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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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Frank Sinatra - Sings Days of Wine and Roses & more

Books and Covers

  (Item #: sinatdayso_fame) 
by Reprise LP

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

Presented with the less-than-captivating cover and title of Days of Wine and Roses, we were put off by our first impression; that of a budget thrown-together compilation, brought even lower by the fairly generic shot of Old Blue Eyes on the cover. We didn't think an album that looked like this could possibly contain the swinging (or deeply emotional, both are fine with us) Sinatra music we'd grown to love from his best Capitol- and Reprise-era releases.

See all our our Frank Sinatra albums in stock

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Mozart / Clarinet Concerto / Maag

(Reviewed in the '90s)

  (Item #: mozarclari_decca) 
by Speakers Corner

Sonic Grade: B?

A fairly good Speakers Corner Decca reissue.

Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the '90 when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

"One of the best of the Deccas. I raved about this one years ago when it came out. If I had to pick a record to demonstrate how wonderful Decca recordings are, musically and sonically, this would be an easy choice."

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Roxy Music - Country Life

Our Shootout Winner from 2015

  (Item #: roxymcount_fame) 
by Island Records

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

Many of the best songs Ferry ever wrote and Roxy ever played are on this album. Musically it's right up there with the first album and Siren, both early '70s Art Rock landmarks.

In our experience the right British original Sunray (Pink Rim) Island pressing will always win the shootout if you have a good pile of copies to play. There are some bad sounding Island LPs out there, so don’t assume the Sunray is the answer. It’s potentially the right answer. Without at least five copies in hand you won't know for sure whether the copy you like is truly a Hot Stamper or not-that-hot-of-a-stamper.

More Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry

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Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: ledzehouse_depth) 
by Atlantic LP

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Led Zeppelin's momentous 1973 release, Houses of the Holy.

You really get an understanding of just how much of a production genius Jimmy Page was when you listen to a copy of Houses with the kind of resolution and transparency found on our best copies. To take just one example, just listen to how clearly the multi-tracked guitars can be heard in the different layers and areas of the soundstage. On some songs you will have no trouble picking out three, four and even more guitars playing, each with its own unique timbre and character. This clarity allows you to recognize -- perhaps for the first time -- the special contribution each makes to the finished song.

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Count Basie - Basie Plays Hefti

Original Versus Reissue

  (Item #: basieplays_versus) 
by Domestic LP

The original pressings are the best, right?

Not in our experience. It's (probably) just another Record Myth.

Basie was recording like a madman back in the late '50s and even all through the '60s. In 1958, the year of this release, he put out seven (7!) albums on the Roulette label. We've played quite a number of them over the years and found relatively few with audiophile quality sound.

Including the original Roulette pressing of this very title. We've only heard a few, and had only one for our shootout, but it was awful enough to make us swear off buying more, especially considering the prices vintage jazz albums are going for these days.

See all of our Count Basie albums in stock

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Fleetwood Mac - Fleetwood Mac

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: fleetfleet_depth) 
by Reprise LP

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

So few copies we ran across in our shootout had that "jump out of the speakers" sound we knew was possible from our previous shootouts of the album. When finally one did, boy did it ever. What a knockout. Hot Stampers? The best copies are on fire!

If you have a big speaker system and have taken advantage of the audio revolutions we discuss throughout the site, this is the kind of record that can help you chart your progress. When a record like this blows everything you've ever heard out of the water, you are definitely on the right track!

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The Seventies

We Didn't Know How Good We Had It

  (Item #: matthsteal_70s_2016) 
by Mushroom Records LP

Produced in 1979, the best copies of Stealin' Home are rich, smooth and sweet in the best tradition of the ANALOG record.

It would only be a few years until this sound was out of style, replaced by the edgy, hard, digital sound preferred by synthpop bands like Tears for Fears and Simple Minds. This would turn out to be a bad time for audiophiles (like me) who liked the pop music of the day but not the pop sound of the day. Heavy-handed processing as well as the overuse of synthesizers and drum effects, with the whole of the production slathered in digital reverb, have resulted in most of the albums from the early to mid-'80s being all but impossible to enjoy on a modern high-end system. Believe me, we've tried.

