Advice – Playback

Helplessly Hoping to Get the VTA Right

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This listing from 2005 (!) contains commentary about VTA adjustment using the track Helplessly Hoping from a Hot Stamper pressing of CSN’s So Far. 

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song that has a lot of energy in the midrange and upper midrange 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 Adjustment on Crosby Stills and Nash – Using the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP

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This listing contains commentary about VTA adjustment for 200 gram vinyl, using the CSN track Helplessly Hoping. 

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.

When the arm is too far down in the back, the guitar at the opening will lose its transparency and become dull and thick. Too high in the back and the vocals sound thin and shrill, especially when the boys all really push their harmony. The slightest change in VTA will noticeably affect that balance and allow you to tune it in just right.

To be successful, however, there are also other conditions that need to be met. The system has to be sounding right, which in my world means good electricity, so make sure you do this in the evening or on a weekend when the electricity is better.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is that you need a good pressing of this song, and those don’t grow on trees. The vast majority of CSN’s first album and the vast majority of So Far’s are junk. Trying to get them to sound right is impossible, because they weren’t mastered right in the first place. But if you’re one of the lucky few who has a good pressing of Helplessly Hoping, try tweaking your VTA adjustment and see if you aren’t able to dial it in even better than before.

Since the Classic heavy vinyl version is also excellent, it too can be used to set VTA. But of course you are setting VTA for a thicker record, which means you will need to note where the setting is for thick and thin vinyl respectively and make sure that the VTA is correct for each.

As good as the Classic Record is, the guitar at the opening of Helplessly Hoping tells you everything you need to know about what’s missing. The guitar on the Hot Stamper domestic copies has a transparency that cannot be found on Classic’s version. The Classic gets the tonal balance right, but their guitar doesn’t have the subtlety and harmonic resolution of the real thing.

(I’m laboring here to avoid the word detail, since many audiophiles like bright, phony sound because of all the wonderful “detail”. The MOFI guys and the CD guys often fall into this trap. Get the sound tonally balanced first, then see how much detail you have left. Detail is not the end-all and be-all of audio. Those who think it is usually have systems that make my head hurt.)

But most people will never know what they’re missing on Helplessly Hoping, because they will never have an amazing sounding copy of this song. The hot copies are just too rare.

THE Gaite Parisienne to Own – A Classic Case of Reversed Polarity

The Music of Jacques Offenbach

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  • This amazing Readers Digest disc has A+++ Out of This World Demo Disc sound for Gaite Parisienne
  • The dynamic energy, clarity and power of this work come through on this pressing like nothing you have ever heard
  • But only if you can reverse your polarity – if you can’t (or won’t) just forget hearing this record sound the way I describe it
  • “This is unpretentious, well-crafted music, and while it will not appeal to those exclusively interested in serious listening, it is undeniably masterful within its genre.”

Amazing in every way! 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. (more…)

Mozart / Quintet – Piano + Winds & Trio

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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 chamber music recordings.

This is a handy record for VTA setup as well. Listen for fullness and solidity, especially in the piano, although a rich, full sounding clarinet is a joy here as well. 

Some of the copies lacked the weight and solidity to balance out the qualities of transparency and clarity. The resulting sound is less natural, with the kind of forced detail that CDs do so well, and live music never does. There is a balance to be found.

The right VTA will be critical in this regard. When you have all the space; the clearest, most extended harmonics; AND good weight and richness in the lower registers of the piano, you are where you need to be (keeping in mind that it can always get better if you have the patience and drive to tweak further).  (more…)

Setup Discs, Part Two – Dialing in the Anti-Skate

Setup Discs, Part Two – Dialing in the Anti-Skate

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises

This is a superb Demonstration disc, but it is also an excellent Test disc. The sound of the best copies is rich, full-bodied, incredibly spacious, and exceptionally extended up top. There is a prodigious amount of musical information spread across the soundstage, much of it difficult to reproduce. Musicians are banging on so many different percussive devices (often at the back of the stage, exactly where they should be) that getting each one’s sonic character to clearly come through is a challenge — and when you’ve met it, a thrill.

If you’ve done your homework with VTA, Azimuth, Anti-Skate and Tracking Weight, this is the record that will make clear just how much you’ve accomplished.

More of the music of Georges Bizet

But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce! You better have everything working right when you play this one — it’s guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. And if you have any peaky audiophile wire in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this. More than anything this is a record that rewards your system’s neutrality.

On the best copies the strings have wonderful texture and sheen. If your system isn’t up to it (or you have a copy with a problem in this area), the strings might sound a little shrill and possibly grainy as well, but I’m here to tell you that the sound on the best copies is just fine with respect to string tone and timbre. You will need to look elsewhere for the problem. (more…)

The Doors Debut – What to Listen For

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What to Listen For? you ask?

ENERGY and RAW POWER. Few audiophiles have any idea how well recorded this album is, simply because most pressings don’t do a very good job of encoding the life of the master tape onto the vinyl of the day, regardless of whether that day is in 1967 or 2017.

The first Doors album is without a doubt the punchiest, liveliest, most powerful recording in the entire Doors catalog.

Huh? I’m guessing this statement does not comport well with your own experience of the album, and there’s a good reason for that: not many copies of the album provide strong evidence for any of the above qualities. Most pressings are opaque, flat, thin, veiled, compressed, lifeless and sound exactly the way so many old rock records sound: like an old rock record. (more…)

The Brahms Violin Concerto – Unplug or Suffer the Consequences!

More recordings 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. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Carly Simon’s Second Best Album – No Secrets

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Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For 

The immensely talented engineer ROBIN GEOFFREY CABLE worked his audio magic on this album. You may recall that he recorded a number of the greatest sounding rock records of all time, Elton John’s self-titled second album and Tumbleweed Connection, both in 1970, as well as this album and Nilsson Schmilsson in 1972, with Richard Perry producing. 

One more note: having your VTA set just right is critical to getting the best out of this album. The loudest vocal parts can easily strain otherwise. Once you get your settings dialed in correctly, a copy like this will give you the kind of rich, sweet sound that brings out the best in this music. (more…)

Turntable Tweaking Advice – Try This at Home, It Worked for Us

Turntable Tweaking Advice

Try This at Home, It Worked for Us

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The Mapleshade website has a piece of audio advice that caught the eye of one our customers, who sent me the excerpt below.  

Like most advice, especially Audio Advice, we find that some of it accords well with our own experience and some of it clearly does not. The relationship of good to bad is hard to determine without making a more careful study, but let’s just say that there is plenty of both and leave it at that. That being the case, we thought it would be of service to our customers to break it down in more detail, separating the wheat from the chaff so to speak.

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We’ve also added a customer’s letter at the end of the commentary.

Here is the complete quote: (more…)

My Aim Is True Can Really Rock – If You Have the Speaker System to Play It

My Aim Is True Can Really Rock –

If You Have the Speaker System to Play It

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

There is a line in the Hot Stamper commentary below concerning driving punk rock bass. Man, this record lives or dies by your ability to reproduce the powerful bottom end that propels this music. Pardon me for cueing up a broken record again, and with all due respect to the things they do well — they must do something well, right? People keep buying them — small speakers and screens are not going to cut it on My Aim Is True. This is precisely the kind of album they don’t do well. (more…)