Top Producer-Engineers – Henry Lewy

Jennifer Warnes – Famous Blue Raincoat

More of the Music of Jennifer Warnes

More of the Music of Leonard Cohen

  • A Demo Disc quality pressing of this longtime audiophile favorite with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Turn this one up good and loud (which you can do when the sound is right) and you’ll have a living, breathing Jennifer Warnes singing her heart out right in front of you
  • The space, resolution, and clarity here are wonderful – for evidence, just listen to the rosiny texture on the strings behind the “Song of Bernadette”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The high point may have been the Warnes-Cohen duet on ‘Joan of Arc,’ but the album was consistently impressive.”

We’re big fans of this album here at Better Records. It’s the only thing Jennifer Warnes ever did that we would consider a Must Own recording or Desert Island Disc. In my humble opinion, it’s clearly both.

This copy showed us the Famous Blue Raincoat Magic we know and love. The drums are big and punchy with plenty of WHOMP and the sound of skins being thwacked. Jennifer’s voice is clear and breathy. If you know the record well you will surely be amazed at just how good this music can sound on a pressing as hot as this one.


Wild Things Run Fast – A Personal Favorite

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Hot Stamper Pressings of Personal Favorites Available Now

One of our favorite Joni Mitchell albums. A Desert Island disc for me & one of the few good reasons to listen to new music in the ’80s. 

My personal Must Own Joni Mitchell list includes:

  1. 1968 Song to a Seagull
  2. 1971 Blue
  3. 1974 Court and Spark
  4. 1982 Wild Things Run Fast

WTRF is a TAS list Super Disc with many good qualities, but you’d never know it from the typically lean, bass-shy pressing you might find on your turntable.

Also, since this record can be a little cold sounding — it’s a modern recording after all, and 1982 is sadly nothing like 1972  — filling it out and warming it up is just what the doctor ordered.

John Golden (JG) mastered the originals. The best of them prove that he did a great job at least some of the time. (To find “the best of them,” aka Hot Stampers, read on.)

You can count on the fact that our Hot Stamper pressings will be unusually rich and full-bodied, with lovely warmth and presence. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark

Hot Stamper Pressings of Court and Spark Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

  • The sound is rich, warm and natural, with wonderful transparency, ambience and loads of Tubey Magic
  • Musically this is one of our favorite Joni albums here at Better Records, and probably her Best Recording as well
  • A proud member (along with Blue) of our Top 100 Rock and Pop albums – yes, it’s that good sounding when it’s mastered and pressed as well as this copy is
  • 5 stars: “[A] remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz … the music is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last.”
  • Court and Spark, along with For the Roses, are two of the best sounding albums in Joni Mitchell’s canon. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.
  • If you’re a Joni fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1974 is an absolute Must Own

Court and Spark deserves to be heard with all the clarity, beauty and power that our Hot Stampers reproduce so well. If there is a better sounding album with Joni Mitchell’s name on the cover, you’ll have to prove it to us.

What you hear is the sound of the real tape; every instrument has its own character because the mastering is correct and the vinyl — against all odds — managed to capture all (or almost all; who can know?) of the resolution that the tape had to offer. (more…)

Back in the Day, Blue Was Just Too Tough a Nut to Crack

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

This commentary was written in 2006 or thereabouts.

I must tell you about a Blue shootout I tried to do at a friend’s house. The system he owns has some nice equipment in it (the EAR 864, a $4200 tube preamp, for one) and can sound very good — if not wonderful — on certain program material.

But it’s the kind of audiophile system that is easily overwhelmed by difficult to reproduce material. On my copy of Blue his stereo was a complete disaster: grainy, shrill, thin, flat, harsh, compressed, unmusical, no real extension at either end; in short, no magic, tubey or otherwise.

My copy of Blue, which had earlier in the day sounded so good at my house, now sounded so bad at his that I could hardly recognize it as the same LP.

