Top Engineers

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis

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  • Stunning sound on this early Verve Mono LP with both sides rating a Triple Plus (A+++) and playing reasonably quietly
  • As Good As It Gets – no modern pressing can hope to put Ella and Louis right in the room with you the way this one from 1956 can
  • One of the greatest duet albums of all time, if not THE GREATEST – a Desert Island Disc to beat them all
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz… Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.”

Click and pop counters might want to give this one a miss. It’s not as quiet as a modern pressing would be, but it’s as quiet as this title can be found on vintage ’50s Verve vinyl. If you have a top quality, heavily tweaked front end and a quiet cartridge, you might be good to go, but if you are picky about your surfaces, we recommend you give this one a miss.

Those of you looking for a cheaper, quieter alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on one of our Hot Stampers should look into the original Speakers Corner pressing or the CD, both of which we’ve played and both of which are quite good. (more…)

David Lindley – El Rayo-X

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

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  • El Rayo-X finally returns to the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • If you’re looking for deep punchy bass, crashing dynamics, silky sweet vocal harmonies, grungy slide guitars, tons of ambience, and super low distortion sound, this is the copy for you
  • Engineered in 1981 by Greg Ladanyi, the very next year he would take home the Best Engineering Grammy for Toto IV (one helluva good sounding album and a former member of our Top 100)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “One of the greatest rock music albums of its time. Fabulous.”

This superb Asylum original LP is a real DEMO DISC — if what you are trying to demonstrate is how BIG and BOLD a good old-fashioned analog recording can sound.

After hearing Lindley’s white-bread session playing on ’70s albums by Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, et al., you might think the man must have a stick up his butt. His solos just never seem to let loose or get loose, and they rarely rock. Mercury Blues is proof positive that he can rock like a wild man when he wants to. On this album, perhaps for the first time, he really does seem to want to.

The sound on this record is so punchy and dynamic, the rest of your rock records should seem positively anemic in comparison. Most of it sounds live in the studio, and live in the studio is how you get a bunch of guys to play with this kind of enthusiasm and energy.

Engineered in 1981 by Greg Ladanyi, the very next year he would take home the Best Engineering Grammy for Toto IV (one helluva good sounding album and a former member of our Top 100).

Fortunately for us audiophiles, this album catches him before the overly-processed, digital drums and digital echo “sound of the ’80s” had gotten into his blood. (Just play any of the awful Don Henley records he made to hear what we mean.) This record still sounds ANALOG, and even though it may be 1981 and mostly transistorized, the better copies display strong evidence of TUBES in the recording chain. (more…)

Cream / Disraeli Gears – Live and Learn

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A classic case of Live and Learn

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Our shootout quite a while ago for Cream’s classic second album provided proof positive that We Was Wrong when we said:

No reissue we’ve ever played sounded especially good and none likely ever will.

Ah, but some do! We would love to tell you exactly what to look for so that you can go find one for yourself, but that’s bad for business as I’m sure you can see. Let’s just say there will be at least one later reissue of the album with very good grades coming soon to a site near you.

We also have to admit to being wrong about this:

If you’re expecting Sunshine of Your Love to rock on record like you remember it rockin’ on the radio back in the day, forget it. When you heard that song your brain added the bass and dynamics that are missing from the record. Either that or you did it through the loudness control on your old receiver. There’s maybe five db of dynamic range on that song and there can never be more than that.

There are copies with dynamic vocals on that track. The vocals are practically the only thing that do get loud, but on some copies they do; we heard it. Likewise, on some copies the drums have much more body and punch than than they do on most.

So, when it comes to bass and dynamics, yes, some copies have some, maybe even more than you remember. (more…)

Steely Dan / Gaucho – Listening In Depth to The Dan’s Last Good Album

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More Gaucho

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Gaucho. Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

Of all the great albums Steely Dan made, and that means their seven original albums and nothing that came after, there are only three in our opinion that actually support their reputation as studio wizards and recording geniuses.

Chronologically they are Pretzel Logic, Aja, and Gaucho. Every sound captured on these albums is so carefully crafted and considered that it practically brings one to tears to contemplate what the defective DBX noise reduction system did to the work of genius that is Katy Lied, their best album and the worst sounding. (Those cymbal crashes can really mess with your mind if you let them. To get a better picture of the DBX sound just bang two trash can lids together as close to your head as possible.)

The first two albums can sound very good, as can Royal Scam, but none of those can compete with The Big Three mentioned above for sonics. A Hot Stamper copy of any of them would be a seriously good sounding record indeed. (more…)

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – What to Listen For

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

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The richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality is most obvious where you often hear it on a Pop Rock Big Production like GYBR: in the loudest, densest, most climactic choruses.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly become without crossing the line into distortion or congestion.

