Top Engineers – Larry Levine

Baja Marimba Band – Rides Again

More Exotica and Easy Listening

Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

  • Baja Marimba Band returns with this superb copy of Rides Again, boasting Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides and vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find it
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • If you are familiar with other top recordings released by A&M engineered by Larry Levine, the killer Herb Alpert and Sergio Mendes albums just to mention a few, you know the sound of Rides Again
  • Super tubey, with low end weight and performance energy that leave most other records from 1965 in the dust

Larry Levine was the resident engineering genius at A&M Records, the man responsible for many of the best sounding Sergio Mendes albums.  What most people don’t realize is how good the best Herb Alpert recordings are, as well as the ones Herb produced, such as the second Baja Marimba Band album here.

The reason is simple: most of the A&M pressings out there only hint at the wonderful recording quality of these albums.

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Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill

More Sergio Mendes

More Bossa Nova

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  • 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.”

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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Sergio Mendes – Look Around

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

More Bossa Nova

  • This superb pressing boasts Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • 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 the group’s ability to create Bossa Nova Magic
  • 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.”

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 loud 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…)

The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

More Beach Boys

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

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  • This insanely good pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to them on both sides
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the way to go
  • The Beach Boys revolutionized the popular music of the day with their genius for harmony, and a killer copy like this has their voices sounding the way they should
  • 5 stars: “The group here reached a whole new level in terms of both composition and production, layering tracks upon tracks of vocals and instruments to create a richly symphonic sound.”

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Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Equinox

More Sergio Mendes

  • With a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two married with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one, this original A&M pressing had some of the best sound we have ever heard for Equinox, Sergio’s follow-up to his massively successful debut
  • The breathy intimacy of the two wonderful female leads – Lani Hall and Janis Hansen – were brilliantly captured by the engineering team of Bruce Botnick and Larry Levine at A and M
  • 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… 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 and the first album are right up there with it.) (more…)

Sergio Mendes And Brazil ’66 – Crystal Illusions

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

More of our favorite Sixties Pop albums

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  • Amazing sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades, making this the best copy to hit the site in over SEVEN years!
  • The sound onb both sides here is jumping out, with more Tubey Magic, more space, more extension top to bottom, and more detail than any other copy we’ve ever played; the soundstage is HUGE as well!
  • Yes, it’s a recording that has some problems, but the best copies are 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 as right as it’s going to get
  • “Dave Grusin is right there with a lush, haunting orchestral chart when needed; Lani Hall is thrust further into the vocal spotlight, as cool and alluring as ever.. Weird and overblown, but wonderful.” – All Music

If you are not familiar with Sergio and his magical band, this might not be 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 Brasil ’66 album. I would draw your attention especially to the Otis Redding classic Dock of the Bay. 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, this copy is for you!

What you’re looking for on Crystal Illusions is a copy that’s not thin, dry, harsh and edgy! If you own this album you know exactly what I am talking about. Most copies sound like CDs in that respect. And most Brazil ’66 CDs sound just as bad as you might think they would. Believe me, I know, I’ve bought practically all of them. Thank god for the treble control on my car stereo. (more…)

Sergio Mendes / Look Around – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

We were fairly impressed with the Speakers Corner pressing of this album when it came out on Heavy Vinyl in 2001.

Since then we have learned a thing or two. Their version is decent, not bad, but by no stretch of the imagination can it compete with any Hot Stamper pressing found on our site.

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 breathy multi-tracked female vocals and their layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the critically important piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself. (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Ye-Me-Le

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

More of our favorite Sixties Pop albums

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  • Norwegian Wood, Wichita Lineman and Easy to Be Hard are among the great songs that have the potential to sound amazing
  • We’re huge Sergio Mendes fans here and it’s a thrill to hear copies like this bring his music to life

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. As I’m a big fan, that’s high praise!

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 commonly found on Ye-Me-Le. There’s also a noticeable “strained” quality to the loud vocal passages on almost every copy; only the best are free of 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.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

    • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
    • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1969
    • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
    • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
    • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on Ye-Me-Le

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Wichita Lineman

The best copies have out of this world sound on this track, every bit as good as anything Sergio Mendes ever did. This was the song that made me search out the best sounding copies. Even when I had mediocre copies, I loved the music and KNEW there had to be better sounding versions out there.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

Love the arrangement. When the voices get loud, the sound can be painful. On the better pressings there is practically no strain whatsoever.

Some Time Ago

I love this song! It’s so relaxed and easygoing.

Moanin’

This is actually a pretty good arrangement of Moanin’. I’ve grown to like it.

Look Who’s Mine

Side Two

Ye-Me-Le

The best copies have DEMO DISC QUALITY sound for this song.

Easy to Be Hard

One of the toughest tracks to get right on side two. Most copies are strained or badly compressed. When it’s right, it’s so good!

Where Are You Coming From?
Masquerade

Another lovely relaxed song.

What the World Needs Now

AMG  Review

… there are special moments, like the hypnotic “Masquerade” (no relation to the Leon Russell/George Benson hit), Sergio Mihanovich’s haunting “Some Time Ago,” and another winning treatment of a Beatles tune, “Norwegian Wood,” where Mendes cuts loose a killer solo on electric piano…

Difficult to Reproduce

The record is Very Difficult to Reproduce (VDR). 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 qualities in the sound. Those very same pressings sound DRAMATICALLY better today.

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – As a Rule, the CDs of His Music Suck

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66


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A Note About The Mix

This album may not be up there with Sergio’s best sonically (not many albums are!), but it can still sound very good when you get the right stamper. The balance of this record takes some getting used to. We weren’t sure what to make of it at first. If you put your stereo in Mono you will hear dead center sound. After putting it back in stereo you find most of the sound in the left channel — it took us a while to understand it’s just a choice they made for the mix.

The average copy of this record is thin, aggressive and irritating. What separates the best copies like this one from those typical bad sounding copies is more extension on the top end to balance out the upper midrange and lower highs, and more weight on the bottom end, to correct the overall tonal balance.

If you are at all familiar with this record, it’s easy to spot the good ones: as soon as you drop the needle on side one, you can hear that the tape hiss sounds correct. The high frequency content of the tape hiss is intact. On the bad ones, the tape hiss sounds dull, which means that the extended highs are missing, leaving only the painfully edgy lower highs.

How About Those Amazing Cover Songs?

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 were much the better for it.

The CD Sucks!

Those of you who have purchased some of their CDs may have noted that they do not sound particularly good. It seems as though little effort was expended in their mastering, no doubt the case. Almost any good original brown label A&M pressing will be dramatically better.

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…)