Top Engineers – Henry Lewy

Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark

Hot Stamper Pressings of Court and Spark Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

  • The sound is rich, warm and natural, with wonderful transparency, ambience and loads of Tubey Magic
  • Musically this is one of our favorite Joni albums here at Better Records, and probably her Best Recording as well
  • A proud member (along with Blue) of our Top 100 Rock and Pop albums – yes, it’s that good sounding when it’s mastered and pressed as well as this copy is
  • 5 stars: “[A] remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz … the music is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last.”
  • Court and Spark, along with For the Roses, are two of the best sounding albums in Joni Mitchell’s canon. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.
  • If you’re a Joni fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1974 is an absolute Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Court and Spark deserves to be heard with all the clarity, beauty and power that our Hot Stampers reproduce so well. If there is a better sounding album with Joni Mitchell’s name on the cover, you’ll have to prove it to us.

What you hear is the sound of the real tape; every instrument has its own character because the mastering is correct and the vinyl — against all odds — managed to capture all (or almost all; who can know?) of the resolution that the tape had to offer. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Blue

More Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

  • With two Double Plus (A++) or BETTER sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Joni’s 1971 masterpiece sound this good
  • Full-bodied and balanced with the kind of smooth musicality that’s not always easy to find for Blue
  • A Better Records Top 100 title that belongs in any audiophile music collection worthy of the name
  • 5 stars: “Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell’s songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity…”
  • Everything changed for us in 2007 with the release of the Hoffman/Gray-mastered Rhino pressing of Blue, a record that made us ask ourselves, “Why are we selling records that we would not want to own or listen to ourselves?”
  • It was truly a kicked-in-the-head-by-a-mule moment for all of us here at Better Records, and I am glad to say one kick was all it took

The best copies bring out the breathy quality to Joni’s voice, and she never sounds strained. They are sweet and open, with good bass foundation and transparency throughout the frequency range.

The best pressings (and our better playback equipment) have revealed nuances to this recording — and of course the performances of all the players along with it — that made us fall in love with the music all over again. Of all the tough nuts to crack, this was the toughest, yet somehow copies emerged from our shootouts that made it easy to appreciate the sonic merits of Blue and ignore its shortcomings.

Hot Stampers have a way of doing that. You forget it’s a record; it’s now just Music. The right record and the right playback will bring this music to life in a way that you cannot imagine until you hear it. That is our guarantee on Blue — better than you ever thought possible or your money back.

The Sound of Vintage Vinyl

This vintage Reprise pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (For proof just check out the mediocre pressing Steve Hoffman mastered for Rhino on Heavy Vinyl. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Look Around

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

More Bossa Nova

  • An excellent pressing of Look Around with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • We go CRAZY for the breathy multi-tracked female vocals and the layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, as well as the piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself
  • “The Look of Love” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” are the epitome of Bossa Nova Magic on this exceptional pressing
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Sergio Mendes took a deep breath, expanded his sound to include strings lavishly arranged by the young Dave Grusin and Dick Hazard, went further into Brazil, and out came a gorgeous record of Brasil ’66 at the peak of its form.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and crew, this early pressing from 1967 surely belong in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

As you may have noticed, we here at Better Records are HUGE Sergio Mendes fans. Nowhere else in the world of music can you find the wonderfully diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the girls’ breathy multi-tracked vocals and the layers and layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the crucially important, always tasteful keyboards and arrangements of Sergio himself.

Most copies of Look Around are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled, smeary and full of compressor distortion in the loudest parts. Clearly, this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

Our Hot Stamper pressings are the ones that are as far from that kind of sound as we can find them. We’re looking for the records that have none of those bad qualities. I’m happy to report that we have managed to find some awfully good sounding copies for our Hot Stamper customers. (more…)

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill

More Sergio Mendes

More Bossa Nova

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Fool on the Hill you’ve heard
  • Sergio’s unique rearrangement of two songs in particular here make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and title trackl
  • Top engineers for A&M, Henry Lewy and Larry Levine, capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of these wonderful female leads – Lani Hall, Karen Philipp and Gracinha Leporace
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Even though he had become thoroughly embedded in the consciousness of mainstream America, Mendes still managed to have it three ways, exposing first-class tunes from little-known Brazilian talent, garnering commercial hits, and also making some fine records.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and the band, this early pressing from 1968 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Two songs in particular make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and The Fool On The Hill. Both of them are given wonderfully original treatments. These songs hold their own against the originals, and that’s saying something.

Sergio took on many of the heavyweights of his day, and most of the time he succeeded in producing a uniquely satisfying version of well-known material. Superb original tracks by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell and others were given the Sergio Mendes latin pop treatment and came out much the better for it.

This vintage A&M pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

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Neil Young / Harvest – How Does the Heavy Vinyl Pressing Sound?

