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Cat Stevens – Yes, Sometimes There Is Only One Set of Magic Stampers

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Stamper and Pressing Information

More Albums with Stampers that Consistently Win Shootouts

As is sometimes the case, there is one and only one set of stamper numbers that consistently wins our Catch Bull At Four shootouts. We stumbled upon an out-of-this-world copy of the right pressing about two years ago, a copy took the recording to a level we had no idea could even be possible. (We were going to give it Four Pluses, and probably should have, but cooler heads prevailed.)

Since then we have had many copies come in, but none that could compete with the Magic Stamper pressings. And the best part of this story is that, no, the best stampers are not 1U, or 2U, or even 3U.

As a matter of fact, they are far from the stampers found on the earliest pressings. That’s one reason it took us so long to discover them, because they are much less commonly found than pressings with the earlier stampers. By the time these later pressings were mastered, pressed and released, the album’s biggest selling days were over.

For all we know this cutting may have been done just to keep the record in print, possibly undertaken many years after its initial release.

Who knows? Who cares? What difference does it make?

Well, it does serve to make a point near and dear to our hearts: that the idea (and operational premise of most record collectors) that the Original Is Always Better is just a load of bunk. It might be and it might not be. If you want better sounding records, you had better open your mind to the idea that some reissues have the potential to sound better than even the best original pressings.

Of course this is nothing but bad news for the average audiophile collector, who simply does not have the time or money to go through the hassle of buying, cleaning and playing every pressing he can get his hands on.

But good news for us, because we do.

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Fleetwood Mac – Mirage

  • An outstanding copy of Mirage, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from top to bottom
  • Most copies are washed-out, recessed, and lack weight, but this one will show you just how right this music can sound
  • The producing-engineering team of Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut return to provide top quality Rumours-like production
  • The album spent five weeks at Number One, probably on the strength of the amazingly fun single “Hold Me.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, a killer copy of their 1982 release might just need a home in your collection, and is the last Fleetwood Mac album that we would recommend to anyone but the most diehard fan
  • The albums to come later — Tango in the Night (1987). Behind the Mask (1990), Time (1995) and Say You Will (2003) — have never been offered as Hot Stamper pressings, a fact that is unlikely to change
  • Like Tusk, this is a Digital Recording that sounds great on vinyl

Mirage is a surprisingly good album if you can find the right copy.

The mids and highs can be really silky and sweet. The whole album has a glossy sound, clearly the influence of Lindsay Buckingham and his production team. The sound of Fleetwood Mac in this period is their doing, and with a phenomenal run of success that’s rarely been seen in pop history, it’s hard to argue with either their approach to the material or the sound. It strikes us that they used every track on the multi-track recorder and then some. (more…)

Elton John / Honky Chateau – Salvation Is a Great Test

More of the Music of Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Honky Chateau

More Records that Are Good for Testing Big, Clear and Lively Choruses

We award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus. [We no longer give Four Pluses out as a matter of policy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t come across records that deserve them from time to time.)

When I hear a record with a side this phenomenally good, with the stereo tuned-up and tweaked within an inch of its life to reproduce the album at the highest level I can manage, I will sometimes sit my wife down and play her a track or two. I did it for a Four Plus Deja Vu earlier this year [2016] as a matter of fact, playing Country Girl: Whiskey Boot Hill on side two, with that crazy HUGE organ blasting out of the right speaker — what a thrill!

For this record I played her Salvation, with one huge chorus following another, like powerful waves crashing on the shore, until Elton takes a deep breath and belts out the final, biggest chorus, hitting his peak an octave higher and taking the song to a level neither one of us had ever experienced. We followed it up with the lovely Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, and that was about as much Elton John live in my listening room at practically concert hall levels we could take in one sitting.

Hearing Elton with such energy, standing right in front of use, with instruments and singers encircling him from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, was so powerful and immersive it left us both with tears in our eyes.

