Top Engineers – Larry Levine

Sergio Mendes – Look Around – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Finally, Hot Stampers are here for this notoriously difficult to reproduce recording. This side one was KILLER, earning a grade of A++ to A+++! It’s big and bold, with dramatically less grit and grain than the average copy. The sound is punchy and lively with wonderful transparency. You can really hear the sound of the room around the musicians with this one. Some of the tracks on this side one are DEMO DISC quality.  

Side One

Side one has virtually no strain, EXTENDED highs, and is overall so clear and open that you will have a hard time believing that it’s the same recording as whatever copies you may have heard in the past. It KILLED most of the copies we played against it.

It’s just much more FUN and LIVELY this way! (We had one copy that earned the full three pluses but the difference between them was minimal.) (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Equinox – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This Original A&M pressing has one of THE BEST SIDE ONES WE’VE EVER HEARD backed with a side two that’s nearly as amazing! The sound is DEMO DISC QUALITY from start to finish, first note to last. Side two was no slouch either, with A Double Plus sound, very nearly as good as we heard but falling just a tad shy of the best in the loudest passages. These old Sergio Mendes records can be VERY DYNAMIC, and only the best of the best will allow those dynamics to explode naturally, with the kind of ease that you only hear in analog.

We audiophiles love female vocals, always have; it’s a sound that a high end stereo can reproduce very well. But why do some audiophiles listen to poorly recorded junk like Patricia Barber and Diana Krall? Their recordings are DRENCHED in digital reverb; who is his right mind wants to hear the sound of digital reverb? Rickie Lee Jones may not be my favorite female vocal of all time, but at least you can make the case for it as a Well Recorded Vocal Album; it’s worlds better than anything either of the two artists mentioned above have ever done. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Equinox

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  • An incredible copy with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them
  • The engineering team of Bruce Botnick and Larry Levine capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of the wonderful female leads – Lani Hall and Janis Hansen
  • Watch What Happens, Night and Day, Wave – Mendes brings his innovative Bossa Nova arranging skills to these timeless classics
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Equinox continues the scrumptiously winning sound that Sergio Mendes cooked up in the mid-’60s, this time a bit more fleshed out… Again, the mix of American pop tunes old and new and Brazilian standards and sleepers is impeccable, and the treatments are smooth, swinging, and very much to the point.”

These Sergio Mendes records can be surprisingly dynamic, and only the better copies (such as this one) will allow those dynamics to explode naturally, with the kind of ease that only analog is capable of reproducing correctly in our experience.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, we’re the world’s biggest fans of Sergio Mendes here at Better Records. Brasil ’66, Stillness, and this album are ALL Desert Island Discs for us, and we even enjoy the hell out of some of the later albums. You can search all you want, but outside of The Beatles you are going to have a very tough time finding the diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the breathy, multi-part female vocals, their unusually voiced multi-tracked harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us not forget, Mendes’ superb keyboard work anchoring as well as jazzing up the whole production.

His stuff never sounds dated to us, and we’ve never heard another artist do anything in the ’60s samba idiom nearly as well. We love Astrud Gilberto’s albums from the period, which no doubt served as a template for the style Sergio wanted to create with his new ensemble, but Brazil 66 is clearly a step up in every way: songwriting, arranging, production, and quality of musicianship.

Just play the group’s amazing versions of Watch What Happens, Night and Day, or Jobim’s Wave to hear the kind of Mendes Magic that makes us swoon. For audiophiles it just doesn’t get any better. (Well, almost. Stillness is still the Ultimate, on the level of a Dark Side of the Moon or Tea for the Tillerman, but Equinox is right up there with it.) (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Ye-Me-Le – our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

THE BEST SIDE ONE WE’VE HEARD! It’s big and bold, with dramatically less grit and grain than the average copies. This White Hot Ye-Me-Le has MINDBLOWING, YOU ARE THERE IMMEDIACY and MASTER TAPE SOUND on side one. The sound is punchy and lively with wonderful transparency. You can really hear the sound of the room around the musicians! Many of the tracks on this copy are DEMO DISC quality. 

Side one has virtually no strain, EXTENDED highs, and is overall fairly quiet. Listen to track two (a great version of Norweigan Wood)– it doesn’t get any better than that! Track one is so silky and sweet, it may become your favorite song to demonstrate your stereo. It’s certainly one of mine. Even the last track here, which almost never sounds good, is fairly sweet on this pressing. (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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

EXCELLENT SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! It’s rich, full-bodied, and sweet, with super-low distortion and breathtaking transparency. Side Two rates A+++, As Good As It Gets! The vocals on this copy were as sweet as we have ever heard for this record.

The average copy of this record is thin, aggressive and irritating. What separates the best copies like this one from the typical bad sounding copies is more extension on the top end to balance out the upper midrange and lower highs, as well as more weight on the bottom end, to anchor and balance out the sound. (more…)

Sergio Mendes And Brazil ’66 – Crystal Illusions – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More Sergio Mendes

More Crystal Illusions

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

A White Hot Stamper side one on this A&M LP means it’s the BEST sounding copy of Crystal Illusions to ever hit the site. Yes, it’s a recording that has many problems, but the best copies seem to be able to overcome most of them, and that’s precisely what we are offering here: a White Hot copy that gets the sound of this music about as right as it’s going to get. And the vinyl is QUIET. 

