Top Engineers – Rudy Van Gelder

McCoy Tyner – Expansions – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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Expansions

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

Both sonically and musically, this is THE BEST McCoy Tyner album that we can recall ever playing! Expansions has long been a favorite around here — it’s got a great lineup (including Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter) and the most interesting set of songs that we’ve heard on a Tyner album.

Drop the needle on the last song, I Thought I’d Let You Know, for the best sound on the album. It’s rich and sweet with a BIG bottom end and a wonderful sounding cello. McCoy’s playing a lot like Bill Evans at his best on this song.

This is another album that’s frequently scooped right out of the bins by DJs and producers who like to sample the funky grooves. We almost never see this one and when we do they don’t usually sound like this, so if you like this kind of music you should jump on it! (more…)

Ornette Coleman – Love Call – Reviewed in 2013

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

EXCELLENT A++ SOUND and QUIET VINYL for both sides of this great Ornette Coleman Blue Note album. Ornette’s music clearly isn’t for everyone, but you’ve got to hand it to the guy when it comes to getting good sound on his records. We’ve heard a number of Ornette records that had excellent sound, the trick is finding the ones that sound good and aren’t so crazy musically that there’s still appeal to the average audiophile. This one’s a bit out there for sure, but we enjoyed it — the excellent sound throughout helped the music make sense.  

Of course, good recordings don’t always get you good sounding records, and this 2-pack helps prove that point. Each of these copies had one great sounding side backed with a flip that was much more typical. Fortunately, we ended up with an A++ side one and an A++ side two, which allowed us to pair them up. If you want to see just what the Super Hot Stampers give you that the average copy lacks, it’s as easy as flipping either record over and playing the side that didn’t earn a Hot Stamper grade. And as always, if you want to leave the tedium of playing mediocre sounding vinyl to the guys who sit through stacks of it every day (that’s us, natch), don’t worry — there won’t be a quiz at the end!

The sound on the A++ sides is bigger and livelier with more presence, better clarity and more extension up top. You get tighter bass with more weight, and more air and texture to the brass. If you’ve got a taste for free jazz, I think you’ll be very impressed with the winning sides. (more…)

Wes Montgomery – Bumpin’ – Reviewed in 2009

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

This Minty looking Verve LP really sounds GOOD! It’s transparent, as well as tonally correct from top to bottom. This is THE copy to have — we guarantee it will CRUSH the MoFi pressing. 

Paul Desmond – Skylark – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

An A+++ side one backed with an A+ to A++ side two, both on quiet vinyl! We just finished our first big shootout for this fun album that features Gabor Szabo on guitar and this was one of the best copies we heard, especially on the first side where nothing else could compare.

Side one has got that CTI magic that you only get on their very best pressings. The sound is lively, full-bodied and tonally correct from top to bottom. It’s also very open and transparent, giving you lots of space between the various instruments. The top end is Right On The Money — listen to how natural and correct the ride cymbal sounds on the opening number. Most copies we played had a tendency to sound recessed and reserved, but this one has the kind of presence and energy that this music needs to sound ALIVE. A+++ all the way! (more…)

Horace Silver – Song For My Father

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on this Blue Note Jazz classic
  • The piano is clear and clean here, with much more weight and solidity than one would expect from an RVG recording
  • This copy was obviously cut with super-low distortion mastering equipment, and boy does it help the sound
  • 5 Stars: “Horace Silver’s signature LP and the peak of a discography already studded with classics. Silver was always a master at balancing jumping rhythms with complex harmonies for a unique blend of earthiness and sophistication, and Song for My Father has perhaps the most sophisticated air of all his albums…”

The leading edge transients on the horns here are excellent, with the pinched quality you hear on some tracks kept to a minimum. The whole of the ensemble is transparently clear. (more…)

Herbie Hancock – My Point of View

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

TWO KILLER SIDES, dramatically better sounding than the other copies we played it against. Both sides here are incredible — rich and warm with a huge bottom end and lots of space around the instruments. About as quiet as they come, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus throughout.

We’ve been saving up copies of this album for years in hopes we could find a top copy to put on the site; we were pleasantly surprised to find one this good on an early label with decent vinyl.

This is a great album, with a killer lineup that includes Grant Green, Donald Byrd, Tony Williams, Hank Mobley and more. If you’re a fan of Herbie’s debut album Takin’ Off, you’ll find much to like here. The typical pressing leaves much to be desired though — many copies we’ve played sounded a bit hollow and flat. Hot Stamper copies give you richer, fuller sound and more energy, qualities that really help this music shine. (more…)

Donald Byrd – Blackjack

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  • KILLER sound throughout for this later Blue Note pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first 
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “One can sense that Byrd wanted to break through the boundaries and rules of hard bop but had not yet decided on his future directions… Byrd and Red in particular are in excellent form throughout the date.” – All Music

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Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Freddie Hubbard on this album is nothing short of astonishing. I remember playing around with the stereo one day, listening for different effects as I made minor changes to the tracking weight, the VTA, adjustments to the Hallographs and the like, and at one point I noticed that the ensemble seemed to be really coherently connected, each of the players balanced with all the others. 

It was a striking effect and it made me realize that musical values can often be overlooked while chasing after audiophile effects of one kind or another. Hearing the ensemble come together made me appreciate this album even more.

Tony Williams on the drums here deserves a special nod. His cymbal work on the first track is original and spontaneous in the best tradition of jazz improvisation. (more…)

Horace Silver Quintet – Blowin’ The Blues Away

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  • A KILLER sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Another triumph for Rudy Van Gelder – he refined a “live-in-the-studio” jazz sound that still sounds fresh to this day, even after 60 years
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Blowin’ the Blues Away is one of Horace Silver’s all-time Blue Note classics, only upping the ante established on Finger Poppin’ for tightly constructed, joyfully infectious hard bop… one of Silver’s finest albums, and it’s virtually impossible to dislike.”

The really good RVG pressings (often on the later labels) sound shockingly close to live music — uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located on a wide and often deep soundstage, surrounded by the natural space and cool air of his New Jersey studio. As our stereo has improved, and we’ve found better pressings and learned how to clean them better, his “you-are-there” live jazz sound has come to impress us more and more. (more…)

Wes Montgomery – A Day In The Life – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

THE BEST SIDE ONE WE’VE EVER HEARD on quiet vinyl nonetheless, giving you White Hot A+++ sound for Montgomery’s great cover of A Day In The Life! This was the only copy that absolutely nailed it for that tough track — top end extension, tons of tubey magic, loads of energy, huge three-dimensional sound and more. The big orchestral ending, where most copies fall apart, sounds EXCELLENT here. The brass and winds sound KILLER. 

We listened to a bunch of different copies in our recent shootout and this one had a side two that could not be beat. It’s damn near impossible to find decent sounding early A&M pressings, but the sound here is gorgeous. Almost every copy we listened to was dull, lifeless, and overly compressed. This becomes especially offensive when the strings come in, most notably in the climatic middle section of “A Day In The Life”. It’s abrasive, nondescript junk! Fortunately, this Hot Stamper lets you enjoy this great music with warm, rich sound that won’t make your ears bleed.

Side two is MAGICAL on this copy. There’s tons of tubey magic to go along with excellent clarity, strong presence and a wonderfully punchy bottom end. The percussion sounds incredible and the guitar is Right On The Money. You get the top end extension that’s sorely lacking from most pressings, and the transparency is to die for! A+++ all the way.

Side one is very good but lacks a slight degree of extension up top. Other than that, the sound is hard to fault. The big orchestral ending to the title track actually works well on this copy. Most copies aren’t nearly this warm, rich or full-bodied. (more…)