Steely Dan – Gaucho

More Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Gaucho

  • This copy is guaranteed to handily beat any pressing of Gaucho you have ever played, especially the awful Ron McMaster Heavy Vinyl LP
  • This superb pressing has three-dimensional ambience, tubey richness, you-are-there immediacy, tight bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic on every track
  • 4 stars in the AMG, 4 1/2 in Rolling Stone, and one of this exceptionally well recorded band’s Three Best Sounding Albums – a true Must Own
  • “Despite its coolness, the music is quite beautiful. With its crystalline keyboard textures and diaphanous group vocals, ”Gaucho” contains the sweetest music Steely Dan has ever made.” New York Times
  • If you’re a Steely Dan fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1980 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1980 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Kansas – Leftoverture

  • This early Kirshner pressing was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the better copies from our most recent shootout – the sound is big, full and lively with real Prog Rock Energy and a huge, punchy bottom end
  • Kansas’s most consistent and engaging album, their true masterpiece by our lights – a copy as good as this will show you the awesome ENERGY the band brought to their music
  • “Undoubtedly their finest album, Leftoverture warrants Kansas a spot right alongside Boston and Styx as one of the fresh new American bands who combine hard-driving group instrumentation with short, tight melody lines…” – Rolling Stone

On the hottest of our Hot Stampers the recording is a glorious example of the Big Rock Sound we love here at Better Records. Wall to wall and floor to ceiling barely begins to do it justice. Like so many of the great rock recordings we offer, when you play one of our Hot Stampers, the sound commands your attention.

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Hot Stampers and Occam’s Razor

Skeptical Thinking Is Key to Finding Better Sound

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide

This is an excerpt from a commentary I wrote many years ago in reply to a letter writer who thought our records were ridiculously overpriced.

When people ask us how our records can possibly be worth the prices we charge, this is our answer.

As a skeptic, I require evidence for what I believe in order to believe it. Although it’s certainly possible that our customers are willing to pay our admittedly high prices on nothing more than our say so, I see no evidence that this is the case. All things being equal, I think they must really like our records. They tell us so all the time, and they keep buying them week after week, so if they really are just fooling themselves, they apparently can’t stop doing it.

Occam’s Razor

The scientist’s and skeptic’s best friend, Occam’s razor, comes into play here. It holds that “the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible.” It’s often paraphrased as “All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.” In other words, when multiple competing theories are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions…”

Why assume people who buy expensive records are crazy? Why assume that the records they buy aren’t every bit as good as advertised, if not better? Why assume that the “other resources available for buying music” are even remotely as good, absent any evidence?

People assumed that the CD was going to be a cheap and easy source for their music, and look where that got them.

Assumptions? Us?

I could go on for days about assumptions. We try very hard to make as few as we have to around here. We bend over backwards to let the pressings speak for themselves. Most of the time when we’re doing our shootouts we have no idea what pressing is on the table. All we have to go on is the sound.

It may be relative — everything is — but people seem to be able to replicate our findings in their own homes pretty well. Well enough anyway. When they write to us, they really don’t sound all that crazy. In fact they seem fairly rational to us.

More than anything they seem to be enthusiastic about the great sound they’re finally hearing on a favorite album of theirs, courtesy of Better Records. After having played the records ourselves, we don’t think it’s the least bit crazy to believe them.

The assumptions we really do take issue with are these:

  • Carefully remastered records pressed on heavy vinyl and marketed to audiophiles typically sound better than vintage mass-produced records sold to the public at large.
  • Original pressings always sound better than later pressings.
  • Records that look the same should sound the same.
  • Buying audiophile pressings guarantees better sound.
  • Buying audiophile equipment guarantees better sound.

I could go on for days about assumptions or theories that are easily disproved. All you need to do is play a representative sample of the records in question and listen to them critically using a blinded approach. (We call them shootouts.)

If you want to find out whether something about records is true or not, then find out.

Don’t guess and don’t assume. Get the evidence.

There are many commentaries on this blog that will help anyone to improve the way he thinks about records. I implore the reader to make use of them.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Improving Your Critical Listening Skills

Crowded House – Woodface

More Crowded House

Reviews and Commentaries for Crowded House

  • An outstanding European import pressing of Crowded House’s 1991 Pop Masterpiece boasting Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • The care and effort that went into every aspect of the recording and production of Woodface more than justifies the effort we put into finding this excellent copy – one of the better sounding copies we have played
  • It is our opinion that this is some of the most original, melodic, hook-laden, sophisticated popular music recorded in the last thirty years, the kind that should find favor with any audiophile who likes the popular music, starting with The Beatles and ending who knows when
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The songs are easily their finest to date, combining flawless melodies and the outstanding harmonies of the brothers’ perfectly matched voices.”

