Record Playback Advice

Kansas / Leftoverture – a certain “squawky, pinched” sound to the guitars…

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

This copy of Kansas’ most consistent album, their masterpiece I might venture to say, has an OFF THE CHARTS A+++ side two! This copy shows you the ROCK album they actually recorded. The average copy of Leftoverture only hints at the power of the band.  

Side two just KILLED from start to finish, with the deepest, punchiest bass, moving up the frequency ladder to the clearest sweetest mids, and following it all the way to the top with the most extended grain-free, silky highs.

Most copies, like so many rock records from the era, are veiled and smeary. Often they lack extension at one or both ends of the frequency spectrum, more often than not up top, which results in harshness and shrillness, not the sound you want on a Kansas record!

But copies such as this one show you the kind of sound that is possible with Leftoverture. It is, in a word, SMEAR-FREE, with superb transients, textures and clarity that are the natural result of getting every last bit of musical information into the grooves.

Another tough test: the vocals on the first track. They often sound strained right from the get go. It’s the rare copy that doesn’t show some strain on those first four lines. This copy, as good as it was, even had a trace of it. (Sometimes the sound is so strained it’s game over after the first thirty seconds. Who can listen to that kind of sound?)

Folks, if you have the big speakers that a balls-to-the-walls rock record like this one demands, you are in for one serious audiophile quality prog-rock experience. (Or is is Art Rock as the AMG likes to call it?) Wall to wall and floor to ceiling barely begins to do it justice. Like so many of the great rock recordings, the sound just JUMPS out of the speakers!

Side one was good, but simply not in the same league as side one, not even close. We gave it an A+ for being open and extended, but it is not as full-bodied as the best.

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

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:

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A Simple Test for Polarity – Listen to the Solo Violin

More of the music of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

More of the Music of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

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

Both sides are reversed.

On side two, the Chopin side, notice how vague the solo violin is with the polarity wrong.

As soon as it is switched, a solid, real, natural, palpable violin pops into view.

That’s how you know when your polarity is correct, folks!

This Heavy Vinyl pressing is also quite vague, but you can reverse your polarity until the cows come home, it ain’t gettin’ any better.

Here are some other Records that Are Good for Testing Vague Imaging


The top end of this record is clear, clean and correct. No other copy sounded like this one on the first side. When you hear all the percussion instruments — the tambourines, triangles, wood blocks and what-have-you — you know instantly that they sound RIGHT.

The overall sound is very different from many of the other recordings of the work that we have offered in the past. Rather than smooth, rich and sweet, the sound here is big and bold and clear like nothing we have ever played.

This is Front Row Center sound for those whose systems can reproduce it.

And this is truly a top performance by Fistoulari and the Royal Philharmonic. I know of none better. For music and sound this is the one!

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 five hundred 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

kansalefto

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.
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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…)