Top Engineers – Ken Scott

David Bowie – Pin-Ups

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

  • A stunning copy of this Classic Bowie album from 1973 with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides have phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic, thanks to the engineering of Ken Scott
  • The bottom end is huge, as would be expected from anything Ken recorded, and if you don’t believe me, check out Baby You’re a Rich Man off MMT
  • A really fun listen, with Bowie running through covers of his favorite Sixties hits in true Demo Disc sound
  • Turns out he’s a great interpreter, turning in passionate versions of songs by The Who, Pink Floyd, The Yardbirds and more

The music on this album is wonderful. Bowie puts a unique spin on tracks originally played by The Who, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd and other British rockers. It’s a fun, intriguing album that stands up well to repeated plays. Bryan Ferry did the same thing in 1973 with some of his favorite pop songs. Oddly enough both albums entered the charts on the very same day in November of that year.

The sound is lively and full-bodied with nice transparency throughout. Bowie’s voice sounds correct and the bottom end is huge, as would be expected from anything Ken Scott recorded, and if you don’t believe me check out Baby You’re a Rich Man off MMT.

The bass here is deep and not nearly as sloppy as on most copies. Listen to the vocals, which sound just right and have lots of texture to them. The harmonica on I Wish You Would is AMAZING. When has a harmonica ever sounded so rich and full? You’ll also want to check out the sax solo on Sorrow, which just plain ROCKS.

So what were some of the worst copies we heard? One was a British Original, believe it or not. They tend to be dull, thick, and lifeless — not a good match for this punky, energetic material. There are some very good sounding Brit originals but, having said that, to date they have never won a shootout.

On the other side, many of the other copies we heard were bright and grainy. It’s tough to find a copy that strikes the right balance, but this copy sure did. (more…)

Is the Original Better? Not on this Supertramp Album It Ain’t

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This is an older listing that illustrates how We Was Wrong when we thought the best domestic copies were not competitive with the A&M Half-Speed or better British pressings.

We touch on other much-loved themes in this commentary, such as the myth that the original pressing is going to be better than a reissue or later stamper. On this album that is definitely not the case.

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an A+++ SIDE ONE! It’s not the A&M Half Speed, and it’s not a British pressing either. It’s domestic folks, your standard plain-as-day A&M pressing, and we’re as shocked as you are. Hearing this copy (as well as an amazing Brit; they can be every bit as good, in their own way of course) was a THRILL, a thrill that’s a step up in “thrillingness” over our previous favorite pressing, the Half Speed.
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Mary Hopkin – Post Card

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  • KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it for both sides of this original Apple import pressing
  • These sides were doing everything right — clean, clear and full-bodied with wonderfully breathy vocals and a solid bottom end
  • Engineered by Ken Scott, Donovan’s “Lord of the Reedy River” is simply amazing on this copy
  • “Paul McCartney produced this debut album of twee but pretty, romantic pop-folk… the highlights are Donovan’s “Lord of the Reedy River” and “The Honeymoon Song,” which McCartney himself had sung with the Beatles way back in 1963 on the BBC…” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars

The domestic pressings can sound very good but they can’t sound like this Brit original! This is clearly the master tape; all veils have been lifted, and the ambience and transparency of the soundstage are sublime on both sides. (more…)

David Bowie – Hunky Dory

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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  • This UK pressing of Bowie’s pre-Ziggy Folk Rock masterpiece earned outstanding Double (A++) grades for their preternaturally Tubey Magical sound – thanks Ken Scott, you da man!
  • The best tracks on the album are Demonstration Quality – Oh You Pretty Things is a KNOCKOUT here
  • Rich, spacious and sweet, with a HUGE soundstage – drop the needle on Changes and listen to how dynamic it is
  • 5 stars: “On the surface, such a wide range of styles and sounds would make an album incoherent, but Bowie’s improved songwriting and determined sense of style instead made Hunky Dory a touchstone for reinterpreting pop’s traditions into fresh, postmodern pop music.”

The amazing Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century (all Top 100), as well as All Things Must Pass, Truth, Birds of Fire, Son Of Schmilsson, America’s debut and many more is the man responsible for the sound here (he also produced the album, replacing Tony Visconti). It should go without saying that this is one seriously talented guy.

