Top Engineers

Listening in Depth to Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Debut

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Reviews and Commentaries for Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Debut

Folks, this is ANALOG at its Tubey Magical finest. You ain’t never gonna play a CD that sounds like this as long as you live. I don’t mean to rain on your parade but let’s face it, digital media are pretty much incapable of reproducing this kind of sound. There are nice sounding CDs in the world but there aren’t any that sound like this, not in my experience anyway. If you are thinking that someday a better digital system is going to come along and save you the trouble and expense of having to find and acquire these expensive original pressings, think again. Ain’t gonna happen. This is the kind of record that shows you what’s wrong with your BEST sounding CDs. (Let’s not even talk about the average ones in our collections; the less said the better.)

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The Barbarian
Take a Pebble

Superb sound! Big, spacious and effortlessly alive!

Knife Edge

Again, some of the best sound to be found on any ELP album. We much prefer the tracks with vocals as opposed to the heavy keyboard ones. This is PROG at its best, right up there with Yes’s and King Crimson’s biggest and boldest musical statements. When it’s good, it’s REALLY GOOD. (Conversely, of course, when it’s bad, it’s pretty bad. Played Relayer lately?)

Side Two

The Three Fates: Clotho/Lachesis/Atropos

This is a super tough test for side two. It’s guaranteed to bring even the biggest and best systems to their knees. The organ is HUGE, so big and powerful it has a tendency to break up a bit in the loudest parts, either from groove damage or the inability of the cutting system to properly transfer the enormous amounts of bass that exist on the master tape onto the cutting acetate. You need plenty of amplifier cutting power and not every mastering chain had it.

Tank
Lucky Man

My favorite ELP track, sounding about as good as it gets. You need the right Cotillion copy for the ultimate sound; the better bass brings Palmer’s kick drum to life, not to mention the synthesizer solo.

Listen also to the electric guitar solo in the left channel. On the best copies it really comes to life and rocks out. If it lays back in the mix you do not have a Hot Stamper for side two, I can assure you of that!

By the way, this track is cut a bit low compared to the two that precede it. It needs click or two on the volume know to work its magic.

Not Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

The organ that opens side two is always going to break up a tiny bit. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. In fact, if it DOESN’T break up for you, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that either your copy or your stereo is too smooth. We played somewhere between two and three dozen copies this week, and you just can’t find a hot copy without at least a hint of distortion on the organ.

NEWSFLASH

This commentary is from many years ago. The findings from our most recent shootouts have shown us the error of our ways. We actually prefer the British pressings on both sides now. This is what we used to think:

The Brit copies may take top honors for side one (“sweetness, openness, tubey magic, correct tonality, presence without aggressiveness, well-defined note-like bass, extended airy highs”) but the Hot Stamper Cotillion copies KILL on side two. They really ROCK, with greater dynamic contrasts and seriously prodigious bass, some of the best ever committed to vinyl.

The Brits tend to be a bit too “pretty” sounding. They’re too polite for this bombastic music. This music needs the whomp down below and lots of jump factor to work its magic.

The Brits are super-low distortion, with a more open, sweeter sound, especially up top, but the power of the music is just not as powerful as it can be on these very special Cotillions.

This Cotillion on side one is a rare gem indeed, one of the best domestics we’ve ever heard. It’s not quite as smooth and sweet as some, but it’s every bit as good in most other areas, and better in the bass. The Cotillion pressings of this album have bass that puts 99% of all the rock records in the world to shame. (And 100% of the half-speed mastered records!)

This is a case where, to get the ultimate sound, you not only need two copies, you need two copies made in different countries!


FURTHER READING

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Key Tracks for Critical Listening 

We Was Wrong

Joe Cocker – With a Little Help From My Friends on Speakers Corner

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Sonic Grade: B

One of the better Speakers Corner Rock and Pop releases. We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

“Speakers corner knocks one out of the park with this wonderful reissue! Those conga drums and the back-up singers sound so much better than I remember them! If you’re going to own one Joe Cocker album make it this one. It’s a man-size serving of English Soul.”

Bernard Herrmann – The Mysterious Film World of Bernard Herrmann

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More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Soundtracks and Soundtrack Music

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  • This superb release finally returns to the site with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • An outstanding recording with a huge three-dimensional stage, open, clear, extended up top and down low — the sound on this pressing is nothing short of amazing
  • 4 stars: “The sound glitters, some of the brightest and richest audio of its period (attested to by the album’s being part of Decca/London Phase 4 Stereo), and the performances have a dignity and intensity that makes the music — drawn from the key parts of Herrmann’s scores for the Ray Harryhausen-created fantasy films The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Mysterious Island, and Jason and the Argonauts — seem even more serious and profound than it originally did.”

