Advice – What to Listen For – Ambience, Size and Space

Sergio Mendes – Room Treatments Bring Out The Best

xxxxx

 

Only the best copies are sufficiently transparent to grant the listener the privilege of hearing all the elements laid out clearly, each occupying a real three-dimensional space within the soundfield. 

With recent changes to some of our room treatments, we now have even more transparency in the mids and highs, while improving the whomp factor (the formula goes like this: deep bass + mid bass + speed + dynamics = whomp) at the listening position. (There’s always tons of bass being produced when you have three 12′ woofers firing away, but getting the bass out of the corners and into the center of the room is one of the toughest tricks in audio.)

For a while we were quite enamored with some later pressings of this album — they were cut super clean, with extended highs and amazing transparency, with virtually none of the congestion in the loud parts you hear on practically every copy.

But that clarity comes at a price, and it’s a steep one. The best early pressings have whomp down below only hinted at by the “cleaner” reissues. It’s the same way super transparent half-speeds fool most audiophiles. For some reason audiophiles rarely seem to notice the lack of weight and solidity down below that they’ve sacrificed for this improved clarity. (Probably because it’s the rare audiophile speaker that can really move enough air to produce the whomp we are talking about here.)

But hey, look who’s talking! I was fooled too. You have to get huge amounts of garbage out of your system (and your room) before the trade-offs become obvious. When you find that special early pressing, one with all the magic in the midrange and top without any loss of power down below, then my friend you have one of those “I Can’t Believe It’s A Record” records. We call them Hot Stampers here at Better Records, and they’re guaranteed to blow your mind.

Funky Brazilian Music For Audiophiles

This is one of my favorite albums, one which certainly belongs in any Audiophile’s collection. Better sound is hard to find — when you have the right pressing. Unfortunately those are pretty hard to come by. Most LPs are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled and full of compressor distortion in the louder parts: this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

But we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and have since Day One. One of the first records I ever played for my good audio buddy Robert Pincus (Cisco Records) to demonstrate the sound of my system was Sergio’s syncopated version of Day Tripper off this album. That was thirty years ago, and I can honestly say I have never tired of this music in the decades since.

Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out The Lights – The Best Sounding Record of the Decade?

xxxxx

Without a doubt this is the best record Richard and Linda Thompson ever made together, possibly the best record Thompson was ever involved with, but it also holds one other important distinction, one of great interest to us audiophiles: it’s the BEST SOUNDING record he (they) ever made as well.

As I was playing the finalists for side two (at ear-splitting levels I might add) an odd thought crossed my mind. Where had I heard this kind of monstrous, punchy bass and these soaring, perfectly distorted guitars, so big and so powerful, before? There was something about the sound – the awesome energy, the freedom from compression or spatial restraint of any kind – that was strangely familiar from another shootout.

After a minute’s deliberation the answer came to me: I was remembering the feeling I got from the White Hot Stamper of Led Zeppelin II we played not long ago.

Yes, that’s the album that it most closely resembles. As outlandish as it may seem, the rock power of Shoot Out the Lights has much more in common with the rock power of Zep II than any other record I can think of.

To be sure, the vast majority of people, including the vast majority of audiophiles, have never heard a top quality RL Zep II played at extremely loud levels on a big speaker system in a dedicated room. Nor in all probability will they ever have the chance.

But I sure have, quite a few in fact. If anyone knows that sound I do. I’ve dedicated the past forty years of my efforts in audio to reproducing records with the Big Rock Sound like Zep II. There’s really none bigger in my opinion. (more…)

Steppenwolf – Gold: Their Great (But Awful Sounding) Hits on Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl

There is a story behind how I got my mitts of this particular Heavy Vinyl pressing.

Months ago a fellow contacted us to buy some of our Hot Stamper pressings.  We sent him one or two, and he soon wrote back to say he was not happy with the sound. We exchanged emails with him on a number of occasions, trying to rectify the situation and get him records he would be happy with.

In the middle of all this back and forth, a discussion we had crossed over into Heavy Vinyl territory, specifically were there any that he liked the sound of?  Why yes, there were.

You guessed it. The above-pictured album is one he recommended. (There was another he also said we should try, but after playing this one we decided against buying any more records he liked the sound of, as you will see.)

So, a number of months ago we finally got around to cracking the seal and playing our newly remastered Heavy Vinyl LP.

Right from the get-go, thick, murky, compressed, lifeless, ambience-free, dead-as-a-doornail sound started to come out of my speakers. Like sludge from a sewer you might say. What the hell was going on?

I quickly grabbed a Super Hot copy off the shelf and put it on the table.