That’s what gets you a Fourth Plus around these parts. (more…)

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

  • An excellent early British pressing with big, bold Double Plus (A++) sound on all FOUR SIDES
  • Finding a copy with no marks or issues is no easy task these days, and the DJM vinyl on this pressing is about as quiet as these UK LPs ever are
  • There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals, in-your-listening-room midrange presence and no shortage of rock and roll energy
  • Overflowing with great songs, way too many to list – “Candle In The Wind,” “Bennie And The Jets,” and “GYBR” all sound outstanding here
  • A Top 100 Title: “…its individual moments are spectacular and the glitzy, crowd-pleasing showmanship that fuels the album pretty much defines what made Elton John a superstar in the early ’70s.”
  • If you’re an Elton John fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of his from 1973
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

GYBR has the best rocker Elton and Bernie ever wrote: Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. Of course, it’s one of the tracks on side four we used to test with — if you’re going to listen to GYBR all day, why not play the songs that are the most fun to play? On the good pressings, the song just KILLS. (more…)

Elton John / Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – What to Listen For

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

The richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality is most obvious where you often hear it on a Pop Rock Big Production like GYBR: in the loudest, densest, most climactic choruses.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly become without crossing the line into distortion or congestion.

On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record.

On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is bigger and louder than anything on the record, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-tracked screaming “Who I am” about three quarters of the way through the track. Those, however, are clearly exceptions to the rule. Most of the time it’s the final chorus of a pop song that gets bigger and louder than what has come before.

A pop song is usually designed to build momentum as it works its way through the verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording — one with real dynamics — that part of the song should be very loud and very powerful.

Testing the Climaxes

The climax of the biggest, most dynamic songs are almost always the toughest tests for a pop record, and it’s the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album’s largest scaled productions are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have sitting in front of two speakers. Our Top 100 is full of records that reward that kind of intense listening at loud levels.

We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s precisely what the best vintage analog pressings do so brilliantly. In fact they do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and certainly no substitute. If you’re on this site you probably already know that.

Two to Listen For

Number one: 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, there will be too many elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space in the upper part of the midrange, causing congestion and a loss of clarity.

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David Bowie – Low

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More Five Star Albums Available Now

  • This British pressing (not original by the way – this one is better!) plays about as quietly as any we can find, which makes it a very special pressing indeed
  • Huge amounts of studio space can be heard on this copy, along with the Tubey Magical richness only the best UK copies offer
  • 5 stars: “Though a handful of the vocal pieces on Low are accessible — “Sound and Vision” has a shimmering guitar hook, and “Be My Wife” subverts soul structure in a surprisingly catchy fashion — the record is defiantly experimental and dense with detail, providing a new direction for the avant-garde in rock & roll.”
  • If you’re a fan of the man, this is a Top Title from 1977 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1977 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

I’ve mentioned it on the site numerous times: I spent a good portion of the ’70s playing Art Rock records like Taking Tiger Mountain, Siren, Crime Of The Century, Deceptive Bends and scores of others. I remember being blown away when Low came out, and with this shootout we had a blast hearing just how good a killer Hot Stamper UK pressing can sound on the much more highly-evolved stereo system (equipment, room, set-up, tweaks, electricity, etc.) we have today.

It’s difficult to find a pressing that gets both sides of this album right, perhaps in part because the two sides are so different. Side one of this album features the more traditional (not really the right word, but it will have to do) Bowie rockers like Sound and Vision and Be My Wife, while side two sounds more like the instrumental synth music of Kraftwerk and Eno.

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Elton John / Honky Chateau – A Must Own Classic

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Reviews and Commentaries for Honky Chateau

  • Honky Chateau contains some of the most Tubey Magical High-Production-Value rock music ever recorded – thanks Ken Scott!
  • Not the quietest copy we’ve ever played – Mint Minus Minus to EX++ on both sides – but obviously one of the better sounding
  • 5 stars: “The most focused and accomplished set of songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin ever wrote … It’s one of the finest collections of mainstream singer/songwriter pop of the early ’70s.” 

