*Making Audio Progress

It’s not easy — nothing is in fact harder. However, if your approach to audio is clear-headed and evidence-based — in other words, scientific — progress is not only possible, it is virtually guaranteed.

Most of the listings compiled here describe lessons we’ve learned from playing so many records over the years. If you play lots of records, while listening to them critically, some of them will teach you things about audio that you cannot learn any other way.

Practically all of our audio philosophy derives from the simple act of trying to get our system to play the greatest recordings of all time with the highest fidelity possible. Every record is a challenge, and every defeat an opportunity to learn something, to see where we may have gone wrong, in order to know more than we did before.

The right vintage pressings have the potential to sound dramatically better than the mostly-mediocre records being made today. If you have made good audio progress in this hobby, this is an obvious truism.

If you doubt any of the above, we hope that the work you take on based on the advice in these commentaries will help get your system to another level, a level where there can be no doubt.

Small Speakers and Some Audio Lessons I’ve Learned in the Last 40+ Years

More Speaker Advice

Commentaries and Advice on Equipment

Do not believe a word you hear in this video. You probably shouldn’t even watch it.

Let me state clearly one of our core beliefs here at Better Records.

Small speakers are incapable of lifelike musical reproduction in the home.

You will never feel as though you are in the presence of live musicians with a system like the one below. Real acoustic instruments move lots of air; that’s why we can hear them all the way at the back of the concert hall.

Little speakers, unlike speakers with large dynamic drivers, do a poor job of moving air. Screen speakers are not quite as bad as small speakers like those you see pictured, but they suffer from the same limitation: they don’t move enough air.

I’ve never had speakers this small (or screens), but I’ve heard many systems with little speakers on stands, with and without subs, and all of them left a great deal to be desired. When I find myself in a room with such systems, at most I listen for a few moments, for curiosity’s sake more than anything else, just to hear what they might be doing better or worse, and then I get the hell out of there before I become even more irritated than I normally am.

If you get talked into buying a system like this — novice audiophiles constantly get talked into buying bad stereo systems in every audio salon in the world — you will have a hard time getting very far in audio, and will probably just end up stuck at this unacceptably low level. So don’t do it!

This system may represent a floor, a good entry point for the budding enthusiast, but it is also a ceiling in the sense that it will keep you from making any real progress in the hobby. Which would be a shame. I have dedicated more than 45 years of my life to audio and have no intention of abandoning it. On the contrary, I get better at it all the time.

Can you imagine hooking up a turntable to these little boxes? Why bother?

Everything that’s good about analog would be inaudible on this system, and that right there is all the reason you should not go this route.

And to show you how clueless this setup is, the two towers of record shelving behind and to the outside of the speakers are in the worst possible place you could ever put them. Nothing should go there (unless you have Hallographs).

Keep the rear corners behind the speakers mostly empty unless you know what you are doing. This guy clearly does not.

Some of my old audio history:

I was duped into buying my first real audiophile speaker, Infinity Monitors, when the clever salesman played Sheffield’s S9 through them. I bought them on the spot. It was only later when I got home that none of my other records sounded as good, or even good for that matter. That was my first exposure to a Direct to Disc recording. To this day I can still picture the room the Infinity’s were playing in. It was a watershed moment in my audiophile life.

And of course I couldn’t wait to get rid of them once I’d heard them in my own system with my own records. I quickly traded them in for a pair of RTR 280-DRs. Now that was a great speaker! A 15 panel RTR Electrostatic unit for the highs; lots of woofers and mids and even a piezo tweeter for the rest. More than 5 feet tall and well over 100 pounds each, that speaker ROCKED.

This was the mid-’70s, 40+ years ago, and I am proud to say I have never owned a small speaker since. I’ve heard a lot of them — some good, most of them not so good — but that’s a sound I personally could never live with.

Especially if you are enjoy playing orchestral spectaculars like those found on our site.

Small speakers just can’t move enough air to bring orchestral music to life in any way that gives meaning to the term Hi-Fidelity.

The Beatles on Vinyl – An Audiophile Wake Up Call

More of the Music of The Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Beatles

No artists’ records have been more important to my evolution as an audiophile than those of The Beatles.

