Top Engineers – Shelly Yakus

Stevie Nicks – The Wild Heart

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  • The Wild Heart finally arrives on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound – exceptionally quiet vinyl too! 
  • The size, presence, and (relative) warmth on this one give you the sound you want for this music
  • Features a host of stellar guest musicians, including Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Steve Lukather (Toto), and even Prince, though he wasn’t credited on the album
  • 4 stars: “The Wild Heart sold to the faithful … if you loved Bella Donna, you would like The Wild Heart very much.”

It’s easy to spot the good sounding copies. They’re big and rich, not thin nor harsh. They open up on the top end and go down deeper on the bottom. They’re smooth and full-bodied in the midrange. Stevie’s vocals are breathy and present. The energy of her performance drives the music the way you want it to.

In short, the best copies demonstrate the sound one could expect to hear on a good Tom Petty album. Nothing surprising there; this album, like Petty’s, was produced and engineered by the same team, Jimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus. They’ve made some great records together, Damn the Torpedoes being the best of the batch for sonics. (more…)

Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

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

It’s easy to hear what the good pressings are doing. They’re big and rich, never thin nor harsh. They open up on the top end and go down deeper on the bottom. They’re smooth and full-bodied in the midrange. Stevie’s vocals are breathy and present. The energy of her performance drives the music the way you want it to.

In short, the best copies demonstrate the sound one could expect on a good Tom Petty album. Nothing surprising there; this album, like Petty’s, was produced and engineered by the same team, Jimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus. They’ve made some great records together, Damn the Torpedoes being the best of the bunch for sonics.

Bella Donna may not reach those exalted heights, but it’s still quite good, especially for 1981. As the decade wore on things went south very quickly, sonically and musically, so we must be thankful that this record came out early in the decade and not much later. (more…)

John Lennon – Imagine

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

This is the highest rated copy of Imagine to ever hit the site! As crazy as that sounds, it’s true — these are next to impossible to find, they tend to cost big bucks when you do track them down, they’re almost always noisy, and they very rarely sound very good. If it wasn’t ridiculously difficult to find Hot Stamper pressings of Imagine, it certainly would not have taken us until 2015 to offer one.

This is the highest rated copy of Imagine to ever hit the site! As crazy as that sounds, it’s true — these are next to impossible to find, they tend to cost big bucks when you do track them down, they’re almost always noisy, and they very rarely sound very good. If it wasn’t ridiculously difficult to find Hot Stamper pressings of Imagine, it certainly would not have taken us until 2015 to offer one.

Both sides here are excellent. capturing the essence of what Lennon and Phil Spector (and let’s not forget Yoko, who also gets a producer credit here) were going for. The sound is big, lively and very open — most copies aren’t nearly this transparent. It’s also very rich and full-bodied (especially on side one) with excellent presence. The bottom end is solid and punchy and Lennon’s vocals sound natural and clear throughout. (more…)

Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna

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  • Insanely good Triple Plus (A+++) sound from beginning to end for what is surely Ms Nicks’ best solo album
  • Both sides are big and clear, with plenty of rockin’ energy as would be expected from the team of Yakus and Iovine
  • Two of her biggest hits are here (and they still hold up): Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around & Leather And Lace
  • AMG raves: “Equally engaging are less exposed tracks like the haunting “After the Glitter Fades.” Hit producer Jimmy Iovine wisely avoids over-producing, and keeps things sounding organic on this striking debut.”

It’s easy to hear what the good pressings are doing. They’re big and rich, never thin nor harsh. They open up on the top end and go down deeper on the bottom. They’re smooth and full-bodied in the midrange. Stevie’s vocals are breathy and present. The energy of her performance drives the music the way you want it to.

In short, the best copies demonstrate the sound one could expect on a good Tom Petty album. Nothing surprising there; this album, like Petty’s, was produced and engineered by the same team, Jimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus. They’ve made some great records together, Damn the Torpedoes being the best of the bunch for sonics. (more…)

Crack The Sky – Animal Notes

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Both sides are big and rich in the same way that all the best Classic Rock albums from the ’70s are. It has plenty of rock ENERGY; here the sound jumps out of the speakers like practically no other copy we heard.

At the levels it was playing at it was nothing less than a thrill to hear the album I’d known for so long sound so much better than I remember it from back in the day. (Stereo has come a long way since 1976, that’s for damn sure.)

