Top Producers

The Rolling Stones – No. 2

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

The best word I could use to sum up both the sound and the music on this record is HONEST. If you want to hear how early Rolling Stones records sound when they sound right, this is the ticket. This is the real sound of the early, early Stones.

Probably what any modern engineer would want to do to the album would only end up making it worse. It is what it is and that’s good enough for us.

Some tracks do sound quite a bit better than others, recorded as they were in three different locations (including Chess studios) by two different engineers (Ron Malo and Dave Hassinger). (more…)

Jimmy Smith – Got My Mojo Workin’ – Reviewed in 2010

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Verve Stereo LP with RVG Stampers and very good sound. This album has that analog richness, warmth and smoothness that we prize so highly here at Better Records. Jimmy does some pop tunes, some Ellington and more on this one, which has a real funky feel to it, with Jimmy really getting into it and grunting along with the music in places.

This copy (especially on side one) was just plain bigger and richer and tubier, as well as more dynamic than the others we played. (more…)

Elton John’s Caribou Is Usually Noisy and Sounds Bad – Why Is That?

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There’s a good reason you’ve practically never seen this album for sale on our site. In fact there are quite a number of good reasons.

The first one is bad vinyl — most DJM pressings of Caribou are just too noisy to sell. They can look perfectly mint and play noisy as hell; it’s not abuse, it’s bad vinyl. (Empty Sky is the same way; out and out bad vinyl, full of noise, grit and grain.)

The second problem is bad sound. Whether it’s bad mastering or bad vinyl incapable of holding onto good mastering, no one can say. Since so many copies were pressed of this monster Number One album (topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic), perhaps they pressed a few too many after the stampers were worn out.

Or pulled too many stampers off the mother.

Or made too many stampers from the father.

Or used crap vinyl right from the start.

Of course there’s not an iota of evidence to back up any of these assertions, but I just thought I would throw it out there as a topic for speculation. (Have you noticed how much audiophiles and audiophile reviewers love to talk about things that they have no empirical evidence for one way or the other? Very little of that sort of thing can be found on our site. We like to stick to the sound of the records we’ve played and leave most of the “reasoning” about the sound to others.)

Carly Simon – Anticipation – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

TWO INCREDIBLE SIDES ON QUIET VINYL! We just finished our first big shootout for Anticipation in three years, and here’s the copy that finished at the top of the heap. Both sides have the kind of warm, sweet sound that perfectly conveys the emotional qualtity of Carly’s performance. Drop the needle on the song “I’ve Got To Have You” for some of the best Carly Simon sound you will ever hear — we were blown away!

Note that the first song, the title track, has a bit of a “radio EQ” feel and doesn’t sound as good as the rest. It’s a shame but there’s still a whole lot to like here.

The acoustic guitars sound particularly good on this copy, with just the right balance of pluck and body. The vocals are breathy and full-bodied with extraordinary immediacy. The tonality from top to bottom is Right On The Money. I don’t think you could find a much better sounding copy of this album no matter how hard you tried. We went through a lot of copies to find this one, I can tell you that!

If Those Guitars Sound Familiar… 

When you hear the incredibly lush, highly detailed acoustic guitars on this record, you won’t be surprised to find out that the album was produced by Mr. Paul Samwell-Smith, who handles the same duties on Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser And The Firecat. You’ll hear his signature sound all over this album, particularly on the track I’ve Got To Have You. That’s not to say that we’d put this recording on the same level with those audiophile knockouts, but the richness and the sweetness of the midrange on the best copies is exactly what you’d expect from the team of Samwell-Smith and Carly Simon. (We wish the drums had a little more punch, but that’s just our inner rock-and-roller speaking!)

AGAIG! (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Monk.

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  • This wonderful Black Print 360 Columbia pressing impressed us, earning outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or better on both sides and playing about as quietly as any stereo original we’ve found
  • Columbia records produced by Teo Macero in the early ’60s have consistently open, natural sound – this one from 1964 is no exception
  • The piano has real weight, the bass definition is wonderful, Rouse’s sax is full-bodied, and the overall sound is Columbia to a “T”: warm, sweet, and rich
  • The Thelonious Monk Quartet of 1964 is well featured on this excellent set… Easily recommended to Monk fans, this set is just further proof that he never made an unworthy recording.”

*The last track on this side gets a little crackly and plays Mint Minus Minus to EX++.

