Top Engineers – Bruce Botnick

The Doors – L.A. Woman – Rhino Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

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Reviews of L.A. Woman

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The Rhino pressing we auditioned from the Doors Box Set was surprisingly good. It’s rich and smooth with an extended top end — tonally correct in other words — and there’s lots of bass. This is all to the good. For the thirty bucks you might pay for it you’re getting a very good record, assuming yours sounds like ours, something we should really not be assuming, but we do it anyway as there is no other way to write about records other than to describe the sound of the ones we actually have on hand to play.

What it clearly lacks compared to the best originals is, first and foremost, vocal immediacy. There’s a veil that Jim Morrison is singing through, an effect which becomes more bothersome with time, as these sorts of frustrating shortcomings have a habit of doing.

A bit blurry, a bit smeary, somewhat lacking in air and space, on the plus side it has good energy and better bass than most of the copies we played. All in all we would probably give it a “B.” You could do a helluva lot worse.

Record Collecting Advice

All the ’70s and ’80s reissues of this album we’ve ever played were just awful, especially those with the date inscribed in the dead wax.

Remastering Out Too Much of the Good Stuff

What is lost in the newly remastered recordings so popular with the record collecting public these days ? Lots of things, but the most obvious and irritating is the loss of transparency.

Modern records tend to be small, veiled and recessed, and they rarely image well. But the most important quality they lack is transparency. Almost without exception they are opaque. They resist our efforts to hear into the music.

We don’t like that sound, and like it less with each passing day, although we certainly used to put up with it back when we were selling what we considered to be the better Heavy Vinyl pressings from the likes of DCC, Speakers Corner, Cisco and even Classic Records.

Now when we play those records they either bore us to tears or frustrate us with their veiled, vague, lifeless, ambience-challenged presentation.

It was sometime in 2007 when we turned a corner. The remastered Blue on Rhino Heavy Vinyl came out and was such a mediocrity that we asked ourselves “Why bother?” That was all she wrote.

We stopped selling those third-rate remasters and dedicated ourselves to finding, cleaning, playing and critically evaluating vintage pressings, regardless of era or genre of music.

The result is a website full of great sounding records that should find special appeal with audiophiles who set high standards, who own good equipment and who have well-developed critical listening skills.

What We Think We Know about The Doors’ Soft Parade Album

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This vintage Doors pressing (either on the Elektra Gold or Big Red E Label, nothing else will do) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely reproduce.

Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

What the best sides of The Soft Parade have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1969
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

A New Test

A test we found helpful on side two was the quality of the strings on Wishful Sinful. Man, they can really get shrieky and shrill on some copies. The best side two’s like this one have them sounding high-rez, rosiny and (almost) smooth.

No two copies of an album will get those strings to sound the same. If you don’t believe us just pull out two copies and listen for yourself. You may be in for quite a shock. You can adjust your VTA (you can and should) until you find the maximum resolution, most body, most harmonic extension, as well as the most correct tonality on the strings, but after you do, you will still never get two different pressings to sound the same. (more…)

The Doors – L.A. Woman

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  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard L. A. Woman sound remotely as good as it does here
  • Dramatically better than most of what we played, this early pressing is huge, lively and rich, with in-the-room vocal presence
  • Our White Hot Stamper of L.A. Woman was the best copy we heard in our recent shootout – it’s got the big Bruce Botnick sound we love
  • If all you know are the various Heavy Vinyl versions, this outstanding copy will show you just what you’ve been missing
  • “The seven-minute title track was a car-cruising classic that celebrated both the glamour and seediness of Los Angeles; the other long cut, the brooding, jazzy ‘Riders on the Storm,’ was the group at its most melodic and ominous.”

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Love – Love

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  • A superb sounding stereo original of Love’s first album, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • A classic from 1966, a combination of proto-punk and psychedelia featuring My Little Red Book, Hey Joe and more
  • The first Love album is without a doubt the punchiest, liveliest, most POWERFUL recording in the Love catalog
  • Engineered by none other than Bruce Botnick, here is the kind of massive bottom end weight and energy that we like to call WHOMP
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Love’s debut is both their hardest-rocking early album and their most Byrds-influenced…”

Some of you may not know this music, but it’s a true Must Own Psychedelic Gem from the ’60s, a record no rock collection should be without, along with other groundbreaking albums from the ’60s such as Surrealistic Pillow, The Doors’ debut, the first Spirit album and too many others to list.

If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1966 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. This Gold Label pressing is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

This IS the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. Of course there’s a CD of this album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable and a good collection of vintage vinyl have no need of it. (more…)

John Sebastian – John B. Sebastian

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  • 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…)

The Doors – Listening in Depth to The Soft Parade

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

 

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Our shootout from a while back (4/2014) included a minty Gold Label pressing, which did reasonably well, but not great, on side one. Side two however was OFF THE CHARTS and won the shootout on that side handily. The fact that side one wasn’t a knockout is yet more evidence that individual pressings with the same label — even the “right” label — vary dramatically in sound.

The sound of most pressings of The Soft Parade is just plain horrible. The brass that opens side one is so pinched, compressed, grainy and aggressive it will practically make your hair stand on end. Almost all the reissue LPs sound like they are made from sub-generation EQ’d compressed tape copies, what are commonly called cutting masters. So many reissues have such a similar character that it’s hard to imagine they’re not all sourced from the same bad “master.”
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Love – Da Capo

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  • Insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) stereo sound or close to it from start to finish and one of the few White Hot copies to ever make it to the site
  • The recording quality here is big, rich and Tubey Magical, with lovely breathy vocals and a massive bottom end – thanks Bruce Botnick!
  • “… a truly classic body of work, highlighted by the atomic blast of pre-punk rock “7 and 7 Is” (their only hit single), the manic jazz tempos of “Stephanie Knows Who,” and the enchanting “She Comes in Colors,” perhaps Lee’s best composition (and reportedly the inspiration for the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow”).”

If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1967 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. This Gold Label pressing is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it. (more…)

The Doors – Morrison Hotel

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  • A wonderful early pressing of this hard-rockin’ Doors album, with incredible Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Rich, big and full-bodied, with clarity and energy to spare, this is the way you want to hear the Doors’ Bluesy Rock
  • Roadhouse Blues, Waiting For The Sun and Maggie McGill are KILLER on this pressing – all you Doors fans are gonna flip
  • Circus Magazine praised it as “possibly the best album yet from the Doors” and “Good hard, evil rock, and one of the best albums released this decade.”

Too many pressings aren’t rich and full-bodied enough to reproduce Jim Morrison’s rich baritone. He’s The Lizard King, not The Frog Prince for crying out loud. When he doesn’t sound big, powerful, and borderline scary, what’s the point? Not to worry. On these two sides, he sounds AMAZING. Just listen to him screaming his head off on Roadhouse Blues and projecting the power of his rich baritone on Blue Sunday. Nobody did it any better. By the way, the sound of the organ on that track is crazy good. (more…)

Dave Mason – Alone Together on MCA Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing. 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.

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. 

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 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. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Room Treatments Bring Out The Best

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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 = 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.

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 thirty years ago, and I can honestly say I have never tired of this music in the decades since.