Top Engineers

Grover Washington, Jr. – A Secret Place

More Grover Washington, Jr.

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

  • A Secret Place makes its Hot Stamper debut with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them throughout this original Kudu pressing
  • The sound is everything that’s good about Rudy Van Gelder‘s recordings – it’s present, spacious, full-bodied, Tubey Magical, dynamic and, most importantly, ALIVE in that way that modern pressings never are
  • You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy that’s this well balanced, big and lively, with wonderful clarity in the mids and highs and Washington’s sax front and center
  • 4 stars: “The bottom line on A Secret Place is that while the set did well commercially, it got nowhere near the critical praise of its predecessors. That’s a shame, because it is a truly fine album whose grooves and pleasures stand the test of time easily. It’s ripe for reappraisal.”
  • If you’re a Grover Washington fan, this title from 1976 is surely of interest, assuming you already have his best masterpiece, All the King’s Horses.

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Tchaikovsky / Sleeping Beauty / Ansermet

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This vintage London pressing of Tchaikovsky’s complete Sleeping Beauty boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) Demo Disc sound on all SIX sides
  • These sides are doing pretty much everything right – they’re rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and have depth and transparency to rival the best recordings you may have heard
  • Ansermet is of course a master of the ballet and the performance here by the Suisse Romande is outstanding, perhaps even definitive
  • If you’re a fan of Ansermet’s performances of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballets, this superb All Tube Recording from 1959 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Big Decca sound! Powerful deep bass. Beautiful string tone and sharply articulated brass sound. This is a wonderful record.

Ansermet is surely the man for this music, and the famously huge hall he recorded in just as surely contributes much to the wonderful sound here.

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George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

More George Harrison

More of The Beatles

  • With superb sound on all six sides, this early British box set of All Things Must Pass will be very hard to beat
  • If you’ve struggled with domestic pressings and later imports or Heavy Vinyl reissues, your troubles are over – here is the sound you were looking for
  • 5 stars: “Without a doubt, Harrison’s first solo recording is his best. Drawing on his backlog of unused compositions from the late Beatles era, Harrison crafted material that managed the rare feat of conveying spiritual mysticism without sacrificing his gifts for melody and grand, sweeping arrangements.”
  • This is clearly George Harrison’s best sounding album. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.
  • This is a Must Own Title from 1970, a great year for Rock and Pop Music
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here
  • A great deal of tube compression was used in the mixing and mastering of the album, which makes this a difficult one to reproduce on anything but the highest quality equipment

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Beethoven / Septet / Members of the Vienna Octet

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

More Records on Decca and London

  • With outstanding grades on both sides, the sound here is realistic and natural, if not DEMO DISC quality
  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, the sound on this import pressing is classic Decca from 1959 – rich, smooth and completely free of the hi-fi-ish qualities some audiophiles seem to admire by the likes of Reference, Telarc, Wilson and the like
  • This record was cut by real Decca engineers and in 1969 they certainly still knew what they were doing
  • Both sides are full, rich, spacious, big and present, with very little smear and a very healthy dose of Tubey Magic
  • At the right level, the level at which these instruments are heard in performance, the sound is tonally right on the money
  • We’ve been raving about this album forever, first on Blueback and on UK Stereo Treasury, and now on Ace of Diamonds – all three can be superb
  • If you are looking for a shootout winning copy, let us know – with music and sound like this, we hope to be able to do this shootout again soon

We normally do not put as much effort into finding top quality pressings of chamber music as we do for the large orchestral works favored by audiophiles (or at least the audiophiles who are willing to spend the money to buy our records), works such as Scheherazade and The Planets. However, if more of them sounded as good as this one we would be more than happy to do just that. (more…)

The Biggest “If” in All of Audio

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ted Heath

More Records that Are Good for Testing Tonality and Timbre

The best of the best vintage recordings are truly amazing if you can play them right. That’s a big if.

In fact, it may just be the biggest if in all of audio.

But that is not our story for today. Our story today concerns the relationship between more accurate timbre and higher fidelity.