If you are not familiar with Sergio and his magical band, this is not the place to start. Try the first two albums or Stillness if you want to hear the best material recorded with the highest quality. This is a second tier album in the Sergio canon, and priced accordingly. There are of course some truly great songs on this one, just as there are on every Brazil ’66 album.

I would draw your attention especially to the Otis Redding classic Dock of the Bay, which is on this killer side one. Fans will no doubt find much to like here; others maybe not so much. If you get a thrill out of FINALLY hearing a famous album sound the way you always wished it could, even if it’s only on one side, this copy is for you. (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Ye-Me-Le – Listening in Depth

More Sergio Mendes

More Ye-Me-Le

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Ye-Me-Le.

The first three tracks on side 1 are the best reason to own this album, especially the first two (Wichita Lineman and Norwegian Wood), which are as good as anything the group ever did. I’m a big fan so that has to be seen as high praise indeed.

Let’s be frank: the average LP of this album is terrible. Shrill, aggressive sound is the norm, but compression and overly smooth (read; thick and dull) sound are also problems common to Ye-Me-Le. There’s also a “strained” quality to the loud vocal passages on almost every copy; only the best are free of it.

Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

This recording is quite Difficult to Reproduce, which means it ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS). Do not attempt to play it using any but the best front ends. Unless you are using a very good cartridge and arm the vocals are apt to tear your head off when they get loud (which they do; this is a dynamic recording).

In a way, this is the perfect record to demonstrate how much progress you have made in audio. I remember playing these albums many years ago and hearing lots of harmonic distortion and other unpleasant sonic qualities. Those very same pressings sound DRAMATICALLY better today. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Look Around – Then Listen for the Huge Room on Roda

More Sergio Mendes

More Look Around

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises

If you have a good copy of Look Around and a high-rez stereo/room and want to have some fun, play the second track on side one, Roda. In the left channel there is some double-tracked clapping (or two people, how could you tell the difference?) in a HUGE room. Actually although it sounds like a huge room it’s probably a normal sized room with lots of reverb added. Either way it sounds awesome. 

These hand claps drive the energy and rhythm of the song, and they are so well recorded you will think the back wall of your listening room just collapsed behind the left speaker. On the truly transparent copies the echo goes WAY back. (more…)

Sergio Mendes + Psych + Your Mind Will Be Blown

Stillness

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Allow me to quote a length a wonderful review from Brasil66.com before we get into What to Listen For on Stillness.

A radical departure from anything that had gone before, Stillness remains the one album that Brasil ’66 fans either love or hate. Most complaints about it center on the fact that the familiar bossa sound of the earlier records was now mostly gone.

Nonetheless, Stillness is arguably one of the most fluid albums of Mendes’ career. It takes its cue from the work of many of the singer/songwriters of the day (Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, etc.), with thoughtful lyrics and often delicate arrangements. It is a almost a concept album, with the theme expressed in the title song — the words of which are even printed on the front cover — and an outdoorsy, peaceful feeling running through many of the other lyrics. (This feeling is also reflected in the cover photos, which were shot in a rural setting.)

Stillness is also Lani Hall’s final album with Mendes; she left the group during these sessions and was replaced by Gracinha Leporace, who does lead vocals on several songs. Standout tracks include “Chelsea Morning” and “Viramundo,” both of which contain traces of the earlier Brasil ’66 sound; “Righteous Life” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” both of which reflect the mood of late ’60s America through their lyrics; and the very pretty “Sometimes in Winter,” featuring an elegant orchestral arrangement by Dick Hazard.

If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as wonderful, look no further — this is the record for you.

If I had one song to play to show what my stereo can really do, For What It’s Worth on a Hot Stamper copy would probably be my choice. I can’t think of any material that sounds better. It’s amazingly spacious and open, yet punchy and full bodied the way only vintage analog recordings ever are. (more…)

Herb Alpert – Whipped Cream & Other Delights

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  • Two excellent sounding early stereo sides, each rating Double Plus (A++) or better
  • Tubey Magical, big-bottomed, punchy, spacious sound – what we’ve come to expect from Larry Levine’s engineering
  • An excellent recording with a studio crew full of pros – this is a dynamite combo on a strong copy like this!
  • Alpert’s most famous album, 5 stars on Allmusic: “Three Grammy Awards alone for the update of the Bobby Scott and Ric Marlow-penned theme “A Taste of Honey.”

We finally pulled together enough clean copies of this classic album with which to do a serious shootout. We soon found out that the better pressings can give you the kind of Tubey Magical, big-bottomed, punchy, spacious sound that we’ve come to expect from Larry Levine’s engineering for A&M. If you have any Hot Stamper pressings of Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66’s albums then you know exactly the kind of sound we’re talking about. (more…)