well-recorded-pop

Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale

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More Soul, Blues and R&B

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  • Finding the right balance between Tubey Magical Richness and Transparency is the trick, and we think this copy strikes that balance as well as any pressing we’ve heard
  • Boogie On Reggae Woman and You Haven’t Done Nothing were the big hits but the other tracks on the album are where the real Stevie Wonder MAGIC can be found
  • 4 1/2 stars [but we give it 5]: “The songs and arrangements are the warmest since Talking Book, and Stevie positively caresses his vocals on this set, encompassing the vagaries of love, from dreaming of it (“Creepin'”) to being bashful of it (“Too Shy to Say”) to knowing when it’s over (“It Ain’t No Use”).”

We’re big fans of Stevie here at Better Records, but it’s always a challenge to find good sound for his albums. Tons of great songs here, including the ones everybody knows, Boogie On Reggae Woman and You Haven’t Done Nothing. Both sound WONDERFUL on this pressing.

But…

For the first time in my life, over the course of the last five years or so I’ve really gotten to know the album well, having found a CD at a local store to play in the car (and now I also have a cassette to play in my Walkman while working out).

I’ve listened to Fulfillingness’ First Finale scores of times. I now see that it is some of the best work Stevie Wonder ever did, right up there with Innervisions and ahead of any other Stevie Wonder album, including Talking Book and Songs in the Key of Life.

The best songs on the album to my mind are the quieter, more heartfelt and emotional ones, not the rockers or funky workouts. My personal favorites on side one are: Smile Please. Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, Too Shy to Say and Creepin’, which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are all the songs that weren’t hits.

On side two the two slowest songs are the ones I now like best: It Ain’t No Use & They Won’t Go When I Go (famously and brilliantly covered by George Michael on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 in 1990). (more…)

Flack / Hathaway – Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

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  • An outstanding copy, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades throughout, making this the best copy to hit the site in many years!
  • There’s Tubey Magic, sweetness and spaciousness all over this recording – when it all comes together on Where Is The Love, you won’t believe how good it sounds
  • One of our favorite duet albums, Flack and the woefully underrated Soul Man Donny Hathaway are in top form here
  • Allmusic raves: “A duet classic, and perhaps the most popular album Roberta Flack made. ‘Where Is the Love’ dominated urban contemporary radio for almost the entire year, while ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ was just as influential…”

These soulful duets sound wonderful. The best sides are big, bold, open and transparent with a huge three-dimensional soundfield, strong presence, good rhythmic energy, and wonderfully dynamic leads and choruses. (more…)

Bread – Manna

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Pure Pop Albums Available Now

100+ Reviews of Our Favorite Pure Pop Albums

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  • Manna finally returns to the site after more than 6 years with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Tubier, more transparent, more dynamic, with that “jumpin’ out of the speakers” quality that only The Real Thing (an old record) ever has
  • A superb album, featuring one of the strongest rockers the band ever recorded, “Let Your Love Go”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… this is a record that is laid-back and even tempered, which isn’t a bad thing — it results in a fine listen, especially since the group’s songwriting remains at the high standard instituted on that first Bread album.”

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Andrew Gold / Self-Titled – A Fab Favorite from the Day I Bought Mine in 1975

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Asylum – A Label We Love

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  • A STUNNING sounding copy and the first to hit the site in many years — Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • These sides are dripping with Analog magic — transparent, sweet and rich from beginning to end and the bass is especially meaty and well-defined
  • Those of you who have tried our Hot Stampers of JT will know exactly what to expect; Garay LOVES BASS and so do we
  • “An abundance of riches can be heard in Andrew Gold’s first solo album. There are great Beatlesque melodies here, as well as heartfelt love songs that are Gold’s specialties. Playing nearly all of the instruments himself makes this a truly “solo” effort.” – All Music, 4 Stars

As audiophiles we all know that sound and music are inseparable. My comments for this copy note how spacious and present and full of energy it is. After dropping the needle on a dozen or so copies, all originals by the way, you KNOW when the music is working its magic and when it’s not.

As with any pop album there are always some tracks that sound better than others, but when you find yourself marvelling at how well-written and well-produced a song is, you know that the sound is doing what it needs to do. It’s communicating the Musical Values of the material. This Hot Stamper copy brings Andrew Gold’s music to LIFE.

This record is dripping with Analog Tubey Magic. It’s transparent, sweet and rich from beginning to end. The bass is especially meaty and well-defined. Val Garay puts plenty on his recordings, one of the reasons we love listening to them. The vocals are present and clear, the studio is huge, and the snare is FAT the way it always is on Val’s recordings. (more…)

Carlos Santana Knows: The Louder His Guitar Gets, the Better It Sounds

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Reviews and Commentaries for Abraxas

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Abraxas is yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better than Abraxas.

This is a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own home.

When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so the point is moot.)

You may have heard me say this before, but it’s important to make something clear about this music. It doesn’t even make sense at moderate listening levels. Normal listening levels suck the life right out of it. You can tell by the way it was recorded — this music is designed to be played back at LOUD levels, and anything less does a disservice to the musicians, not to mention the listener, you.

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Loggins and Messina / Sittin’ In – Hear that Boost at 10K?

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Recordings that Are Good for Testing Sibilance

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Practically any copy you find will have a bit of a boost in the bottom end. The kick drum really kicks on this album, more than it should in fact.

And almost all copies have too much top end right around 10k. The ones with the worst case of boosted highs and boosted bass sound like they were mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed in Japan, much like those put out by a famous label back in the ’70s.

