Advice – What to Listen For – Bass and Whomp

Sergio Mendes – Room Treatments Bring Out The Best

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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.

801 Live – It’s All About the Bass (Except for that One Time When It Wasn’t)

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What’s especially interesting about this copy is that we went crazy for it even though it did not have the best bass of the copies we played, which, as you will see below, clearly contradicts what we had previously written. We thought that the copies with the best bass had the best everything else too, but that was not what we heard this time around.

THIS copy got the music to work its magic, and it did it with most, but not all, of the bass of the best. Not sure how to explain it. Rules were made to be broken maybe?  (more…)

We Was Wrong About The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour (Circa 1985-90)

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This is a VERY old and somewhat embarrassing commentary about how We Was Wrong

This German pressing has dramatically different sound than that found on other Hot Stamper pressings of MMT we’ve had on the site. I used to be convinced that its sound was clearly superior to the regular German MMT LPs.

Back in the late ’80s and into the ’90s this was the pressing that I was certain blew them all out of the water.

We know better now. We call this version the “Too Hot” Stamper pressing — the upper mids and top end are much too boosted to be enjoyable on top quality equipment.

It does have some positive qualities though. It has substantially deeper bass than any other version; in fact, it has some of the deepest bass you will ever hear on a pop recording. It can literally rattle the room when Paul goes down deep on Baby You’re A Rich Man.

It also uses a slightly different mix on some tracks and is mastered differently in terms of levels. The level change is most obvious at the beginning of Strawberry Fields, where it starts out very quietly and gets louder after a short while, unlike all other versions which start out pretty much at the same level. The effect is pleasing, you can even say powerful, but probably not what The Beatles intended, as no other copy I’ve ever heard utilizes the same quiet opening. An unknown mastering engineer made the choice, probably because he didn’t like all the tape hiss at the opening when few instruments were playing loud enough to mask it.

With this mix the record is now more of a hi-fi spectacular — great for demonstrations but not the last word in natural sound.

Little Feat – Waiting For Columbus

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  • With Double Plus (A++) grades, or close to them, on all four sides, this copy of Waiting for Columbus is outstanding from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the best sounding live rock and roll sound you will ever hear outside of a concert venue
  • One of our all-time favorite live recordings and their single best release – a true Masterpiece
  • 4 1/2 stars: “There’s much to savor on Waiting for Columbus, one of the great live albums of its era, thanks to rich performances that prove Little Feat were one of the great live bands of their time.”

This is an amazingly well-recorded concert, and what’s more, the versions the band does of their earlier material are much better than the studio album versions of those same songs in every case.

Fat Man In A Bathtub on this album is out of this world, but you could easily say that about a dozen or more of the tracks on this double album. Which simply means that you will have a very hard time listening to any of the studio versions of these songs once you’ve heard them performed with the kind of energy, enthusiasm and technical virtuosity Little Feat brought to this live show. (I saw them twice with Lowell and they were amazing both times.) (more…)

Organ Music From Westminster

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This is a Very Rare Fulton LP. The piece by Mozart on side one has a true 16 cycle note. Since it has virtually no overtones, the note is more often than not completely undetectable; few stereos in my experience have ever been able to reproduce it. If you have a full-range system, this record will allow you to hear deep bass you may have never heard before.

Let me warn you that these records require extremely transparent, full bandwith, neutral stereo systems to sound their best. Most records are “goosed up” in various ways to play on any stereo, regardless of quality. These are the opposite. From my admittedly prejudiced point of view, tubes are an absolute must for the magic of these live recordings to come through. [Or so I thought in 2006. Now, not so much.]

If your system leans more toward the budget side, these Fulton records will leave you wondering what in the world that Tom Port character was talking about.

And of course organ records require good deep bass, the hardest part of the frequency range to reproduce in the typical living room. With this organ record at least you’ll know what the goal should be.

Neil Young Harvest – We Review the Half-Speed Mastered Nautilus Pressing

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Sonic Grade: B-

We haven’t played a copy of this record in more than a decade, maybe two decades, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B-” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to see things differently now. 

In the early 2000s we wrote this review:

This is a SURPRISINGLY good sounding Nautilus Half-Speed mastered LP with AMAZING transparency. The sound here is DRAMATICALLY more natural than your average audiophile pressing. Just listen to the phony top end found on most MoFis to see what we mean. On this record you’ll hear none of the hyped-up highs that are MoFi’s claim to fame.

