Top Engineers – Bruce Botnick

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Bruce Botnick and The Big Bottom End

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What separates Sergio from practically all of his ’60s contemporaries is the AMAZING SOUND of his recordings. The first album was recorded by the legendary BRUCE BOTNICK, the man behind the superb recordings of The Doors, Love and others too numerous to mention. This, in my opinion, is his Masterpiece. The Doors albums Bruce recorded represent some of his best work, but what Doors album sounds as good as Sergio’s debut? I can’t name one. [Actually I can: the first album, when you get the right pressing. It’s out of this world.] 

Only the best copies are sufficiently transparent to grant the listener the privilege of hearing all the elements laid out clearly, each occupying a real three-dimensional space within the soundfield. When you hear one of those copies, you have to give Botnick his due. The man knew what he was doing. (Larry Levine, who recorded the subsequent albums, was no slouch either. Stillness is one of the ten best sounding records I have ever played, and that’s no exaggeration.)

Funky Brazilian Music For Audiophiles

This is one of my favorite albums, one which certainly belongs in any Audiophile’s collection. Better sound is hard to find — when you have the right pressing. Unfortunately those are pretty hard to come by. Most LPs are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled and full of compressor distortion in the louder parts: this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

But we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and have since Day One. One of the first records I ever played for my good audio buddy Robert Pincus (Cisco Records) to demonstrate the sound of my system was Sergio’s syncopated version of Day Tripper off this album. That was close to twenty years ago, and I can honestly say I have never tired of this music in the intervening decades.

John Sebastian – John B. Sebastian – Reviewed in 2012

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

This Super Hot side one was clearly better than every other side one we played, with the exception of our shootout winner of course. It’s big, full-bodied and rich; in other words, it has that classic 1970 analog rock sound that we love. Bruce Botnick and his brother are two of the many engineers on the project, along with John Haeny, the man who recorded his share of legendary albums, some of our favorites by Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins, Linda Ronstadt and others.

Side One

A++, clear and harmonically rich. Tonally correct and ROCKIN’ too. It’s got a bit of smear and is not resolving at 100% but is awfully good in every other way.

Side Two

A+, it’s big and open but a bit thin, so the rockers don’t rock the way they should. The quieter songs work fine though. (more…)

Rita Coolidge – Nice Feelin’ – Reviewed in 2010

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

A very well recorded album. It’s easy to see why – two of the engineers are none other than Bruce Botnick and Glyn Johns. Al Kooper’s here too.

It is amazing given the exposure Rita Coolidge obtained through the Mad Dogs & Englishmen soundtrack that her second album for A & M is such a cult item. Covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Graham Nash and participation by names like Al Kooper, Glyn Johns, Bruce Botnick, and Marc Benno should have made this record her breakthrough…” AMG 

Crazy Horse – Crazy Horse

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  • A MONSTER Shootout Winning early pressing with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too  
  • Bruce Botnick engineered at Wally Heiders, with Henry Lewy in charge of the mix, so this album’s bona fides are hard to fault
  • Fans of Neil Young (and the album Zuma in particular) will find plenty to like here
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Since Crazy Horse first came to public attention as the backing band for Neil Young it makes sense to expect that the band on its own would play something similar to the hard guitar rock and country-rock heard on those albums… But there is more going on than that. Also joining in are veteran arranger/producer Jack Nitzsche and guitarist Nils Lofgren, while Ry Cooder adds slide guitar to a number of tracks.”

Drop the needle on ‘Gone Dead Train’ and tell me it doesn’t remind you of ‘Waiting for the End of the World’ by Elvis Costello. (more…)

How to Make All Your Records Sound Like Mobile Fidelity Pressings – For Free!

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The Doors first album is yet another obvious example of MoFi’s predilection for a sucked-out midrange.

Scooping out the middle of the midrange has the effect of creating an artificial sense of depth where none belongs. Play any original Bruce Botnick engineered album by Love or The Doors and you will notice immediately that the vocals are front and center.

When the DCC Doors first album was released on vinyl we noted that the vocals were finally back where they belonged. After having lived with the MoFi for so many years we’d almost forgotten. And now of course we can’t tolerate the smear and opacity of the DCC. We like to think we’re simply setting higher standards these days.

The midrange suckout effect is easily reproducible in your very own listening room. Pull your speakers farther out into the room, and also farther apart, and you can get that MoFi sound on every record you play. I’ve been hearing it in the various audiophile systems I’ve been exposed to for many years.

Nowadays I would place it under the general heading of My-Fi, not Hi-Fi. Our one goal for every tweak and upgrade we make is to increase the latter and reduce the former.

And note also that when you play your records too softly it results in an exaggerated, artificial sense of depth.

That’s one of the main reasons we play them loud; we want to hear which pressings have real presence and immediacy. They’re the ones that are most likely to win our shootouts. If you have any of our killer Hot stampers you surely know what I’m talking about.

