piano-weight

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

  • Outstanding solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout this Black Label original on vinyl that’s about as quiet as they ever play
  • The piano sounds lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom
  • This copy makes it clear that this is a Demo Disc Quality Recording for Contemporary, and that’s saying a lot
  • It’s also our favorite jazz piano performance by Andre Previn on record
  • Only a handful of copies of this title have made it on the site in the last few years – finding them in audiophile condition is getting harder (and more expensive) than ever these days
  • “Previn’s piano is the lead voice and his virtuosity, good taste, melodic improvising, and solid sense of swing are chiefly responsible for the music’s success.”

I have a very long history with this album, going back decades. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned, was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak all the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP (I sold off the old one years ago) but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was.

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Rachmaninoff and Liszt / Favorite Classics for Piano / Pennario on Capitol

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1880)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Records We’ve Discovered

We found White Hot Stamper sound on side two of this solo piano recording.

It’s big, rich and above all REAL sounding, with natural studio space. The legendary soloist Leonard Pennario is presented here at the height of his powers.

Superb choice of material, from Clair De Lune to Liebestraum to the Hungarian Rhapsody No . 2.

On the rare Stereo pressing of course — we want to hear all that studio space reproduced, just as your two ears would have heard it (more or less).

Side One

Graded Super Hot for the huge, solid-sounding piano, played with such verve and skill. The musical power on this side is stupendous. 

Side Two

Even better! No smear, with incredible clarity, and no sacrifice in weight or richness.

All of which adds up to a top quality piano recording in every way.

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Boz Scaggs – Such a Rich, Solid Piano, This Is the Forgotten Sound of the Seventies

xxxReviews and Commentaries for the Music of Boz Scaggs

What do you hear on the best copies? Well, the first thing you hear is a rich, solid piano, a piano sound that’s practically missing from the CBS Half-Speed and 90% of the reissues we’ve played.

Like so many recordings from the ’70s, this album is surprisingly natural sounding. I’ve had the same experience with Billy Joel’s ’70s records. I was surprised to hear how well recorded they are — and how full-bodied the piano is — after I stopped listening to the audiophile and import pressings and went back to the original domestic copies. When you get the right ones — that’s how we see our job, finding the right ones — they’re wonderfully rich and smooth (but not too smooth), the way good analog should sound.

And these were the kinds of records that we audiophiles were complaining about back in the day. We lamented the fact that these pressings weren’t audiophile quality, like the best MoFis and Japanese pressings. Can you imagine?

This is how bad even good equipment must have been back then.

Of course we got what we deserved. We got lots of phony, hyped-up pressings to fool us into thinking we were hearing better sound, when in fact the opposite was true. I regret to say that nothing has changed — most pressings aimed at audiophiles are still mediocre and some of them are surely the worst versions of the album ever produced. That’s pretty bad, wouldn’t you say? (For some unfathomable reason, nobody but us ever does say.)

The other record that immediately comes to mind to show you the sound that’s missing from many pressings, both vintage and modern, is Aja. Here’s what we had to say about it:

If you own the Cisco 180 gram pressing, focus on Victor Feldman’s piano at the beginning of the song. It lacks body, weight and ambience on the new pressing, but any of our better Hot Stamper copies will show you a piano with those qualities in spades. It’s some of my favorite work by the Steely Dan vibesman. The thin piano on the Cisco release must be recognized for what it is: a major error on the part of the mastering engineers.

A full piano is key to the sound of the best pressing of Silk Degrees.

The other thing you hear on the best copies is a smooth, sweet top end, which is likewise missing from the above mentioned pressings.

Most copies lack presence and top end.

Dull, thick, opaque sound is far too common on Silk Degrees, which may account for some audiophiles finding the half-speed preferable.

Of course, our Hot Stampers give you the presence and highs that let this music come to life. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be Hot Stampers now would they?