This excellent copy of Woodface fulfills the promise of this extraordinarily well-recorded album beyond all expectations. The effect so totally immerses you in the musical experience that you forget you’re listening to a record at all. In your mind, you have the sense that you’re hearing the music exactly the way the musicians, producers, and engineers intended it to sound. The sound is everything you want it to be as you experience every element of the music without limitation. (more…)

Paul McCartney and Wings – Ram

  • This vintage pressing of McCartney’s 1971 Classic boasts outstanding sound and exceptionally quiet vinyl on both sides
  • A copy like this is a real audiophile treat – here is the rich, warm, clear, natural and lively sound you want for Ram   
  • Many of the man’s most memorable songs are here: Too Many People, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, Monkberry Moon Delight, Heart Of The Country and more
  • 5 stars: “These songs may not be self-styled major statements, but they are endearing and enduring, as is Ram itself, which seems like a more unique, exquisite pleasure with each passing year.”

I remember this album being dismissed as lightweight back in the day and I may have even felt the same to be honest. Heck, compared to Abbey Road and The White Album, the very same thing could be said about most of McCartney’s albums.

McCartney isn’t out to blow you away with high-production value rock here, apart from Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. He’s making some lovely pop music with his wife and sharing it with the world. And what’s so wrong with that? (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

  • Outstanding solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout this Black Label original on vinyl that’s about as quiet as they ever play
  • The piano sounds lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom
  • This copy makes it clear that this is a Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, and that’s saying a lot
  • It’s also our favorite jazz piano performance by Andre Previn on record
  • Only a handful of copies of this title have made it on the site in the last few years – finding them in audiophile condition is getting harder (and more expensive) than ever these days
  • “Previn’s piano is the lead voice and his virtuosity, good taste, melodic improvising, and solid sense of swing are chiefly responsible for the music’s success.”

I have a very long history with this album, going back decades. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned, was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak all the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP (I sold off the old one years ago) but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was.

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After You’ve Played 100 Copies of the Album, What’s Left to Learn?

bloodchildMore of the Music of Blood, Sweat and Tears

Reviews and Commentaries for Child Is Father to the Man

A common misconception of many of those visiting the site for the first time is that we think we know it all.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We definitely do not know it all. We learn something new about records with practically every shootout.

Case in point: the record you do NOT see pictured above. (The record we recently learned something new about — this, after having played scores and scores of copies over the years — will remain a secret for the time being. At least until we find another one.)

In 2013 we played a red label Columbia reissue of a famous ’60s rock record (again, not shown) that had the best side two we have ever heard. Up to that point no copy other than the 360 original had ever won a shootout, and we’ve done plenty. Lo and behold here was a reissue that put them all to shame.

I’m still in shock from the experience to tell you the truth, but what a blast it was to hear it!

The recording, which I first played more than 40 years ago at the tender age of 16, was now bigger, less murky and more energetic than ever before. Had you asked me, I would have confidently told you not to waste your time with the second pressing, to stick to the 360’s on that title, and I would have been wrong wrong wrong.

How Wrong?

But wait a minute. The 360 original will probably beat 49 out of 50 red label reissue copies on side two, and the best 360 original could not be beaten on side one by any other pressing. When you stop to think about it, we weren’t very wrong at all.

Let’s just say our understanding was incomplete. This is why we prefer to offer actual physical records rather than just advice, although it’s clear for all to see that we happily do both, and, moreover, we certainly feel qualified — as qualified as anyone can be — to offer opinions since our opinions are virtually always backed up by experimental data.

Sometimes we guess about the sound quality of some titles, usually when we just can’t be bothered to order a copy up and take the time to audition it. So many labels today produce such consistently second- and third-rate pressings, can you blame us for not wanting to hear where the latest one went wrong? 

Ultimately what makes our case is the quality of the records we sell. And I’m glad to report that we don’t get many complaints, even at these prices. (Some of our customers seem to think they got their money’s worth, and who are we to argue?)

Avoiding Mistakes

Keep in mind that the only way you can never be wrong about your records is simply not to play them. If you have better equipment than you did, say, five years ago, try playing some of your MoFi’s, 180 gram LPs, Japanese pressings, 45 RPM remasters and the like. You might be in for quite a shock.

It’s all good — until the needle hits the groove. Then you might find yourself in need of actual Better Records, not the ones you thought were better.

How Do We Do It?

There are more than 2000 Hot Stamper reviews on this blog. Do you know how we learned so much about so many records?

Simple. We ran thousands and thousands of record experiments under carefully controlled conditions, and we continue to run scores of them week in and week out to this very day.

If you want to learn about records, we recommend you do the same. You won’t be able to do more than one or two a week, but one or two a week is better than none, which is how many the average audiophile manages to do.

When it comes to finding the best sounding records ever made, our advice is simple.

Play them the right way and pay attention to what they are trying to teach you. You will learn more this way than any other.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

How Can I Recognize What I Should Be Listening For on a Given Album?

Lou Reed – Transformer

More of Our Favorite Artists’ Best Sounding Albums

Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

  • Excellent sound for Lou Reed’s Glam Rock Classic, Transformer, engineered to sound as Tubey Magical as Ziggy Stardust by none other than Ken Scott
  • Here is an import pressing with the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot BEGIN to reproduce
  • A side one this good means Walk on the Wild Side is a Demonstration Quality track that will have your audiophile friends turning green with envy
  • Transformer is an absolute tour de force of ’70s Glam Rock / Classic Rock / Alternative Rock
  • “… Bowie and Ronson gave their hero a new lease on life — and a solid album in the bargain.” 
  • Transformer is his Masterpiece, a Core Collection title, and possibly a case of One and Done since it’s the only Lou Reed album we sell. (You, of course, may feel differently.)

