Record Playback Advice

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

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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

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Making Audio Progress

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Lincoln Mayorga, Pianist – Reverse Your Polarity!

Hot Stamper Pressings of Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

This Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP is one of the best Sheffields.

Lincoln Mayorga is an accomplished classical pianist: this is arguably his best work. (I had a chance to see him perform at a recital of Chopin’s works early in 2010 and he played superbly — for close to two hours without the aid of sheet music I might add.) 

You might want to try reversing the phase when playing this LP; it definitely helps the sound, a subject we discuss below.

With the polarity reversed, this is a top quality solo piano recording in every way.

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

Reversing the absolute phase on this record recently was quite interesting. The sound of the piano itself was already very good. With the phase reversed what really changed with the sense of space surrounding it, which immediately became much more palpable. The piano, though tonally similar to the way it sounded with the phase left alone, came to life more — more solid and punchy and percussive.

How do you change the absolute phase you ask? You must either switch the positive and negative at the speaker, the amp, or at the head shell leads, or you must have a switch that inverts phase on your preamp or phono stage. (The EAR 324p we use has just such a switch and let me tell you, it comes in very handy in situations like these.) If you can’t do any of those, or are unwilling to do any of those, this record will still sound good. It just won’t sound as good.


This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we started developing in the early 2000s and have since turned into a veritable science.

We found the records you see in these older listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described and priced based on how good the sound and surfaces were. (For out Hot Stamper listings, the Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades are listed separately.)

We were often wrong back in those days, something we have no reason to hide. Audio equipment and record cleaning technologies have come a long way since those darker days, a subject we discuss here.

Currently, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions, up against a number of other pressings. We award them sonic grades, and then condition check them for surface noise.

As you may imagine, this approach requires a great deal of time, effort and skill, which is why we currently have a highly trained staff of about ten. No individual or business without the aid of such a committed group could possibly dig as deep into the sound of records as we have, and it is unlikely that anyone besides us could ever come along to do the kind of work we do.

The term “Hot Stampers” gets thrown around a lot these days, but to us it means only one thing: a record that has been through the shootout process and found to be of exceptionally high quality.

The result of our labor is the hundreds of titles seen here, every one of which is unique and guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.


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Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

More Classical and Orchestral Commentaries and Reviews

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

 

Dave Grusin – Relax, Stare into the Middle Distance and Listen to the Players as a Group

Hot Stamper Direct-to-Discs Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for More Direct to Disc Recordings

Many years ago we had discussed the polarity issues associated with this record:

According to the liner notes, this album has its polarity reversed. They tell you straight out to reverse the positive and negative at the speaker terminals for the best “transient response and spatial clarity.”

That out of phase quality is as plain as the nose on your face when you know what to listen for. There’s an unpleasant hardness and hollowness to the midrange, a lack of depth, and an off-putting opaque quality to the sound. The top gets dull and the bass gets weird and wonky.

With our EAR 324p phono stage, the click of a button reverses the polarity. I can’t tell you how handy it is to have such a tool at your disposal. Checking the polarity for Discovered Again couldn’t have been easier.

But get this: most side ones are NOT out of polarity. How about them apples! We could not have been more shocked. Here is the most famous reversed polarity audiophile recording in the history of the world, and it turns out most copies are not reversed on side one at all.

Latest Findings

I did not do the shootout for the album, but I wanted to check on the polarity just to hear it for myself. I must admit I had to go back and forth a number of times, using my favorite song on the album and an old Demo track from back in my earliest days in audio, the mid- to late-’70s: Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow.

Harvey Mason’s super punchy drum playing catches your attention right off the back. A tambourine comes along in the left channel at some point. Lots of bass. Rit’s guitar in the right channel and Grusin’s keyboards in the center fill out the soundstage. The ensemble is on fire.

Evaluating the sonic differences of the individual instruments in and out of polarity had me confused. A typical conundrum: Should the tambourine be smoother with more body, or brighter with more harmonic overtones? Which is right? Who can say definitively?

It was only after about fifteen minutes of playing the album, switching the polarity back and forth, that the penny dropped.

