Top Engineers – Bruce Botnick

The Doors / The Soft Parade – What Happens When the Gold Label Doesn’t Have the Best Sound on Both Sides?

It gets marked the sonic grade it earned.

If a Big Red E label pressing sounded better to us on side two, if it somehow managed to sound better than any of our Gold Label originals, then it would earn the top grade on side two.

Here is how we described a killer copy we had not long ago:

With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side two and a Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy is practically as good as it gets. The sound on this Gold Label pressing is incredibly powerful — big, rich, full-bodied, present and lively. It’s HUGE, RICH, and FULL-BODIED, exactly the way it should be.

But note that side two was clearly not as good as side one. Even the best early pressings cannot be relied on to get both sides right. The pressing above is proof. We discuss the issue in the commentary below.

What are the sonic qualities by which a Pop or Rock record — any Pop or Rock record — should be judged?

Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, spaciousness, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, three-dimensionality, and on and on down the list.

When we can hear a good many of the qualities mentioned above on the side we’re playing, we provisionally award it a Hot Stamper grade. This grade is often revised over the course of the shootout, as we come to more fully appreciate just how good some of the other copies are.

Once we’ve been through all our side ones, we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner. Other copies have their grades raised or lowered depending on how they sounded relative to the shootout winner.

Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides of each pressing match up.

That’s why the most common grade for a White Hot Stamper pressing is Triple Plus (A+++) on one side and Double Plus (A++) on the other.

Finding the two best sounding sides from a shootout on the same LP does happen, but it sure doesn’t happen as often as we would like (!) There are just too many variables in the mastering and pressing processes to ensure that level of consistency.

But some pressings pull it off, triumphing over all comers and winning the shootout for both sides. These very special Triple Triple pressings have their own section, separate from our White Hot Stamper pressings. If you want the ultimate in audiophile sound for any particular title, this is where you will find it.

At the time of this writing there were about four times as many records with one White Hot side as there were records with White Hot Stamper sound on each side.

Record shootouts may not be rocket science, but they’re a science of a kind, one with strict protocols we’ve developed over the course of many years to ensure that the sonic grades we assign to our Hot Stampers are as accurate as we can make them.

The result of all our work speaks for itself. We guarantee you have never heard this music sound better than it does on our Hot Stamper pressing — or your money back.

Hot Stampers of The Soft Parade

Letters and Commentaries for The Soft Parade

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The Doors / Waiting For The Sun – Don’t the DCC Pressings All Sound Different Too?

I recently had a chance to listen again to this DCC pressing for the first time in many years. I was putting it up on ebay to sell and dropped the needle to check the sound. I can’t say I liked what I heard. Knowing the record as well as I do, I could her that the DCC was clearly to be brighter in the midrange.

When I went back to read what I had said about the DCC years ago, I saw that I had described that copy the same way. You can read it for yourself. Our old review follows.

We rate the DCC LP a B Minus

We used to like the DCC pressing of this Doors album. Now… not so much. It’s a classic case of Live and Learn.

Keep in mind that the only way you can never be wrong about your records is simply to avoid playing them. If you have better equipment than you did, say, five or ten years ago, try playing some of your MoFi’s, 180 gram LPs, Japanese pressings, 45 RPM remasters and the like. You might be in for quite a shock.

Of course the question on everyone’s mind is, “How does this Hot Stamper copy stack up to the famous DCC pressing?” After all, the DCC was the one we were touting all through the ’90s as The One To Beat.

Well, to be honest, the DCC is a nice record, but a really special original copy like this one throws a pretty strong light on its faults, which are numerous and frankly quite bothersome. The top end on the copy I played was a touch boosted, causing a number of problems.

For one, the cymbals sounded slightly tizzy compared to the real thing, which had a fairly natural, though not especially extended, top end.

But the real problem was in the midrange. Morrison sounded thinner and brighter, more like a tenor and less like a baritone, with a somewhat hi-fi-ish quality added to the top of his voice. Folks, I hate to say it, but if someone had told me that the record playing was half-speed mastered, I probably would have believed it. I detest that sound, and the DCC pressing bugged the hell out of me in that respect.

Morrison has one of the richest and most distinctive voices in the history of rock. When it doesn’t sound like the guy I’ve been listening to for close to forty years, something ain’t right.

