Louis Armstrong – The Essential Louis Armstrong

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

We’re always on the lookout for Louis Armstrong records with good sound. In our experience finding them is not nearly as easy as one might think. Far too many of his recordings are poorly recorded, with sound that simply can’t be taken seriously — fine for old consoles but not so good on modern audiophile equipment.

We assume most audiophiles got turned on to his music from the records that Classic Records remastered back in the mid-’90s, For those of you who were customers of ours back then, you know that I count myself among that group. (more…)

America’s Debut – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

TUBEY MAGICAL practically MASTER TAPE SOUND on side one! A good sounding copy of this album is a real treat; a superb sounding copy like this one is an EXPERIENCE! We’ve been playing this album for years but I cannot recall a copy with a more extended top end than the ones here. The transparency is off the charts. Side one is natural, relaxed, musical, sweet, tonally correct from top to bottom and overflowing with Tubey Magic.

These green label Warner Brothers originals — like most records — are sonically all over the map. The biggest problem these pressings suffer from is a lack of extreme top to provide harmonics for the guitars. On the average copy the guitars are veiled and dull.

Equally problematic is smear, the loss of transient information. The best copies have guitars that are being played by fingers, with the subtle plucking of same naturally followed by the note produced. So many copies just present you with the note. You don’t really notice what’s missing until you hear a good pressing and suddenly you are aware of the players and their fingers making these sounds. This is one of the main qualities that we listened for to separate the winners from the also-rans. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Meddle “absolutely blew me away.”

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

Hi Tom,

Got the Meddle album already. I sat down as soon as I opened it and listened to both sides with the volume up. Absolutely blew me away. I heard things on there that I never heard before. Or I just heard them better. I didn’t have to listen to my other copies. I knew right away this one was IT. Listening to a record like this just gets me thinking what the other Hot Stampers sound like.

Steve


Meddle

Sibelius, Liszt, Dukas et al. / Bernard Herrmann Conducts – London Phase 4 Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing.

While preparing for a Finlandia shootout recently we happened to drop the needle on this album, a 1977 Phase 4 recording made in Kingsway Hall and engineered by Arthur Lilley. We could hardly believe how bad it sounded. The multi-miking is the worst I have ever heard! We like lots of Phase 4 recordings — especially those of Bernard Herrmann — but this is definitely not one of them. 

Are they all bad? Who can say? We sure aren’t going to be wasting any more time and money on the album in order to find out, I can tell you that.

The Obsession soundtrack is a dog as well; audiophiles looking for good sound are best advised to avoid them both. 

 

The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet on London

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  • A killer vintage copy of this exceptionally well-recorded Stones album from ’69, with superb Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Clear, rich and lively throughout – the Tubey Magic of the best pressings is what has them sounding the way they should
  • One of a select group of Rolling Stones Must Own records which we prize above all others – Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed round out the trio
  • 5 stars: “Basic rock & roll was not forgotten, however: ‘Street Fighting Man’… was one of their most innovative singles, and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’… was an image-defining epic.”

Good pressings are certainly not easy to come by — this kind of rich, full-bodied, musical sound is the exception, not the rule. And there’s actual space and extension up top as well, something you certainly don’t hear on most pressings. This is a fantastic album, and excellent sides like these give it the kind of sound it deserves.

Raw Rock & Roll Sound

Of course, Hot Stamper Sound still only gets you what’s on the tape. In this case, it’s some rude, crude, dirty rock & roll. That’s clearly what the Stones were going for here. In terms of audiophile appeal, Tea For The Tillerman this ain’t. Nor does it want to be!

What sets the best copies apart from the pack is a fuller, richer tonal balance, which is achieved mostly by having plenty of bass and lower midrange energy. The copies that are bass shy — most of them, that is to say — tend to bring out more of that midrangy shortcoming. (more…)

Amor!: The Fabulous Guitar of Luiz Bonfa – Reviewed in 2005

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

Atlantic Black Label LP with lovely sound! This is a famously rare and collectible jazz record by the amazing Brazilian guitarist Luiz Bonfa. 

1958, the year this record was made, was a very good year for high quality recordings of all types of music. 

