An Audio Exercise that You Can Do at Home with Bookends

A Killer Copy

Musically side two is one of the strongest in the entire Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre (if you’ll pardon my French). Each of the five songs could hold its own as a potential hit on the radio, and no filler to be found whatsoever. How many albums from 1968 can make that claim?

The estimable ROY HALEE handled the engineering duties. Not the most ‘natural” sounding record he ever made, but that’s clearly not what he or the duo were going for. The three of them would obviously take their sound much farther in that direction with the Grammy winning Bridge Over Troubled Water from 1970.

The bigger production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.

The Wrecking Crew provided top quality backup, with Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano and keyboards.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Bookends Theme
Save the Life of My Child

I used to think this track would never sound good enough to use as an evaluation track. It’s a huge production that I found heretofore practically impossible to get to sound right on even the best original copies of the album. Even as recently as ten years ago I had basically given up trying.

Thankfully things have changed. Nowadays, with great copies at our disposal and a system that is really cooking, virtually all of the harmonic distortion in the big chorus near the opening disappears. It takes a very special pressing and a very special stereo to play this song.

America

America is another one of the toughest tracks to get right. The big ending with its powerful orchestral elements is positively stunning on the rare copies that have little or no congestion in the loudest passages.

On virtually every copy you will ever hear the voices on this track are a little sibilant. Modern records are made with what is known as a de-essing limiter. This limiter recognizes sibilance and keeps it under control, because once the cutter head sees that kind of high frequency information, which is already boosted for the RIAA curve, it will try to cut it onto the record and the result will be this kind of spitty distortion.

What’s interesting is that none of the reissues we played managed to control the problem, even though the hgher quality cutting systems they would have been made with should have been able to handle the extra power requirements. The reissues are not only spitty, but the spit tends to be grainy and aggressive on the bad copies, the worst of both worlds.

Adding to the problem on the track America is the fact that it fades in over the ending of the previous track. This means that it’s actually a generation of tape down from the master, owing to the fact that that kind of mixing is generally done from two master tapes onto a third mixdown tape. From there further dubs might even have been made. Who knows how many generations of tape there might end up being between the master and the finished product?

There is also deep bass on the best copies, bass which is usually missing from the most originals and practically all of the reissues.

Overs
Voices of Old People
Old Friends
Bookends Theme

Side Two

Musically this side is one of the strongest in the entire Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre (if you’ll pardon my French). Not a dog in the bunch.

Fakin’ It

On copies that are big and clear but not quite as rich and Tubey Magical as one might wish the vocals here will be a bit dry and gritty.

Punky’s Dilemma

This is probably the best sounding song on side two, rich, relaxed, tubey and smooth. No later Red Label pressing gets those qualities the way the best 360s do.

Mrs. Robinson

This song sounds like it’s sourced from a dub tape. Notice how smeary the guitar transients are. The vocals are a bit better than the guitars, but no other track on this side sounds quite as dubby — to my ear — as this one.

A Hazy Shade of Winter
At the Zoo

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We have created exercises, experiments and tests that you can do at home for fun and profit. We can all agree that the better our stereos sound, the more enjoyable they become. Learning how to get better sound from the equipment and recordings you own doesn’t cost a dime. It simply requires that you improve your critical listening skills.

Those skills develop through practice, by challenging yourself to understand what is really on your records — to figure out, to the best of your ability, what is right and what is wrong on every record you own. Same with your stereo. You can’t fix a problem that you haven’t yet recognized is a problem, right?

To get started please make sure you have read our Introduction to Better Records explaining what we do and how we do it, since we feel our approach can and will work for anyone. Also the link How to Become an Expert Listener should be helpful. That should get you off to a good start.

We have another whole section of commentaries about Audio Issues on the site as well.

Happy listening from all of us at Better Records.

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