Record Playing and Setup Advice

Letter of the Week – John Wesley Harding Has Playback Issues

John Wesley Harding

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

  Hey Tom,   

So many great records in this batch, but some solid misses too — details coming. John Wesley Harding for example sounds great but has some serious distortion through much of side two; a bit ’too vintage’, in spite of the sound it seems once to have had.

Dear Sir,

Definitely check your front end set-up on this one, there is no actual distortion on the record, just sound that may be hard to reproduce. Make sure you have a recently replaced cartridge for one. Carts that get old have a problem with records like these. We know, we replace our cartridge every three months when hard to play records start straining or getting congested or gritty. The sheen of massed strings, a sound critical to the better orchestral recordings we play, are impossible to reproduce correctly with an older-than-it-should-be unit. A fresh cartridge can make all the difference in the sound of  difficult to reproduce records.

Keeping a cart too long is a mistake 100% of the audiophiles I have known in my life make, so I assume lots of other audiophiles do too.

The other explanation could be that our microfine tip is playing deeper in the groove and missing whatever damage is encoded above it, damage which may have been caused by the older cartridges of the day that were used to play the record by the previous owner or owners. We can’t say it doesn’t happen.

We can say that if you bring this record back, the next person to buy it has a roughly 98% chance of keeping it. Maybe one out of fifty or so ever come back a second time. At least that’s how it has worked out over the last twenty years.


Further Reading

Record Playback Advice

Turntable Setup Advice

Albeniz / Suite Espanola / De Burgos – Such a Dynamic Recording

More of the music of Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

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Wow, is this record ever DYNAMIC! I would put it in the top 2 or 3 percent of the most dynamic recordings we have played over the course of the last twenty five years. It also has tons of DEPTH. The brass is at the far back of the stage, just exactly where they would be placed in the concert hall, which greatly adds to the realism of the recording.

The strings may not be quite as sweet as the best earlier Londons, but the trade off is well worth it when you hear a record with this kind of LIFE and so little distortion.

Note that careful VTA adjustment for a record with this kind of dynamic energy is a must. Having your front end carefully calibrated to this record is the only way to guarantee there is no distortion or shrillness in even the loudest passages.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Clear castanets.

Big bass drum thwacks.

Crescendos that build to intense climaxes.

Rich strings (or as rich as they can be in 1969, a good ten years after the amazingly Tubey Magical recordings of the ’50s).

Heavy Vinyl

In 2011 we made the (usually pointless) effort to compare our London pressing to the 180 gram Speakers Corner reissue which we were carrying at the time. We noted simply that it “was a joke next to this copy.” We don’t have the reissue to play this time around but we are confident that the results of any comparison would be the same. (more…)

10cc / Deceptive Bends – Sibilance Can Be a Bitch (and a Good Test for Table Set-Up Too)

More 10cc

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Listening Test

On side two the tonal balance is key. If there is any boost to the top end the vocals on track two will SPIT LIKE CRAZY.

This is also a good test for how well your cartridge and arm are doing their jobs. Sibilance is a bitch. The best pressings, with the most extension up top and the least amount of aggressive grit and grain mixed into the sound, played using the best front ends, will keep it to a minimum. VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate adjustments are critical to reducing the spit in your records.

We discuss the sibilance problems of MoFi records all over the site. Have you ever read Word One about this problem elsewhere? Of course not. Audiophiles and audiophile reviewers just seem to put up with these problems, or ignore them, or — even worse — simply fail to recognize them at all.

Play around with your table setup for a few hours and you will no doubt be able to reduce the sibilance problems on your favorite test and demo discs. All your other records will thank you for it too. (Especially your Beatles records. Many Beatles pressings are spitty, and the MoFi Beatles pressings are REALLY bad.)

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Kansas – Listen to the Difference Up High and Down Low

More Kansas

More Prog Rock

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This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

UPDATE 2014

Just played the record again and can say without fear of contradiction that the two easiest ways to recognize that the polarity is wrong are these:

  • The record is simply far too bright without the polarity reversed. It’s an interesting sound — I myself like a lot of top end — but switching back and forth it’s clear that the highs are overdone until you reverse the polarity. Once corrected they sound like the highs should sound on a ’70s Big Rock record.
  • Even more telling: the BASS. Reverse the polarity, then listen for the kick, the toms and the bass guitar. Assuming you have a good copy they’re full-bodied, punchy and solid. Now put the polarity back to “normal” and hear how hollowed-out the bass sounds. The kick and the toms don’t punch through the way they should. It’s obviously worse and obviously wrong. The evidence down low is incontrovertible in my opinion.

With all that in mind, the first track still sounds good even when the polarity is wrong. It just sounds better when it’s right. (more…)

VTA Adjustment on Crosby Stills and Nash – Using the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP

More Crosby, Stills and Nash

More VTA Adjustment

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This commentary from way back when (2005!) describes how to go about adjusting your VTA for 200 gram vinyl, using the CSN track Helplessly Hoping from the first album.

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song with plenty of energy in the midrange and upper midrange area which is difficult to get right. Just today (4/25/05) I was playing around with VTA, having recently installed a new Dynavector DV-20x on my playgrading table (a real sweetheart, by the way), and this song showed me EXACTLY how to get the VTA right.

