Top Studios and Concert Halls – Columbia 30th Street Studios

Ellington-Basie – First Time – The Count Meets the Duke

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  • With superb Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides, this early Columbia 6-Eye pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Reasonably quiet vinyl too, considering its age – how many early ’60s Columbia Stereo pressings survived with audiophile playing surfaces the way this one did?
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, along with boatloads of Tubey Magic – here’s a 30th Street recording from 1961 that demonstrates just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Ellington’s elegance and unique voicings meet Basie’s rollicking, blues-based Kansas City swing, and it works gloriously. The Duke and his band accentuate their swinging dance band side, while Basie and company have never sounded as suave and exotic as when playing Billy Strayhorn arrangements. Everyone has a good time, and that joy infuses this album from start to finish.”
  • If you’re a fan of either or both of these jazz giants, this Classic from 1961 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

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Miles Davis – Sorcerer

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More of Our Best Jazz Trumpet Recordings

  • Sorcerer demonstrates the big-as-life, spacious and unerringly accurate 30th Street Studio Sound Fred Plaut was justly famous for
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The emphasis is as much on complex, interweaving chords and a coolly relaxed sound as it is on sheer improvisation, though each member tears off thoroughly compelling solos. Still, the individual flights aren’t placed at the forefront the way they were on the two predecessors — it all merges together, pointing toward the dense soundscapes of Miles’ later ’60s work.”

Drop the needle anywhere and listen to how open, transparent and spacious this early pressing is. The soundfield is HUGE — big, wide and deep.

Everything sounds natural, balanced and correct. The bass has good tone, the piano has weight, the brass has the right amount of bite, and so on.

We had a big stack of copies for this shootout, including a bunch of 360 originals and some later Red Label pressings. You can find great sound on either label but it will probably take you quite a few copies to get there, and you’d need a serious stack to have any hope of finding two sides this good on vinyl that plays well.

And by the way, copies of classic Miles Davis albums from the ’60s are neither easy to find nor are they cheap. Hit the jazz bins at your local store and I’m sure you’ll have the same experience we’ve been having — tons of pricey modern reissues but not too many clean vintage pressings. (more…)

Dave Brubeck Quartet / Time Further Out – What to Listen For

The best copies such as this one demonstrate the big-as-life Fred Plaut Columbia Sound at its best (better than even Time Out in our opinion). These vintage recordings are full-bodied, spacious, three-dimensional, rich, sweet and warm in the best tradition of an All Tube Analog recording.

If you want to hear big drums in a big room these Brubeck recordings will show you that sound better than practically any record we know of. The Engineering tab below has much more on that subject. 

The one standout track on this album for audiophiles is surely Unsquare Dance, what with its uncannily real sounding handclaps in 7/4. The copies that did the best job of reproducing that “flesh on flesh” sound of actual human hands clapping scored very well in our shootout.

More to Listen For

For starters listen for a fat snare and rich piano on the first track of side one. When you hear that, assuming you do, you should know you are in for a treat. Our best copies captured those two sounds brilliantly.

On the second track the clarity of the brushed snare is key to how resolving and transparent any copy is. The rich, smooth sound of Desmond’s sax balanced against the clarity of the brushes will help you make sure that the overall sound is tonally correct from top to bottom.

On side two the first track has the Wall to Wall Big Drums in a Big Room sound that positively blows our minds.

Note that in some places it sounds like the piano is overdriving its mic. We heard that sound on practically every copy we played, so we’re pretty sure it’s on the tape that way.

More Dave Brubeck

Reviews and Commentaries for Time Further Out

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The Dave Brubeck Quartet / Time Further Out – We Was Wrong

Mono Vs. Stereo

The monos we played didn’t do much for us. They tended to be thin and hard sounding, and of course much of the space of the studio disappears completely. One side of one copy did well enough I suppose but my advice would be to avoid them if you’re looking for good sound.

Previously we had written:

This Columbia Six-Eye pressing is THE BEST SOUNDING MONO COPY OF THIS ALBUM WE’VE EVER HEARD! The better Mono pressings of this album give you extra immediacy, more solidity to the drums, and energy like you wouldn’t believe. That makes the drum solo on side two sound OUT OF THIS WORLD. Most copies are congested and veiled, but not this one! The sound is spacious and transparent with wonderful presence. You will not believe how lively it is! 

Both sides are rich and full-bodied with lots of sweetness and extension up top. The energy and transparency are wonderful. The bass is a bit tubby, but that’s what you get on these vintage Six Eye pressings. It’s worth it when there’s as much tubey magic as you get on this pressing.

A classic case of Live and Learn.

More Dave Brubeck

Reviews and Commentaries for Time Further Out

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Simon and Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

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Reviews and Commentaries for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

  • Especially smooth, present, breathy vocals – this is the sound we love here at Better Records
  • Having played them by the hundreds, we’ve found that midrange presence and resolution are precisely what go missing on The Modern Heavy Vinyl Reissue
  • A longtime Better Records Top 100 album and a Demo Disc for Tubey Magical voices and guitars
  • 4 1/2 stars: “[I]t is an achievement akin to the Beatles’ Revolver or the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, and just as personal and pointed as either of those records at their respective bests.”

