Advice – Audio Progress

It can be done. Here are some ideas.

What We Listen For: The Spirit and Enthusiasm of the Musicians

More Revolver

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

This discussion, brought about by a Hot Stamper shootout we conducted for Revolver many years ago (2007!), touches on many issues near and dear to us here at Better Records: pressing variations, system upgrades, dead wax secrets, and the quality we prize most in a recording: LIFE, or, if you prefer, energy.

At the end of the commentary we of course take the opportunity to bash the MoFi pressing of the album, a regular feature of our Beatles Hot Stamper shootouts. We’re not saying the MoFi Beatles records are bad; in the overall scheme of things they are mostly pretty decent. What we are saying is that, with our help, you can do a helluva lot better. Our help doesn’t come cheap, as anyone on our mailing list will tell you. You may have to pay a lot, but we think you get what you pay for, and we gladly back up that claim with a 100% money back guarantee for every Hot Stamper pressing we sell.

The Story of Revolver, Dateline October 2007

White Hot Stampers for Revolver are finally HERE! Let the celebrations begin! Seriously, this is a very special day for us here at Better Records. The Toughest Nut to Crack in the Beatles’ catalog has officially been cracked. Yowza!

Presenting the first TRULY AWESOME copy of Revolver to ever make it to the site. There’s a good reason why Hot Stamper shootouts for practically every other Beatles album have already been done, most of them many times over, and it is simply this: finding good sounding copies of Revolver is almost IMPOSSIBLE. The typical British Parlophone or Apple pressing, as well as every German, Japanese and domestic LP we’ve played in the last year or two just plain sucked. Where was the analog magic we heard in the albums before and after, the rapturously wonderful sound that’s all over our Hot Stamper Rubber Souls and Sgt. Peppers? How could Revolver go so horribly off the rails for no apparent reason? (more…)

The Original Pressings of Beatles Albums Are the Best, Right?

beatles help label

 

Nope. It’s just another Record Myth.

Back in 2005 we compared the MFSL pressing of Help to a British Parlophone LP and were — mistakenly, as you may have already surmised — impressed by the MoFi.

Mobile Fidelity did a GREAT JOB with Help!. Help! is a famously dull sounding record. I don’t know of a single original pressing that has the top end mastered properly. Mobile Fidelity restored the highs that are missing from most copies.

The source of the error in our commentary above is in this sentence, see if you can spot it:

I don’t know of a single original pressing that has the top end mastered properly.

Did you figure it out? If you’ve spent much time on our site of course you did.
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Steely Dan – Katy Lied – Live and Learn

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More Katy Lied

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And to think I used to swear by this pressing — specifically the 2000 Yen reissue, not the 1500 Yen original — another example of just how Wrongyou can be.

We happily admit to our mistakes because we know that all this audio stuff and especially the search for Hot Stampers is a matter of trial and error. We do the trials; that’s how we avoid the kinds of errors most audiophiles and audiophile record dealers make when it comes to finding the best sounding records. Of course, being human we can’t help but make our share of mistakes. The difference is that we learn from them. We report the facts to the best of our ability every time out. 

Every record gets a chance to show us what it’s made of, regardless of where it was made, who made it or why they made it. (Like anybody cares.)

If we used to like it and now we don’t, that’s what you will read in our commentary. Our obligation is to only one person: you, the listener. (Even better: you, the customer. Buy something already!)

On every shootout we do now, if the notes are more than six months old we toss them out. They mean nothing. Things have changed, radically, and that’s the way it should be. With each passing year you should be hearing more of everything in your favorite LPs. That’s the thrill of this hobby — those silly old records just keep getting better! (I wish someone could figure out how to make digital get better. They’ve had twenty five years and it still leaves me cold. You too I’m guessing.)

Gino Vannelli – Powerful People – What Was I Thinking?

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More Powerful People

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked. 

At the time of our last shootout in 2014 I still had the MoFi pressing of Powerful People in my personal, very small (at this point) record collection. Almost all the best sounding records from my collection had long ago been sold off, going to good homes that I can only assume would play them more than I had in the last ten years. If it’s a record you see on our site, chances are good I have listened to it until I’d practically turned blue in the face.

