audiophile records

Eric Clapton – Slowhand

More Eric Clapton

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  • This KILLER of Clapton’s 1977 release boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • One of our favorite Clapton albums – this one is notoriously difficult to find good sound quality and reasonably quiet surfaces
  • With Glyn Johns behind the board, rest assured the sound will be suitably rich, smooth, sweet and above all ANALOG
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This is laid-back virtuosity — although Clapton and his band are never flashy, their playing is masterful and assured. That assurance and the album’s eclectic material make Slowhand rank with 461 Ocean Boulevard as one of Eric Clapton’s best albums.”

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The Pareto Effect in Audio – The 80/20 Rule Is Real

Hot Stampers of Ambrosia Available Now

Commentaries and Letters for Ambrosia’s Debut

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Ambrosia’s first album does exactly what a Test Disc should do. It shows you what’s wrong, and once you’ve fixed it, it shows you that it’s now right.

We audiophiles need records like this. They make us better listeners, and they force us to become better audio tweakers.

You cannot buy equipment that will give you the best sound. You can only tweak your equipment to get it.

At most 20% of the sound of your stereo is what you bought. At least 80% is what you’ve done with it. (Based on my experience I would put the number closer to 90%.)

This is known as the Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule, The Law of the Vital Few and The Principle of Factor Sparsity, illustrates that 80% of effects arise from 20% of the causes – or in lamens terms – 20% of your actions/activities will account for 80% of your results/outcomes.

The Pareto Principle gets its name from the Italian-born economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), who observed that a relative few people held the majority of the wealth (20%) – back in 1895. Pareto developed logarithmic mathematical models to describe this non-uniform distribution of wealth and the mathematician M.O. Lorenz developed graphs to illustrate it.

Dr. Joseph Juran was the first to point out that what Pareto and others had observed was a “universal” principle—one that applied in an astounding variety of situations, not just economic activity, and appeared to hold without exception in problems of quality.

In the early 1950s, Juran noted the “universal” phenomenon that he has called the Pareto Principle: that in any group of factors contributing to a common effect, a relative few account for the bulk of the effect. Juran has also coined the terms “vital few” and “useful many” or “trivial many” to refer to those few contributions, which account for the bulk of the effect and to those many others which account for a smaller proportion of the effect. — Juran

This Is One of The Records That Did It For Me

Perhaps hearing Dark Side was what made you realize how good a record could sound. Looking back on it over the last thirty years, it’s clear to me now that this Ambrosia album, along with a score of others, is one of the surest reasons I became an audiophile in the first place, and stuck with it for so long. What could be better than hearing music you love sound so good?

It’s clearly an album we are obsessed with. We have written extensively about 50 of them to date. It is our contention that to be any good at this hobby, you have to become obsessed with well-recorded albums and work out the consequences of those obsessions for yourself. We wrote about it here. An excerpt:

As a budding audiophile I went out of my way to acquire any piece of equipment that could make these records from the ’70s (the decade of my formative music-buying years) sound better than the gear I was then using. It’s the challenging recordings by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as well as scores of other pop and rock artists like them, that drove my pursuit of higher quality audio, starting all the way back in high school.

And here I am — here we are — still at it, forty years later, because the music still sounds fresh and original, and the pressings that we find get better and better with each passing year.

That kind of progress is proof that we’re doing it right. It’s a good test for any audiophile. If you are actively and seriously pursuing this hobby, perhaps as many as nine out of ten non-audiophile pressings in your collection should sound better with each passing year.

As your stereo improves, not to mention your critical listening skills, the shortcomings of some of them will no doubt become more apparent. For the most part, however, with continual refinements and improvements to your system and room, vintage pressings will continue to sound better the longer you stay active in the hobby.

That’s what makes it fun to play old records: They just keep getting better!

