Top Engineers – Armin Steiner

Paul McCartney and Wings – Ram

  • This vintage pressing of McCartney’s 1971 Classic boasts outstanding sound and exceptionally quiet vinyl on both sides
  • A copy like this is a real audiophile treat – here is the rich, warm, clear, natural and lively sound you want for Ram   
  • Many of the man’s most memorable songs are here: Too Many People, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, Monkberry Moon Delight, Heart Of The Country and more
  • 5 stars: “These songs may not be self-styled major statements, but they are endearing and enduring, as is Ram itself, which seems like a more unique, exquisite pleasure with each passing year.”

I remember this album being dismissed as lightweight back in the day and I may have even felt the same to be honest. Heck, compared to Abbey Road and The White Album, the very same thing could be said about most of McCartney’s albums.

McCartney isn’t out to blow you away with high-production value rock here, apart from Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. He’s making some lovely pop music with his wife and sharing it with the world. And what’s so wrong with that? (more…)

Letter of the Week – “You were too kind to the Mofi: yours destroyed it.”

More of the Music of Neil Diamond

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Neil Diamond

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

The Neil Diamond Live is one the best I’ve ever bought from you. You were too kind to the Mofi: yours destroyed it.

My stock copy is worthless. An unusually well recorded live album. You are so right.

And your copy is awesome.

Regards

Will

Thanks, Will!

Glad you liked our copy as much as we did. The MoFi, in our opinion, is not a bad record, but the phony EQ they use causes Neil’s voice to sound unnatural, and an unnatural sounding Neil Diamond is not something that appeals to us.

If any of you out there in audio land are still buying these remastered pressings, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Masters.

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your copy. And if for some reason you disagree that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

Bread – Notes on the Shortcomings of a Hot Stamper

See all of our Bread albums in stock

Radio Friendly Pure Pop Albums Available Now

Back in the 2000s, we felt we owed our Hot Stamper customers a more complete picture of the good and bad qualities we heard in our shootout for practically every record we played.

The idea was that the buyer could listen along for what the record was doing well and what it might not be doing so well. If you noticed that the top end was a little soft, well, that’s what we might have heard too. We would put that shortcoming, and any others we thought worth mentioning, right there in the listing.

Over the years, in order to avoid having to write every listing from scratch, we streamlined the process and dropped the criticisms.

Below you can see a typical example of an older listing. This is how we used to recognize when a record was Super Hot as opposed to White Hot.

This commentary on the famous recording of The Firebird with Dorati discusses the same issues in more depth.

Side One

A++, with good balance and lots of rockin’ energy. It’s transparent — just listen to how clear the drums are on the first track. It’s a bit dry and doesn’t have all the top end extension of the best, so Super Hot is a fair grade we think.

Side Two

A++! Big and clear, yet rich, open, and Tubey Magical without being compressed or thick. None of the smear that plagues the average copy either. Could use more top end to help the harmonics on the percussion and guitars, but this is still a STRONG A++ side.


FURTHER READING

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

Neil Diamond / Stones – His Best Sounding Studio Album?

More of the Music of Neil Diamond

More Singer Songwriter Albums

I can’t say for sure that this is the best sounding Neil Diamond album, we haven’t been through all of them yet, but it’s certainly the best sounding album of his that we’ve critically auditioned in large numbers. Good luck finding another copy of Stones out in the bins that deliver top quality sonics the likes of these — we went through a TON of copies and not many held our interest.

Problems to Watch For

Some of the more common problems we ran into during our shootouts were slightly veiled, slightly smeary sound, with not all the top end extension that the best copies showed us.

You can easily hear that smear on the guitar transients. Usually they’re a tad blunted and the guitar harmonics don’t ring the way they should.

Smeary, veiled, top end-challenged pressings were regularly produced over the years. They are the rule, not the exception.

Good cleaning techniques can help, but bad vinyl and worn stampers limit the encoding of the highs, and bad mastering or the use of sub-generation tapes both can work plenty of mischief on their own.

