Advice – What to Listen For – Midrange Congestion

Earth, Wind, Fire and the Neverending Search for Balance

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More the Neverending Search for Balance

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises. As is usually the case when plowing through a big pile of copies, we learned pretty quickly that what makes the sound work is having these two qualities in balance:

1) Richness / Smoothness 
2) Transparency

When the vocals are thin and pinched, as they often are, the resulting edginess and harshness in the midrange take all the fun out of the music. Every track has group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color.

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices (and brass) start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

But richness and fullness are not enough. They must be balanced with TRANSPARENCY. (more…)

Crack The Sky – Animal Notes – 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 Crack the Sky records.

The best vintage rock recordings usually have something going for them that few recordings made after the ’70s do: their choruses get big and loud, yet stay smooth, natural and uncongested. 

We’ve mentioned it in countless listings. So many records have — to one degree or another — harsh, hard, gritty, shrill, congested choruses. When the choruses get loud they become unpleasant, and here at Better Records you lose a lot of points when that happens.

This recording, more specifically this pressing of this recording, has exceptionally big, smooth and natural choruses for many of the songs. Rangers at Midnight comes to mind immediately. Credit our man Shelly Yakus below for really getting the choruses right on this album.

Fun tip: Listen for the Elton John-like piano chords on the first track. Can you name that song? (Hint: it’s on Tumbleweed Connection.)

Engineering

Shelly Yakus and Andy Abrams are credited with engineering the album at the legendary Record Plant in New York. Yakus is the man behind Tom Petty’s best sounding album, Damn the Torpedoes, an album I expect with join our Top 100 with the next updating. We played a copy of the album in 2014 that really blew my mind; the sound was shocking in its size, power and punch; it was dramatically better than any other Petty record I’d ever played up to that time. (Hard Promises, another Yakus effort, can almost get there but not quite, at least not yet, not on the twenty or so copies I’ve played. Who knows, that one-of-a-kind pressing may just be around the corner, waiting to be discovered in our next shootout. We’ll keep you posted.)

The orchestra (yes, of course there’s an orchestra!) was recorded at the fabled 30th Street Studios; no wonder it sounds so good.

Crack the Sky

I freely admit this band is not for everybody. AMG is correct that the album is not exactly sweetness and light. Of course Dark Side of the Moon isn’t exactly a treatise on positive thinking either. It seems to have held up rather well.

If after listening to the album you feel Crack the Sky is not to your liking feel free to send it back for a full refund. We want you to be happy with every Hot Stamper purchase you make. Every one is guaranteed to satisfy or we gladly take it back, no questions asked.

A Big Speaker Record

Let’s face it, this is a BIG SPEAKER recording. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It demands to be played LOUD. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended for it to if you play it at moderate levels.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

We Want Mine 
Animal Skins 
Wet Teenager 
Maybe I Can Fool Everybody (Tonight)

Side Two

Virgin… No 
Invaders from Mars 
Play On
Rangers at Midnight 
i. Night Patrol 
ii. Let’s Lift Our Hearts Up

AMG Review

Coming as it did after Crack the Sky’s critically acclaimed first album, the darker, more cynical Animal Notes was something of a shock. The grim lyrics are still expressed with a dash of humor, but on the first four songs, the laughs are through clenched teeth.

“We Want Mine,” the opening cut, is a demand from a third-world native for a share of the world’s wealth, a demand he knows will be ignored. “Animal Skins,” which may be the best track on the album, skewers organized religion with bitter wit, and “Maybe I Can Fool Everybody Tonight” is told from the viewpoint of someone who is sure that his success is undeserved.

CBS Studios

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

Recording studio

Having been a church for many years, it had been abandoned and empty for sometime, and in 1949 it was transformed into a recording studio by Columbia Records.

“There was one big room, and no other place in which to record”, wrote John Marks in an article in Stereophile magazine in 2002.

The recording studio had 100 foot high ceilings, a 100 foot floorspace for the recording area, and the control room was on the second floor being only 8 by 14 feet. Later, the control room was moved down to the ground floor.

“It was huge and the room sound was incredible,” recalls Jim Reeves, a sound technician who had worked in it. “I was inspired,” he continues “by the fact that, aside from the artistry, how clean the audio system was.”

