Advice – What to Listen For – Energy

Loggins & Messina – Sittin’ In – 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 Sittin’ In. 

Practically any copy you find will have a bit of a boost in the bottom end. The kick drum really kicks on this album, more than it should in fact.

And almost all copies have too much top end right around 10k. The ones with the worst case of boosted highs and boosted bass sound like they were mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed in Japan, much like those put out by a famous label back in the ’70s.

Oddly enough, many audiophiles to this day do not seem to know that this particular label has been responsible for a slough of the phoniest sounding audiophile records ever pressed.

There is also a sibilance problem with the recording. Some copies keep it under control, while other, more crudely mastered and pressed ones, suffer greatly from spitty vocals, especially noticeable on Danny’s Song. The better copies will tend to have the “cleanest”, least-objectionable sibilance.

The best copies manage to keep the EQ anomalies within bounds, while giving us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthusiasm; harmonically-rich guitars; and a three-dimensional soundstage, revealing the space around them all.



Further Reading

We have a large number of entries in our new Listening in Depth series.

We discuss the issue of Sibilance in these listings.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

This debut album was credited to Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina because the project had begun as a solo record by Loggins being produced by Messina. By the time it was finished, however, Messina had written or co-written six of the 11 songs, contributed “first guitar,” and shared lead vocals on many tracks. Messina’s “Nobody but You” and “Vahevala,” co-written by Loggins’ second cousin, Dave Loggins, were the singles chart entries, but today everybody remembers the album for Loggins’ “House at Pooh Corner,” which had earned Loggins his record contract, and “Danny’s Song,” which Anne Murray took into the Top Ten the following year.

The only thing wrong with this record is that it was too perfect — with their infectious blend of country, folk, rock and Caribbean music, L&M started out at the top of their game, and although they were able to match some of the material and performances on later records, the team never got any better than this.

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.

In the Market for New Speakers? – Will They Handle the Size and Energy of Take It Easy?

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Take one of our killer Hot Stamper pressings with you when you go shopping for speakers. The speaker that gets the POWER and ENERGY of this music right is the one you want. This record will separate the men from the boys thirty seconds into Take It Easy. It will be obvious who’s got the piston power and who doesn’t.  

With big bass and huge scope, this may become your favorite disc for showing your friends just what analog is really capable of.

When the big chorus comes in on Take It Easy — one of the toughest tests for side one — you will be amazed by how energetic and downright GLORIOUS these boys can sound. Believe us when we tell you, it’s the rare copy that can pass that test.

Think this is all hyperbole? You sure won’t when you play side one on this copy! The sound positively JUMPS out of the speakers and fills the room! The transparency and clarity are nothing less than SHOCKING — just listen to all that ambience; those clear transients on the acoustic guitars, their harmonics captured so beautifully; the sound of the room around the drums.

The bass too is simply AMAZING — deep, tight, BIG and punchy.

One of the best things about this side one is the separation between the various parts, a result of the phenomenal transparency and freedom from distortion of these very special Hot Stamper pressings. You can easily tune in to each of the musicians and follow what they are doing over the course of a song. That’s what you’ve come to expect from a Better Records Hot Stamper, and this copy delivers on that promise.



Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

Other recordings that we have found to be especially Tubey Magical can be found here.

Transparency, the other side of the Tubey Magical coin, is also key to the better pressings of this album as well as many of our other favorite demo discs.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

In the Market for New Speakers?

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See How Well They Handle the Energy of Far More Drums

The drum solo Joe Morello lets loose on Far More Drums is one of the best on record. I was playing that very song recently and it occurred to me that it is practically impossible for a screen or panel speaker of any nature to reproduce the sound of those drums properly, regardless of how many subs you have.

Most of the music is not in the deeper bass anyway. It’s the whack of instruments whose energy is in the lower midrange and midrange that a screen speaker will struggle with, while a good large-driver dynamic speaker seems to handle the energy in that range with ease.

This is precisely the right album to take with you next time you head to your local stereo store to audition speakers. It will help clarify the issues. Screen speakers do many things well, but drums are not one of them in my experience.

If drums are important to you, do yourself a favor and buy a dynamic speaker, the bigger the better.


Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

See all Dave Brubeck albums in stock

 

The Vices of Production

doobiebrosvices

The best of this kind of mainstream radio-friendly pop rock has stood the test of time very well. One listen and we think you’ll agree: this is fun music that belongs in your collection.

IF…

IF you get hold of a good pressing, and in our experience this mass-produced stuff leaves a lot to be desired most of the time.

Actually that’s not really fair; the specialty audiophile limited edition pressings of most records are even worse sounding, so the production numbers really don’t have much to do with the final product, now do they?
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Chabrier / Orchestral Music / Ansermet – What to Listen For

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More Orchestral Music / Ansermet

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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 many copies the strings are dry, lacking Tubey Magic. This is decidedly not our sound, although it can easily be heard on many London pressings, the kind we’ve played by the hundreds over the years. If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange that so many moving coils have these days, you will not notice this tonality issue nearly as much as we do. Our 17D3 is ruler flat and quite unforgiving in this regard.  

It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in all but the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do. (more…)

The Poll Winners Straight Ahead – Their Best Album? We Think So

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

This is a Minty looking Contemporary Records LP with SUPERB MUSIC AND SOUND! We pulled together enough copies to do a small shootout, and this copy was the champion for BOTH SIDES! The sound is very clean and clear, yet tubey magical. 

You almost never hear cymbals sound this good on an RVG Blue Note, that’s for sure. The bass definition on this record is amazing — you can really hear Ray Brown pulling and bending the strings of the instrument. He’s tearing it up.