This commentary was written about 15 years ago. Unlike some of the things I used to say about records and audio, practically every word of this commentary still holds true in my opinion.

The sound of the best pressings of The Beatles — when cleaned with the Walker Enzyme System on the Odyssey machine — are truly a revelation.

So much of what holds their records back is not bad mastering or poor pressing quality or problems with the recording itself. It’s getting the damn vinyl clean. (It’s also helpful to have high quality playback equipment that doesn’t add to the inherent limitations of the recordings.)

Know why you never hear Beatles vinyl playing in stereo stores or audio shows?*

Because they’re TOO DAMN HARD to reproduce. You need seriously tweaked, top-quality, correct-sounding equipment — and just the right pressings, natch — to get The Beatles’ music to sound right, and that’s just not the kind of stuff they have at stereo stores and audio shows. (Don’t get me started.)

However, you may have noticed that we sell tons of Beatles Hot Stamper Pressings. We have the stereo that can play them, we have the technology to clean them, and we know just how good the best pressings can sound. The result? Listings for Beatles Hot Stampers on the site all the time.

Five of their titles — the most of any band — are on our Rock and Pop Top 100 List. That ought to tell you something. (Let It Be and Revolver would easily make the list as well, but seven albums from one band seemed like overkill, so we’re holding firm at five for now.)

A True Pass/Fail Test for Equipment

I’ve been saying for years that an audiophile system that can’t play Beatles records is a system that has failed a fundamentally important test of musicality. Everyone knows what The Beatles sound like. We’ve been hearing their music our whole lives.

beatlesdoorWe know what kind of energy their recordings have.

What kind of presence.

What kind of power.

When all or most or even just some of those qualities are missing from the sound, we have to admit that something is very very wrong.

I’ve heard an awful lot of audiophile stereos that can play audiophile records just fine, but when it comes to the recordings of The Beatles, they fall apart, and badly. Really badly.

Super detailed may be fine for echo-drenched Patricia Barber records, but it sure won’t cut it with The Beatles. Naturally the owners of these kinds of systems soon start pointing fingers at the putative shortcomings of the recordings themselves, but we here at Better Records — and our Hot Stamper customers — know better.

You can blame the messenger as much as you want — it’s a natural human tendency, I do it myself on occasion — but that sure won’t help you get your stereo working right.

The Beatles albums are the ultimate Audiophile Wake Up Call. It’s the reason practically no equipment reviewers in the world have ever used recordings by The Beatles as test records when making their judgments. The typical audiophile system — regardless of price — struggles to get their music to sound right.

Reviewers and the retailers, makers and sundry promoters of audiophile equipment don’t want you to know that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Bottom line: The Beatles’ recordings are very good for testing.

* (Love doesn’t count; give me a break. I hope we’re over that one by now. Couldn’t stand to be in the room with it.)


Unsolicited Audio Advice – Soundstaging At All Costs

More Speaker Advice

More Unsolicited Audio Advice

The first thing I noticed about this system is that the Hallographs are in the wrong place, or at least they are in the wrong place if you are only using one pair. The first pair should be to the outside and just behind the speakers.

What this system screams out to those of us who have heard a lot of stereos, in my case after almost fifty years in audio, is “Soundstage Freak.”

The speakers are too far apart to create a proper center image.

The sound will be exceptionally spacious this way, but it is also very likely to be washed out and vague.

If you listen exclusively to orchestral music, and you like to sit toward the back of the hall when you go to live performances, then yes, you can almost justify having the speakers this far apart.

For most other music this is not a good approach.

A good vocal recording is all that would be needed to make clear the serious shortcomings of placing your speakers this wide apart.

If this were your setup, But I Might Die Tonight could show you the error of your ways, the way it showed me some of mine (albeit different ones) when I had initially setup our new studio. I worked on my speaker placement and room treatments for weeks and months after that, but I knew something was wrong well before that two minute song was over.

Stardust would also be a good choice. Most of Julie London‘s records would work. Some of the more intimate Ella records would be ideal of course, but we rarely have much stock. Blue would work, as would any early Joni Mitchell album.