Here was the energy, clarity, richness, space and more that had been missing mere moments before while playing the Heavy Vinyl pressing. Now, coming out my speakers was everything that makes a good vintage pressing such a joy to listen to. I felt like turning it up and rocking out. The first song is Born to Be Wild. Who doesn’t love to blast Born to Be Wild?

What a difference. Night and Day. Maybe more!

As I was thinking about the turgid, compressed, veiled, overly smooth but not tonally incorrect sound coming out of my speakers, I thought back about the kinds of stereo systems that can produce that sound on command. They often look like the one you see below.

If this is your idea of good sound, you are in luck. You can buy your Limited Edition Heavy Vinyl audiophile pressings from Acoustic Sounds to your heart’s content.  They’re sure cheaper than our records, and they apparently do a bang up job of giving you precisely the sound you’re looking for on vinyl.

To finish up with our little story, to no one’s surprise we never could satisfy our new customer. We ended up refunding him all his money. It seems our records were expensive, and simply not much better than records he owned or could find cheaply enough.  Ours might be even worse! Who the hell do we think we are?  The nerve.

I also know he wasn’t playing them on an old console. He took great pains to tell me all about his fancy handmade tonearm, custom tube preamp and screen speakers. State of the Art stuff in his mind, no doubt about it.

But if your system is so ridiculously bad that an Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl LP doesn’t call attention to its manifold shortcomings, doesn’t actually make your head hurt and your blood boil at the very idea that someone would charge money for such bad sound, you might want to think about scrapping your precious audiophile equipment and starting over.

Of course, this guy and the thousands of other audiophiles like him would never do such a thing. They are thoroughly invested in whatever approach to audio they have taken, and nobody can teach them anything.  They already know more than you.

They’re also the ones keeping hopelessly incompetent labels like Analogue Productions in business.  They supported Classic Records before it went under, they support Mobile Fidelity to this day. They are the guys that buy Heavy Vinyl records and extoll their virtues on audiophile forums far and wide.  Some even make youtube videos about this crap now and get tens of thousands of hits.

It’s sad, but there is nothing we can do but keep on doing what we are doing: finding good pressings for audiophiles who can appreciate the difference.

Another way we can help is this. Use the guide below when you do your shootouts for records, Heavy Vinyl and otherwise. Perhaps you will avoid the mistakes the above-mentioned gentleman made.  We include them in practically every listening of every record we sell.

And this blog is full of advice explaining practically everything there is to know about records.

You may want to start here. (more…)

Ted Heath – Shall We Dance – Absolutely Amazing Sound (and We Love the Music Too)

xxx

One of the best sounding records we have ever played, the Gold Standard for Tubey Magical Big Band. Both sides are huge, rich, weighty and dynamic like few records you have ever heard. Three elements create the magic here: Kingsway Hall, Kenneth Wilkinson and the Decca “Tree” microphone setup.

More Big Band Jazz

Years ago we wrote in another listing “We had a copy of Heath’s Shall We Dance not long ago that had some of the biggest, richest, most powerful sound I have ever heard. Watch for Hot Stampers coming to the site soon.” Well, now they’re here, and this copy fulfills the promise of the album like no copy we have ever played.

DEMO DISC SOUND barely begins to do this one justice. This is Audiophile Quality Big Band sound to beat them all. The American big bands rarely got the kind of sound that the Decca engineers were able to achieve on records like this. For one thing they didn’t have Kingsway Hall, Kenneth Wilkinson or the Decca “Tree” microphone setup.

Unlike some of the American big band leaders who were well past their prime by the advent of the two-channel era, Heath is able to play with all the energy and verve required for this style of music. He really does “swing in high stereo” on these big band dance tunes. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Look Around – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

xxxxx

 

Finally, Hot Stampers are here for this notoriously difficult to reproduce recording. This side one was KILLER, earning a grade of A++ to A+++! It’s big and bold, with dramatically less grit and grain than the average copy. The sound is punchy and lively with wonderful transparency. You can really hear the sound of the room around the musicians with this one. Some of the tracks on this side one are DEMO DISC quality.  

Side One

Side one has virtually no strain, EXTENDED highs, and is overall so clear and open that you will have a hard time believing that it’s the same recording as whatever copies you may have heard in the past. It KILLED most of the copies we played against it.

It’s just much more FUN and LIVELY this way! (We had one copy that earned the full three pluses but the difference between them was minimal.) (more…)

Los Admiradores – Bongos / Flutes / Guitars

xxxxx

 

First things first: one of the main bongo players is none other than Ray Barretto himself. You jazz guys out there will know exactly who that is, a man whose reputation for brilliant rhythmic contributions to some of the greatest classic jazz albums of the ’60s is beyond dispute. One listen to Midnight Blue will do the trick. The man had a gift. And he is here joined by two other top players.

