Top Engineers – Val Valentin

Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame from 1967.

What to listen for you ask? That’s an easy one. Just listen for the best sounding Mothers record ever made, because that’s what the best copies can (and should) sound like.

Absolutely Free is much bigger, smoother, richer, livelier and more free from harshness, dryness and distortion than any other album we’ve ever played from Zappa’s early period, pre-Waka Jawaka let’s say. The only other records I can think of that can sound remotely as good as Absolutely Free are Cruising with Ruben & the Jets (1968) and Hot Rats (1969), and even then I really don’t think they are quite in this league.

  • BY FAR the best copy to ever hit the site – White Hot on side one and Nearly White on side two
  • You will not believe how rich and Tubey Magical this copy is, and yet so CLEAR and undistorted
  • If you’ve suffered through reissues or the dreadful CD you are going to flip out over the sound of this copy
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “By turns hilarious, inscrutable, and virtuosically complex, Absolutely Free is… a fabulously inventive record…”

Credit the incredibly talented Val Valentin with engineering that to our ears gives every indication of being a clear step up over everything else Zappa released in the ’60s.

Our last shootout was in 2007 — yes, about nine years ago. We can’t even find one clean copy of this album a year (at prices we can afford to pay of course). To be honest, one copy in our shootout was exceptionally quiet but the sound is a big step down from this one. (more…)

Duke Ellington/Johnny Hodges – Blues Summit – Better Sound than the Originals?

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  • This superb jazz double album makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • What surprised during our shootout was that this later pressing from 1976 actually sounded quite a bit better than virtually all the early pressings we put it up against
  • The Classic Records pressings from 1995 aren’t bad, but they head to head they can’t begin to compete with a pressing as good as this one
  • Superb engineering from the man behind so many great sounding Verve records, Val Valentin
  • 4 stars: “… this very enjoyable double LP includes two related sessions… Highly recommended in one form or another.”

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Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Loves Cole

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  • Ella’s superb 1972 release makes its Hot Stamper debut here with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • This copy is balanced and natural, with the kind of rich, full-bodied sound that no one seems to know how to record anymore
  • Fitzgerald’s second artful collection of Cole Porter masterpieces, arranged by the great Nelson Riddle
  • The legendary engineer Val Valentin put this one on tape, brilliantly – he’s the man behind some of our All Time favorite albums on Verve and Pablo

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Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie – Our Favorite Female Vocal Album of All Time

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

The first “Triple Triple” MONO copy to ever hit the site — A+++ from start to finish. Our knockout mono pressing here was fuller, more natural and more involving than any copy we heard in our shootout. with immediacy to put Ella practically in the room with you, it’s her performance that really comes to life. It’s our single Favorite Female Vocal album here at Better Records, one that gets better with each passing year.

Check out what the lucky owner of this copy had to say about it.

PR Writes

As you probably know, I own superb copies of the stereo. They both fade into pastel in comparison with this mono. (more…)

Mel Torme – Swings Shubert Alley – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

The first Hot Stamper copy of this great album to hit the site in many, many years! We are HUGE fans of this album at Better Records, but it’s taken us a long time to pull together enough clean copies to make this shootout happen. Boy, was it worth all the trouble!   

The presence and immediacy here are staggering. Turn it up and Mel is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime! One of our very favorite male vocal albums, and this copy will show you why — the sound and music are the tops.

The sound is big, open, rich and full. The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy. And this copy gives you more life and energy than most, by a long shot. Very few records out there give you the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing, particularly on side two. (more…)

Mel Torme – I Dig The Duke – I Dig The Count

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  • Torme’s 1962 release makes its Hot Stamper debut here with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • This is not one of Mel’s better known albums, but we found it to be prime Velvet Fog, right up there with the best of his work auditioned to date – if you haven’t heard the man in his prime, this would be a great place to start
  • Val Valentin did the engineering – as he often did over the course of his long and storied career, he knocked this one out of the park
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Recorded with the Johnny Mandel Orchestra at sessions in Los Angeles, it includes one half Duke Ellington and one half Count Basie… With all these things going for it, how can Tormé do wrong?”

*NOTE: A small mark in the middle of track 3, I Like The Sunshine, makes 12 moderate pops.

Sometimes the copy with the best sound is not the copy with the quietest vinyl. The best sounding copy is always going to win the shootout, the condition of its vinyl not withstanding. If you can tolerate the problems on this pressing you are in for some killer Mel Torme music with exceptional sound. If for any reason you are not happy with the sound or condition of the album we are of course happy to take it back for a full refund, including the domestic return postage.


The sound of this superb jazzy ensemble is big, lively, open and clear, with Tubey Magical richness you will not find anywhere but on these early Verve stereo LPs.

Why is that? Well, for starters, this vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (more…)

Astrud Gilberto – The Astrud Gilberto Album

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The Astrud Gilberto Album

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

This Minty looking Verve LP has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND. It’s airy, open and spacious with a big wide soundfield and excellent clarity. The sound is smooth and sweet with wonderfully textured strings and a killer top end. Sonically this copy is Right On The Money (ROTM) and I can’t imagine it sounding a whole lot better than it does here. (more…)

Bill Evans – At The Montreux Jazz Festival

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  • Evan’s Classic Live album from the Montreux Jazz Festival returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last
  • A killer Verve stereo pressing, with lovely richness and warmth, real space and wonderful immediacy throughout
  • Recorded live in 1968, this superb release pairs Evans’ unique piano improvisations with bandmates Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette
  • 4 stars: “Evans, famous for a soft-spoken pianistic touch, seems driven to new vistas on this album. He experiments more with harmonic dissonance and striking rhythmical contrasts, making this his most extroverted playing since his freshman release, New Jazz Conceptions.”

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Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz-Gilberto – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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More Getz-Gilberto

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

We have been trying to find great sound (on reasonable surfaces) for this album for YEARS — I kid you not — but this 2-pack is the first Hot Stamper version to ever hit the site. We have fired up this shootout multiple times since 2006 and been left empty-handed each and every time until the last go-around. We have sunk an insane amount of dough into trying to get a few killer copies because we love the music so much, but we just haven’t had much to show for it. If you love this Brazilian-flavored cool jazz as much as we do, you might want to snap this one up because who knows when or if we’ll find another one.

Stan Getz is a truly great tenor saxophonist, the cool school’s most popular player. This LP is all the evidence you need. Side one has those wonderfully relaxed Brazilian tempos and the smooth sax stylings of Stan Getz. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – The Johnny Mercer Song Book

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

The huge, rich orchestral sound captured so beautifully by Val Valentin is always one of the many highlights to be found on the songbook series. By the time this album came out in 1964 Ella had already recorded 18 LPs worth 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.  

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…)