Engineering

On the Hot Stamper copies that do have sweet and rich ANALOG sound, credit naturally belongs with Neil’s go-to engineer, ARMIN STEINER. He was one of the engineers on Spirit’s first album (a truly phenomenal recording from 1968), assisted on Ram, recorded some of the best sounding, most Tubey Magical Chart-Topping Pop Rock for Bread in the early ’70s, and, if that’s not enough, has more than a hundred other engineering credits. He’s also the reason that Hot August Night is one of the best sounding live albums ever recorded.

When you find his name in the credits there’s at least a chance, and probably a pretty good one, that the sound will be excellent. You need the right pressing of course, but the potential for good sound should be your working hypothesis at that point. Now, all it takes is some serious digging in the bins, cleaning, and listening to determine if you’ve lucked into a “diamond in the rough.”

The Music of Bread – It’s Pure Pop for Now People, and We Love It

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Pure Pop Albums Available Now

100+ Reviews of Our Favorite Pure Pop Albums

The best copies of Bread’s third album have amazingly sweet and rich 1971 ANALOG sound on both sides. That big rich bottom end and the volume of space that surrounds all the instruments and singers are the purest and most delightful form of Audiophile Candy we know.

The acoustic guitars? To die for. Talk about Tubey Magical Analog, this copy will show you just what’s missing from modern remastered records (and modern music generally). Whatever became of that sound?

This record put Bread’s heavily Beatles-inflected Pure Pop back on the charts after their the single from their previous album, On The Waters, made it to Number One, that song of course being Make It With You. “If”, the big hit off this album, went to number five, but we like it every bit as much as that earlier chart topper. Both represent the perfect melding of consummate songcraft and pure emotion.

We used to think that only the Best of Bread album could get those two songs to sound as luscious and Tubey Magical as they do when they’re playing in our heads, but it seems we were wrong — they’re positively amazing on the best copies of Manna.

A Double Edged Sword

Manna has the clear signature of Elektra from the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s unmistakably ANALOG, but that double-edged sword cuts both ways. Richness and Tubey Magic (the kind you had in your old ’70s stereo equipment) often comes at the expense of transparency, clarity, speed and transient information (the things your ’70s equipment probably had more trouble with).

We heard a lot of copies that were opaque, smeary and dull up top, so the trick for us (and for those of you doing your own shootouts) is to find a copy with the resolving power and transparency that can cut through the thickness. Look for breath on the vocals (reverb too!) and extended vocal and guitar harmonics; if those two qualities are strongly evident you can’t be too far off the mark. More presence, bigger bass (the bass is HUGE on the best copies), more size, energy and space: these will help take you to the highest (Super Hot and White Hot) levels.

Speaking of bass, notice how prominent, big and clear the bass guitar is on many of these songs. This is not a sound we hear nearly enough. During the shootout we were lovin’ it. The Legacy Focus in our reference system has three twelve-inch woofers per channel. They do a lovely job with this kind of big-bottom-end recording, the kind of recording for which Botnick and The Doors (and Love too, let’s not forget them) are justly famous.

Where is that sound today? We miss it.

Engineering

On the better Hot Stamper copies, the ones with especially sweet and rich ANALOG sound, the credit obviously must go to their brilliant engineer, Armin Steiner, the man responsible for recording some of the best sounding, most Tubey Magical Chart-Topping Pop Rock for this band throughout the ’70s. As would be expected from success on such a scale, Steiner has more than a hundred other engineering credits. He’s also the reason that Hot August Night is one of the best sounding live albums ever recorded.

When you find his name in the credits, there’s at least a chance that the sound will be very good. You need the right pressing of course, but the potential for good sound should be your working hypothesis. Now all it takes is some serious digging in the record bins, tedious cleaning and even more tedious critical listening to determine if you’ve lucked into a diamond in the rough. Or, if you prefer, allow us do all that work for you. After 30 years in the business, we’re gotten pretty good at it.