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Oscar Peterson Trio – West Side Story

More Oscar Peterson Trio

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • A vintage Verve stereo pressing with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them throughout
  • Rich, solid bass; you-are-there immediacy; energy and drive; instruments that are positively jumping out of the speakers – add it all up and you can see that this copy had the sound we were looking for
  • Which wouldn’t mean much if the music wasn’t swingin,’ but it is – every track shows just how good this trio was in 1962
  • Credit engineer Bob Simpson, the man behind the legendary Belafonte at Carnegie Hall live recording from a couple of years before
  • An absolute Must Own – for sound and music, this is our pick for The Best Oscar Peterson Album of All Time

This album checks off a number of important boxes for us here at Better Records:

  1. It’s a Jazz Demo Disc (on the right stereo pressings)
  2. It’s the Best Sounding Oscar Peterson album we know of
  3. It’s a Jazz Masterpiece, and, lastly,
  4. It’s a Personal Favorite of yours truly

I’ve known this was a well-recorded album since I first heard the DCC gold CD back in the ’90s. It sounded great to me at the time — I had nothing to compare it to — but it sure didn’t sound like this. (more…)

Liszt, Ludwig, Grundman and Sax

Liszt & Weber / Ballade No. 2, Mephisto Waltz / Bar-Illan

The Liszt side here actually has the best sound, earning a seriously good grade of A++ to A+++.

This is one of the few audiophile-label recordings I have ever played that actually sounds NATURAL and CORRECT. This is a very real sounding piano; there are not many recordings that can capture that instrument’s weight, but this one sure does.

Side One

A++ sound, very open and real. This is a big piano with a solid bottom end playing in a big room. A trace of smear on the transients keeps it from the full Three Plus grade.

Side Two

A++ to A+++, less smeary so we raised the grade a bit. The music is dark and somewhat “out there” but the sound is AMAZING. 

A top quality solo piano recording from an “audiophile” label? I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard it for myself.

That’s not really being fair, though. Some of us remember that Robert Ludwig cut another “audiophile” pressing, this one for Athena, and did a great job on it. (The other four records Athena released before they went out of business were awful, including the one mastered by Doug Sax.)

I suspect that if Ludwig hadn’t stopped cutting records years ago, we would not be complaining nearly as much as we do about the sound of the modern Heavy Vinyl pressings currently inundating the market.

Bernie and Doug really started letting the record lovers of the world down beginning as far back as the ’90s.

The muddy messes Doug Sax cut for Analogue Productions and the awful Living Stereo records Bernie cut for Classic Records were sad chapters in both men’s body of work. Here were two of the All Time Greats. Their fall was precipitous and painful for those of us who never gave up on analog. In those dark days they mastered one record after another so unlike the amazing sounding ones they had made in the ’70s and well into the ’80s.

We have nothing personal against either one of them, of course. We just haven’t liked the sound of very many of the records they’ve mastered for the last thirty years, and we have never been shy about saying so.

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Schumann and Grieg Piano Concertos / Lupu / Previn

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Edvard Grieg

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  • A superb UK Decca pressing of this wonderful classical masterpiece with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Both sides boast full brass and an especially clear, solid, present piano, one with practically no trace of vintage analog tube smear
  • Dynamic, huge, lively, transparent and natural – with a record this good, your ability to suspend disbelief will require practically no effort at all
  • Back in the days when the TAS Super Disc List meant something, this record was on it and deservedly so
  • The London pressings of the same album can be very good in their own right, but they don’t win shootouts – only the best of these Decca pressings do, a subject we discuss in some of these listings
  • Our two favorite recordings of the Grieg Piano Concerto are this one and Rubinstein’s for RCA in 1962
  • There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

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Herrmann – Citizen Kane (The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann)

More of the music of Bernard Herrman (1911–1975)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • This original RCA Red Seal pressing boast KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
  • Tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – the very definition of DEMO DISC sound
  • 5 Stars: “… the best of the entire series by conductor Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra… every track is worthwhile and memorably played.”
  • If you’re a Bernard Herrmann fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1974 is clearly one of his best
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The Citizen Kane Suite on this album is to die for — BIG, BOLD, DYNAMIC sound like few records you own. It’s a real desert island disc for me. (The CD, by the way, is actually quite good. I have it in the car and play it often.)

The Concerto Macabre for Piano and Orchestra (from “Hangover Square”) is superbly well-recorded and a brilliant piece of music as well.