To my mind, speaking as both a fan and an audiophile, both the first two Crack the Sky albums succeed brilliantly on every level: production, originality, songwriting, technical virtuosity, musical consistency and, perhaps most importantly for those of you who have managed to make it this far, Top Quality Audiophile Sound. (more…)

Crack The Sky – Crack The Sky – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This White Hot Stamper pressing of the first and best album by the legendary-but-now-mostly-forgotten American Prog band Crack The Sky shows just how amazingly well recorded their debut really was.

This is Big Production rock that pulls out all the stops and then some, with a massive Beatlesque string section, horns, synths, backward guitars and every other kind of studio effect that they could work out.

Much like Ambrosia’s debut (another unknown band on a small label), such an ambitious project was clearly an effort to make a Grand Musical Statement along the lines of Sgt. Pepper, Crime of the Century, Close to the Edge, The Original Soundtrack and Dark Side of the Moon, all albums I suspect this band revered, having played them countless times.

In the ’70s I was a huge fan of those albums too. (Still am of course; check out ouTop 100 if you don’t believe me. They’re all in there.) I played them more times than I can remember, with Crack The Sky’s albums spending plenty of time — heavy rotation you could say — on the turntable in those days. To my mind, speaking as a fan and an audiophile, the first Crack the Sky album succeeds brilliantly on every level: production, originality, songwriting, technical virtuosity, musical consistency and, perhaps most importantly for those of you who have managed to make it this far, Top Quality Audiophile Sound.

This is simply a great album of adventurous, highly melodic proggy rock. If you like the well known bands that made the classic albums cited above, there’s a very good chance you will like this much less well known band’s first album also. (more…)

Tom Petty – Hard Promises

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Hard Promises

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  • An impressive copy of this 1981 release, with KILLER nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Recorded at Sound City, home to some of the greatest analog sound ever recorded
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…filled with great songwriting, something that’s as difficult to achieve as a distinctive sound… The Waiting became the best-known song on the record, but there’s no discounting A Woman in Love, Nightwatchman, Kings Road, and The Criminal Kind, album tracks that would become fan favorites… it has a tremendous set of songs and a unified sound that makes it one of Petty’s finest records.”

Two stunning sides for one of our favorite Petty records! This one is a huge step up from most, which tend to be bright, thin, edgy, pinched and gritty — radio friendly, maybe, but not especially audiophile friendly.

We hate that sound but we are happy to report that some copies manage to avoid it, and this is one of them. Is that richer, fuller sound the sound of what’s on the master tape or did the mastering engineer “fix” it? We’ll never know, now will we? What we can know is the sound of the pressings we actually have to play, and this one is killer.

Recorded by Shelly Yakus at Sound City, Van Nuys and at Cherokee Studios, Hollywood, CA. (more…)

Spirit – Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus

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  • A stunning copy of Spirit’s 1970 Trippy Masterpiece – Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too!
  • Huge, lively and dynamic – this legendary Psych album creates a wall to wall, three dimensional psychedelic world of its own
  • Nature’s Way, Animal Zoo and Mr. Skin all sound amazing on this copy – there’s really not a bad track to be found
  • “Spirit’s crowning moment and one of the era’s great underrated albums … enriched by meaty horn arrangements, imaginative vocal harmonies, and a structured approach to psychedelic studio trickery such as stereo panning and tapes run backward.”

The soundfield is huge and transparent, there’s real richness and body to the instruments, and there’s no edge at all to the vocals. Believe me, it’s the rare copy that has all of these qualities, the only one in our shootout as a matter of fact. (more…)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Long After Dark

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on this copy of the band’s fifth studio album
  • Rich and full-bodied with tight bass, and brimming with Petty’s unique brand of “meat and potatoes” rock and roll
  • You Got Lucky was the big hit on this album 4 Star Album from 1982
  • Rolling Stone raves “…overall, Long after Dark is Petty’s most accomplished record.”

Long After Dark boasts the monster rocker You Got Lucky and very good sound considering that the album was recorded in 1982, not an especially good year (or decade) to be recording rock music. (more…)

Crack The Sky – Animal Notes – What To Listen For

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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 Crack the Sky records.

The best vintage rock recordings usually have something going for them that few recordings made after the ’70s do: their choruses get big and loud, yet stay smooth, natural and uncongested. 

We’ve mentioned it in countless listings. So many records have — to one degree or another — harsh, hard, gritty, shrill, congested choruses. When the choruses get loud they become unpleasant, and here at Better Records you lose a lot of points when that happens. (more…)