obsessed

The albums you see here played an important role in helping me improve my stereo, some of them starting as far back as the mid-’70s.

By the 2000s, we had a heavily-treated, dedicated room, and later still a custom built studio. The challenges posed by these recordings were instrumental in helping us make improvements in every aspect of playback.

The better the stereo got, the more these records showed us just how amazing the right pressings (we call them Hot Stampers) could sound.

Having played so many copies of these albums for so many years, I credit them with teaching me most what I know about records and equipment.

Elton John / Honky Chateau – Salvation Is a Great Test

More of the Music of Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Honky Chateau

More Records that Are Good for Testing Big, Clear and Lively Choruses

We award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus. [We no longer give Four Pluses out as a matter of policy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t come across records that deserve them from time to time.)

When I hear a record with a side this phenomenally good, with the stereo tuned-up and tweaked within an inch of its life to reproduce the album at the highest level I can manage, I will sometimes sit my wife down and play her a track or two. I did it for a Four Plus Deja Vu earlier this year [2016] as a matter of fact, playing Country Girl: Whiskey Boot Hill on side two, with that crazy HUGE organ blasting out of the right speaker — what a thrill!

For this record I played her Salvation, with one huge chorus following another, like powerful waves crashing on the shore, until Elton takes a deep breath and belts out the final, biggest chorus, hitting his peak an octave higher and taking the song to a level neither one of us had ever experienced. We followed it up with the lovely Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, and that was about as much Elton John live in my listening room at practically concert hall levels we could take in one sitting.

Hearing Elton with such energy, standing right in front of use, with instruments and singers encircling him from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, was so powerful and immersive it left us both with tears in our eyes.

That’s what gets you a Fourth Plus around these parts. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Rubber Soul

More of the Music of Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul Is a Record We’ve Been Obsessed With for a Very Long Time

After playing so many copies of this record over the last few years, all of us here at Better Records have come to appreciate just how wonderful an album Rubber Soul really is. It has 14 fairly compact, well-structured, well-arranged pop songs, each of which is a gem in its own right. It reminds me a bit of the second album (With The Beatles) in that respect — short and to the point, get in and get out. 

But the second album does not feature acoustic guitars the way Rubber Soul does. From an audiophile point of view, the strumming of those amazingly Tubey Magical acoustic guitars is in large part what makes Rubber Soul such a special recording. (For more records that are good for testing how much Tubey Magic their acoustic guitars have, click here.)

But what we’ve noticed only recently [recently as in about 15 years ago] is how much the tambourine is used. It’s all over this album, and the good news is that most of the time it sounds great. There are other high frequency percussion instruments — shakers and the like — and between the tambourine and all the rest there’s just a lot of percussive energy on most of the songs that really carries them along.

As far as I am concerned, this could be called The Tambourine Album. No other Beatles album features that instrument so boldly in the mix and builds so many songs around it.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Drive My Car

Mobile Fidelity made a mess of this song on their Half-Speed Mastered release. They took out far too much upper midrange and top end.

What drives the energy of the song are the cow bell, the drums and other percussion. Instead of a scalpel Mobile Fidelity took a hatchet to this slightly bright track, leaving a dull, lifeless, boring mess. Some Parlophone copies may be a little bright and lack bass, but they still manage to convey the energy of the song. The purple label Capitols can also be quite good. A bit harsher and spittier, yes, but in spite of these shortcomings they communicates the music.

As much as I might like some of the MoFi Beatle records, and even what MoFi did with some of the other tracks on Rubber Soul, they sure sucked the life out of Drive My Car. We all remember how much fun that song was when it would come on the radio. Playing it on a very high quality stereo should make it more fun, not less. If you’ve got a Rubber Soul with a Drive My Car that’s no fun, it’s time to get another one.

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Sinatra At The Sands on Dahlquist DQ-10s – My Neophyte Audiophile Mind Is Blown

More of the Music of Frank Sinatra

Making Audio Progress

Back in the early ’70s this was actually the album that first introduced me to honest-to-goodness “audiophile” sound.  

I was at my local stereo store listening to speakers one day, and the salesman made a comment that the speakers we were listening to (the old Infinity Monitors with the Walsh tweeter) sounded “boxy.” I confessed to him that I didn’t actually know what that meant or what it would sound like if it weren’t boxy. 

So he hooked up a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10s and put Sinatra at the Sands on. I was amazed at how the sound just floated in the room, free from the speakers, presenting an image that was as wide and deep as the showroom we were in. That speaker may have many flaws, but boxiness is definitely not one of them.