This Nautilus is sure to destroy a typical American pressing, which will tend to sound opaque, thick and dull. This wouldn’t really match up to our Hottest Stampers but you could sure do a lot worse. Although it’s a tad fat at the bottom, it still retains much of the warmth and richness found on the best copies.

Little Feat – Waiting For Columbus – We Was Wrong in 2009

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We used to think that:

This German import pressing of Waiting for Columbus is much better sounding than the typical Mastering Lab-mastered copy.

This German pressing is similar to one that came from my own personal collection, accidentally discovered way back in the early ’80s as I recall. It KILLED my domestic original, and got some things right that even my treasured Mobile Fidelity pressing couldn’t. We have been meaning to do a shootout for this album for at least the last five years, but kept running into the fact that in a head to head shootout the right MoFi pressing — sloppy bass and all — was hard to beat.

This is no longer the case, courtesy of that same old laundry list you have no doubt seen on the site countless times: better equipment, tweaks, record cleaning, room treatments, etcetera, etcetera. Now the shortcomings of the MoFi are clear for all to see, and the strengths of the best non-half-speed mastered pressings are too, which simply means that playing the MoFi now would be an excruciating experience. All I can hear is what it does wrong. I was so much happier with it when I didn’t know better.

That same laundry list continued to pay big dividends, and right around 2017 or so the best original domestic Mastering Lab copies started to sound much more right to us than the German ones.  The German pressings can be good, but the TML pressings are the only ones we expect to win shootouts from now on.

But who knows? We could find something even better down the road. That’s what shootouts are for. (more…)

Today’s Half-Speed Mastered Mess Is Meddle on Mobile Fidelity

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

Same problems as the MoFi Thick As a Brick: The MoFi is TRANSPARENT and OPEN, and the top end will be lush and extended. If you prize clarity, this is the one!

But if you prize clarity at the expense of everything else, you are seriously missing the boat on Meddle (and of course Thick As A Brick too). The MoFi is all mids and highs with almost nothing going on below.

This is a rock record, but without bass and dynamics the MoFi pressing can’t rock, so what exactly is it good for?

Paul McCartney – Unplugged – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

WHITE HOT STAMPERS and QUIET VINYL on BOTH SIDES make this the best copy of McCartney’s Unplugged to ever hit the site! We just finished a huge shootout for this Better Records favorite and this pressing really blew us away, clearly the best sounding on both sides out of a big stack of copies. The sound is rich, full-bodied and amazingly present, with the kind of jumpin’-out-of-the-speakers sound that you only get on the best pressings.

This copy will put you front and center for the acoustic Paul McCartney concert of your dreams!

In the final round of shootouts on both sides, this copy showed itself as clearly superior in terms of transparency and three-dimensionality, as well as having the most rock solid bottom end. To sum it up, my notes read “so real”, which is exactly what makes this copy THE one to have. This is Paul and his mates LIVE in your listening room like you have never heard them before!

This copy, more so than any of the others, gave us the feeling that we were right there in the audience for the taping of this amazing performance. It made other copies sound like records — good records, but records nonetheless. This one has the IMMEDIACY of a live show, one which just happened to be fronted by one of the greatest performers in the history of popular music, Sir Paul McCartney.

What Hot Stampers Give You For This Album

On the best copies, the sound is warmer, richer, and sweeter, or in a word, more ANALOG sounding. You get more extension up top, more weight down low, and more transparency in the midrange. It’s surprising how veiled and two-dimensional so many copies are, considering this is a live recording with not a lot of processing after the fact. (more…)

The Who – Tommy – Our First Big Shootout Winner from Way Back in 2008

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

This British Track Black Label pressing DEMOLISHED our expectations for this album. I don’t think I’ve ever heard The Who sound this good.

Three out of four sides rate our top grade of A+++, and side three ain’t far behind at A++. What do such high grades give you for this album? Tubey magical guitars, silky vocals with lots of texture, unbelievable weight to the bottom end, “you are there” immediacy, BIG drums sound, OFF THE CHARTS rock and roll energy, and shocking clarity and transparency.

This is only the second $1000 Classic Rock Hot Stamper we’ve ever listed on the site. We know there’s always a rise in trash talk on the vinyl message boards when we throw this kind of record on the site, but we can’t worry about that silly business. Our job is to find you guys the best of the best, and here’s a record that we’re very proud to put at the very top of our top shelf. (more…)