Top Engineers – Bill Schnee

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

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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…)

Listening in Depth to Carly Simon’s No Secrets

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The immensely talented engineer ROBIN GEOFFREY CABLE worked his audio magic on this album. You may recall that he recorded a number of the greatest sounding rock records of all time, Elton John’s self-titled second album and Tumbleweed Connection, both in 1970, as well as this album and Nilsson Schmilsson in 1972, with Richard Perry producing.

One more note: having your VTA set just right is critical to getting the best out of this album. The loudest vocal parts can easily strain otherwise. Once you get your settings dialed in correctly, a copy like this will give you the kind of rich, sweet sound that brings out the best in this music.

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Steely Dan – Gaucho

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  • With insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, this copy is guaranteed to handily beat any pressing of Gaucho you have ever played, especially the awful Ron McMaster Heavy Vinyl LP
  • This superb pressing has three-dimensional ambience, tubey richness, you-are-there immediacy, tight bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic on every track
  • 4 stars in the AMG, 4 1/2 in Rolling Stone, and one of this exceptionally well recorded band’s Three Best Sounding Albums – a true Must Own
  • “Despite its coolness, the music is quite beautiful. With its crystalline keyboard textures and diaphanous group vocals, ”Gaucho” contains the sweetest music Steely Dan has ever made.” New York Times

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Thelma Houston – I’ve Got The Music In Me

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  • This Sheffield direct-to-disc pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Loads of presence, with richness and fullness that showed us just how good the Direct to Disc medium at its best can be. It had everything going for it from top to bottom, with big bass, dynamics, clarity, top end extension (so silky up there!) and ENERGY
  • Make no mistake, this here is a real Demo Disc. The sound is Wall to Wall!
  • Unlike most Direct to Disc recordings this album actually contains real music worth listening to

In our recent Shootout this wonderful pressing sounded far better than most other copies we played. It fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, most copies of this title were quite good. Few didn’t do most things at least well enough to earn a Hot Stamper grade. This has not been the case with many of the Sheffield pressings we’ve done shootouts for in the past. Often the weaker copies have little going for them. They don’t even sound like Direct Discs!

Some copies lack energy, some lack presence, most suffer from some amount of smear on the transients. But wait a minute. This is a direct disc. How can it be compressed, or lack transients? Aren’t those tape recorder problems that are supposed to be eliminated by the direct to disc process?

“Supposed to be eliminated” is a long way from “were eliminated.” Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which affect the sound. The album is pressed in three different countries: the United States, Japan and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the plated acetates (the “fathers”) and many, many stampers made from those mothers.

Bottom line? You got to play ’em, just like any other record. If no two records sound the same, it follows that no two audiophile records sound the same, a fact that became abundantly clear very early on in the listening. Of course not many audiophiles are in a position to shootout eight or ten copies of I’ve Got The Music In Me, and I’m not sure most audiophiles would even want to. Here at Better Records we have a whole system set up to do exactly that, so we waited until we had a pile of them gathered together, cleaned them all up, and off to the races we went. (more…)

Ringo Starr – Ringo

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  • A KILLER copy with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades for sound and pressed on exceptionally quiet vinyl
  • Another Richard Perry production that sounds great – big and rich – thanks to excellent engineering skills of Bill Schnee, who you may remember from the credits of some of Sheffield’s better direct to disc recordings
  • The big hits are here and they sound fantastic: Photograph, You’re Sixteen, Oh My My and many, many more
  • “Ringo’s best and most consistent new studio album, Ringo represented both the drummer/singer’s most dramatic comeback and his commercial peak.”

Like Nilsson Schmilsson – an amazing Richard Perry production with much the same amazing sound – the bad copies are really just awful — veiled, smeary, compressed, rolled off up top and leaned out down low. It’s a big studio pop production with a lot going on; when it doesn’t work it really doesn’t work. Thankfully, on some copies it does, and this is one of those.

If you’ve tried killer Hot Stamper pressings of any of our favorite Richard Perry productions — No Secrets, Nilsson Schmilsson, Son of Schmilsson and Breakaway come to mind — you know the sound of this album.

Bill Schnee did some of the engineering. You probably know his name from the famous Sheffield Direct to Disc recordings he made there. If you like your records will lots of bottom end, richness, Tubey Magic and powerful dynamics, he’s the guy that can get that sound on tape, and Doug Sax, the mastering engineer for the album, is the guy that can get that sound onto disc. They made a great team. (more…)

Steely Dan – Aja

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  • An outstanding copy of Steely Dan’s magnificent Jazzy Pop breakthrough album
  • This one arrives with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Punchy, full and smooth, with the kind of rhythmic energy that brings out the jazzy funk in the music
  • A Better Records Rock and Pop Top 100 album and a true Demo Disc on an exceptional pressing like this
  • 4 1/2 stars: “With Aja, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s obsession with sonic detail and fascination with composition reached new heights. A coolly textured and immaculately produced collection of sophisticated jazz-rock, Aja has none of the overt cynicism or self-consciously challenging music that distinguished previous Steely Dan records … a shining example of jazz-rock at its finest. “

Folks, there’s not much I can tell you about this copy of Aja that’s going to make you want this record, other than to say this: If you’re in the market for a superb pressing of what’s gotta be the most beloved Steely Dan record they made, look no further. It’s right here. (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues – Volume III – The Best Sounding Copy We’ve Ever Heard

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  • A KILLER copy with DEMO DISC Shootout Winning QUADRUPLE Plus (A++++) sound on the second side and Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first
  • This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for this title
  • It doesn’t get any better than this, with CLARITY and that JUMP OUT OF THE SPEAKERS quality we desire from a Hot Stamper
  • Many copies of this album tend to sound a bit thin and somewhat bright; on this copy, the sound is rich, full, and tonally correct from top to bottom and the horns sound especially wonderful

Please note: we award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus!


What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tamborines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around. That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Steely Dan / Aja – One of the Great Audio Disasters, Courtesy of Mobile Fidelity

 

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Steely Dan – Aja

Sonic Grade: F
 
More Mofi Bashing, But Boy Does The MOFI Deserve It.

I remember back in the ’70s when I thought this album sounded pretty good on my plain old ABC original. Then I got a copy of the Mobile Fidelity pressing and I thought it sounded even better. Side two of the MoFi had bass that was only hinted at on my domestic copy.

Sometime in the ’80s I realized that the MoFi was hideously phony sounding, and that all the bass on side two was boosted far out of proportion to what was on the master tape. The song Home At Last must have at least an extra five DBs added at 40 cycles. It’s ridiculous.

And that’s just the bottom end; the highs are every bit as wrong. (more…)

The Sheffield Track Record – Who in His Right Mind Thinks This Is a Super Disc?

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The Sheffield Track Record

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame Pressing.

This is a Minty looking Sheffield Lab LP of Rock Instrumental Tracks For Audio Component Testing and Evaluation. Harry Pearson calls this absolutely the best sounding rock record ever made.

We cannot agree with HP as to the recording quality of this album. The sound is surprisingly compressed, and the music is every bit as lifeless as the sound.

The Sheffield Drum Record

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This Minty looking Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP has AMAZING SOUND. We played it against other pressings we had and this was clearly the winner. It’s lively, with a wonderfully extended top and bottom. We rate it about A++ – A+++ on both sides. 

The record features improvisations from Jim Keltner (one of the all-time great session drummers) and Ron Tutt (Elvis Presley’s studio drummer). The album is a member of the famous TAS list.