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The Who – Who’s Next

More of The Who

Reviews and Commentaries for Who’s Next

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  • An outstanding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout and vintage vinyl that’s about as quiet as we can find it
  • This pressing is every bit as quiet as our recent White Hot Stamper which went for $749, and the sonic grades are nearly the same, only one half plus lower on one side
  • This British Track pressing is guaranteed to blow your mind with its phenomenal sound — check out the BIG, BOLD, Rock ’em, Sock ’em bottom end energy
  • Compare this to any Heavy Vinyl (or other) pressing and you will hear in a heartbeat why we think The Real Thing just cannot be beat
  • 5 stars: “This is invigorating because it has. . . Townshend laying his soul bare in ways that are funny, painful, and utterly life-affirming. That is what the Who was about, not the rock operas, and that’s why Who’s Next is truer than Tommy or the abandoned Lifehouse. Those were art — this, even with its pretensions, is rock & roll.”

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After Years of Searching, We Finally Found an Old Beatles Record that Sounds Pretty Good to Us

The Beatles for Sale

On the Yellow and Black Parlophone label! This is best sounding early label pressing we have ever played. Not a Shootout Winner, far even close, but a perfectly enjoyable copy of one of the best sounding Beatles albums we play on a regular basis.

Before this, the only Beatles record we would sell on the Yellow and Black Parlophone label was A Collection of Oldies… But Goldies. That title does have the best sound on the early label. In numerous shootouts, no Black and Silver label pressing from the ’70s was competitive with the best stereo copies made in the ’60s.

Until now, it was clearly the exception to our rule: that from With the Beatles up through Sgt. Pepper, the best sounding Beatles pressings would always be found on the best reissue pressings.

Here are the notes for the best sounding For Sale on the early label we played in our recent shootout.

For those who have trouble reading our writing, the basics are:

Side One

Track one is clear enough, a bit recessed.

Track two is clear, open and lively, with good space, but not as weighty as the best.

Side Two

Track one is relaxed, solid and musical, with good size.

Track two is full, solid and musical, with good bass.

We Was Wrong

A very good sounding record, with few of the problems we heard on the other early label Beatles pressings we’ve played in the past. Most of them had the kind of Old School sound — compressed, congested, harmonically distorted, bandwidth limited, etc. — that kept them from making the cut.

For Sale here is one we have to admit defied our expectations. A classic case of Live and Learn.

But that’s the reason to play records, not judge them by their labels, right? How else would you possibly learn anything about their sound? And you have to play them head to head against other copies, a normally crude process we’ve refined over the last twenty years into a science: the Hot Stamper Shootout.

The Bottom Line

Will we ever buy another one? Probably not. The right later label pressings always win the shootouts, and the second tier copies on the later label will tend to be cheaper to buy, in better condition and pressed on quieter vinyl.

If you really must have an early label pressing, like this guy, you will have no trouble finding one in good shape.  Well, maybe not no trouble, because buying records over the internet is a major pain. Let’s just say it can be done.

Cleaning the record is another matter. For that you need a lot of expensive equipment and plenty of time on your hands. (more…)

Ravel / Honnegger / Dukas – Works by Ravel, Honegger and Dukas / Ansermet

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

More Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

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  • An outstanding copy of this superb release with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – here you will find some of the best orchestral Hot Stamper sound we offer
  • With so many quiet passages, records that play better than Mint Minus Minus are tough to come by in this world – this one is exceptional indeed
  • The sound of the orchestra is dramatically richer and sweeter than you will hear on most pressings — what else would you expect from Decca’s engineers and the Suisse Romande?

The sound is clear, with wonderful depth to the stage. As a rule, the classic ’50s and ’60s recordings of Ansermet and the Suisse Romande in Victoria Hall are as big and rich as any you may have ever heard. These recordings may just be the ideal blend of clarity and richness, with depth and spaciousness that will put to shame 98% of the classical recordings ever made. (more…)

Led Zeppelin / Led Zeppelin III – Always wanted to have a “clean” original? Here’s your chance.

More Led Zeppelin

More Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

We should have said “here was your chance” since this pressing sold very quickly. Over the years most Plum and Orange pressings were disposed of on ebay for the benefit of collectors and those audiophiles who might be ill-informed enough to think that early British pressings would have the best sound for Led Zeppelin III. (This is a record we know very well.)

They do not. They can, however, sound quite good in some cases with the proper cleaning. Not Shootout Winning Good: we actually have a section for those killer copies, this one.

