, this just destroys the typical pressing in every way. You don’t often hear this kind of size and energy coupled with rich, balanced tonality, but this side keeps everything in perfect proportion. White Hot Stamper material, all the way! (more…)

Ry Cooder – Ry Cooder

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More Ry Cooder – Ry Cooder

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

The music reminds me a lot of early Little Feat, which is a good thing. The sound is somewhat similar as well, which is to say that it is natural and musical, nothing like the hyped-up hi-fi sound of his TAS-listed album Jazz — and that’s a good thing as well.

There are some great songs here, including My Old Kentucky Home, One Meat Ball and How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live. It may even be his best album.

Side One

Very rich and natural with a strong bottom end and real texture up top. The top end is nice and open, with good separation between parts. So good!

Side Two

Easily the best side two we heard in our shootout! You get a bigger soundstage, more energy, a strong bottom end, and right on the money tonality for the brass and guitars. (more…)

Ry Cooder – Chicken Skin Music – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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More Chicken Skin Music

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

Side two of this Reprise pressing is OUT OF THIS WORLD. From the moment the needle hit the groove we were blown away by the huge soundfield, the unbelievable presence and the massive amount of energy. It sounded like Ry and his crew were right there in the room with us, playing their hearts out. The two tracks featuring Hawaiian musicians (steel guitarist and singer Gabby Pahinui and slack key guitar master Atta Isaacs) are both on side two and they sound AMAZING on this copy. (more…)