Top Engineers – Val Valentin

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis

  • You’ll find very good Hot Stamper sound or BETTER on both sides of this early mono pressing – if only a record of this quality could be found on quieter vinyl!
  • One of the greatest duet albums of all time, if not THE GREATEST – a Desert Island Disc to beat them all
  • Problems in the vinyl is sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around it if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz… Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Santana’s first album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a fan of vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals, this 1956 release is an absolute Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Click and pop counters might want to give this one a miss. It’s not as quiet as a modern pressing would be, but it’s as quiet as this title can be found on vintage ’50s Verve vinyl. If you have a top quality, heavily tweaked front end and a quiet cartridge, you might be good to go, but if you are picky about your surfaces, we recommend you give this one a miss.

Those of you looking for a cheaper, quieter alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on one of our Hot Stampers should look into the original Speakers Corner pressing or the CD, both of which we’ve played and both of which are quite good. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie in Stereo

More Ella Fitzgerald

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • A STUNNING pressing of Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • We have a devil of a time finding copies that sound this good, play this quietly, and have no audible marks or wear
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early stereo pressing will put Ella in the room with you – it lets her performance come to life
  • Only the best pressings bring her performance to life the way this one does
  • Our single Favorite Female Vocal album here at Better Records, one that gets better with each passing year
  • “Another typically wonderful LP of Ella Fitzgerald in her prime…this is an excellent (and somewhat underrated) set.” [It is definitely not underrated by us, we think it’s the best record the lady ever made]
  • If you’re a fan of Ella’s, or vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals in general, this Top Title from 1961 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Folks, if you’re in the market for one of the most magical female vocal recordings ever made, today is your lucky day.

We’re absolutely crazy about this album, and here’s a copy that more than justifies our enthusiasm. You will have a very hard time finding better sound than we are offering here.

Longtime customers know that I have been raving about this album for more than two decades, ever since I first heard it back around 1995. I consider it the finest female vocal album in the history of the world. I could go on for pages about this record. Suffice it to say this record belongs in every right-thinking Music Lover’s collection.

Fans of The First Lady of Song are encouraged to give this one a very hard look. It’s not cheap but this kind of quality never is. (more…)

Duke Ellington – Duke’s Big 4

More Duke Ellington

More Pablo LPs

  • An outstanding Pablo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from the first note to the last
  • Both sides here are clean, clear, full-bodied and present with plenty of bottom end weight
  • “One of Duke Ellington’s finest small group sessions from his final decade… [his] percussive style always sounded modern and he comes up with consistently strong solos on such numbers as “Love You Madly,” “The Hawk Talks” and especially “Cotton Tail,” easily keeping up with his younger sidemen. Highly recommended.”

It’s incredibly hard to find a Pablo recording of the Duke from this era that has such big, open, clear, solid sound. Val Valentin did the engineering, and as he has so often did the course of his storied career, he knocked it out of the park.

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Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie in Mono

More Ella Fitzgerald

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • A STUNNING Mono pressing of Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
  • Our single Favorite Female Vocal album here at Better Records, one that gets better with each passing year
  • We have a devil of a time finding copies that sound good and have no audible marks or wear, but on this title there is simply no way around problems with the vinyl
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early pressing will put Ella in the room with you – more than anything else, it lets her performance come to life
  • “Another typically wonderful LP of Ella Fitzgerald in her prime…this is an excellent (and somewhat underrated) set.” [It is definitely not underrated by us, we think it’s the best record the lady ever made]
  • If you’re a fan of Ella’s, or vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals in general, this Top Title from 1961 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Folks, if you’re in the market for one of the most magical female vocal recordings ever made, today is your lucky day.

We’re absolutely crazy about this album, and here’s a copy that more than justifies our enthusiasm. You will have a very hard time finding better sound than we are offering here.

Longtime customers know that I have been raving about this album for more than two decades, ever since I first heard it back around 1995. I consider it the finest female vocal album in the history of the world. I could go on for pages about this record. Suffice it to say this record belongs in every right-thinking Music Lover’s collection.

Our last shootout was early 2019. Fans of The First Lady of Song are encouraged to give this one a very hard look. It’s not cheap but this kind of quality never is. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Men – The West Coast Sound, Vol. 1

More Shelly Manne

More Contemporary Label Jazz

  • Killer Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Contemporary in 1956 was making some awfully good jazz records, with room-filling, natural and realistic mono sound, the kind of sound that still holds up today and doesn’t need a lot of “mastering” to do it
  • 5 stars: “The music has plenty of variety yet defines the era… Highly recommended and proof (if any is really needed) that West Coast jazz was far from bloodless.”
  • If you’re a fan of West Coast Jazz, this is a Top Title from 1956, and one that certainly belongs in any right-thinking audiophile’s collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – A Hot Stamper Import Pressing?