Not even Double Plus (A++) good, which sounds like something from the novel 1984 but is in fact a Very Good grade and guaranteed to trounce any and all copies of the album you have ever heard.

No, the best Zeppelin album we have played to date with the early label in this case earned a grade of Single Plus to Double Plus, which we describe as “[a] wonderful sounding side with many impressive qualities, notably better than a Single Plus copy. A big step up from the typical pressing.”

NOTE: We do not even offer Single Plus copies on the site anymore. Although their faults would be less obvious to anyone who went through the shootout process with the album, such faults are too bothersome to us precisely because we did go through that process.

Once you know what is right, it’s very easy to spot what is wrong. This is the foundational principle of our Hot Stampers. Hot Stampers are not simply good sounding records. They are records that have gone through a shootout.

It is also our story with regard to most of the Heavy Vinyl pressings we have played over the last twenty five years, the worst of which can be found here. We see very little evidence that we got any of that wrong. (more…)

Kenny Loggins – The Best of Friends

More Loggins and Messina

More Country and Country Rock

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  • White Hot on side two, Super Hot on one, killer from start to finish
  • The sound of Master Tapes, not dubs, shocking as it may seem
  • So many of the band’s best songs on one LP make this a Must-Own
  • This copy rocks with all the energy that L&M’s super-tight band is capable of

Both of the copies in this 2-pack have one excellent side and one side that just didn’t meet our standards, so we combined them to give you Super Hot Stamper sound for the entire album.

The best news we have to report concerning this compilation is that it does not sound at all like a compilation, and by that we mean that the best copies don’t sound “dubby”, flat, small or compressed. The best copies, in fact, ROCK, with all the energy that the band is capable of.

You may have noticed that we do very few Greatest Hits albums here at Better Records, for the simple reason that most greatest hits albums don’t sound very good. This is one of the few exceptions to that rule that we’ve come across in our record playing travels over the years.

The best originals may be slightly better, but the difference between our Hot Stampers of this album and whatever original pressing you own should be pronounced, in our favor of course. (more…)

Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

More Guns N’ Roses

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  • A KILLER copy of band’s debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Hard rockin’ energy to spare, the kind you will be hard-pressed to find on any modern Heavy Vinyl reissue these days – Appetite for Destruction is big and bold and simply amazing here
  • Turn this one up – on a pressing this good, the louder you play it, the better it sounds
  • 5 stars: “. . . as good as Rose’s lyrics and screeching vocals are, they wouldn’t be nearly as effective without the twin-guitar interplay of Slash and Izzy Stradlin, who spit out riffs and solos better than any band since the Rolling Stones, and that’s what makes Appetite for Destruction the best metal record of the late ’80s.”

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Miles Davis / In Person – Friday Night and the Sound of Tubes in 1961

More Miles Davis

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Allow me to transcribe my notes:

Both Sides

The right sound — big, rich, tubey and real. Transparent. Rich, smooth, balanced. Horn gets huge and loud the right way. Piano is full. Solid bass.

No need to pick nits.

The Dog that Didn’t Bark in the Night

Normally our notes for the sound of the records we are shooting out against each other fall into two categories: what the record is doing right and what the record is doing wrong. You’ll note that in this case there was nothing wrong about the sound to write about.

I could have found fault somewhere, but when a specific pressing is so clearly superior to its competition, what’s the point?

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Stravinsky / The Firebird – Dorati

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Firebird

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  • One listen to either side of this pressing and you’ll see why this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time
  • The Heavy Vinyl reissues – at 45 or 33, on one disc or four, makes no difference – barely begin to capture the energy and drive Dorati brings to the work
  • “The magic lies in the elaborate orchestration and the excitingly uneven rhythmic writing. Stravinsky changes the orchestration of his themes at each repetition, breaks them down into their constituent parts, pushes their accents across the bar-line, and moves them out of sync with their own accompaniments.”

Neither side has peak distortion or Inner Groove Distortion of any kind, which is rare for this exceptionally dynamic title in our experience.

Both sides are so clear, ALIVE, and transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

This pressing boasts rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. Both sides really get quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy. (more…)