More of the Music of Neil Young

Reviews and Commentaries for Harvest

How does the heavy vinyl sound? We have no idea, never played one.

Actually, we do have an idea. Although we’ve never auditioned the heavy vinyl pressing of Harvest, we have played the newly remastered After the Gold Rush. We concluded that this is a reissue series that holds very little appeal for us as audiophiles. Some excerpts from our review for ATGR follow.

We know what the good pressings of the album sound like, we play them regularly, and this newly remastered vinyl is missing almost everything that makes the album essential to any Right Thinking Music Lover’s collection.

We can summarize the sound of this awful record in one word: boring. Since some of you may want to know more than that we’ll be happy to break it down for you a bit further.

What It Does Right

It’s tonally correct.

Can’t think of anything else…

What It Does Wrong

Where to begin?

It has no real space or ambience. When you play this record it sounds as if they must have recorded it in a heavily padded studio. Somehow the originals of After the Gold Rush, like most of Neil’s classic albums from the era, are clear, open and spacious.

Cleverly the engineers responsible for this audiophile remastering have managed to reproduce the sound of a dead studio on a record that wasn’t recorded in one.

In addition, the record never gets loud. The good pressings get very loud. They rock, they’re overflowing with energy.

And, lastly, there’s no real weight to the bottom end. The Whomp Factor on this new pressing is practically non-existent. The low end of the originals is huge, deep and powerful.

The Bottom Line

This new Heavy Vinyl pressing is boring beyond all understanding. I wouldn’t give you a nickel for it. If Neil Young actually had anything to do with it he should be ashamed of himself.

If you want a good copy of the album we have them on the site from time to time. If you can’t afford our Hot Stampers, please don’t waste your money on this one. I have an old CD from 30 years ago, and it is dramatically better than this LP.

Pass / Fail

We think the Heavy Vinyl pressing of After the Gold Rush is so awful that whatever supporters it may have — and there are surely some who have spoken well of it on audiophile forums somewhere, having seen the most ridiculously bad audiophile records touted again and again — are failing utterly in this hobby in one or both of the following ways.

They either cannot reproduce its shortcomings, or, having reproduced them, they have failed to recognize them.

Either one spells trouble. One or both should act as a wake up call of the most pressing kind. We explain what we mean by this kind of failure in more detail here:

Some records are so wrong, or are so lacking in qualities that are crucial to the reproduction of Hi-Fidelity sound — qualities typically found in abundance on the right vintage pressings — that the supporters of these records are failing fundamentally to judge them correctly. We call these records Pass-Fail.

Tea for the Tillerman on the new 45 may be substandard in almost every way, but it is not a Pass-Fail pressing. It lacks one thing above all others, Tubey Magic, so if your system has an abundance of that quality, the way many vintage tube systems do, the new pressing may be quite listenable and enjoyable. Those whose systems can play the record and not notice this important shortcoming are not exactly failing. They most likely have a system that is heavily colored and not very revealing, but it is not a system that is necessarily hopeless or unmusical.

A system that can play the MoFi of Aja without revealing to the listener how wrong it is must necessarily be at another level of bad entirely. A stereo of such poor quality is clearly a failure, what else could it be?

My system in the ’80s played the MoFi Aja just fine. Looking back on it now, I realize my system was doing more wrong than right. (Having very poorly-developed critical listening skills played a big part in my apparent satisfaction with both the MoFi pressing and the sound of my stereo in general.)

Today’s incarnation of that awful MoFi is the Cisco pressing, and yes, some folks are as clueless these days as I was in 1982.

Like all Self-Taught Audiophiles, I had a lousy teacher. I didn’t know it at the time — how could I? — but I had a very long way to go.

Some of the lessons I learned along the way, lessons you may find helpful in your own personal audio journey, can be found here.

The dramatic audio progress we’ve made in our 35 years in the record business, playing and selling thousands of audiophile quality vinyl LPs, is what has allowed us to recognize just how second- and third-rate most Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered pressings really are.

Head to head with a good vintage LP — those you see pictured below, for example — they are simply not competitive. We think the new Harvest is unlikely to be worth our time, but if you have a copy of the album and like the sound of it, please send it to us so that we can hear it for ourselves We will put it up against the amazing sounding vintage pressings we offer and report our findings, whatever they turn out to be.

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Joni Mitchell / Court And Spark – The DCC LP Is Not Bad!

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Sonic Grade: B

Steve’s version is very musical; it’s rich and natural sounding, which of course makes it very enjoyable. You can do a lot better but you sure can do a lot worse.

Opaque, veiled, lifeless, dull sound is the norm for Court and Spark — most copies are dead as a doornail. If they’re not dead, they’re likely to be thin and gritty.

The DCC is a big improvement over the average domestic pressing. (The original SYL British imports are fairly competitive with the DCC; the later Brits with the K catalog numbers suck as a rule.)

