Advice – Audio Progress

It can be done. Here are some ideas.

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…)

Audiophile Wire Testing with Jethro Tull and His Friend Aqualung

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… who seems to have a rather nasty bronchial condition…

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Like Heart’s Little Queen album, Aqualung presents us with a Demo Disc / Test Disc that really puts a stereo through its paces, assuming it’s the kind of stereo that’s designed to play an album like Aqualung.

Not many audiophile systems I’ve run across over the years were capable of reproducing the Big Rock Sound this album requires, but perhaps you have one and would like to use the album to test some of your tweaks and components. I used it to show me how bad sounding some of the audiophile wire I was testing really was.

Here’s what I wrote:

A quick note about some wire testing I was doing a while back. My favorite wire testing record at the time (2007)? None other than Aqualung!

Part One

Here’s why: Big Whomp Factor. Take the whomp out of Aqualung and the music simply doesn’t work, at all. To rock you need whomp, and much of Aqualung wants to rock.
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Who Can’t Hear Differences in Sound from Side to Side?

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Audiophile Reissues of the Reiner/CSO Recording

Both the Chesky and Classic reissue pressings of LSC 2446 are just plain terrible. Embarrassingly the latter is found on the TAS List.

There is a newly remastered 33 RPM pressing of the album garnering rave reviews in the audiophile press. We will didn’t like it either.

Please note that in many of the reviews for the new pressing, the original vinyl used for comparison is a Shaded Dog pressing. In our experience almost no Shaded Dog pressings are competitive with the later White Dog pressings, and many of them are just plain awful, as we have noted previously on the site.

The “original is better” premise of most reviewers renders the work they do practically worthless, especially to those of us who take the time to play a wide variety of pressings, judging them on the merits of their sound, not the color of their labels.
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Sowing The Seeds Of Love for Psych

The Seeds Of Love

 

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This Tears for Fears album is a real desert island disc for me. When you get a big, rich, smooth copy such as this one, the short list of problems with the recording don’t interfere with the music. Like good stereo equipment, a good record lets you forget all that audio stuff and just listen to the music as music.

The Seeds Of Love is the band’s masterpiece, and hearing it this way is nothing short of a THRILL.

The sound of most copies is aggressive, hard, harsh and thin. What do you expect? The album is recorded digitally and direct metal mastered at Masterdisk. Most of us analog types put up with the limitations of the sound because we love the music, some of the most powerfully moving, brilliantly written and orchestrated psychedelic pop of the last thirty years. Imagine if the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper/ Magical Mystery Tour phase kept going in that direction. They very well might have ended up in the neighborhood of Sowing the Seeds of Love. (more…)

Making Progress in Audio with Supertramp

Even in the Quietest Moments

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The story behind this record is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

We wrote up this album in 2005 as a Hot Stamper Stalled listing; we just couldn’t find anything that really sounded right to us. The imports were a smeary mess, the half-speed was and is a complete joke (we used to like it but that just goes to show how wrong you can be), and the domestic copies were so grainy and phony-sounding we knew there was no way to make the case that this was some sort of audiophile recording.

Could it be that when Geoff Emerick took over the recording duties from his friend Ken Scott, who had engineered the two previous albums, both of which are stunning — Crime of the Century and Crisis? What Crisis? — he had simply dropped the ball and done a bad job? How could that be possible? (more…)

Our Playback System – And Why You Shouldn’t Care

Our Playback System

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Below you will find a list of most of the equipment we use to carry out our pressing evaluations,also known as Hot Stamper shootouts. Of course the old 80/20 Rule comes into play here — 80% (probably more like 90 or 95%, truth be told) of the sound is what you do with your audio system, 20% (or 10 or 5%) of the sound is the result of the components you own.

We like to say it’s not about the audio you have, it’s about the audio you do: how you set up your system, what you’ve done to treat your room, how good your electricity is and all the rest of it. Our current system is described below.

More on The Stereo (more…)

Advances in Playback Technology

More Than Blind Faith

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In a 2007 commentary for the Hot Stamper pressing of Blind Faith we noted that:

When it finally all comes together for such a famously compromised recording, it’s nothing less than a THRILL. More than anything else, the sound is RIGHT. Like Layla or Surrealistic Pillow, this is no demo disc by any stretch of the imagination, but that should hardly keep us from enjoying the music. And now we have the record that lets us do it.

More Blind Faith

The Playback Technology Umbrella

Why did it take so long? Why does it sound good now, after decades of problems? For the same reason that so many great records are only now revealing their true potential: advances in playback technology

Audio has finally reached the point where the magic in Blind Faith’s grooves is ready to be set free. (more…)

Gino Vannelli – Storm At Sunup – and The Amazing ARC SP3A-1

Gino Vannelli – Storm At Sunup – and The Amazing ARC SP3A-1

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Storm at Sunup used to be my favorite Gino Vannelli album. I played it all the time back in the ’70s. It was one of a handful of recordings that made me want to pursue audiophile equipment in the hopes that higher quality playback would allow it to sound even bigger and more exciting. It was pretty damn big and exciting already, but I wanted more. 

Right around that time I got my first audiophile tube preamp, the Audio Research SP3A-1, which replaced a Crown IC-150. As you can no doubt imagine, especially if you know the IC-150 at all well, playing this album through that state-of-the-art tube preamp was a revelation. From then on there was no looking back. I started spending all my money on better and better equipment and more and more records. That was forty plus years ago and I haven’t stopped yet.

More on The Stereo

SEE MORE OF GINO VANNELLI’S ALBUMS

This is also the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Stereo Systems driving Big Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound that I can enjoy. Anything less is just not for me. (more…)

Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive – Get Rid of Grit and Grain The Right Way

 

How to Get Rid of Grit and Grain The Right Way

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Jumpin’ Jive is one of the clearest examples of an album where it is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to make sure your stereo is running on good electricity before you make any attempt to play it. This is the kind of recording — bright, full of energy — that will bring most stereo systems to their knees. Of course, when you play a good copy and it really sounds good, it’s a record that rewards all the time and effort you’ve put into your system.

So much of the aggressiveness, grit and grain that we hear in immediate, high-energy recordings such as this are really the fault of the electricity feeding the stereo, not the fault of the record or even the equipment used to play it.

More Audio Advice

Now it should be noted that this recording has a ton of high frequency information that will be difficult to reproduce on most systems. If you leave a lot of appliances and electronic devicesplugged in around the house when you listen to your stereo, you can forget ever hearing this record right. The grit and grunge caused by polluted electricity will make this record practically unlistenable, at the levels we listen at anyway. (At lower levels most of the garbage is masked, one reason no doubt that audiophiles rarely turn their stereos up to anything approaching live levels.) 

So do as we do: unplug everything you can get your hands on before you sit down to listen. Make sure your tubes (if you have tube equipment) are nice and warm too. (more…)