Advice – What to Listen For – Sibilance (It’s a Bitch)

Cat Stevens Albums – Lee Hulko Cut Them All – Good, Bad and Otherwise

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Is the Pink Label Island original pressing THE way to go? That’s what Harry Pearson — not to mention most audiophile record dealers — would have you believe.

But it’s just not true. And that’s good news for you, Dear (Record Loving Audiophile) Reader.

HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM JOHN BARLEYCORN

Since that’s a Lee Hulko cutting just like Tea here, the same insights, if you can call them that, apply. Here’s what we wrote: (more…)

Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic- Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

You know how you can tell when you have a Hot Stamper? It’s the side you play through to the end. When the sound is right you want to hear more. Since the opening track of this record is one of the keys to knowing whether it’s mastered and pressed properly, once you get past the sibilance hurdle on track one, the next step is to find out how the challenges presented by the rest of the tracks are handled on any given LP. Some advice follows.  (more…)

Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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

DEMO DISC LIVE ROCK CONCERT SOUND, Baby! This one has it ALL. The sound has so many wonderful ANALOG qualities when you get a good copy — the hash and hardness of the typical pressing just disappears, leaving surprisingly transparent and sweet sound on virtually every track. The WHOMP FACTOR here is off the scale. There are few studio recordings that have these kinds of dynamics. We forget how compressed most of them are. It takes a record like this to show you how much LIFE there is in LIVE MUSIC. (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of Bookends.

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 estimableROY 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.

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10cc – Deceptive Bends – A Tough Test for Sibilance

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Deceptive Bends.

On side two the tonal balance is especially critical. Any boost to the top end will cause the vocals on the second track to SPIT LIKE CRAZY. This is a good test for how well your cartridge and arm are doing their jobs. 

Sibilance is a bitch. The best pressings, with the most extension up top and the least amount of aggressive grit and grain mixed in with the music, played using the highest quality properly set up front ends, will keep siblilance to a minimum.

VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate adjustments are critical to reducing the spit in your records. (more…)

The Beatles – Please Please Me – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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

We shot out over two dozen copies of Please Please Me — German, British, and American pressings of various vintages. The best German copies such as this one stood head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. However, we did manage to find some wonderful Brit and domestic copies which will be making it to the site very soon.

This German Beatles album has DEMO DISC SOUND and some of the best pop music ever recorded! We LOVE this album here at Better Records. (more…)

The Beatles – Rubber Soul – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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

MASTER TAPE SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! We just finished a huge shootout for this record — British, German, and domestic pressings — and this Parlophone British import pressing is THE ALL-TIME CHAMPION FOR BOTH SIDES! No other copy came close.

We’ve NEVER heard a Beatles record with A+++ sound on both sides. Beyond that, both sides play quietly, Mint Minus. (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends – Save the Life of My Child Is One Tough Test

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of Bookends.

The big 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.)

Save the Life of My Child — A Tough Test

I used to think this track would never sound good enough to use as an evaluation track. It’s a huge production that I had heretofore found all but impossible to get to sound right on even the best original copies of the album. Even as recently as ten years ago I had basically given up on reproducing it right.

Thankfully things have changed. Nowadays, with carefully cleaned top copies at our disposal and a system that is really cooking, virtually all of the harmonic distortion in the big chorus near the opening has disappeared. It takes a very special pressing and a very special stereo to play this song. That’s precisely what makes it a good test! (more…)

James Taylor – Sweet Baby James

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • Just listen to all that lovely echo – it’s a dead giveaway that both sides have resolving power far beyond the other copies you may have heard 
  • A Top 100 Title, inarguably a Masterpiece – Fire and Rain and Suite for 20 G (one of JT’s All Time Best) are out of this world here
  • 5 Stars: “Sweet Baby James launched not only Taylor’s career as a pop superstar but also the entire singer/songwriter movement of the early ’70s that included Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and others…”

Vocal reproduction is key to the best sounding copies of Sweet Baby James as it is on so many Folkie Pop Rock albums from the era.

To find a copy where Taylor’s vocals are front and center — which is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet, tonally correct and Tubey Magical is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off. (more…)

Johnny Mathis – Heavenly – Our Shootout Winner from 2017

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

This copy had all the Tubey Magical richness of the best coupled with the hardest thing to find on an old Columbia record: top end extension. Natural vocal reproduction is the sine qua non of a Johnny Mathis album – this pressing showed us just how good Columbia was back in 1959.

This early pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real person singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)