Better Records

Junior Wells – It’s My Life

More Electric Blues

More Soul, Blues, and Rhythm and Blues

  • A superb copy of Junior Wells’ recording from Chicago in ’66 (this is the read deal, folks!) with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound – just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Bigger and bolder, with more bass, more energy, and more of that “you-are-there-immediacy” of a live performance that set the best vintage pressings apart from reissues, CDs, and whatever else might be out there
  • “Cut from the same cloth as Wells’ classic Hoodoo Man Blues LP from the same period, It’s My Life, Baby! captured the Junior Wells-Buddy Guy team in great form, both in the studio and live at Pepper’s Lounge on 43rd Street. This album tends a bit more towards slow blues, including a rare example of Wells’ chromatic harmonica playing on ‘Slow, Slow,’ but there are fine uptempo pieces…”

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Julie London / Your Number Please – Skip the Mono

More of the Music of Julie London

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

The mono we played (not pictured) in our shootout did not fare well head to head against the stereo pressings we had on hand.

Yes, it is rich and tubey, and Julie’s voice is solid and full-bodied, but the overall presentation is dark, opaque and small.

How do the mono record lovers of the world find this kind of sound to their liking?  We honestly don’t know.

On today’s modern stereos, the mono pressing leaves a lot to be desired, and for that reason we say Skip the Mono.

For records that we think sound best in mono, click here.

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Got Nice Equipment? It’s a Good First Step, but Only a First Step

stereooldNew to the Blog? Start Here

Nice Equipment Is Only the First Step on the Long Long Road to Good Sound

The audio magazines that their reviewers write for are purveyors of what we consider to be one of the most pernicious falsehoods in all of audio — that buying more expensive equipment is the key to better sound. (Note that is is a falsehood, not a lie; they probably actually believe it.)

From the audiophile rags’ point of view, this makes perfect sense. They extoll the virtues of one piece of sexy hardware after another on page after page of their glossy magazines. The ten bucks a year you pony up to subscribe doesn’t even cover the cost of all that pretty paper. They make their real money by selling advertising to equipment manufacturers, who in turn advertise equipment they want you to buy. What are all the glossy pages of these magazines devoted to? The fawning and credulous discussion of the sexy equipment being advertised.

See how that works? It ain’t rocket science. These magazines have a vested interest in convincing you that the Newer and More Expensive the equipment you own, the better will be the sound in your home.

Wrongheaded Thinking

It’s easily demonstrated how wrongheaded this way of thinking is. If you’ve been in audio for any length of time at all, you know that one bad interconnect can ruin the sound of a stereo. We’ve all been there. All it takes is one little wire — the wrong wire in the wrong place — to make all that expensive equipment sound like shit.

Or a bad room. Or the speakers on the wrong wall. Or VTA too high. Or too low. Or a mismatch between the arm and cartridge. Or a mismatch between the speaker and amp. Or about 68 million other things, any one of which can turn the sound of all that sexy equipment into musically unpleasant dreck.

Suffering Through the Sound

Maybe you haven’t been there but I sure have. I’ve been hearing mega-buck crappy-sounding stereos my whole life, in every showroom in Los Angeles, at every Stereophile show I attended (thankfully I no longer have a need to go to them) and homes throughout the Southland. It’s not news to me that these high-dollar systems rarely sound good. It may come as a surprise to those who prize megabuck equipment, but I’ve suffered through more than my share of bad sound at the hands of gearheads with more money that audio sense.

Why do you think we talk so much on the site about Doing It Yourself? Testing yourself, challenging yourself, trying new things, adjusting this and changing that and seeing what works in your room with your records (which hopefully you bought from us so that we can all be sure they actually sound good).

Because there’s no other way to do it. We want you to have good sound at home so that you can appreciate the good sounding records we sell and continue spending your hard-earned money with us. If your stereo ain’t workin’ right, Hot Stampers won’t fix it. They can help, but they aren’t the solution. You are.

Necessary But Not Sufficient

Good equipment is an important part of proper music reproduction in the home, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

My rule of thumb is that 20% of the sound you hear is the equipment you bought and 80% of the sound comes from what you did with it: how you set it up, what you’ve done to treat your room, how good your electricity is and all the rest. It’s all over the site: here is the best place to see the broad contours of our argument.

These are the kinds of issues we deal with every day. How the stereo is sounding is CRUCIAL to our being able to do our job evaluating various pressings of recordings. We take every aspect of record reproduction very seriously. It’s what pays the bills around here, and we have plenty of bills to pay, so we make sure we are doing everything in our power to insure that the sound is absolutely the best it can be. At these prices it had better be.

On more than one occasion we’ve stopped in the middle of a shootout because the electricity had gone bad and caused the sound to go bad along with it. If you can’t hear the records at their best you’re just wasting your time trying to find Hot Stampers. By definition Hot Stampers have to sound great, and that means the stereo has to be capable of sounding great for us to find them.

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Elvis Presley / From Elvis in Memphis

More Elvis Presley

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elvis Presley

Of the handful of Elvis albums to ever make it to the site this is clearly the critics’ favorite, and one listen will tell you why. This is the album that single-handedly revived Elvis’ fortunes, setting the stage for his record-breaking series of shows in Las Vegas doing pretty much the type of music he had recorded for it. The next year he would go on tour for the first time since 1957 (!).

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Grand Funk – We’re An American Band

More Grand Funk

  • You won’t believe how big, rich and lively this album can sound on a copy this good
  • It’s incredibly tough to find good Grand Funk sound, and it’s even harder to find audiophile quality vinyl, but we’re doing the best we can, folks
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Sonically, the record was sharp and detailed and the band’s playing was far tighter and more accomplished… The album’s title song, an autobiographical account of life on the road written and sung by Brewer, was released in advance of the album and became a gold-selling number one hit, Grand Funk’s first really successful single.”