Oddly enough, many audiophiles to this day do not seem to know that this particular label has been responsible for a slough of the phoniest sounding audiophile records ever pressed.

There is also a sibilance problem with the recording. Some copies keep it under control, while other, more crudely mastered and pressed ones, suffer greatly from spitty vocals, especially noticeable on Danny’s Song. The better copies will tend to have the “cleanest”, least-objectionable sibilance.

Sibilance is a bitch. The best pressings, with the most extension up top and the least amount of aggressive grit and grain mixed in with the music, played using the highest quality properly set up front ends, will keep sibilance to a minimum.

VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate adjustments are critical to reducing the spit in your records.

We discuss the sibilance problems of MoFi records all the time. Have you ever read Word One about this problem elsewhere? Of course not.

Audiophiles and the hacks that write for them just seem to put up with these problems, or ignore them, or — even worse — simply fail to recognize them at all.

Play around with your table setup for a few hours and you will no doubt be able to reduce the severity of the sibilance on your favorite test and demo discs. All your other records will thank you for it too.

Back to Sittin’ In (more…)

Little Feat – Hoy-Hoy

More Roots Rock LPs

A Well Recorded Album that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

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  • All four sides earned Double Plus (A++) grades for sound – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Our pick for the best sounding Little Feat album – it’s a monster, and a Must Own for any fan of the band
  • “Filled with live performances, obscurities, album tracks, and a new song apiece from Bill Payne and Paul Barrere, Hoy Hoy is a bit scattered, a bit incoherent, a little bewildering, and wholly delightful — a perfect summation of a group filled with quirks, character, and funk, traits which were as much a blessing as they were a curse.”

This is one of the all time TOP Little Feat albums and a longtime personal favorite, but it takes a pressing like this to bring it to life.

As we said last time around, there is not a rock album on the The Absolute Sound’s Super Disc List that can hold a candle to the real Rock and Roll Power of a pressing such as this. It’s really not fair to judge the Harry’s List by records like this, which have never been the man’s forte. We, on the other hand, know these kinds of records about as well as anyone, and to prove it we would love to send you this copy. The AMAZING sound is guaranteed to blow your mind.

What a Recording!

The recording quality of many of these songs is OUT OF THIS WORLD, as good as any rock record I can think of. Although Waiting For Columbus is arguably the best sounding live rock ‘n roll album ever made, some of the tracks on this album are every bit as good or BETTER. (And the promo EP is practically in a league of its own for sound!)

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of many of these tracks is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, The Who, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and far too many of our favorites to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

The sides that had sound that jumped out of the speakers, with driving rhythmic energy, worked the best for us. They really brought this complex music to life and allowed us to enjoy the hell out of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy where the music works as music. (more…)

Eric Clapton / Just One Night – An Exceptionally Good Album of Classic Blues Rock

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A Well Recorded Album that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

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  • An outstanding copy of Just One Night with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on all four sides
  • This one is bigger, bolder and richer, as well as more clean, clear and open than many other copies we played
  • Sure to be the best live Clapton sound you’ll hear on vinyl – and the music is wonderful as well
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The most notable difference between Just One Night and Clapton’s other live albums is his backing band. Led by guitarist Albert Lee, the group is a collective of accomplished professionals who have managed to keep some grit in their playing. They help push Clapton along, forcing him to spit out crackling solos throughout the album.”

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War / Why Can’t We Be Friends? – A True Demo Disc

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This Well Recorded Album Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

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  • An incredible copy of the band’s 1975 release, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • One of our favorite albums here at Better Records and clearly the band’s Masterpiece – the bass and dynamics on the better pressings make this a Demo Disc on the right system
  • 4 stars [but we give it 5]: “Cut from the same cloth as the band’s 1973 Deliver the Word LP, War’s 1975 Why Can’t We Be Friends? is a masterpiece in its scope and breadth. [It] remains one of War’s truly outstanding efforts, and has become an integral part of the funk genre’s landscape. It also remains the nightcap of their finest hour.”

Engineered by the brilliant Chris Huston, this recording displays all his trademark gifts. His mixes feature lots of bass; huge, room-filling choruses that get loud without straining or becoming congested; and rhythmic energy that few pop recordings could lay claim to in 1975.

Low Rider sounds AWESOME on this one. This is the kind of record you can take to any stereo store or audiophile friend’s house and bring their stereos to their knees. Audiophile systems are rarely designed to play this kind of music at the levels it demands, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. Records like this are the challenge we audiophiles need to make our stereos even better. When the music is this good it’s worth the effort

What superb sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1975
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

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The Pretenders’ Debut Album

More from The Pretenders

More Women Who Rock

Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

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  • Insanely good sound throughout — Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side, Double Plus (A++) on the first – we rarely have copies that rock the way this one does
  • This is one of engineer Bill Price’s better efforts behind the boards, and Chris Thomas’s production is State of the Art
  • Relatively quiet vinyl throughout this early UK pressing – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • Five Stars: “Few rock & roll records rock as hard or with as much originality as the Pretenders’ eponymous debut album. A sleek, stylish fusion of Stonesy rock & roll, new wave pop, and pure punk aggression, Pretenders is teeming with sharp hooks and a viciously cool attitude.”

What really separated this copy from the pack was the lack of edge on the vocals. It’s not duller — it’s bigger and clearer yet less distorted and cut cleaner than the other sides we played.

Add big bass and dynamics and you have yourself some truly Hot Stamper sound!

Forget the dubby domestic vinyl, these Brit pressings are the only way to go. (more…)