Advice – Understanding Records

Cat Stevens Albums – Lee Hulko Cut Them All – Good, Bad and Otherwise

More Cat Stevens

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Is the Pink Label Island original pressing THE way to go? That’s what Harry Pearson — not to mention most audiophile record dealers — would have you believe.

But it’s just not true. And that’s good news for you, Dear (Record Loving Audiophile) Reader.

HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM JOHN BARLEYCORN

Since that’s a Lee Hulko cutting just like Tea here, the same insights, if you can call them that, apply. Here’s what we wrote: (more…)

Delibes / Coppelia / Ansermet – A Superb Mono Pressing

More of the music of Leo Delibes (1836-1891) 

More Coppelia / Ansermet 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

[This is a very old commentary so take it for what it’s worth.]

DEMO QUALITY SOUND for this early London Mono pressing. 

Side one of this record sounds incredible! The sound is absolutely top notch. Check out the brass — it has the solid weight of the real thing.

This is the kind of record that the mono cartridge owners of the world worship. And for good reason. But you don’t need to have a mono cartridge to hear how good — in fact, how much BETTER — this copy sounds than the stereo pressing.

I found out about mono classical records one day when I got a mono copy of The Power Of The Orchestra, VCS 2659. It sounded better than any stereo recording of that work I had ever heard. All the instruments were so much more solid sounding, so palpable, so free from distortion, that it made me recognize for the first time what the mono record lovers of the world were talking about. That was ten years ago. Since then many high end mono cartridges have come on the market, specifically to bring out that sound. (more…)

Audiophilia 101 – What Kind of Audio Fool Was I?

More commentaries on Record Collecting

Audiophilia 101

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Today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making as a budding audiophile more than thirty years ago. Heavy Viny, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads, each with a track record progressively more dismal than the next? 

Our Story Begins

One Man Dog has long been a favorite James Taylor album of mine. It didn’t catch on too well with the general public when it came out but it caught on just fine with me. I used to play it all the time. As a budding but misguided audiophile back in the early ’70s, I foolishly bought the import pressing at my local record store, The Wherehouse, assuming it would sound better and be pressed on quieter vinyl. The latter may have been true, probably was true, but the former sure wasn’t. Turns out even the average domestic original is far better sounding, but how was I to know?

Compare and Contrast? What For?

Back in those days it would never have occurred to me to buy more than one copy of a record and do a head to head comparison to see which one would sound better. I approached the subject Platonically, not scientifically: the record that should sound better would of course sound better, so why waste time testing?

Later on in the decade a label by the name of Mobile Fidelity would come along claiming to actually make better sounding pressings than the ones the major labels put out, and — cluelessly — I bought into that nonsense too. (To be fair, sometimes they did — Touch, Waiting for Columbus and American Beauty come to mind, but my god, Katy Lied, Year of the Cat and Sundown have to be three of the worst sounding records I’ve ever played in my life.) (more…)

Crosby, Stills and Nash – CSN – You Do the Best You Can with What You’ve Got to Work With

More Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album. 

CSN chose the Albert brothers to engineer this album. Their most famous album is Layla. Ever heard a great sounding Layla? Me neither. Can you hear the sound of Layla in your head? That’s more or less what this album sounds like. There are better and worse Layla’s — we’ve done the shootout many times — just as there are better and worse CSNs.

The problem with the sound cannot be “fixed” in the mastering, and here’s how we know: on either side some songs have the breath of life and some don’t. That’s a recording problem.

It sounds like too many generations of tape were used on songs like Shadow Captain and Dark Star among others

But Just a Song Before I Go on side two can sound wonderful: rich, sweet, present and surrounded by lovely studio ambience.

So we listen for the qualities of a specific song that help us pinpoint what the best do well and the rest do poorly and grade them accordingly, on the curve. (more…)

Frames of Reference, Carefully Conducted Shootouts and Critical Listening

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven 

More Frames of Reference 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

The sound we were hearing on this copy during a recent shootout was both rich and sweet, with easily recognized, unerringly correct timbres for all seven of the instruments heard in the work. The legendary 1959 Decca Tree microphone setup had worked its magic once again. And, as good as it was, we were surprised to discover that side two was actually even better! The sound was more spacious and more transparent. We asked ourselves, how is this even possible?

Hard to believe but side two had the sound that was TRULY Hard To Fault. This is precisely what careful shootouts and critical listening are all about. If you like Heavy Vinyl, what exactly is your frame of reference? How many good early pressings could you possibly own, and how were they cleaned?