This description is pretty close to what I thought I heard all those years ago

The presence and immediacy here are staggering. Turn it up and Frank is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. Very few records out there offer the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing.

This vintage stereo LP also has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from the later reissues. As good as some of them can be, this one is dramatically more real sounding. It gives you the sense that Frank Sinatra is right in front of you.

He’s no longer a recording — he’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. His voice is so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

Or so I thought at the time.

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The Yes Album – What a Recording!

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Yes Album Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Yes Album

At its best, this album is a Big Speaker Prog-Rock opus with tremendous power and dynamic range, but it takes a special pressing like this one to really bring it to life. 

These guys — and by that I mean this particular iteration of the band, the actual players that were involved in the making of this album — came together for the first time and created the sound of Yes on this very album, rather aptly titled when you think about it.

With the amazing Eddie Offord at the board, as well as the best batch of songs ever to appear on a single Yes album, they produced both their sonic and musical masterpiece — good news for audiophiles with Big Speakers!

Drop the needle on this bad boy and you will find yourself on a Yes journey the likes of which you have never known. And that’s what I’m in this audiophile game for. The Heavy Vinyl crowd can have their dead-as-a-doornail, wake-me-when-it’s-over pressings that play quietly. I couldn’t sit through one with a gun to my head.

This Copy Prog Rocks

Both sides have MASTER TAPE SOUND or something close to it! They’re rich and full-bodied with lots of punch and plenty of WHOMP. The guitars are Tubey Magical with a fluid sound that takes the brilliant solos of Mr Steve Howe to a whole new level.

The transparency is also mindblowing — you can easily pick out each multi-tracked voice and follow it throughout the course of a song.

The cymbal crashes are BIG and POWERFUL with correct extension. The tonality on both sides is Right On The Money.

The organ and synths sound amazingly real. Starship Troopers will blow your mind on this copy!

The Yes Album – What to Listen For

Here are the main qualities we listen for when we shootout Yes records:

1. Dynamics – The best copies have amazing dynamics. Some parts of this album should be STARTLING in their power. There is a fair amount of compression on this recording in places, don’t get me wrong, but on the right copies many passages of this music will have tremendous life and energy.

2. Smoothness – This album can be very harsh and unpleasant if the upper midrange is boosted at all, or lacks a full lower midrange to balance it out. The last thing in the world you want is a bright, harsh Yes record.

3. Bass – Bass definition and weight are CRUCIAL to the sound of this record. The thin-sounding copies rob this music of much of its POWER and are downgraded severely for it.

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10cc – Is There a Better Sounding Record on the Site?

More of the Music of 10cc

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of 10cc

Yet Another Record We’re Obsessed With

On any given day a White Hot side one of The Original Soundtrack could very well be the best sounding record on the site.

“On any given day” being a day when we don’t have a hot German copy of Dark Side of the Moon to offer, or a killer Eagles first album, or a top copy of the self-titled BS&T, or an RL Zep II, or a White Hot Teaser and the Firecat.

Most days we don’t have such records on the site, and on those days this 10cc album is a recording Tour De Force that would be bigger, bolder, more dynamic, and more powerful than anything we could throw against it.
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Pink Floyd – Way Back in 2007 We Discovered the Hottest Stampers of Them All

Reviews and Commentaries for Meddle

Reviews and Commentaries for Pink Floyd

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

Want to find your own shootout winner? Scroll to the bottom to see our advice on doing just that.

This review from 2007 describes our experience of having stumbled upon the right stampers for Meddle. To this day, only precisely these stampers have won the many shootouts we’ve done for the album over the ensuing years, perhaps as many as a dozen shootouts or more. These stampers are also very hard to find, which is why you have not seen a copy of Meddle hit the site in a while.

To see more albums with one set of stampers that consistently win shootouts, click here.

This Harvest Green Label British Import pressing has a side one that goes FAR beyond anything we’ve ever heard for this album. We had no choice but to award this side one the very rare A with FOUR pluses A++++. We’ve never given any side of any other Pink Floyd record such a high grade, so you can be sure that you’ve never heard them sound this amazing!

We’ve been buying up every clean copy we can find with good stampers since we found our last White Hot Meddle back in March. Unfortunately, most of them left us a bit cold. Most copies just don’t have the kind of magic that we know is on the tape. Beyond that, many of them are too noisy to sell — even the minty looking ones. 

