audiophile vinyl

George Benson – Breezin’ – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Excellent sound for George Benson’s 1976 classic Breezin’! This copy should blow the doors off your old copy or any MoFi pressing — guaranteed. It’s got all the elements this smooth masterpiece needs to come to life today, almost 40 years later if you can believe it. There’s tons of energy, strong presence, excellent bass and a huge soundfield with real depth. You can hear right into the music, something just not possible on most copies out there.   

This album features the huge hit “This Masquerade” and lots of other strong material as well. Benson is at the top of his game, with blazing guitar lines accompanied by his scat vocals at many times. No one else ever did music like this so well again, in our humble opinion.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Breezin’ 
This Masquerade 
Six to Four

Side Two

Affirmation 
So This Is Love? 
Lady

AMG Review

All of a sudden, George Benson became a pop superstar with this album, thanks to its least representative track. Most of Breezin’ is a softer-focused variation of Benson’s R&B/jazz-flavored CTI work, his guitar as assured and fluid as ever with Claus Ogerman providing the suave orchestral backdrops and his crack then-working band (including Ronnie Foster on keyboards and sparkplug Phil Upchurch on rhythm guitar) pumping up the funk element. Yet it is the sole vocal track (his first in many years), Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade” — where George unveiled his new trademark, scatting along with a single-string guitar solo — that reached number ten on the pop singles chart and drove the album all the way to number one on the pop (!) LP chart.

Count Basie – 88 Basie Street – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame

This is a Top Basie Big Band title in every way — musically, sonically, you name it, this album has got it going on! With 18 pieces in the studio this album can be a real powerhouse — if you have the right copy — and this two-pack with White Hot Stamper sound for each side shows you just how lively and dynamic this music can be. It’s got Demo Disc qualities, no doubt about it.

We’ve become huge fans of these Basie Big Band records. Allen Sides knew just how to record this stuff by the time Basie came around to Pablo — on the best pressings you can hear that this is big band music recorded just right. The sound is clean and clear with excellent transparency and the kind of separation between the instruments that lets you appreciate the contributions of each player. The 3+ sides here are knockouts, with real strength down low, nice extension up top, and incredible clarity and transparency. Play this one good and loud and put yourself front and center for a rip-roarin’ performance led by the king Bill Basie! (more…)

Chet Baker, Art Pepper, Phil Urso – Picture Of Heath – A Killer Copy from 2005

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame

This is an exceptionally nice original Pacific Jazz Black Label Mono LP with SUPERB SOUND. Pure Pleasure just did a 180g reissue of this album, but the real thing is THE REAL THING! This copy has the PRESENCE, the DYNAMICS and the LIFE of real jazz. I can’t think of a more fun west coast jazz session that sounds as good outside of the best Contemporary records. This one gets a top recommendation. 

Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel – Cisco Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

This pressing beats the typical Capitol LP, which is an aggressive, grainy piece of crap. Take my word for it: I easily have 30-40 copies of this album, and I can tell you from years of experience that it is extremely difficult to find good sounding pressings of this music. Cisco has done a service to the audiophile community by producing a very enjoyable LP of this, Linda’s masterpiece. It’s music that belongs in your collection. (If you have the bread, check out our Hot Stamper copies, guaranteed to kill any modern pressing — including this one — or your money back.) 

Cisco’s verison is completely free from compression of any kind, and sometimes that works in favor of the overall sound and sometimes it doesn’t. I may have additional commentary discussing these issues down the road, but for now let’s just say you will have a hard time finding a better copy of Heart Like A Wheel on vinyl. And of course, virtually no Capitol pressing is ever going to be as quiet as one of these lovely 180g RTI LPs.

Bryan Ferry – The Bride Stripped Bare – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

It’s been years since I last played this album, and I’m happy, ecstatic even, to report that it sounds far better than I remember it sounding. In the old days I recall it as somewhat dry, flat and transistory. Now it’s BIG and BOLD, revealing a band that’s on fire in the studio. 

This White Hot side two had by far the most energy of any side we played, showing us just what a monster rocker this album can be when it’s mastered and pressed right. The reviews were mixed when the album was released in 1978 but time has been kind to it — after hearing the killer copies I would rank it up at the top with the best of Ferry’s and Roxy’s work.

The first three tracks are uptempo barn burners sure to get you out of any funk you may find yourself in, day or night.

With a sonic grade of A++ side one was nearly as good! The Tubey Magic on this side is much more pronounced than it is on side two, which has more of a clean, spacious sound, a better mix to be sure.

We were a bit surprised to find that the domestic copies we played were clearly better sounding than the UK imports. It may be counterintuitive but these are the kinds of things you find out when doing shootouts. We have little use for intuitions (UK recording, UK pressing) and rules of thumb (original equals better). Hard data — the kind you get from actually playing the records — trumps them all.

AGAIG Side Two

This side two has it all: the kind of transparency that allows you to hear into the soundfield like never before; presence and immediacy in Ferry’s breathy, emotional vocals; air and ambience around all the instruments; and especially Rick Marotta’s super-punchy drums, so high up in the mix. That front and center snare is the sound we love here at Better Records!

