Top Engineers – Shelly Yakus

Alice Cooper – Is This the Warner Bros. House Sound?

More of the Music of Alice Cooper

Reviews and Commentaries for Warner Bros. Records

This White Hot Stamper copy had the two best sides back to back we heard in our shootout, with a Triple Plus side two that really brrough this music to life.

Which is not easy to do, given that the average copy of this album is a sonic mess —

  • dark,
  • murky,
  • recessed,
  • compressed,
  • thick,
  • veiled and
  • congested.

There are a lot of green label Warner Bros. records from the ’70s that sound like that, one might even call it their “house sound.”

When you play the later pressings, it’s obvious that they’ve gone overboard in cleaning up the murk, leaving a sound that is lean, flat and modern — in other words, unmusical, inappropriate and just plain wrong.

Finding the right balance of fullness and clarity, especially on this album, may not be easy, but it can be done. This side two was far and away the best we heard and proves that the album can sound good. (more…)

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – The Distance

More Bob Seger

  • The Distance finally returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Rich, dynamic and natural sounding with low end weight, midrange smoothness and powerful, punchy bass
  • Features an A-list of rock and rollers, including Glenn Frey, Bonnie Raitt, and Don Felder, just to name a few
  • 4 stars: “The Distance was hailed as a return to form upon the time of its release and, in many ways, might be a little stronger, a little more consistent than its predecessor, Against the Wind”

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Tom Petty – Hard Promises

More Tom Petty

  • This vintage copy boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER from top to bottom
  • Recorded at Sound City, home to some of the greatest analog sound ever recorded, this 1981 Backstreet pressing still has plenty of ANALOG magic in its grooves
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…filled with great songwriting, something that’s as difficult to achieve as a distinctive sound… ‘The Waiting’ became the best-known song on the record, but there’s no discounting ‘A Woman in Love,’ ‘Nightwatchman,’ ‘Kings Road,’ and ‘The Criminal Kind,’ album tracks that would become fan favorites… it has a tremendous set of songs and a unified sound that makes it one of Petty’s finest records.”
  • If you’re a fan of Tom Petty and his hard-rockin’ bandmates, this is a classic from 1981 that belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1981 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The album tends to be bright, thin, edgy, pinched and gritty — radio friendly, maybe, but not especially audiophile friendly.

We hate that sound but we are happy to report that some copies manage to avoid it, and this is one of them.

Is that richer, fuller sound the sound of what’s on the master tape or did the mastering engineer “fix” it?

We’ll never know, now will we?

What we can know is the sound of the pressings we actually have to play, and this one is killer.

Recorded by Shelly Yakus at Sound City, Van Nuys and at Cherokee Studios, Hollywood, CA, this vintage Backstreet 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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Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna

Albums with Stevie Nicks Performing

More Fleetwood Mac

  • Both sides of this Hot Stamper pressing are punchy, big and clear, with plenty of hard rockin’ energy – exactly what you would expect from the team of Shelly Yakus and Jimmy Iovine
  • Two of her biggest hits are here (and they still hold up): Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around and Leather And Lace
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Equally engaging are less exposed tracks like the haunting ‘After the Glitter Fades.’ Hit producer Jimmy Iovine wisely avoids over-producing, and keeps things sounding organic on this striking debut.”
  • If you’re a Stevie Nicks or post-1974 Fleetwood Mac fan, this title from 1981 is surely a Must Own
  • We think this is the Stevie’s best sounding album. Roughly 150 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.

It’s easy to hear what the good pressings are doing. They’re big and rich, never thin nor harsh. They open up on the top end and go down deeper on the bottom. They’re smooth and full-bodied in the midrange. Stevie’s vocals are breathy and present. The energy of her performance drives the music the way you want it to.

In short, the best copies demonstrate the sound one could expect on a good Tom Petty album. Nothing surprising there; this album, like Petty’s, was produced and engineered by the same team, Jimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus. They’ve made some great records together, Damn the Torpedoes being the best of the bunch for sonics.

