I once adjusted my anti-skate while playing this very album, at the time dialing it in to a “T”. Over the years I’ve found that the best test for fine anti-skate adjustment is massed strings, and not just at the end of a side but right at the beginning too.
When you have all the rosiny texture, the high-end harmonic extension, the least shrillness and the widest and deepest staging, you are there, assuming that tracking weight, azimuth and VTA are correct as well.
Four variables to mess with is admittedly a bitch, but having the right record to test with is absolutely critical as well. Maybe we should call it five variables.
And if I only had one record to bring to someone’s house in order to evaluate their equipment, this would certainly be a top choice. If you can make this record sound the way it should, your stereo is cookin’. If you are having problems, this record will show them to you in short order.
Many copies are bright in the upper-midrange, sounding as nasally and artificial as a bad Mercury or London. Many lack weight down low; the lower strings and heavier percussion play a crucial role in balancing out the upper strings and lighter percussion. Otherwise the sound will be skewed upwards in an artificial way.
If your copy has either of these problems don’t use it to set up or tweak anything in your system. Use one of our Hot Stampers, the hotter the better.
This is a superb Demonstration disc, but it is also an excellent Test disc. The sound of the best copies is rich, full-bodied, incredibly spacious, and exceptionally extended up top. There is a prodigious amount of musical information spread across the soundstage, much of it difficult to reproduce. Musicians are banging on so many different percussive devices (often at the back of the stage, exactly where they should be) that getting each one’s sonic character to clearly come through is a challenge — and when you’ve met it, a thrill.
If you’ve done your homework with VTA, Azimuth, Anti-Skate and Tracking Weight, this is the record that will make clear just how much you’ve accomplished.
Neutrality Is Key
But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce! You better have everything working right when you play this one — it’s guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. And if you have any peaky audiophile wire in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this. More than anything this is a record that rewards your system’s neutrality.
On the best copies the strings have wonderful texture and sheen. If your system isn’t up to it (or you have a copy with a problem in this area), the strings might sound a little shrill and possibly grainy as well, but I’m here to tell you that the sound on the best copies is just fine with respect to string tone and timbre. You will need to look elsewhere for the problem.
The recording has tremendous transients and dynamics as well; be prepared to have trouble tracking it. In that respect it’s a prime candidate for table, cartridge and system tweaking.
Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale
This recording ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale. Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment.
It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively. It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too.
As we’ve said before about these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring an audio system to its knees.
If you have the kind of big system that a record like this demands, when you drop the needle on the best of our Hot Stamper pressings, you are going to hear some amazing sound.