Top Engineers – Martin Birch

Deep Purple – Fireball

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  • Fireball returns to the site on this KILLER original Harvest UK import with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • This LP was simply bigger, richer and clearer, with more Tubey Magic, less smear and less congestion than the other vintage pressings we played
  • One of Ian Gillian’s favorite albums, “… it was really the beginning of tremendous possibilities of expression.”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “One of Deep Purple’s four indispensable albums (the others being In Rock, Machine Head, and Burn), 1971’s Fireball saw the band broadening out from the no-holds-barred hard rock direction of the previous year’s cacophonous In Rock.”

This vintage Harvest pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even 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. (more…)

Black Sabbath – Mob Rules

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  • Mob Rules returns to the site on this original WB pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides – exceptionally quite vinyl too
  • MASSIVE and powerful throughout – this copy is big, rich, full-bodied and solid like you won’t believe
  • 4 stars: “[A] quick follow-up to Heaven and Hell, continuing…that record’s energy as well as its shift away from dark metal to more commercial hard rock. [They] work well as each other’s companion pieces, making the first round of Dio-fronted Sabbath material a bright spot…”

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Fleetwood Mac – Penguin

  • This early Reprise LP is a huge step up from most – this copy is full-bodied, smooth and musical – classic Fleetwood Mac sound
  • One of my favorite songs on the album is one of Christine McVie’s best from this period, Did You Ever Love Me – on this pressing it’s rich and sweet exactly the way it should be
  • “Fleetwood Mac’s first album made after the departure of Danny Kirwan features the additions of guitarist Bob Weston and singer Dave Walker… This album gave Fleetwood Mac its best U.S. chart showing yet…”

On the best pressings, the sound is positively JUMPING out of the speakers in a way that is completely unexpected. We often talk about the size of the soundfield on a particular pressing, side to side, bottom to top, and even more often about the energy found on one copy relative to another.

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Deep Purple / Made In Japan – UK Vinyl But Mastered in the States?

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Reviews and Commentaries for Made In Japan

To our dismay, we discovered that some of the stampers for some of the sides on some of the British import pressings are actually sourced from a well known American cutting house. When those sides did poorly in the shootout, naturally we wanted to know more about them in order to avoid buying any more pressings with those markings.

We had no idea the British would “import” the metalwork from here, but they did, and the results were not good, at least not for us audiophiles. I hope it goes without saying that we will not be selling any versions of the album that are not cut in England.

This is what you learn when you have lots of copies of the same album and play them against each other.

We constantly Experiment with Different Record Pressings this way and we recommend you do the same.

Carry out as many experiments as you can find time for. The quality of your collection — at least the sonic quality of your collection — will improve immensely.

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Deep Purple / Machine Head on Rhino 180 Gram Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: F

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

I’m guessing that very few people have ever heard this record sound good. The average copy is nothing special, but this one is a boring, lifeless mess, so save your money.

Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino touts their releases as being pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl.” However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.

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Fleetwood Mac – Bare Trees

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Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac

  • It’s the impossibly rare copy that’s this lively, solid and rich… drop the needle on the title track and you’ll see what we mean
  • “Arguably the first consistently strong album Fleetwood Mac ever recorded [not true, Kiln House is] … 1972’s Bare Trees is also the album where the band finally defines its post-blues musical personality.”

This period of Fleetwood Mac, from Kiln House (1970) through Mystery to Me (1973) — both are albums I would put at the top of my list to take to my Desert Island — has always been my favorite of the band. I grew up on this stuff, and I can tell you from personal experience that it is a positive THRILL to hear it sound so good!

Until not that many years ago we simply were not able to successfully shootout Bare Trees, Fleetwood Mac’s wonderful album from 1972. The pressings we were playing just didn’t sound very much like Hot Stampers to us. British, German, Japanese, domestic originals, domestic reissues; all of them left much too much to be desired.