We’re big Monk fans here at Better Records and we wish we could get more records like this up on the site. Unfortunately, clean, vintage pressings of Monk’s music have become increasingly difficult to find, and even when you can track them down, they rarely play as quietly as this one, and of course, this being a Hot Stamper, they rarely sound as good as this one. (more…)

James Taylor – Dad Loves His Work – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This Hot Stamper original Columbia is THE KING, the Best Sounding Copy we have ever played — the sound was OUT OF THIS WORLD! In fact, side two went so far beyond what we’ve come to expect from this album that we had to award it the rare Four Plus (A++++) grade.

The soundstage and depth on our Hot Stamper copies is HUGE — this is without a doubt the most spacious recording by James Taylor we’ve ever heard. If you want your speakers to disappear, replaced by a huge studio full of musicians playing their hearts out, this is the album that can do it. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Heart Like a Wheel

 

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Heart Like a Wheel

and click on this link to the

Classic Tracks

entry for the album to read about it in real  depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Heart Like a Wheel.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold. (more…)

Talking Heads – Remain In Light – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

HOT STAMPERS DISCOVERED AT LAST! We’ve been trying to find a great sounding copy of this album forever, and this is the week we finally succeeded. It takes an exceptional pressing to get all the elements correct — the funky bottom end; the processed, multi-tracked vocals; the Brian Eno production weirdness and so on.

This is a brilliant album but a typically problematic record. Most copies get some things right but fail miserably in other areas. There are smeary copies that can’t deliver the punchy bottom you need, grainy copies that make the vocals painful to listen to, and plenty of copies that are just too dark or flat sounding for anyone to enjoy. Note that the first track on both sides will sound the worst. The sound gets better, though, as you get further into the album. (more…)

Rod Stewart – Atlantic Crossing – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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

This copy just murdered the competition. The last consistently good Rod Stewart album? It gets my vote.

The copies we liked best were the biggest and richest, and the least thin and dry. Many of the brighter copies also had sibilance problems which the richer and tubier ones do not.

Side One

Triple Plus. The space is huge, the sound is rich, it rocks like only “The Memphis Horns and three-quarters of Booker T. and the MG’s” can — this side is practically without fault. We’ve never heard it sound like this, and we’ve been playing this record (at least I have) since it came out in 1975.

Side Two

Triple Plus again, with acoustic guitars that are clear and extend beautifully, exhibiting the most harmonic information we heard all day from side two of Atlantic Crossing, hence our top grade. So big and rich. Finally the album sounds the way it should!

Domestic Vs. British Vinyl

On some of the Rod Stewart albums that we happen to know well the British pressings are clearly superior; the first two Rod Stewart albums come immediately to mind. After that, strange as it may seem, all the best pressings are domestic. This album is certainly no exception. I remember bringing back a few Brit copies from England many years ago and being surprised that they were so thick, dull and dubby sounding. Of course they were; the album was recorded right here in the good old US of A. The master tapes are here. The Brit pressings sound dubby because they are made from copies.

If there is any doubt, the following is a list of the studios in which Atlantic Crossing was recorded.

  • A&R, NY
  • Criteria, Miami, FL
  • Wally Heider, Los Angeles, CA
  • Hi Recording and
  • Muscle Shoals Sound, AL

(more…)

Val Garay Rocks the Sound of JT

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

JT

 

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The good copies REALLY ROCK on a song like Honey Don’t Leave L.A. or I Was Only Telling A Lie, yet have lovely, sweet transparency and delicacy on the ballads such as Another Grey Morning or There We Are.

Just turn up the volume and play the opening to Honey Don’t Leave L.A. — this is James Taylor and his super tight studio band at the peak of their powers. Russ Kunkel hits the drum twice, then clicks his sticks together so quickly you can hardly notice it, then goes back to the drums for the rest of the intro. On a superb copy like this one, the subtleties of his performance are clearly on display. (Until copies like this one came along, we had never even noticed that stick trick. Now it’s the high point of the whole intro!)

Sound Equals Music

As audiophiles we all know that sound and music are inseparable. After dropping the needle on a dozen or so copies, all originals by the way, you KNOW when the music is working its magic and when it’s not. As with any pop album there are always some songs that sound better than others, but when you find yourself marvelling at how well-written and well-produced a song is, you know that the sound is doing what it needs to do. It’s communicating the Musical Values of the material.

The most important of all these Musical Values is ENERGY, and boy do the best copies have it!

Val Garay Is The Man

VAL GARAY is the man behind so many of our favorite recordings: James Taylor’s JT (a Top 100 title), Simple Dreams (also a Top 100 title), Andrew Gold, Prisoner In Disguise, etc. They all share his trademark super-punchy, jump-out-the-speakers, rich and smooth ANALOG sound. With BIG drums — can’t forget those. (To be clear, only the best copies share it. Most copies only hint at it.) (more…)