Transformer is an absolute tour de force of ’70s Glam Rock / Classic Rock / Alternative Rock. You’ve got Lou Reed teamed up with David Bowie (in the producer’s chair!), Mick Ronson, Herbie Flowers and Klaus Voorman, and on top of that the album was recorded at Trident and mixed by the great Ken Scott.

Throw in the fact that this is the best set of post-Velvets material Lou would ever write and it is a recipe for success. There are so many good songs on here I won’t bother to list them one by one. Satellite Of Love is especially good though, if you ask me. If you agree, and you’ve never heard the VU demo version, make sure to seek it out. It’s completely different and good fun.

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Letter of the Week – “I immediately noticed an improvement in lower end presence with the white hot stamper.”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

It’s been a good day of listening! Something about this copy of Late for the Sky is bugging me. Jackson’s voice just doesn’t seem as natural sounding as in the other albums I have. Wondering if the white hot stamper you have might be a better choice? Thinking this album (more his voice) should sound as good as the other two I bought ? If you think the white hot stamper would be a better choice should I just order it then send this one back?

Thanks again for your help!

Rob

Rob,

It is always a good idea to hear the best copy against whatever you have, even when you have a hot stamper. It’s unlikely to fix the problem you hear with the voice — not sure what those might be, the recording is what it is and if they wanted the voice to sound the way it does, we just accept it as a choice they made, grading on a curve and all that — but it is possible you might like it better, even a lot better. 

Go ahead and order it, you have nothing to lose and plenty to gain. Hang on to your old copy for now so you can play the two against each other.

TP

Tom,

I am so glad you recommended taking a listen to the Late for Sky white hot stamper and compare to the super hot stamper I have. I immediately noticed an improvement in lower end presence with the white hot stamper. Jackson’s vocal sounded more full and natural as well.

Another thing I noticed was that not all tracks are created equal as you pointed out. Side 1 seemed big, open and more like the other Jackson Browne LPs I own.

Side 2 was a very different story. Some of the tracks seemed more closed in and less engaging. So, instead of criticizing a pressing for not sounding right, I have realized that the recording itself is most likely at fault (it is what it is).

I would not have known this without listening to the best copies. Another invaluable lesson learned!

Will send Late for the Sky back as it is not really something I really want to listen to repeatedly compared to my other Jackson Browne albums. Till the next time!

Thanks again

Rob

Rob,

When you can hear a number of copies — the more the better — played directly against each other, it’s amazing what you can learn about the sound of an album. You experienced it, and you seem to have learned a lot.

Now you know something 99% of the audiophiles in the world, even those that are Jackson Browne fans, don’t know.

Such is the nature of records. They are happy to teach you something if you will simply take the time to listen to them.

Thanks for your letter.

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Donald Fagen / The Nightfly

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

  • With two outstanding sides, this early pressing is guaranteed to be a huge improvement over anything you’ve heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Punchy and high-resolution, check out the cymbals and muted guitar on “I.G.Y.” — they sound Right On The Money here
  • If you are looking for a shootout winning copy, let us know – with such good music and sound, we hope to get another shootout going again soon
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A portrait of the artist as a young man, The Nightfly is a wonderfully evocative reminiscence of Kennedy-era American life; in the liner notes, Donald Fagen describes the songs as representative of the kinds of fantasies he entertained as an adolescent during the late ’50s/early ’60s, and he conveys the tenor of the times with some of his most personal and least obtuse material to date.”

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in exceptionally clean shape. Most of the will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG


Energetic and present, this copy is on a completely different level than most pressings. We just finished a big shootout for Donald Fagen’s solo effort from 1982 (just two years after Gaucho and the end of Steely Dan) and we gotta tell you, there are a lot of weak-sounding copies out there. We should know; we played them.

We’ve been picking copies up for more than a year in the hopes that we’d have some killer Hot Stamper copies to offer, but most of them left us cold. Flat, edgy and bright, like a bad copy of Graceland, only a fraction had the kind of magic we find on the better Steely Dan albums.

Both sides here are incredibly clear and high-rez compared to most pressings, with none of the veiled, smeary quality we hear so often. The vocals are breathy, the bass is clear and the whole thing is open and spacious.

How Analog Is It?

The ones we like the best will tend to be the ones that sound the most Analog. The more they sound like the average pressing — in other words, the more CD-like they sound — the lower the sonic grade. Many will not have even one Hot Stamper side and will end up in the trade-in pile.

The best copies sound the way the best copies of most Classic Rock records sound: tonally correct, rich, clear, sweet, smooth, open, present, lively, big, spacious, Tubey Magical, with breathy vocals and little to no spit, grit, grain or grunge.

That’s the sound of analog, and the best copies of The Nightfly have that sound.

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