Top Engineers – Roy Halee

Paul Simon – Graceland

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame and a record that ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale.

Super transparent and hi-res with no attendant sacrifice in low end or fullness, this is about as tonally balanced as Graceland gets. The top end is more delicate and extended, which was not true for most of the copies we played.

There’s a much more pleasant smoothness here, standing in sharp contrast to the typically grainy, spitty copy, with more weight down low and more presence to Simon’s vocals.

We listen to piles of pressings of Graceland regularly. We know the range of sound on the album, what constitutes good, better and best, and we know precisely what qualities the premier copy must have in order to win one of our shootouts.

Above all the thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It has many other good qualities as well: It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals.

The better copies have all these qualities to some degree, but the one quality a good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s especially good about the sound of the record.

Without clarity the music doesn’t work. The shortest definition of a Hot Stamper is that it’s the pressing where the music works. You can be sure that any Hot Stamper copy on our site has at least that going for it. (more…)

Lovin’ Spoonful – The Very Best of… – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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As Good As It Gets (AGAIG) White Hot Stamper sound for some of the biggest hits of The Lovin’ Spoonful, a band I wouldn’t expect to hear sound good on vinyl if I lived to be a hundred, and yet, here it is! This pressing changes EVERYTHING. 

This copy lets you hear versions of Younger Girl, Didn’t Want to Have to Do It, Daydream, You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice, Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?, and Do You Believe in Magic? with the kind of sonics never thought possible, not by us anyway. This copy is truly a revelation. And side two ain’t too shabby either.

Why does this stereo compilation sound so much better than others we’ve played in the past? Who the hell knows? We don’t pretend to have all the answers. What we have — that nobody else has, if that’s not too obvious — are the records that back up what we say about them. How they came to be is anyone’s guess. All we know for sure is that, judging by the best copies of this album somebody got hold of some awfully good tapes and somebody mastered them with uncanny skill to what sounds to these ears like near perfection.

That is, if you have this copy (which just happens to be on the original Pink Kama Sutra Label). This copy just could not be beat on side two. We tried, we had some very very good ones, but none that sounded like this.

Side Two

A+++, by far the best we played. So CLEAR and UNDISTORTED — Wow! There are always problem areas in ’60s pop recordings, but this side sounds so good you’re liable to forget there are any such things. This is a four track recording? Yes, in the way that Rubber Soul is a four track recording. It can be done.

This copy had the most extension high and low, the best clarity in the vocals and the most richness overall. I’m telling you, it is Hard To Fault! (more…)

The Graceland Remastering Disaster Part 2

Analogplanet Visits Sterling Sound and Interviews Mastering Engineer Ryan K. Smith

The interviewer apparently does not know how bad the new version sounds, but we had no trouble recognizing its awfulness here at Better Records and, as a public service, set about  describing what we heard on our site.

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from? Having played at least 50 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded very much like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can’t say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing? (more…)

Bloomfield-Kooper-Stills – Super Session

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  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Engineered by Roy Halee, the man behind one of the best sounding rock records of all time, the self-titled Blood, Sweat and Tears album, the oh-so-analog sound here is especially rich, dynamic and spacious
  • For fans of BS&T’s first album (and everybody else) Super Session is a Must Own – Season of the Witch is crazy good on this 360 LP
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This is one of those albums that seems to get better with age… This is a super session indeed.”

(more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

THE FIRST WHITE HOT STAMPER FOR THIS ALBUM TO EVER HIT THE SITE! We love this music, but let me tell you the truth — this is not a shootout we ever look forward to doing. The sound of the average copy is POSITIVELY PAINFUL. If you play a couple dozen copies, you’ll probably turn up a good one eventually, but you’re better off letting us do that dirty work. 

This original Columbia 360 Sound pressing has EXCELLENT SOUND on side one and SUPERB SOUND on side two. If you know anything about this album and its recording history, you know how BOLD a statement that is. The typical copy of this album is a sonic disaster.

You would have to look far and wide to find a copy that isn’t plagued with transistory, gritty, opaque and/or unmusical sound. Fortunately for you, dear Better Records customer, you don’t have to look any further than your email in-box to find an amazing sounding BOTW, because we found it for you. And here it is!

Side two has MASTER TAPE SOUND. It’s more open and more transparent than any other copy we played, and the clarity is mind-boggling. The bottom end is PERFECTION, the voices are silky and delicate, and the acoustic guitars are Right On The Money. When you drop the needle on The Only Living Boy In New York, you’re not going to believe the tubey magical analog that’s going to pour out of your speakers. It’s rich, warm, and sweet, yet incredibly clean and clear. That’s what a White Hot Stamper is all about.

Side one is excellent as well, if not quite in a league with the all-time best side two. It’s open, transparent, and natural with real depth to the soundfield. The vocals are breathy and sweet, just what you want from an S + G record. Cecilia sounds incredible here, with lots of punch and great energy.

The Latest Findings

One of the most interesting findings in this shootout was that no Red Label copy scored as high as the best 360 Label copies. The later labels can be very clean and clear, but ultimately they lack the midrange magic, warmth and sweetness of the best early pressings. Since this recording has a problem in all those areas to start with, most red label copies are completely devoid of the Simon & Garfunkel magic, the kind of magic that is so wonderfully evident on their two previous outings: Parsley, Sage… and Bookends. (more…)

Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends – Here’s an Audio Exercise You Can Do at Home

Musically side two is one of the strongest in the entire Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre (if you’ll pardon my French). Each of the five songs could hold its own as a potential hit on the radio, and no filler to be found whatsoever. How many albums from 1968 can make that claim?

