Finding the Best Recordings for Albums

Hi, I’m Terri McGowan, Paul’s wife and a PS Audio employee. I wanted to share my little audio story. I acquired my stereo system this year: a pair of white KEF LS50 speakers, a Sprout amplifier, and a Clear Audio Concept turntable. I love how it looks in our living room and am proud to play records for friends, family, and myself.

Last January my mom passed away, unfortunately. As we went through her house we came upon a box of old albums and her record player, the kind you could put a stack of albums on, and they would drop down and play in sequence. She had a lot of classical and contemporary (for her time) albums, including my sister’s and my favorite, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66. My plan was to give all this to Sean, one of our sons, who like most 30 year olds, is into vinyl. He quite thoughtfully brought the whole set over to the rental house where our entire family stayed for my mom’s memorial. We played all her old albums and had a lot of good, fun memories. Sean talked me into taking a few of these albums home, including the Brasil '66 album. This was my motivation for the purchase of my system in March, and I have been carefully adding albums to my collection since.

The problem is, I noticed that music that I normally love didn’t sound as good as my Sergio Mendes mono album (A&M LP 116). A friend gave me a stereo pressing of Brazil 66 (A&M SP 4116) but it didn’t sound as good as my heavily-played mono version. Paul explained that the different pressings had different sounds, even the people that ran the pressing machine made a difference.

Now I am struggling with how to pick albums that will sound the best for the music that I love. I have been fortunate to hear some of the better systems in the world and would appreciate some advice on how to find the very best vinyl recordings and pressings. Thanks!

1 Like

Nice story… sorry about your mom.

Your challenge is the same for all of us, especially when looking for older recordings. It looks like you are only concerned about vinyl.

First is to consider brands… Mobile Fidelity, Acoustic Sounds, Rhino, among others produced and pressed quality vinyl and CDs. Steve Hoffman forums are good for this also as many discuss different pressings and cd releases.

So the first challenge is which pressing/release was good or the best, the second is finding one to buy.

For me? I Google the cr%p out of an old title to find the 1st, then the same for the 2nd. Surprisingly, Amazon reviews have some of this information.

If you are into digital, the hi-rez downloads for purchase from ProStudioMaster of older music has been truly disappointing to me. My downloads of Stevie Wonder etc, of that era were… well they are a rip off.

I have had better luck with CDs in getting the correct release than vinyl.

You have a tough road ahead of you as a quality playback system is both a joy and hell as you hear the bad really well.

Sorry I can’t be of more help… I will be reading this thread with you.

BTW, I have a ton of Sergio Mendes… his modern record Encanto is really a sonic treat with some gems… albeit he has some rap in there (yes it is true!) and a wonderful track with Natalie Cole “Somewhere in the Hills”. Also, Herb Alpert (the A in A&M) purposely tried to make audiophile records with Mendes and his early records are real sonic gems… you must have got a later dud pressing. Keep buying his older vinyl and you should be rewarded.

Welcome to the club of the neurotic.

Oh… if you are exploring an old band or artist and you want to know “the one to get”, I found AllMusic the absolute best for these recommendations. They used to publish books on jazz by the best critics in the industry (they wrote for downbeat etc.) and moved to classic rock and now everything. They are the best out there for older music.

Bruce in Philly

1 Like

Welcome Terri! You hit the topic I’m busy with for over 30 years (finding the best masterings of recordings in vinyl and digital). I think that’s what you meant with „best recordings“.

While I think Paul‘s comment, that every pressing operator makes vinyl pressings sound different serves mostly his personal vinyl paranoia :wink: , you certainly have more choices of masterings in vinyl, which isn’t a bad thing in fact (and nearly throughout better ones than on digital formats imo). I listen to both vinyl and digital extensively on very good rigs and make a lot of digital/vinyl comparisons, also of those done by the same engineers. It’s very interesting, but leads to having loads of multiple versions :wink:

So to help you, I can point you to a list of mastering engineers and labels I mentioned in my “mastering thread” below. If you buy records of those and some more, you get the best available masterings.

My best advice would be to search at or, see if you find a vinyl of your desired artist and then check, if one of the below mentioned labels or engineers was involved. Everything else means you need more experience or someone who has, to separate the average from the great. Keep in mind that compared to the choice you have with vinyl, most of the digital format”s masterings are average at best anyway regarding their mastering, except if they are done by the same engineers/labels (but usually much less music was mastered by them for digital formats).