If you doubt that Elton John was an unusually gifted Pop Music Genius for much of the ’70s, just play this record. These eleven tracks should serve as all the proof you could possibly need. There’s not a dog in the bunch, and most of these songs are positively brilliant. Drop the needle on any track, you simply can’t go wrong.

Honky Chateau has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a prized spot on our Rock and Pop Top 100 List. It’s a shining example of just how good High-Production-Value rock music of the ’70s can be.

The amount of effort that went into the recording of Honky Chateau is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, The Who, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and far too many others to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

The sides that had sound that jumped out of the speakers, with driving rhythmic energy, worked the best for us. They really brought this music to life and allowed us to make sense of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music.

Big Production Tubey Magical British Rock just does not get much better than Honky Chateau. (more…)

Elton John – Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player

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More Titles Only Offered on Import Vinyl

  • A KILLER copy of Elton John’s 1973 release with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish
  • Forget the dubby, closed-in and transistory domestic pressings – here is the relaxed, rich, spacious, musical, lifelike sound that only the best imports can show you
  • Thanks to Ken Scott’s brilliant engineering and Gus Dudgeon’s production savvy, every song here sounds better than you imagined, because finally you are hearing it right
  • 4 stars: “His most direct, pop-oriented album… a very enjoyable piece of well-crafted pop/rock.”

The amazing engineer Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century, Truth, Birds of Fire) is the man responsible for the stunning sound here.

The kind of Tubey Magical richness, smoothness and fullness he achieved at Trident in the early ’70s, as well as here at a certain French country estate, have never been equaled elsewhere in our opinion. (more…)

Elton John / Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – A Heavy Vinyl Winner!

Sonic Grade: B (or better)

I think these are the labels for the copy we played, It came out around 2000-2005. It’s not Speakers Corner, Simply Vinyl or Back to Black. Those are labels best avoided in our experience.

Hey, they really did a good job with this one. We are going to listen to it again at a later date to see if our initial impressions were correct [I guess by now it should be clear that we are never going to do that, sorry], but it sure sounded good to us when we played it recently during our big GYBR shootout. 

I’m guessing no domestic copy can beat it, and certainly no audiophile half-speed mastered pressing can hold a candle to it. Those records are pretty awful.

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Elton John / Honky Chateau – Two Very Different Mastering Approaches

More of the Music of Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Honky Chateau

Our Thoughts Circa 2007

This British Import Honky Chateau is THE BEST SOUNDING COPY WE’VE EVER HEARD — BY FAR! We just finished a big shootout for this wonderful album, and this copy took top honors with MASTER TAPE SOUND!

This has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time. A Hot Stamper copy like this really tells you why. The highs are silky sweet, the vocals are full-bodied and breathy, and the tonal balance is perfection from top to bottom.

If you have any doubts that Elton John was a pop music genius, just play this record. It’s all the proof you will need. Drop the needle on any track — you just can’t go wrong.

There’s no need to go on and on about the sonic qualities of this copy. Everything you’d ever want from this record is here in abundance. Folks, this copy is the epitome of what we call Master Tape Sound — on both sides.

Two mastering approaches

The original British copies of this record, with the leatherette cover, have two distinctly different mastering approaches.

The earliest pressings tend to be very lively, but a bit hi-fi-ish and aggressive in places. I used to think these were the best.

The later British originals tend to sound dull and muddy.

It’s been almost two years since we’ve done a shootout for this album. It’s beyond difficult to find clean copies of this album, let alone ones that have Hot Stamper sound. There was a time when we liked a certain British stamper that we thought split the difference between the mastering approaches mentioned above. The copies we played this time around with that stamper were practically unacceptable this time around.

Our best domestic pressings actually bettered many of the Brit copies with our old favorite stamper. Improvements in our stereo and evaluation process have allowed us to discover the stampers with The Real Sound.

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