Month: September 2018

Crosby, Stills and Nash / Replay – Listening in Depth

More Crosby, Stills, Nash

More Replay

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This is another very handy record for setting your VTA. The end of Shadow Captain has loud vocals and punchy bass, which are a bit difficult to reproduce. (Forget trying to get this song to sound good if you don’t have an exceptionally good copy.) 

The next song is To The Last Whale, which starts with Nash and Crosby’s multitracked voices in a big hall. With the correct VTA, their voices should sound silky and sweet. If your arm is too far down in the back, they will get a bit dull. Too high, and they will lose that breathy, “fluffy” quality. And once you get their voices to sound just right, make sure the ending of Shadow Captain is still punchy and dynamic.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Carry On 

A crappy remix, with added guitar, ugh. (more…)

Albert King – Live Wire – Blues Power

  • An outstanding copy of this Must Own Live Blues album, with Double Plus (A++) sound for both sides
  • Accept no substitutes – no reissue of the album can ever give you the energy, size and you-are-there presence that’s on this disc
  • Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – finding these originals with top quality sound and surfaces this quiet is not getting any easier
  • “Live Wire/Blues Power is one of Albert King’s definitive albums. Recorded live at the Fillmore Auditorium in 1968, the guitarist is at the top of his form throughout the record — his solos are intense and piercing… he makes Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” dirty and funky and wrings out all the emotion from “Blues at Sunrise.””

This is one of the all time great live Blues albums. THIS IS BLUES POWER! (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Men – More Swinging Sounds

This Contemporary Yellow Label MONO LP is West Coast Jazz at its best! 

One quality of this side one that really took us by surprise was how DYNAMIC it is. The second track gets loud in a way that only one or two out of a hundred records does.

This is about the number of records we play in a week and I would have to say that no other record this week was more dynamic, hence the rough estimate above.

Side One

A+ to A++, with rich, smooth, lovely West Coast jazz sound. The horns can get a bit hard when loud.

Check out the dynamics on track two — Wow!

Side Two

A+ to A++, clean and lively. Zero smear and nearly as dynamic as side one. Track two, more than fifteen minutes long, is richer than track one by the way.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Moose the Mooche 
The Wind 
Pint of Blues

Side Two

Tommyhawk 
Quartet

The Band Music From Big Pink – EMI Centennial Reviewed

Sonic Grade: B?

[I believe this review is from the mid to late ’90s.]

This is the EMI Centennial version we sold years ago for close to thirty bucks. I thought at the time the MFSL gold CD was better. Now, after many stereo changes, I realize the gold CD is actually fat in the midbass and a little thick and sucked out in the midrange. (MFSL’s, and quite a few others’, standard audiophile EQ.)

I know this because the EMI LP is correct in those areas and shows you how truly wonderful the recording is. If only it had more bass. Who knows? Between the music and the sound you may not even miss it.

Above 100 hertz this album is magic. Below 100 it’s tragic. (Ha ha.)

Phil Collins / Face Value – Whomp Factor

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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. 

Until we heard some of the better copies, we were simply not able to appreciate just how important good bass definition and serious weight down low are to the sound of this record. When the bass is wooly or thin, as it is on so many copies — not clear, not deep, not full enough — it throws the rest of the mix off. When the bass is huge and powerful the music itself becomes huge and powerful.

The copies with the big bottom end are the only ones that really make you sit up and take notice of just how good these songs are. (more…)

Jimmy Smith – Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

More Jimmy Smith

More Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides and one of the better copies from our most recent shootout
  • If you dig Oliver’s Nelson’s swingin’ BIG BRASS as much as we do you are in for a treat with this stereo pressing
  • The best sides have the kind of analog richness, warmth, and smoothness that make listening to records so involving 
  • Slaughter On Tenth Avenue is the monster track leading off here, and it swings the way Walk on the Wild Side does – like crazy, man!

This is some of the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for any RVG recording of Jimmy Smith with arrangements by Oliver Nelson (Claus Ogerman also took on some of the arranging duties; his work with Antonio Carlos Jobim is superb in all respects). (more…)

The Beatles / Rubber Soul – Listening in Depth

More of the Music of Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

After playing so many copies of this record over the last few years, all of us here at Better Records have come to appreciate just how wonderful an album Rubber Soul really is. It has 14 fairly compact, well-structured, well-arranged pop songs, each of which is a gem in its own right. It reminds me a bit of the second album (With The Beatles) in that respect — short and to the point, get in and get out. 