Side one boasts some wonderful material from Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts. Who else but Herrmann could have orchestrated such phantasmagorical goings on?

The Three Worlds Of Gulliver Suite takes up all of side two. The complete score from which the suite is taken can be found on the original Herrmann album The Three Worlds of Gulliver, a long-time and extremely rare member of the TAS Super Disc List.

This vintage London Phase 4 Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for —this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds. (more…)

Coop! The Music Of Bob Cooper – Killer on the Right OJC Pressing

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout  
  • These guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one
  • An amazing 1958 All Tube Live-in-the-Studio Jazz recording by the legendary Roy DuNann
  • “Tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper’s only Contemporary album is a near-classic and one of his finest recordings … This set is an underrated gem.”

Another undiscovered gem, brought to you by the folks at Better Records who know a good sounding record when they hear one.

This is a superb Contemporary recording from 1958. Cooper is joined by top West Coast musicians like trombonist Frank Rosolino, vibraphonist Victor Feldman, pianist Lou Levy, bassist Max Bennett, and drummer Mel Lewis. On some parts of the Jazz Theme the group grows to be ten pieces. Normally this might present a problem for a recording engineer, but Roy DuNann is up to the task! If you want to hear the sound of brass recorded properly, Roy is your man.

Both sides are Tubey Magical, rich, open, spacious and tonally correct. These guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one.

What do the better Hot Stampers pressings like this one give you?

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the horns and drums, not the smear and thickness so common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Roy DuNann — would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound correctly on to disc was simply to thread up that tape on a reasonably good machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record — certainly not as good sounding as this one — these days tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years. (more…)

Peter Frampton – Frampton

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  • An outstanding original A&M pressing of Frampton with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Far too many copies have a problem with dry, edgy, lean vocals, the kind of vocal sound you simply cannot find anywhere on UK pressings of Wind of Change, but the best pressings of Frampton are richer and tubier without crossing into being dark and murky
  • This has long been a personal favorite of mine, it’s a an album I’ve played hundreds of times and never tired of
  • 4 stars: “Frampton exited Humble Pie because that group fell into a loud, hard rock groove that overwhelmed the technical skills he’d spent years working on as a guitarist; he poured a lot of that into this highly melodic mid-tempo rock album.”

A bit of background: Both his first solo album and this, his fourth, were recorded by the well-known engineer Chris Kimsey, who famously worked with the Stones and others too numerous to mention. To say that the sound of his albums varies considerably would be the understatement of the year. The first album (British only, fyi) is rich, sweet, and Tubey Magical as practically anything you’ve ever heard (as well as overly tube compressed, its biggest fault).

Sonically this album tends to be none of those things. However, if you play enough copies you are sure to run into at least some that sound right.

I unashamedly confess to being a huge Frampton fan to this very day. His first album, Wind of Change, has been a Desert Island Disc for me ever since I picked up my first copy while still in high school in 1972. I’m a Big Production Rock Guy, as you may have guessed from looking at the records we rave about the most, and Frampton’s first album is a classic of Big Production Rock, in the style of Abbey Road, Dark Side of the Moon, Songs for Beginners and fifty others I could name. Make that a hundred others. Or two hundred.

Which also explains why I’ve had very large dynamic speakers since about 1975, when I was first able to scrape together enough money to buy a pair of the well-regarded RTR 280-DR. (My mother had to co-sign the loan I took out shortly thereafter to buy an Audio Research SP3A-1 preamp and D-75 amp to power them, if that tells you anything. And ARC was reasonably priced back then; neither piece was even a grand!)

This fourth Frampton album may not boast the sound of his first, but it can have reasonably good sound, and musically it’s his strongest album after his debut, providing as it does much of the material for the blockbuster double live album that was to follow in less than a year, the one that broke the all time sales record set by Tapestry (and would be be bested itself soon enough by a little number known as the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever). (more…)

Carly Simon – Self-Titled

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  • An outstanding original Elektra LP with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • Can you believe that the producer and engineer of Carly’s debut is none other than Eddie Kramer!?
  • That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be is the killer track here and it sounds wonderful on this copy
  • This pressing really brought this Big Production to life and allowed so many elements to work in harmony.
  • It’s a good example of what a truly Hot Stamper is supposed to do – let the music work as music

The richness and the sweetness of the midrange on the best copies are exactly what you’d be looking for on this heavily-produced pop album, and this copy gives you that sound like no other copy you’ve ever heard.