Pure Pop For Now People

When you hear sound this good, it allows you to appreciate the music even more than the sound. This is in fact the primary raison d’etre of this audiophile hobby, or at least it’s supposed to be. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of The Everly Brothers or The Beatles. It’s Pure Pop for Now People, to quote the famously waggish Nick Lowe.

Analog Heaven

In many ways this recording is state-of-the-art. Listening to the acoustic guitars on the best copies brings back memories of my first encounter with an original Pink Label Tea for the Tillerman. Rich, sweet, full-bodied, effortlessly dynamic– that sound knocked me out twenty plus years ago [now 30 plus], and here it is again! Of course I’m a sucker for this kind of well-crafted pop. If you are too then this will no doubt become a treasured demo disc in your home as well.

Pay close attention to the sound of the drums. We really like the way famous session player Mike Botts’ kit is recorded, not to mention his Hal-Blaine-like — which means god-like — drumming skills.

An Endless Supply

Audiophiles with high quality turntables literally have an endless supply of good recordings such as this to discover and enjoy. No matter how many records you own, you can’t possibly have even scratched the surface of the vast recorded legacy of the last sixty years (the first stereo recording dating from 1954, the year of my birth, good timing on the part of my parents). That’s the positive thought for the day.

We here at Better Records are happy to help you in your quest to find recordings that do justice to the music you have yet to hear.

Old Records Age Well

One further note. As your stereo improves, records like this only get better. Here I speak from experience. There are no shortcomings in this recording to be revealed by better equipment, in stark contrast to the vast majority of audiophile pressings and remasterings flooding the market these days, which to us perfectly embody the worst kind of desiccated, lifeless and often just plain weird sound we excoriate in listing after listing in our Audiophile Hall of Shame.

If you make a change to your stereo (or room or cleaning regimen or something else that affects the fidelity) and this record sounds better, more than likely you did the right thing.

Bread – Manna

See all of our Bread albums in stock

Pure Pop Albums Available Now

  • Tubier, more transparent, more dynamic, with that “jumpin’ out of the speakers” quality that only The Real Thing (an old record) ever has
  • A superb album, featuring one of the strongest rockers the band ever recorded, “Let Your Love Go”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… this is a record that is laid-back and even tempered, which isn’t a bad thing — it results in a fine listen, especially since the group’s songwriting remains at the high standard instituted on that first Bread album.”
  • This title from 1971 is clearly one of Bread’s best, and one of their best sounding recordings as well
  • The complete list of titles from 191 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • A lot of great records came out in 1971. We have reviewed a total of 132 of them to date, not bad!

(more…)

Neil Diamond – Moods

More Neil Diamond

  • There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals and in-your-listening-room midrange presence – don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing along with “Song Sung Blue” 
  • “This album, and its follow-up live album Hot August Night, are generally acknowledged to be the two most important recording projects of Diamond’s career in terms of defining his signature sound for the future.”
  • “There is nothing on this album that is not catchy, intelligent, playful, sentimental and incredibly likable.”
  • If you’re a Neil Diamond fan, and who isn’t?, this 1972 superb sounding release belongs in your collection.

(more…)

Spirit – The Family That Plays Together

More Spirit

More Psychedelic Rock

  • The band’s sophomore release finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • A very difficult album to find with good sound and audiophile quality surfaces
  • Both sides have presence, size and space we guarantee you have never heard on this album in all your born days
  • I Got A Line On You was the big hit and it really rocks on this copy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “On this, the second Spirit album, the group put all of the elements together that made them the legendary (and underrated) band that they were. Jazz, rock & roll, and even classical elements combined to create one of the cleanest, most tasteful syntheses of its day.”

This is a record I grew up with and like to think I know well. I’m a huge fan of the band. For audiophiles the first album and Clear are better recordings. This one has its problems, but so does Twelve Dreams and that album belongs in any rock collection worthy of the name.

