Advice – What to Listen For – Midrange Presence

Linda Ronstadt / Prisoner In Disguise – Give It Up Again For Val Garay

xxxxx

  • Insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this copy of Prisoner, the followup to Linda’s Masterpiece, Heart Like a Wheel
  • This is an amazing recording, but it takes a special copy like this one to reveal all the magic that we know must be on the tape
  • 4 1/2 stars – Love Is a Rose, Tracks of My Tears and Heat Wave were hits, but Linda really pours her heart into Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox
  • Andrew Gold (so critical to the success of HLAW) is still heavily involved, along with EmmyLou Harris, James Taylor, Lowell George, David Lindley, JD Souther, and of course Peter Asher

The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that was pretty much nonexistent on most of the other copies we played. Drop the needle on Many Rivers To Cross and check out the amazing sound of the organ coming from the back of the room. Only the highest resolution copies give you that kind of soundstage depth.

The piano sounds natural and weighty. The fiddle on The Sweetest Gift (played by our man David Lindley) is full of rosiny texture.

Emmylou Harris, dueting here with Linda, is SUPERB, with truly Demonstration Quality Sound on the best copies.

The acoustic guitars are tonally Right On The Money throughout — the transient information is captured perfectly. Listen to the opening guitar in the right channel of The Sweetest Gift; we used it as a test track and when that guitar is RIGHT THERE you know you have a copy with Hot Stampers. (more…)

A Fun and Easy Test for Abbey Road: MoFi Versus Apple

xx

 

Abbey Road

There is a relatively simple test you can use to find out if you have a good Mobile Fidelity pressing of Abbey Road. Yes, as shocking as it may seem, they actually do exist, we’ve played them, but they are few and far between (and never as good as the best Brits).

The test involves doing a little shootout of the song Golden Slumbers between whatever MoFi pressing you have and whatever British Parlophone pressing you have. If you don’t have both LPs this shootout will be difficult to do. The idea is to compare aspects of the sound of both pressings head to head, which should shed light on which one of them is more natural and which is more hi-fi-ish sounding.

The Golden Slumbers Test

I’ve come to realize that this is a Key Track for side two, because what it shows you is whether the midrange of your pressing — or your system — is correct. At the beginning Paul’s voice is naked, front and center, before the strings come in. Most Mobile Fidelity pressings, as good as they can be, are not tonally correct in the middle of the midrange. The middle of the voice is a little sucked out and the top of the voice is a little boosted. It’s really hard to notice this fact unless one plays a good British pressing side by side with the MoFi. Then the typical MoFi EQ anomaly become obvious. It may add some texture to the strings, but the song is not about the strings. (more…)

How to Make All Your Records Sound Like Mobile Fidelity Pressings – For Free!

xxxxx

 

The Doors first album is yet another obvious example of MoFi’s predilection for a sucked-out midrange.

Scooping out the middle of the midrange has the effect of creating an artificial sense of depth where none belongs. Play any original Bruce Botnick engineered album by Love or The Doors and you will notice immediately that the vocals are front and center.

When the DCC Doors first album was released on vinyl we noted that the vocals were finally back where they belonged. After having lived with the MoFi for so many years we’d almost forgotten. And now of course we can’t tolerate the smear and opacity of the DCC. We like to think we’re simply setting higher standards these days.

The midrange suckout effect is easily reproducible in your very own listening room. Pull your speakers farther out into the room, and also farther apart, and you can get that MoFi sound on every record you play. I’ve been hearing it in the various audiophile systems I’ve been exposed to for many years.

Nowadays I would place it under the general heading of My-Fi, not Hi-Fi. Our one goal for every tweak and upgrade we make is to increase the latter and reduce the former.

And note also that when you play your records too softly it results in an exaggerated, artificial sense of depth.

That’s one of the main reasons we play them loud; we want to hear which pressings have real presence and immediacy. They’re the ones that are most likely to win our shootouts. If you have any of our killer Hot stampers you surely know what I’m talking about.