The recordings of Singer-Songwriters rarely place them anywhere but in the center of the stage, the best of them as prominently as possible. Many of our Hot Stamper pressings would make excellent test discs for getting this aspect of speaker placement dialed in better.

Two Other Obvious Faults

One: Notice the wires on the floor, never a good idea. Check out the wires in the picture at the very bottom of this commentary. That guy doesn’t care what his stereo looks like, he only cares what it sounds like. Try it, you might be surprised what a difference it can make to suspend your wiring.

Two: I have never liked the sound of absorptive materials directly behind the speakers. They tend to deaden the ambience and the space of the stage that we audiophiles should be trying to recreate in the recordings we play, especially live recordings or those made using few mics.

Orchestral Spectaculars are especially good for testing size and space in a recording.

Here is a link to some of our favorite Records for Testing Orchestral Depth, Size and Space.

Further Reading

Robert Brook has been experimenting with different aspects of audio for years now. His Broken Record blog has lots to say about these issues. The Analog Set Up section on his blog is probably a good place to start to see what he has learned by ignoring conventional wisdom and testing every aspect of audio with an open mind.

More on Robert’s system here. You may notice that it has a lot in common with the one we use. This is not an accident.

And it is also no accident that these two systems just happen to be very good at showing their owners the manifold shortcomings of the Modern Remastered LP, as well as the benefits to be gained by doing shootouts in order to find dramatically better sounding pressings to play.


Letter of the Week – “…modern records are “recessed” and “veiled” and “murky,” and the records you sell are “present” and “transparent” and “lively.”

More Hot Stamper Testimonial Letters

Tips and Tricks on Making Audio Progress

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

I’m always eager to learn from you guys (i.e., The Masters!) on how to improve sound reproduction when listening to records at home. Can you refer me to additional resources on 1) room treatments and 2) having good electricity?

Any assistance you could provide on these subjects would be greatly appreciated!

Jonathan R


Happy to give you some pointers:

Here is a bit of help from the blog:

More of the same:

The only room treatments we recommend you buy are these:

We know a lot about room treatments, but sharing that knowledge is difficult, it’s too “case by case” to generalize. Most of our stuff is oddball and DIY. All we really know is what works.

Hope this helps.



I really can’t adequately describe how much more pleasurable the experience of listening to records has been since Hot Stampers came into my life. The work that you and your team do in tracking down records, cleaning them thoroughly (so crucial!), comparing them with one another in shootouts, and making them available for the rest of us to enjoy is something along the lines of a sacred mission.

You’ve truly hit the nail on the head in describing modern/current records as “recessed” and “veiled” and “murky,” and the records you sell as “present” and “transparent” and “lively.” My stereo equipment is pretty rudimentary when you get right down to it (although I have made some upgrades recently), but I can still hear—and feel!—an enormous difference between Hot Stampers and what currently masquerades in the marketplace as “audiophile” LPs.


Good Audio Advice and Critical Listening Skills

Developing Your Critical Listening Skills

More Unsolicited Audio Advice

[This is an updated version of a commentary written in 2009.]

The latest Mapleshade catalog (Spring 09) has, along with hundreds of recommendations, this little piece of audio advice that caught my eye:

For much improved bass and huge soundstage, put your listening chair or sofa right against the wall behind you. Move your speakers in to 5’ in front of you and 7’ or more apart. No room treatments will yield this much bass improvement.

I literally had to read through it a couple of times to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating. But every time I read it, it still said the same thing, so I know I can’t have been dreaming. This is crazy talk. What the hell is wrong with these people?

Well, it’s not all crazy. There is actually a factually true statement at the end of that paragraph. Yes, it is true that no room treatments will yield as much bass as sitting up against a wall. But why stop there? Bass, regardless of its source, immediately seeks out the corners of the room. That’s where the most bass will always be: where the room boundaries are. If you want to hear the maximum amount of bass your speakers are producing, put your head in the corner of the room down at the floor, where three boundaries intersect. Like the sound now? Getting enough bass are ya?

