Top Studios and Concert Halls – Château d’Hérouville

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

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  • A superb copy of Elton John’s 1973 release with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • 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.”

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

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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.

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 overloaded and overwhelmed with musical information.

Number Two: edgy vocals, which is related to Number One above. Almost all copies have at least some edge to the vocals — the boys want 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. (more…)

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

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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. (more…)

Elton John / Honky Chateau – Our Thoughts Circa 2007

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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 — certainly worthy of a spot on our Top Rock LPs List. 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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Cat Stevens – Catch Bull At Four

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  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, this very specific UK pressing is STUNNING from start to finish
  • Bigger, more dynamic, more lively, more present and just plain more EXCITING than anything we heard – that’s why it won our shootout
  • Hard to believe, but it’s true: there is only one stamper that consistently wins shootouts, and the unfortunate fact of the matter is that it took us twenty years to discover it, ouch
  • This British pressing with the right stamper – can show you the sweeter, tubier Midrange Magic that we is the hallmark of all the best Cat Stevens’ recordings
  • “Though some of the lyrics retain Cat’s fanciful imagery… he shows a new emotional directness, especially on side two, the albums “down” side. This is reflected in Cat’s singing, which becomes more assured and more emotive with each album.”

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David Bowie – Pin-Ups

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

  • A stunning copy of this Classic Bowie album from 1973 with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides have phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic, thanks to the engineering of Ken Scott
  • The bottom end is huge, as would be expected from anything Ken recorded, and if you don’t believe me, check out Baby You’re a Rich Man off MMT
  • A really fun listen, with Bowie running through covers of his favorite Sixties hits in true Demo Disc sound
  • Turns out he’s a great interpreter, turning in passionate versions of songs by The Who, Pink Floyd, The Yardbirds and more

The music on this album is wonderful. Bowie puts a unique spin on tracks originally played by The Who, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd and other British rockers. It’s a fun, intriguing album that stands up well to repeated plays. Bryan Ferry did the same thing in 1973 with some of his favorite pop songs. Oddly enough both albums entered the charts on the very same day in November of that year.

The sound is lively and full-bodied with nice transparency throughout. Bowie’s voice sounds correct and the bottom end is huge, as would be expected from anything Ken Scott recorded, and if you don’t believe me check out Baby You’re a Rich Man off MMT.

The bass here is deep and not nearly as sloppy as on most copies. Listen to the vocals, which sound just right and have lots of texture to them. The harmonica on I Wish You Would is AMAZING. When has a harmonica ever sounded so rich and full? You’ll also want to check out the sax solo on Sorrow, which just plain ROCKS.

So what were some of the worst copies we heard? One was a British Original, believe it or not. They tend to be dull, thick, and lifeless — not a good match for this punky, energetic material. There are some very good sounding Brit originals but, having said that, to date they have never won a shootout.

On the other side, many of the other copies we heard were bright and grainy. It’s tough to find a copy that strikes the right balance, but this copy sure did. (more…)

Elton John – Honky Chateau

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  • An insanely good QUADRUPLE PLUS (A++++) side two backed with a stunning Triple Plus (A+++) side one for this Elton John classic – this pressing takes side two to another level (hence the four plus grade) 
  • Reasonably quiet for the most part on both sides – it’s not easy finding British pressings with the right stampers that play as well as this one does
  • Honky Chateau contains some of the most Tubey Magical High-Production-Value rock music ever recorded – thanks Ken Scott!
  • 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.”

NOTE: *On the last track on the second side, there is a mark that plays for four or five seconds at the very end of the record.

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 shown above. 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.

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 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 last, 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…)

Pink Floyd – Obscured By Clouds – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

EXCELLENT SOUND and some seriously strange music! This obviously isn’t Floyd’s greatest album, but we still found a lot to like about this record and specifically this copy. It’s a British Import Harvest Green Label pressing that rates close to A+ on both sides — slightly better on side one, not quite there on side two. Those of you who enjoy Meddle will certainly get a lot out of this one.

We rated side one between A+ and A++. The second and the fifth tracks were our favorites on this side, while the fourth track honestly left us a bit cold. We played other copies that couldn’t come near this side in terms of clarity, transparency or bass definition.

Side two has a bit of a thick, Moody Blues-esque sound. It’s tonally correct from top to bottom with good energy. The lead guitar sounds particularly good, as does the organ.

Don’t expect a fully realized album a la Dark Side, because this ain’t that. It’s a nice collection of songs and instrumentals that should provide a nice thrill to Floyd fans who really dig the prog-psych aspect of the band. (more…)

Cat Stevens / Catch Bull At Four – Yes, Sometimes There Is Only One Set of Magic Stampers

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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. In other words 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 pressing of the album.

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 damn pressing he can get his hands on.

But good news for us, because we do. (more…)

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Disastrous Remasters from MoFi and Direct Disk Labs

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Sonic Grade: F (DD Labs) / D (MoFi)

2 Hall of Shame entries and two more Half Speeds debunked.

If you have the Direct Disc Labs half-speed you have one truly awful record in your collection, so sucked out in the midrange, so compressed everywhere, what the hell were they thinking making this rockin’ album sound like that? It’s positively disgraceful. It makes MoFi look like they knew what they doing, and we know that sure isn’t true.

In truth we did not actually have a copy of the MoFi handy for this shootout, but in our defense let us just say that we’ve heard their pressing many times over the course of the last twenty years. It’s better than the DD Labs version but not good enough for me to want to play it — compressed and sucked-out like practically every record they ever made, just not as badly as the DD Labs version.

The most obvious problems with the sound of this album are ones common to many if not most rock records of the era: lack of presence, too much compression, smear, lack of weight from the lower mids on down — we hear lots of Classic Rock records with this litany of shortcomings. But it’s not the fault of the master tape, it’s probably not even the fault of the mastering engineer most of the time. It’s just plain bad pressing quality. The sound simply doesn’t get stamped onto the vinyl right and the result is one or more of the problems above. And if you don’t know how to clean your records properly, forget it, you have virtually no chance of hearing good sound on GYBR.

The Average Copy (more…)