Top Engineers – Roy Halee

Mark-Almond – To The Heart

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

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records never justified the time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them in order to make it worth our while to do them again. This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more.

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  • It takes two copies paired up to get Triple Plus (A+++) sound for both sides, but here they are, a Triple Triple 2-pack
  • With Roy Halee’s brilliant engineering, the sound is as big, rich, clear, open, and ANALOG as you could hope for
  • New York State of Mind and Here Comes the Rain, Parts 1&2 have a wonderfully relaxed, mellow, jazzy vibe
  • Allmusic users give this one 4 1/2 Stars and we think that’s about right

A 2-pack is the only way to get top quality sound and surfaces on this title — the pressing quality is all over the map, with bad ABC vinyl no doubt holding back potentially good sounding pressings. If the vinyl doesn’t hold onto the sound of the stamper, your needle sure won’t be able to find it in the grooves. The lack of space, the lack of size, the lack of richness or clarity are all too common with this record, even when the stampers are right.

Many copies were gritty, some were congested in the louder sections, some never got big, some were thin and lacking the lovely analog richness of the best — we heard plenty of copies whose faults were obvious when played against two top sides such as these.

That’s why we do these shootouts. It’s the only way to discover the musical and sonic qualities the best pressings are capable of. It simply cannot be done any other way.

Their Best?

We think so. It still holds up today, 39 years later! Two of their best songs are here on side one: New York State Of Mind and Here Comes The Rain.

Engineered by Roy Halee, the man behind one of the best sounding Rock records of all time, Blood, Sweat and Tears second album, the sound here has much in common with that album: it’s tonally right on the money, dynamic and transparent. (more…)

Roy Halee Is One of Our Favorite Engineers

More of Our Favorite Engineers

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ROY HALEE is one of our favorite producers and recording / mixing engineers. Check out our supply of Roy Halee engineered or produced albums, along with some of our famous commentaries.  

Many can be found in our Rock and Pop Top 100 List of Best Sounding Albums with the Best Music (limited to titles that we can actually find sufficient copies of with which to do our Hot Stamper shootouts).

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Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

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  • An outstanding copy of Simon’s second solo album, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is big, warm and full-bodied – it’s present and clear, never harsh or gritty the way so many are
  • Great songs including Kodachrome, Loves Me Like a Rock, Was a Sunny Day (and you probably know most of the other 7)
  • 5 stars: “Retaining the buoyant musical feel of Paul Simon, but employing a more produced sound, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon found Paul Simon writing and performing with assurance and venturing into soulful and R&B-oriented music.”

Most pressings don’t have anywhere near this kind of openness and transparency — and they don’t have this kind of richness or warmth either. It’s a real treat to hear these great songs finally get the sound they deserve.

On most pressings, Simon’s voice is a spitty, gritty mess — sure it’s present, but where is the sweetness and warmth? Well, as a copy like this proves, more of those qualities made it to the tape than you might think. (more…)

Paul Simon – Graceland

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame and a record that ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale.

Super transparent and hi-res with no attendant sacrifice in low end or fullness, this is about as tonally balanced as Graceland gets. The top end is more delicate and extended, which was not true for most of the copies we played.

There’s a much more pleasant smoothness here, standing in sharp contrast to the typically grainy, spitty copy, with more weight down low and more presence to Simon’s vocals.

We listen to piles of pressings of Graceland regularly. We know the range of sound on the album, what constitutes good, better and best, and we know precisely what qualities the premier copy must have in order to win one of our shootouts.

Above all the thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It has many other good qualities as well: It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals.

The better copies have all these qualities to some degree, but the one quality a good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s especially good about the sound of the record.

Without clarity the music doesn’t work. The shortest definition of a Hot Stamper is that it’s the pressing where the music works. You can be sure that any Hot Stamper copy on our site has at least that going for it. (more…)

Lovin’ Spoonful – The Very Best of… – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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As Good As It Gets (AGAIG) White Hot Stamper sound for some of the biggest hits of The Lovin’ Spoonful, a band I wouldn’t expect to hear sound good on vinyl if I lived to be a hundred, and yet, here it is! This pressing changes EVERYTHING. 

This copy lets you hear versions of Younger Girl, Didn’t Want to Have to Do It, Daydream, You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice, Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?, and Do You Believe in Magic? with the kind of sonics never thought possible, not by us anyway. This copy is truly a revelation. And side two ain’t too shabby either.

Why does this stereo compilation sound so much better than others we’ve played in the past? Who the hell knows? We don’t pretend to have all the answers. What we have — that nobody else has, if that’s not too obvious — are the records that back up what we say about them. How they came to be is anyone’s guess. All we know for sure is that, judging by the best copies of this album somebody got hold of some awfully good tapes and somebody mastered them with uncanny skill to what sounds to these ears like near perfection.

That is, if you have this copy (which just happens to be on the original Pink Kama Sutra Label). This copy just could not be beat on side two. We tried, we had some very very good ones, but none that sounded like this.