Along the same lines, for a “huge soundstage” try putting one speaker at one end of the room and the other speaker at the opposite end. Why stop at seven feet? My listening room is twenty feet deep; I can get a soundstage that’s twenty feet across without any problem at all.

I would just have to be dumb enough to think that doing such a thing would be a good idea.

Fellow audiophiles and music lovers, it is not. Let’s talk about why.

Room Reflections

The closer you are to anything that the sound coming from your speakers can bounce off of, right before or right after it reaches your ears, the worse the sound. You want to be as far away from everything as you can be, and this includes not only the back wall of your listening room, but the heads of other persons who may be listening with you. This is easily demonstrated. Have a friend or loved one sit next to you and listen critically to some music you know well. Now have that person leave the room. The sound will always get better (unless something else is very wrong). I have done this experiment many, many times and it only comes out one way: fewer near reflections, better sound.

This is why we have three pair of Hallographs in our listening room. They help control room reflections. Reflections are the main cause of bad sound in most listening rooms. The louder you play your stereo, the worse the reflections get and the more they screw up the sound.

We like to play our stereo very loud — much of the music we love demands it — and we simply could not turn up the volume the way we do without effective room treatments. Your first pair of Hallographs, even just “roughed in,” not at all tuned precisely the way they can be, will immediately allow you to play your stereo louder than you could before you installed them. (Since the first pair reflect the sound waves directly back to the listener, Hallographs do actually increase the sound level at the listening position, adding energy and dynamics.)

This is a good thing. It’s a clear sign they work.

One reason the Turn Up Your Volume Test is a tough one for most systems to pass is that the louder the problem, the harder it is to ignore.

Sitting Close

Sitting close to the speakers eliminates much of the effect of room reflections. So does wearing headphones. I have never liked either approach to listening; both seem very unnatural to me. And sitting too close is a bad idea from my experience. Now, I can only speak for the sound of large dynamic multi-driver speakers, since those are the only kinds of speakers I’ve owned for the last thirty-odd years.

When you have multiple drivers there is a specific distance and height where the drivers blend correctly, or to be more precise, more correctly than any other distance and height. Finding the correct height and distance one should sit from one’s speakers may sound easy, but in fact it is very tricky. It took scores of hours of intense listening over the course of months to figure both out in my listening room.

One thing that made it more difficult is the Hallographs themselves. You can tune them to achieve just the right sound, but when you move your listening position, you must retune them for that position. With six units that obviously became a complicated job. But progress was obvious from the start, so it was just a matter of keeping at it, playing as much challenging music as we could and testing testing testing.

Since we play all kinds of records, all day, practically every day as part of regular shootout regimen, this was much easier for us to do than it would be for most audiophiles. But as I have told many in this hobby over the years, if you don’t do the work the only person who doesn’t get to hear better sound is you. I can come home to my good sounding stereo — I’ve done the work — but you’re stuck listening to all the problems you haven’t solved, right?

Learning How to Listen

There’s no problem with an untweaked stereo or an untreated room as long as you don’t mind mediocre sound. If you actually want good sound, you have to learn how to tweak your stereo and you have to learn how to treat your room. Neither one can be ignored. You have to learn how to do both.

And doing both is what teaches you how to listen, which is a skill that’s very hard to acquire any other way. This explains why so many audiophiles have such poor listening skills. They simply never developed them because they never needed them.

Think about it: Listening to music for enjoyment requires the exercise of no skills whatsoever.

Such is obviously not the case with tweaking. Tweaking your system requires that you listen carefully and critically in order to make the fine judgments that are essential to making progress. Progress in audio from tweaking often occurs in small, almost imperceptible increments.

Being so subtle, these changes force you as a listener to concentrate, to focus your attention, to bring to bear all your critical listening skills.

Naturally, these skills, like any skills, having been exercised, start to improve, and continue to improve as you continue to exercise them.

Everybody knows that practicing and challenging yourself will make you better at whatever you are trying to do.

But where have you ever seen those concepts applied to bettering your own audio skills, other than on this blog? Just how would you go about challenging yourself as an audiophile?


