Top Ten Rock and Pop

Derek Discusses Dark Side of the Moon

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

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DSOTM

I wanted to comment on the discussion as to the validity of the ‘Better Records’ business model and offerings to audiophiles. As a backgrounder, I am an electrical engineer that grew up in the 60s and 70s listening first hand to many of the classic LPs that Better Records now offers for sale. I was also a musician with perfect pitch (playing French Horn in the Symphony and keyboards in various bands), I had a killer stereo and spent a lot of time in recording studios that produced some of the top acts and albums of the era so I certainly had exposure to the best equipment and listening environments back in the day.

I went on to being a CEO of various telecom/mobile software companies and somewhat lost touch with my musical purist roots. But I had 3 boys and one of them turned out to have the same music bug I had and he has gone on to pursuing a career as a recording engineer, re-introducing me to analog vinyl LPs, pushing me to re-engage in my greatest love, which I eventually did in spades: I tossed out my electrostatics and full digital sound chain and I built a set of Altec 604 monitors driven by a 300B tube amp and a killer turntable, and I went about spending about $30,000 on 1st pressing vinyl from around the world, cleaning them with an ultrasonic platform, and I learned a great deal during that process.

For one, I fell back in love with high efficiency speaker systems, for another I realized that I was spending an average of $200-300 per LP to get what I wanted and in some cases, over $1000 in total (buying 7 different DSOTM pressings and travelling to the UK multiple times to find the best pressings), and I found out that Better Records was on to something: I got burned more than once myself when I was buying clean, never played 1st pressings of some of the top LPs and ending not feeling the love for the results. I appreciate the complexities of the old school vinyl pressing sound chain and its infinite variables, and more times than not I was back sourcing additional copies of the same LP looking for that ‘magical pressing’. I eventually got a stunning DSOTM 2nd pressing (A3/B3) and bought another only to find that the 1st one was way ahead of the 2nd so it shows that even the same pressings can be highly variable – in sound quality/feel/depth/clarity/warmth, but also noise floor. So, yes, there are magical ‘Hot Stampers’ out there, but to find them takes patience and lots of $ and effort. (more…)

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Zep II – 1990 to 2010

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Led Zeppelin II

 

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Here’s the story of my first encounter with a Hot Stamper Zep II.

I had a friend who had come into possession of a White Label Demo pressing of the second album and wanted to trade it in to me for the Mobile Fidelity pressing that I had played for him once or twice over the years, and which we both thought was The King on that album.

To my shock and dismay, his stupid American copy KILLED the MoFi. It TROUNCED it in every way. The bass was deeper and punchier. Everything was more dynamic. The vocals were more natural and correct sounding. The highs were sweeter and more extended. The whole pressing was just full of life in a way that the Mobile Fidelity wasn’t.
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Expanding Space Itself

Dark Side of the Moon

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Recently we played a copy with all the presence, all the richness, all the size and all the energy we ever hoped to hear from a top quality pressing of Dark Side of the Moon. It did it ALL and then some. The raging guitar solos (there are three of them) on Money seemed to somehow expand the system itself, making it bigger and more powerful than I have ever heard. Even our best copies of Blood Sweat and Tears have never managed to create such a huge space with that kind of raw power. This copy broke through all the barriers, taking the system to an entirely new level of sound.

Take the clocks on Time. There are whirring mechanisms that can be heard deep in the soundstage on this copy that I’ve never heard as clearly before. On most copies you can’t even tell they are there. Talk about transparency — I bet you’ve NEVER heard so many chimes so clearly and cleanly, with such little distortion on this track.

One thing that separates the best copies from the merely good ones is super-low-distortion, extended high frequencies. How some copies manage to correctly capture the overtones of all the clocks, while others, often with the same stamper numbers, do no more than hint at them, is something no one can explain. But the records do not lie. Believe your own two ears. If you hear it, it’s there. When you don’t — the reason we do shootouts in a nutshell — it’s not.

A Whole New Dark Side

The best sounding parts of this record are nothing less than ASTONISHING. Money is the best example I can think of for side two. When you hear the sax player rip into his solo as Money gets rockin’, it’s almost SCARY! He’s blowin’ his brains out in a way that has never, in my experience anyway, been captured on a piece of plastic. After hearing this copy, I remembered exactly why we felt this album must rank as one of the five best Rock Demo Discs to demonstrate the superiority of analog. There is no CD, and there will never be a CD, that sounds like this.

In fact, when you play the other “good sounding” copies, you realize that the sound you hear is what would naturally be considered as good as this album could get. But now we know better. This pressing takes Dark Side to places you have never imagined it could go.