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Jackson Browne – The Pretender

More Jackson Browne

 More Asylum Label Recordings

  • One of the all time great rock / pop Demo Discs — the best copies are so rich and full-bodied they make most rock records sound positively anemic
  • Five Stars in Rolling Stone, one of their Top 500 Albums, and a true classic from 1976
  • Without a doubt the best sounding record Jackson Browne ever made – this is the pressing that backs up everything we say and more
  • If you’re a JB fan, this title from 1976 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1976 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

As I’m sure you know by now, especially if you own a copy or two, pressings of The Pretender don’t usually sound like Demo Discs. In fact, most copies of this record are mediocre at best — thin, grainy, and flat sounding.

This copy is none of those things. And it positively kills the famous MoFi pressing. (more…)

Supertramp – Even In The Quietest Moments

More Supertramp

  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this original domestic A&M pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The bottom end is big and punchy, the top is smooth and sweet, and the vocals are present and breathy; on a transparent copy such as this the drums really punch through the dense mixes clearly, giving the music more life and energy
  • The piano sounds correct, the sax is full and breathy — you’d be very hard-pressed to find better sound for this album
  • “…it’s a transitional album, bridging the gap between Crime of the Century and the forthcoming Breakfast in America… [it] has plenty of fine moments aside from “Give A Little Bit,” including the music hall shuffle of “Loverboy,” the Euro-artiness of “From Now On,” and the “Fool on a Hill” allusions on “Fool’s Overture.””
  • If you’re a fan, this 1977 Art Rock Classic from Supertramp belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1977 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Blood Sweat and Tears – The 30 Second Spinning Wheel Test

More of the Music of Blood, Sweat and Tears

Reviews and Commentaries for Blood, Sweat and Tears

This test is found in the track commentary for side two of our Hot Stamper listings for the album.

If you think you have a hot copy, see if yours does what our best copies do.

We also think that a record like this — a dynamic, full-spectrum recording, not overly concerned with detail — makes a much better Test Disc than the kind most audiophiles seem to prefer.

Patricia Barber it is not.

If you’re in the market for new speakers, take this record — or one like it — with you to the audition. Any speaker that can play this record properly deserves your consideration, or at the very least your respect.

In my experience not many speakers have what it takes to do this album justice.

The Blood, Sweat and Tears Spinning Wheel Test 

The first thirty seconds are key. Here is what you should be listening for.

Piano, Cowbell, Snare

Side two starts off with a bang; note that the piano has real weight to it right from the git go. When the cowbell comes in it should not sound muffled in any way (it’s a bell, don’t you know), quickly followed by the solid-as-a-rock-snare (the best on record.)

The Brass

On the killer copies that first blast of brass will be completely free of grain or grunge, yet the brass instruments themselves (trumpets and trombone) have all their leading edge transients, their “bite,” fully intact. They’re not in any way muffled or smeared, yet the sound is never aggressive. If anything, the brass is so free from distortion and so tonally correct it should actually sound smooth.

The Vocals

Some of the vocals on side one can have a bit of honk or edge, but not here. They are natural, rich and sweet as any you will hear on the album.

Bottom End Energy

And don’t forget that there is a tremendous amount of bottom end throughout the song. It’s the very foundation of the music, and it needs to be reproduced properly, no ifs, ands or buts, as in “but I only have a small speaker”. To play this song you need big woofers and lots of them. Small speakers simply make a mockery of this music.

If you’ve ever heard big band up close, you know that there is not a speaker in the world that can do justice to that sound. It’s too big and it’s too powerful. But some speakers do more justice than others, and in my experience those speakers tend to have large cabinets with plenty of dynamic drivers. If you have a system built around such speakers there is a very good chance that this will be the best sounding record you have ever heard, assuming you have one of our Hot Stamper pressings or a good one of your own. If not, we would love to get you one. You won’t believe the sound.

Now You Try

Play your own copy. Everything you need to know about the sound of your LP can be heard in the first thirty seconds of side two. On the Hot Stampers it’s all there. On most copies, however, the reverse is true: Problems raise their ugly heads right off the bat. Thinness, grain, smearing, bloat, edginess — all the failings that records are heir to will be thrown in your face if your copy is not up to snuff, and not many of them are.

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