Top Producers – Jimmy Miller

The Rolling Stones – How Do the TML Copies Sound?

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Reviews and Commentaries for Sticky Fingers

A listing for an early domestic Hot Stamper pressing for Sticky Fingers will typically be introduced like this:

If you have never heard one of our Hot Stamper pressings of the album, you (probably) cannot begin to appreciate just how amazing the sound is.

A landmark Glyn Johns / Andy Johns recording, our favorite by the Stones, a Top 100 Title (of course) and 5 stars on Allmusic (ditto).

After hearing so much buzz about it, we finally broke down and ordered a German TML pressing about a year ago. Having played scores of phenomenally good sounding copies of the album over the past fifteen or so years, we were very skeptical that anyone could cut the record better than the mastering engineers who inscribed Rolling Stones Records into the dead wax on the early pressings. (I could find no mastering engineers credited.)

Well, the results were not good. As we suspected would be the case, we were not impressed in the least with what The Mastering Lab — one of the greatest independent cutting houses of all time, mind you — had wrought.

Their version is not really even good enough to sell. It might have earned a grade of One Plus, just under the threshold for a Hot Stamper that we would put on the site these days. Decent, but no more than that.

Wait, There’s More

We subsequently learned that it is the British TML pressingss that are supposed to be the best.

So we got one of those in, an A3/B4 copy.

Better, but good enough? Barely.

Here are the notes for the copy we played. For those who have trouble reading our writing, I have transcribed the notes as follows:

Side One

Track one:

Weighty, a bit veiled or smeary. Backing vox kinda lost.

Track three:

Very full, rockin’ but not the sparkle/space.

Kinda compressed.

Not as huge.

Side Two

Track two:

Not as rich, clear.

A bit pushy/dry vox.

No real space.

Thick drums

Track one:

This works better.

A bit hard, but full and lively.

This Sound?

Is this the sound audiophiles are raving about?

It shouldn’t be, but apparently it is.

However, it’s not as though we haven’t run into this issue hundreds and hundreds of times before. Audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them regularly rave about one Heavy Vinyl pressing after another being The Greatest of All Time, yet we have never found a single instance in which this was true for any of the modern reissues they have seen fit to crown.

Not one.

Three Little Words

Our explanation for the mistaken judgments audiophiles and reviewers make so consistently has never been all that complicated. As you may have read elsewhere on this blog:

More evidence, if any were needed, that the three most important words in the world of audio are compared to what?

No matter how good a particular copy of a record may sound to you, when you clean and play enough of them you will almost always find one that’s better, and often surprisingly better.

You must keep testing all the reissues you can find, and you must keep testing all the originals you can find.

Shootouts are the only way to find these kinds of very special records. That’s why you must do them.

Nothing else works. If you’re not doing shootouts (or buying the winners of shootouts from us), you simply don’t have top quality copies in your collection, except in the rare instances where you just got lucky. In the world of records luck can only take you so far. The rest of the journey requires effort.

This bit of boilerplate for Heavy Vinyl pressings seems a perfect match for the TML recuts on regular-weight vinyl we played. The reason for that is not hard to appreciate: good records tend to do a lot of the same things well, and bad records tend to have the same faults.

As a general rule, this pressing will fall short in some or all of the following areas when played head to head against the vintage LPs we offer:

If you would like to hear what you’ve been missing, there’s a chance we have a Hot Stamper pressing of the album in stock. Click here to see.


The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street

  • With roughly Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on all FOUR sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • This is Exile raw and real the way it should be – with full-bodied, immediate vocals and plenty of hard-rockin’ energy
  • The better copies are also much less gritty and hard, but manage to keep the raw, grungy, heavily tube-compressed sound the Stones and their exceptionally talented engineer, Glyn Johns, were going for
  • 5 stars: “Few other albums, let alone double albums, have been so rich and masterful as Exile on Main St., and it stands not only as one of the Stones’ best records, but sets a remarkably high standard for all of hard rock.”
  • If you’re a Classic Rock fan, this Must Own Classic from 1972 surely belongs in your collection.
  • Exile on Main Street is a founding member of our prestigious None Rocks Harder Club. The sound may be too grungy for some, making Exile fairly difficult to reproduce, but the best sounding pressings, played at good, loud levels on big dynamic speakers, in a large, heavily-treated room, are a blast.