Philly’s suggestion to search for the best mastering in the Hoffman forums is also a good one, just needs a little more patience.

If you listen to jazz it’s easy to find the best masterings, in Pop/Rock it’s more difficult.

In case of your Sergio Mendes, just google ‘Sergio Mendes mastering 180g’ and you will already find two of those engineers mentioned on different sites with some records.

Certainly some originals like your mono version can even sound better than such great remasterings (but that’s quite rare in my experience). However they often sound much better than standard remasterings of the major labels.

Top of the art to find the best masterings is to find out which legacy releases of major (not audiophile reissue) labels were done by gurus like Kevin Gray etc… Therefore you mostly need to get in contact with themselves. Those also sound great.

Again keep in mind: in terms of masterings, with vinyl you almost never get worse than with any digital format, that’s the cold comfort for having to search a bit.

Hi Terri,

All of the comments above provide you some great resources. Also check out Michael Fremer from Stereophile and Analog planet. (He is also a fan of PS Audio BHK 300 Amps). Michael has some fun youtube videos on record selection and care. He is also a funny and informed character. Reminds me in ways of a character that you are married too. :slight_smile: With all that said don’t get too bogged down in your shopping for LP’s. Find music you like and enjoy. God Bless

Hello Terri! Glad to see that you are getting drawn into the audiophile web … hee-hee. As others have stated this is a life long obsession with many folks, but it’s never too late to start. While some may not agree, I’ve found that frequently the original release is the best, especially when that release was 50 years ago. There are lots of excellent repressings but when you are using a 50 year old analog tape, well, there’s going to be some deterioration. Of course there is also the type of music you like and what the typical recording process was at the time. For example, 1950’s RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence are some of the most highly regarded recordings made, but attempts to reissue them have met with very mixed results. This is probably more a result of deteriorated tape than anything else. When it comes to Jazz, Blue Notes and Verve are a good source of nice sound. On the Pop/Rock side of things, it gets a lot more sketchy. I can’t offer a whole lot of advice, other than to just accept that many of these recordings, as good as the music may have seemed years ago, are just plain poorly recorded (and boy, have I been disappointed in that regard …). One indicator you can use for recording quality is; has anyone reissued it recently? If they have someone must think it was worthy of it!

With respect to your comment on mono versus stereo; at the dawn of the stereo era, many of the recordings were made in multi-track, but they didn’t really know how to mix them into a true stereo recording. In some cases stereo and mono recordings were released, quite often the mono is the better version. A case in point is the Beatles, many believe the mono versions are the best.

One final thing, one very enjoyable aspect of listening to vinyl is there is a HUGE supply of inexpensive used records out there. Used record stores, thrift shops, and even garage sales can be a great resource. I have hundreds of records that I acquired this way, I spent many an hour at estate sales getting my stash. Too bad I don’t make the time to listen to them …

Thanks Terri! I am sure there are plenty of vinyl heads here that’ll chime in with more info than I can help with.


Hi Terri,

I’m also a fan of Sergio Mendez & Brasil66 (love the voice of Lani Hall). Also of Walter Wanderley.

The problem is that there are too few options available. The CD version doesn’t sound so good. The LP stereo is better, but it really depends on which audio set-up I’m using.

Assuming you have access to some great gear at PS Audio, I would just buy all available versions (mono, stereo LPs and CD) and try them one by one.

If you are adventurous, you could always purchase some vintage 1970s high end gear (e.g. McIntosh) and try these. In some cases, I found these vintage gear to work better. If you don’t like them, just re-sell them (they retain value).

I just edited my first post as was the wrong link…should have been, which has more than their own productions.

One last explanation Terri, as I just spoke about mastering and you might be confused what’s the difference to the term „pressing“ and „cutting“. I try to do my best to explain it very short and hopefully still correct:

„Mastering“ means to make (or not) tonality adjustments, select special equipment to influence and preserve sound quality and e.g. apply compression (or not). In Short: to influence sound and sound quality mainly.

„Cutting“ means to care for the transfer of that mastered „sound“ to be stored within the grooves without e.g. distortion.It‘s either done right without problems or not…it doesn’t otherwise influence sound too much (roughly spoken). Mastering and cutting are usually done together in subsequent steps, but while the one is a kind of „sound design“ step, the other is a rather mechanical artistry.