What do we love about vintage pressings like the Ted Heath disc you see pictured above?

The timbre of the instruments is hi-fi in the best sense of the word.

The unique sound of every instrument is being reproduced with remarkable fidelity on this old record.

That’s what we mean by “hi-fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Sound that passes for hi-fidelity on some records.

Older audiophile records, typically those made by Mobile Fidelity in the ’70s and ’80s, suffered from a common group of problems heard on practically every record they released:

A boosted top, a bloated bottom, and a sucked-out midrange.

Nowadays that kind of low fidelity sound is no longer in vogue.

A new, equally low fidelity sound has taken its place.

What seems to be in vogue these days, judging by the Heavy Vinyl Reissue pressings we’ve played in recent years, is a very different sound from that described above, with a different but no less irritating suite of shortcomings.

These new records, with few exceptions, tend to be compressedthickdullopaque, veiled, recessed and badly lacking in ambience.

Such are the current hallmarks of the Heavy Vinyl LP. Whether made by Speakers Corner, DCC, Analogue Productions or any other label, starting at some point in the mid-’90s, the sound these labels apparently preferred had a problem we heard in practically every infuriatingly unbalanced record we played: sound that was just too damn smooth.

The phony boosted highs of the bad old days are gone, replaced by the phony rolled off highs of today.

(The exception: Bernie Grundman. Bernie cut hundreds of records for Classic Records starting in the ’90s, and it’s clear he chose a different path, but his path turned out to be every bid as problematical. And Mobile Fidelity no longer makes bright records with ill-defined, bloated bass. Now they make overly smooth records with ill-defined, bloated bass.)

Are the audiophiles buying these new, unnaturally smooth records any better off?

The ones with bright, phony systems probably are. Everybody else is getting taken to the cleaners. Ripped off. Sold a bill of goods. Etc. Etc. (There are scores of terms for this activity because there have always been companies and individuals who were happy to take your money in exchange for something of low quality dressed up in fancy packaging.)

The First Thing

As we have been saying for years, to get anywhere in this hobby, the first thing you need is reasonably good stereo sound.

Then you can buy records that actually have the potential to be good records. Records with higher fidelity. Records that are tonally correct.

If you’re buying these modern heavy vinyl pressings, what are you going to do with them when you finally get around to making your stereo reproduce music properly and can hear how second- and third-rate they are?

Last Question

How do we know we are right about the tonality shortcomings of these modern remastered records?

Stay tuned for part two of this commentary for the answer. (more…)

Phil Manzanera – A Truly Awesome Feat of Engineering by Rhett Davies

More of the Music of Phil Manzanera

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Phil Manzanera

You may recall reading this bit about Rhett Daviesengineering on Dire Straits’ debut:

“…until something better comes along, this is his Masterpiece. It has to be one of the best sounding rock records ever made, with Tubey Magical mids, prodigious bass, transparency and freedom from hi-fi-ishness and distortion like few rock recordings you have ever heard.”

Well, something better has now come along, and it’s called Diamond Head.

It has some of the Biggest, Boldest Sound we have ever heard. Diamond Head isn’t known as an audiophile album but it should be — the sound is glorious — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, and as rich and dynamic as it gets.

It’s clearly a Big Speaker Demo Disc. Play this one as loud as you can. The louder you play it, the better it sounds.

The best copies have Room Shaking Deep Bass with the kind of Whomp that can drive this music to practically unexplored heights.

It’s also transparent, with a large, deep soundfield that really allows you to hear into the music and the studio space in which it was created. The clarity is superb with all the detail and texture one could hope for, but the real kicker is the amount of Energy and Musical Drive that these two sides have going for them.

This is what the Master Tape is really capable of — Mind Bogglingly Good Sound.

Looking for Tubey Magic? Rhett Davies is your man. Just think about the sound of the first Dire Straits album or Avalon. The best pressings of those albums — those with truly Hot Stampers — are swimming in it. (more…)

Bizet / Symphony in C Major / Ansermet

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

This London pressing of Ansermet’s 1961 recording has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on BOTH sides. The Symphony in C, which takes up the whole of side one, is BIG and LIVELY, which is just the kind of sound that makes us swoon here at Better Records. Live music IS big and lively, so why shouldn’t the best records be? The bottom end has real power on this copy, the way live music does.