The harder you work to get distortion out of your system and room, the more enjoyable you will find this album, which is exactly the reason you want to do all that work in the first place, in order to get the most out of difficult-to-reproduce albums like Exile.

All four sides here have the kind of bass, energy, and presence that is essential for this music to rock the way it wants to. A copy like this conveys the emotional power of The Stones’ performances in a way that most pressings simply fail to do.

This shootout is always a struggle, an uphill battle all the way. You’d have to find, clean and play a ton of copies to come up with four sides that can do this music justice. We’re sure that Stones fans and Hot Stamper die-hards are going to be very pleased with this copy.

This vintage Artisan mastered pressing (the only ones that have any hope of sounding good) 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. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Valuable Lesson We Learned in 2016

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More Lessons Learned from Record Experiments 

Presenting a classic case of Live and Learn.

We would agree with very little of what we had to say about Goat’s Head Soup as a recording when we wrote about it back in 2011 — and for the previous 35+ years since I had first played a domestic original. (Turns out the imports are no good either.)

Having done a big shootout for the album in 2016, we now know that there most certainly are great sounding pressings to be found, because we found some. We broke through.

The data are in, and now we know just how wrong we were.

In our defense, let me just ask one question: Did anybody else know this record was well recorded? I can find no evidence to support anyone having ever taken such a contrarian position.

But we’re taking that position now. All it takes is one great sounding copy to show you the error of your ways, and we had more than one.

Here’s what we had to say back in 2011. After having played dozens of copies and never hearing the record sound more than passable, can you blame us?


Traffic / Mr. Fantasy – We Was Wrong

This early Pink Label import pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, making this one of the best copies to hit the site in many years, if not THE best.

We used to think that The Best of Traffic had better sound, but in a head to head comparison with this very copy, we were proved WRONG.

Big, full-bodied and lively, with huge amounts of space and off the charts Tubey Magic, the sound here is Hard to Fault.

This is one of the best sounding Traffic records ever made. Musically it’s hit or miss, but so is every other Traffic record, including my favorite, John Barleycorn. The best songs here are Heaven Is In Your Mind, Dear Mr. Fantasy, and Coloured Rain. The first of these is worth the price of the album alone, in my opinion. It’s a wonderful example of late ’60s British psychedelic rock. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – A Good Test for Grit and Grain

More of the Music of The  Rolling Stones

More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

Reviews and Commentaries for Exile on Main Street

The best copies will tend to have the qualities detailed below, and the more abundant these qualities are on any given pressing, the higher its grade will be.

Yes, it is a science, an empirical one, which can only be carried out by the use of strict protocols and controls, but it sure ain’t rocket science.

All you need is the system, the room, the records, the time and the will to do the painstaking critical listening required to carry out the task.

It can be done, but you could spend a lifetime meeting audiophiles of the vinyl persuasion and never run into a single one who has made the effort more than a handful of times.

To be honest, shootouts are a bitch. If you aren’t getting paid to do them the way we are, finding the motivation to devote the time and energy required to do them right — not to mention the piles of copies of each record you will need — is daunting to say the least.

So, back to the question: what to listen for? (more…)

Traffic – Mr. Fantasy

More Steve Winwood

More Traffic

  • This outstanding Island British pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom
  • Big, full-bodied and lively, with huge amounts of space and off the charts Tubey Magic, the sound here is Hard to Fault – thanks Eddie and Jimmy!
  • “Winwood is simply incredible. He has a top group of musicians with him and they have made an album which is one of the best from any contemporary group.” – Rolling Stone, 1968