„Pressing“ now means to make a vinyl disc out of the stamper (done based on the previous mastering and cutting). Qualities of pressings can be different (better or worse, thicker or thinner vinyl, mechanical faults that happen or not during the pressing process). While there can be small sound quality differences between vinyl materials or thickness, „pressing“ like „cutting“ is more a question of done right or with errors (like distortion). Just like pressing a previously designed coin.

This means a pressing usually just sounds noticeably different from another if it also has a different mastering or if tape copies instead of first masters were used (valid for reissues and originals)

So instead of caring about different „pressings“ available you should care if original masters or copies of tapes were used and who did the mastering (if you can obtain this info)

E.g. I have about 4 different pressings of some Classic Records/Grundman mastered reissues, which all sound quite the same, but they all sound very different from Steve Hoffman masterings of the same recording.

Same for your Mendes mono original: another pressing of that exact mono master will just sound the same, while a later pressing, using a tape copy instead will sound worse. Just not due to the different pressing processes or pressing operators, but due to the inferior source tape used.

It’s quite the same with CD‘s. Doesn’t matter where it’s pressed, it matters what source was used and who did the „sound design“ (mastering).

Thank you for your kind comments. I’m excited about all the knowledge you shared, including links to help with my search, your feedback, advice and evident passion. Also, I appreciate the clear definition of terms and jobs. While somewhat overwhelmed at how much there is to learn, you’ve armed me with some tools to get started. Thanks!

One tip I didn’t read from others: throw money and time at it.

Flipping through used record stores… just buy, play, throw away… I hate to admit it, but that is what I did.

Bruce in Philly

1 Like

You’re welcome Terri!

Differentiating good from bad sounding originals unfortunately needs much more knowledge/googling than finding the best remasterings. Giving hints regarding originals would need long posts for each label. Would be too much for this first „getting started“ :wink:

Anyhow you can decide to not put much effort in those searches generally and still find great releases with the same probability as in other media formats. With vinyl you just have special chances to get special quality and this generates hunters among some vinyl listeners. We’ll see if you get a hunter :wink:

As a fan of the ‘60s A&M label roster myself (Alpert/TJB; Baja Marimba Band; Sergio; and, even folksinger Phil Ochs’ short stay with them!): unfortunately, they used an inherent mastering process between 1968-1970 called “HAECO-Compatible Stereo Groove” which was an excuse to discontinue dedicated mono albums (then, in A&M’s catalog: prefixed “LP” vs. the stereo labelled “SP”); by tinkering with the right channel audio phase-inverted 90-degrees (so that mono record players as well as mono radio stations would still be able to reproduce the recording without half the mix sounding like it was missing). However, the resultant sound quality for about 75% of their releases during that period was awful(!). On a normal, quality system: this “HAECO-CSG” would playback like the soundstage was in a mired fishbowl and the (usually centered) vocals (for example) would sound like the right speaker was behind a curtain; with all the depth and presence of the signal squeezed out of it (while the left channel remained entirely untouched).

The first A&M recording to utilize this was, actually, Sergio and B’66s “Fool On the Hill” album. A lot of people think the addition of too many string arrangements (by Dave Grusin) ruins the album already (the style is definitely a change from the more “pure” Brazillian feel of 4116 and 4122 “Equinox”…and, not Bacharach-tinged like 4137 “Look Around”), but I (personally) think it’s still an uptempo album with a very ethereal lilt to the collection of tracks. Only bad thing: EVERY VINTAGE FORMAT of it released has that annoying “fake mono” artifact which is grating to listen to. This would plague his next two A&M releases as well (“Crystal Illusions” and “Ye-Me-Lé”).

His last A&M B’66 album to feature the wonderful lead vocalist Lani Hall-Alpert thankfully came out after they’d (finally) abandoned that and is, in fact, an undiscovered gem. It’s called “STILLNESS” (from 1971) and, even though there’s this weird CSN/Joni Mitchell-acoustic-vibe dominating the majority of the album (except for three songs: one of which is an enjoyably bizarre literal translation of something called “Lost in Paradise”, sung by Sergio’s wife Gracinha Leporacé): it is very well recorded and reveals new, little insights with each listen one never tires of discovering(!). Excellent taste!

1 Like