Focussed on an individual instrument, I could hear it just fine both ways. But then I noticed that with the polarity reversed the group got vague. The images seemed blurrier, less defined. If I relaxed and just stared into the middle distance and let the music flow, the band seemed to be more jumbled up and messy.

That was the key. The obvious change when the polarity was wrong was a loss of image specificity. Flipping the record over to side two and using my new “lens” to hear the difference with the polarity changed, it was obvious when the polarity was right or wrong.

I have experimented with polarity on scores of records. Certain effects on certain records are unmistakable. But these effects seem to vary a great deal from title to title. Grusin’s brilliant direct to disc recording initially had me at a loss. With a little experimentation, the improvement in the sound with the correct polarity became evident over time, as it always seems to do. Thank god I didn’t have to change speaker leads the way I used to in the old days. (more…)

Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular – Our Favorite Record for Cartridge Setup

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Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular just happens to be our favorite Test Disc, eclipsing all others in the areas of naturalness and difficulty of reproduction. Any tweak or new room treatment — we seem to do them almost weekly these days — has to pass one test and one test only — the Bob and Ray Test. 

This record has the power to help you get to the next level in audio like no other. Six words hold the key to better sound: The Song of the Volga Boatman.

For the purpose of mounting new carts, our favorite track is The Song of the Volga Boatman on Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular (LSP 1773). It’s by far the most difficult track we know of to get to sound right.

There are about twenty places in the music that we use as tests, and the right setting is the one that gets the most of them to sound their best. With every change some of the twenty will sound better and some will sound worse. Recognizing when the sound is the biggest, clearest, and most balanced from top to bottom is a skill that has taken me twenty years to acquire.

It’s a lot harder than it looks. The longer you have been in audio the more complicated it seems, which may be counterintuitive but comports well with our day-to-day experience very well.

All our room treatments and tweaks must pass The Bob and Ray Test as well. It’s the one record we have relied on more than any other over the course of the last year or two.

Presenting as it does a huge studio full of brass players, no record we know of is more dynamic or more natural sounding — when the system is working right. When it’s not working right the first thirty seconds is all it takes to show you the trouble you are in.

If you don’t have a record like that in your collection, you need to find one.

It will be invaluable in the long run. The copy we have is so good (White Hot, the best we have ever played), and so important to our operation here, that it would not be for sale at any (well, almost any) price.

The Bob and Ray Trombone / Trumpet Test

One of the key tests on Bob and Ray that keeps us on the straight and narrow is the duet between the trombone and the trumpet about half way through The Song of the Volga Boatman. I have never heard a small speaker reproduce a trombone properly, and when tweaking the system, when the trombone has more of the heft and solidity of the real instrument, that is a tweak we want to pursue. The trumpet interweaving with it in the right rear corner of the studio tests the transients and high frequency harmonics in the same section. With any change to the stereo, both of those instruments are going to sound better. For a change to be positive they must both sound better. (more…)

Dick Schory – Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

  • Stunning sound throughout for this Living Stereo pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it
  • This incredible copy is just plain bigger, richer and clearer than any we can remember playing
  • Absolutely As Good As It Gets – it’s a real treat to hear such a crazy assortment of percussion instruments with this kind of amazingly clear, high-resolution sound!
  • If you’re a fan of percussion extravaganzas, this Living Stereo from 1958 is about as good as it gets
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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. This is one of the Demo Discs on the TAS List which truly deserves its status when, and only when, you have the right copy. (The typical copy is quite good, but it sure doesn’t sound like this.) Nothing else in our shootout could touch it. And it’s IN PHASE. Many copies are not.

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Dick Schory / Music for Bang, Baaroom and Harp – Listen for a Sweetly Extended Top End

Percussion Recordings with Hot Stampers Available Now

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

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.

Are audiophile reviewers or audiophiles in general listening critically to records like this? I wonder; I could not find word one about any polarity issues with this title, and yet we’ve played four or five copies with reversed polarity on side two. How come nobody is hearing it, apart from us?

We leave you, dear reader, to answer that question for yourself.

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

More of the Music of Kansas

More Progressive Rock Albums with Hot Stampers

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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