The bottom end was also a tad boosted — not in the deep bass, but more in that area around 100-200 cycles, causing the sound to be overly rich. None of the originals we played had anything like it, so I’m pretty sure that’s a bit of added EQ Hoffman introduced for reasons known best to him.

Not So Fast There, O Hot Stamper Guru

But wait a minute — don’t all records sound different? Is it really fair to paint his version with such a broad brush on the basis of having played only one copy?

Of course not. Perhaps other copies sound better. (Maybe they sound worse. Think about that.) So here’s our offer to you, dear customer: We absolutely guarantee our Hot Stamper copies will handily beat the DCC pressing or your money back. We’ll even pay the return domestic shipping if for some reason you are not 100% satisfied with the sound of our Hot Stamper. Now there’s an offer you can’t refuse, for any one of you who love the album and have a wad of money burning a hole in your pocket.

More of The Doors

More Psych Rock

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John Sebastian – John B. Sebastian

More John Sebastian

  • KILLER sound throughout for this original Reprise pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it
  • “Freed from the confines of a four-piece band, he stretched further on his debut solo album… an eclectic but low-key introduction to the solo career of a former group member whose band was known for more elaborate productions, and all the more effective for that. ” – All Music

This Shootout Winner was clearly better than every other copy we played. 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. (more…)

Bruce Botnick Is One of Our Favorite Engineers

More of Our Favorite Engineers

Bruce Botnick is one of our favorite recording and mixing engineers. Click on the links below to find our in-stock Botnick engineered or produced albums, along with plenty of our famous commentaries.  

Bruce Botnick Engineered Albums with Hot Stampers

Bruce Botnick Engineered Albums We’ve Reviewed


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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The Doors / Waiting For the Sun

More of The Doors

More Psych Rock

  • The sound is present, lively and tonally correct, with Jim Morrison’s baritone reproduced with the weight, presence, space and depth all but missing from the reissues
  • It’s tough (not to mention expensive) to find these early Gold Label pressings with this kind of sound and reasonably quiet vinyl
  • “Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore were never more lucid… This was a band at its most dexterous, creative, and musically diverse …”

Here is THE BIG SOUND that makes Doors records such a thrill to play. Morrison’s vocals sound just right here — full-bodied, breathy and immediate. The transparency makes it possible to easily pick out Bruce Botnick’s double tracking of Morrison’s leads.

For a thrill just drop the needle on Not To Touch The Earth. Halfway through the song the members have sort of a duel — Robbie Krieger wailing on the guitar in one channel, Ray Manzarek pounding on the keyboards in the other, and John Densmore responding with drum fills behind them. On the average copy, the parts get congested and lose their power, but when you can easily pick out each musician, their part will raise the hair on your arms. It’s absolutely chilling, and it will no doubt remind you why you fell in love with The Doors in the first place. Who else can do this kind of voodoo the way that they do?

Check out the piano on Yes The River Knows on side two (such an underrated song!) or the big snare thwacks on Five To One to hear that Hot Stamper magic. The overall sound is airy, open, and spacious — you can really hear INTO the soundfield on a track like Yes The River Knows. The opaque quality that so many pressings of this album suffer from is nowhere to be found here. Not only that, but you will not believe how hard these sides rock. (more…)

The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

More Beach Boys

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

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  • This insanely good pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to them on both sides
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the way to go
  • The Beach Boys revolutionized the popular music of the day with their genius for harmony, and a killer copy like this has their voices sounding the way they should
  • 5 stars: “The group here reached a whole new level in terms of both composition and production, layering tracks upon tracks of vocals and instruments to create a richly symphonic sound.”

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Sergio Mendes – Room Treatments Bring Out The Big Speaker Whomp Factor

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Reviews and Commentaries for Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66’s Debut

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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. 

With recent changes to some of our room treatments, we now have even more transparency in the mids and highs, while improving the whomp factor (the formula goes like this: deep bass + mid bass + speed + dynamics + energy = whomp) at the listening position.

There’s always tons of bass being produced when you have three 12′ woofers firing away, but getting the bass out of the corners and into the center of the room is one of the toughest tricks in audio.

For a while we were quite enamored with some later pressings of this album — they were cut super clean, with extended highs and amazing transparency, with virtually none of the congestion in the loud parts you hear on practically every copy.