Peter, Paul & Mary – Gold Versus Green

xxxxx

In previous shootouts we felt strongly that the best Gold Label copies had the lock on Tubey Magic, while the best Green Label pressings could be counted on to offer superior clarity.

That was quite a few years ago, and as we never tire of saying, things have changed. Now the Gold Label pressings have the ideal combination of Tubey Magic and clarity.

In fact, based on our recent shootout we would state categorically that the best originals are clearly better in every way, with the most vocal presence, the most harmonic resolution, the most space, the most warmth and intimacy, the most natural string tone on both the guitars and bass — in sum, the most of everything that allows a Hot Stamper vintage LP to be the most sublime musical experience available to any audiophile fortunate enough to own it.

Steve Hoffman’s famous phrase is key here: we want to hear The Breath Of Life. If these three gifted singers don’t sound like living, breathing human beings standing across from you — left, right and center — toss your copy and buy this one, because that’s exactly what they sound like here.

The TUBEY MAGIC of the midrange is practically off the scale. Until you hear it like this you really can’t even imagine it. It’s a bit shocking to hear each and every nuance of their singing reproduced so faithfully, sounding so much like live music.

This is high-rez ’60s style; not phony and forced like so much of what passes for audiophile sound these days, but relaxed and real, as if the recording were doing its best to get out of the way of the music, not call attention to itself. This, to us, is the goal, the prize we must constantly strive to keep our eyes on. Find the music, leave the rest.

(more…)

James Taylor – Mud Slide Slim – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

xxxxx
xxxxx

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

Side two here has STUNNING MASTER TAPE SOUND, and side one is not far behind. Side two is open and transparent with shocking clarity. All of the little details that are missing from the average copy really come through here — the sound of the room around the guitars, the transients of the hand percussion, and the weight of the piano, to name a few. The acoustic guitar sound is Right On The Money and the vocals sound amazing. The bottom end on this copy just can’t be beat — we’ve never heard another copy of Mud Slide Slim with such deep, note-like bass. The highs are silky sweet and there’s real three-dimensionality to the soundfield.

I don’t think you could find a better sounding side two no matter how hard you tried. We had dozens of Green Label originals and WE couldn’t! (We don’t bother with the Palm Tree label anymore, although they can be very good on the best copies.)

We give it A+++; it deserves every one of those pluses and then some. Without a doubt this is the best sound we have EVER heard for Mud Slide.

But what REALLY sets this one apart is how much IT ROCKS. The energy on this pressing has to be heard to be believed. Forget all that detail and soundstaging stuff and just focus on how this band is playing the HELL out of that first track, which arguably is the best song on the album. When you hear it sound like this there is no argument. (more…)

Peter, Paul & Mary – Album 1700

xxxxx

  • Stunning sound for this WB Gold Label original with both sides finishing top of the pile — Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • When the three of them sing good and loud on these tracks, not only can you hear them belting it out, you FEEL it too
  • The “breath of life” is alive and well on these old LPs, the best reason for the truly serious audiophile to stay committed to analog, for now and probably far into the future
  • Features their classic version of Leaving On A Jet Plane, a Number One smash that still holds up after more than 50 years(!)

We went through a big stack of Gold Label originals and various Green Label reissue pressings, in stereo of course, and this easily qualifies as the best copy we played all day.

Steve Hoffman’s famous phrase is key here: we want to hear The Breath Of Life. If these three gifted singers don’t sound like living, breathing human beings standing across from you — left, right and center — toss your copy and buy this one, because that’s exactly what they sound like here.

The TUBEY MAGIC of the midrange is practically off the scale. Until you hear it like this you really can’t even imagine it. It’s a bit shocking to hear each and every nuance of their singing reproduced so faithfully, sounding so much like live music.