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound and some remarkably quiet vinyl can be found on both sides of this mono import
  • Anyone with two working ears can tell that this superb import LP was mastered from the real tapes — you know, the ones that are locked away in Verve’s vaults
  • And that means that only digital copies of the tapes are being made available to mastering engineers who want to recut the record, sad but true (or likely to be true anyway)
  • One of the greatest duet albums of all time, if not THE GREATEST – a Desert Island Disc to beat them all
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz… Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.”
  • If you’re a fan of Ella’s, Louis’s, or vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals in general, this is The Top Title from 1956, and one that certainly belongs in any right-thinking audiophile’s collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The sound is big, open, rich and full, with the performers front and center. Ella and Louis are no longer representations — they’re living, breathing persons. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. Their voices are so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

This Verve import (from a country whose records we rarely offer as Hot Stampers, almost never in fact) 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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Julie London – About The Blues

More Julie London

  • About The Blues with KILLER Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last; we rarely have this title on the site 
  • Julie’s lilting vocals are clear, breathy, Tubey Magical, and sweet, like practically nothing you’ve ever heard
  • This copy is about as quiet as we can find these 1957 Turquoise original Mono pressings, Mint Minus Minus* throughout
  • 4 stars: “About the Blues … may just be her best orchestral session. Since downbeat torch songs were London’s specialty, the album features an excellent selection of nocturnal but classy blues songs that play to her subtle strengths…”

Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.   (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald / Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie – Classic Records Reviewed

Hot Stamper Pressings of Ella Fitzgerald’s Albums Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie

Sonic Grade: F

There is no reissue, and there will never be a reissue, that will sound as good as a good vintage pressing of Clap Hands.

The Classic Heavy Vinyl Reissue is a disgrace; I would rather play the CD.

(20 years ago, when I still had a CD player in my system, the CD was one of my favorites for testing, along with Blue and dozens of other well-recorded vocal albums.) 

Long time customers know that I have been raving about this album from way back in 1990 or so – ever since I first heard it in fact. I consider it the finest female vocal album in the history of the world. I could go on for pages about this music. Suffice to say this is a record that belongs in every human being’s record collection.

Just not the Classic Records pressing of it.


Visit our Hall of Shame to see what are in our opinion some of the worst sounding records ever made.

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another.

The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more intolerable.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Classic Records – Classical

Classic Records – Jazz 

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries 

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Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong / Ella and Louis – I Was Outbid on Ebay at $320

Ella Fitzgerald Albums with Hot Stampers

Ella Fitzgerald Albums We’ve Reviewed

Recently I tried to win a copy of this album on ebay, since I rarely see them locally anymore. Most of them are too noisy and groove damaged to do much with, but that’s the cost of doing business if your business is selling Hot Stamper pressings in audiophile playing condition.

A week or two ago I was outbid at $200+, beyond what I thought I should have to pay. How wrong I was. Yesterday I was outbid at $320.

There is a reason that at least some of our records are getting a lot pricier than they used to be.

And some titles, like this very album, are so rare in clean condition that we go years between shootouts.

Really, nothing is cheap anymore. The record bins in our local stores are badly picked over no matter how often we stop in. Plenty of Heavy Vinyl reissues are there to be found if that’s your thing, but it sure isn’t ours.

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Ella Fitzgerald – Sings the Johnny Mercer Song Book

  • With superb Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides of this Verve stereo original LP, we are fairly certain you could not possibly have heard Ella Fitzgerald sound better than she does on this very record
  • The huge, rich orchestral sound captured so beautifully by Val Valentin is always one of the highlights of these songbooks
  • By the time this one came out in 1964 Ella had already recorded 18 LPs of songbooks – this was the last, going out on a high note
  • Some of the Mercer Classics here are Too Marvelous For Words, Day In-Day Out, Laura, Skylark, Midnight Sun, I Remember You
  • Once you hear Ella sing Skylark on this album, you will have a very hard time sitting through Linda Ronstadt’s rendition of it on Lush Life
  • AMG raves “this is one of the best of Ella Fitzgerald’s songbooks. Fitzgerald’s assured and elegant voice is a perfect match for Mercer’s urbane lyrics and Nelson Riddle’s supple arrangements…”

When you are lucky enough to find a album that sounds as good as this one, full of standards from the Great American Songbook, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.

The recording is outstanding, with huge amounts of space and midrange richness that might just take your breath away. (more…)