This is one of the best sounding Traffic records ever made. Musically it’s hit or miss, but so is every other Traffic record, including my favorite, John Barleycorn. The best songs here are Heaven Is In Your Mind, Dear Mr. Fantasy, and Coloured Rain. The first of these is worth the price of the album alone, in my opinion. It’s a wonderful example of late ’60s British psychedelic rock. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Goats Head Soup

More Rolling Stones

  • This superb copy of Goats Head Soup has stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • We guarantee the sound is dramatically bigger, richer, fuller, and livelier than any pressing you have ever heard
  • Who knew the record could sound this good? Certainly not us – we had no luck with this album for years
  • “This may not be as downright funky, freaky, and fantastic as Exile, yet the extra layer of gloss brings out the enunciated lyrics, added strings, wah-wah guitars, explicit sex, and violence, making it all seem trippily decadent…”
  • If you’re a fan of The Stones, this is a classic from 1973 that belongs in your collection.

The best pressings give you exactly what you want from this brand of straight-ahead rock and roll: presence in the vocals, solid, note-like bass, big punchy drums, and the kind of live-in-the-studio energetic, clean and clear sound we love here at Better Records. With big speakers and the power to drive them, at loud levels YOU ARE THERE.

And why not? The engineer is Andy Johns, Glyn’s very talented younger brother (sadly, now deceased). They worked together on the Stones’ previous album, Exile on Main St.

Andy engineered the Zep albums from II through Physical Graffiti, and those are amazingly well-recorded albums in anybody’s book when you have pressings that allow you to hear them right.

And you can add to that group Tull’s Stand Up (69), Traffic’s John Barleycorn (70) and the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request (67), Sticky Fingers (71) and It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (74). Even two tracks from Stephen Stills’ first album (71). (more…)

Traffic – 25th Anniversary British Pressing

More of the Music of Traffic

More of the Music of Steve Winwood

This Minty looking Island 25th Anniversary British Import LP has SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND! I’d have to say it’s the best sounding record from this series I’ve ever heard. (Note that this is the British version and not the Italian one.)

I can’t vouch for other copies of this record — they may not sound as good as this one — but this one has the bass that’s missing from some of the Pink Label copies and is overall tonally Right On The Money (ROTM), with almost none of the transistory grain that you find on domestic pressings. If you don’t want to spend the big bucks for a Hot Stamper, this is probably the next best way to go.

The Rolling Stones / Sticky Fingers – Worst Version Ever!

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Reviews and Commentaries for Sticky Fingers

Sonic Grade: F

Mastered By [Digitally Remastered By] – Bob Ludwig

Digitally remastered using UV22 Super CD encoding by Apogee Electronics, Santa Monica, California.

This RTI 180g copy (with the zipper cover) is one of a series of five titles Bob Ludwig cut in the ’90s. According to the man, after cutting the record he chanced upon a consumer copy and was shocked to hear how bad it sounded.   

It sounded, according to him, nothing like the record he had cut. Somehow they had botched the pressings and ruined the sound. How this could happen I can’t imagine.

Bob says that’s what they did and we’ll take him at his word, out of respect for one of the all-time great mastering engineers, RL himself. He promptly sold off all his analog mastering equipment and got out of the game.

Can you blame him? According to him they put his name all over a record the sound of which they had ruined. Guess I would stop making records too if that were the case.

By the way, the sound was dismal on every title from that series we played except for Heart’s, which was okay, certainly better than the average pressing out there, but no Hot Stamper by any stretch of the imagination. 


The Rolling Stones / A MoFi Disaster to Beat Them All – Now With Video

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Reviews and Commentaries for Sticky Fingers

If you click on the video you can read some of the silly comments people are making about this awful pressing, which happens to be one of the worst sounding versions of Sticky Fingers ever committed to vinyl.

When you stop to consider how awful most pressings are compared to the only version that has ever sounded good to us, the right original domestic LP,  that’s really saying something.

The MoFi pressing of this album is a joke. It’s so compressed, lifeless, and lacking in bottom end that it would hardly interfere with even the most polite conversation at a wine tasting. I consider it one of the worst sounding versions ot the album ever made.