Pieces of the Puzzle

Of course it was the same LP, and by the time I got home the pieces of the puzzle had all fallen into place. It takes a very special stereo to overcome the shortcomings of even the best domestic pressings of Blue in order to reveal the beauty of this music.

The new one isn’t better. It’s just easier to play on the average audiophile system.

Do you have one of those? Most audiophiles do; that’s what being average means. If you’ve been in this hobby for less than five years it’s almost certain you do. I would say a decade of serious dedication to home audio would be the minimum needed to acquire the knowledge and skill to build a truly hi-fidelity system.

Figure twenty grand minimum as a budget.

It can be done for less but only if you have the skills to make it work, and those skills are hard to come by. They can’t be bought, which is why so many megabuck systems sound so unbelievably bad.

And if you’ve only budgeted a modest amount of money toward your system, it stands to reason that you’ve probably only budgeted a modest amount of time and effort into improving the quality of its playback.

In 2005 We Gave Up

Hey, I’m living proof of how hard it is. In 2005 I gave up on Blue, remember? You can read about it here.

I didn’t have the equipment or the room I would have needed to crack that nut. That was in 2005, but it was before we had our EAR 324P (acquired in 2007), before we had discovered the Walker Record Cleaning System (2007, again), before we had all of our room treatments, and before we had made about fifty other changes to the system.

Here I was playing records all day every day, tweaking my stereo like crazy, trying all kinds of new equipment all the time, and even I found it hard to make much headway with Blue.

So don’t feel bad if your copy of Blue on domestic vinyl sounds terrible at your house. It sounds terrible almost everywhere. It used to sound terrible here. Most copies aren’t any good to begin with, and most stereos aren’t up to playing the few copies that are any good. Our stereo can play Blue beautifully now, but it took a lot of effort and a fair amount of money.

And now the new version sound positively sick in comparison.

So-Called Great Stereos

Audiophiles generally think they have great sounding stereos. I haven’t met too many that didn’t.

But most of these so-called great sounding stereos utterly fall apart when confronted with Difficult to Reproduce material played at anything above a whisper. Those are precisely the kind of albums we love to crank up good and loud here at Better Records, albums like Ambrosia, Fragile, Sticky Fingers, and on and on.

Got a Tough Nut like Blue? We say bring it on.

If your stereo is up to it, a good domestic copy of Blue will kill the new 180 gram reissue.

Joni Mitchell / Shadows and Light

More Joni Mitchell

  • An excellent copy of Mitchell’s second live album with Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides of these vintage Asylum pressings
  • The sound is full-bodied, lively and dynamic, with wonderful immediately to Joni’s remarkably present and breathy vocals
  • If you’re a fan of Joni’s more experimental work from the mid to late ’70s, this album is a Must Own
  • “…it serves as a good retrospective of her jazzy period from 1975-1979. As expected, she assembles a group of all-star musicians including Pat Metheny (guitar), Jaco Pastorius (bass), Lyle Mays (keyboards), and Michael Brecker (saxophone) who give these compositions more energy than on the studio recordings.”

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in exceptionally clean shape. Most of the will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG

Four outstanding sides! We recently had a huge shootout for this famous double album and this copy blew our minds with Double Plus sonics and reasonanbly quiet vinyl from start to finish. In the high-stakes game of Better Records Double Album Poker, that’s a full house, man! This one gives you the kind of you are there immediacy and transparency that put you front and center for a late ’70s jazzy Joni Mitchell show. Not too many copies will do that!

Joni’s voice is breathy and present with real texture, and the three-dimensional imaging gives the music a real sense of space — just like you’d get at a concert. This helps convey the intimacy of the songs and the performances, and isn’t that what we audiophiles got in this crazy hobby for in the first place?

Good luck finding another copy that sounds this good and plays this quiet on all four sides! It was a huge project to clean and play so many pressings of this double LP, and I wouldn’t expect that we’ll get around to this shootout again any time too soon. If you’re a fan of Joni and particularly of her work from this era, you don’t want to miss out on this one.


