Top Engineers – George Horn

Art Pepper – Which Is Better: Phil DeLancie Digital or George Horn Analog?

More of the Music of Art Pepper

More Jazz Recordings featuring the Saxophone

We’ve wanted to do Art Pepper Today for more than a decade, but the original Galaxy pressings were just too thick and dark to earn anything approaching a top sonic grade. Thirty years ago on a very different system I had one and liked it a lot, but there was no way I could get past the opaque sound I was now hearing on the more than half-dozen originals piled in front of me.

So, almost in desperation we tried an OJC reissue from the ’90s. You know, the ones that all the audiophiles on the web will tell you to steer clear of because it has been mastered by Phil DeLancie and might be sourced from digital tapes.

Or digitally remastered, or somehow was infected with something digital somehow.

Well, immediately the sound opened up dramatically, with presence, space, clarity and top end extension we simply could not hear on the originals. Moreover, the good news was that the richness and solidity of the originals was every bit as good. Some of the originals were less murky and veiled than others, so we culled the worst of them for trade and put the rest into the shootout with all the OJCs we could get our hands on.

Now, it’s indisputable that Phil DeLancie is credited on the jacket, but I see George Horn‘s writing in the dead wax of the actual record, so I really have no way of knowing whether Mr Delancie in fact had anything to do with the copies I was auditioning. They don’t sound digital to me, they’re just like other good George Horn-mastered records I’ve heard from this period.

And of course we here at Better Records never put much stock in what record jackets say; the commentary on the jackets rarely has much to do with the sound of the records inside them in our experience.

And, one more surprise awaited us as we were plowing through our pile of copies.

When we got to side two we found that the sound of the Galaxy originals was often competitive with the best of the OJCs. Which means that there’s a good probability that some of the original pressings I tossed for having bad sound on side one had very good, perhaps even shootout winning sound, on side two.

This is a lesson I hope to take to heart in the future. I know very well that the sound of side one is independent of side two, but somehow in this case I let my prejudice against the first side color my thinking about the second.

Of all the people who should know better…

Bill Evans – Conception

More Bill Evans

  • This wonderful Milestone Two-Fer from 1981 boasts STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on the other three – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy that’s this well balanced, big and lively, with wonderful clarity in the mids and highs
  • 4 stars: “Even in 1956, Evans had his own chord voicings and a lyrical yet swinging style… A strong start to a significant career.”
  • “In addition, there is a full album of previously unreleased music: an alternate take of ‘No Cover, No Minimum,’ an unaccompanied version of ‘Some Other Time’ from 1958 and four solo pieces that Evans cut in 1962, his first recordings after the tragic death of his bassist Scott LaFaro.”
  • If you’re a Bill Evans fan, this All Tube Recording released in 1957 should make a welcome addition to your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Wes Montgomery / Boss Guitar – Killer on Vintage OJC

More of the Music of Wes Montgomery

This Is a Potentially Good Sounding OJC Pressing

This is one of Wes Montgomery’s best albums from his prime ’60s period, if not THE best. Rich and full-bodied but clear and spacious, the 1963 All Tube Analog sound is perfect for Wes’s organ trio format. 

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound correctly on to disc was simply to thread up that tape on a reasonably good machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record — certainly not as good sounding as this one — these days tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years.

George Horn

George Horn was doing brilliant work for Fantasy all through the ’80s. This album is proof that his sound is the right sound for this music.

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John Coltrane / Soultrane – The Original OJC Sucks

More of the Music of John Coltrane

Potentially Good Sounding OJC Pressings

Not Very Good Sounding OJC Pressings

The early OJC reissues of this title are awful, and whatever Heavy Vinyl they’re churning out these days is probably every bit as bad, but in the opposite way.

The OJC is thin and bright, and the modern reissue (I’m guessing, based on playing scores of them) is probably thick, veiled, overly smooth, lacking in space and boosted in the bass — because that’s the sound that audiophiles record buyers seem to like these days.

Without the excellent sounding ’60s and ’70s reissues that we are still able to find in audiophile playing condition, all that we would have available with which to do our shootouts would be the originals. At the big bucks those records go for nowadays, shootouts would simply be impossible.

So our thanks go to Rudy for doing a good job on these later pressings!

And brickbats to George Horn, who seems to be the guy who cut the original OJC pressings. We like a lot of his work, but in this case he’s let us down.

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We Knew This Was a Good Record in the ’80s, We Just Didn’t Know How Good

More Chet Baker

This is a wonderful Chet Baker record that doesn’t seem to be getting the respect it deserves in the wider jazz world. You may just like it every bit as much as the Chet Baker “Chet” album, and that is one helluva record to compare any album to. In our estimation it is about as good as it gets in most respects.  