Click here to see the records currently on the site that were recorded or released in 1958 and here to see the records from 1958 that we’ve reviewed, a substantially larger group as you can imagine, more than 100 in fact.  (more…)

Joe Newman Quintet Jive At Five – Killer Trumpet Jazz from 1960

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  • Jive At Five arrives on the site with killer Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This hard to find Prestige Swingville LP is big, spacious, swinging with energy and absolutely jumping out of the speakers
  • 4 stars: “…[this music] is very much in the Count Basie vein. That fact is not too surprising when one considers that the quintet includes three members of Basie’s men: trumpeter Joe Newman, tenor saxophonist Frank Wess and bassist Eddie Jones. Joined by the complementary pianist Tommy Flanagan and drummer Oliver Jackson, Newman and his friends swing their way through four vintage standards and a couple of the leader’s original blues…”

Jive at Five is one of my all-time favorite jazz trumpet albums. This Shootout Winning Prestige reissue might very well turn you into a big fan as well.

I highly recommended this album back in the day. Hearing it now as a much older man, having played thousands of jazz records in the ensuing decades, and thankfully being able to hear it on much better equipment than I had back then, I realize both the music and sound (can’t forget that!) have stood the test of time very well indeed.

This is what a good jazz trumpet album should sound like, miles from the squawky, muted microphone-distorted horn sound so many audiophiles seem to revere. I’m guessing you know who I’m referring to. Miles Davis was surely a genius and a brilliant innovator, but his horn sound from the sixties on was never as relaxed, smooth and natural as it is on this wonderful Joe Newman Quintet album from 1960.

Joe was one of Basie’s long-time band members, a fiery soloist with an unerring sense of swing. This album ably demonstrates those qualities. The guy is passionate but he never gets lost in his own solos; he keeps the melodies and the swing front and center. (more…)

Ambrosia – Life Beyond L.A.

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

This White Hot Stamper Ambrosia LP has the kind of sound you would never expect to find in the grooves of this album. It was a THRILL to hear, especially at the volumes at which we played it! The transparency and openness were off the charts, and unmatched by any other copy in our shootout. We’re big fans of this band here at Better Records — we love their take on complex, big production rock!

It’s also yet another example of the value of taking part in the myriad revolutions in audio. If you never want your prized but sonically-challenged records to sound any better than they do right now, this minute, don’t bother to learn how to clean them better, play them back better or improve the acoustics of your room. No one can make you do any of those things. The only reason you might have for doing them is so that you can enjoy more of your favorite music with much better sound. Is that a good enough reason? If you’re on this site I’m guessing it is.

That’s the reason we do it. We want records like this one, which didn’t start sounding good until about 2005, and now sound MUCH better than I ever thought they could, to keep getting better and better. Why shouldn’t they?

And these improvements we talk about so much have allowed us to enjoy records we could never fully enjoy before because they never really sounded all that good to us. Now they do, and they will keep getting better, as more and more developments come along in all areas of analog reproduction. (more…)

Gregg Allman – Laid Back

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

We were surprised at how well recorded the album is, dramatically better than the Allmans’ album from the same year, Brothers and Sisters. Full-bodied and Tubey Magical, with especially smooth, present vocals, this is the sound we love at Better Records.

AMG Review

Recorded in the same year as the Brothers and Sisters album, this solo debut release is a beautiful amalgam of R&B, folk, and gospel sounds, with the best singing on any of Gregg Allman’s solo releases. He covers his own “Midnight Rider” in a more mournful, dirge-like manner, and Jackson Browne’s “These Days” gets its most touching and tragic-sounding rendition as well. Although Chuck Leavell and Jaimoe are here, there’s very little that sounds like the Allman Brothers Band — prominent guitars, apart from a few licks by Tommy Talton (Cowboy, ex-We the People), are overlooked in favor of gospel-tinged organ and choruses behind Allman’s soulful singing. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Righteous Brothers, Led Zeppelin – II, Dark Side Of The Moon

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

Hey Tom, 

Thanks for sending the Righteous Brothers to me so quickly. I have a copy I’ve had for years that didn’t give me much satisfaction on side one. I played yours, and it blew mine away. Just stunning. Your side two was somewhat flat and mediocre, but who cares since the great cut is on side one. Nonetheless, I played my old copy and my side two was nearly as good as your side one. Thanks for everything. The ‘wall of sound’ is alive and well.

By the way, The Zep II that I purchased from you last month may be the best sounding record you’ve ever sold me. A bargain at $750. Now if I could only find a Dark Side Of The Moon that plays at that level.

Phil

 

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