The kind of Tubey Magical richness and smoothness that he achieved at Trident in the early ’70s, not to mention sound that is remarkably spacious and practically free from distortion — qualities that are especially important to us Big Speaker guys who like to play their records good and loud –has rarely been equaled by anyone in the years that’ve followed (even by Ken).

As noted above, many of his best recordings can be found in our Rock and Pop Top 100 List of Best Sounding Albums, limited to the titles that we can actually find sufficient copies of with which to do our Hot Stamper shootouts. (more…)

Elton John – Honky Chateau

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  • An insanely good QUADRUPLE PLUS (A++++) side two backed with a stunning Triple Plus (A+++) side one for this Elton John classic – this pressing takes side two to another level (hence the four plus grade) 
  • Reasonably quiet for the most part on both sides – it’s not easy finding British pressings with the right stampers that play as well as this one does
  • Honky Chateau contains some of the most Tubey Magical High-Production-Value rock music ever recorded – thanks Ken Scott!
  • 5 stars: “The most focused and accomplished set of songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin ever wrote … It’s one of the finest collections of mainstream singer/songwriter pop of the early ’70s.”

NOTE: *On the last track on the second side, there is a mark that plays for four or five seconds at the very end of the record.

We award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus.

When I hear a record with a side this phenomenally good, with the stereo tuned-up and tweaked within an inch of its life to reproduce the album at the highest level I can manage, I will sometimes sit my wife down and play her a track or two. I did it for a Four Plus Deja Vu earlier this year as a matter of fact, playing Country Girl: Whiskey Boot Hill on side two, with that crazy HUGE organ blasting out of the right speaker — what a thrill!)

For this record I played her Salvation, with one huge chorus following another, like powerful waves crashing on the shore, until Elton takes a deep breath and belts out the last, biggest chorus, hitting his peak an octave higher and taking the song to a level neither one of us had ever experienced. We followed it up with the lovely Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, and that was about as much Elton John live in my listening room at practically concert hall levels we could take in one sitting.

Hearing Elton with such energy, standing right in front of use, with instruments and singers encircling him from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, was so powerful and immersive it left us both with tears in our eyes.

That’s what gets you a Fourth Plus around these parts. (more…)

We Was Wrong About The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour (Circa 1985-90)

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This is a VERY old and somewhat embarrassing commentary about how We Was Wrong

This German pressing has dramatically different sound than that found on other Hot Stamper pressings of MMT we’ve had on the site. I used to be convinced that its sound was clearly superior to the regular German MMT LPs.

Back in the late ’80s and into the ’90s this was the pressing that I was certain blew them all out of the water.

We know better now. We call this version the “Too Hot” Stamper pressing — the upper mids and top end are much too boosted to be enjoyable on top quality equipment.

It does have some positive qualities though. It has substantially deeper bass than any other version; in fact, it has some of the deepest bass you will ever hear on a pop recording. It can literally rattle the room when Paul goes down deep on Baby You’re A Rich Man.

It also uses a slightly different mix on some tracks and is mastered differently in terms of levels. The level change is most obvious at the beginning of Strawberry Fields, where it starts out very quietly and gets louder after a short while, unlike all other versions which start out pretty much at the same level. The effect is pleasing, you can even say powerful, but probably not what The Beatles intended, as no other copy I’ve ever heard utilizes the same quiet opening. An unknown mastering engineer made the choice, probably because he didn’t like all the tape hiss at the opening when few instruments were playing loud enough to mask it.

With this mix the record is now more of a hi-fi spectacular — great for demonstrations but not the last word in natural sound.

David Bowie – The Man Who Sold The World – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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The sound is rich and full, just the way the Brits like it. The heavy compression that both Bowie and Scott favor works its magic at every turn, adding fatness and richness and lovely harmonics to the guitars and the drums.

Not many Bowie albums from his “classic” period sound good on domestic vinyl, nothing I know of before Diamond Dogs with the exception of this album and the occasional copy of Space Oddity. Strangely enough, from then on practically every one of Bowie’s albums sounds best on domestic vinyl, all the way through to Let’s Dance, after which we more or less check out — don’t know those albums well and don’t plan on finding out more.

