Top Engineers – Shelly Yakus

Van Morrison – Moondance

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Musically, the record Moondance most reminds me of is After The Gold Rush. Neil Young set out to make a commercial album that had nothing but strong songs built around catchy melodies, with the highest quality production values. What better describes Moondance? Every song is good, you can sing practically every one of them from memory, and in fact you’ll probably feel like singing along with every one of them as they are playing. And the whole album is produced with some of the best sound that was available at the time. (Shelly Yakus engineered, his first time behind the board on a major project if Wikipedia is to be believed.)

Van Morrison never made another album as good as this one, and After the Gold Rush is still Neil’s masterpiece (along with Zuma of course). If there are two records on the planet that belong in everybody’s collection, it’s these two. Finding good sounding LPs of both of them is a tricky proposition — unless of course you are a customer of Better Records, where superb sounding pressings of Classic Rock Albums can be found any day of the week.

It takes us a long time to build up enough copies to get this shootout going, a fact that anyone who has ever searched for a copy of Moondance will certainly understand. Clean originals just aren’t in the bins the way they used to be, and when you do find one it usually will cost you a pretty penny. A hundred bucks and up seems to be the going rate. (more…)

Spirit – Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

This copy has the kind of sound I always dreamed the album could have, but it took years of listening — mostly to one flat, grainy, smeary copy after another — to get here.

This and Spirit’s first album are absolute Rock Classics in my book, records that belong in any popular music lover’s collection.

This album, however, typically sounds midrangy and compressed, with little in the way of extension on either end and not much energy. Great for FM radio but a mess when played on a real hi-fi.

But things change, and they have changed for the better judging by the fact that this record now sounds pretty darn good — when you have the right copy and have cleaned it right. This is one of those: cut right, pressed right, and cleaned right. Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale comes into play here; you will need top quality equipment to allow the magic in these grooves to be brought back to life, but we did it and if we can do it so can you. (more…)

Tom Petty – Hard Promises – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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The best copy we’ve heard in years, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides — “The Waiting” sounds superb. You get incredible energy and presence, full extension up top and real weight down low. Many copies can get thin and edgy — especially on the vocals — but not this one.

This pressing had sound on BOTH sides we never expected to hear on Hard Promises, an album that’s typically 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, so let’s get right to it. (more…)

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Southern Accents

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  • You find incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides of this wonderful early pressing, guaranteed to beat anything you’ve heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • “Southern Accents is an ambitious album, attempting to incorporate touches of psychedelia, soul, and country into a loose concept about the modern South… “Rebels” and “Spike” are fine rockers, and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “Make It Better (Forget About Me)” expand The Heartbreakers’ sound nicely.”

If you’ve tried to find a good sounding copy of this album, you could easily be forgiven for throwing in the towel — we almost did ourselves, and more than once. We’ve cleaned and played a pile of copies over the years, and now we are glad to report that this one sounds like a completely different album — it’s rich, smooth and sweet, a big step up over the typical gritty, grainy copy.

Credit must obviously go to the man behind the console, Shelly Yakus, someone who we freely admit, now with a sense of embarrassment, had never been one of our favorite engineers. After hearing a White Hot Stamper pressing of Damn the Torpedoes and a killer copy of Crack the Sky’s Animal Notes, as well as amazing sounding pressings of Moondance (his first official lead engineering gig) and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, we realize that we have seriously underestimated the man. (more…)

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

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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

More Crack The Sky

More 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

More Crack The Sky

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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…)