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Joni Mitchell – For The Roses – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame that sold for $600 in 2008.

OFF THE CHARTS breathiness, delicacy, warmth and sweetness, and that’s just Joni’s voice. The sound of the ensemble throughout is amazingly natural, the recording so spacious. You may have noticed that there were no Joni records on our Top 100 List, but after hearing this wonderful LP on the original white label Asylum pressing we knew we had to add it to that very special list. [Since replaced by other titles.]

Let’s face it, we love Blue but it has its share of problems, as does Ladies of the Canyon. Court and Spark is up at the top up the list as well, but Roses seems to have the most folky recording purity. Perhaps the engineers saw this as an opportunity to address the problems with Blue on this, the followup. By the time she had fully adopted her new jazzy style with the album after this one, Court — with the multi-tracking that that music required — some of the recording quality got lost in the quest for slicker production values.

AGAIG on Side One

This copy has it all: the kind of transparency that allows you to see into the soundfield like never before; presence and immediacy in Joni’s breathy, emotional vocals; air and ambience around all the instruments; and tubey magical guitars. (Listen especially to the acoustic guitar on Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire. That’s the sound we love here at Better Records! Even if your system is all transistor (ouch), that guitar will sound like you own the most tubey magical equipment in the world.)

This copy also had REAL ENERGY and dynamics not found on the typical pressing. With dynamics AND the warmth and richness found here, we’re pretty sure this copy can’t be beat on side one.

Master Tape Sound

Side one has the best sound we have ever heard on a Joni album. We have an expression that we reserve for this kind of record — Master Tape Sound. When you drop the needle on a record this good, you feel like you just threaded up the master tape and hit play. You become so totally IMMERSED in the musical experience that you forget you’re listening to a record. You feel as though you’re hearing the music exactly the way the musicians intended it to sound. You can’t ask for more than that.

Side two is nearly as magical, lacking only that last bit of presence that side one had for Joni’s voice, and adding the slightest bit of grain, a major problem for most copies we played. (If you’ve played any early Joni records you know that gritty grainy vocals are the rule, not the exception.) The sound is transparent, with lovely depth and real delicacy to the guitar.

Making Audio Progress – Step One: Weed Out the Heavy Vinyl

 

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In his latest letter Dan tells us of his disappointment with the new reissues he’s been trying:

… And thanks again for that amazing “Who’s Next” record. It was startling to hear the difference between that and the Classic – and that was one of the better modern audiophile records!I can’t tell you how many modern reissues I’ve bought over the past couple months that have lost, and lost badly, to just my one single original or early pressing of an album. Reissues by AC/DC, The Who, ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones, and Patti Smith have all failed miserably against my merely average sounding originals.
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Barney Kessel – Barney Kessel Plays Carmen (Stereo) – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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More Barney Kessel Plays Carmen (Stereo)

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

This original Black Label Contemporary stereo LP has a STUNNING side two! Barney Kessel Plays Carmen is one of our favorite jazz guitar recordings of all time, and on a copy like this the sound is absolutely KILLER. 

As you can see from looking at the condition notes, this copy is quieter than any other we have listed to from our recent shootout. Fifties jazz doesn’t play much better than this copy right here. (more…)

Art Pepper – Friday Night At The Village Vanguard – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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Friday Night At The Village Vanguard

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

This Original Contemporary LP has EXCELLENT MUSIC AND SOUND! The real highligh of this volume is the version of Caravan — just listen to Art playing both alto AND tenor! There’s also a great version of Pepper’s bossa-influenced track Labyrinth. The sound is rich and full-bodied. Listen to the cymbal crashes to hear how extended the top end is. The piano has real weight to it, but the sax sounds a little bit compressed and the bass could be a bit tighter.

Marty Paich Big Band – What’s New

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What’s New

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

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

Albert Marx was the producer of the original sessions back in 1957. Fast forward to the ’80s and Marx is now the owner of his very own jazz label, Discovery Records. Who would know the sound of the original tapes better than he? Working with Dave Ellsworth at KM, Marx has here produced one of the better jazz reissues we’ve heard in years.