Credit must go to Eddie Kramer, legendary producer and engineer for the likes of Hendrix and Zeppelin. He knows how to get good sound all right, although Female Singer Songwriter albums in his catalog are fairly light on the ground. (Richard Perry became the go-to guy for those productions as the ’70s wore on.) This may in fact be the only one Eddie ever did. But he knows Big Production Rock, and that’s what most of this album is about. (more…)

The Lovin’ Spoonful – John Sebastian Songbook, Vol. 1

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More Sixties Pop Recordings

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  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides, the sound quality of the tracks on this compilation is impressive
  • Both sides are rich, full-bodied, Tubey Magical, and natural with a solid bottom end – no sign of radio EQ to be found
  • Features most of the band’s best songs, including Do You Believe In Magic, You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice, Six O’clock and Nashville Cats (a personal fave)
  • The Allmusic critic is not too crazy about this album, but the User Rating is 4 1/2 stars, which we think is about right

Great sound for some the biggest hits of The Lovin’ Spoonful, a band I wouldn’t have expected to hear sound good on vinyl if I lived to be a hundred, and yet, here it is. This is one of the rare cases where, in our experience, the hits compilation sounds BETTER than the original records. Why? Who knows? We don’t pretend to have all the answers. What we do have (that no one else has, if that’s not too obvious) are the records that back up the claims we make for them.

How they came to be that way 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.

Actually, the mastering engineer for this compilation and the Best of from the same year is a person well known to us record collecting audiophiles — the person that ends up with this record can look in the dead wax for his info and the rest of you are welcome to guess — so it’s really no surprise that this compilation sounds as good as the Best of that we rave about.

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records are just too consistently noisy for us to offer to our audiophile customers no matter how good they sound.

We have a section for records that tend to be noisy, and it can be found here.

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Kenny Burrell with Gil Evans – Guitar Forms

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More Gil Evans

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  • This STUNNING pressing offers Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • Gil Evans wrote the superb orchestral arrangements and Rudy Van Gelder captured them on lovely analog tape – what’s not to like? 
  • We’ve really been digging these Creed Taylor productions for years now – it may not be serious jazz, but it’s no less interesting and captivating for it
  • “His landmark 1965 collaboration with Gil Evans, Guitar Forms rivals anything the arranger did with Miles Davis. Indeed, the track “Lotus Land” has a bolero form very reminiscent of Sketches of Spain. Throughout, Burrell takes thoughtful, concise, and utterly musical solos, and even switches to acoustic classical guitar on “Prelude #2” and “Loie.””

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are wonderful. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1965 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick.

This pressing is super spacious, sweet, and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it. (more…)

War / Why Can’t We Be Friends? – A True Demo Disc

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This Well Recorded Album Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

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  • An incredible copy of the band’s 1975 release, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • One of our favorite albums here at Better Records and clearly the band’s Masterpiece – the bass and dynamics on the better pressings make this a Demo Disc on the right system
  • 4 stars [but we give it 5]: “Cut from the same cloth as the band’s 1973 Deliver the Word LP, War’s 1975 Why Can’t We Be Friends? is a masterpiece in its scope and breadth. [It] remains one of War’s truly outstanding efforts, and has become an integral part of the funk genre’s landscape. It also remains the nightcap of their finest hour.”

Engineered by the brilliant Chris Huston, this recording displays all his trademark gifts. His mixes feature lots of bass; huge, room-filling choruses that get loud without straining or becoming congested; and rhythmic energy that few pop recordings could lay claim to in 1975.

Low Rider sounds AWESOME on this one. This is the kind of record you can take to any stereo store or audiophile friend’s house and bring their stereos to their knees. Audiophile systems are rarely designed to play this kind of music at the levels it demands, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. Records like this are the challenge we audiophiles need to make our stereos even better. When the music is this good it’s worth the effort

What superb sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1975
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

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The Doobie Brothers / The Captain and Me – Nautilus Debunked

More of The Doobie Brothers

More of The Captain and Me

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Sonic Grade: D

Another Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile Pressing Debunked and another We Was Wrong listing to boot.

We actually recommended the Nautilus Half-Speed in the old days, but the last time we played one (mid-2007) the sound was Pure Audiophile BS — compressed to death and totally whomp-free.

The average domestic copy is terrible too, but that’s no excuse now is it?


Some Relevant Commentaries

A Technological Fix for a Non-Existent Problem

How to Make All Your Records Sound Like Mobile Fidelity Pressings – For Free! (more…)