Tweaking and experimenting with room treatments is one sure way.

Playing ten copies of the same album back to back and making notes about the sound of each side is another.

Adjusting the turntable sixty six different ways and seeing what the effects are on scores of different records works too.

All these things taught me a lot.

No amount of reading or advice was remotely as helpful as just getting down and messing around with anything and everything in my listening room.

As Van Morrison said: “No guru, no method, no teacher.”

Back to Mapleshade

And having done all that work, with the many stereos I’ve owned over the years as well as those of my friends, I can tell you categorically that the advice quoted above from the Mapleshade catalog is very, very bad advice.

Much of the advice in their catalog I found eminently sensible. If I had more time I would talk about some of it, but we have to spend our days playing and writing about records, not some company’s catalog, so that will probably never come to pass.

I will say this though: there is some real nutty stereo advice in there, so take whatever you read with a sizable grain of salt.

Further Reading

This Is Not a Cheap Hobby If You Plan on Getting Very Far

More of the Music of Paul McCartney

More of the Music of The Beatles

Some records are consistently too noisy to keep in stock no matter how good they sound. This is one of them. We have a section for records that tend to be noisy, and it can be found here.

Rick sent us a letter recently after having played his first Hot Stamper, the first record he ever bought from us. At $300 it wasn’t exactly cheap, but the best things in life never are, and certainly there is little in the world of audio that’s cheap and of much value.

This is not a cheap hobby if you want to do it right, and even tons of money doesn’t guarantee you will get good sound. It’s far more complicated than that. To quote Winston Churchill, you must be prepared to offer your  “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Churchill went on to say “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs… Victory, however long and hard the road may be…”

Now, he wasn’t talking about audio, but he could have been, and I certainly am. It takes the serious commitment of resources — money and labor — to get the sound you want. That is the victory I am talking about.

On our Hot Stamper McCartney album, Rick no doubt heard the sound he was looking for — and then some — judging by his letter.

Hi Tom,

Well, I knew you guys were serious upon receiving the LP in 4 layers of wrapping and padding but when I put the disc on I was pretty stunned. Virtually everything was popping and so musical and rich sounding. Nothing like the 3 other pressings I’ve had of this recording in the past, the last of which I actually sailed out the window after 2 minutes of playing.

Every Night just sounds incredible, especially when he drops the bass an octave. And Maybe I’m Amazed gave me goosebumps for the first time since I bought it the week it came out. Also heard something on that track I never did (or could hear) before. During the guitar solo there’s a single high pitched vocal kind of buried in the background. Almost sounds like a mistake, making me think it could be Linda and Paul did what he could. Pretty wild.

My only very slight criticism is there is some surface noise but this is very overshadowed by all the positives. Overall it is superb. Can I give you guys a short list of LPs I’m looking for?

Thanks so much!

Rick M.

Rick, we are so happy to hear you loved that record as much as we did. We have been touting McCartney’s first solo album for more than a decade. Ever read a word about it in an audiophile context elsewhere? Of course you haven’t! The audiophile world doesn’t know and doesn’t care about great albums like this one, but we at Better Records LIVE for  sound and music of this caliber.

It’s a permanent resident of our Top 100 Rock and Pop List for a reason: no other solo album by a Beatle can touch it.

As for surface issues, we wish we could find them quiet, but that is simply not an option, especially considering how dynamic the recording is. Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus is roughly what yours was graded and that is certainly not dead quiet by any stretch. As we said:

We’ve used every trick in the book to try to get copies of this album to play Mint Minus, but it’s not usually in the cards. Maybe I’m Amazed, in particular, seems to be noisy on nine copies out of ten. If you’re looking for a copy without any surface noise, you’re probably better off tracking down the DCC Gold CD, which is actually quite good.

But no CD is ever going to sound like the record we sent you, not now, not ever. And we feel like throwing many of the copies we play of this album out the window too!

This is where I simply can’t understand how the typical audiophile can make the tradeoff for flat, average sound with quiet vinyl — the sound of these Heavy Vinyl reissues that have sprouted up all over the place, each one worse than the last — and the wonderful, but slightly noisy, sound to be found on the best originals.

