Advice – What to Listen For – String Tone and Texture

Prokofiev / Scythian Suite & The Prodigal Son – Ansermet – Reviewed in 2006

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Scythian Suite & The Prodigal Son – Ansermet

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This is a London Whiteback LP with SUPERB SOUND on both sides. It’s immediate, dynamic, very low distortion, spacious, and relatively sweet.

The bass deserves special mention here. You rarely hear recordings from the ’50s and early ’60s, the kind of LPs that were mastered with tubes of course, having this kind of truly deep punchy bass. As this album was recorded in ’67 and mastered relatively soon thereafter, the cutting equipment capable of inscribing deep bass onto a slab of vinyl was widely available. For this piece of music it’s almost mandatory to get good solid low end.  (more…)

Respighi / Ancient Airs and Dances / Dorati

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

Both sides of this TAS List early Colorback RFR copy have SUPER Hot Stamper sound, so much richer and sweeter and less strident than the typical copy you might find. (I must admit the Mercury approach to sound has not worn as well as I might have hoped. When it comes to the Big Three from the Golden Age, these days we prefer London, followed by RCA, then Mercury.) 

Of course the music is wonderful, with Respighi looking back and paying homage to the music and the musical structures of the past. This is no Pines of Rome. Please see the Ancient Airs and Dances tab above for more on the music.

Side One

A++ Superb Living Presence sound. Listen especially to how textured and natural he cellos sound, as well as the strings in general. Mercury rarely recorded strings properly but here they sound tonally correct, neither nasally nor strident. (more…)

Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin – Balancing the Vocal, Strings and Rhythm

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

The better copies reproduce clearly what to our minds are the three most important elements in the recording — strings, rhythm, and vocal — and, more importantly, the are reproduced properly balanced with one another. 

The monos, as you might expect, balance the three elements well enough, but the problem with mono is that the vocals and instruments are jammed together in the center of the soundfield, layered atop one another.

Real clarity, the kind that live music has in abundance, is difficult if not impossible under the circumstances. Only the stereo pressings provide the space that each of the elements need in order to be heard.

Naturally the vocals have to be the main focus on a Billie Holiday record. They should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and transparent. To qualify as a Hot Stamper, the pressings we offer must be highly resolving. You will hear everything, surrounded by the natural space of the legendary Columbia 30th Street Studio in which the recording was made. 
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Electric Light Orchestra – On the Third Day – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

This White Hot Stamper Side Two is proof positive that the master tape used to cut the album back in 1973 was right here in the good old U. S. of A. The sound is positively JUMPING out of the speakers, like nothing you’ve ever heard before from this band — especially if you have a British pressing of the album. The sound has real life to it, unlike the sound on the import pressings of the album. Once you’ve played a good domestic pressing such as this one, it’s obvious that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers. (more…)

The Electric Light Orchestra – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

A++ sound on both sides for the crazy and wonderful debut album from ELO, an album that almost never sounds good! We had a bunch of these on hand and put them to the test recently. Most of them did not have the kind of sound that we were hoping for, but with enough copies on hand we were able to find a couple of winners. This one had our highest rated side one (A++ was as far as we wanted to go) and one of the better side twos as well. It isn’t a Demo Disc by any means but if you’re a fan of the band I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how much better a Super Hot Stamper like this one communicates the music.  

We really enjoy the music of ELO, but it’s tough to find good sounding copies of their albums.  We’ve been collecting copies of this album for years but it wasn’t until recently that we heard one that sounded good enough to be worthy of the Hot Stamper designation. (more…)

Eagles – Hotel California – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

TWO SUPERB SIDES — super transparent, super hi-rez, with tons of energy and tubey magic! We just finished a mega-shootout for this title, dropping the needle on more than a dozen copies, and this bad boy earned Best In Show. Side two earned our top A+++ grade while side one was just half a plus behind. Most copies out there won’t come even close to this one on EITHER side.  

Both sides have superb, mind-blowing, Demo Disc Quality Sound. Drop the needle on any track on either side to hear what we’re talking about. The highs are silky and delicate, the bottom end is tight and punchy, and the vocals sound AMAZING. The bass is PERFECTION, which really brings out the reggae feel of the song Hotel California. It’s so deep and loping, the effect is practically narcotic. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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What’s New

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  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, this is without a doubt some of the best sound we have ever heard for What’s New
  • So hugely spacious and three-dimensional, yet with a tonally correct and fairly natural sounding Linda, this is the way to hear it
  • What engineer George Massenburg gets right is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio
  • “…the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania… undid in the mid-60’s.”

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Elton John – Elton John – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Elton John – Elton John

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

This original DJM British pressing has a SUPERB Demo Disc Quality side two and a wonderful A++ side one! You could easily play a hundred records from the ’70s and not hear one that sounds this good. The richness and sweetness of this side have to be heard to be believed. We would be very surprised if this copy didn’t become your favorite Elton John record — it’s an absolute knockout.

As is usually the case for this album and specifically these Brit DJM pressings, the vinyl is a bit noisy — Mint Minus Minus with constant moderate surface noise under the music.

Folks, if you’re looking for Classic Rock that still appeals to sophisticated adults forty plus years after it came out, this is the album for you. It’s one of the four Classic Elton John records (five if you count GYBR) that belong in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection.* (more…)

Milt Jackson – Sunflower

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

The first track, at more than ten minutes, is yet another one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz recordings here at Better Records. Other albums of this sort that we love are Wes Montgomery’s California Dreaming (1966, and also Sebesky-arranged), Grover Washington’s All the King’s Horses (1973) and Deodato’s Prelude (also 1973, with brilliant arrangements by the man himself). 

What’s especially notable is how well-recorded the orchestra’s string sections are. They have just the right amount of texture and immediacy without being forced or shrill. They’re also very well integrated into the mix. I wouldn’t have expected RVG to pull it off so well — I’ve heard other CTI records where the orchestration was abominable — but here it works as well as on any album I know of. (more…)

Milt Jackson – Plenty, Plenty Soul

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  • An outstanding vintage stereo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful session from 1957, this is the way to go
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The first side of Plenty, Plenty Soul, which features a nine-piece group, is highlighted by the contributions of the exuberant altoist Cannonball Adderley, while the flip side has a sextet that is not hurt by the solos of tenor-saxophonist Lucky Thompson. With pianist Horace Silver helping out on both sessions, these all-star dates still sound fresh and enthusiastic decades later.”

This vintage Atlantic 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. (more…)