Top Studios and Concert Halls

Tony Bennett / For Once In My Life – Frank Laico Knocks Another One Out of the Park

More Recordings by Frank Laico

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Frank Laico

Amazing vocal reproduction courtesy of the brilliant engineering of Frank Laico at his favorite studio (and ours), Columbia 30th Street studios

We are not big soundstage guys here at Better Records, but we can’t deny the appeal of the space to be found on a record as good as this

Everything that’s good about Vocal Recordings from the ’50s and ’60s is precisely what’s good about the sound of this record.

The huge studio the music was recorded in is captured faithfully here. The height, width and depth of the staging here are extraordinary. We are not big soundstage guys here at Better Records, but we can’t deny the appeal of the space to be found on a record as good as this.

Transparency and Tubey Magic are key to the sound of the orchestra and you will find both in abundance on these two sides.

On this record Mr. Tony Bennett himself will appear to be standing right in your listening room! The space of your stereo room will seem to expand in all directions in order to accommodate them, an illusion of course, but nevertheless a remarkably convincing one. (more…)

Dave Brubeck / Time Out – Reproducing Its Phenomenal Size and Space

More Columbia 30th Street Studio Recordings

Reviews of Recordings Made at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio

Spacious and transparent, this copy has the big three-dimensional soundstage that makes this record such a joy to listen to. The piano has weight and heft, the drums are big and dynamic, and everything is relaxed and sweet — in short, this copy is doing pretty much everything we want a top quality Time Out to do. 

Listen to the drums on Everybody’s Jumpin’. This album was recorded on a big sound stage and there is a HUGE room which can clearly be heard surrounding the drum kit. Add to that that some of the drums are in the left channel and some of the drums are in the right channel and you have one big drum kit — exactly the way it was intended to sound.

Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it’s an entirely different listening experience.

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Crack The Sky – These Big, Lively Choruses Are a Thrill

Hot Stamper Albums with Huge Choruses

Records with Huge Choruses that Are Good for Testing

The best vintage rock recordings usually have something going for them that few recordings made after the ’70s do: their choruses get big and loud, yet stay smooth, natural and uncongested. 

We’ve mentioned it in countless listings. So many records have — to one degree or another — harsh, hard, gritty, shrill, congested choruses. When the choruses get loud they become unpleasant, and here at Better Records you lose a lot of points when that happens.

This recording, more specifically this pressing of this recording, has exceptionally big, smooth and natural choruses for many of the songs. Rangers at Midnight comes to mind immediately. Credit our man Shelly Yakus below for really getting the choruses right on this album.

Fun tip: Listen for the Elton John-like piano chords on the first track. Can you name that song? (Hint: it’s on Tumbleweed Connection.)

Choruses Are Key

Watch out for too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression or distortion, there will be too many upper midrange elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space, resulting in congestion and a loss of clarity.

With the more solid sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich. Above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments and voices comfortably, without piling them on top of one another as so often happens. Consequently, the upper midrange “space” does not get overwhelmed with musical information.

Also watch for edge on the vocals, which is of course related to the issues above. Most copies have at least some edge to the vocals — the band wants to really belt it out in the choruses, and they do — but the best copies keep the edge under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull or smeary.

The highest quality equipment, on the hottest Hot Stamper copies, will play the loudest and most difficult-to-reproduce passages with virtually no edge, grit or grain, even at very loud levels.

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Dave Brubeck – Time Out

More Dave Brubeck

Reviews and Commentaries for Time Out

  • This Six-Eye Stereo pressing boasts out of this world Demo Disc Sound – Time Out captures the ambience and huge space of Columbia’s studio like no other record has (with a little reverb thrown in for good measure)
  • A knockout pressing of Brubeck’s astonishingly well recorded Jazz Classic, a record that belongs in every audiophile’s collection
  • Early stereo LPs in clean condition like this one are getting awfully tough to find nowadays…
  • “Buoyed by a hit single in Desmond’s ubiquitous Take Five, Time Out became an unexpectedly huge success, and still ranks as one of the most popular jazz albums ever. That’s a testament to Brubeck and Desmond’s abilities as composers, because Time Out is full of challenges both subtle and overt — it’s just that they’re not jarring.”
  • If you’re a fan of Brubeck and company, this 1959 album belongs in your collection, along with quite a few others from the classic jazz era
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Charles Mingus / Mingus Dynasty – Skip the Mono

More of the Music of Charles Mingus

Jazz Recordings with Hot Stampers Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Charles Mingus

Although this album is fairly common in mono, we found the sound of the mono pressing we played seriously wanting. It’s dramatically smaller and more compressed than even the worst of the other pressings we played in our shootout.

