Sergio Mendes – Look Around, Then Listen for the Huge Room on Roda

More of the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

If you have a good copy of Look Around and a high-rez stereo/room and want to have some fun, play the second track on side one, Roda. In the left channel there is some double-tracked clapping (or two people, how could you tell the difference?) in a HUGE room. Actually although it sounds like a huge room it’s probably a normal sized room with lots of reverb added. Either way it sounds awesome. 

These hand claps drive the energy and rhythm of the song, and they are so well recorded you will think the back wall of your listening room just collapsed behind the left speaker. On the truly transparent copies the echo goes WAY back.

(Note that it can also be heard in the center of the soundfield and off to the right as well, but, of course, those effects can only be heard on the best copies, on the best equipment, in the best rooms.)

Without a doubt it was the most fun sound we heard in a full day of shootouts.

The typical copy of the album won’t show you that room. The long out of print Speakers Corner heavy vinyl pressing won’t either. Their version is okay, not bad, but by no stretch of the imagination competitive with any Hot Stamper pressing.

The typical audiophile stereo will also have a hard time reproducing the huge room in which those hand claps can so clearly be heard. You will need to have all the latest stuff, a very good front end and a very fast cartridge to get the sound of that room to come out of your speakers.

Most pressings of this album are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled, smeary and full of compressor distortion in the louder parts. This is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

Our Difficulty of Reproduction (DOR) Scale

The recording itself is Difficult to Reproduce. Do not attempt to play it using any but the best front ends. The vocals will tear your head off when they start to get loud unless you are using a very good cartridge and arm. In a way, this is the perfect record to show how much progress you are making in audio. I remember playing these albums only a few years ago and hearing LOTS of harmonic distortion and other unpleasant qualities in the sound. With those very same pressings today, the sound is DRAMATICALLY better.

Room Treatments Bring Out The Best

On another note, with recent changes to some of our room treatments, we now have even more transparency in the mids and highs, while improving the whomp factor at the listening position. (The formula goes like this: deep bass + mid bass + speed + dynamics = whomp.)

There’s always tons of bass being produced when you have three 12′ woofers firing away, but getting the bass out of the corners and into the center of the room is one of the toughest tricks in audio.

For a while we were quite enamored with some later pressings of Sergio’s album — they were cut super clean, with extended highs and amazing transparency, and virtually none of the congestion in the loud parts you hear on practically every copy.

But that clarity comes at a price, and it’s a steep one. The best early pressings have whomp down below only hinted at by the “cleaner” reissues. It’s the same way super-transparent half-speeds fool most audiophiles. For some reason audiophiles rarely seem to notice the lack of weight and solidity down below that they’ve sacrificed for this improved clarity. Probably because it’s the rare audiophile speaker that can really move enough air to produce the whomp we are talking about here.

But hey, look who’s talking! I was fooled too. You have to get huge amounts of garbage out of your system (and your room) before the trade-offs become obvious. When you find that special early pressing, one with all the magic in the midrange and top without any loss of power down below, then my friend you have one of those “I Can’t Believe It’s A Record” records. We call them Hot Stampers here at Better Records, and they’re guaranteed to blow your mind.

Audiophile Sound to Die For

As you may have noticed, we here at Better Records are HUGE Sergio Mendes fans. Nowhere else in the world of music can you find the wonderfully diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the breathy multi-tracked female vocals and their layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the critically important piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself.

Brasil ’66, Equinox and Stillness are ALL Desert Island Discs for us, but we enjoy the hell out of their other albums as well. This stuff never sounds dated to us. We love the albums of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao and Astrud Gilberto from the period, albums which no doubt served as templates for the style Sergio wanted to create with his new ensemble, but Brazil 66 is clearly a step up in every way: songwriting, arranging, production, and quality of musicianship.

Just play the group’s amazing versions of Watch What Happens, Night and Day, or Jobim’s own Wave to hear the kind of Mendes Magic that makes us swoon. For audiophiles it just doesn’t get any better. Almost. Stillness is still the Ultimate, on the level of a Dark Side of the Moon or Tea for the Tillerman, but the first album and Equinox and specific tracks on their other albums are not far behind.