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Oliver Nelson - The Blues and the Abstract Truth

Who Masters Better Than The Master?

  (Item #: nelsoblues_rvg) 
by Impulse

Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts concerning the sound of old records.

For those of you who are still holding on to the idea that the original pressings are better, our Hot Stamper LPs may come as quite a surprise. Yes, we can all agree that Rudy Van Gelder recorded it, brilliantly as a matter of fact. Shouldn't he be the most natural choice to transfer the tape to disc, knowing, as we must assume he does, exactly what needs fixing and what needs to be left alone?

See all of our Oliver Nelson albums in stock

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Elvis Costello - Trust

The Best Sounding Record of 1981?

  (Item #: costetrust_1981) 
by Import LP

With the right full-range big speaker system, one that can really move air from the midrange down, either side of Trust may end up becoming one of your favorite DEMO DISCS. The overall clarity and transparency of the best British pressings are superb, allowing you to appreciate subtleties in the top end even when the bass and drums are really POUNDING. Play Whisper to a Scream on side two for some of the best pounding on the album. If that song doesn't get your blood pumping, you need a bypass to unblock a few arteries, stat.

Is Trust the best sounding album from 1981? It gets my vote.

See all of our Elvis Costello albums in stock

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Prokofiev / Peter & The Wolf / Rossi

How Does the Narrator Sound?

  (Item #: prokopeter_van_wtlf) 
by Vanguard LP

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate ANY version of Peter and the Wolf.

The narrator for this piece almost always sounds like he's in a sound booth, of varying sound quality to be sure. (Bernstein's narration is one of the worst in this respect, sounding more like Aqualung than Lennie.)

Somehow Boris Karloff sounds like he is on stage with the orchestra here. He's either been recorded on stage, or precisely the right amount and kind of reverb has been added to his voice to match the sound of the hall.

See more of Prokofiev's music

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ZZ Top - Fandango

Warners Heavy Vinyl Debunked

  (Item #: zztopfanda_debunk) 
by Warner Brothers LP

Sonic Grade: C

Warner Brothers remastered Fandango in 2008, so we took some domestic pressings and put them up against their Heavy Vinyl LP. The results were mixed; most of our originals pressings were lackluster, many were noisy, and we just weren't hearing anything with the sound we thought deserved to be called a Hot Stamper.

We shelved the project for another day. In the interim we kept buying domestic pressings -- originals and reissues -- in the hopes that something good would come our way.

See all of our ZZ Top albums in stock

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The Who - Quadrophenia

None Rocks Harder

  (Item #: who__quadr_rocks) 
by Track Original Black Label

What do you hear on the best Hot Stampers of Quadrophenia?

They just plain ROCK HARDER than the other copies we played. Yes, they're bigger. Yes, they have more weight and whomp down low. Yes, they are smoother and more natural up top.

But what really sets them apart is the tremendous Energy they contain in their grooves. The music EXPLODES out of the speakers and comes to life on the best copies of Quadrophenia like nothing you have ever heard. When we find that kind of power and energy on a record, all other things being equal, we know what to call it: White Hot.

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The Doors - L.A. Woman

Rhino Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

  (Item #: doorslawom_180) 
by Elektra LP

Sonic Grade: B

The pressing we auditioned from the Doors Box Set was surprisingly good. It's rich and smooth with an extended top end -- tonally correct in other words -- and there's lots of bass. This is all to the good. For the thirty bucks you might pay for it you're getting a very good record, assuming yours sounds like ours, something we should really not be assuming, but we do it anyway as there is no other way to write about records other than to describe the sound of the ones we actually have on hand to play.

See all of our Doors albums in stock

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Gino Vannelli - Storm At Sunup

and The Amazing ARC SP3A-1

  (Item #: vannestorm_stereo) 
by A&M LP

Storm at Sunup used to be my favorite Gino Vannelli album. I played it all the time back in the ’70s. It was one of a handful of recordings that made me want to pursue audiophile equipment in the hopes that higher quality playback would allow it to sound even bigger and more exciting. It was pretty damn big and exciting already, but I wanted more.