Bella Donna may not reach those exalted heights, but it’s still quite good, especially for 1981. As the decade wore on things went south very quickly, sonically and musically, so we must be thankful that this record came out early in the decade and not much later.

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Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Southern Accents

More Tom Petty

More Rock Classics

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this early MCA pressing is doing just about everything right – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • 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
  • “Southern Accents is an ambitious album, attempting to incorporate touches of psychedelia, soul, and country into a loose concept about the modern South… ‘Rebels’ and ‘Spike’ are fine rockers, and ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ and ‘Make It Better (Forget About Me)’ expand The Heartbreakers’ sound nicely.”
  • If you’re a fan of Tom Petty and his bandmates, this classic from 1985 surely belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1985 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

If you’ve tried to find a good sounding copy of this album you could easily be forgiven for throwing in the towel — we almost did ourselves, and more than once. We’ve cleaned and played a pile of copies over the years, and now we are glad to report that this one sounds like a completely different album — it’s rich, smooth, and sweet, a big step up over the typical gritty, grainy copy.

Credit must obviously go to the man behind the console, Shelly Yakus, someone who we freely admit, now with a sense of embarrassment, had never been one of our favorite engineers. After hearing a White Hot Stamper pressing of Damn the Torpedoes and a killer copy of Crack the Sky’s Animal Notes, as well as amazing sounding pressings of Moondance (his first official lead engineering gig) and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, we realize that we have seriously underestimated the man.

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Alice Cooper – School’s Out

More Alice Cooper

  • Cooper’s 1972 release returns to the site on this early WB Green Label pressing with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it throughout
  • Surprisingly rich and full-bodied, particularly on side one, the best copies really ROCK with big bass and punchy drums – just the right Alice Cooper sound
  • The beloved title track remains the most-performed song in his concert history, and the presence on this copy will put the band right there in your listening room
  • 4 1/2 stars: “School’s Out catapulted Alice Cooper into the hard rock stratosphere, largely due to its timeless, all-time classic title track.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this title from 1972 is clearly one of their best
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Yet another impossible-to-find record in clean condition with good sound has made it to the site, and those of you who are fans should scoop it up because it takes us about four years to find enough copies to do this shootout. Check back with us in 2024 if this one is sold by the time you get to the end of this sentence!

We had poor luck with the second and third label copies on this AC title. It seems that, unlike so many records we play, the originals are the only way to go on School’s Out. (more…)

The Band on MoFi – Bad Bass Like This Is Just Annoying

More of the Music of The Band

Roots Rock LPs with Hot Stampers Available Now

Sonic Grade: D

In 2012 the “new” MoFi put out another remastered Big Pink. Since their track record at this point is, to be honest, abysmal, we have not felt the need to audition it.

It’s very possible, even likely, that they restored some of the bass that’s missing from so many of the originals.

But bad half-speed mastered bass — poorly defined, never deep and never punchy — is that the kind of bass that would even be desirable?

To us, it is very much a problem. Bad bass is just plain annoying. Fortunately for us it is a problem we have to deal with much less often now that we’ve all but stopped playing half-speed mastered records.

(Here are some other records with exceptionally sloppy bass. If the bass on these records does not sound sloppy to you, you have your work cut out for you. Some of our favorite records for testing bass definition can be found here.)

Sucked Out Mids

The Doors first album was yet another obvious example of MoFi’s predilection for sucked-out mids. Scooping out the middle of the midrange has the effect of creating an artificial sense of depth where none belongs. Play any original Bruce Botnick engineered album by Love or The Doors and you will notice immediately that the vocals are front and center. 

The midrange suckout effect is easily reproducible in your very own listening room. Pull your speakers farther out into the room and farther apart and you can get that MoFi sound on every record you own. I’ve been hearing it in the various audiophile systems I’ve been exposed to for more than 40 years.

Nowadays I would place it under the general heading of My-Fi, not Hi-Fi. Our one goal for every tweak and upgrade we make is to increase the latter and reduce the former.

And note also that when you play your records too quietly, it results in an exaggerated, artificial sense of depth. That’s one of the main reasons we play them loud; we want to hear the pressings that have real presence and immediacy, because they’re the ones that are most likely to win our shootouts.