I wrote more about the subject here:

Of course the obvious answer is that it is simply too much work to find enough original copies to clean and play in order to come across the proverbial needle in the haystack: the Hot Stamper pressing.

You had three copies and, to be honest, you can barely get started with a pool that small. Ten would be my idea of the minimum, and it takes a lot of luck and hard work to find ten clean copies. Maybe even more than three hundred bucks worth of your time and effort, when you get right down to it.

So Rick, welcome to the club. The difference is as real as it gets. All the skeptics in the world can’t change a note of what you heard. They say it ain’t true, but you have the record in your hands that proves them wrong. That record is The Truth.

The McCartney Magic is in those grooves and it will not be denied.

Enjoy it. It will give you Lasting Pleasure. That’s why they call it an LP.


Further Reading

Ambrosia – Right at the Top of Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

More of the Music of Ambrosia

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ambrosia

You can play hard-to-reproduce records all day long if your system is tuned up and working fine. Ours has to be, all day, every day. Our shootouts require that everything is working properly or we couldn’t trust the results.

But you can’t play this record on such a system without testing everything, because this is the Single Most Difficult to Reproduce Recording I know of.

This is what makes it such a great test disc; to call it a challenge doesn’t begin to convey the difficulty of playing a record that places such heavy demands on a system.

Which means I had to retweak a lot of my table setup to make sure it was 100% right, by ear. Getting the VTA right on this record was fundamentally critical to hearing it sound its best.

(None of those silly setup tools for us here at Better Records. You can hear when it’s right and if you can’t then you need to keep at it until you can.)

Detail Freaks Beware

This is the kind of record that will eat the detail freaks alive. If your system has any extra presence, or boost in the top end — the kind that some audiophiles mistake for “detail” — this record with beat you over the head with it until blood runs out of your ears.

You need balance to get the most out of this album. The more your system is out of whack, the more this album will make those shortcomings evident.

Once you have balance, then you can unleash the energy in a way that’s enjoyable, not painful. When this record is sounding right, you want to play it as loud as you can. It’s pedal to the metal time. This music wants to overwhelm your senses. When the system is up to it, it can, and will.

This is what a Test Disc is all about. It shows you what’s wrong, and once you’ve fixed it, it shows you that now it’s 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 this kind of 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.

This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Rock and Pop Record Collection.

It also ranks fairly high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale. Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment.

Unless your system is firing on all cylinders, even our hottest Hot Stamper copies — the Super Hot and White Hot pressings with the biggest, most dynamic, clearest, and least distorted sound — can have problems .

Your system should be thoroughly warmed up, your electricity should be clean and cooking, you’ve got to be using the right room treatments, and we also highly recommend using a demagnetizer such as the Walker Talisman on the record, your cables (power, interconnect and speaker) as well as the individual drivers of your speakers.

This is a record that’s going to demand a lot from even the most serious and dedicated audio enthusiast, and we want to make sure that you feel you’re up to the challenge. If you don’t mind putting in a little hard work, here’s a record that will reward your time and effort many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process.

Testing and Tuning

Below you can find rather long lists of recordings we’ve found to be good for testing, tweaking and tuning your system, your room and your front end setup, among other things. We encourage you to check them out.

They’re the records that challenged me and helped me to achieve more progress in audio. If you want to improve your stereo, these are some of the best records we know of that can help you get to the next level.


Port’s Rule and The Song of the Volga Boatman

More of Our Favorite Difficult-to-Reproduce Test Discs

Records that Helped Me Make More Progress in Audio

The track that started us down the road to our first Sauter-Finegan shootout is, to this very day, our Number One Test Track of All Time, a little ditty known as the Song of the Volga Boatman.

We first heard it back in the 90s on Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular, which is still the version we test with, but this album of forward-looking big band contains that track  as well as 10 others, all with truly amazing sound.

Why is the Song of the Volga Boatman our ultimate test track?

