Advice – Louder Is Better

These records sound much better when you play them good and loud.

801 Live – None Rocks Harder

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The best Island copies of this album ROCK HARDER than practically any record we’ve ever played. If you have the system for it, this one will bring a Live Art Rock concert right into your living room!

It’s right at the top of the list of my Favorite Albums — a Desert Island Disc if ever there was one. I stumbled across it more thirty years ago and I’ve loved it ever since. It all started when a college buddy played me the wildly original Tomorrow Never Knows from the album and asked me to name the tune. Eno’s take is so different from The Beatles version that I confess it took me an embarrassingly long while to catch on.

Sometime last year I noted on the site that I had finally figured out how to tell the good pressings from the not-so-good ones. I had been focussing on the wrong things in the shootouts I had done over the last few years, and in that I have the feeling I was not alone. This seems to be a fairly common Major Audiophile Pitfall that we all get stuck in on occassion.

In this case I was trying to find a more transparent copy, one with more shimmer to the cymbals and air around the instruments. The first track is a little opaque and I wanted to be able to hear into the music better. I had tried many import and domestic copies, but none of them seemed to have the qualities I was looking for. They all sounded different, but I could not for the life of me find one that clearly sounded right.

That was my mistake. This album isn’t about clarity. It’s about the POWER OF ROCK AND ROLL. It’s about the sound of a live band in concert, a band with one of the most phenomenal rhythm sections ever captured on tape. The most phenomenal one I’ve ever heard, that’s for sure.

Doing the shootout I realized what separates the men from the boys on this LP — bass. The copies with the most powerful, deepest bass, the stuff under 50 cycles, most often get everything else right too. The bass is the foundation to the sound, and without it the guitars and voices don’t sound right. They’re just too thin. They need body, and body comes from bass.

The “bassy” copies are more dynamic too. They communicate the power of the music in a way that the leaner copies simply do not. With the leaner copies it’s a good album. With the bassy copies YOU ARE THERE.

Turn It Up

Assuming you play this record at the levels necessary for the suspension of disbelief to take hold, i.e., LOUD. The Legacy Focus’ speakers I currently use to audition records have three 12″ woofers that really pump it out at the low end, at high levels, with no audible distortion. It’s one of the reasons they’re used in recording studios for monitors.

I went down the wrong road because I got caught up in the details and missed the essence of the sound. Are you a detail freak? Is that where the music is — in the details? For audiophiles that’s Pitfall Number One. Brighter ain’t necessarily better; most of the time it’s just brighter, and, truth be told, worse. (Played an XRCD lately?)

Of course there’s more to the story than just good bass or dynamics, although for this album they are sine qua non as discussed above. Recent improvements (3/07), simply using new and improved room treatments in concert with our two pairs of Hallographs [now three and enough already], have made a huge difference in the area of top end extension. (Of course the tweeter is still putting out the same highs; the difference is that now the listener can hear them because the room is not interfering as much. Note that I said “as much”, because rooms can never really be fixed; every one I’ve ever been in has caused more than its share of problems.)

So now I would like to amend my previous comments in order to say that Top End Extension plays a crucial role in determining which copies truly soar above the others. The typically good-sounding imports have very little tape hiss. The Hot Stampers have clearly audible hiss that sounds just right. On some tracks, as soon as you drop the needle and hear the tape hiss sound right, you know you have a pretty darn good copy. The soundstage opens up, complete with tons of depth, transparency, and wall to wall sound floating free from the speakers. If the bass is there, and it’s not sloppy or congested, you, my friend, have what we call a Hot Stamper. All you have to do now is sit back and let the cinerama sound wrap itself around you. You are in for a treat!

Santana’s Guitar Solos Soar on Inner Secrets

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

On side two the final guitar solo Santana takes on Well All Right gets LOUDER in the mix than any guitar solo on any rock record with which I am familiar. The sound gets louder after the first chorus, then louder still right before the second solo, and then the solo itself gets even louder until it seems to be as loud as live music. (Operative word: seems.)

Some copies get loud and some do not. Some stereos are dynamic and some are not. If you have the right stereo, set at the right volume, and THIS copy, you will hear something that not one out of one hundred audiophiles (or music lovers) have ever heard on a record — LIVE ROCK SOUND. (more…)

Steeleye Span – Commoners Crown – We Love Dynamic Choruses, and These Are Amazing!