Without the best pressings around to compare, Heavy Vinyl can sound fine. It’s only when you have something better that its faults come into focus. (We, of course, have something much, much better, and we like to call them Hot Stampers!) (more…)

2-Packs – The Best Case for Dramatic Pressing Variations

More Eagles

More 2-Packs

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Just today (3/16/15) we put up a White Hot Stamper 2-pack of the Eagles’ First Album. One of the two pressings that made up the 2-pack had a killer side two, practically As Good As It Gets. 

What was interesting about that particular record was how bad side one was. Side one of that copy — on the white label, with stampers that are usually killer — was terrible. The vocals were hard, shrill and spitty. My notes say “CD sound. ” When a record sounds like a CD it goes in the trade-in pile, not on our site.

We encouraged the lucky owner to play the bad side for himself just to hear how awful it is, yet surprisingly, one might even say shockingly, it has exactly the qualities that audiophiles and collectors are most often satisfied with: the right label, and, in this case even the right stampers (assuming anyone besides us would know what the right stampers are). (more…)

Diminishing Returns in Audio?

More Sergio Mendes

More Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66

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Diminishing returns? Sez who? In our opinion, it’s another Old and Pernicious Myth.

I often read this comment in audio magazines regarding the piece of equipment under review, as if to say that we are so close to audio perfection that a gain of a few percent is the most we can hope for from this or that new megabuck amp or speaker. In my experience the exact opposite is true. 

There are HUGE improvements to be made on a regular basis, even without spending all that much money (keeping in mind that this is not exactly a poor man’s hobby).

If you are actively involved in seeking out better equipment, trying new things, and tweaking the hell out of your system as much as time and patience permit, I think an improvement of 10-25% per year in perceived sound quality is not an unreasonable expectation. (more…)

Record Collecting Axioms

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In an old commentary for a shootout we did for Carole King’s Tapestry album we took shots at both the CBS Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile pressing and the Classic Heavy Vinyl Audiophile pressing, noting that both fell far short of the standard set by the Hot Stamper copies we’d discovered. This finding (and scores of others just like it) prompted us to promulgate the following axiom of audiophile record collecting, which we are calling…

Better Records Record Collecting Axiom Number Two

The better your stereo gets, the fewer Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered pressings you will want to play, or own for that matter.

(This assumes a fact not in evidence: that audiophiles get rid of their bad sounding records. It has been my experience that the reverse is actually more often the case. Most audiophiles seem to like to hang on to their bad sounding audiophile pressings, Why they do so I cannot for the life of me understand. To me a bad sounding audiophile record is a record that has no business being played and should either be tossed or sold, with any proceeds from the sale applied to the purchase of good records — you know, like the ones on our site.)
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Avoid Making this Rookie Record Collecting Mistake

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Record Shopping Day Video!

Not sure how much of this video you can stand — nothing could interest me less than a couple of audiophile / vinyl enthusiasts spouting off on what they think about some random records sitting in a local store’s bins — but one or two bits caught my eye. I thought it might possibly be of service to share them with you.

Is there any value to the comments of these two collectors? If you care about what music they like, perhaps.  Anything about what to look for on the label or jacket that might correspond to better sound?  If it’s there I sure didn’t see it, but I admit to speeding through most of it so I can’t say for sure.

The first bit I refer to above is at 18:42.  The album in question is the legendary Kind of Blue. At this point the unseen helmet-cammed audiophile picks up the record, recognizes the original cover, and proceeds to pull the record out to see what era the pressing is from.

Drat! The disappointment in this audiophile’s voice is palpable as he drops the record back in the bin with his dismissive comment that  “it’s a later pressing.”

But we here at Better Records would be falling all over ourselves to get our hands on that later pressing. Those late pressings can and often do win shootouts. We would never look down our noses at a Red Label Columbia jazz LP, and neither should you.

Our intrepid audiophile explorer does much the same thing about 23 minutes in. It seems pretty clear to us that he has no respect for such reissues, another example of one of the most common myths in record collecting land, the myth that the  original pressing is always, or to be fair, usually better. (more…)

Confirmation Bias – Why You Won’t Hear What You Don’t Want to Hear

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Steven Novella has a wonderful critical thinking blog I only just discovered today, and in it was this article discussing the Dunning-Kruger effect. An extract:

Dunning summarizes the effect as:

“…incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are,”

He further explains:

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

Could this explain why so many audiophile reviewers are so bad at their jobs, especially the ones who are most well-known and highly regarded (leaving aside for the moment their exceptional amounts of self-regard)?

But hold on just a minute: What about us? Aren’t we as susceptible to these critical thinking errors as anyone else?
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