But I had kept my Powerful People half-speed these 30+ years because the domestic pressings I’d played were just too damn midrangy to enjoy. At least the MoFi had bass, top end and didn’t sound squawky or hard on the vocals.

Well, let me tell you, played against the best domestic pressings, of which this is one, the MoFi is laughable. (In that respect it shares much with the current crop of audiophile reissues.) It’s unbelievably compressed, a problem that is easily heard on the biggest, most exciting parts of the tracks — they never get remotely as big or as loud on the MoFi as they do on the lowly A&M originals. (more…)

My-Fi Versus Hi-Fi

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We went wild recently over a marvelous copy of the Ted Heath record you see pictured. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound was positively uncanny. This was vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve upon it.

This is our kind of sound. It’s also important to keep in mind that our stereo seemed to love the record. (Stereos do that.) Let’s talk about why that might be the case.
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McCartney Unplugged – Life-Size Images and Living Presence

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More Unplugged

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises. (This is one of our earliest ones, from all the way back in 2006!)

On the song Blackbird Paul moves the microphone, scraping it along the floor, which causes a huge wave of bass to envelop the room. I was over at one of my customer’s houses a while ago, doing some testing with electronics and tweaks, and I remember distinctly that the microphone stand was shrunken and lean sounding in a way I had never heard before. Now this customer, whose system was in the $100K range, had no idea what that microphone stand could really do. I did, because I’ve been hearing it do it for years.

Some speakers can’t move enough air down low to reproduce that sound. And some speakers, usually those with woofers under 12 inches, shrink the size of images. These are many things to test for for in a given system, dozens and dozens in fact, but two of the important ones are these: if it doesn’t have a solid foundation (read: a big bottom end), and it doesn’t have correctly-sized images for the instruments, that’s a system that is failing in fundamentally important ways.  (more…)

Graham Nash and Better Days – A Good Reason to Get into Audio

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This is one of the records that convinced me that I should enthusiastically and actively pursue high quality home audio – that I should devote the time, energy and money into improving my system so that I could play records like Songs for Beginners louder and get them to sound clearer. 

I had such inexpressibly deep feelings while listening to the album that I knew I had to do everything in my power to make it sound as good as possible. And the song that really did it for me on the album was Better Days.

I was originally thinking of calling this commentary “Why I Became an Audiophile”, but I quickly realized that being an audiophile — a lover of sound — doesn’t necessarily involve buying lots of expensive audio equipment or searching out recordings with higher fidelity.

No, being an audiophile simply means you love good sound. Where you find it — at clubs, at home, in the concert hall or the car — makes no difference whatsoever.

Songs for Beginners couldn’t make me an audiophile; I already was one. It did, however, make me a more dedicated audio enthusiast. It’s precisely the kind of record that rewards the 40 plus years I’ve put into this hobby, trying to get it and hundreds, now thousands, of other wonderful records to sound their best. (more…)

Previn Plays Up a Storm for Contemporary

 

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Bells Are Ringing

More Contemporary Records

 

I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak all the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you are should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)

The Old 80/20 Rule in Action (But It’s Actually More Like 90/10)

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Ambrosia’s first album does exactly what a Test Disc should do. It shows you what’s wrong, and once you’ve fixed it, it shows you that it’s now right.

We audiophiles need records like this. They make us better listeners, and they force us to become better tweakers. You cannot buy equipment that will give you the best sound. You can only tweak the right equipment to get it.

At most 20% of the sound of your stereo is what you bought. At least 80% is what you’ve done with it. Based on my experience I would put the number closer to 90%. (more…)

The Brahms Violin Concerto – Unplug or Suffer the Consequences!

More recordings featuring the violin

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The massed strings here, such as those found at the opening, are close miked and immediate in the “Mercury recording style.” Your electricity better be good when you play this record, because it presents a test many of you will have trouble passing at even moderate levels. 

We’ve often encouraged our readers and customers to go about unplugging things in their homes in order to test the effect of clean electricity on their playback systems. The opening of this record is a perfect example of the kind of material with which everyone should be testing in order to hear these changes. I’d be very surprised if the strings on this record don’t sound noticeably better after you’ve unplugged a few things in your house, and the more the better. (more…)