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Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that actually has actual, measurable, serious dynamic contrasts in its levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many songs . The second track on side two, Demon Lover, is a perfect example. Not only are the choruses noticeably louder than the verses, but later on in the song the choruses get REALLY LOUD, louder than the choruses of 99 out of 100 rock/pop records we audition. It sometimes takes a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically everything else you own is. (more…)

The Who – Quadrophenia – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

On the best copies the energy factor is OFF THE CHARTS. The highs are silky sweet, the bottom end is meaty, the drums are punchy and the vocals are present and tonally correct. The piano has real weight, the synths float breathily in the air, and there’s wonderful three-dimensional depth to the soundfield. 

There’s a POWER to the sound that the average copy only hints at. The crashing guitar chords that are the hallmark of The Who Sound often lack the weight of the real thing; they don’t punch you in the gut the way Townsend no doubt wanted them to.

Moon’s drums need to blast away like cannons. This is the quintessential Who sound. Everybody who’s ever seen them live knows it. I saw them back in the day when Moon was still behind his kit and it’s a sound I’ll never forget. 

Most copies don’t have nearly this much Tubey Magic — you aren’t going to believe all the richness, sweetness, and warmth here. The clarity and transparency are superb in their own right, and the impressive dynamic range really allows this copy to communicate the explosive energy of The Who at their peak.. (more…)

Neil Young’s Guitar Masterpiece – Danger Bird

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Listen to the way Danger Bird opens. Each instrument, one by one, slowly, deliberately, one could almost say haltingly, feeds into the mix, until the churning guitars give way to Neil’s spare vocal — fatalistic, doomed, already resigned to some fate he barely understands. 

Even though the song has just begun, you sense that Neil feels a weight and a darkness bearing down on him, that it’s ongoing, that it’s already started, that somehow you’re coming into it in the middle, well after the weight of it has begun to crush and perhaps even kill him. He knows the story of Danger Bird all too well.

It’s as powerful and intense a piece of music as any I have ever experienced; sublime in its simplicity, transcendental in effect. You feel yourself swept along, an out of body experience that you can’t control. When Neil launches into the first of many guitar solos the sense of journeying or exploring with him the imaginary musical world he is creating is palpable. He doesn’t seem to know where it will lead and neither do you. There is no structure to reassure you, no end in sight, only the succession of notes that play from moment to moment, first tensing, then relaxing; cresting, then falling away.

Music has the power to take you out of the world you know and place you in a world of its own making. How it can do that nobody knows. Whatever Neil tapped into to make it happen on Danger Bird, he succeeded completely. If you’re in the right frame of mind, in the right environment, with everything working audio-wise, a minute into this song you will no longer be sitting in your comfy audio chair. You won’t know where you are, which is exactly where you should be. (more…)

Neil Young – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

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  • A MONSTER Shootout Winning early pressing with incredible Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – this is the EKTIN you have been waiting for!
  • Live-in-Your-Listening-Room sound throughout – miles beyond any copy you’ve heard (or ever will hear)
  • Includes immortal classics such as “Cinnamon Girl,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” and “Down by the River,” just to name three
  • 5 stars: “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was breathtakingly different when it appeared in May 1969, both for Young and for rock in general… almost 30 years later [make that 49], he was still playing this sort of music with Crazy Horse, and a lot of contemporary bands were playing music clearly influenced by it.”

The sound of this Hot Stamper copy is Big and Bold in the best Neil Young tradition, with studio ambience bouncing off the walls and into the open mics he favors.

The best tracks have that Live-in-the-Studio quality, with minimal processing and maximum ENERGY. We absolutely love that sound. With a killer pressing played back on a big pair of speakers this album can ROCK like nobody’s business. Nine minutes of Down by the River? A ten minute long version of Cowgirl in the Sand? Cinnamon Girl? We are so there. (more…)

Boston – Boston

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  • Both Double Plus (A++) sides of this Top 100 Title offer superb Demo Disc Analog sound 
  • The multi-tracked multi-layered guitars are as big as life on this copy and are guaranteed to rock your world
  • Top sound for all the hits: More Than a Feeling, Long Time/Foreplay, Rock & Roll Band, Peace Of Mind…
  • “Boston is essential for any fan of classic rock, and the album marks the re-emergence of the genre in the 1970s.” — Allmusic, 4 1/2 stars

Boston’s first (and only good) album is a long-time member of our Top 100, and on a great pressing like this it’s easy to see why. It’s an incredible recording when you can hear it right, and this is about as right as it gets!

