Record Cleaning and Playback Advice

Turntable Tweaking Advice – Try This at Home, It Worked for Us

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The Mapleshade website has a piece of audio advice that caught the eye of one our customers, who sent me the excerpt below.  

Like most advice, especially Audio Advice, we find that some of it accords well with our own experience and some of it clearly does not. The relationship of good to bad is hard to determine without making a more careful study, but let’s just say that there is plenty of both and leave it at that. That being the case, we thought it would be of service to our customers to break it down in more detail, separating the wheat from the chaff so to speak.

We’ve also added a customer’s letter at the end of the commentary.

Here is the complete quote: (more…)

Record Cleaning Tips – Why Clean the Average Record?

Cleaning Your Collection

We gave the following advice to a customer who had just bought a record cleaning machine and was going to go on a tear cleaning his whole record collection — many of which were still sealed — to find the Hot Stampers lurking within. We explained that this was not such a good idea:

Since the average record sounds pretty average, and sealed records are unknowns in terms of pressing, mastering, etc., I would say it’s always a good idea to do a quick needle drop on a record before taking the time to clean it. The average record isn’t really worth cleaning, because it doesn’t really sound very good, so why waste the time?

Once you figure out what’s good and what’s not, you can start to target the better sounding records. This process typically takes about twenty years, but there’s no time like the present! If you want to skip all that time and effort, we are happy to get you the good stuff and save you from the bad. Such is the service we offer.

And one more thing: until you get your system cooking and really set up right, make a point not to buy any audiophile pressing of any kind. Once your stereo is working properly those pressings will more often than not show themselves to be lackluster if not downright awful. You won’t want to have too much time or money invested in that trash once you’ve learned just how bad it really is.

I’ve had many many customers over the years complain that they wasted so much money on those kinds of records and now don’t know what to do with them — a cautionary tale that every audiophile should be cognizant of, if they haven’t already lived through it themselves.

The better your system, the worse they sound; this is the key to understanding how you are doing in the hobby. When those audiophile pressings sound boring, wrong or both, and your plain old records start to give you a thrill like nothing you’ve ever experienced outside of live music, you are on the right road.

For more advice on record cleaning, see below.

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Talisman Testimonial – … Damn! And to think I doubted you …

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Tom,

I’m in receipt of the Talisman and have tried it on numerous CDs, LPs and DVDs… damn! And to think I doubted you. A truly serious upgrade without spending serious money. A sheen has been removed from the top and I can hear farther into the recording than ever before, whatever the format. It definitely benefits LP playback more, at least on my system (a Linn rig). Mids are more palpable and instruments play more to their natural voice.

I’m a member of the St. Louis Symphony and recordings that I have participated in sound more like the sound I hear when I’m in the midst of my colleagues on stage at Powell Hall. Thanks for your help.

Tom D.

Tom,

O ye of little faith… Seriously, could you ever be without it now? And the private email I sent you explaining how to get even more out of the device surely meant an even greater improvement in the sound of your system. The kind of change you describe — for a couple hundred bucks! — is practically unheard of nowadays, but of course you heard it, I heard it, everybody hears it. The only people who don’t hear it are the people who are so skeptical that they cannot allow themselves the opportunity to hear it.

This is the kind of thinking that I rather unkindly refer to as Stone Age Audio. If you don’t believe audio has made huge strides in recent years, you simply haven’t taken advantage of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we talk about on the site. Talisman? Magic Pillow? Hallographs? These things can’t work!

Of course it’s easy to say that if you’ve never heard them, not so easy once you have. If you’re happy with the sound of your stereo, don’t really see the need to make it sound any better, hey, you sure don’t need any of these products.

If, however, you, like us, are THRILLED with the fact that the sound of your favorite recordings is constantly improving, then you need to have a little faith in your friends here at Better Records. We talk the talk because we walk the walk, five days a week and twice on Sunday. My [old] annual tweaking budget is easily in the multi-hundreds of hours; that’s what it takes to make improvements of the kind that we have implemented over the years. With a system like mine, nine out of ten things I try don’t work. It’s that tenth one that makes it all worthwhile.

For our customers, however, we make it so easy. The devices we recommend are guaranteed to work or your money back. They do not require hours of tedious tweaking and listening in search of an appreciable change (that might never materialize). The equipment and sound improving devices we recommend make a DRAMATIC and OBVIOUS change right from the get go.