This is high-rez ’60s style; not phony and forced like so much of what passes for audiophile sound these days, but relaxed and real, as if the recording were doing its best to get out of the way of the music, not call attention to itself. This, to us, is the goal, the prize we must constantly strive to keep our eyes on. Find the music, leave the rest. (more…)

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire – What to Listen For

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Birds of Fire.

Birds of Fire as a recording is not about depth or soundstage or ambience. It’s about IMMEDIACY, plain and simple. All the lead instruments positively jump out of the speakers — if you are lucky enough to be playing the right pressing. This is precisely what we want our best Hot Stampers to do. The better they do it, the higher their grade.

The main problem with this record is a lack of midrange presence. If the keyboards, drums and guitars are not right in front of you,, your copy does not have all the presence it should. On the best copies the musicians are right in the room with you. We know this for a fact because we heard the copies that could present them that way, and we heard it more than once.

Which of course gets to the reason shootouts are the only real way to learn about records. The best copies will show you qualities in the sound you had no way of knowing were possible. Without the freakishly good pressings you run into by chance in a shootout you have no way to know how high is up. On this record up is very high indeed.

A True Demo Disc

Birds of Fire is one of the top two or three Jazz/Rock Fusion Albums of All Time. In my experience, few recordings within this genre can begin to compete with the Dynamics and Energy of the best pressings of the album — if you have the Big Dynamic system for it.

This link will take you to more titles in the None Rocks Harder series.

(more…)

Doc Watson – Southbound

More Doc Watson

Southbound

xxxxx

  • Doc Watson’s superb sophomore release finally makes its Hot Stamper debut, boasting Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound and exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • We were specifically listening for richness, sweetness, warmth and intimacy on Doc’s vocals, and this pressing gave us all those qualities in abundance
  • If you own the veiled, opaque, recessed, ambience-challenged Cisco remaster, you are in for a treat – our Hot Stamper is none of those things!
  • 5 stars: “Southbound was a pivotal record for Doc Watson… it demonstrated that Watson was capable of more than just dazzling interpretations of folk songs, but that he could also write excellent original material and rework new country songs in a fascinating manner.”

These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.

Folks, if you made the mistake of buying the Cisco Heavy Vinyl reissue of this album that came out in the early 2000s, you are in for treat. Instead of Doc and his band mates playing from behind a thick curtain at the back of your sound room, they can now be heard where they should have been all along: front and center between your speakers!

The difference between a truly outstanding vintage pressing and a modern mockery of analog could not be more striking. We never got around to putting the Cisco pressing in our Hall of Shame (300+ strong!). There are just not enough hours in the day… (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – The Middle of the Midrange Is Key

More Linda Ronstadt

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Here’s what we learned when doing our recent shootout: many copies sounded like they were half-speed mastered. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a lot of things. In this case, these half-speed sounding ones had a little something phony added to the top of Linda’s voice, they had a little bit of suckout right in the middle of the midrange, the middle of her voice, and they had an overall diffuse, vague quality, with sound that lacked the SOLIDITY we heard on the best pressings. 

These hi-fi-ish qualities that we heard on so many copies reminded us of the audiophile sound we decry at every turn. We’ve played literally hundreds and hundreds of MoFi’s and other half-speed mastered records over the course of the last twenty years, and one thing we know well is THAT SOUND.

But think about it. What if you only had one copy of the album — why would you have more than one anyway? — and it had that Half-Speed Sound? You’d simply assume the recording had those qualities, assuming you could even recognize them in the first place. (Let’s face it, most audiophiles can’t, or all these companies would have gone out of business and stayed out of businesss, and their out of print records would sell for peanuts, not the collector prices they bring on ebay and audiophile web sites.) (more…)

Badfinger – Straight Up – What to Listen For

More Badfinger

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate the album.

The best sides have the kind of PRESENCE in the midrange that most copies can’t begin to reproduce. The sound on the right pressings just JUMPS out of the speakers, which is exactly what the best copies are supposed to (but rarely) do.  (more…)