On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record.

On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is bigger and louder than anything on the record, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-tracked screaming “Who I am” about three quarters of the way through the track. Those, however, are clearly exceptions to the rule. Most of the time it’s the final chorus of a pop song that gets bigger and louder than what has come before.

A pop song is usually designed to build momentum as it works its way through the verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording — one with real dynamics — that part of the song should be very loud and very powerful.

Testing the Climaxes

The climax of the biggest, most dynamic songs are almost always the toughest tests for a pop record, and it’s the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album’s largest scaled productions are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have sitting in front of two speakers. Our Top 100 is full of records that reward that kind of intense listening at loud levels.

We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s precisely what the best vintage analog pressings do so brilliantly. In fact they do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and certainly no substitute. If you’re on this site you probably already know that.

Two to Listen For

Number one: Too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression, there will be too many elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space in the upper part of the midrange, causing congestion and a loss of clarity.

With the more solid sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich. Above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments and voices comfortably, without piling them on top of one another as so often happens. Consequently, the upper midrange “space” does not get overloaded and overwhelmed with musical information.

Number Two: edgy vocals, which is related to Number One above. Almost all copies have at least some edge to the vocals — the boys want to really belt it out in the choruses, and they do — but the best copies keep the edge under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull or smeary.

The highest quality equipment, on the hottest Hot Stamper copies, will play the loudest and most difficult-to-reproduce passages with virtually no edge, grit or grain, even at very loud levels. (more…)

Sonny Rollins – Way Out West

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Reviews and Commentaries for Way Out West

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  • A stunning copy of Way Out West with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • This stereo pressing has superb 1957 Contemporary sound – big, open and natural throughout
  • The sax is so smooth and tubey it will have you drooling
  • One of our favorite Rollins records – one listen to this copy and you will know exactly why we love the recordings of Roy DuNann
  • 5 stars: “The timeless Way out West established Sonny Rollins as jazz’s top tenor saxophonist”

(more…)

The Alan Parsons Project – I Robot

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  • An outstanding early UK pressing of I Robot with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • The overall sound is clean, clear and transparent – many copies tend to be overly smooth, but this one has the kind of clarity that allows the natural textures of the instruments to come through
  • 4 1/2 stars: “. . . that sense of melody when married to the artistic restlessness and geeky sensibility makes for a unique, compelling album and the one record that truly captures mind and spirit of the Alan Parsons Project.”

If you’re a fan of this album who has been playing a typical copy, or — even worse — one of the MoFi versions, you are sure to be impressed with the kind of sound this superb copy delivers. You get a strong, solid bottom end setting the foundation, which is exactly what you need to make a funky tune like I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You come to life. (more…)

Elton John’s Too Low For Zero – The Last in a Great Run

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  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides of this early British import LP – quiet vinyl too
  • There’s some real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals and plenty of rock and roll energy 
  • I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues – the best song Elton’s done in the last 35 years – is killer here
  • One of engineer Bill Price’s best efforts behind the boards in the ’80s, and Chris Thomas’s production is State of the Art as usual
  • Allmusic 4 1/2 Stars: “Happily, this is a reunion that works like gangbusters, capturing everybody at a near-peak of their form.” 

Much of the production — the smooth, sweet harmony vocals, the rich, grungy guitars, the solid, warm piano — reminds me of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, one of the classics from back in the day when Gus Dudgeon was running the show.

Caribou (1974) and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) have a similarly glossy, perfectionist approach to production as well of course. It was 1975’s Rock of the Westies that went off in another direction. (more…)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Long After Dark

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  • A STUNNING sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too!
  • Both sides are brimming with Petty’s unique brand of “meat and potatoes” rock and roll
  • 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
  • Rich and full-bodied with tight bass, and brimming with Petty’s unique brand of straight ahead rock and roll, best exemplified by the radio smash You Got Lucky
  • Rolling Stone raves “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play a finely crafted brand of meat-and-potatoes rock. They shudder to a stop for the occasional ballad or showy guitar figure, but the next surging chorus is never far away. They’ve been honing that sound for five albums now, and Petty has gradually hoisted himself into the company of such masterful travelers of Route 66 as Seger and Springsteen. …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…)

The Rolling Stones / Out of Our Heads – Mono or Reprocessed Stereo?

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On this London LP, even though it says the record is electronically re-processed into stereo, the songs we heard on side one were dead mono.

So much for believing what you read on album covers. (more…)