Side Two

A+++, by far the best we played. So CLEAR and UNDISTORTED — Wow! There are always problem areas in ’60s pop recordings, but this side sounds so good you’re liable to forget there are any such things. This is a four track recording? Yes, in the way that Rubber Soul is a four track recording. It can be done.

This copy had the most extension high and low, the best clarity in the vocals and the most richness overall. I’m telling you, it is Hard To Fault! (more…)

The Graceland Remastering Disaster Part 2

Analogplanet Visits Sterling Sound and Interviews Mastering Engineer Ryan K. Smith

The interviewer apparently does not know how bad the new version sounds, but we had no trouble recognizing its awfulness here at Better Records and, as a public service, we soon set about describing what we heard.

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from? Having played at least 50 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded very much like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can’t say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing? (more…)

Bloomfield-Kooper-Stills – Super Session

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  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Engineered by Roy Halee, the man behind one of the best sounding rock records of all time, the self-titled Blood, Sweat and Tears album, the oh-so-analog sound here is especially rich, dynamic and spacious
  • For fans of BS&T’s first album (and everybody else) Super Session is a Must Own – Season of the Witch is crazy good on this 360 LP
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This is one of those albums that seems to get better with age… This is a super session indeed.”

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Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

THE FIRST WHITE HOT STAMPER FOR THIS ALBUM TO EVER HIT THE SITE! We love this music, but let me tell you the truth — this is not a shootout we ever look forward to doing. The sound of the average copy is POSITIVELY PAINFUL. If you play a couple dozen copies, you’ll probably turn up a good one eventually, but you’re better off letting us do that dirty work. 

This original Columbia 360 Sound pressing has EXCELLENT SOUND on side one and SUPERB SOUND on side two. If you know anything about this album and its recording history, you know how BOLD a statement that is. The typical copy of this album is a sonic disaster.

You would have to look far and wide to find a copy that isn’t plagued with transistory, gritty, opaque and/or unmusical sound. Fortunately for you, dear Better Records customer, you don’t have to look any further than your email in-box to find an amazing sounding BOTW, because we found it for you. And here it is!

Side two has MASTER TAPE SOUND. It’s more open and more transparent than any other copy we played, and the clarity is mind-boggling. The bottom end is PERFECTION, the voices are silky and delicate, and the acoustic guitars are Right On The Money. When you drop the needle on The Only Living Boy In New York, you’re not going to believe the tubey magical analog that’s going to pour out of your speakers. It’s rich, warm, and sweet, yet incredibly clean and clear. That’s what a White Hot Stamper is all about.

Side one is excellent as well, if not quite in a league with the all-time best side two. It’s open, transparent, and natural with real depth to the soundfield. The vocals are breathy and sweet, just what you want from an S + G record. Cecilia sounds incredible here, with lots of punch and great energy.

The Latest Findings

One of the most interesting findings in this shootout was that no Red Label copy scored as high as the best 360 Label copies. The later labels can be very clean and clear, but ultimately they lack the midrange magic, warmth and sweetness of the best early pressings. Since this recording has a problem in all those areas to start with, most red label copies are completely devoid of the Simon & Garfunkel magic, the kind of magic that is so wonderfully evident on their two previous outings: Parsley, Sage… and Bookends. (more…)

Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends – Here’s an Audio Exercise You Can Do at Home

Musically side two is one of the strongest in the entire Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre (if you’ll pardon my French). Each of the five songs could hold its own as a potential hit on the radio, and no filler to be found whatsoever. How many albums from 1968 can make that claim?

The estimable ROY HALEE handled the engineering duties. Not the most ‘natural” sounding record he ever made, but that’s clearly not what he or the duo were going for. The three of them would obviously take their sound much farther in that direction with the Grammy winning Bridge Over Troubled Water from 1970.

The bigger production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.

The Wrecking Crew provided top quality backup, with Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano and keyboards.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Bookends Theme
Save the Life of My Child
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Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

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A while back we did a monster-sized shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second release, an album we consider THE Best Sounding Rock Record of All Time. In the midst of the discussion of a particular pressing that completely blew our minds — a copy we gave a Hot Stamper grade of A with Four Pluses , the highest honor we can bestow upon it — various issues arose, issues such as: How did this copy get to be so good? and What does it take to find such a copy? and, to paraphrase David Byrne, How did it get here?

Which brings us to this commentary, which centers around the concept of outliers.

Wikipedia defines an outlier this way: “In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.” In other words, it’s something that is very far from normal. In the standard bell curve distribution pictured below, the outliers are at the far left and far right, far from the vast majority of the data which is in the middle.

In the world of records, most copies of any title you care to name would be average sounding. The vertical line in the center of the graph shows probability; the highest probability is that any single copy of a record will be at the top of the curve near the middle, which means it will simply be average. The closer to the vertical line it is, the more average it will be. As you move away from the vertical line, the data point — the record — becomes less and less average. As you move away from the center, to the left or the right, the record is either better sounding or worse sounding than average. (more…)