Top Producers

The Poll Winners – Straight Ahead

More Shelly Manne

More Ray Brown

More Barney Kessel

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  • This superb collaboration has KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Musically, this is by far our favorite Poll Winners record – these guys got back together after 15 years and were eager to prove that they still had their youthful exuberance, and even better chops, which they did have and did prove!
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Kessel in particular is heard in excellent form… Overall this is the best all-around recording by The Poll Winners and is easily recommended to bop fans.”

These guys play with more spunk here than on any other album of theirs I’ve heard. And you have to love those ’70s leisure suits they’re wearing on the cover. I remember my commentary when this record was around, mentioning that Roy DuNann had lost none of his engineering skills in the intervening years either.

This is a very dynamic recording, one of his best. You almost never hear cymbals sound this good on an RVG Blue Note, that’s for sure. The bass definition on this record is amazing — you can really hear Ray Brown pulling and bending the strings of the instrument. He’s tearing it up. (more…)

Michael Jackson / Thriller – Thoughts on Thriller, Circa 2006

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Reviews and Commentaries for Thriller

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

This pressing has a side two that is so amazing sounding that it COMPLETELY CHANGED my understanding and appreciation of this album. The average copy is a nice pop record. This copy is a MASTERPIECE of production and engineering.

After playing a bunch of these we noticed some recurring shortcomings on most of the pressings. Either they lacked extension on the top end or they lacked bass definition and weight, or both. When this copy hit the table, the first thing we noticed was that the top end was Right On The Money and the bottom end was also Right On The Money. Not surprisingly, the middle fell right into place.

It ended up having the most ambience, the most transparency, the most resolution, the most dynamic contrasts, the most presence — in short, it had more of EVERYTHING than any copy we’ve ever heard. The lesson to be learned there may be that when the extremes are somehow properly transferred to the vinyl, the middle will take care of itself. Since the extremes seem to be the hardest thing to get right, at least on this record, that might explain why so many copies don’t quite cut the mustard.

Side one fits perfectly into this theory. The bottom end is MEATY with plenty of punchy, solid bass, but the top end is lacking a bit of extension compared to the very best. The result is that there’s a trace of hardness in the vocals that shouldn’t be there. If you can add a dB or two of extreme highs, EVERYTHING will sound right on side one. It all comes back to life.

I remember twenty years ago playing Thriller and thinking they were all so transistory, spitty, and aggressive sounding. Well, I didn’t have a Triplanar tonearm, a beautiful VPI table and everything that goes along with it back then. Now I can play this record. I couldn’t back then. All that spit was simply mistracking. The record is no different, it just sounds different now. In other words, this record is a great test. If you can play this record, you can play practically anything.

Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Does Bernie Ever Get Bored?

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Linda Ronstadt

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Years ago we wrote:

One thing we noted with interest while doing this shootout was how compressed the first track is. When the chorus comes in, and Linda seems to be singing louder — should be singing louder, with a substantial coterie of vocalists backing her up — the volume is actually lower. In the verse immediately following you can hear that not only is she singing louder, but the amount of dynamic contrast in her voice is greater. Go figure.

The compression also means that that song will never sound the way we would wish it to. But that doesn’t mean it won’t sound good. It means it will sound good in more of a radio-friendly way. On a good copy, one with relatively little grain and plenty of bass, the music can still be very enjoyable, and that includes a Number One Pop Hit like “You’re No Good.”

Do we still see things this way? Well, yes and no. It’s not exactly that we were wrong, but that better cleaning and better playback (all that revolutions in audio stuff) have now allowed us to hear that some copies are actually much more dynamic on this track than others. Quite dynamic in fact.

Think about it. Bernie Grundman is going to cut this record many, many times, maybe more times than he wants to. Is he always going to apply exactly the same amount of compression to each cutting, or is he going to experiment a bit and see what works better over time? Or maybe he just learned a thing or two as he went along.

Which is pretty much what we do when playing copy after copy. The best pressings show us precisely what it is they are doing when they actually work. We can’t know that in advance; we’re learning on the job so to speak. (more…)

The Doors / The Soft Parade – A Tough Title to Find with Top Sound

  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is going to be very hard to beat, and plays about as quietly as any early pressing can
  • The sound is incredibly powerful from start to finish – big, rich, full-bodied, present and lively – thanks Bruce Botnick, where would The Doors be without you?
  • Full of great songs: Touch Me, Runnin’ Blue, Wild Child, Wishful Sinful and the amazingly trippy Soft Parade extended suite (with Triple Plus sound no less)
  • “Much like a true “parade” of an English fugue, the song morphs from Morrison’s a capella sermon-like intro to a Baroque ballad to a show tune-like section to the long rock outro, the music masterfully following the flowing, stream of consciousness lyric.” Hell yeah!