We will never buy another, and of course we would never sell a record that sounds as bad as this mono pressing does.

For those looking for the best sound, the mono pressing is hard to take seriously, and for that reason, we say Skip It.

For records that we think sound best in mono, click here.

Are You a Jazz Collector or an Audiophile?

If you’re a jazz collector, of course you want the mono. If you’re an audiophile who likes jazz, you should want the stereo.

And if you are a very serious audiophile who has a great deal of time and money tied up in his equipment and room, someone whose motto might boil down to “nothing but the best,” then you need one of our killer Hot Stamper pressings of the album.


Below you will find our moderately helpful advice for acquiring the best sounding pressings of Charles Mingus / Dynasty.

In our experience the album sounds best this way:

Mono or Stereo? Stereo! 

On Big Speakers at Loud Levels

On the Right Domestic Pressing 

On the Right Early Pressing

Which simply means that the 6 Eye label domestic stereo pressings win shootouts, in this case without exception.

The 360 label pressings, Black Print or White Print, can sound very good, but they never win shootouts.

In general it is best to avoid pressings with the label you see to the left, from the Columbia Special Products series. They are rarely much better than awful, although there are a few exceptions to that rule.


Our Recent Hot Stamper Review

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

If innovative Large Group Jazz is your thing, you should get a big kick out of this one. If you like the sound of relaxed, tube-mastered jazz — and what red blooded audiophile doesn’t — you can’t do much better than the Mingus recordings on Columbia from this era. (We’ve now done shootouts for the album before this one and the one to follow. Both are amazing, musically and sonically.) The warmth and immediacy of the sound here are guaranteed to blow practically any record of this kind you own right out of the water.

Both sides of this very special pressing are huge, rich, tubey and clear. As soon as the band got going we knew that this was absolutely the right sound for this music. There was practically nothing that could beat it, in any area of reproduction.

Amazing Tubey Magic

For we audiophiles, both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1960 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy should be just the record for you.

It’s spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

This is the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is of course a CD of the album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable could care less.

We played a handful of later pressings that didn’t really do it for us. They offer improved clarity, but can’t deliver the tubey goodness that you’ll hear on the best early pressings. We won’t be bothering with them anymore. It’s tubes or nothing on this album.

Production and Engineering

Teo Macero was the producer, and Fred Plaut may have been 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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Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Solti on Decca/London

More Music Conducted by Georg Solti

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Kenneth Wilkinson

Deep bass; rich, smooth strings, lots of lovely hall space – this copy was right up there with the best we heard, and clearly won the shootout for side two. You will hear immediately why this side two could not be beat – it’s wonderful. (more…)

Bernard Herrmann – The Mysterious Film World of Bernard Herrmann

More Bernard Herrmann

More Reviews of Soundtrack Music

  • An outstanding recording with a huge three-dimensional stage, open, clear, extended up top and down low — the sound on this pressing is nothing short of amazing
  • 4 stars: “The sound glitters, some of the brightest and richest audio of its period (attested to by the album’s being part of Decca/London Phase 4 Stereo), and the performances have a dignity and intensity that makes the music — drawn from the key parts of Herrmann’s scores for the Ray Harryhausen-created fantasy films The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Mysterious Island, and Jason and the Argonauts — seem even more serious and profound than it originally did.”
  • If like us you’re a fan of Blockbuster Orchestral Recordings, this is a killer album from 1975 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Side one boasts some wonderful material from Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts. Who else but Herrmann could have orchestrated such phantasmagorical goings on?

The Three Worlds Of Gulliver Suite takes up all of side two. The complete score from which the suite is taken can be found on the original Herrmann album The Three Worlds of Gulliver, a long-time and extremely rare member of the TAS Super Disc List.

This vintage London Phase 4 Stereo pressing 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.

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 maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds. (more…)

Violin Concertos – Ideal for Testing Table Setup

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

More VTA Advice

This is one of the ALL TIME GREAT violin concerto records. In Ruggiero Ricci’s hands both works are nothing short of magical. If you want to know why people drool over Golden Age recordings, listen to the violin. Careful, when you hear it you may find yourself drooling too.