We like our recordings to have as many Live Music qualities as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use.

It’s precisely this kind of big, rich sound that makes audiophiles prize Decca-London recordings above those of virtually any other label, and here, unlike in so many areas of audio, we are fully in agreement.

The second movement has a sublimely gorgeous oboe part you must hear. The whole side is wonderfully spacious, with real depth. The sound of the 1961 tape must be truly magical. If you don’t know why we revere the Golden Age of Classical Recordings — 1954 to 1969 or so — buy this record. (more…)

Dire Straits – Self-Titled

More Dire Straits

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides of this UK pressing of the band’s brilliant debut
  • One of the best sounding rock records ever made, with rich, sweet, smooth mids; prodigious amounts of bass; superb transparency and clarity; and a freedom from hi-fi-ishness and a lack of distortion like very few rock records we have ever heard
  • Rhett Davies knocked this one out of the park – it’s a Top 100 title, a member of the Tubey Magical Top Ten, and our favorite by the band for both sound and music
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Knopfler also shows an inclination toward Dylanesque imagery, which enhances the smoky, low-key atmosphere of the album… the album is remarkably accomplished for a debut, and Dire Straits had difficulty surpassing it throughout their career.”

Rhett Davies is one of our favorite engineers. He’s the man behind Taking Tiger Mountain, 801 Live and Avalon to name just a few of his most famous recordings, all favorites of ours of course.

The man may be famous for some fairly artificial sounding recordings — Eno’s, Roxy Music’s and The Talking Heads’ albums come to mind — but it’s obvious to us now, if it wasn’t before, that those are entirely artistic choices, not engineering shortcomings.

Rhett Davies, by virtue of the existence of this album alone, has proven that he belongs in the company of the greatest engineers of all time, right up there with the likes of Bill Porter, Ken Scott, Stephen Barncard, Geoff Emerick, Glyn Johns and others we could mention. (more…)

Chet Atkins – The Other Chet Atkins

More Chet Atkins

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Chet Atkins

  • Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — it’s all here
  • Need a refresher course in tubey magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? This record is overflowing with it
  • It seems as though Bill Porter just doesn’t know how not to make an amazing sounding Living Stereo recording. Everything the guy touches is GOLD!

I suppose we owe a debt of gratitude to Harry Pearson for pointing out to us with his TAS List what a great record this is, although I’m pretty sure anybody playing this album would have no trouble telling after a minute or two that this recording is very special indeed.

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Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

More Fleetwood Mac

Reviews and Commentaries for Rumours

  • With seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER from start to finish, this early pressing of Fleetwood Mac’s Magnum Opus will be very hard to beat
  • Tubey Magical Analog – the sound is open, spacious and transparent, with a huge three-dimensional soundfield
  • A Better Records Top 100 title – when you hear it sound as good as it does here, you’ll know why we’ve long considered Rumours an Audiophile Demo Disc
  • If you own the album on two 45 RPM discs (you know the one), allow us to send you a copy that will beat the pants off that modern mediocrity – this one!
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these Classic Rock records – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 5 stars: “Each tune, each phrase regains its raw, immediate emotional power—which is why Rumours touched a nerve upon its 1977 release, and has since transcended its era to be one of the greatest, most compelling pop albums of all time.”
  • If you’re a Fleetwood Mac fan, this undeniable classic from 1977 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1977 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

When you hear a good copy of Rumours, it’s very easy to understand why this is one of the best-selling pop music albums of all time. Just about everyone knows how great these songs are, but I bet you didn’t know they could sound like this!

It’s tough finding Hot Stamper copies of this album. With over 75 sets of stamper numbers for each side, it’s an extremely taxing project, even for us. We know some of the better stampers and have been acquiring them since then in preparation for this shootout. (more…)