The only people who don’t know that are the ones who haven’t tried them. Perhaps with a little more faith… (more…)

Record Cleaning Tips – Give Your Cleaned Records 1-3 Plays Before Listening

We have a series of turntables set up in the cleaning room that play through every record we’ve cleaned before it goes into the Hot Stamper shootout rotation. We recommend that you play your records at least once and as many as three times through before critically listening to them. Playing previously cleaned records plows loosened grunge out of the grooves and helps the cartridge “seat” itself in the dead center of the groove at the same time. Two or three plays usually does the trick, resulting in a clearly audible improvement of surfaces and sonics.

For more advice on record cleaning, see below.

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Robert Pincus Reviews Cartridges with Rising Top Ends (+5db at 20kz, Ouch!)

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This kind of explains why all the Lyras sound the way they do. It’s the same thing with Clear Audio. You buy them to get that “sound.”

Sure, they do some great things. Speed often comes with a rising top end, and there’s no dip in the lower highs, which I like.

This kind of response works wonders on old Living Stereo Chet Atkins and Mancini LPs. They’re soft on top!

Don’t play your old Heifetz LPs with one of these.

Robert Pincus

Revolutionary Changes in Audio – What Works for Us Can Work for You

 

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This listing, like the stereo itself (mine and yours), is a work in progress. Please check back for the commentary we expect to be adding in the future. 

Our reason for having this kind of commentary on a site ostensibly devoted to the selling of records is simple: the better your stereo sounds, the better our records sound, and, more importantly, the bigger the difference between our records and the copies you already own. Also those LPs recommended by “audiophile” record dealers, which tend to be on Heavy Vinyl, at 45 RPM, half-speed mastered or, even worse, Japanese pressed. We have no interest in any of them. Why? On our system they rarely sound better than second-rate.

More on The Stereo

We love our modified Legacy Focus speakers, even more now that they have much improved high frequency extension courtesy of Townshend Super Tweeters. Our preamp and amp are vintage and low power; the Focus can play quite loudly with the thirty watts our amp puts out. We are big fans of Low Power (but not single ended) and are not the least bit happy with the current trend toward high-power amps, whether tube or transistor. (This trend started in the early ’70s with the Phase Linear 400 amp and has only gotten more out of hand with each passing year.)

We tried higher power amps to do the shootouts for Nirvana, AC/DC and their ilk but gave up fairly quickly. Using those amps involves major trade-offs; trade-offs whose costs rarely exceed their benefits. With more power comes less Tubey Magic, sweetness, transparency, three-dimensionality and that wonderful relaxed quality which gives the music its flow and sense of ease.

High power amps do none of these things well, but most speakers today are terribly inefficient and require their use, a choice most audiophiles do not even know they are making when they buy them. I made that mistake myself many years ago. Live and learn.

Most of our wiring — interconnect, phono and power cord — is custom.

Having said that, this commentary is all about why you shouldn’t care a whit about the equipment we use. 

Azimuth, VTA, Anti-Skate and Tracking Weight – We Got to Live Together

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With a shout out to my man Sly!

In this listing you can find commentary and advice about tonearm azimuth adjustment, Ansermet’s recordings, Speakers Corner 180g pressings, and more.

The Borodin title you see pictured has DEMO QUALITY SOUND OF THE HIGHEST ORDER!

One of the great London records. The performance by Ansermet is definitive, IMHO, and this recording ranks in the Top Ten Decca/ Londons I’ve ever heard.

The powerful lower strings and brass are gorgeous. Ansermet and the Suisse Romande get that sound better than any performers I know. You will see my raves on record after record of theirs produced in this era. No doubt the wonderful hall they record in is the key. One can assume Decca engineers use similar techniques for their recordings regardless of the artists involved. The only real variable should be the hall. Ansermet’s recordings with the Suisse Romande have a richness in the lower registers that is unique in my experience. His Pictures At Exhibition has phenomenally powerful brass, the best I’ve ever heard. The same is true for his Night On Bald Mountain. Neither performance does much for me — they’re both too slow — but the sound is out of this world. Like it is here.

