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1A, or Is 1B Better? – Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

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Before we go any further, I have a question: Why are we guessing?

I received an email recently from a customer who had gone to great pains to do his own shootout for a record; in the end he came up short, with not a lot to show for his time and effort. It had this bit tucked in toward the end:

Some of [Better Records’] Hot Stampers are very dear in price and most often due to the fact that there are so few copies in near mint condition. I hate to think of all the great Hot Stampers that have ended up in piles on the floor night after night with beer, Coke, and seeds being ground into them.

Can you imagine all the 1A 1B or even 2A 2B masters that ended up this way or were just played to death with a stylus that would be better used as a nail than to play a record!

As it so happens, shortly thereafter I found myself on Michael Fremer’s old website of all places, where I saw something eerily similar in his review for the (no doubt awful) Sundazed vinyl. I quote below the relevant paragraphs. (more…)

Ray Charles – The Genius of Ray Charles

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  • One of the few copies to ever hit the site and boy is it KILLER — Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • The sound is incredibly rich, full and Tubey Magical with tons of energy and a nice extended top end
  • Robert Christgau noted that “Charles tried many times, but except for Modern Sounds, he never again assembled such a consistent album in this mode.”
  • “Charles’ voice is heard throughout in peak form, giving soul to even the veteran standards.”

Tom Dowd engineered on Ampex 3 Track through an All Tube chain (this is 1959 after all), Quincy Jones did the arrangements, and Ray sang the hell out of this great batch of songs — all the ingredients in a recipe for soul are here.

Top tracks on the first side: Let The Good Times Roll, It Had To Be You and When Your Lover Has Gone. (more…)

Milt Jackson – Sunflower

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  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – this copy of Sunflower is exceptionally musical and enjoyable
  • So open, with an extended top end, not gritty or crude, always resolving the musical information in a natural way – we loved it
  • These superstars guarantee this is real jazz: Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Freddie Hubbard et al.
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Recorded over two days in December of 1972 at Rudy Van Gelder’s home studio, vibraphonist Milt Jackson’s Sunflower is the first – and best – of his three albums for Creed Taylor’s CTI imprint. (And one of the finest offerings on the label.)”

The extended song structures, ranging from seven to ten minutes in length, leave plenty of room for the band and the orchestra to stretch out. (more…)

Bread – Baby I’m-A Want You – Check Out Those Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars

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

Bread’s fourth album has wonderfully sweet and rich 1972 ANALOG sound. The acoustic guitars are to die for on the title track. Talk about Tubey Magic, this copy has got bucketfuls of it on the voices and guitars. Whatever happened to that sound I wonder?

Listen for the delicate space up high above the music on the title track. This copy has the extended top end that opens up the sound and lets the music breathe.

The average copy is dull, compressed, congested and squawky in the midrange, all good reasons that explain why we simply haven’t been able to do many of Bread’s albums outside of the Greatest Hits and the first album. Most copies are so bad sounding that it seems pointless to even try — pointless only until a copy like this comes along to make us (and other Bread fans) believers. 

Pure Pop For Now People

When you hear music sound this good, it makes you appreciate the music even more than the sound. This is in fact the primary raison d’etre of this audiophile hobby, or at least it’s supposed to be. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of the Everly Brothers or The Beatles. It’s Pure Pop for Now People, to quote the famous wag Nick Lowe.

Of course, by Now People, I’m referring to people who appreciate music that came out close to forty years ago. Whenever I hear a pop record with sound like this, I have to ask myself “What has gone wrong with popular recordings for the last three or four decades?”

I can’t think of one recording of the last twenty years that sounds as good as this Bread album. Are there any? (more…)

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.