Record Playback Advice

Harry Belafonte / Belafonte at Carnegie Hall – Wrong About Harry Again?

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Live and Learn, Right?

  • This early Black Label RCA pressing boasts stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on all four sides
  • A very large group of musicians will transport themselves directly into your listening room, Harry included, all backing him live on the stage in real time and in ANALOG
  • The palpable presence and performance energy of the man himself are really something to hear, and a copy this good lets you REALLY hear it
  • Harry Pearson made his reputation bringing this kind of amazing recording to the attention of the audiophile public, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude
  • This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.
  • 5 stars: “The granddaddy of all live albums, this double-LP set captures the excitement of a Harry Belafonte concert at the height of his popularity.”

NEWSFLASH:

We’ve long known that some copies of the album are mastered with the polarity reversed. This is one of those copies.

But the crazy news we have today is that this copy of the records sound just fine without adjusting the system polarity, better than any other copy we played.

It sounds a bit better with your polarity reversed, but it is still our Shootout Winner even with the polarity wrong.

I would never have believed that to be the case in the past, but my theory is that the new studio we built has reduced distortions and problems to such a degree that polarity issues are less of a problem now than they might have been in the past.

As I say, it’s just a theory, and as time goes on we will revisit this idea with other recordings that we know to have polarity issues, and we’ll be sure to let you know what we find. (more…)

The Eagles – The Typical Domestic Pressing of On The Border Sucks, and Here’s Why

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More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

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

The domestic copies of On The Border have many tracks in reversed absolute phase, including and especially Midnight Flyer, a lifelong favorite of mine. The front and center banjo will positively tear your head off; it’s bright, sour, shrill, aggressive and full of distortion. Don’t look at me — that’s what reverse polarity sounds like!

I’ve known for some time that domestic pressings of On The Border have their phase reversed — just hadn’t gotten around to discussing the issue because I wasn’t ready to list the record and describe the phenomenon.

A while back [January 2005, time flies] I happened to play a copy of One Of These Nights and was appalled by the dismal quality of the sound. Last night I put two and two together. I pulled out both Eagles records and listened to them with the phase reversed. Voila! (On The Border is a favorite record of mine, dismissed by everyone else, but loved by yours truly.)

[I don’t think One of These Nights has its polarity reversed anymore, although some copies may.]

I’m of the opinion that a very small percentage of records have their absolute phase reversed. Once you’ve learned to recognize the kind of distortion reversed polarity causes, you will hear recordings that may make you suspicious, and the only way to know for sure is to switch the positive and negative, wherever you choose to do so. 

With the help of our EAR 324 Phono Stage the phase is reversible with the mere touch of a button, a wonderful convenience that we have grown to love, along with the amazingly transparent sound of course. (Hard to imagine living without either at this point.) (more…)

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

Kansas – Listen to the Difference Up High and Down Low

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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

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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.
(more…)

Dick Schory / Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp – Listening for a Sweetly Extended Top End

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What to listen for you ask? Top end, plain and simple. It’s the RARE copy that really has the incredible extension of the side two we heard recently. The space, the clarity, the harmonic complexity — perhaps one out of ten copies will show you a side two like that.

The highs are so good on this record you can use it as a setup tool. Adjust your VTA, tracking weight and the like for the most natural and clear top end, then check for all the other qualities you want to hear. You may just find yourself operating on a higher sonic plane than you ever thought possible.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, and rightfully so. It certainly can be a Super Disc, but only when you have the right pressing. It’s a real treat to hear such a crazy assortment of percussion instruments with this kind of amazingly clear, high-resolution sound!

This is one of the Demo Discs on the TAS List which truly deserves its status when, and only when, you have a killer copy.

Polarity

Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp is yet another one of the many pressings we’ve discovered with reversed polarity on some copies. (more…)

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…)

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…)