Hot Stampers

One of Our Favorite Engineers – Kenneth Wilkinson

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KENNETH WILKINSON is one of our favorite engineers. Click on the link to find our in-stock Kenneth Wilkinson engineered albums, along with plenty of our famous commentaries. 

Recordings made in Kingsway Hall

Jethro Tull – Aqualung – One of the Worst Releases on DCC (and That’s Saying Something!)

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another DCC LP debunked.

As bad as the MoFi is, the DCC is even worse. Murky and bloated, to my ear it does almost nothing right, not on vinyl anyway. I’ll bet you the DCC Gold CD is better, and it’s certainly nothing to write home about. 

Our Hot Stamper commentary below sorts out the DCC, the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl pressing and the MoFi Half-Speed Mastered LP, as well as British and domestic originals.

We love this album and we’ve played every kind of pressing we could get our hands on. The winner? Read on!

Over the course of the last 25 years we was wrong three ways from Sunday about our down-and-out friend Aqualung here. We originally liked the MoFi. When the DCC 180g came along we liked that one better, and a few years back I was somewhat enamored with some original British imports.

Our first big shootout disabused us of any notion that the British originals were properly mastered. As we noted in our Hot Stamper commentary, “The original Brits we played were pretty hopeless too: tubey magical but midrangy, bass-shy and compressed.” Another myth bites the dust.

(The same is true for Thick As A Brick; the best domestic copies are much more energetic and tonally correct.)

Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Solti on Decca/London

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

Deep bass; rich, smooth strings, lots of lovely hall space – this copy was right up there with the best we heard, and clearly won the shootout for side two. You will hear immediately why this side two could not be beat – it’s wonderful. (more…)

Dave Brubeck – Time Out

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  • An exceptional pressing – Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) on side one, an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two, big and open, with note-like bass and huge amounts of studio space
  • Original Six Eye stereo LPs in playable condition are getting tough to find nowadays – even this one has issues
  • 5 stars on Allmusic, an audiophile favorite and a great example of what’s phenomenally good about 1959 All Tube Analog recordings
  • “Dave Brubeck’s defining masterpiece, Time Out is one of the most rhythmically innovative albums in jazz history, the first to consciously explore time signatures outside of the standard 4/4 beat or 3/4 waltz time.”

Spacious and transparent, this copy has the big three-dimensional soundstage that makes this record such a joy to listen to. The piano has weight and heft, the drums are big and dynamic, and everything is relaxed and sweet — in short, this copy is doing pretty much everything we want a top quality Time Out to do.  (more…)

Van Halen on DCC – Not My Idea of Good Sound

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Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing and another DCC LP debunked.

As I recall it isn’t very good — thick and dull and closed-in; in other words, boring — but I played it quite a while ago. If your copy sounds better, more power to you, but I bet it doesn’t. Any copy we sell is guaranteed to blow the doors off of it — as well as any other pressing you own — or your money back.

Go ahead and turn up your nose if you like, but this music is widely considered classic rock by now. I’m not going to pretend it’s on a level with After The Gold Rush or Zep II, but this album does exactly what it’s trying to do — it really ROCKS.

Donn Landee

Credit DONN LANDEE (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records.

Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.

Badly Mastered LPs

Visit our Hall of Shame to see what are in our opinion some of the worst sounding records ever made.

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more intolerable.

Andre Previn & His Pals’ West Side Story – Our Shootout Winner

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

This superb sounding Black Label Stereo Contemporary pressing has close to Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on side two. Side one earned a Double Plus, which makes this by far the best copy to ever hit the site and a great way to hear this classic piano trio swingin’ in 1959. This is yet another Demo Disc for Contemporary, more brilliant work from house engineer Roy Dunann. 

One of Previn’s best piano trio records, this album was recorded in 1959 by Roy Dunaan when he was at the height of his engineering powers. You will not find many piano trio records with sound better than this.

Note on the vinyl condition: it’s rare to find any Black Label original in audiophile playing condition, and almost none will play better than the Mint Minus Minus this one plays.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Something’s Coming 
Jet Song 
Tonight 
I Feel Pretty

Side Two

Gee, Officer Krupke! 
Cool 
Maria 
America

AMG Review

The last of a series of showtune albums recorded by the trio of pianist Andre Previn, bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Shelly Manne finds the all-star group focusing on the music of West Side Story. As usual, the melodies are treated respectfully yet swingingly, and Andre Previn in particular excels in this setting. Recommended.

With the Beatles – The MoFi Half Speed Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C+

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The Mobile Fidelity pressing of this album has so many problems it would take an hour to describe them all. Suffice it to say, it’s thinner and brighter, with voices that are grittier and grainier. The overall effect is the sinking feeling that you are listening to a cheap reissue and not the real thing. Don’t the Beatles sound better than this? To be fair, some tracks are okay, others a disaster.

If you own the MoFi, play it. Listen to it carefully. Make notes of which songs sound better than others and why. That’s how we spend our days, evaluating the relative merits of various pressings, and it’s that and that alone that has given us the critical listening skills necessary to recognize and appreciate the differences among the records we play.

One of the biggest problems with the average Parlophone copy is just the reverse of the MOFI. They tend to have rolled off highs, which emphasizes the harshness in the upper midrange and causes a loss of transparency. (The best Hot Stamper copies are of course as smooth, sweet, and transparent as they come.) Even with those shortcomings though, I would still rather listen to a typical Parlophone pressing. I wouldn’t be frustrated by the sound of somebody fooling with the EQ and screwing it up. 

Generic Audiophile Bashing

The most serious fault of the typical Half-Speed Mastered LP is not incorrect tonality or poor bass definition, although you will have a hard time finding one that doesn’t suffer from both.

It’s Dead As A Doornail sound, plain and simple, a subject we discuss in greater depth here.

And most Heavy Vinyl pressings coming down the pike these days are as guilty of this sin as their audiophile forerunners from the ’70s and ’80s. The average Heavy Vinyl LP I throw on my turntable sounds like it’s playing in another room. What audiophile in his right mind could possibly find that quality appealing? But there are scores of companies turning out this crap; somebody must be buying it.

Earth, Wind, Fire and the Neverending Search for Balance

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises. As is usually the case when plowing through a big pile of copies, we learned pretty quickly that what makes the sound work is having these two qualities in balance:

1) Richness / Smoothness 
2) Transparency

When the vocals are thin and pinched, as they often are, the resulting edginess and harshness in the midrange take all the fun out of the music. Every track has group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color.

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices (and brass) start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

But richness and fullness are not enough. They must be balanced with TRANSPARENCY. (more…)

Listening for Harmonically Correct Acoustic Guitars on America’s Debut

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo fidelity. As it says below, most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. They often sound veiled and dull, and on a copy with a bit too much top end they will have an unnatural hi-fi-ish sparkle.

(This kind of sparkle can be heard on practically every record Mobile Fidelity made in the ’70s and ’80s. Tea for the Tillerman, Sundown, Year of the Cat, Finger Paintings, Byrd at the Gate, Quarter Moon in a 10 Cent Town — the list would be very long indeed, and these are just the records with prominent acoustic guitars!) 

The key song on side one that we use to test is Three Roses. There are three sonically-separated individuals each playing six string acoustic guitars, and when this side is cut right the guitars sound just gorgeous: sweet, with all their harmonic structures intact. (It’s also my favorite song on side one.) (more…)