Top Engineers – Howard Holzer

Phineas Newborn, Jr. – A World of Piano!

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  • One of the most musically impressive jazz piano recordings we’ve played in years – Newborn’s improvisational skills are operating at a very high level
  • The team of Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer insure that everything you want in an Audiophile Quality piano trio recording is here
  • If you don’t have any Phineas Newborn albums in your collection, this is definitely the place to start
  • 5 stars: “Phineas Newborn’s Contemporary debut (he would record six albums over a 15-year period for the label) was made just before physical problems began to interrupt his career…. He performs five jazz standards and three obscurities by jazz composers on this superb recital…”


Leroy Vinnegar Sextet – Leroy Walks!

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  • With a KILLER Shootout Winning Triple (A+++) side one mated to a solid Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy of Leroy Vinnegar’s debut album is one of the BEST we have ever heard – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The Contemporary LP stereo sound here is completely natural in every respect, yet still rich, warm and smooth
  • Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer engineered some of the best sounding records we have ever heard – here’s a textbook example of what the audiophiles at Contemporary were able to achieve in the studio
  • 4 stars: “…Vinnegar generously features his talented sidemen… A fine, straight-ahead session.”
  • Fans of exceptionally well-recorded West Coast jazz will find much to like on this recording from 1958.
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.


Andre Previn – These Two OJC Pressings Didn’t Make the Grade

Hot Stamper Pressings of Piano Jazz Albums Available Now

Hot Stamper Pressings on Contemporary Available Now

The mastering choices of the cutting engineers for these two recordings did them no favors.

Like so many of the early OJC pressings we’ve played over the years, we found that both of these reissues tended to be somewhat thin tonally, with a brittle top end, which can clearly be heard in the tizzy quality of the cymbals.

This is not remotely the right sound for a vintage Contemporary recording.

When doing the shootouts for these albums, warmth turned out to be key to the sound of the best copies.

When the piano sounds warm and smooth, everything else in the recording seems to fall into place.

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record-loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with others that — in our opinion — are best avoided by audiophiles looking for hi-fidelity sound. Some of these records may have passable sonics, but we found the music less than compelling.  These are also records you can safely avoid.

We also have an Audiophile Record Hall of Shame for records that were marketed to audiophiles for their putatively superior sound. If you’ve spent any time on this blog at all, you know that these records are some of the worst sounding pressings we have ever had the displeasure to play.

We routinely play them in our Hot Stamper Shootouts against the vintage records that we offer, and are often surprised at just how bad an “audiophile record” can sound and still be considered an “audiophile record.”

Further Reading

Sonny Rollins – Alternate Takes

  • With two superb Double Plus (A++) sides, you’ll have a hard time finding a copy that sounds remotely as good as this vintage Contemporary pressing
  • One of our favorite Sonny Rollins records for sound – both sides here are incredibly big, full-bodied and Tubey Magical
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This LP contains alternate versions of selections from two famous Sonny Rollins albums: Way out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders. These ‘new’ renditions… hold their own against the classic versions. [T]he music is hard-swinging and frequently superb.”

The album is made up of alternate takes from the Way Out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders sessions, and as such there is a bit of sonic variation between these tracks and the ones on the actual albums. The best-sounding songs here, particularly the material from Way Out West, can sound amazing!

All Tube in ’58

The best copies are rich and tubey; many pressings were thin and modern sounding, and for that they would lose a lot of points. We want this record to sound like something Roy DuNann recorded with an All Tube chain in 1958, and the best copies give you that sound, without the surface noise and groove damage the originals doubtless suffer from.

Some copies have much more space; some are more present, putting the musicians right in the room with you; some are more transparent, resolving the musical information much better than others, letting you “see” everyone in the studio clearly. Some have more rhythmic drive than others. On some the musicians seem more involved and energetic than they do on the average pressing.

The copies that do all these things better than other copies are the ones that win our shootouts.

This is one of the better copies we have ever played. We think you will enjoy it immensely.


What I Couldn’t Hear on My ’90s Tube System

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More Piano Recordings that Are Good for Testing

I have a very long history with Bells Are Ringing, dating back to the ’90s. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned, was mastered beautifully and is highly recommended if you want to work on your digital playback or other non-analog aspects of your system such as your room, electricity, speaker placement and such like.

Back in the day we often used it to test and tweak some of the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was

  • blurred mids,
  • lack of transient attack,
  • sloppy bass,
  • lack of space and transparency,
  • as well as other shortcomings too numerous to mention.

All of which I simply attributed at the time to the limitations of the vintage jazz pressing I owned.

A classic case of me rather foolishly blaming the recording.

I know better now. The record was fine. I just couldn’t play it right.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on the pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, setup, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on this blog.

My Old System

By the mid-’90s I had been seriously into audio for more than twenty years.

I had the Legacy Whisper Speaker System with 8 15″ woofers and added subs.

I had a Triplanar tonearm and a VPI Aries turntable sitting on Aurios with the Synchronous Drive System for the outboard motor.