It’s obvious why the first Boston album became a Multi-Platinum Record. Practically every one of its songs still gets heavy radio play on every rock station in town. Consummately well-crafted music like this is almost impossible to find nowadays. I guess that’s why they call it Classic Rock. (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues – Implore You to Turn Up Your Volume

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S9 is hands down the best example of a recording that truly comes to life when you Turn Up Your Volume.

There’s not much ambience to be found in their somewhat dead sounding studio, and very little high frequency boost to any instrument in the soundfield, which means at moderate levels this record sounds flat and lifeless. (You could say it has that in common with most Heavy Vinyl pressings these days, if you wanted to take a cheap shot at those records, which, to be honest, I don’t mind doing. They suck; why pretend otherwise?)

But turn it up and man, the sound really starts jumpin’ out of the speakers, without becoming phony or hyped-up. In fact, it actually sounds more NATURAL and REAL at louder levels.  

A Quick and Easy Test

Play the record at normal levels and pick out any instrument — snare, toms, sax, bass — anything you like. Now turn it up a notch and see if the timbre of that instrument isn’t more correct. Add another click of volume and listen again. I think you will see that with each increase in volume, assuming your system can handle it, the tonality of each and every instrument you hear continues to get better.

This record would sound right at something very close to, if not actual, LIVE levels. Of that I have no doubt. (more…)

Gerry Rafferty – City To City – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of City to City.

Listen to the chorus on the first track, The Ark. On the best copies it really gets loud without becoming harsh or shrill. So many popular albums have choruses (and guitar solos) that are no louder, and sometimes not even as loud, as the verses, which rob the songs of any real drama or power. This recording has the potential to give you a dramatic, powerful, loud chorus. It’s a thrill when you find a pressing that delivers on that promise. (more…)

Eagles – Hotel California – Rockin’ Out to Victim of Love

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Victim of Love is yet another one of our favorite tracks that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

It’s the sound of this five piece tearing it up LIVE IN THE STUDIO. It’s also the track where the DCC just falls apart for us. Where did the rock and roll energy go? The DCC makes it sound like the band just doesn’t care, which was certainly not our experience when were playing any of the killer Hot Stampers we came across. Just the reverse was true; we had them turned up full blast and they ROCKED.

In fact I might go so far as to say that Victim of Love is the best sounding track on the whole album. It’s punchy, real and MUSICAL in a way that nothing else on the album is, because it’s being played by a real band, live. The energy and coherency of the sound is like nothing else you will hear on Hotel California, and possibly on any other Eagles record.

Such A Lovely Place

Yet another example of an album that we couldn’t fully appreciate until we’d discovered a truly great copy. You may have heard these songs a million times, or what seems like a million times, but you’ve sure never heard them sound like this. We played copy after copy this week and never grew tired of the music. In fact, we like it better than ever. If you take home one of our Hot Stamper copies, we’re pretty sure you’ll feel exactly the same way. This album is a classic in the world of Classic Rock. When you can hear it right that fact becomes all the more believable. Until then maybe not so much.  

The Search For Hotel California

Even though we’re HUGE Eagles fans at Better Records, we had never tried to do a shootout for this album until about 2008, and that’s because the typical copy doesn’t even hint at the magic found on the better pressings. After countless gritty, grainy, compressed, lifeless, veiled copies we had almost given up — until we played one that summer and heard some seriously good sound coming out of our speakers.

We checked the dead wax, and with new stamper information to go by, we hit the local stores. Let me tell you, finding any clean copy of this album is not easy. Of the scores of copies we’ve picked up, about one in three or four turns out to be quiet enough to sell. Asylum vinyl leaves much to be desired, and the average copy of this album has been played to death, on pretty bad equipment no less.

The DCC — Not Terrible, But…

The DCC for this album is not a total disaster. In fact, the first side of the DCC is one of the better DCC sides we’ve played in recent memory. We dropped the needle on a few copies we had in the back (pressing variations exist for audiophile records too, don’t you know) and they averaged about a B+ for sound on side one. Side two was quite a bit too clean for our tastes — no real ambience or meaty texture to the guitars, about a B- for sound. To flip something we say often: you can do worse, but you can do a LOT better.