Right around that time I got my first audiophile tube preamp, the Audio Research SP3A-1, which replaced a Crown IC-150. As you can no doubt imagine, especially if you know the IC-150 at all well, playing this album through that state-of-the-art tube preamp was a revelation. From then on there was no looking back. I started spending all my money on better and better equipment and more and more records. That was forty plus years ago and I haven't stopped yet.

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John Coltrane - Giant Steps

Live and Learn

  (Item #: coltrgiant_learn) 
by Atlantic LP

A classic case of Live and Learn. Previously we had written:

The extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum is what really sets the best copies apart from the pack. All the top end and that deep bottom and simply not to be found on most copies, and never on even the best originals in our experience. The cutters back then just couldn't cut it.

Now, having heard some amazing originals, we know that the vintage mastering equipment of the day was perfectly capable of getting all the top, all the bottom, and tons of Tubey Magic besides onto the vinyl.

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Chicago - Chicago II

360 Original or Red Label Reissue

  (Item #: chicachicaII_360_vs_red) 
by Columbia Records

Both can be good. I did the shootout (TP) and often tried to guess the label for the copy I was hearing, for fun more than anything else. I have to admit that my batting average was not much better than chance.

The 360s tend to be a little fuller and smearier, but plenty of red label copies sound that way and some 360s don't, so trying to match the sound to the label was even more pointless than usual.

When comparing pressings in a shootout it's too late for the label to have any predictive value. We've already bought the records, cleaned them all up and now just want to know what they actually sound like -- not which ones might be the best, but which ones are the best.

See all of our Chicago albums in stock

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Vince Guaraldi - Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus

Keeping the Players Together

  (Item #: guarajazzi_wtlf) 
by Fantasy LP

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises, here discussing the importance of transparency, ambience and resolution.

The arrangement of the players is straightforward, with the bass hard left, drums hard right (with leakage well to the left on the cymbals, but that's another story), and Guaraldi on piano in the center. (The first track of side two reverses this arrangement; why I have no idea.)

Here's the crazy thing about this recording: The best copies really connect up -- tie together -- the space each of the players is in. I heard it during the shootout, and I can't recall if it actually happened more than once or twice, but I know I heard it. They are all live, they are all on the same soundstage, but on most copies you would hardly know it.

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Bloomfield / Kooper / Stills - Super Session

All Things Are Never Equal

  (Item #: bloomsuper_equal) 
by Columbia Records

Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning (usually old) records.

Can the Red Label reissues sound any good?

Why yes, they can, and here's why. Every once in a while, when it comes time to stamp out some more copies of slow but still-selling records, "back catalog" as they are known in the trade, someone has to go into the vault and find a tape with which to master. Maybe that person finds a real master tape. Or maybe that person finds a master tape and makes a really high quality dub of it to master from. Either one of those possibilities might produce a great sounding final product relative to the sub-generation, EQ'd, compressed cutting tape used to make most copies, including the originals.

See all pressings of Super Session in stock

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Dave Brubeck - Countdown - Time In Outer Space

Killer Tubey Magical Sound from 1962

  (Item #: brubecount_wtlf) 
by Columbia Records

Clean and Clear, Yet Rich and Sweet.

This copy managed to find the perfect balance of these attributes. You want that rare copy that keeps what is good about a Tubey Magical analog recording from The Golden Age of Jazz while managing to avoid the pitfalls so common to them: smear, lack of top end extension, opacity and blubber. To be sure, the fault is not with the recording (I guess; again, not having heard the master tape) but with the typically mediocre pressing.

See all of our Dave Brubeck albums in stock

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Deep Purple - Made In Japan

What to Listen For

  (Item #: deeppmadei_wtlf) 
by EMI

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

We've raved about a number of live albums over the years. Some of the better sounding ones that come readily to mind (in alphabetical order) are Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, David Live, Johnny Cash At San Quentin, Donny Hathaway Live, The Jimi Hendrix Concerts, Performance - Rockin The Fillmore, Live Wire - Blues Power, Waiting For Columbus, Get Your Ya-Ya's Out and Live at Leeds. I would be proud to have any of them in my collection.

See all of our Deep Purple albums in stock

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