Month: April 2015

Dopey Record Theories

mitchcourt_1504Below we discuss some record theories that seem to be making the rounds these days.

It started with a stunning White Hot Stamper 2-pack that just went up on the site..

I implored the eventual purchaser to note that side two of record one has Joni sounding thin, hard and veiled. If you look at the stampers you can see it’s obviously cut by the same guy (no names please!), and we’re pretty sure both sides were stamped out at the same time of day since it’s impossible to do it any other way. What accounts for the amazing sound of one side and the mediocre sound of its reverse?

If your theory cannot account for these huge differences in sound, your theory is hopelessly, fundamentally flawed, not to mention the rather important, one might even say all-important, fact that it has no practical value in the first place — how is anyone to know at what specific time of day a record was pressed? Or how many copies had come off the stamper ahead of it?

Can anything be more ridiculous than the ad hoc, evidence-free theories of some audiophile record collectors desperately searching for a reason to explain why records — even the sides of the same record — sound so different from one another?

The old adage “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” couldn’t be more apt. If you want to know if a pudding tastes good, a list of its ingredients, the temperature it cooked at, and the name of the person stirring it on the stove is surely of limited utility. To know the taste one need only take a bite.

If you want to know the sound of a record, playing it is the best way to find out, preferably against other pressings, under carefully controlled conditions, on good equipment, while listening critically and taking notes.

The alternative is to… Scratch that. There is no alternative. Nothing else will ever work. In the world of records there are no explanatory theories of any value, just as there are no record gurus with all the answers. There are only methods that help you find the best pressings and methods that don’t. The good news is that these methods are explained in detail on this very site, free of charge.

We’ve made it clear to anyone who’s interested how to go about finding better sounding LPs. Once you see the positive results our methods produce we suspect you will no longer be wasting time theorizing about records. You will have learned something about them, at least about some of them, and that hard-won knowledge is the only kind with any real value.

See all of our Joni Mitchell albums in stock

What to Listen for on this EMI

prokosym1_emi_1504_2_1153511995That’s an easy one: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label to the extent that they did back in the day. I chalk it up, as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles make about the sound of records, my own included (we do have a We Was Wrong section right on the site, the only one of its kind to my knowledge), to limited equipment, bad rooms and poor record cleaning.

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I had an Audio Research D-75a and later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems of today.

Working in impossibly complicated and unpredictable combination, today’s modern systems, painstakingly set-up through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like.

These are what make it possible for us to do our job. You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like on your system and in your room; the cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.
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This Is Not a Cheap Hobby If You Want to Do It Right

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Rick sent us a letter recently after having played his first Hot Stamper, the first record he ever bought from us. At $300 it wasn’t cheap, but the best things in life never are, and certainly there is little in the world of audio that’s cheap and much good. This is not a cheap hobby if you want to do it right, and even tons of money doesn’t guarantee you will get good sound. It’s far more complicated than that. To quote Winston Churchill, it takes “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Churchill went on to say “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs… Victory, however long and hard the road may be…”

Now, he wasn’t talking about audio, but he could have been, and I certainly am. It takes resources — money and labor — to get the sound you want. That is the victory I am aiming at.

Rick here no doubt heard the sound he was looking for on our Hot Stamper McCartney album, and then some, judging by his letter.
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What Other Live Rock Record Sounds This Good?

humblperfo_1504_1_1146266906One of the best — if not THE best — rock concert albums we have ever heard. Can you imagine if Frampton Comes Alive sounded like this? If you want to hear some smokin’ Peter Frampton guitar work from the days when he was with the band, this album captures that sound better than any of their studio releases, and far better than FCA on even the best copies.

Grungy guitars that jump out of the speakers, prodigious punchy deep bass, dynamic vocals and drum work — the best pressings of Rockin’ The Fillmore have more live firepower than any live recording we’ve ever heard. Who knew?