These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.

NOTE: *A mark makes 8 soft ticks at the beginning of track 4, The Soft Parade.

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in clean shape. Most of them will have at least some ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. Some will have cut corners. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG, and it will probably be VG+. If you are picky about your covers please let us know in advance so that we can be sure we have a nice enough cover for you.

This Doors pressing (either on the Elektra Gold or Big Red E Label, nothing else would qualify as a Hot Stamper) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.).

Hot Stamper sound is rarely about the details of a given recording. In the case of this album, a Hot Stamper must succeed at recreating a solid, palpable, rich JIM MORRISON singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played over the years can serve as a guide. (more…)

Dave Brubeck – Time Changes

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More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

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  • This early 360 Stereo pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side two and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on side one – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • With a breathy sax, lively and present piano, and a smooth, full sounding orchestra on some of these tracks, this is just the right sound for this music
  • The legendary CBS 30th Street Studios in New York deliver another amazing Demo Disc for Dave Brubeck and his famous fellow jazzmen
  • Produced by the legendary Teo Macero, this is the fourth entry in Brubeck’s time signature series of classic jazz

Production and Engineering

Teo Macero was the producer, Fred Plaut the engineer for these sessions in Columbia’s glorious-sounding 30th Street Studio. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

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Winds In Hi-Fi – Grainger / Rogers / Milhaud / Strauss – Fennell

More Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Recordings

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  • This famous TAS list LP finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • This pressing boasts superb sound on both sides – Mercury knows how to capture the bite of the brass
  • Fennell is a master of this sort of sweet and lyrical Wind Music
  • This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the Mercury sound we love, and that is so hard to find

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs.

The credit must go to Fennel along with the brilliant engineering team at Mercury. I’ve been told that he was a stickler for making sure everyone was perfectly in tune and playing correctly within the ensemble. That’s exactly what you hear when you play a record like this — it’s practically sonic perfection.

Fennell made a number of band music recordings for Mercury. My favorite is British Band Classics Vol. 2, which was the first Mercury recording I ever heard. I went out and bought a copy of it immediately from my local Tower Records on Golden Import.

Years later when I heard the real thing, and original pressing, I realized the Golden Import was a pretty second rate reissue, fine for the $4.99 I might have paid but a big step down from the early pressings.

Also, if you ever see a clean copy of Vol. 1, only available in Mono, pick it up. If it’s cut right it too is out of this world. (more…)

Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

More Paul Simon

More Singer Songwriter Albums

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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…)

The Walter Wanderley Trio – Cheganca

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More Bossa Nova

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  • Cheganca finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • Spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience – both the sound and the bossa-nova-meets-exotica music are nothing but ear candy on the right system
  • Creed Taylor (the CTI man) produced and Val Valentin engineered – what’s not to like?
  • Cheganca would be a welcome addition to any bossa nova fan’s collection. The fat, swinging sound of this surprisingly small combo is a marvel even by modern standards. Alongside organ giants like Jimmy Smith or today’s Joey DeFrancesco, Wanderley will go down in history as one of the instrument’s champions.”

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John Lennon / Imagine – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – this was one of the better copies to emerge from our most recent shootout
  • These superb UK pressings are rich, weighty and oh-so-tubey – it took us a long time to find the right stampers
  • Two of our favorite engineers worked their magic on this recording – our thanks go to Eddie Offord and Shelly Yakus
  • 5 stars: “…it was only marginally less confessional than its predecessor. Underneath the sweet strings of “Jealous Guy” lies a broken and scared man, the jaunty “Crippled Inside” is a mocking assault at an acquaintance, and “Imagine” is a paean for peace in a world with no gods, possessions, or classes, where everyone is equal… A remarkable collection of songs that Lennon would never be able to better again.”

NOTE: A very small mark near the end of track three, side two, How Do You Sleep?, makes three loud pops.

Both sides here are excellent. capturing the essence of what Lennon and Phil Spector (and let’s not forget Yoko, who also gets a producer credit here) were going for. Copies that sound as good as this one do not grow on trees. If it wasn’t ridiculously difficult to find Hot Stamper pressings of Imagine it certainly would not have taken us until 2015 to offer one. (more…)

Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides are doing everything right — big, rich and full of Tubey Magic with a wonderfully extended top end and a more natural sound than most other copies we heard
  • Top tracks here include First We Take Manhattan, Take This Waltz, and the classic Everybody Knows
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A stunningly sophisticated leap into modern musical textures, I’m Your Man re-establishes Leonard Cohen’s mastery….”

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