VTA is all about balance. The reason this song is so good for adjusting VTA is that the guitar at the opening is a little smooth and the harmony vocals that come in after the intro can be a little bright. Finding the balance between these two elements is key to getting the VTA adjusted properly. (more…)

VTA – A Few Moments of Experimentation Can Really Pay Off

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Specific advice on what to listen for as you critically Adjust Your VTA.

Experimenting with the VTA for this record we found a precise point where it all came together, far beyond whatever expectations we might have had at the time, which revealed a violin floating between the speakers, an effect that as audiophiles we appreciate for the magic trick that it is.

The sound of the wood of the instrument became so clear, the harmonic textures so natural, it was quite a shock to hear a good record somehow become an amazing one. All it took was a few moments of experimentation.

With the right VTA setting we immediately heard more harmonic detail, with no sacrifice in richness. That’s the clearest sign that your setup is right, or very close to it.
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How To Get The Most Out Of Your Records – A Step By Step Guide

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Records

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We’ve recently begun to include an info sheet with our Hot Stamper pressings that describes a few simple steps you can take to get better results with our records in your home. Since these tips really apply to all records and not just our Hot Stampers, we figured we’d outline them here and add a few additional thoughts. 

Here are a few tips for getting the best results from your LPs at home:

Warm Up

Warm up your stereo for at least a half hour before doing any critical listening. A full hour is even better. Make sure you have the volume raised; the speaker drivers need to be moving actively so as to loosen them up and get them in the mood to sound their best.

All Hot Stamper pressings have been thoroughly cleaned by us and there is no need to clean them again, at least not for quite a while. (After a dozen or so plays it might be a good time to think about another cleaning, especially if fingerprints or dust are visible or audible. When in doubt clean the record.)

Since many of the record cleaning fluids on the market today actually make records lose fidelity, we encourage you to clean your records only with the one fluid we recommend: The Walker Enzyme Cleaning system.

If you must clean our Hot Stamper pressings with a fluid we do not recommend, our advice would be to listen carefully to the record before recleaning, then again after cleaning, to make sure there is no loss of sound quality. If there is a loss of fidelity we would then strongly advise you to switch to the Walker fluids.

Records that have been properly cleaned actually sound even better after a few plays. After a good cleaning, playing the record helps plow more grunge out of the grooves and also helps the stylus tip to seat itself deeper into the center of the groove.

Every Hot Stamper pressing sold by us has been played through at least once on both sides. Another play or two (or three or four) on your part will help the record sound even better.

Unplug
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The Brahms Violin Concerto – Unplug or Suffer the Consequences!

Hot Stamper Pressings 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.

The effect should not be the least bit subtle. It’s certainly not subtle in our system.

The same would be true for any of the tweaks we recommend. The Talisman or Hallographs would be a godsend for proper playback of this record. Hard to imagine what it would sound like without them. (To tell you the truth we don’t really want to know.) (more…)

Ambrosia’s Debut – An Album that Takes Everything We’ve Got and Then Some

Ambrosia

Commentaries and Letters for Ambrosia’s Debut

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During our most recent Hot Stamper shootout we were reminded of a fact that had slipped our minds: Trying to get this record to sound right is a truly humbling experience. Without a doubt it deserves the title for Most Difficult to Reproduce in the Rock and Pop category. (Yes, we know, there is no such thing, we just made it up.) 

This record will bring any stereo to its knees, including one like ours, which is tuned and tweaked within an inch of its life. Everything has to be working at its absolute best before I would even consider any attempt to play the album. It’s not enough to have the stereo warmed up and cookin’, with everything in the house unplugged. The electricity from the pole needs to be at its best, not that grungy garbage you get in the middle of the day or around dinner time, when all your neighbors have their appliances going. You need that late-at-night, two o’clock in the morning everybody-has-gone-to-bed-and-turned-off-all-their-stuff electricity for this bad boy to work its magic.

I learned an important lesson from a shootout we conducted not long ago, which boils down to this: You can play hard-to-reproduce records all day long if your system is tuned up and working fine. Ours has to be, every day. The shootouts we do require that everything is working properly or we simply couldn’t do them. (more…)

Kansas – Leftoverture

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  • Just the second Triple Triple (A+++) Shootout Winning copy to hit the site since 2011 – this copy is a KNOCKOUT
  • Both sides earned our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++) with real Prog Rock Energy and a huge punchy bottom end
  • Carry On My Wayward Son on this Triple Plus side one is guaranteed to blow your mind – the spaciousness and the amount of bass on this side are off the charts
  • “Undoubtedly their finest album, Leftoverture warrants Kansas a spot right alongside Boston and Styx as one of the fresh new American bands who combine hard-driving group instrumentation with short, tight melody lines…” Rolling Stone

Clearly Kansas’s most consistent and engaging album, their true masterpiece by our lights, a copy as good as this will show you the awesome ENERGY the band brought to their music.

On the hottest of our Hot Stampers the recording is a glorious example of the Big Rock Sound we love here at Better Records. Wall to wall and floor to ceiling barely begins to do it justice. Like so many of the great rock recordings we offer, when you play one of our Hot Stampers the sound commands your attention. (more…)