Eddie Kramer, King of the Rockers

What Eddie Kramer did for Led Zeppelin II he’s done for Humble Pie on this album, and that’s saying a lot. If Zep II is the hardest rocking studio album in the history of the world, Rockin’ The Fillmore is its close companion, the hardest rockin’ live album in the history of the world.
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The Best Sounding Jethro Tull Album

Thick As a Brick

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Thick As A Brick is surely the BEST SOUNDING ALBUM Jethro Tull ever recorded. Allow us to make the case.

  • The better copies are shockingly dynamic. At about the three minute mark the band joins in the fun and really starts rocking.
  • Set your volume for as loud as your system can play that section. The rest of the music, including the very quietest parts, will then play correctly for all of side one. For side two the same volume setting should be fine.
  • The recording can have exceptionally solid, deep punchy bass (just check out Barrie “Barriemore” Barlow’s drumming, especially his kick and floor toms. The guy is on fire).
  • The midrange is usually transparent and the top end sweet and extended on the better pressings.
  • The recording was made in 1972, so there’s still plenty of Tubey Magic to be heard on the acoustic guitars and flutes.
  • The best copies can be as huge, wide and tall as any rock record you’ve ever heard, with sound that comes jumping out of your speakers right into your listening room.
  • Unlike practically any album recorded during the ’80s or later, the overall tonal balance, as well as the timbre of virtually every instrument in the soundfield is exceedingly correct.

That kind of accuracy practically disappeared from records about thirty years ago, which explains why so many of the LPs we offer as Hot Stampers were produced in the ’70s. That’s when many of the highest fidelity recordings were made. In truth this very record is a superlative example of the sound the best producers, engineers, and studios were able to capture on analog tape during that time.
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Big Speakers, Loud Levels and More Power to the Orchestra

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The darker brass instruments like tubas, trombones and french horns are superb here. Other Golden Age recordings of the work, as enjoyable as they may be in other respects, do not fully reproduce the weighty quality of the brass, probably because of compression, limiting, tube smear, or some combination of the three.
The brass on this record has a power like no other. It’s also tonally correct. It’s not agressive. It’s not irritating. It’s just immediate and powerful the way the real thing is when you hear it live. That’s what really caught my ear when I first played Ansermet’s recording.

There is a blast of brass at the end of Catacombs that is so big and real, it makes you forget you’re listening to a recording. You hear every brass instrument, full size, full weight. I still remember the night I was playing that album, good and loud of course, when that part of the work played through. It was truly startling in its power. (Back then I had the Legacy Whisper speaker system, the one with eight 15″ woofers. They moved air like nobody’s business. If you want to reproduce the power of the trombone, the loudest instrument in the orchestra, they’re your man.)
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Here Are the Hot Stampers for THE All Time Sleeper Recording of Bernstein’s Music

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Looking to pick up a Hot Stamper locally on your own? Easy — all the best Decca and London copies (UK pressed only of course) are 1L on both sides. I suppose it’s only fair to point out that all the worst copies are 1L on both sides, the reason being that all the copies are 1L on both sides, regardless of how they sound. And here you thought we were actually trying to be helpful.

But we are being helpful. We’re being honest with you. Stamper numbers are often misleading. They’re misleading in the same way that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The numbers only tell a part of the story, and more often than not they tell the wrong part of the story. No matter how much audiophiles and record collectors want them to, the numbers simply cannot tell you whether the record you have before you, the one with the “right” stampers, is actually a good pressing. Only cleaning it and putting it in a shootout with other copies can do that.

Which means you cannot read your way to better sound. You have to do the work.

This is of course a subject near and dear to our hearts, and we discuss it at length in the commentary we call The Book of Hot Stampers.

THE All Time Sleeper

This record is a real sleeper, for which I am much indebted to Robert Pincus, the man who first brought it to my attention more than a decade ago. It contains the music of Leonard Bernstein, conducted by Eric Rogers, played with extraordinary skill by the Royal Phil. Rogers, to these ears anyway, seem to understand Bernstein as well or better than Bernstein himself. I certainly don’t know a better recording of the selections of Bernstein’s music compiled here.