Joni Mitchell – Growly Cellos and Solid Pianos

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

The growl of the cello on Rainy Night House can clearly be heard behind Joni, with the wood of the instrument sounding real and correct. The kind of You Are There immediacy and transparency of the best copies has to be heard to be believed. 

Listen to the piano Joni plays throughout the album. This is not the thin and hard-sounding instrument that accompanies her on practically every LP you have ever had the misfortune to audition, hoping against hope that someday you would find that “elusive disc,” the one with sound worthy of such extraordinary music.

No, this piano has real weight; it has body; and it’s surrounded by real, three-dimensional studio space.

This side two is warm, rich, and sweet in a way that we’ve only heard on a handful of other copies in the past. Joni’s vocals just couldn’t sound any better; they’re full-bodied, breathy, textured, and shockingly present. This is the copy to play if you want Joni Mitchell singing to you right there in your listening room. What could be better than that?

With the transparency of the better copies comes the sound of Joni’s right foot on the pedal. It’s clearly audible through most of the takes, something the engineers no doubt never heard.

Of course, they didn’t have the kind of high-res equipment we take for granted today. 6 thousand dollar phono stages have a way of bringing out these things.

Or they heard it and ignored it knowing that the Old School stereos of the day could never reproduce it.

Lately we have been writing quite a bit about how pianos are good for testing your system, room, tweaks, electricity and all the rest, not to mention turntable setup and adjustment.

  • We like our pianos to sound natural (however one chooses to define the term).
  • We like them to be solidly weighted.
  • We like them to be free of smear, a quality that is rarely mentioned in the audiophile record reviews we read.

Further Reading

Joni Mitchell – Wild Things Run Fast

More Joni Mitchell

  • This copy has Joni rockin’ like you will not believe, with stunning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on both sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Her last great record – fortunately for us audiophiles, it’s spacious, open and powerful with present vocals and solid bass
  • “On her first new studio album of original material in five years, Joni Mitchell achieved more of a balance between her pop abilities and her jazz aspirations, meanwhile rediscovering a more direct, emotional lyric approach. The result was her best album since the mid-’70s.”

Wild Things Run Fast checks off a number of boxes for us here at Better Records:

Both sides are lively, dynamic, and tonally Right On The Money. The vocal clarity is excellent, allowing you to appreciate every last nuance of Joni’s performance. The bottom end is wonderful with punchy drums and lots of deep bass. The overall sound is smooth, sweet, rich, and full-bodied with a lovely, silky top end.

Wild Things Run Fast is a TAS list Super Disc with many good qualities, but you’d never know it from the typically lean, bass-shy pressing. Since this record can be a little cold sounding — it’s a modern recording after all — filling it out and warming it up a little is just what the doctor ordered.

Another Masterpiece?

I absolutely love the album. I think it’s one of Joni’s best, one of her many masterpieces if I may be so bold. One is only supposed to be allotted one masterpiece, but considering all the stylistic changes she’s been through, Joni has clearly earned the right to have as many as she likes. I count at least three so far and perhaps there will be more coming down the road, although I very much doubt it.


Joni Mitchell – Blue

More Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

  • For the first time this year, we here present a killer copy of Blue, with superb sound and reasonably quiet vinyl
  • With two Double Plus (A++) or BETTER sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Joni’s 1971 masterpiece sound this good
  • Full-bodied and balanced with the kind of smooth musicality that’s not always easy to find for Blue
  • A Better Records Top 100 title that belongs in any audiophile music collection worthy of the name
  • 5 stars: “Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell’s songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity…”
  • Everything changed for us in 2007 with the release of the Hoffman/Gray-mastered Rhino pressing of Blue, a record that made us ask ourselves, “Why are we selling records that we would not want to own or listen to ourselves?”
  • It was truly a kicked-in-the-head-by-a-mule moment for all of us here at Better Records, and I am glad to say one kick was all it took to get the rocks out of my head

The best copies bring out the breathy quality to Joni’s voice, and she never sounds strained. They are sweet and open, with good bass foundation and transparency throughout the frequency range.