The Best Side One Ever

Side one here is OFF THE CHARTS, OUT OF THIS WORLD, DEMO DISC QUALITY. Everything you’ve ever wanted in a Pink Floyd album is here in generous quantities — transparency, breathy vocals, HUGE bass, warmth, richness, ambience, and depth to the soundfield. A copy like this allows you to hear INTO the music in a way that would never be possible with a lesser pressing. The presence and immediacy are staggering, and the bass is going to blow your mind. There’s TONS of life and energy, and the highs are silky beyond belief. This is tubey magical analog at its best, folks — it’s an A++++ side without doubt. (more…)

Ambrosia – Obsession Is the Best Predictor of Audio Evolution

AMBROSIA is an album we admit to being obsessed with.

It is our contention that to reach the most advanced levels of audio, you have to do two things.

Firstly, you must become obsessed with getting your favorite albums to sound their best, and,

Secondly, you must then turn your obsession with those albums into concrete action.

What kind of action? Finding better sounding pressings and improving your stereo and room.

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 sound better and better the longer you stay active in the hobby.

That’s what makes it fun to play old records: The sound just keeps getting better!

Ambrosia Checks Off Three Big Boxes for Us

It’s a Must Own record.

It’s a Rock and Pop Masterpiece.

And it’s a Personal Favorite of mine.

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Listening in Depth to Sticky Fingers

More of the Music of The Rolling Stones

Reviews and Commentaries for Sticky Fingers

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Sticky Fingers.

Here are some albums on our site you can buy with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

A QUICK TEST: The best copies have texture and real dynamics in the brass. The bad copies are smeared, grainy and unpleasant when the brass comes in. Toss those bad ones and start shooting out the good ones. Believe me, if you find a good one it will be worth all the work.

Even through the noise of the bad vinyl you can hear the audio magic. The sound is exactly what you want from a Stones album: deep punchy bass and dynamic grungy guitars. This record is to be played loud like it says on the inner sleeve and the surface noise is to be ignored. The louder you play it, the less bothersome the noise will be. This album ROCKS and it was not made to be listened to in a comfy chair with a glass of wine.


Track Commentary

Side One

Brown Sugar

If Brown Sugar makes you want to turn up the volume, you have a good copy! That song tends to be just plain irritating on most copies. You need a hot copy to listen to it at the level the Stones want you to: LOUD.

Sway
Wild Horses

Demonstration Quality Sound! Listen to those choruses. When have the Stones’ voices been recorded better? Never! None more times.

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking

My favorite test track for side one. The Stones have never been better. If you have a copy with rock solid bass and a transparent midrange, you have yourself a real Demo Track here. (Assuming you have the big speakers with plenty of power needed to play it.)

You Gotta Move

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Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis

  • You’ll find very good Hot Stamper sound or BETTER on both sides of this early mono pressing – if only a record of this quality could be found on quieter vinyl!
  • One of the greatest duet albums of all time, if not THE GREATEST – a Desert Island Disc to beat them all
  • Problems in the vinyl is sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around it if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz… Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Santana’s first album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a fan of vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals, this 1956 release is an absolute Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Click and pop counters might want to give this one a miss. It’s not as quiet as a modern pressing would be, but it’s as quiet as this title can be found on vintage ’50s Verve vinyl. If you have a top quality, heavily tweaked front end and a quiet cartridge, you might be good to go, but if you are picky about your surfaces, we recommend you give this one a miss.

Those of you looking for a cheaper, quieter alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on one of our Hot Stampers should look into the original Speakers Corner pressing or the CD, both of which we’ve played and both of which are quite good. (more…)

The Hi-Lo’s – A Demo Disc for Tubey Magic

More Pop and Jazz Vocals

  • Superb sound throughout this early 6-Eye Stereo pressing, with both sides earning excellent Double Plus (A++) grades – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • On the right system, the better copies of this All Tube Chain Demo Disc from 1958 will demonstrate the superiority of both the analog medium and the vintage pressing (not to mention the concept of Hot Stampers)
  • With a copy this good, The Hi-Lo’s will appear as living, breathing (albeit disembodied) persons right in your very own listening room – we call that “the breath of life,” and there is plenty to be found on this record
  • “The Hi-Los weren’t really a jazz unit, but more of a pop band that knew how to incorporate jazz’s harmonic sensibilities. This was among their better albums, complete with catchy title.”
  • More records with exceptionally Tubey Magical Sound
  • More reviews of our most Tubey Magical Demo Discs

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