Both sides of the best copy in our last shootout were Tubey Magical, rich, open, spacious and tonally correct. We’d never heard the record sound better, and we’d been playing the album since it was first reissued in the ’80s.

I used to sell these very records in the ’90s — we retailed them for ten bucks, if you can believe it — but we had no clue just how good they could sound back then.

We couldn’t clean them right, or even play them right, and it would never have occurred to us to listen to a big pile of them one after another in order to pick out the best sounding copies.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound correctly on to disc was simply to thread up that tape on a reasonably good machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record — certainly not as good sounding as this one — these days tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years.

George Horn was doing brilliant work for Fantasy all through the ’80s. This album is proof that his sound is the right sound for this music. (more…)

Black, Green, Yellow, Orange – Which Contemporary Label Has the Best Sound?

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

Our Hot Stamper commentary from a long-ago shootout we had done for the wonderful Helen Humes album Songs I Like to Sing discusses the sonic characteristics we find most commonly associated with the various Contemporary labels.

This Contemporary Black Label Original LP has that classic tube-mastered sound — warmer, smoother, and sweeter than the later pressings, with more breath of life. Overall the sound is well-balanced and tonally correct from top to bottom, which is rare for a black label Contemporary, as they are usually dull and bass-heavy.

We won’t buy them locally anymore unless they can be returned. I’ve got a box full of Contemporarys with bloated bass and no top end that I don’t know what to do with.

Like most mediocre-to-bad sounding records around here, they just sit in a box taking up space. All of our time and effort goes into putting good pressings on the site and in the mailings. It’s hard to get motivated to do anything with the leftovers. We paid plenty for them, so we don’t want to give them away, but they don’t sound good, so most of our customers won’t buy them.

What to do, what to do? Ebay I guess, but that’s a long way down the road. It’s too much fun doing listings for good records these days to want to stop now. The average record is just average, and nothing is ever going to change that!

We shot this out against a variety of later pressings. The Black Label copies have a bit of echo added to the vocals and have the attributes listed above — warmth, sweetness, presence, and immediacy. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other; it’s really more a matter of taste.

More on the subject of Record Labels.

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Red Garland Trio – Groovy

More Red Garland

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What makes this vintage piano trio album in mono so special? Allow me to quote a review from a few years back for a pair of recordings that Red Garland made with Miles Davis back in the mid-’50s: Workin’ And Steamin’.

To the Jazz Fans of the World, we here present one of the BEST sounding jazz recordings we have ever had the PRIVILEGE to place on a turntable. I cannot ever recall hearing a better sounding Rudy Van Gelder recording, and I have a theory as to why this tape is as good as it is: it’s MONO. It also sounds like it’s recorded completely LIVE in the studio, direct to one track you might say. As good a recording as Kind of Blue is, I think the best parts of this album are more immediate and more real than anything on KOB.

The size, the weight, the solidity, the clarity, the energy, the rhythmic drive – it’s all here and more. We’ve never heard the record sound better, and that’s coming from someone who’s been playing the album since the ’80s.

These guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to transfer that vintage sound correctly onto vinyl disc was simply to thread up the tape on a high quality machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record these days — certainly not as good sounding as this one — tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years, if not decades. (more…)

Cannonball Adderley – Know What I Mean?

More Cannonball Adderley

More Bill Evans

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • 1961 recording technology coupled with the mastering chops of the very gifted George Horn results in the top quality sound found here
  • These guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one
  • 4 stars: “It’s hard to imagine any fan of mainstream jazz not finding much to love on this very fine recording.”

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Bill Evans Moon Beams – Superb on the Right OJC Pressing

More Bill Evans

  • One of the better copies of Bill Evans’ 1962 classic to ever hit the site
  • Full-bodied and warm, exactly the way vintage analog should sound, yet as clear and as open as any pressing you’ve heard (or your money back)
  • The first album Evans recorded after Scott LaFaro’s death and it is deeply immersive experience
  • Allmusic raves it’s “…so well paced and sequenced the record feels like a dream … Moonbeams was a startling return to the recording sphere and a major advancement in his development as a leader.”

Moon Beams is one of the best sounding Bill Evans records we’ve ever played. You can see why we chose it to be the first OJC Hot Stamper of his to hit the site back in 2015. Play It Might As Well Be Spring for the kind of sublime musical experience you only find on 20th century analog. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Misterioso

  • Monk’s live 1958 release makes its Hot Stamper debut, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big, lively, open and clear with Tubey Magical richness – just the right sound for this masterful quartet
  • Recorded live at the Five Spot Cafe in New York City, the energy here is palpable – according to Orrin Keepnews, Monk “played more distinctly here than on his studio albums in response to the audience’s enthusiasm during the performance”
  • 5 stars: “[The quartet’s] overwhelming and instinctual capacities directly contribute to the powerful swingin’ and cohesive sound they could continually reinvent.”

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