Thankfully we can tell you that the best copies sound a whole lot better now than they did then. (more…)

Martin Birch Knows How to Get the Big Rock Sound of Deep Purple on Tape

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More Deep Purple (Rarely in Stock, Sorry!)

When you get a Hot Stamper pressing like this one, Machine Head is a True Rock and Roll Demo Disc. Since our stereo is all about playing these kinds of records, and playing them at good loud levels as nature — and the artists — intended, we had a helluva time with Machine Head.

It had the kind of presence and energy that puts most copies of this album to shame. It’s also amazingly spacious, the result no doubt of it being recorded practically live in the studio. On the best copies you can really hear the sound bouncing off the studio walls, just as you can on the best Zep, AC/DC and Bad Co. albums. You can just tell they are all playing this one live: it’s so relaxed and natural and REAL sounding.

The vocalist is no doubt in a booth, but everyone else seems to be in a lively studio. With lovely extension up top this was a very sweet copy that cried out to be turned up good and loud. The louder we played it the better it sounded! (more…)

Fleetwood Mac / Bare Trees – Listening in Depth

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Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Bare Trees.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Child of Mine

A real rocker from Danny Kirwan. If the electric piano is rich on your copy and you have some top end and space you are probably off to a very good start.

The Ghost
Homeward Bound
Sunny Side of Heaven

A wonderfully poignant, even melancholy instrumental track by Bob Welch. Not sure if that’s him on guitar but the playing is beautiful. The high point of side one.

Side Two

This is where most of the best music on Bare Trees can be found. We like every song on this side.

Bare Trees

If this song doesn’t get your blood pumping, you need to turn up the volume another click or two. There is tremendous energy and joy in this song, and it needs to be played loud to get those feelings across.

Sentimental Lady
Danny’s Chant
Spare Me a Little of Your Love

This is a tough track to get right. The Brit is smoother and sweeter, which works on this song. Bad copies can sound hard on Christine’s vocals as well as the chorus.

Dust

One of my all time favorite Fleetwood Mac songs. On a good copy this track sounds so sweet. The texture to the voices is right on the money — neither grainy nor dull.

Thoughts on a Grey Day (more…)

Deep Purple / Made In Japan – Right at the Top of the List of Great Sounding Live Albums

More Live Recordings of Interest

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Machine Head Live? That would not be far off, and the fact they brought Martin Birch along with them all the way to Japan in order to engineer a live album that was only supposed to sell to the Japanese market (!) could not have been more fortuitous for us audiophiles.

Machine Head is clearly one of the best sounding hard rock records ever made, and Made In Japan, its successor, sounds more like a top quality studio production than any live album I’ve ever heard. It’s shocking how clean and undistorted the sound is. Equally shocking is the fact that it’s every bit as big and lively as a Hard Rockin’ Live Album should be.

This is a combination the likes of which we have never heard.

We’ve raved about a number of live albums over the years. Some of the better sounding ones that come readily to mind (in alphabetical order) are

  • The Band Rock of Ages,
  • Belafonte at Carnegie Hall,
  • David Live,
  • Johnny Cash At San Quentin,
  • Cheap Trick at Budokan
  • Eric Clapton Just One Night
  • Deep Purple Made in Japan,
  • Donny Hathaway Live,
  • The Jimi Hendrix Concerts,
  • Performance – Rockin The Fillmore,
  • Live Wire – Blues Power,
  • Waiting For Columbus,
  • Lou Rawls Live!
  • Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out and
  • Live at Leeds

I would be proud to have any of them in my collection. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Future Games

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More Recordings Engineered by Martin Birch

  • You’ll find HUGE sound on this copy – it’s big, bold and lively – this is clearly the right sound for Future Games
  • Fleetwood Mac practically invented Space Rock, which reached its apotheosis in 1973 on Mystery to Me (my favorite by the band)
  • A criminally underrated album unlike anything you’ve heard and a Better Records favorite for more than 40 years
  • It’s also a record that has disappeared off the face of the earth – we would love to do more shootouts for the album, but we just never see them anymore (more…)