Advice – What to Listen For – Energy

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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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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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…)

The Doors’ Strange Days – A True Demo Disc


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  • A stunning Demo Disc quality early pressing of one of the most difficult-to-find records in the world of Classic ’60s Rock
  • You get two incredible sides each rating a Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it
  • The sound is HUGE, full-bodied and lively throughout – check out that killer bottom end and the amazing transparency
  • Amazing sound for so many classics: When The Music’s Over, Moonlight Drive, Love Me Two Times and more
  • Nearly impossible to find copies that play anywhere near this quietly, let alone ones that sound like this!

See all of our Doors albums in stock

PHENOMENAL sound for the Doors sophomore classic. You won’t believe how good this copy is — incredibly rich and full yet still clean, clear and dynamic with a big bottom end, driving rock and roll energy and huge amounts of space. Thanks Bruce Botnick, you are da man!

Honestly, we must return or reject 80% of the copies that come through the door, which should go a long way towards explaining why they hit the site with such irregularity. We know what the best stampers are and have for quite a while. What we have a devil of a time doing is finding anyone selling the album who knows how to grade it properly, especially when it comes to the kind of groove damage that’s common to records played on turntables that lack anti-skate adjustment. What good is a record with distortion on vocal peaks, not to mention inner grooves that are borderline unlistenable? (more…)

Let It Be – John’s Really Digging a Pony. Are You?

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What blew our minds about the Shootout Winning side one we played recently was how outrageously big, open and transparent it was on the song Dig a Pony. As the song started up the studio space seemed to expand in every direction, creating more height, width and depth than we’d ever experienced with this song before. 

But there is no studio space; the song was recorded on Apple’s rooftop. The “space” has to be some combination of “air” from the live event and artificial reverb added live or later during mixing. Whatever it is, the copies with more resolution and transparency show you a lot more of “it” than run-of-the-mill pressings do (including the new Heavy Vinyl, which is so airless and compressed we gave it a grade of F and banished it to our Shame Hall). 

In addition, Ringo’s kit was dramatically more clear and present in the center of the soundfield just behind the vocal, raising the energy of the track to a level higher than we had any right to believe was possible. The way he attacks the hi-hat on this song is crazy good, and the engineering team of Glyn Johns and Alan Parsons really give it the snap it needs.

These are precisely the qualities that speed and transparency can contribute to the sound. If you have Old School vintage tube equipment, these are two of the qualities you are most likely living without. You only need play this one track on faster, better-resolving equipment to hear what you’ve been missing.

On the line after “All I want is you”, the energy of “Everything has got to be just like you want it to” should make it sound like The Beatles are shouting at the top of their lungs. If you have the right pressing they really get LOUD on that line.

The Beatles: Rock Band

On the better pressings the natural rock n’ roll energy of a song such as Dig A Pony will blow your mind. There’s no studio wizardry, no heavy-handed mastering, no phony EQ — just the sound of the greatest pop/rock band of all time playing and singing their hearts out.

It’s the kind of thrill you really don’t get from the more psychedelic albums like Sgt. Pepper’s or Magical Mystery Tour. You have to go all the way back to Long Tall Sally and Roll Over Beethoven to find the Beatles consistently letting loose the way they do on Let It Be (or at least on the tracks that are more or less live, which make up about half the album).

Further Reading

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.

The entries linked here may help you gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding Hot Stampers.

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.

Our Approach to Audio

Over the years we have put literally thousands of hours into our system and room in order to extract the maximum amount of information, musical and otherwise, from the records we play, or as close to the maximum as we can manage. Ours is as big and open as any system in an 18 by 20 by 8 room I’ve ever heard. (I can’t compete with bigger rooms and higher ceilings; it’s a glorious sound but custom room additions are just way out of our budget.)

It’s also as free from colorations of any kind as we can possibly make it. We want to hear the record in its naked form; not the way we like it to sound, or want it to sound, but the way it actually does sound. That way, when you get the record home and play it yourself, it should sound the way we described it.

If too much of the sound we hear is what our stereo is doing, not what the record is doing, how can we know what will it sound like on your system? We try to be as truthful and as critical as we can when describing the records we sell. Too much coloration in the system would make those tasks much more difficult, if not downright impossible.

Click here to read more about our playback equipment.

Mobile Fidelity’s Approach to Mastering – I Have a Theory

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I have a theory about why MoFi’s mastering approach here tended to work for the album when it failed so miserably for so many others. It goes a little something like this. 

Back in their early days MoFi tended to add bass and treble to practically every record they mastered, regardless of whether or not the master tape they were using needed any such boost. A little extra sparkle up top and a little extra slam down below was what the audiophile public seemed to want. Truth be told, I was a member of that group and I know I did.

Fortunately for them Waiting for Columbus is an album that can really use a little at both ends. Rarely did The Mastering Lab supply it, making the original domestic pressings somewhat bass-shy and dull up top. The MoFi clearly corrected the poor EQ choices The Mastering Lab had made for the most part.

The Bottom

But at what cost? At a very high one, revealed to us during our shootout by the killer pressings we uncovered. On the MoFi the bass, although there is more of it, just the right amount in fact, is BLUBBER. The lack of definition is positively painful, once you’ve heard how well-recorded it is, which is what the best copies can show you. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Rockin’ Out on Simple Dreams

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

Clearly this is one of Linda’s best albums, and I would have to say, based on my fairly extensive experience with her recorded output, that it is in fact THE BEST SOUNDING record she ever made. I love Heart Like a Wheel, but it sure doesn’t sound like this, not even on the Triple Plus copies that win our shootouts. 

Kudos once again must go to VAL GARAY, the man behind so many of our favorite recordings: James Taylor’s JT (a Top 100 title), Andrew Gold, Prisoner In Disguise, etc. (more…)