But that clarity comes at a price, and it’s a steep one. The best early pressings have whomp down below only hinted at by the “cleaner” reissues. It’s the same way super transparent half-speeds fool most audiophiles. For some reason audiophiles rarely seem to notice the lack of weight and solidity down below that they’ve sacrificed for this improved clarity. (Probably because it’s the rare audiophile speaker that can really move enough air to produce the whomp we are talking about here.)

But hey, look who’s talking! I was fooled too. You have to get huge amounts of garbage out of your system (and your room) before the trade-offs become obvious. When you find that special early pressing, one with all the magic in the midrange and top without any loss of power down below, then my friend you have one of those “I Can’t Believe It’s A Record” records. We call them Hot Stampers here at Better Records, and they’re guaranteed to blow your mind. (more…)

The Doors – Self-Titled

More of The Doors

More Top 100 Rock and Pop Albums

  • An outstanding copy of the band’s debut with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – we guarantee you’ve never experienced The Doors like this!
  • The sound is incredibly big, rich and spacious, with a rock solid bottom end and energy that puts the lie to the modern veiled, lifeless reissue
  • Only the right Gold Label originals can win a shootout, and few of them are not going to have condition issues, but the two here are fairly minor all things considered
  • A must-own album “whose nonstop melodicism and dynamic tension would never be equaled by the group again, let alone bettered.”
  • 5 stars: “A tremendous debut album, and indeed one of the best first-time outings in rock history, introducing the band’s fusion of rock, blues, classical, jazz and poetry with a knockout punch.”

Superb sound on this copy of the Doors self-titled classic! You won’t believe how good the sound is here — big and rich with plenty of bottom end and an energy level that’s really something to hear! Thanks, Bruce Botnick, you da man!

Honestly, we must return or reject 80% of the copies that come through the door, which should go a long way towards explaining why they hit the site with such irregularity. We know what the best stampers are and have for quite a while. What we have a devil of a time doing is finding anyone selling the album who knows how to grade it properly, especially when it comes to the kind of groove damage that’s common to records played on turntables that lack anti-skate. (more…)

Dave Mason / Alone Together – Bad Vinyl and Murky Sound

Some records are consistently too noisy to keep in stock no matter how good they sound.

This is one of them.

We have a section for records that tend to be noisy, and it can be found here.

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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 [circa 2012] 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.

You want to keep what is good about a Tubey Magical analog recording from The Golden Age of Rock while avoiding the pitfalls so common to them: poor resolution, heavy compression, thickness, opacity, blubber, compromised frequency extremes, lack of space and lack of presence.

How’s that for a laundry list of all the problems we hear on old rock records, and classical records and jazz records; all records really.

What record doesn’t have at least some of these faults? Not many in our experience. A copy with few or none of these problems would have White Hot Stamper sound indeed.

This Copy Rocks

Punchy and surprisingly DEEP bass is one of the first things you will notice when playing one of these Hot Stamper copies. Huge amounts of ambience fill out the space the extends from wall to wall (and all the way to the back of the studio), leaving plenty of room around each of the players. (more…)

Bud Shank And the Sax Section – An Undiscovered Gem

More Bud Shank

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

  • This stellar copy of Bud Shank’s 1966 release boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides – open, lively and dynamic throughout
  • Full, rich, and spacious with tons of Tubey Magic and, better yet, never dry, hard or transistory — true DEMO DISC QUALITY sound 
  • An absolutely amazing recording engineered by none other than Bruce Botnick – the sound of multiple saxes playing these lively arrangements is music to our ears
  • “… the album works, largely because of Bob Florence’s arrangements and the shrewd doubling of the baritone and bass sax parts, which give the charts heft at the bottom… The overall sound remains wonderfully reedy and flighty.”

Bruce Botnick sure knew what he was doing on this session. He succeeded brilliantly in capturing the unique sound of each of the saxes. The album is really more of a West Coast pop jazz record than it is a “real” jazz record. The arrangements are very tight, the songs are quite short — none exceed three and a half minutes — so there is not a lot of classic jazz saxophone improvisational blowing going on.

Spacious and transparent with plenty of analog Tubey Magic to go around, this is a really wonderful way to hear the music. The sax sound is excellent — rich and full, with none of the hard, edgy quality we heard on the less than stellar pressings. For richness and Tubey Magic — with no sacrifice in clarity or dynamics — these sides just could not be beat. (more…)