Listening in Depth to Little Queen

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This is a recording that I credit with making me a better audiophile. When I first heard a killer Hot Stamper pressing played back through the EAR 324P phono stage at a friend’s house, I immediately called the distributor and ordered one. That was a Saturday. It arrived on the following Tuesday.

Compared to the 834P tube unit I had been using, the solid state 324P simply took the recording to a level I had no idea could even exist.

That was 2007. Looking back now, it’s clear to me that 2007 was by far the most momentous year in the history of Better Records.

Once I had reached that higher level of playback, I set about using the album for tweaking and testing, and learned a lot doing it. Along with a substantial number of other records I have come across in my forty plus years as a hobbyist and audiophile record dealer, Little Queen is one that has done a great deal to help me become a more critical listener. [1]

Side One


One of the little tricks I used toward the end of my marathon Little Queen tweaking session from many years ago (which lasted more than six hours one Saturday evening, leaving me euphoric but exhausted) was to listen to the ending of Barracuda. Some of the big guitar chords at the end of the song are louder than others, and the more the differences in level among them can be heard, the better the stereo and the room must be at exposing these micro-dynamic changes.

You can’t make the guitarist play some of the notes at the end louder than others, you can only reveal the fact that he indeed must have. This is what is meant by Hi-Fidelity, the higher the better.

Love Alive

This is as good as it gets for Heart. They really rock on this track — the sound of the drums and the guitars are perfection. This may sound heretical, but I would put Love Alive right up there with some of my favorite Led Zeppelin tunes. It ROCKS. The band is on fire; give them their due. The rhythm section on the early Heart albums is Top Notch and then some. Maybe not Bonham and Jones Quality but pretty darn good in their own right.

The beginning section has so many subtle details (such as the autoharp and tabla) that simply disappear on a run-of-the-mill system. On the best copies the autoharp sounds rich and chimey and the tabla has a fair amount of low end extension. All this gets lost in the sauce if you’re listening to the average copy, or the average stereo.

This was precisely the kind of information that my 834p had been keeping from me and my 324p was now revealing. the memory of that afternoon, circa 2007 — an audio milestone if there ever was one — is etched in my mind to this day

[1] The albums listed here not only informed my taste in music, but helped guide the progress of the stereo equipment I use to play that music on. I’ve had large scale dynamic speakers for close to five decades, precisely in order to play demanding recordings such as these, the music I fell in love with as a budding audiophile in my twenties. (And sometimes even earlier, as in the case of The Beatles. I still have my 45 of She Loves You, which I bought at the tender age of 10 in 1964, my first record purchased using my own money. The record itself may be cracked, but the picture sleeve, worn as it is after some early abuse, is priceless.)

There is no question that the artists that recorded these albums, in concert with their remarkably talented producers and engineers, sweated every detail of these exceptional recordings. Year after year, we have done everything we could think of to get these recordings to sound their best. We know how good they can sound on systems that have what it takes to play them.

The more tweaking and tuning you do — on your system, room and electricity — the more progress you will make in this hobby, and the bigger and bolder these recordings will come to sound. They are the most difficult-to-reproduce albums we know of, the ones that can help you make real, demonstrable progress in this hobby.

Again and again it was meeting the challenge of reproducing recordings such as these that allowed us to get to the next level, and they can do the same for you.

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