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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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Joe Jackson - Balancing Night and Day

  (Item #: jacksnight_wtlf) 
by A&M LP

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

There are basically four elements that go into the making of Night and Day: vocals; keyboards (mostly the piano); percussion (in the mids and highs) and rhythm (drums and bass).

No two copies will get all of these elements to sound their best. The trick to finding the hotter of the Hot Stamper pressings is to find copies of the album that reproduce these four elements clearly and correctly, in balance, and reveals their placement in a large, three-dimensional studio space.

See all of our Joe Jackson albums in stock

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The Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Album

The Best Male Vocal Recording of the Era

  (Item #: benneevans_1975) 
by Fantasy LP

This album, when heard on the best Hot Stamper pressings, ranks right up at the top of the All Time Great Male Vocal Recordings from any era. Bennett’s voice sounds wonderfully rich, BREATHY, and above all REAL.

For a Popular/Jazz Vocal album produced in 1975, or, to be honest, the entire decade of the Seventies, we can think of no other to qualify as its sonic equal.

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Billie Holiday - Lady In Satin

Balancing Strings, Rhythm, and Vocals

  (Item #: holidladyi_wtlf) 
by Columbia Records

The better copies reproduce clearly what to our minds are the three most important elements in the recording -- strings, rhythm, and vocal -- and, more importantly, on the best copies they are properly balanced with one another.

The monos, as you might expect, balance all three elements well enough, but the problem with mono is that the vocals and instruments are jammed together in the center of the soundfield, layered atop one another. Real clarity, the kind that live music has in abundance, is difficult if not impossible under those circumstances. Only the stereo pressings provide the space that each of the elements needs in order to be heard.

Naturally the vocals have to be the main focus on a Billie Holiday record. They should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and transparent.

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Record Collecting

For Fun, Sure, but For Profit? Not So Much

  (Item #: collecting_for_fun) 

If you stop to think about it, Hot Stampers are actually the opposite of collectible. This is due in large part to the fact that they have practically no established or verifiable value. Their value is in fact purely subjective; they exist only to provide listening pleasure to their owner. Nothing else has any real bearing on their worth.

I can understand why a record collector would be confused by this notion of subjective and limited value. Collecting records is mostly about buying, selling and owning various kinds of records. It's not primarily about playing or even listening to music; this seems to be quite a less important aspect of the hobby. (I've actually met record collectors who didn't even own a turntable!)

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The Cars - The Cars

We Love Dynamic Choruses, and These Are Amazing!

  (Item #: cars_cars_choruses) 
by Elektra LP

Another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

The hottest of the Hot Stampers did one easily recognizable thing better than the Also-Rans, and it was apparent pretty much from the get-go. The multi-multi-multi-tracked Power Pop Choruses on the best copies don't strain (a very common problem), they are bigger and more powerful, they stretch from wall to wall, and the voices that make them up are separated much more than on other copies.

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Eagles - On The Border

The Typical Domestic Pressing Sucks, and Here's Why

  (Item #: eagleonthe_polarity) 
by Asylum Records

This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity on some songs.

The domestic copies of On The Border have many tracks in reversed absolute phase, including and especially Midnight Flyer, a lifelong favorite of mine. The front and center banjo will positively tear your head off; it's bright, sour, shrill, aggressive and full of distortion. Don't look at me -- that's what reverse phase sounds like!

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Pure Pop for Now People

  (Item #: purepop) 
by Elektra LP

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 Nick Lowe.

Of course, by Now People, I'm referring to people who appreciate music that came out more than thirty years ago. Whenever I hear a pop record with sound like this, I have to ask myself "What has gone wrong with popular recordings during the last two or three decades?" I can't think of one recording of the last twenty years that sounds as good as this Best Of Bread album. Are there any?

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Don McLean and The Making of American Pie

  (Item #: mcleaameric_the_making_of) 
by United Artists LP

An Interview with Don McLean

I wrote the opening part of "American Pie" up in my little room where I used to compose. I started thinking back to when I was a paper boy, one of those experiences about growing up in New Rochelle, where I cut open this paper bundle and saw that Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens had been killed. I stood there and couldn't believe it. Holly was my favorite performer. So I started writing, "A long, long time ago," but I didn't know what to do with it.

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The Byrds - Mr. Tambourine Man

What to Listen For

  (Item #: byrdsmrtam_wtlf) 
by Columbia Records

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

Want to hear what the best copies of Mr. Tambourine Man can do? Play Chimes of Freedom, one of the best sounding tracks on side two, if not THE best. Listen to how breathy Jim (later Roger) McGuinn's vocals are. Byrds records almost never sound like that.

I Knew I’d Want You is another one that sounds amazingly Tubey Magical on the best pressings.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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