The Nautilus Half-Speed is pretty but lifeless, like so many of their pressings (and Half-Speed Mastered records in general). I would grade it about a C. Don’t waste your money. Keep buying originals until you find a good one.

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David Crosby – What? No Classic Records LP on the TAS Super Disc List?

More of the Music of David Crosby

TAS List Super Discs with Hot Stampers

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

We applaud TAS’s decision not to add the Classic pressing of this title to the list, the way they foolishly have with so many other Classic pressings that have no business being on anything called a Super Disc list.

Dark Side Ones

Those of you who’ve played a sufficient number of copies of the album surely know that side one has a marked tendency to be darker and duller than side two. Finding a good side one is five times harder than finding a good side two. If your copy sounds recessed and lacks extension up top, don’t feel bad. Most of them do.

(By the way, the first track has that “home recording” sound and always sounds weak compared to the rest of this album. Don’t expect any wonders. As a wannabe hit single, peaking at #95 on the charts, it may even be sourced here from a dub of the real master tape. That shit happens.)

Your Reward Awaits You

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, records like this are the reward for owning the right stereo equipment and having it properly tweaked. There is no way in the world I could have played this album 20 years ago remotely as well as I can now. It only makes me appreciate the music even more.

You Don’t Have to Be High to Hear It

When you drop the needle on this record, all barriers between you and the musicians are removed. You’ll feel as though you’re sitting at the studio console while Crosby and his no-doubt-stoned-out-of-their-minds Bay Area pals (mostly Jefferson Airplaners and Grateful Deads, see list below) are laying down this emotionally powerful, heartfelt music.

The overall sound is warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied… that’s some real ANALOG Tubey Magic, baby! And the best part is, you don’t have to be high to hear it. You just need a good stereo and the right pressing.

Barncard’s Masterpiece

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the superbly talented recording engineer on this project, Stephen Barncard (American Beauty, Deja Vu, Tarkio, etc.). This album is without a doubt his masterpiece. It fully deserves its standing as one of the Ten or Twenty Best Sounding Rock Recordings of All Time.

Here are some Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

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Neil Young – Harvest

More Neil Young

Reviews and Commentaries for Harvest

  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides, this STUNNING vintage copy of Neil’s undeniable classic is guaranteed to be the best you’ve ever heard
  • Apologies for the high price, but it has been years since we found a copy this nice, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying
  • It’s practically impossible to find an early pressing with sound this good and vinyl that plays as quietly as this
  • Scratches are the rule, not the exception, but thankfully this copy has none
  • A Top 100 album and a sublime recording no audiophile should be without
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…the love songs and the harrowing portrait of a friend’s descent into heroin addiction, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” remain among Young’s most affecting and memorable songs.”
  • If you’re a Neil Young fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1972 is clearly one of his best
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

When you have this kind of open, extended top end, the grit, grain and edge just disappear, leaving you with a clear, Tubey Magical sound that’s way beyond anything you have ever heard (or we give you your money back). Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the string of superb studio albums Neil released from 1970 to 1976.

Just look at these titles:

After The Gold Rush,

Harvest,

On The Beach,

Tonight’s The Night, and

Zuma.

I can’t think of anyone else besides Zeppelin (first six titles) and The Beatles (you pick ’em!) who put out this many killer albums consecutively. We consider each of those albums a work of profound creativity, and we can proudly claim to have found copies of each with the sonic credentials to bring these masterpieces to life.

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David Crosby – Hand Claps Are Key

More of the Music of David Crosby

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of David Crosby

Note how Crosby’s voice is “chesty” on the better sounding copies. Some make him sound like he’s all mouth and no diaphragm. When his voice is full-bodied and solid, that’s when he sounds more like a real person and less like a pop recording of a person.

All credit must go to Stephen Barncard.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, not exactly a tough call if you ask us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording? 

Listening Test

One of our key test tracks for side one is Cowboy Movie, and one thing that separated the best pressings from the lesser ones was the sound of the hand claps. It’s a dense mix and they are not easy to hear, but on the best copies there is audible echo and ambience around them, with a richer “flesh on flesh” quality to their sound.

Not many pressings had it, and the ones that did tended to do most other things well also.

Which is what makes it a good test! (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Miles of Aisles

More Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

  • This Joni Mitchell classic boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all four sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Henry Lewy brings the analog richness, smoothness and clarity he achieved on Court and Spark to the recording – it’s some of the best live sound we’ve ever heard
  • Joni reworks some of her best-loved songs for this concert, with five tracks from Blue alone (!), and the new arrangements show us just how vital her early ’70s work has turned out to be
  • “It’s a strong album of her best songs performed mostly informally… Much of the material here is beautiful, replete with the patented Mitchell tension. And a word for engineer Henry Lewy—the sound is terrific, the best reproduced concert album I’ve heard.” Rolling Stone
  • If like us you’re a big Joni Mitchell fan, then this killer live album from 1974 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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