I had custom tube amps and a custom tube preamp and phono stage. They were the best of their kind that I’d heard, at any price.

In short, I had a lot of expensive, high-quality equipment that sounded great to me.

Now, looking back on those days, I can see I was not at the level I needed to be in order to play Bells Are Ringing with any real fidelity to the master tape. My stereo was simply not resolving enough.

This system can play the record and make it sound like live music. I thought my old one could too, because I didn’t have a clue as to just how good audio in the home could get.

Clearly I had a lot to learn.

This is, once again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, your good records should sound better, and your mediocre-to-bad records should show you how mediocre to bad they really are. You need high quality sound before you can tell which are which.

This title of this letter gets right to the heart of it: “My stereo upgrades have widened the sonic chasm between good, old-fashioned records and their nouveau imposters.”

And We’re Still at It

We constantly strive to improve the quality of our cleaning and playback.

And we’re still at it. With this much money on the line, we had better be able to deliver the goods every time out.

Our customers seem to like the records they’ve been getting. They’ve written us hundreds of letters telling us so.

And we especially like the letters they write to us once they’ve compared our Hot Stamper pressings to the copies they owned that were Half-Speed Mastered or pressed on Heavy Vinyl, or both!


Hampton Hawes in 1964 – The Green Leaves of Summer

  • This ’70s pressing was our Shootout Winner on side two for its clean, clear and lively sound, with lovely space around all of the instruments 
  • Not an easy title to find, and this one is quieter than most of what we played – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Hawes had lost nothing of his swinging style while in prison, as can be heard on such numbers as “Vierd Blues,” “St. Thomas” and “Secret Love,” and he was just starting to hint at moving beyond bop. Recommended.” – All Music

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has wonderful Contemporary All Tube sound, courtesy of the amazing engineering of Howard Holzer. The piano is right — weighty and percussive with a full-bodied tone. The bass definition is superb. The clarity and transparency here are nothing short of breathtaking.

Steve Ellington’s brush work on the snare is very clear on this copy, helping to push the music to the next level. On the great Sonny Rollins track, St. Thomas, Steve Ellington is doing some fancy playing on the rims of his drums — the ambience bouncing off the studio walls is amazing.

A major highlight here is the completely original interpretation of Blue Skies. Hawes gets going with some really complicated two-handed playing. With the superb clarity of this copy you won’t miss a note. (more…)

Andre Previn, Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer Were Hard to Beat in 1957

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Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

The piano sounds uncannily lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom. I can’t think of many records off the top of my head that get a better piano sound than this one.

Both sides are rich and Tubey Magical in the right way, because they’re still clear and reproduce the space of the room.

Warmth turned out to be key to the sound of the best copies.

When the piano sounds warm and smooth everything else in the recording seems to fall into place.

With tight, deep bass and an extended top, both sides of this vintage pressings are analog at its best.

Like we said, ROY DUNANN and HOWARD HOLZER in 1957 are hard to beat.

This is an Older Jazz Review.


Hampton Hawes – Four!

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  • Four! finally makes its Hot Stamper debut with stellar Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from first note to last
  • The timbre of the instruments in this brilliant jazz quartet is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off
  • Roy DuNann engineered some of the best sounding records we have ever heard – here’s a textbook example of what the audiophiles at Contemporary were able to achieve in the studio
  • 5 stars: “Pianist Hampton Hawes’ 1950s recordings for the Contemporary label are at such a high level that they could all be given five stars.”


Phineas Newborn, Jr. Trio – The Newborn Touch

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  • Newborn’s wonderful 1966 release makes its Hot Stamper debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The timbre of the instruments in this brilliant jazz trio is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off
  • This vintage Contemporary pressing boasts exceptionally natural piano sound (courtesy of Howard Holzer) and live-in-the-studio jazz energy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “As is usual on his Contemporary recordings, the pianist explores superior jazz compositions… Newborn’s remarkable control of the piano was still unimpaired, and he is heard giving Oscar Peterson a run for his money.”


Shelly Manne & His Men / At The Blackhawk, Volume 2

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  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage Contemporary stereo pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is West Coast Jazz at its best, and if anyone can capture the realism of a live jazz club, it’s the engineers and producers at Contemporary
  • Each instrument here sounds right – the piano is weighty and percussive; the drums are punchy; and the brass has lovely leading edge transients
  • 4 stars: “These lengthy performances (“Vamp’s Blues” is over 19 minutes long) give trumpeter Joe Gordon, the cool-toned tenor-saxophonist Richie Kamuca, pianist Victor Feldman, bassist Monty Budwig and the leader/drummer a chance to really stretch out. Fine 1950s bebop.”

This is West Coast Jazz at its best! The sound is superb — airy, open, and spacious with a stunningly good bottom end. You won’t believe how alive the bass sounds — the depth and definition are out of this world.

Each instrument here sounds just right — weighty, percussive piano; punchy drums; and lovely leading edge transients on the brass. Contemporary got live nightclub jazz sound down to a “T” here.