Top Engineers

Paul Quinichette – On The Sunny Side, a Wonderful OJC Pressing from the ’80s

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  • Both sides of this long out of print OJC title boast lively, big and clear Double Plus (A++) sound quality
  • With three saxophones and a trombone, this is a fresh combination that really brings out the best in all the players during this Prestige jam session, a format for which they are justly famous
  • I raved about this album when it was in print many years ago – it’s solidly swinging jazz that belongs in your collection
  • Allmusic 4 Stars: “Waldron’s three originals (highlighted by “Cool-Lypso”) allow plenty of room for swinging, and Quinichette (who also performs “On the Sunny Side of the Street”) sounds comfortable interacting with the younger musicians. An enjoyable and underrated release.”

As I wrote years ago, back in the days when we regularly sent out catalog mailings:

When we discover a record like this, a record with no reputation either in the jazz world or the audiophile world, we try to bring it to people’s attention, usually with some success. Some of my customers called me up to tell me what a great record this is.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the lively, natural, full-bodied, 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.

George Horn was doing brilliant work for Fantasy all through the ’80s. This album is proof that his sound is the right sound for this music. (more…)

Rolling Stones – Steel Wheels

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  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we would be very surprised if you’ve ever heard Steel Wheels sound remotely as good as it does on this pressing
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard
  • 4 1/2 stars in Rolling Stone: “All the ambivalence, recriminations, attempted rapprochement and psychological one-upmanship evident on Steel Wheels testify that the Stones are right in the element that has historically spawned their best music – a murky, dangerously charged environment in which nothing is merely what it seems. Against all odds, and at this late date, the Stones have once again generated an album that will have the world dancing to deeply troubling, unresolved emotions.”

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War – Richness Or Transparency – On This Album You Need Both

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We discuss two qualities essential to the sound of the album Why Can’t We Be Friends? — Richness and Transparency.     

As usually happens in these shootouts we learned that there’s so much more to this album than just big bass. What really makes this music come alive on the best copies was the result of two qualities we found were in fairly short supply.

(1) Richness 
(2) Transparency

When the vocals sound thin and pinched as they do on so many copies of this album, possibly the result of the grainy crap vinyl UA is infamous for, that sour sound takes all the fun out of the music. Many tracks have group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the guys sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color. These are not classically trained singers. These are guys who love their music, who make up in enthusiasm what they lack in polish. I say more power to them. Smoke ’em if you got ’em and turn it up!

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over. (Seriously; this album has a party atmosphere; it’s overflowing with fun energy. If you can’t play it loud enough to rock because the sound is fighting you with every click of the volume knob, what is the point of playing it all?) (more…)

The Doors – Listening in Depth to The Soft Parade

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

 

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Our shootout from a while back (4/2014) included a minty Gold Label pressing, which did reasonably well, but not great, on side one. Side two however was OFF THE CHARTS and won the shootout on that side handily. The fact that side one wasn’t a knockout is yet more evidence that individual pressings with the same label — even the “right” label — vary dramatically in sound.

The sound of most pressings of The Soft Parade is just plain horrible. The brass that opens side one is so pinched, compressed, grainy and aggressive it will practically make your hair stand on end. Almost all the reissue LPs sound like they are made from sub-generation EQ’d compressed tape copies, what are commonly called cutting masters. So many reissues have such a similar character that it’s hard to imagine they’re not all sourced from the same bad “master.”
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Miles Davis – Sorcerer

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  • An outstanding pressing of Sorcerer, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • Sorcerer demonstrates the big-as-life, spacious and unerringly accurate 30th Street Studio Sound Fred Plaut was justly famous for
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The emphasis is as much on complex, interweaving chords and a coolly relaxed sound as it is on sheer improvisation, though each member tears off thoroughly compelling solos. Still, the individual flights aren’t placed at the forefront the way they were on the two predecessors — it all merges together, pointing toward the dense soundscapes of Miles’ later ’60s work.”

We played a bunch of these recently and this was one of the better copies we heard! It’s got more energy, more presence, and more body than many copies we heard. Drop the needle anywhere and listen to how open, transparent and spacious it is. The soundfield is HUGE — big, wide and deep! Everything sounds natural, balanced and correct. The bass has texture, the piano has weight, the brass has the right amount of bite and so on.