The estimable ROY HALEE handled the engineering duties. Not the most ‘natural” sounding record he ever made, but that’s clearly not what he or the duo were going for. The three of them would obviously take their sound much farther in that direction with the Grammy winning Bridge Over Troubled Water from 1970.

The bigger production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.

The Wrecking Crew provided top quality backup, with Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano and keyboards.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Bookends Theme
Save the Life of My Child
(more…)

Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

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A while back we did a monster-sized shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second release, an album we consider THE Best Sounding Rock Record of All Time. In the midst of the discussion of a particular pressing that completely blew our minds — a copy we gave a Hot Stamper grade of A with Four Pluses , the highest honor we can bestow upon it — various issues arose, issues such as: How did this copy get to be so good? and What does it take to find such a copy? and, to paraphrase David Byrne, How did it get here?

Which brings us to this commentary, which centers around the concept of outliers.

Wikipedia defines an outlier this way: “In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.” In other words, it’s something that is very far from normal. In the standard bell curve distribution pictured below, the outliers are at the far left and far right, far from the vast majority of the data which is in the middle.

In the world of records, most copies of any title you care to name would be average sounding. The vertical line in the center of the graph shows probability; the highest probability is that any single copy of a record will be at the top of the curve near the middle, which means it will simply be average. The closer to the vertical line it is, the more average it will be. As you move away from the vertical line, the data point — the record — becomes less and less average. As you move away from the center, to the left or the right, the record is either better sounding or worse sounding than average. (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

TWO KILLER SIDES including a STUNNING Demo Quality A+++ side one! Bring over your audio buddies and blow their minds by dropping the needle on America — I guarantee that they’ve never heard it sound like this before (unless, of course, they happen to be one of our top-shelf Hot Stamper customers already). Everything you’d hope for on a killer pressing of this album is right here on this side one, and most of it is on the A++ side two as well.

This Original Columbia 360 Label pressing has DEMO QUALITY SOUND. We know well that the average copy makes it hard to believe that a pressing like this exists, but one quick drop of the needle on any track will show you the light. We played a couple dozen copies this week and most of them weren’t fit to serve dinner on.

This one’s got the SILKY SWEETNESS and TUBEY MAGICAL ANALOG sound that Bookends demands! If your old copy left you with the idea that this is not an audiophile quality recording, we can’t say we’re surprised — most copies just plain stink.

Both sides are rich, sweet, and unusually full-bodied. A copy like this one really conveys the emotional quality of these songs in a direct and powerful way. If you love Bookends as much as we do, you’re gonna flip out when you hear this copy.

Just drop the needle on any track for a taste of what this album is supposed to sound like. I can’t tell you how many disappointing copies of Bookends that we’ve played over the last few years, and especially this last week. The typical copy is hardly worth the vinyl it’s pressed on — the spit and grain are pretty much intolerable. (more…)

Blood Sweat and Tears – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade – MoFi: D

We found a Hot Stamper copy for one of our best customers a while back and he wrote an incisive commentary which may be of interest to you. To see the results of his comparison between the Direct Disc Labs Half-Speed, the MOFI Anadisq, his original domestic pressing, and the Hot Stamper he bought from us, check out his letter.

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[I want to thank Roger Lawry for his extensive commentary on the BS&T’s second album. His critical listening skills are obviously quite well developed, especially since he agrees with me about what is the best sounding BS&T — the one I sold him! I will be adding some caveats in places to clarify a few issues, but basically Roger’s assessment is right on the money. I added the underlining below for emphasis.]

Hi, Tom:

I listened to 3 versions of the BS&T record and here is what I found (I wrote up a little review–you can use it on your website or laugh and delete it, whatever). (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

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  • An insanely good 360 Label pressing of this Simon & Garfunkel classic, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The sound is here is As Good As It Gets — big, lively, open and clear with Tubey Magical richness that only these good early pressings can show you
  • The toughest Simon & Garfunkel album to find with excellent sound and reasonable surfaces — no contest 
  • 5 stars: “Perhaps the most delicately textured album to close out the 1960s from any major rock act… the songs matched the standard of craftsmanship that had been established on the duo’s two prior albums”

Both sides here KILLED every other copy we played. The overall sound is tubey and lush with a strong bottom end. The strings on the title track actually have some texture, and Cecilia really comes to life. There’s not as much spit or grit as you’d get on most copies, and the sound is far more musical and enjoyable than you would expect to hear, especially if you own a reissue on the red label or an audiophile reissue of any kind. These sides have an extra measure of presence and an extra degree of clarity, the kind of thing that makes them White Hot.

So many copies of this album sound wrong in so many ways, it would be impossible to list them all here. Suffice it to say, a Hot Stamper copy has to pass a lot of tests before we’re willing to vouch for it, and this copy passed those tests with flying colors. For starters, the vocals aren’t too spitty, the guitars don’t sound grainy, and the bottom end isn’t lean. Add in some of the silkiest, breathiest voices we’ve heard for this album and this Super Hot Stamper is sure to please. (more…)