Musical artists

Many celebrated musical artists from all genres of music used the 30th Street Studio for some of their most famous recordings.

Bach: The Goldberg Variations, the 1955 debut album of the Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, was recorded in the 30th Street Studio. It was an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), the work launched Gould’s career as a renowned international pianist, and became one of the most well-known piano recordings. On May 29, 1981, a second version of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould was recorded in this studio, and would be the last production by the famous studio.

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded almost exclusively at the 30th Street Studio during his years under contract to Columbia, including his album Kind of Blue (1959). Other noteworthy jazz musicians having recorded in this place: Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck.

In 1964, Bob Dylan and record producer Tom Wilson were experimenting with their own fusion of rock and folk music. The first unsuccessful test involved overdubbing a “Fats Domino early rock & roll thing” over Dylan’s earlier, recording of “House of the Rising Sun”, using non-electric instruments, according to Wilson. This took place in the Columbia 30th Street Studio in December 1964. It was quickly discarded, though Wilson would more famously use the same technique of overdubbing an electric backing track to an existing acoustic recording with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”.


Check out more of our Hot Stamper pressings made from recordings engineered at the legendary CBS 30th Street Studio

The Pretenders – Learning To Crawl – Awesome on the Right German Pressing

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  • The first Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning copy to hit the site in over a year – we’ve never heard it sound better
  • Both sides of this (very specific) German pressing were richer, clearer and more energetic than any of the others we played
  • With Robbie McIntosh having joined the band this is first and foremost a guitar rock record; his jangly, grungy riffs drive every song
  • 5 Stars: “While Hynde hardly held back in her emotionally potent songwriting in the Pretenders’ early work, on Learning to Crawl there’s a gravity to her lyrics that blended with her tough but wiry melodic sense and streetwise intelligence to create a set of truly remarkable tunes…”

This is where Chrissie Hynde matured into a top class songwriter; every track is good and many are brilliant. With Robbie McIntosh having joined the band, this is first and foremost a guitar rock record; his jangly, grungy riffs drive every song. Great songs and great guitar work — what more do you need in a rock record?

Think of Middle of the Road — everything that’s good about this band on this album is there in that song: it’s uptempo, with a driving beat, a rock solid rhythm section and a beautifully distorted guitar out front and high up in the mix.

German Pressings? Why Not British? (more…)

Counting Down to Ecstasy and Singing Along with My Old School

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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 Countdown to Ecstasy, Steely Dan‘s wonderful second album.

We’ve found that two songs are especially helpful in this regard: Razor Boy on side one, and My Old School on side two.

This album shares top honors with Katy Lied as the toughest Steely Dan album to get to sound right. It’s a positive shame that so many copies are such sonic let-downs: congested, bass-shy, veiled, compressed and grainy. There’s a good reason we don’t do this album but once a year, and it’s not because of a lack of demand. It’s because so many copies sound so bad.
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An Extraordinary Recording of the Carmen Fantasie – This Is Why You Must Do Shootouts

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This London Whiteback LP has DEMO DISC sound like you will not believe, especially on side two, which earned our coveted A Triple Plus rating. The sound is warm, sweet and transparent; in short, absolutely GORGEOUS. We call it AGAIG — As Good As It Gets!

As this is one of the Greatest Violin Showpiece Albums of All Time, it is certainly a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophle’s collection. (If you’re on our site and taking the time to read this, that probably means you.) Ruggiero Ricci is superb throughout.
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An Audio Exercise that You Can Do at Home with Bookends

A Killer Copy

Musically side two is one of the strongest in the entire Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre (if you’ll pardon my French). Each of the five songs could hold its own as a potential hit on the radio, and no filler to be found whatsoever. How many albums from 1968 can make that claim?

The estimable ROY HALEE handled the engineering duties. Not the most ‘natural” sounding record he ever made, but that’s clearly not what he or the duo were going for. The three of them would obviously take their sound much farther in that direction with the Grammy winning Bridge Over Troubled Water from 1970.

The bigger production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.

The Wrecking Crew provided top quality backup, with Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano and keyboards.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Bookends Theme
Save the Life of My Child
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