The sound on the better copies isn’t unlike a good Jefferson Airplane record. It’s crazy psychedelic ’60s music with a LOT going on, and I’m guessing it was pretty hard to get the raw power of this band onto tape. (more…)

Bread – The Best of Bread

  • With two seriously good sides, this pressing will show you just how good Bread’s music can sound on All Analog vinyl
  • A Better Records Desert Island Disc if there ever was one — believe me, there are scores of them
  • This is one of the rare Greatest Hits compilations (and this band had a LOT of hits) that is sonically competitive with the original albums
  • You’ll find most of the best Bread ballads here, including Make It With You, Everything I Own, Baby I’m A Want You, and If
  • All Music on their first album – “… effectively the birth of Californian soft rock…” (We think this applies equally well to all of their early material)

A Better Records Desert Island Disc if ever there was one. Believe me, there are plenty of them.

Listening to these acoustic guitars brings back memories of my first encounter with a British original of Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman. Rich, sweet, full-bodied, effortlessly dynamic — that sound knocked me out thirty years ago, and here it is again. I guess I’ve just always been a sucker for this kind of well-crafted pop. (I was buying Bread album in the early Seventies while still in high school.) If you are too, then this killer copy of The Best of Bread will no doubt become a treasured disc in your home as well.

When you hear sound this good, it makes you appreciate the music even more than the sound. Over the years I’ve even come to enjoy the rockers on side two. I used to consider side two the weak part of the album. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of the Everly Brothers or The Beatles. It’s Pure Pop for Now People, to borrow a good line from Nick Lowe.

Of course, by Now People, I’m referring to people who appreciate the music that came out more than thirty years ago. Whenever I hear a pop record with sound like this, I have to ask myself, “What went wrong with popular recordings over the last two or three decades? Why do none of them ever sound like this?”

Not to worry. Audiophiles with good turntables have literally an endless supply of good recordings to discover and enjoy. No matter how many records you have, you can’t have scratched the surface of the recorded legacy of the last 60+ years. That’s the positive thought for the day. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just another step on your journey through the world of music.

One further note. Records like this only get better over time. There are no shortcomings in this recording to be revealed by better equipment, in painfully stark contrast to the vast majority of audiophile pressings and remasterings that reveal their phony, lifeless and often just plain weird sound as your stereo and critical listening skills improve. In other words, if you make a change to your stereo and this record starts to sound better, you did the right thing. (more…)

Spirit / The Family That Plays Together – The Hit Can Be Rough

More Spirit

More Psychedelic Rock

This is a review from our first shootout, 2013. I had been playing the album since 1968, but by 2013, a mere 45 years later, we had the cleaning technologies and the stereo system to finally get the album to sound right, to us anyway.

This is, again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the beast for those of us who constantly make improvements to our playback and critically listen to records all day.

We get asked about this classic album a lot, but until recently we were not convinced that we’d ever be able to find a great sounding copy. We built up a huge stack of copies and finally took the plunge; I am pleased to report that even though you’ll never hear a copy of this album that screams “Demo Disc”, you can certainly find ones that communicate the music well if you clean and play enough of ’em.

This is a record I grew up with and like to think I know well. I’m a big fan of the band. I have almost never heard this record sound good at all, which is why you’ve never seen a Hot copy on the site. We’ve finally managed to find a few good copies — it wasn’t easy.

The sound isn’t too dissimilar from what you get on a good Jefferson Airplane record. It’s crazy psychedelic ’60s music with a LOT going on, and I’m guessing it was pretty hard to get the raw power of this band onto tape.

Side one rates A++ to A+++ and side two is close behind at A++. A copy with grades like these gives you bigger, fuller, more open sound as well as more energy and presence. Importantly, there’s more separation between the various instruments here, a feature that really allows you to make sense of the music and appreciate everything that’s going on. This copy is more open and transparent than the typical pressing by a mile.

The first track on side two is a step down from the rest sonically, I’m afraid. And there are times on the album where you can hear some grit and distortion, but trust us — that’s on the tape, and any steps taken after the fact to remove it would rob the instruments of their natural texture. We all enjoy rich, smooth sound, but it’s not worth losing musical information. This record may not sound perfect, but it sounded right to our ears, and most copies just plain don’t. (more…)