Record Playback Advice

Kansas – Listen to the Difference Up High and Down Low

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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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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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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…)

The Beatles – Beatles ’65 – Listen for Reversed Polarity

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

This is a Capitol Records Purple Label LP with THE BEST SOUND I have ever heard for a Capitol Beatles LP (as of 7/5/06). But there’s a catch. It only sounds good if you reverse your absolute phase. If you don’t, or can’t, forget it. 

I wrote the rave review you see below without realizing that I had reversed my headshell leads for the previous record I was playing and had forgotten to change them back. So all the nice things I said about Capitol really aren’t true: they got the phase backwards, which positively ruins the sound unless you can correct for it. I did, and was astonished at how musical the album sounded.

Do you want an AMAZING example of how phase can affect the sound of a recording? Switch back and forth on Honey Don’t, especially if you are the skeptical type like me. You will become a believer on the spot, all doubt forever banished.

I wonder how many other bad Beatle albums are phase reversed? We will report our findings as time goes on so watch for them. [We of course never did this. The Beatles pressings we sell are in correct polarity and we simply do not have the time to survey every Beatles record ever made.]

This is what I initially said about the record:

This is a Minty Capitol Purple Label LP with THE BEST SOUND I have ever heard for a Capitol Beatles LP. If more of them sounded like this we wouldn’t have said all those mean and nasty things about Capitol Records for the past forty years. Yes, they still “butchered” For Sale to create this “album”, but that’s not the point. The point is this record sounds like a good Parlophone pressing — rich and sweet, with dead-on tonality. Whatever tapes Capitol may have used had plenty of that famous Beatles Analog Magic in them — you won’t hear any Beatles CDs sound like this, that I can assure you. That sound is gone and it ain’t comin’ back.

The late Capitol mastering here is Right On The Money. I don’t think they ever cut a record better. You can be sure the original Rainbow Label pressings sound as bad as you remember. I have never heard ANY original Capitol pressing that sounded like this — not even close.

The two singles mentioned below both have DREADFUL SOUND, the kind we have come to expect from Capitol. Everything else is wonderful.

“Dave Dexter, Jr. (a name which will live in infamy) “assisted” the Beatles by pulling eight tracks from Beatles for Sale, one from A Hard Day’s Night [I’ll Be Back], and both sides of the latest Beatles single (“I Feel Fine”/”She’s a Woman”) for the creation of this album.” – AMG

Rossini-Respighi / La Boutique Fantasque – Reversed Polarity Copy

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

This is a WONDERFUL sounding, very quiet original Shaded Dog pressing of one of the rarest Living Stereo titles. Dropping the needle on side one was a shock — the sound was terrible: thin, shrill and practically unlistenable. Since I know this to be an exceptionally good sounding record, there was only one possibility: reverse absolute phase. Sure enough, the magic of Living Stereo reappeared. If you can’t reverse your polarity, this is not the record for you! 

Are they all that way? I have no way of knowing. I run across a clean quiet copy like this once every ten years or so. If any of you out there own this record and yours is not reversed phase let me know what your stamper numbers are, I’d be very interested.

This has always been a favorite title with audiophiles. It’s full of lovely orchestral colors, much like The Nutcracker. As usual, Fiedler and the Boston Pops are accorded superb sound.

Dave Grusin / Discovered Again! – Relax, Stare into the Middle Distance and Listen to the Players As a Group

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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…)

Dave Grusin – Discovered Again!

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  • This Sheffield Direct to Disc pressing boasts superb nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from first note to last – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • After critically listening to this record good and loud, I have to award the album The Greatest Direct to Disc Recording of All Time
  • The songs, the players, the arrangements, the sound – this is a record that will reward hundreds of plays for decades to come
  • “Everything about this project is just right from the gentle contemporary feel of the music to the superb sound of the [album] itself.”

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