The performances are superb — energetic yet lyrical when the score requires it. Rogers really breathes FIRE into these pieces, especially on side two. We have never heard anything like it, and we play a lot of records!

Phase IV, Are You Serious?

Yes, absolutely. Allow me to make the case this way. Phase 4 has the life, dynamics, and deep articulate bass not found on most Golden Age recordings. There is no compression to speak of on the album, not on the best copies anyway.

Shaded Dogs may have sweeter strings and more Tubey Magic (which, as anyone who listens to live classical music knows, is mostly a euphonic coloration), but this recording sounds dramatically more like live music than most of them in every way other than soundstaging.

There are of course multiple mikes being used, and sometimes they call attention to themselves, but for the most part the stage is wide and deep enough, and the mikes far enough from the orchestral sections, to create the illusion of a real orchestra in a hall.

The tympani at the back (along with most of the percussion) are especially convincing in this regard. On the copies with the most correct top ends, the triangles and bells are shockingly lifelike, sounding, to my “mind’s ear” exactly the way they do in the concert hall.

By the way…

Those of you with a recording of Glinka’s Russla and Ludmilla Overture will no doubt notice the surprising similarities between it and Lenny’s Overture to Candide found here. I wouldn’t want to call it a ‘steal’; let’s just say he borrowed liberally from that work.

Beethoven – Shaded Dogs Vs. Red Seals

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The Shaded Dog original RCA pressings are the best, right?

Not in our experience. We think that’s just another Record Myth.

In this listing for one of our Hot Stamper 2-packs we compare the sound of the originals (which tend to be crude, veiled, recessed and a bit smeary) with the reissues, which can be awful or wonderful depending on which side of which copy you are playing.

OUR COMMENTARY

This Red Seal Super Hot stamper Two-Pak may be comprised of reissue pressings, late ones even, but the sound is SUPERB. And with a Two-Pak, you get two great sides (just not on the same records of course). The immediacy of the violin was shockingly good; it was Right There, solidly between the speakers, the kind of sound that left the vast majority of pressings we’ve played of LSC 2377 in the dust. (Including the sound on the “bad” sides, which are mediocre at best.)
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What Could Be Sadder?

ledzeII classicLed Zeppelin – II on Classic Records

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

An absolute DISASTER — ridiculously bright, ridiculously crude, in short, a completely unlistenable piece of garbage.

Over the years we have done many Led Zeppelin shootouts, often including the Classic Heavy Vinyl Pressings as a “reference.” After all, the Classic pressings are considered by many — if not most — audiophiles as superior to other pressings. What could be sadder?

In fact. you will find very few critics of the Classic Zep LPs outside of those who write for this very website, and even we used to recommend three of the Zep titles on Classic: Led Zeppelin I, IV and Presence.

Wrong on all counts.

Since then we’ve made it a point to create debunking commentaries for some of the Classic Zeps, a public service of Better Records. We don’t actually like any of them now, although the first album is still by far the best of the bunch.

See more commentaries as well as our in-stock Led Zeppelin albums

 

Transforming the Musical Experience

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A letter from a good customer tells of his experience playing a top copy of the album seen on the left:

Hi Guys,

Just when I thought you guys could not surprise me, you did it again. Morrison Hotel was not in my collection when I was growing up although I was familiar with some of the tracks on the album. I picked up a SHS 2/1.5 copy; it was good and I added it to my collection. I saw the WHS 3/3 copy come up on the site and thought I would give it a try because of my past experience (Jackson Browne, Beatles – White Album, Crowded House). Holy smokes, my intuition was correct the 3/3 copy transforms the musical experience. I don’t know how or why this happens; how a SHS side 2 that sounds good goes exponentially up with a WHS 3 copy; it just does. When one gets a WHS 3/3 in single album as opposed to a 2 pack; it is a musical treat beyond compare. Thanks as usual.

Mike

My reply:

Mike, I have had that experience quite often, hundreds of times in fact. The 3+ takes the music to a place no other copy can take it, or you!

Glad you enjoyed it.
TP

See more albums engineered by Bruce Botnick