Ah but here, here we have some truly prime period Bowie, recorded, mastered and pressed with Top Quality sound!

Side One

Mick Ronson’s guitars are wonderfully clear. The vocals can get a bit hot on the first track (as is often the case), but by track two the sound has settled in and is rich and smooth, just the way we like it. Very present and lively vocals are a strong point.

Side Two

Listen to the big bass, richness and Tubey Magic of the third track — that is some Ken Scott studio wizardry at play.

Note that the second track seems to be where Alice Cooper found his “sound.” More power to him I say. You could get away with ripping off Bowie in 1970; nobody bought this album in the states, which is why it’s so damn rare and expensive.

And the reason there are so many bootlegs. Practically every copy of ebay is a bootleg.  They sound terrible by the way. (more…)

Devo – Duty Now For The Future

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  • Stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish, making this the best copy to hit the site in years!
  • The energy and presence here are off the charts, the bottom end is super solid and punchy, and there’s tons of space around all of the instruments
  • “Devo and their ilk were serious and heartfelt about their goofy sound. They were weird, but weird on their terms. Duty Now for the Future is the perfect example of that. It earns its strangeness with sharp, compelling, and infectiously energetic songs. It crafts a world to travel and never misses a step. And, perhaps most impressively, it sounds just as fresh over 30 [now 40!] years after its original release.” – Pop Matters

GET DEVOLVED! This copy gives you amazing sound for both sides of this fun — and very well-recorded — album. The average copy of this record barely hints at the sound that Ken Scott was clearly able to get on the tape. This one tells a different story, with serious weight down low, a ton of energy, loads of texture to the synths, and wonderful clarity. The lucky man (or woman) who takes this home is sure to get a thrill from it.

The soundfield on these killer sides has a three-dimensional quality that allows all the instruments to be identified and followed with ease. They just don’t get any punchier or livelier, and with music like this, all those elements combine to make this music a FUN listen. (more…)

Supertramp – Crisis? What Crisis? – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.  

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an A+++ SIDE ONE! It’s not the A&M Half Speed, and it’s not a British pressing either. It’s domestic folks, your standard plain-as-day A&M pressing, and we’re as shocked as you are. Hearing this copy (as well as an amazing Brit; they can be every bit as good, in their own way of course) was a THRILL, a thrill that’s a step up in “thrillingness” over our previous favorite pressing, the Half Speed.

The best of the best domestics and Brits are bigger, livelier, punchier, more clear and just more REAL than the audiophile pressing…

…something we knew had to be the case if ever a properly mastered non-Half Speed could be found. And now it has. Let the rejoicing begin! (more…)

Ridiculously Phony and Compressed Sound – The Beatles White Album on MoFi

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Another MoFi LP debunked.

The last time I played a copy of the MoFi I could not believe how ridiculously phony and compressed it was. And to think I used to like their version when it came out back in the ’80s!

A good example: on Yer Blues, the MFSL pressing positively wreaks havoc with all the added bass and top end The Beatles put on this track. The MoFi version is already too bright, and has sloppy bass to start with, so the result on this track is way too much BAD bass and way too much BAD spitty 10k-boosted treble, unlike the good imports, which have way too much GOOD bass and treble.

Yer Blues ROCKS! Listen to the big jam at the end of the song, where John’s vocal mic is turned off but his performance is still caught by a room or overheard mic. They obviously did this on purpose, killing his vocal track so that the “leaked” vocal could be heard.

Those crazy Beatles! It’s more than just a cool “effect”. It actually seems to kick the energy and power of the song up a notch. It’s clearly an accident, but an accident that works. I rather doubt George Martin approved. That kind of “throw the rule book out” approach is what makes Beatles recordings so fascinating, and The White Album the most fascinating of them all.

The EQ for this song is also a good example of something The Beatles were experimenting with, as detailed in their recording sessions and interviews with the engineers. They were pushing the boundaries of normal EQ, of how much bass and treble a track could have. This track has seriously boosted bass, way too much, but somehow it works!
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