The simplest way to understand it is that the music is live, and all the instruments in the huge soundfield are real and acoustic — string bass, drums, horns of every size and type, woodwinds, percussion, tubular bells — and the arrangements given to this roomful of players is so complex and lively that if anything sounds “funny,” to use the precise audiophile nomenclature, it really calls attention to itself.

Port’s Rule states: If it isn’t easy for your Test Discs to sound wrong, they are not very good Test Discs.

Wrong is the natural order of things. Getting it right is where all the work comes in to play. (And it should seem more like play than work or you are unlikely to get very far with it. That’s another one of Port’s Rules.)

When the stereo is right from top to bottom, this song is right from top to bottom, and every other record we know the sound of will have the sound it’s supposed to have. It seems simple and in some ways it is.

We’ve been getting the Song of the Volga Boatman to sound bigger and better now for years, through scores and scores of changes. At our current stage of audio evolution, at the very loud levels we play it at, it’s shocking how big, powerful and real it seems. It has more of the “live music” qualities we prize than most any recording I can think of.

Every change and tweak we make to the system must end up making this one very special track sound to one degree or another more like live music, or that change must be undone. The Song of the Volga Boatman is the ultimate authority over what is right and wrong in the sound of our stereo.

It sets the bar higher than any recording we know of. From its judgments there is no appeal.

Testing, Tweaking and Tuning

We are in the process of making some lists (more lists!) for records we’ve found to be good for testing, tweaking and tuning your system, your room and your front end setup, among other things. You may want to check them out.

If you want to improve your stereo, setup, room, electrical quality and who knows what else, these are some of the best records we know of to help you do that.


The Insufficiently Dedicated Will Struggle Mightily with The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann

An orchestral dreadnought such as this requires mastering and pressing of the highest quality.

Herrmann’s music taxes the limits of LP playback itself, with deep organ notes (listen for the famous Decca rumble accompanying the organ if you have the deep bass reproduction to hear it); incredible dynamics from every area of the stage; masses of strings playing at the top of their registers with abandon; huge drums; powerful brass effects everywhere — every sound an orchestra can produce is found on this record, and then some.

You will hear plenty of sounds that defy description, that’s for sure. Some of the time I can’t even imagine what instrument could possibly make such a sound!


Side One

Journey to the Center of the Earth

All those lovely harps! You can practically feel the cool air of the cave as you descend into the blackness.

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

Side one boasts some wonderful material from Jason and the Argonauts, including the fight with the skeletons that we all remember from our Saturday matinee movie days. Who else could have orchestrated such a film?

Side Two

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Astonishingly powerful deep bass and drum sounds!


Where Cheap Turntables Fall Flat – The Music of Franz Liszt

More Classical and Orchestral Music

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge setup.

The Liszt Piano Concerto record you see pictured is a superb choice for making small adjustments to your setup in order to improve the playback of these very difficult to reproduce orchestral recordings.

Here are some other reviews and commentaries touching on these areas of turntable setup.

One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as Liszt’s two piano concertos. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that could help you see the sound quality your tens of thousands of dollars has bought you.

It has been my experience that cheap tables more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this.

As for the music, I don’t know of a piano concerto record that more correctly captures the relationship between the piano and the orchestra. The piano here is huge and powerful, yet at the same time, the percussive and lighter qualities are clearly expressed in relation to the entire orchestra. In addition, there are places on this album where the brass is as powerful and dynamic as I’ve ever heard on record.

Many of these would make great test discs.

Lately we have been writing quite a bit about how pianos are good for testing your system, room, tweaks, electricity and all the rest, not to mention turntable setup and adjustment.

  • We like our pianos to sound natural (however one chooses to define the term).
  • We like them to be solidly weighted.
  • We like them to be free of smear, a quality that is rarely mentioned in the audiophile record reviews we read but is easily audible on the smear-free equipment we use.

Skip the Mercury

The title originally came out as a Mercury, the work of Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart, mastered by George Piros, the legendary Mercury team of renown. It is instructive to note that this Philips mastering is clearly superior to the mediocre Mercury mastering, which may be counterintuitive, but is demonstrably true nonetheless.

Which is why we actually listen to the records we sell here at Better Records, because you can’t judge a record by its credentials — you must play it.