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Commentary Overview

Audio Commentary  >  Start Here  >  Commentary Overview

We discuss practically anything that concerns recordings or their reproduction here for those who want to collect better sounding records and hear them at their best.

For further reading, be sure to check out our On The Record blog.


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and that Wonderful Feeling of Being There

  (Item #: transparency) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

For our review of the new Heavy Vinyl After the Gold Rush we wrote:

Cleverly the engineers responsible for this remaster have managed to reproduce the sound of a dead studio on a record that wasn't recorded in one.

This pressing has no real space or ambience. Now the album sounds like it was recorded in a heavily baffled studio, but we know that's not what happened, because the originals of After the Gold Rush, like most of Neil's other albums from the era, are clear, open and spacious.

In other words, they are TRANSPARENT.

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Mastering I Left My Heart In San Francisco

Tubes, Sure, But Are They Any Good?

  (Item #: benneileft_reissues) 
by Columbia Records

We played a few decent sounding reissues from the '70s that may eventually make it to the site. Again and again my notes made it clear that those pressings could have used more tubes in the mastering chain.

On this record, like so many others you may have read about on the site, the right amount of TUBEY MAGIC -- and by that we mean a very healthy amount -- makes all the difference. Now keep in mind that we are talking about 1962 tubes, not the stuff that engineers are using today to make "tube-mastered" records. Modern pressings barely hint at the Tubey Magical sound of a record like this, if our experience with hundreds of them serves as a guide.

More Tony Bennett

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The Rolling Stones - Aftermath

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: rolliafter_depth) 
by Decca LP

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

Lady Jane, Under My Thumb and Mother's Little Helper are three of the best sounding tracks on side one -- all three are lively and solid here. On side two Out of Time and I Am Waiting are especially well recorded.

DAVE HASSINGER rightly deserves the credit for the best sounding early Stones album -- this one.

More Rolling Stones

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John Coltrane - Lush Life

Our Shootout Winner from 2016

  (Item #: coltrlushl_2016) 
by Original Jazz / Blues Classics LP

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

We've been searching for years trying to find just what kind of Lush Life pressing -- what era, what label, what stampers, mono or stereo, import or domestic -- had the potential for good sound.

No, scratch that. We should have said excellent sound. Exceptional sound. We've played plenty of copies that sounded pretty good, even very good, but exceptional? A pressing of that caliber had eluded us -- until 2016.

More John Coltrane

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Is There a Better Year for Top Quality Recordings of Timeless Music?

  (Item #: 1961) 

The short answer is not that we know of. When you look closely at all the great records that were released that year -- some of which can even be purchased in Hot Stamper form -- you may come to agree with us that there is no better year for music on record than 1961.

Click HERE to see the records currently on the site that were recorded in 1961.

And HERE to see the records from 1961 that we've reviewed, a substantially larger group as you can imagine.

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Billie Holiday - Lady In Satin

Classic Records Repress Reviewed

  (Item #: holidladyi_classic) 
by Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

Sonic Grade: C-

Another Classic Records LP reviewed.

It's been quite a while since I played the Classic pressing, but I remember it as nothing special, tonally fine but low-rez and lacking both space and warmth. The C Minus means it's slightly worse than the average copy you might chance to play.

Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely in fact that we are positively shocked when such a record is even halfway decent. After playing so many bad audiophile records for so many years it's practically a truism here at Better Records.

More Billie Holiday

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Alberta Hunter - Amtrak Blues

Our Shootout Winner from 2014

  (Item #: hunteamtra_2014) 
by Columbia Records

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

Absolutely amazing sound - Alberta is uncannily present and real on this copy. This is High Fidelity Top Quality Uncolored Studio Sound like few records you've heard.

And the crazy thing about Amtrak Blues is that it was recorded in 1980 (when Alberta was 83), not a decade we've come to expect good sound from. But this is no ordinary recording. Behind the album is none other than legendary Columbia engineer FRANK LAICO.

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Mussorgsky - Ravel / Pictures at an Exhibition / Ashkenazy

Our Shootout Winner from 2011

  (Item #: mussopictu_6559_fame) 
by London LP

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

This original London pressing of the solo piano version of Pictures has uncannily natural piano reproduction, which is why we are awarding this side one our highest sonic grade, A Triple Plus.

The fact that the recording takes place in Kingsway Hall in 1967 no doubt plays a large part in the superb sound. The hall is bigger here than on other copies, the piano even more solidly weighted, yet none of this comes at the expense of the clarity of the playing. There is no smear, allowing both the percussive aspects of the piano and the extended harmonics of the notes to be heard clearly and appreciated fully.

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

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The Donovan You Don't Know

In Concert

  (Item #: donovincon_2015) 
by Epic LP

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

We discovered a while back just what an excellent recording this can be and now we know how magical the best copies can be. Only the very best copies delivered the kind of natural, immediate sound we were looking for.

There are a lot of Donovan records out there, but not a lot of them that sound like this! On top of that you get a great set of songs, including Mellow Yellow, Isle Of Islay, Celeste, and First There Is A Mountain (the song that became the main riff of the Allman Brothers' famous Mountain Jam). Get in touch with your inner flower child and spin a copy of this album full of trippy hippie magic!

More Donovan

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Roxy Music - Siren

Our Shootout Winner from 2016

  (Item #: roxymsiren_2016) 
by Atco LP

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

Siren is one of our favorite Roxy albums, right up there with the first album and well ahead of the commercially appealing Avalon. After reading a rave review in Rolling Stone of the album back in 1975 I took the plunge, bought a copy at my local Tower Records and instantly fell in love with it. As is my wont, I then proceeded to work my way through their earlier catalog, which was quite an adventure. It takes scores of plays to understand where the band is coming from on the early albums and what it is they're trying to do. Now I listen to each of the first five releases on a regular basis.

More Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry

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A Classic of Classic Rock

The Heart and Soul of Better Records

  (Item #: claptericc_classic_rock) 
by Polydor LP

We had a WHITE HOT STAMPER pressing a few years back which sounded a whole lot better than I ever thought the album could sound. Man, what a revelation to hear an old favorite sound so amazingly spacious and sweet.

I've been playing this album since 1970, the year it came out. Back then my collection was made up of albums by The Beatles, The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills and Nash, America, Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Chicago, James Taylor, Spirit, The Band, Loggins and Messina, Blind Faith, Bread, The Who ... this was the music of my youth, and although many other artists and styles of music have been added to the playlist in the ensuing decades, Classic Rock still makes up a substantial portion of the music I play and enjoy today.

More Eric Clapton

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Fleetwood Mac - Greatest Hits

Our Shootout Winner from 2013

  (Item #: fleetgreat_2013) 
by Columbia Records

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

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an incredible A+++ side one! The transparency and lack of distortion are shocking, and the clarity and presence are out of this world. If you're a fan of early Fleetwood Mac, this copy will blow you away. Nothing else in our shootout came close.

More Fleetwood Mac

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The Rolling Stones - Goats Head Soup

A 2016 Breakthrough

  (Item #: rolligoats_2016) 
by Rolling Stones Records

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

The impossible has happened - we found a good sounding copy of Goats Head Soup, only 53 years after it was first released.

Why did it take us so long to find a killer copy? Let's just say the pressing is somewhat "off the beaten path" and leave it at that. We ran into it by accident during an attempted shootout not long ago, and it was so much better than the other records we were playing at the time that we had to postpone the shootout until we could find more of these specific pressings. It took some months but we managed to get a big pile of "happy accidents" together and the result was a gamechanging White Hot copy.

More Rolling Stones

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Cannonball Adderley - Somethin’ Else

Rudy Van Gelder Outdoes Himself

  (Item #: addersomet_setting_the_record) 
by Blue Note LP

After doing this shootout, the current consensus here at Better Records is that this album deserves to hold three -- count 'em, three -- somewhat related titles:

One, The Best Sounding Blue Note record we have ever played.

Two, The Best Sounding Jazz Record we have ever played.

Three, Rudy Van Gelder's Best Engineering (based on the copies we played).

More Cannonball Adderley

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Chet Atkins - Class Guitar

A Great Sounding Dynagroove Record from 1967

  (Item #: atkinclass_dynagroove) 

Having played dozens of Chet Atkins titles over the last few years, we can say with confidence that sometime in the mid-'60s the quality of the sound becomes somewhat more hit and miss with each passing year. But it was always hit and miss before then, just less hit and miss. The man was making three or four albums a year back then. They can't all be good.

So, in the world of Chet Atkins (and recording artists the world over), it's win a few, lose a few. This, we are happy to report, is one of the clear winners. I doubt any of his other albums from 1967 sound as good as this one. (One day we will surely find out.)

More Chet Atkins

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Mel Torme - Swings Shubert Alley

The Original Pressings Are the Best, Right?

  (Item #: tormeswing_original) 
by Verve LP

Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing. Don't buy into that record collecting / audiophile canard that the originals have better sound.

The original Verve stereo pressing -- true, we only had the one, so take it for what it's worth -- was a dry, lean and evidenced very little of the Tubey Magic that VAL VALENTIN managed to get on the master tape.

More Mel Torme

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The Band Album You Don't Know

Northern Lights - Southern Cross

  (Item #: band_north_2016) 
by Capitol Records

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame and one of their four essential albums (the others being Music from Big Pink, the Self-Titled second and Rock of Ages).

This is the UNDISCOVERED GEM in the Band catalog. Allmusic is right on the money when they call this the best Band album since their self-titled second release. I positively LOVE this music, having practically worn out my copy soon after the album was released in 1975.

More of The Band

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Emerson Lake & Palmer

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: emersemers_depth) 
by Cotillion LP

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

The Brit copies may take top honors for side one ("sweetness, openness, tubey magic, correct tonality, presence without aggressiveness, well-defined note-like bass, extended airy highs") but the Hot Stamper Cotillion copies KILL on side two. They really ROCK, with greater dynamic contrasts and seriously prodigious bass, some of the best ever committed to vinyl.

The Brits tend to be a bit too "pretty" sounding. They're too polite for this bombastic music. This music needs the whomp down below and lots of jump factor to work its magic.

More Emerson, Lake and Palmer

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Henry Mancini - The Blues and The Beat

Our Shootout Winner from 2016

  (Item #: manciblues_2016) 

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame from 1960.

If you like your large group recordings to have huge three-dimensional space and depth, look no further. This is vintage RCA Living Stereo at its best - transparent, Tubey Magical, big and bold. Let's give credit where credit is due, to the amazing AL SCHMITT.

We know his work well; he happens to have engineered many albums with SUPERB SOUND: Aja, Hatari, Breezin', Late for the Sky, Toto IV, as well as some we can't stand (the entire Diana Krall digital-echo-drenched catalog comes to mind).

More Henry Mancini

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Ambrosia - One Eighty

A Little Soft Rock Never Hurt Anybody, Right?

  (Item #: ambrooneei_soft_rock) 
by Warner Brothers LP

Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings.

One Eighty has an excellent mix of rock songs and softer pop ballads. The last track, Biggest Part Of Me, no matter how many times you may have heard it on the radio is an exceptionally well-produced (designed?) piece of songcraft that will tug at anyone's heartstrings, anyone who has a heart that is (if I may quote the title of the best song Burt Bacharach ever wrote). On a big audiophile system it should be both powerful and emotional.

More Ambrosia

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