Record Playing and Setup Advice

Sergio Mendes + Psych + Your Mind Will Be Blown

mendestill_depth_1102533608More of the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Reviews and Commentaries for Stillness

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

This commentary was written sometime around 2010.

If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as wonderful, look no further — this is the record for you.

If I had one song to play to show what my stereo can really do, For What It’s Worth on a Hot Stamper copy would probably be my choice. I can’t think of any material that sounds better. It’s amazingly spacious and open, yet punchy and full-bodied the way only vintage analog recordings ever are.

This one being from 1970 fits the bill nicely.

Side two of this album can be one of THE MOST MAGICAL sides of ANY record — when you’ve got a killer copy. I don’t know of any other record like it. It seems to be in a class of its own. It’s an excellent test disc as well. All tweaks and equipment changes and room treatments must pass the Stillness test.

To fail to make this record sound better is to fail completely. The production is so dense, and so difficult to reproduce properly, that only recently have I begun to hear just how good this record can sound. There is still plenty to discover locked in these grooves, and I enthusiastically accept the challenge to find all the sounds that Sergio created in the studio, locked away in the 40 year old vinyl.

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Mapleshade Thinks Female Vocals Are Good for Turntable Setup

Years ago, in a section on their site, Mapleshade recommended a female vocal for turntable setup and mentioned Blue by name.

How much deep punchy bass is there on Blue? Barely a trace in the piano, that’s it. Blue is a good record for testing some sonic qualities, not at all good for testing others.

Our advice: do not limit yourself to a female vocal recording when setting up your turntable.

We use Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular because it is BIG. How big is Blue? How big can it get? How big is it supposed to be? (We asked that very question about a Heart album we liked to test with years ago. As you can imagine, it is an impossible question to answer when one has only a single copy of the album.)

Blue is simply not a good test for size, power, weight or energy.

These things are very important to us — we talk about them in almost every Hot Stamper listing we write — and if you are not the kind of audiophile BS record lover whose collection is full of Sarah McLachlan and Patricia Barber “vinyls,” they should be every bit as important to you as they are to us.

They are what make music fun and exciting. Don’t you want your music to be fun and exciting? We sure do. It’s practically a three word definition for the kinds of records we sell.

For this same reason, female vocals should not be used exclusively when judging turntables either.

Cheap turntables — you know the kind — with no real energy, solidity or weight, can still do a very good job reproducing female vocals.

Not so good on Revolver, Back in Black, 88 Basie Street, Scheherazade or anything else on this list.

But if you have your speakers too far apart like this guy, a good female vocal would be just the thing to show you the error of your ways.

Regarding speakers, Blue is the kind of record they are going to want to play you at an audio store to demonstrate how good their small speakers can sound.

Small speakers may be able to play Blue, but they can’t play the records we love.


The KEF speakers you see pictured to the left retail for $8,999.

Yes, you read that right.

Roughly 2% of my record collection might play just fine on them. Perhaps less than 2%. Either way, I don’t want to find out.

If you are in the market for better speakers, here is some Speaker Advice you might find useful.


FURTHER READING

Robert Brook has some advice for those who would like to learn more about analog setup, and you can find it here.

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Brahms / Sonatas Nos. 2 & 3 / Rubinstein and Szeryng – Reviewed in 2010

More Top Quality Violin Recordings

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Titles Available Now

3S/ 4S RCA Shaded Dog.

Third in a series of masterpieces for violin and piano.

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

The sound is actually quite decent when you INVERT the ABSOLUTE PHASE. If you cannot or will not do that, this record will not sound good — it’s somewhat hard and bright.

It will never be a Top Shaded Dog but it is a good one with the absolute phase inverted.


Kansas – Leftoverture

  • This early Kirshner pressing was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the better copies from our most recent shootout – the sound is big, full and lively with real Prog Rock Energy and a huge, punchy bottom end
  • 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
  • “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

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.

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Dick Schory – Out of Polarity Stampers Revealed

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Dick Schory

More Stamper and Pressing Information

Presenting another one of the many pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity on some copies.

An amazing discovery from Better Records. Many copies of this album are REVERSED POLARITY on side two (the side with Buck Dance, one of the better tracks on that side and great for testing).

Yes, once again you heard it here first, folks. We had two 4s copies of the album and both of them had side two out of polarity.  

NEWSFLASH: 7s on side two is out of polarity too. Just played one today. There’s practically no real top end extension until you reverse the polarity.

Excerpts from Our Commentary from Way Back When

Reversing the absolute phase on this record today was a REVELATION. There before me was all the ambience, openness, sweetness, silkiness and warmth I had come to expect from the best pressings of this longtime member of HP’s TAS List of Super Discs, a record that really is a Super Disc when you hear a good one, and this is a very very good one indeed, on side two anyway.