Musically, this is my favorite Poll Winners record! These guys got back together for this album and wanted to prove to the world that they still had their youthful excuberance!

They play with more spunk here than on any other album I’ve ever heard. And you have to love those ’70s leisure suits they’re wearing on the cover. I remember my commentary when this record was around mentioned that Roy DuNann, the famous recording engineer, had lost none of this skill in the intervening years either. This is a very dynamic recording, one of his best.

Ray Brown / Barney Kessel

The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour – Are Your Cellists Digging In?

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More Are Your Cellists Digging In?

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Over the last decade I Am The Walrus has evolved into a good test for side one, a fact that came as a complete surprise to me. As I was listening to the various copies in a shootout years ago I noted that the opening cellos and basses in the right channel were often tonally identical from copy to copy, but sounded quite a bit more lively and energetic on some pressings relative to others. Was it EQ? Level? Compression?  

Why so much more passion from the players on some copies and not others?

As I tried to puzzle it out, playing first one copy and then another, it became clear to me what was happening. The cellists and the bassists were just plain digging HARDER into the strings on the best copies. When you see live classical music, the cellists at the front of the orchestra are usually sawing away with abandon when the music is really going. They dig their bows hard into the strings to make them vibrate as loud as possible. To make their instruments heard in the back row it becomes a matter of muscle, of pure physical exertion.

So armed with the copies where the string players are working the hardest, I checked the other tracks. Sure enough, the opening cut, MMT, jumped out of the speakers with the most energy I had heard on any copy. As I went through the tracks one by one, they had the most life of any of the copies I had been listening to. To use a word that was popular at the time, the music was HAPPENING.

This was the final piece to the puzzle. Tonality always comes first. Frequency extension; lack of distortion; rich, powerful bass — these are important qualities as well. But the life of the music is in the micro and macro dynamics, and that is what I had not been paying sufficient attention to in the shootout. That was until I listened to Walrus and heard the players working up a good healthy sweat. Then I knew I had a hot stamper. And when I played the not so hot stampers, the string guys sounded like session musicians picking up a paycheck. Where was their passion? Didn’t they realize they were making a Classic?

If you get the right pressing they sure were!



Further Reading

This recording is quite difficult to reproduce, which means it ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS). Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment. The tutti passages will tear your head off unless you are using a very good cartridge and arm.

In its way, this is an ideal record to gauge how much progress you have made in audio. I remember playing these DG pressings only five to ten years ago and hearing shrill strings, harmonic distortion and many other unpleasant qualities in the sound. With those very same pressings today the sound is dramatically better. This is no accident. It is the result of both hard work and the Revolutions in Audio we discuss on the site.

Here is what I had to say about a Brewer and Shipley album that ranks high on the DOR scale:

I can also tell you that if you have a modest system this record is just going to sound like crap. It sounded like crap for years in my system, even when I thought I had a good one. Vinyl playback has come a long way in the last five or ten years and if you’ve participated in some of the revolutionary changes that I talk about elsewhere on the site, you should hear some pretty respectable sound. Otherwise, I would pass. On the Difficulty of Reproduction scale, this record scores fairly high. You need lots of tubey magic and freedom from distortion, the kind of sound I rarely hear on any but the most heavily tweaked systems, the kind of systems that guys like me have been slaving over for twenty years. If you’re a Weekend Warrior when it comes to stereo, this is not the record for you.

Much like Synchronicity, this is a tough record to get the right sound out of — even if you do have an excellent pressing. It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively.

It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too. As we’ve said before about these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring any audio system that tries to reproduce them to its knees.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this requires, demands even, you are going to hear some amazing sound when you drop the needle on these Hot Stampers.

The Who Letter of the Week – No Record I Own Ever Did That!

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This week’s letter came from a long time customer of ours, Dan. When he ordered this album he left the following note in his order comments – This is one of my favorite albums of all time!! One of my personal desert island discs. Can’t wait to hear it!. I’m not sure his ears were prepared for what was about to happen though. Read on to see what Dan thought of his Very Hot Who’s Next.(We have added the headings you see between the paragraphs.)

Hey Tom,

Just listened to the Very Hot Stamper of “Who’s Next” and thought I’d drop a little note: Holy FUCK that was POWERFUL!!!

No record I own ever did that

And I’m talking bone-rattling, earth-shaking, sock-you-in-the-gut POWERFUL. I’ve always known that The Who were one of the most intense bands in the history of rock n’ roll. Hell, everybody knows that and it’s part of the reason we love ’em so much. But with this record, I experienced the sheer physical force of their music like I NEVER have before. I couldn’t believe I heard bass notes hang in the air and resonate for long stretches. Bass notes never just hang like that! No record I own ever did that. (more…)

What We Listen For: The Spirit and Enthusiasm of the Musicians

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

This discussion, brought about by a Hot Stamper shootout we conducted for Revolver many years ago (2007!), touches on many issues near and dear to us here at Better Records: pressing variations, system upgrades, dead wax secrets, and the quality we prize most in a recording: LIFE, or, if you prefer, energy.

At the end of the commentary we of course take the opportunity to bash the MoFi pressing of the album, a regular feature of our Beatles Hot Stamper shootouts. We’re not saying the MoFi Beatles records are bad; in the overall scheme of things they are mostly pretty decent. What we are saying is that, with our help, you can do a helluva lot better. Our help doesn’t come cheap, as anyone on our mailing list will tell you. You may have to pay a lot, but we think you get what you pay for, and we gladly back up that claim with a 100% money back guarantee for every Hot Stamper pressing we sell. (more…)