This side one also had REAL ENERGY and dynamics not found on other pressings. With dynamics AND the warmth and richness found here, we’re pretty sure this copy can’t be beat. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture on Telarc UHQR

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing.

This is what we had to say about the UHQR back in 2005 or so:

Having played this record all the way through, I have to comment on some of its sonic qualities. It’s about the most dynamic recording I’ve ever heard. This was the promise of digital, which was never really delivered. On this record, that promise has been fulfilled. The performance is also one of the best on record. It’s certainly the most energetic I can remember. 

[Now that we’ve heard the best pressings of the Alwyn recording on Decca I would have to say that Alwyn’s is certainly every bit as energetic if not more so and dramatically better sounding as well.]

They only made 1000 of these, which makes it 5 times more rare than any MOFI UHQR. I had a sealed copy of this record on the site not too long ago. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a sealed copy, as open ones are hard enough to come by.

The Who – Live at Leeds – Universal Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame Pressing

Universal Records 180 gram LP. Flat as a pancake sound. The CD almost has to be better.

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers. 

Red Mitchell Quartet – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

TWO SUPERB SIDES on quiet vinyl. This stunning copy of this Better Records fave has some of the best upright bass sound we’ve heard; it’s welll-defined with texture and weight. It’s also unbelievable dynamic and lively. The clarity and transparency are mindblowing here. We went crazy over the huge soundfield on this copy — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, and then some.

We love the sound of Contemporary Records — it’s our favorite jazz label by a long shot. Roy DuNann always seemed to get The Real Sound out of the sessions he recorded — amazingly realistic drum sound; full-bodied, breathy horns; lots of top end extension; deep, note-like bass; weighty piano, studio ambience, three-dimensionality, and on and on.

The Sound of the Best Copies

Let’s face it: many reissues of this 1957 recording — this pressing is on the yellow ’70s label — have a veiled, dull quality to their sound. When they don’t, man, they can really beat the pants off even the best originals.

We get Black Label original Contemporary pressings in all the time, but few of them are mastered right and most never make it to the site. Some are pure muck. Some have bass so bloated that it’s hard to believe anyone would ever take that kind of sound seriously.

Don’t buy into that record collecting slash audiophile canard that Original Equals Better. That’s bullshit. Records don’t work that way, and anyone with two good ears, two good speakers and a decent-sized record collection should have learned that lesson a long time ago. The fact that a minority of audiophiles and record collectors actually do understand these things is a sad commentary on the state of reproduction in the home. But that’s another story for another day. (more…)

Stoneground Play It Loud – Bad Direct Disc Music & Sound

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Sonic Grade: F

An awful Direct to Disc recording. The bad sound and pointless music — this is the kind of crap we audiophiles used to put up with back in the ’70s before we had much of a clue — means that it clearly belongs in only one place on our site: the Hall of Shame

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu – A Tale of Two MoFi Pressings

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Sonic Grade: F (or not!)

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

Just for fun about 10 years ago I pulled out a MoFi pressing of Deja Vu I had laying around. I hadn’t played their version in a long time. I could have gone a lot longer without playing it, because what I heard was pretty disappointing. Playing their record confirmed all my prejudices. The highs sizzled and spit. The heart of the midrange was recessed and sour.

Know what it reminded me of? A bad Japanese pressing. (Since most of them are pretty bad I could have just said a typical Japanese pressing, but that’s another story for another day.)

And if that’s not bad enough, the bass definition disappeared. Bass notes and bass parts that were clearly audible and easily followed on our Hot Stamper copies were murky, ill-defined mud on the MoFi.

If you own the MoFi you owe it to yourself to hear a better sounding version. You really don’t know what you’re missing.

But Then, A Few Years Later We Played This Copy…

Hot Stamper Sound on the MoFi pressing of Deja Vu, can it be possible? I have NEVER heard the MoFi sound this good, not even close. This just KILLS the other copies I’ve heard. I wrote a scathing review of their badly mastered pressing which you can read below, and I still stand behind every word, because this copy is not your average MoFi. The average one still sucks. What we are selling here is a FLUKE. Here is the story from our Hot Stamper shootout we just did.

This week we picked up a very clean looking MoFi pressing and decided to throw it in the shootout just for fun. We were shocked — this one actually sounded good! Not as amazing as our best Hot Stampers, but much better than we had expected. We checked our old copy and heard the same bad sound described above. 

Pressing variations exist for audiophile records as well, and here was another example. It just goes to show that nothing short of playing a record will tell you how it sounds — except for reading our website! Who besides us could spend so much time playing so many bad records? It’s a dirty job, but we’re happy to do it. Hearing one amazing record makes up for playing 10 bad ones, so we’ll keep at it.

A classic case of Live and Learn.

Keep in mind that the only way you can never be wrong about your records is to simply avoid playing them. If you have better equipment than you did, say, five or ten 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 just hoped were better.