The best pressings (and our better playback equipment) have revealed nuances to this recording — and of course the performances of all the players along with it — that made us fall in love with the music all over again. Of all the tough nuts to crack, this was the toughest, yet somehow copies emerged from our shootouts that made it easy to appreciate the sonic merits of Blue and ignore its shortcomings.

Hot Stampers have a way of doing that. You forget it’s a record; it’s now just Music. The right record and the right playback will bring this music to life in a way that you cannot imagine until you hear it. That is our guarantee on Blue — better than you ever thought possible or your money back.


David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name…

More David Crosby

More Hippie Folk Rock

  • The ultimate Hippie Folk Rock Demo Disc – both sides are amazingly transparent, with huge amounts of bass, silky highs, in-the-room vocals and tons of Tubey Magic
  • Marks and problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these Classic Rock records – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 stars: ” If I Could Only Remember My Name is a shambolic masterpiece, meandering but transcendentally so, full of frayed threads. Not only is it among the finest splinter albums out of the CSNY diaspora, it is one of the defining moments of hungover spirituality from the era.”
  • This Folk Rock Masterpiece from 1971 is one that belongs in every audiophile’s collection
  • On big speakers at loud levels, this is a Demo Disc with relatively few peers

Here it is, folks… a TRUE ROCK DEMO DISC! A White Hot Stamper copy such as this will show you why we’ve long considered it one of the All Time Top Ten Rock Albums for Sound and Music. You will not believe how Tubey Magical and three-dimensional this album can be when you have a pressing with this kind of sound. The harmonic complexity and extension on the acoustic guitars are absolutely stunning!

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording? (We do applaud his decision not to add the Classic pressing of this title to the list, the way he did with so many other Classic pressings that have no business on anything called a Super Disc list.)

Barncard’s Masterpiece

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the superbly talented recording engineer on this project, Stephen Barncard (American Beauty, Deja Vu, Tarkio, etc.). This album is without a doubt his masterpiece. It fully deserves its standing as one of the Ten Best Rock Recordings of All Time.

A Must Own Rock Record

We consider this album a Masterpiece. It’s a Demo Disc Quality recording that should be part of any serious Rock Collection.

Others that belong in that category can be found here.

You Don’t Have to Be High to Hear It

When you drop the needle on this record, all barriers between you and the musicians are removed. You’ll feel as though you’re sitting at the studio console while Crosby and his no-doubt-stoned-out-of-their-minds Bay Area pals (mostly Jefferson Airplaners and Grateful Deads, see list below) are laying down this emotionally powerful, heartfelt music.

The overall sound is warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied… that’s some real ANALOG Tubey Magic, baby! And the best part is, you don’t have to be high to hear it. You just need a good stereo and the right pressing. (more…)

Joe Cocker – Joe Cocker!

More Joe Cocker

  • This copy of Cocker’s sophomore release boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Consistently stronger material than his debut – did Cocker ever release an album with more good songs than this one?
  • Take a gander at this track listing: “Dear Landlord,” “Bird on the Wire,” “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” “Something,” “Delta Lady,” “Darling Be Home Soon” – and there’s plenty more where those came from
  • Records like these are getting awfully hard to find these days in audiophile playing condition, which explains why you so rarely see them on the site
  • 4 stars: “Cocker mixed elements of late-’60s English blues revival recordings (John Mayall, et al.) with the more contemporary sounds of soul and pop; a sound fused in no small part by producer and arranger Leon Russell, whose gumbo mix figures prominently on this eponymous release and the infamous Mad Dogs & Englishmen live set.”

This is a surprisingly good recording. Cocker and his band — with more than a little help from Leon Russell — run through a collection of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the Beatles, and when you hear it on a White Hot Stamper copy it’s hard to deny the appeal of this timeless music.

This album is a ton of fun, with Cocker and his band putting their spin on some of the best songs of the era. You need energy, space and full, rich, Tubey Magical sound if this music is going to sound right, and on those counts these copies deliver. (more…)