As we never tire of saying, Old and New can sometimes work extremely well together. What’s New is another remarkable Demo Disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, with the added benefit of mastering on the more modern cutting equipment of the early ’80s. We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 35 years ago, not the bad modern mastering of today. (more…)

The Beatles on Vinyl – An Audiophile Wake Up Call

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The sound of the best pressings of The Beatles — when cleaned with the Walker Enzyme fluids on the Odyssey machine — are truly revelatory.

So much of what holds their records back is not bad mastering or poor pressing quality or problems with the recording itself. It’s getting the damn vinyl clean. (It’s also helpful to have high quality playback equipment that doesn’t add to the inherent limitations of the recordings.)

Know why you never hear Beatles vinyl playing in stereo stores or audio shows? (Love doesn’t count; give me a break.)

Because they’re TOO DAMN HARD to reproduce. You have to have seriously tweaked, top-quality, correct-sounding equipment — and just the right pressings, natch — to get The Beatles’ music to sound right, and that’s just not the kind of stuff they have at stereo stores and audio shows. (Don’t get me started.)
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Dave Mason – Alone Together

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  • This outstanding copy of Mason’s Masterpiece boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Listen to how big and rich the dynamic chorus gets on the first track, Only You Know and I Know – what a thrill to hear it like that
  • A killer Bruce Botnick recording – Tubey Magical Analog, smooth and natural, with the whole production sitting on a rock solid bottom-end foundation
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Alone Together represents Dave Mason at his peak… everything comes together perfectly.”

Before I get too far into the story of the sound, I want to say that this album appears to be criminally underrated as music nowadays, having fallen from favor with the passage of time.

It is a surely a masterpiece that belongs in any Rock Collection worthy of the name. Every track is good, and most are amazingly good. There’s no filler here. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Coda – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

TWO GREAT SIDES and QUIET VINYL on this Swan Song pressing, one of the few good sounding copies we’ve ever played. We just sat down with the dozen-plus copies of Coda that made it through our preliminary round and only found a few that were worth writing home around. Most copies are too dry, grainy, and/or dull to get excited about, but this one is a MONSTER.

The best material on here — We’re Gonna Groove, Poor Tom, and the great live take of I Can’t Quit You Baby, just to name a few of our favorites — sounds darn good.

Of course, this probably isn’t — and shouldn’t be — anyone’s favorite Zep album. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. Drop the needle on the smoldering version of I Can’t Quit You Baby and I’m pretty sure you’ll be a happy man. (more…)

Julie London – Make Love To Me

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

This outstanding original Liberty Turquoise mono pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) grades, or close to them, on both sides. Thanks to superb engineering and vintage All Tube mastering, this 1957 LP is wonderfully rich and sweet, with a breathy, intimate Julie London performing live in your listening room. It’s also pressed on unusually quiet vinyl – Mint Minus Minus, with no issues to speak of – they don’t come quieter. (more…)

The Everly Brothers – The Very Best of the Everly Brothers – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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More The Very Best of the Everly Brothers

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

This compilation contains some real Warners recordings (from after 1960, when they signed with the label) mixed with some re-recordings of their best classic Cadence material, to make an album with as many hits and great songs as a single album can hold.  

In stereo, on the original WB Gold Label, with really quiet vinyl — this is the one!

It took us about five years to find the records for this shootout. Not sure when the next one will be, but we’re pretty sure it won’t be any time soon.

Side Two

A++, lots of tubes in the 1964 mastering chain mean this one is likely to be rich and sweet, and sure enough it is. This is clearly the right sound for this music, although there is occasional evident smear and honk in the midrange. Great energy though.

Side One

A+ to A++. The sound varies quite a bit from track to track. Some songs are too thin and clean, others fare better with this EQ. Overall this side should sound good on tubier systems. Good energy and a solid bottom end are pluses here. (more…)