If you have any of our White Hot stampers you surely know what I’m talking about.


FURTHER READING

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass and Whomp

Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Presence

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers / Long After Dark – What the Best Pressings Get Right

More of the Music of Tom Petty

Energy and rock and roll rhythmic drive are of course paramount on any Tom Petty album.

Many copies were brighter than ideal, which is nothing new for Petty’s body of work but not the sound we find most pleasing.

Some copies in our shootout were dark and small; we took serious points off for both of these shortcomings.

The climaxes of the songs should be as uncompressed and uncongested as possible to earn our higher grades. When the music gets loud it should stay tonally correct and undistorted, and not all copies can do that, not at the serious levels we like to play our records.

Choruses Are Key

Watch out for too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression or distortion, there will be too many upper midrange elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space, resulting in congestion and a loss of clarity.

With the more solid-sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich. Above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments and voices comfortably, without piling them on top of one another as so often happens. Consequently, the upper midrange “space” does not get overwhelmed with musical information.

Also watch for edge on the vocals, which is of course related to the issues above. Most copies have at least some edge to the vocals — the band wants to really belt it out in the choruses, and they do — but the best copies keep the edge under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull, or smeary.

The highest quality equipment, on the hottest Hot Stamper copies, will play the loudest and most difficult-to-reproduce passages with virtually no edge, grit, or grain, even at very loud levels.

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Stevie Nicks – The Wild Heart

More Stevie Nicks

More Fleetwood Mac

  • This outstanding early Modern Records pressing boasts Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • The spacious size, vocal presence, bottom end weight and (relative) warmth throughout are exactly the sound you want for The Wild Heart
  • Features a host of stellar guest musicians, including Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Steve Lukather (Toto), and even Prince, though he wasn’t credited on the album
  • 4 stars: “The Wild Heart sold to the faithful — it made the Top Ten, sold over a million copies, and spawned three Top 40 hits… if you loved Bella Donna, you would like The Wild Heart very much.”

It’s easy to spot the good-sounding copies. They’re big and rich, not thin nor harsh. They open up on the top end and go down deeper on the bottom. They’re smooth and full-bodied in the midrange. Stevie’s vocals are breathy and present. The energy of her performance drives the music the way you want it to.

In short, the best copies demonstrate the sound one could expect to hear on a good Tom Petty album. Nothing surprising there; this album, like Petty’s, was produced and engineered by the same teamJimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus. They’ve made some great records together, Damn the Torpedoes being the best of the batch for sonics.

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Crack The Sky – These Big, Lively Choruses Are a Thrill

Hot Stamper Albums with Huge Choruses

Records with Huge Choruses that Are Good for Testing

The best vintage rock recordings usually have something going for them that few recordings made after the ’70s do: their choruses get big and loud, yet stay smooth, natural and uncongested. 

We’ve mentioned it in countless listings. So many records have — to one degree or another — harsh, hard, gritty, shrill, congested choruses. When the choruses get loud they become unpleasant, and here at Better Records you lose a lot of points when that happens.

This recording, more specifically this pressing of this recording, has exceptionally big, smooth and natural choruses for many of the songs. Rangers at Midnight comes to mind immediately. Credit our man Shelly Yakus below for really getting the choruses right on this album.

Fun tip: Listen for the Elton John-like piano chords on the first track. Can you name that song? (Hint: it’s on Tumbleweed Connection.)

Choruses Are Key

Watch out for too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression or distortion, there will be too many upper midrange elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space, resulting in congestion and a loss of clarity.

With the more solid sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich. Above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments and voices comfortably, without piling them on top of one another as so often happens. Consequently, the upper midrange “space” does not get overwhelmed with musical information.

Also watch for edge on the vocals, which is of course related to the issues above. Most copies have at least some edge to the vocals — the band wants to really belt it out in the choruses, and they do — but the best copies keep the edge under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull or smeary.

The highest quality equipment, on the hottest Hot Stamper copies, will play the loudest and most difficult-to-reproduce passages with virtually no edge, grit or grain, even at very loud levels.

(more…)