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Mozart / Quintet / Piano + Winds & Trio – A Great VTA Test Disc

More of the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Mozart

This is a handy record for VTA adjustment

Listen for fullness and solidity, especially in the piano, although a rich, full sounding clarinet is a joy here as well. 

Some of the copies we played in our shootout lacked the weight and solidity to balance out the qualities of transparency and clarity.

The resulting sound is less natural, with the kind of forced detail that CDs do so well, and live music never does. There is a balance to be found.

The right VTA will be critical in this regard. When you have all the space; the clearest, most extended harmonics; AND good weight and richness in the lower registers of the piano, you are where you need to be (keeping in mind that it can always get better if you have the patience and drive to tweak further).  (more…)

Stravinsky / The Firebird – Hard to Beat for Table Setup

Reviews and Commentaries for The Firebird on Mercury

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

White Hot Front Row Center sound – amazingly lifelike. One listen to either side and you’ll know this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time. Dorati breathes life into the work as only he can.

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury.

These sides really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy. Some of our favorite (and not so favorite) Mercury classical and orchestral recordings can be found here.


Table Setup

This is an excellent record for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like. Classical music is really the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge setup (and evaluation). A huge and powerful recording such as this quickly separates the men from the boys when it comes to proper orchestral reproduction.

Recordings of this quality are the reason $10,000+ front ends exist in the first place. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you do, this is the record that will show you what you got for your hard-earned dough.

Ideally you would want to work your setup magic at home with this record, then take it to a friend’s house and see if you can achieve the same results on his system. I’ve done this sort of thing for years. (Sadly, not so much anymore; nobody I know can play records like these the way we can. Playing and critically evaluating records all day, every day, year after year, you get pretty good at it. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.)

Properly set VTA is especially critical on this record, as it is on most classical recordings. The smallest change will dramatically affect the timbre, texture and harmonic information of the strings, as well as the rest of instruments of the orchestra.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More VTA Advice

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Holst / The Planets – Proper VTA Adjustment Is Critical

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

More VTA Advice

Accurate VTA adjustment for classical records is critical to their proper reproduction. If you do not have an arm that allows you to easily adjust its VTA, then you will just have to do it the hard way (which normally means loosening a set screw and moving the arm up and down until you get lucky with the right height).

Yes, it may be time consuming, it may even be a major pain in the ass, but there is no question in my mind that you will hear a dramatic improvement in the sound of your classical records once you have learned to precisely adjust the VTA for each and every one of them. We heard the improvement on this record, and do pretty much on all the classical LPs we play. All records really.

VTA is not a corner you should be cutting. Its careful adjustment is critical. Of course, so are anti-skate, azimuth and tracking weight. The links below have a fair amount of advice on turntable setup which might be worth checking out.

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How To Get The Most Out Of Your Records – A Step By Step Guide

New to the Blog? Start Here

We’ve recently begun to include an info sheet with our Hot Stamper pressings which 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. 

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

Turn off, or better yet, UNPLUG as many electrical devices as you can (appliances, microwaves, air conditioning, lights, etc.) to feed your stereo the best electricity available to you.

We cannot stress this too strongly.

Start with a Familiar Recording

Start your listening session with a record you are familiar with to ensure your stereo is performing at a high level. We all have bad stereo days. There’s no sense in judging a record — especially if it’s a new Hot Stamper pressing — on a system that’s not performing up to par.

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Blood, Sweat and Tears – What to Do If a Record Changes Its Sound

More of the Music of Blood, Sweat and Tears

Reviews and Commentaries for Blood, Sweat and Tears

This commentary was written around 2010 if memory serves.

Our last big shootout was back in early 2008. Since we never tire of discussing the Revolutionary Changes in Audio that have occurred over the last quite eventful year (really more like five quite eventful years) , we here provide you with yet another link to that commentary.

Suffice to say, this record, like most good records, got a whole lot better. (Some records do not, but that’s another story for another day. If your audiophile pressings start to sound funny, you are probably on solid ground. They sure sound funny to us.) 

What We Learned This Time Around

All the best qualities of the best copies stayed the same; this is to be expected.

If records you have known well, over a very long period of time, suddenly start to sound different*, you can be pretty sure that you’ve made an audiophile error in your system somewhere.

You need to find it and figure out how to fix it as quickly as possible, although as a rule this process can turn out to be very time consuming and difficult.

The first place I would look is to any changes you might have made in your wiring, whether speaker, interconnect or power cord. Robert Brook has done some work in this area that may be of interest to you.

It has been my experience that audiophile wire is where most of the unnatural sound in audiophile systems comes from.

*Other records that took on a whole new sound can be found here. No audiophile should want anything to do with them.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Making Audio Progress

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