We had a big stack of copies for this shootout, including a bunch of 360 originals and some later Red Label pressings. You can find great sound on either label but it will probably take you quite a few copies to get there, and you’d need a serious stack to have any hope of finding two sides this good on vinyl that plays well.

And by the way, copies of classic Miles Davis albums from the ’60s are neither easy to find nor are they cheap. Hit the jazz bins at your local store and I’m sure you’ll have the same experience we’ve been having — tons of pricey modern reissues but not too many clean vintage pressings. (more…)

The Beatles – Beatles For Sale

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side two and a side one that’s right up there with it, this copy is nearly as good as it gets – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • I’m A Loser, Baby’s In Black, Rock And Roll Music, I’ll Follow The Sun. Eight Days A Week, Words Of Love, Every Little Thing, I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party, What You’re Doing and 4 more – 14 tracks in all (!)
  • An underrated Beatles album – Allmusic gives it Five Big Stars and we like it every bit as much as they do
  • Superb energy and presence – the band is RIGHT THERE and full of the LIFE the best Beatles pressings always have

Beatles For Sale is a criminally underappreciated album, and a killer copy like this will show you exactly why. The startling presence and immediacy of the sound here allow the emotional qualities of these lovely songs to work some real Beatles vocal magic.

There is one important trait that all the best copies have in common: wonderful midrange warmth and sweetness. It’s the single most important factor in bringing out The Beatles’ individual voices and harmonies. Of the first five albums, from Please Please Me to Help, For Sale is clearly the most natural and Tubey Magical. (For those of you keeping score at home, With the Beatles is clearly the worst, with A Hard Day’s Night not far behind.)

When comparing pressings of this record, the copies that get their voices to sound present, while at the same time warm, smooth, and sweet, especially during the harmonies and in the loudest choruses, are always the best. All the other instruments seem to fall in line when the vocals are correct. This is an old truism — it’s all about the midrange — but in the case of an early Beatles album such as For Sale, it really is true. (more…)

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile

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The Analogue Productions 180g reissue shown here is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey, two guys I respect, but the results of their latest collaboration leave much to be desired. The overall sound is lean. This is especially noticeable on the too thin-sounding guitars and vocals. Believe me, it’s no fun to play a Yes album with thin guitars and vocals.

Also, there’s a noticeable lack of ambience throughout the record. What comes to mind when I hear a record that sounds like this is the dreaded R word: Reissue. I find it hard to believe they had the actual two-track original master tape to work with. The sound is just too anemic to have come from the real tape. If they did have the real tape, then they really botched the job.
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The Hollies – Hollies

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  • A superb pressing of The Hollies’ 1974 release, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound of this early UK pressing is big, full-bodied and dynamic with Tubey Magic to die for – forget the dry, edgy sound of the domestic LPs, this is the real master tape, baby!
  • The Air That I Breathe is the monster track here, and on these killer British Polydor pressings it’s out of this world thanks to the engineering prowess of none other than Alan Parsons

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Rimsky-Korsakov / The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner – Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Just So Damn VAGUE

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

 

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Rimsky-Korsakov – The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner

Sonic Grade: C

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing shown here in order to see how it would fare up against a pair of wonderful sounding Londons we were in the process of shooting out a while ago. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.
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John Coltrane – Black Pearls

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  • This superb 1958 stereo LP boasts two Triple Plus (A+++) sides – the sound of this copy simply cannot be beat
  • It’s big, lively, tubey, present and very transparent – nothing we played could compete with it
  • A great Rudy Van Gelder recording that hits a whole nother level on a copy like this
  • 4 stars on Allmusic: “…captures Coltrane at the height of perfecting the intense volley that would garner the name ‘sheets of sound.’ “

A killer copy of this wonderful 1958 Coltrane album, unbeatable on either side! We heard one that blew us away a few years big, so we picked up a bunch more and finally had the chance to evaluate them. The music was always enjoyable, but on a copy like this things really get going. Coltrane is joined here by Donald Byrd, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor — a top lineup, the same crew behind the great Lush Life. (more…)