To say this is a sonic and musical masterpiece practically without equal in the history of the world is no overstatement. But you have to have a top copy for that statement to be true.
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How can common rock records be worth as much as you are charging?

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We freely admit that we paid south of twenty bucks each at local stores for most of the records on our site. We pay what the stores charge, and most rock records are priced from five to twenty bucks.

Unfortunately the cost of the records you see on the site is only a part of the cost of that finished “product.” The reality of our business is that it costs almost as much to find a Carly Simon or Gino Vannelli Hot Stamper that sells for a hundred dollars as it does to find a Neil Young or Yes Hot Stamper that sells for five times that.

With six people on staff, keeping the records playing, the listings going up on the site and the mailers going out to our customers runs about a thousand dollars a day. The cost of the records — the “raw material” of our business — is rarely more than 20% of that.

Someone has to drive to a record store, dig through the bins for hour upon hour, have them all cleaned, file them and then wait anywhere from six months to two years for the pile of copies on the shelf to get big enough to do a proper shootout.

Shootouts are a two man job: one person plays the record and someone else (who rarely has any idea what pressing is on the table) listens for as long as it takes to accurately and fairly critique the first side of every copy. Then we start the whole process over again for side two.

This is a huge commitment of labor, with the amount of time and effort going into a shootout obviously the same for every title regardless of its popularity or eventual value. Naturally we would like to be able to streamline the process and cut costs in order to lower our prices and sell more records. We just don’t think it’s possible. Every record must be carefully evaluated and that process is time-consuming.

No matter how skilled or efficient the musicians may be, from now until the end of time it will take at least an hour to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Shootouts are like that, they simply can’t be rushed. It’s rare to get one done in under an hour, and some can even take two, which limits the number of titles that we can do on any given day.

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Led Zeppelin II – None Rocks Harder

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Led Zeppelin II

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It’s official: we’re inaugurating a Top Ten Best Sounding Rock / Pop Album List, and the first member to be inducted is none other than our old favorite, Led Zeppelin II.

It’s also yet another in a very long line of records that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume. We’re convinced Zep II has to be the hardest rocking album of all time. The best copies — often with the same stampers as the not-as-good copies by the way — have a LIFE and a POWER to them that simply cannot be found on other records.

Hence the Top Ten title designation.

And I certainly have never heard a CD or Heavy Vinyl pressing that sounded remotely as good as one of our Hot Stampers. I doubt that I ever will. As long as we have records like this, what difference does it make?

Turn It Up!

The best copies of Zep II have the kind of rock and roll firepower that’s guaranteed to bring any system to its knees. I can tell you with no sense of shame whatsoever that I do not have a system powerful enough to play this record at the levels I was listening to it at in one of our shootouts a while back. When the big bass comes in, hell yeah it distorts. It would have distorted worse at any concert the band ever played. Did people walk out, or ask the band to turn down the volume? No way. The volume IS the sound.

That’s what the album is trying to prove. This recording is a statement by the band that they can fuse so much sonic power into a piece of vinyl that no matter what stereo you own, no matter how big the speakers, no matter how many watts you think you have, it’s not enough. And never will be.

Distortion? What Distortion?
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The Real Eagles Sound Comes From the Real Eagles Master Tape

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The Eagles first album

At one time this was my single favorite Demo Disc. A customer who bought one of these once told me it was the best sounding record he had ever heard in his life. I don’t doubt it for a minute. It’s certainly as good as any rock record I have ever heard, and I’ve heard some awful good ones.

The Real Sound Comes from the Real Master Tape

There’s an interesting story behind this album, which I won’t belabor here. One listen to a later reissue or Heavy Vinyl pressing or Greatest Hits and you’ll know I speak the truth when I say that the tape used to cut this pressing was never used again to cut any other. It is GONE. LOST FOREVER. Most copies of this album are mediocre at best, and positively painful to listen to once you’ve heard the right pressing, the one cut from the real tape.
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The Best Sounding Record on the Site?

 The Original Soundtrack

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On any given day a White Hot side one of The Original Soundtrack could very well be the best sounding record on the site.

“On any given day” being a day when we don’t have a hot German copy of Dark Side of the Moon to offer, or a killer Eagles first album, or a top copy of the self-titled BS&T, or an RL Zep II, or a White Hot Teaser and the Firecat. Most days we don’t have such records on the site, and on those days this 10cc album is a recording Tour De Force that would be bigger, bolder, more dynamic, and more powerful than anything we could throw against it.
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