The staging of the orchestra and violin is exactly the way we want to hear it in our heads. Whether it would really sound this way in a concert hall is impossible to say — concert halls all sound different — but the skill and the emotion of the playing is communicated beautifully on this LP. This is a sweetheart of a record, full of the Tubey Magic for which London recordings are justly famous.

As we noted above, engineering took place in the legendary Kingsway Hall. There is a richness to the sound of the strings that is exceptional, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

String Tone

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years (and this of course includes practically everything pressed on Heavy Vinyl). It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play, it’s an art that is not being lost on us.

It’s also as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is, of course, all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

I don’t think the Decca engineers could have cut this record any better — it has all the orchestral magic one could ask for, as well as the resolving power, clarity and presence that are missing from so many Golden Age records.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. They cannot begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay, please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in your decision to rid yourself of their insufferable mediocrity.)

VTA and the Violin

This is truly The Perfect Turntable setup disc. When your VTA, azimuth, tracking weight and anti-skate are correct, this is the record that will make it clear to you that your efforts have paid off.

What to listen for you ask? With the proper adjustment the harmonics of the strings will sound extended and correct, neither hyped up nor dull; the wood body of the instrument will be more audibly “woody”; the fingering at the neck will be noticeable but will not call attention to itself in an unnatural way. In other words, as you adjust your setup, the violin will sound more and more right.

And you can’t really know how right it can sound until you go through hours of experimentation with all the forces that affect the way the needle rides the groove. Without precise VTA adjustment there is almost no way this record will do everything it’s capable of doing. There will be hardness, smear, sourness, thinness — something will be off somewhere. With total control over your arm and cartridge setup, these problems will all but vanish. (Depending on the quality of the equipment of course.)

We harp on all aspects of reproduction for a reason. When you have done the work, records like this sound GLORIOUS.


Delibes / Coppelia / Ansermet – Reviewed in 2010

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

Hot Stamper Decca and London Pressings Available Now

Very good sound from the Master Ballet Conductor, with only a few slightly bright passages marring an otherwise wonderful recording.

[I doubt we would have any trouble with the bright passages these days. Better cleaning and better playback would have solved that problem, probably. Of course, this copy is long gone, so no one can ever really know if it was bright or not. I’m guessing, not.]

Ernst Ansermet conducted some of the best sounding records ever made — here are some of the ones we’ve reviewed

Production and Engineering

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from April of 1959 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound beyond all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass, combined with unerring timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section of the orchestra.


Charles Mingus – Mingus Dynasty

More Charles Mingus

More Jazz Recordings

  • An original 6-Eye Stereo copy with superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • This pressing is rich and tubey, yet still clear and spacious, with a notably solid and articulate bottom end that does a superb job of captureing the beauty of Mingus’s double bass
  • Bucketfuls of studio ambience, and Tubey Magic to die for – this 30th Street recording shows just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • Be careful though – a record with this kind of sound will make all your Heavy Vinyl pressing sound as washed out, lifeless and veiled as we know them to be, news that may come as quite a shock
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Mingus Dynasty is still an excellent album; in fact, it’s a testament to just how high a level Mingus was working on that an album of this caliber could have gotten lost in the shuffle.”

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

If innovative Large Group Jazz is your thing, you should get a big kick out of this one. If you like the sound of relaxed, tube-mastered jazz — and what red blooded audiophile doesn’t — you can’t do much better than the Mingus recordings on Columbia from this era. (We’ve now done shootouts for the album before this one and the one to follow. Both are amazing, musically and sonically.) The warmth and immediacy of the sound here are guaranteed to blow practically any record of this kind you own right out of the water.

Both sides of this very special pressing are huge, rich, tubey and clear. As soon as the band got going we knew that this was absolutely the right sound for this music. There was practically nothing that could beat it, in any area of reproduction.

Amazing Tubey Magic

For we audiophiles, both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1960 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy should be just the record for you.

It’s spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

This is the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is of course a CD of the album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable could care less.

We played a handful of later pressings that didn’t really do it for us. They offer improved clarity, but can’t deliver the tubey goodness that you’ll hear on the best early pressings. We won’t be bothering with them anymore. It’s tubes or nothing on this album.

(more…)