But the second album does not feature acoustic guitars the way Rubber Soul does. From an audiophile point of view, the strumming of those lovely acoustic guitars is in large part what makes Rubber Soul such a special recording.

But what we’ve noticed only recently is how much the tambourine is used. It’s all over this album, and the good news is that most of the time it sounds great. There are other high frequency percussion instruments — shakers and the like — and between the tambourine and all the rest there’s just a lot of percussive energy on most of the songs that really carries them along. To me, this could be called The Tambourine Album. No other Beatles album features that instrument so boldly in the mix and builds so many songs around it.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Drive My Car

Mobile Fidelity made a mess of this song on their Half-Speed Mastered release. They took out far too much upper midrange and top end.

What drives the energy of the song are the cow bell, the drums and other percussion. Instead of a scalpel Mobile Fidelity took a hatchet to this slightly bright track, leaving a dull, lifeless, boring mess. Some Parlophone copies may be a little bright and lack bass, but they still manage to convey the energy of the song. The purple label Capitols can also be quite good. A bit harsher and spittier, yes, but in spite of these shortcomings they communicates the music.

As much as I might like some of the MoFi Beatle records, and even what MoFi did with some of the other tracks on Rubber Soul, they sure sucked the life out of Drive My Car. We all remember how much fun that song was when it would come on the radio. Playing it on a very high quality stereo should make it more fun, not less. If you’ve got a Rubber Soul with a Drive My Car that’s no fun, it’s time to get another one.

Norwegian Wood

Those close-miked guitars can be a bit much unless you have a super-low-distortion copy.

John strums the hell out of his acoustic in the right channel, and on the best copies the sound of the guitar is very dynamic and energetic. No two copies will get that guitar to sound the same, and the more dynamic and lively it sounds, the better in my book.

Did The Beatles ever write a better song?

You Won’t See Me

Can be a bit midrangy in places.

Nowhere Man

Unless you have an especially good copy this song will sound VERY compressed. It’s much too thick and congealed on the average copy. The best pressings manage to find the richness in the overall sound as well as the breathiness in the vocals that others barely hint at. Play this track on whatever copies you own (more than one I hope) and see if it doesn’t sound as messy as we describe.

Think for Yourself

The better copies get this one tonally right on the money! That tambourine can be sweet.

The Word

This song rocks, with some of the best bass on the album. When the harmony vocals are added for the final chorus The Word takes off into the stratosphere. You won’t find a better Beatles song in their catalog.

Michelle

Sonic and musical perfection on the best copies! Vocals and guitars should sound present and clear, with Tubey Magic in spades.

Side Two

What Goes On

Wow, yet another track with superb, rich, full-bodied, smooth sound on the better pressings.

Girl

Tonally different from the above track; it should be cleaner but no less sweet.

I’m Looking Through You

If you don’t feel like singing along to this song something must be wrong somewhere. The track’s rhythmic qualities take on a momentum that builds the energy level higher and higher as the song progresses. Above all the sound should be immediate and lively. This is the song that really shows you the passion of The Beatles. Audiophile pressings and CDs don’t do that.

In My Life
Wait

Tons of energy on the drums in the left channel are a key test. In the right channel the shakers and tambourines are way up in the mix. The bass is a bit lean compared to the other tracks and tends to get a bit lost. If you can follow the bass throughout the song that’s a good sign.

Balancing the bass and drums in the left channel with the vocals and percussion in the right channel is not easy to do, which of course is what makes it a great test.

And how is it that none of the critics of “twin track stereo” — the two-track recording approach used on the first two albums, with the elements hard-panned left and right — has ever come clean about the obvious twin track sound of Rubber Soul? We used tracks four, five and six to test side two with, and in all three the vocals are hard panned right with most of the instruments hard-panned left. Why is it wrong for Please Please Me to sound that way — the mono mix being the critic’s choice — but fine for Rubber Soul to be heard that way?