Sergio Mendes – Equinox – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This Original A&M pressing has one of THE BEST SIDE ONES WE’VE EVER HEARD backed with a side two that’s nearly as amazing! The sound is DEMO DISC QUALITY from start to finish, first note to last. Side two was no slouch either, with A Double Plus sound, very nearly as good as we heard but falling just a tad shy of the best in the loudest passages. These old Sergio Mendes records can be VERY DYNAMIC, and only the best of the best will allow those dynamics to explode naturally, with the kind of ease that you only hear in analog.

We audiophiles love female vocals, always have; it’s a sound that a high end stereo can reproduce very well. But why do some audiophiles listen to poorly recorded junk like Patricia Barber and Diana Krall? Their recordings are DRENCHED in digital reverb; who is his right mind wants to hear the sound of digital reverb? Rickie Lee Jones may not be my favorite female vocal of all time, but at least you can make the case for it as a Well Recorded Vocal Album; it’s worlds better than anything either of the two artists mentioned above have ever done. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Equinox

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  • An incredible copy with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them
  • The engineering team of Bruce Botnick and Larry Levine capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of the wonderful female leads – Lani Hall and Janis Hansen
  • Watch What Happens, Night and Day, Wave – Mendes brings his innovative Bossa Nova arranging skills to these timeless classics
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Equinox continues the scrumptiously winning sound that Sergio Mendes cooked up in the mid-’60s, this time a bit more fleshed out… Again, the mix of American pop tunes old and new and Brazilian standards and sleepers is impeccable, and the treatments are smooth, swinging, and very much to the point.”

These Sergio Mendes records can be surprisingly dynamic, and only the better copies (such as this one) will allow those dynamics to explode naturally, with the kind of ease that only analog is capable of reproducing correctly in our experience.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, we’re the world’s biggest fans of Sergio Mendes here at Better Records. Brasil ’66, Stillness, and this album are ALL Desert Island Discs for us, and we even enjoy the hell out of some of the later albums. You can search all you want, but outside of The Beatles you are going to have a very tough time finding the diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the breathy, multi-part female vocals, their unusually voiced multi-tracked harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us not forget, Mendes’ superb keyboard work anchoring as well as jazzing up the whole production.

His stuff never sounds dated to us, and we’ve never heard another artist do anything in the ’60s samba idiom nearly as well. We love Astrud Gilberto’s albums from the period, which no doubt served as a template for the style Sergio wanted to create with his new ensemble, but Brazil 66 is clearly a step up in every way: songwriting, arranging, production, and quality of musicianship.

Just play the group’s amazing versions of Watch What Happens, Night and Day, or Jobim’s Wave to hear the kind of Mendes Magic that makes us swoon. For audiophiles it just doesn’t get any better. (Well, almost. Stillness is still the Ultimate, on the level of a Dark Side of the Moon or Tea for the Tillerman, but Equinox is right up there with it.) (more…)

Love – Da Capo – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

ONE OF THE BEST SIDE ONES WE’VE EVER HEARD on unusually quiet vinyl! Since side two is just one long track that we just can’t get too worked up about, this is EXACTLY the kind of copy we’d want to own. We had a chance to shootout a handful of copies recently and didn’t hear anything that could compete with side one of thie Elektra Gold Label Original Pressing. We are HUGE fans of Love and side one has three of our favorite songs by the band: Stephanie Knows Who, Orange Skies and Seven & Seven Is. Get ready to rock out with this one! (more…)

Dave Mason – Alone Together – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Alone Together appears to be criminally underrated as music nowadays, having fallen from favor with the passage of time. It is a surely a MASTERPIECE that belongs in any Rock Collection worthy of the name. Every track is good, and most are amazingly good. There’s not a scrap of filler here. The recording by Bruce Botnick (mix by Al Schmitt) is hard to fault as well.

1970 was a great time in music. Tea for the Tillerman, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Moondance, Sweet Baby James, Tumbleweed Connection, After the Goldrush, The Yes Album, McCartney, Elton John, His Band And Street Choir, Deja Vu, Workingman’s Dead, Tarkio, Stillness, Let It Be — need I go on?

Even in such illustrious company — I defy anyone to name ten albums of comparable quality to come out in any year — Alone Together ranks as one of the best releases of the year.

The Sound

We struggled for years with the bad vinyl and the murky sound of this album. Finally, with dozens of advances in playback quality and dramatically better cleaning techniques, we have now managed to overcome the problems which we assumed were baked into the recording. I haven’t heard the master tape, but I have heard scores of pressings made from it over the years. I confess I actually used to like and recommend the Heavy Vinyl MCA pressing. Rest assured that is no longer the case. Nowadays it sounds as opaque, ambience-challenged, lifeless and pointless as the rest of its 180 gram brethren. (more…)

Love and Forever Changes – Dreck from Sundazed

 

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Sonic Grade: F

Two Hall of Shame titles, and another two Sundazed records debunked.

We got hold of a minty original pressing of the first Love album back around 2007, so in preparation for the commentary I pulled one of the Sundazed pressings off the shelf, (Forever Changes, the only one we ever bothered to sell), cracked it open and threw it on the turntable. 

Gag, what a piece of crap. When I had auditioned them all those years ago (2002) it was — I’m not kidding — the best of the bunch. (more…)