And of course the guitarist has to be the incomparable Tony Mottola, the man behind one of our favorite jazz guitar records of all time: Warm, Wild and Wonderful.

Soundfield, Timbre and Dynamics

The spaciousness of the studio is reproduced with uncanny fidelity, with both huge depth and width, but there is another dimension that this record is operating in that Bang, Baa-room and Harp, just to take one example, does not — the instruments here are capable of jumping out of your speakers, seemingly right into your listening room.

The effect is astonishing. I have never heard these instruments sound more real than they do here. The timbre is perfection. The dynamics are startling.

Add to those clearly unattenuated dynamics, high and low frequencies that are also not attenuated, and microphones capable of deadly accuracy, and you have yourself a recording of virtually unparalleled fidelity. We’ve played these kinds of records by the score but I have rarely heard one that can do what this one is doing. (more…)

Esquivel – Infinity In Sound

xxxxx
xxxxx

  • Stunning Living Stereo Sound from 1960; Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • Both sides are incredibly clear and open, yet rich and and oh-so-Tubey Magical, with brass that has little to none of the “blarey” quality that plagues most copies
  • Folks, I can tell you right now most original Living Stereo Popular (LSP) pressings, of this or any other LSP title, do not begin to recreate the Studio Wizardry found on this album; the sound rivals the best Chet Atkins albums and Bob and Rays in all their delicious three-dimensional Cinerama staging
  • AMG raves that “Esquivel returns to his full glory on Infinity in Sound.”

(more…)

The Best Sounding Jethro Tull Album Is Thick As a Brick

jethrthick_1410_3_1192056381

Thick As A Brick is surely the BEST SOUNDING ALBUM Jethro Tull ever recorded. Allow us to make the case.

  • The better copies are shockingly dynamic. At about the three minute mark the band joins in the fun and really starts rocking.
  • Set your volume for as loud as your system can play that section. The rest of the music, including the very quietest parts, will then play correctly for all of side one. For side two the same volume setting should be fine.
  • The recording can have exceptionally solid, deep punchy bass (just check out Barrie “Barriemore” Barlow’s drumming, especially his kick and floor toms. The guy is on fire).
  • The midrange is usually transparent and the top end sweet and extended on the better pressings.
  • The recording was made in 1972, so there’s still plenty of Tubey Magic to be heard on the acoustic guitars and flutes.
  • The best copies can be as huge, wide and tall as any rock record you’ve ever heard, with sound that comes jumping out of your speakers right into your listening room.
  • Unlike practically any album recorded during the ’80s or later, the overall tonal balance, as well as the timbre of virtually every instrument in the soundfield is exceedingly correct.

That kind of accuracy practically disappeared from records about thirty years ago, which explains why so many of the LPs we offer as Hot Stampers were produced in the ’70s. That’s when many of the highest fidelity recordings were made. In truth this very record is a superlative example of the sound the best producers, engineers, and studios were able to capture on analog tape during that time.
(more…)

Traffic – The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Jazz Hall of Fame.

HOLY COW! Side one of this British Island Sunray pressing BLEW THE DOORS off the competition in our big shootout. It took the music to an entirely new level for us, so we awarded it the very rare grade of A++++ — that’s four pluses, my man!

You are not going to believe how tubey magical this side one is. I guarantee you have never heard this band sound this amazing on record or your money back.

Side two lacks a little extension up top, but it’s still rich, warm, sweet, and above all, NATURAL. It’s open and transparent with three-dimensionality to the soundfield. We rate it A+ – A++, which means it delivers a good deal of magic. (more…)

Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

xxxxx

xxxxx

A while back we did a monster-sized shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second release, an album we consider THE Best Sounding Rock Record of All Time. In the midst of the discussion of a particular pressing that completely blew our minds — a copy we gave a Hot Stamper grade of A with Four Pluses , the highest honor we can bestow upon it — various issues arose, issues such as: How did this copy get to be so good? and What does it take to find such a copy? and, to paraphrase David Byrne, How did it get here?

Which brings us to this commentary, which centers around the concept of outliers.

Wikipedia defines an outlier this way: “In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.” In other words, it’s something that is very far from normal. In the standard bell curve distribution pictured below, the outliers are at the far left and far right, far from the vast majority of the data which is in the middle.

In the world of records, most copies of any title you care to name would be average sounding. The vertical line in the center of the graph shows probability; the highest probability is that any single copy of a record will be at the top of the curve near the middle, which means it will simply be average. The closer to the vertical line it is, the more average it will be. As you move away from the vertical line, the data point — the record — becomes less and less average. As you move away from the center, to the left or the right, the record is either better sounding or worse sounding than average. (more…)