If I Needed Someone

Silky and sweet on the best copies. Harrison’s double tracked vocal is especially well recorded, although somewhat hard to reproduce. VTA and setup in general are critical on this track.

Run for Your Life

Wow — the last song on Rubber Soul, Number 14 for those of you keeping track at home, is surely one of the best sounding.

The Beatles’ sixth album really goes out on a high note, with the band’s most consistent songwriting and production to date, all good reasons that Rolling Stone ranked it Number 5 of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

David Bowie / Young Americans – What to Listen For

More of the Music of David Bowie

The average RCA copy of this album is bright, grainy and hard to some degree, like most RCA pressings I come across. If you’ve been stuck with an average copy, you’re not going to believe how smooth and sweet the best ones sound. 

This is one of my favorite Bowie albums. Nobody seems to care about it anymore. They dismiss it as disco junk, but it actually has some of his best music on it. I especially like the song Win. David Sanborn’s saxophone sounds like it’s coming from 60 feet behind Bowie, a nice effect.

Both sides here are AGAIG — As Good As It Gets, Master Tape Sound. The overall sound is open, spacious, and transparent with lots of DEEP bass. You can easily pick out all the background vocals, and Bowie’s voice sounds just right. The strings have amazing amounts of texture — you can really hear the sound of the rosin on the bow. The highs are silky sweet and the bottom end is punchy and powerful. You won’t believe how superb the cymbal crashes sound — you’re right there in the room with these guys! (more…)

Art Pepper – Living Legend – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

More Art Pepper

More Jazz Recordings featuring the Saxophone

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SUPERB SOUND AND MUSIC! Art Pepper’s saxophone sound is Right On The Money, breathy and airy with clearly audible leading edge transients. The lineup on this LP is stellar, with Hampton Hawes on piano and keys, Shelly Manne on drums, and the great Charlie Haden on bass guitar.   

We’ve mentioned plenty of times what big fans we are of Contemporary Label Jazz LP’s and this record is another sonic triumph for engineer Roy DuNann. The sound is warm and lively, with superb clarity and virtually no distortion. The top end is wonderfully extended, allowing you to really appreciate some fantastic cymbal work by Shelly Manne.

Hampton Hawes is wonderful on this album. On the track “What Laurie Likes,” he switches over to an electric piano, giving the sound a very cool ’70s jazz-rock feel. It’s too bad these guys didn’t record more material in this vein — they really nail it. 

TRACK LISTING

Ophelia 
Here’s That Rainy Day
What Laurie Likes 
Mr. Yohe 
Lost Life 

AMG Review

Art Pepper, one of the major bop altoists to emerge during the ’50s, started his comeback with this excellent set, Living Legend. After 15 years filled with prison time and fighting drug addiction, Pepper was finally ready to return to jazz. Accompanied by three of his old friends (pianist Hampton Hawes, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Shelly Manne), Pepper displays a more explorative and darker style than he had previously. He also shows a greater emotional depth in his improvisations and was open to some of the innovations of the avant-garde in his search for greater self-expression.

Miles Davis – Seven Steps to Heaven

More Miles Davis

More of Our Best Jazz Trumpet Recordings

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This Original Miles Davis record has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND! Columbia jazz records from this period are some of the best sounding jazz records ever made, and this is a perfect example of what is right with their recordings. The sound is rich, full, sweet, tonally right on the money, and lively as can be. 

This is an interesting album because half of it is recorded in Hollywood and half of it in New York, with the songs in each location interspersed on the sides. Victor Feldman handles the piano duties in California; Herbie Hancock in New York. I actually prefer Victor Feldman’s playing on this record. We don’t get to hear his piano work often — he’s really quite good. (Cal Tjader started out on the drums but it’s tough to find records with him drumming.)

Anyway, one of the thoughts that occurred to me when I was playing this record is this: Why is there no audiophile reissue on any label that sounds like this? There’s something about the sound of these old records, these original pressings, that’s impossible to recapture with modern equipment. It may not be impossible, but until somebody manages to do it, it might as well be.

When you drop the needle at the beginning of side one and hear Miles’ muted trumpet come jumping out of your speakers, I guarantee you will be amazed or your money back!