One of the reasons this record is sounding so good today (1/12/05) is that I spent last weekend adjusting my Triplanar tonearm. The sound was bothering me somewhat, so I decided to start experimenting again with the azimuth adjustment. I changed the azimuth in the smallest increments I could manage, which on this turnable are exceedingly small increments, until at some point the bass started to go deeper, dynamics improved, and the overall tonal balance became fuller and richer. Basically the cartridge was becoming perfectly vertical to the record. I don’t think this can be done any other way than by ear, although I don’t know that for a fact. (more…)

Record Cleaning Tips – Reverse Osmosis Rinse Water

Rinse Water

We’ve had very good results with reverse osmosis water. It is audibly superior to everything else we’ve tried. We’re not saying it’s the best rinse water on the planet; we’re simply saying it’s the best we’ve heard. For a couple hundred bucks, having a reverse osmosis water system installed in your house will turn out to be money well spent if you are cleaning a large collection.

Aquarium stores sell it by the gallon if you don’t plan on cleaning enough records to justify the expense of installing a unit.

For more advice on record cleaning, see below.

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Sometimes the Most Fundamental Questions in Audio Are Simply Overlooked

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This commentary is about two things — knowing the kind of music you like, and getting the kind of sound you want.

If you believe what you read on the various sites where audiophiles freely dispense advice about everything under the sun regarding music, recordings and equipment, you are asking for trouble and you are surely going to get it. You will encounter an endless supply of half-truths, untruths and just plain nonsense, more often than not defended tooth and nail by those with typing skills but not much enthusiasm for the tedium of tweaking and critical listening. 

What kind of equipment are these people using? How deep is their experience in audio? Truth be told, I was pretty misguided myself during the first ten (or twenty, gulp) years I spent in audio, reading the magazines (I still have my Stereophiles and Absolute Sounds from the ’70s in boxes in the garage), traipsing from stereo store to stereo store, trying to figure out what constituted Good Sound so that I could manage to get my own equipment to produce something like the best I heard.

Most of the time what I heard made me want nothing to do with that kind of sound.

Questions

I sympathize with those who have trouble making sense of this hobby. It can be very confusing, especially to the neophyte. It takes a long time (with plenty of effort and money expended along the way) to be able to answer some of the most fundamental (and most often overlooked) questions in audio:

1) What kind of music do you like?

2) What kind of sound do you prefer?

Armed with answers to the above two, the next question to be asked is:

3) What equipment will best be able to give you the sound you prefer on the music you like, within the limits of your budget, room, Wife Acceptance Factor, etc.

If you haven’t been doing this audio stuff for at least ten years you probably don’t know the answers to those last two questions. In other words, you still have a lot to learn. (I know people who have been doing it for far longer than that and still don’t have a clue.) I may not have all the answers, but after being in audio for more than thirty years, about half of that full-time (full-time being sixty to seventy-plus hours a week), I can say without embarrassment that I have some of them. And for the most part I got them the old-fashioned way: I earned them.

Do You Like Rock Music?

Then make sure you buy speakers that can play rock music.

Don’t buy screens, panels or little boxes with subs.

They may be cheap, they may have pretty good Wife Acceptance Factor, but they do a piss-poor job of playing rock music, so do yourself a favor and avoid them. Rock needs dynamic drivers, the more the better and the bigger the better. There is no substitute for piston power when you want to rock.

When you walk into your audio showroom and for your budget they show you a little two-way box with a six or eight or even ten inch woofer, walk out and go somewhere else. Find another way. That speaker won’t play the music you love, not properly anyway. It cannot do the job you need it to do, and that makes it mostly a waste of money.

Teach Yourself

So how do you learn about all this stuff?

Audio friends and fellow travelers can be very helpful. You might also get some tips and ideas from magazines and websites.

But ultimately it’s up to you to teach yourself. Much of the commentary on the site has to do with the real nuts and bolts of the recordings we review — exactly what to listen for, precisely which sonic strengths and weaknesses can be found in which songs, and the like. This is what we listened for, it’s how we separated the wheat from the chaff, and we offer it on the site as a guide to help you recreate the very same magic on your own stereo in your own home.

There are scores of pages of this kind of commentary throughout the site. We even created a special section for some of it, called Audio and Playback Advice with another group of links to Home Audio Exercises.

Why Do We Bother?

What other record dealer on the planet would bother? But we do it for a reason. We charge a lot of money for our best LPs. We want to help you understand and appreciate what makes our pressings special, so that when you buy them, you do so secure in the knowledge that the price will be more than justified by the quality of the sound when you get it home. Ultimately the records must speak for themselves. If we are going to charge hundreds and hundreds of dollars for fairly common rock records like After the Gold Rush or Rumours, those records better deliver, and deliver in a big way.