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Barney Kessel – Vol. 3: To Swing Or Not To Swing

More Barney Kessel

More Contemporary Label Jazz Recordings

  • Vol. 3, To Swing Or Not To Swing finally returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades throughout this early Contemporary MONO pressing – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Tubey Magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom – this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best
  • For some reason, the guitar sound from this era of All Tube Chain Recording seems to have died out with the times – it can only be found on the best of these vintage pressings, like this one
  • 5 stars: “The unusual repertoire on this set … would by itself make this bop/cool set noteworthy. Add to that a very interesting lineup of players (trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, Georgie Auld or Bill Perkins on tenor, pianist Jimmy Rowles, the rhythm guitar of Al Hendrickson, bassist Red Mitchell, and Shelly Manne or Irv Cottler on drums) … and the overall result is a recording highly recommended to fans of straight-ahead jazz.”

Man, this music is a blast when it sounds this good. I don’t think there’s a whole lot you could do to make this music sound any better! It’s one of the best early mono Contemporary LPs we’ve ever played. It’s so Tubey Magical. Kessel’s guitar sound is out of this world.

The music here matches the sound for excellence. The whole band just swings. There’s a real old rag-timey feel to the songs. Look at this list of all-star players: Harry Edison, Jimmy Rowles, Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne — this is some serious jazz talent.

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Letter of the Week – “I took another listen to the Willie Dixon, false alarm, this is an absolute stunning sounding copy…”

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Willie Dixon

Hot Stamper Pressings of Classic Blues Albums

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

Yesterday…

  Hey Tom, 

I finally played the Willie Dixon/Hidden Charms last night, I hear absolutely no difference whatsoever in sound compared to my copy, I’m sending this record back for a full refund.

Today…

“I took another listen to the Willie Dixon, false alarm, this is an absolute stunning sounding copy, definitely more analog sounding than my two copies.”

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Glad you took another listen!

Here are some examples of customers who took another listen and became more aware of the superior sound of their Hot Stamper pressings the second time around.

TP


FURTHER READING

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Peter Gabriel – Some People Have No Business Reviewing His Records

More of the Music of Peter Gabriel

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Peter Gabriel

This commentary was written many years ago after a review I spotted online prompted me to crack open one of the Classic Records 200 gram Peter Gabriel titles and play it. Let’s just say the results were less than pleasing to the ear.

Bernie Grundman had worked his “magic” again and as usual I was at a loss to understand how anyone could find his mastering in any way an improvement over the plain old pressings, even the domestic ones.

I then had a discussion with a reviewer for an audiophile web magazine concerning his rave review for the Peter Gabriel records that Classic pressed.

I just now played one, and it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. But of course it’s not right either.

Not surprisingly, reviewers have a tendency not to notice these things. I’m not exactly sure how these people are qualified to review records when the most obvious tonal balance problems seem to go unnoticed. The Classic is brighter and less rich. This is not the right sound for this music and does the album no favors.

That’s Bernie for you. After all these years. no amount of mischief he does for Classic should surprise me.

A Bad Record Tells You… What?

Which brings up something else that never fails to astonish me. How can an equipment review be trusted when the reviewer uses bad sounding records to evaluate the equipment he is testing? Aren’t we justified in assuming that if said reviewer can’t tell he is listening to a bad record, he probably can’t tell whether the equipment under review is any good either?

Here is a good example of a reviewer raving about a mediocre-at-best pressing in an equipment review.

A bad record tells you nothing about the equipment it is playing on. Worse, it might complement the faults of the gear and end up sounding tonally correct. If you use So Long So Wrong as a test disc, what are you testing for, the hyped-up vocals or the harmonically-challenged guitars?

Tower of Power – Back To Oakland

More Tower of Power

More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • With solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish, this copy was doing just about everything right
  • Our Hot Stamper pressings are rich, warm and dynamic, with plenty of Analog Tubey Magic
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, presence and energy on this copy than anything else around, and that’s especially true for whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently being foisted on an unsuspecting record buying public
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Back to Oakland had tougher, funkier and better-produced cuts, stronger vocals from Lenny Williams, and included an excellent ballad in ‘Time Will Tell,’ and a rousing tempo in ‘Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream).'”

We love this funky music and have long been delighted with how wonderful the best pressings can sound. This may be Tower of Power’s best; certainly it’s one of their most consistent and well-recorded.

When you hear it on a Hot Stamper like this, there is little in the recording to criticize. The brass is textured with just the right amount of bite (but not to the point of sounding gritty). In addition, the soundstage is wide and three-dimensional, with the kind of transparency that allows you to hear into the music all the way to the back wall of the studio (assuming your system resolves that kind of information).

The most obvious effect is that all the horns are separated out from one another, not all smeared together, with plenty of space around the drums, guitars and vocals as well. The sound is freely flowing from the speakers, not stuck inside them.

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Bob Dylan – Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (Original Soundtrack Recording)

More Bob Dylan

More Soundtrack Albums

  • An incredible copy of Dylan’s 1973 soundtrack album with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • This one is doing practically everything right – it’s bigger, bolder, richer and more clean, clear and open than almost anything else we played
  • Includes the hit “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which charted on the Top 20 and would be famously covered in later years by the likes of Eric Clapton and Guns N’ Roses
  • “This record also proved that Dylan could shoehorn his music within the requirements of a movie score without compromising its content or quality, something that only the Beatles, unique among rock artists, had really managed to do up to that time…”

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