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Tony Bennett – For Once In My Life

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  • This vintage Columbia 360 label pressing gives Tony the sound he deserves, with Double (A++) grades on both of these early stereo sides
  • 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.

Albums such as this live and die by the quality of their vocal reproduction. 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.

On this record, like so many others you may have read about on the site, the right amount of Tubey Magic — and by that we mean a very healthy amount — makes all the difference. (more…)

Thoughts on Smear (and the Smear-Prone Components that Makes Audio Progress Difficult)

Listen to the trumpet at the start of Freddie Freeloader. Most copies do not clearly convey the transient information of Miles’ horn, causing it to have an easily recognizable quality we talk about all the time on the site: smear.

No two pressings will have precisely the same amount of smear on his trumpet, so look for the least smeary copy that does everything else right too.

Meaning simply that smear is important, but not all-important.

More recordings that are good for testing smear.

If you click on the above link, you will see that we regularly talk about smeary pianos, smeary brass, smeary violins and smeary Classic Records classical reissues. Nobody else seems particularly bothered by smear as far as we can tell, and one of our many theories about the stereo shortcomings of reviewers and audiophiles in general is that their systems are fairly smeary, so a little extra smear is mostly inaudible to them.

I had a smeary system for my first twenty or more years in audio, so I know whereof I speak.

And of course I was just as clueless as everybody else.

We’ve worked very hard over the last twenty years or so to make sure our system has a practically undetectable amount of smear. Any smear we hear on a record means that the smear is on the record. It is not the product of shortcomings in our playback system.

And almost any system that uses vintage tubes — whatever their pros and cons, however much you may like the sound they produce — will have some smear.

We got rid of our tube equipment a long time ago, and having done so, the smear it added to the sound of the records we were playing at that time was dramatically reduced.

About a hundred other tweaks and improvements got rid of the rest. As I say, it took about twenty years.

More on Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

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Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

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More Vintage Columbia Pressings

  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner
  • These early pressings can be killer when you find one like this – they’re clearly more lively, more transparent, and richer, with dramatically more immediacy in the midrange so that Dylan’s voice is front and center and in the room with you
  • You would be hard pressed to find a copy that sounds this good and plays this quietly
  • 5 stars: “With Bringing It All Back Home, he exploded the boundaries, producing an album of boundless imagination and skill. And it’s not just that he went electric, either, rocking hard on “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Maggie’s Farm,” and “Outlaw Blues”; it’s that he’s exploding with imagination throughout the record.”

NOTE: There is a mark that plays haflway through track five about eight times at a moderate level.

You may be aware that it is hard to find a 360 Columbia Stereo pressing from 1965 that plays any quieter!

It’s tough to find copies of this album that give you all the tubey richness and warmth that this music needs to sound its best. Too many copies seem to be EQ’d to put the vocals way up front, an approach that renders Dylan’s voice hard and edgy. Copies like that sound impressive at first blush (“Wow, he’s really IN THE ROOM!”) but become fatiguing in short order. When you get a copy like this one that’s smooth, relaxed and natural, the music sounds so good that you forget about the sound and just get lost in the music.

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Dave Brubeck / Time Out – Michael Fremer Says You Should Own the Classic 45

Michael Fremer spends two hours and ten minutes on his site going through a list of 100 All Analog In Print Reissued Records You Should Own

On this list is the 45 Bernie Grundman cutting of Time Out. Fremer apparently likes it a whole lot more than we do. We think it is just plain awful. The MoFi Kind of Blue is on this same list, another pressing that is astonishingly bad, or at least very, very wrong. If you’re the kind of person who might want to give Michael Fremer the benefit of the doubt when it comes to All Analog records he thinks sound good, ones he thinks you should own, try either one of them. If you think they sound just fine, you sure don’t need me to tell you that I find them completely and utterly unlistenable.

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Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Further Out

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Reviews and Commentaries for Time Further Out

  • You’ll find KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish on this original 6 Eye Stereo Pressing
  • These sides are incredibly tubey – rich, full-bodied and warm – yet clear, lively and dynamic
  • This copy demonstrates the big-as-life Fred Plaut Columbia Sound at its best – better even than Time Out(!)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The selections, which range in time signatures from 5/4 to 9/8, are handled with apparent ease (or at least not too much difficulty) by pianist Brubeck, altoist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright, and drummer Joe Morello on this near-classic.”

Time Further Out is consistently more varied and, dare we say, more musically interesting than Time Out.

If you want to hear big drums in a big room these Brubeck recordings will show you that sound better than practically any record we know of. These vintage recordings are full-bodied, spacious, three-dimensional, rich, sweet and warm in the best tradition of an All Tube Analog recording. (more…)