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

The Beatles Please Please Me – We Review the Mobile Fidelity Half-Speed

 

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Half Speed reviewed.

If you own the MoFi LP, do yourself a favor and buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings. (Actually any good British import pressing will do.) What’s the first thing you will notice other than correct tonality, better bass and a lot more “life” overall?

No spit! As we’ve commented elsewhere, because of the wacky cutting system they used, MoFis are full of sibilance. 

As I was playing this record many years ago, maybe by about the fifth or sixth song it occurred to me that I hadn’t been hearing the spit that I was used to from my MoFi LP. You don’t notice it when it’s not there. But your MoFi sure has a bad case of spitty vocals. If you never noticed them before, you will now. (more…)

Here’s How You Know You Have a Hot Stamper of Songs in the Attic

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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.

Actually, what you really want to know is how good each song can sound — what it sounds like when it’s right. Once the quality of the mastering has been established, the fun part is to play the rest of the album, to hear it really come alive!
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Two Reviews of Blood, Sweat & Tears – Fremer Vs. Better Records – You Be the Judge

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In 2010 MF reviewed both the Sundazed and Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl pressings of the album. I think his review is mistaken on a number of counts, and mostly unhelpful. The commentary below will discuss his errors in detail, in the hopes that you, dear reader, will not make the same mistakes yourself. 

He talks about his history with the album for a while, and then notes:

Anyway, the original “360 Sound” edition of this record sounds fantastic. It’s a high quality Columbia studio recording, with vivid harmonics, impressive transparency and dynamics, shimmering highs and tight extended bass. The soundstage is expansive and the images tightly presented. I’m not sure it can get much better than the original given how well-pressed Columbia records were in those days, especially if you have a clean original.

We, however, seem to hold precisely the opposite view. I quote from our review:

“Why did it take us so long [to do a Hot Stamper shootout]? Let me ask you this: have you ever played this album? The average copy of this record is a sonic MESS. Even the best copies have problems.”

We then go on to discuss in detail what most copies do wrong and what to listen for in order to find a copy that gets it right. (More on that later.) (more…)

Billie Holiday – All Or Nothing At All

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I expected our amazing sounding original to win the shootout, but it didn’t!

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The reprocessed fake stereo copy here is to be avoided at all costs. It sounds as bad as any fake stereo record I can remember playing. What were they thinking?

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  • A KILLER sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish, on quiet vinyl to boot 
  • This is one of the best sounding Billie Holiday records we have ever heard – it’s even a clear step up from the originals we had on hand
  • This 2 LP set features most of the tracks from the original release plus another handful of recordings from the same period (1955-1956)
  • “… features some of Billie Holiday’s top Verve performances from the mid-’50s… she runs the emotional gamut from summery optimism to pathos-rich musings. Befitting her perennial after-hours mood, the majority of songs here feature Holiday in a low-down mood of the highest order.” – All Music

Naturally, the highest quality vocal reproduction has to be the main focus on a Hot Stamper pressing for any Billie Holiday record we would offer. Her voice should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and present.

In addition to being tonally correct and natural, the pressings we offer must also be highly resolving. With the right room and the right equipment, properly set-up and adjusted of course, you will hear everything that these vintage recordings have to offer, including the three-dimensional space of the studios in which the various sessions were recorded, under the auspices of Norman Granz.

The Sound of the Original

The original Trumpet Player Verve mono we had on hand to play suffered from an EQ problem we run into frequently in our shootouts for vintage vocal albums. Actually, to be clear, there were two main problems in the case of All or Nothing At All: a boosted midrange and occasional sibilance issues. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years

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Listening in Depth

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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 Still Crazy After All These Years.

As well-produced, well-engineered Pop Albums from the ’70s, the very best copies can proudly hold their heads high. Wait a minute. Our last commentary noted what a mess most of the pressings of this album sound like, with so much spit and grain. Have we changed our minds? Well, yes and no, and as usual we make no excuses for having changed our minds. We call it progress. (more…)

Child Is Father to the Man – What to Listen For

Child Is Father to the Man

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At the end of a long day of listening at loud levels to multiple copies of this album you may want to run yourself a nice hot bath and light some candles. If you have an isolation tank so much the better. You could of course turn down the volume, but what fun is that? This music wasn’t meant to be heard at moderate levels. Playing it that way is an insult to the musicians who worked so hard to make it.

The Right Balance

Every once in a while you hear a pressing in which the right balance has been struck, and this one clearly belongs to that group. It’s not perfect; you have to put up with a few rough patches to get the sound that serves most of the music properly. No copy will do it all; with this album the goal is to do the best you can.
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I Just Dropped By To Say Hello – A Forgotten Vocal Classic

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Folks, the later Stereo Impulse pressing of this classic Hartman album we dropped the needle on  recently was so Tubey Magical, RICH yet CLEAR, and above all shockingly natural, it would be hard to imagine a Male Vocal record produced in the last thirty years that could hold a candle to it (outside of the Coltrane-Hartman record from the year before of course).

The Bennett-Evans record we love so much here at Better Records would qualify as a contender, but that album was recorded in 1975. And it doesn’t have half the Tubey Magic this Hartman album from 1963 does.

RVG Knocks Another One Out of the Park

Our hats are off to Rudy Van Gelder once again! Here’s an album that justifies his reputation. If only more of them did …

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Bonnie Raitt – Nick Of Time – Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018

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  • A stunning sounding copy with a Triple Plus (A+++) side two and an excellent Double Plus (A++) side one
  • The overall sound here is rich, full and solid with a nice extended top end and excellent bass – Have A Heart sounds fantastic
  • About as quiet as we can find them — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic: “A great comeback album that made for a great story”.

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The sound here is POWERFULLY BIG AND BOLD, with meaty, deep bass (such a big part of the rockers here, Thing Called Love being a prime example) and some of the sweetest, richest, most ANALOG sound we’ve heard from any record Don Was has been involved with.

When you hear it like this — something probably pretty close to what he heard during the control room playback for the final mix — it actually makes sense. It works. It’s not exactly “natural,” but natural is not what they were going for, now is it?

We play albums like this VERY LOUD. I’ve seen Bonnie Raitt live a number of times and although I can’t begin to get her to play as loud in my listening room as she did on stage, I can try. To do less is to do her music a profound disservice.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Note how silky the cymbal crashes are; not too many copies get them to sound that way.

Listen especially for how all the elements of the recording are clearly laid out and audible, never forced or hyped in any way. The sound can be so 3-D!

Key note for side two — listen for the sibilance on Bonnie’s voice on Too Soon to Tell. Some copies have really gritty spitty sibilance, others keep it well under control, with a much more silky quality.

Size Matters

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is SIZE of the record’s presentation. So many copies of this album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. Some copies do; they create a huge soundfield with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. When you hear a copy that can do that, it’s an entirely different listening experience.

We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the record could do that? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that did, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation. Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear it!

The Sound You Are Paying For

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1987
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments of the band having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above|

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus – as quiet as any record you will find on this site!

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Nick of Time
Thing Called Love
Love Letter
Cry on My Shoulder
Real Man
Nobody’s Girl

Side Two

Have a Heart
Too Soon to Tell
I Will Not Be Denied
I Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again
The Road’s My Middle Name

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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Surfer Girl Takes MoFi Spit to a New Level

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MoFi Debunked

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing

I played the MoFi pressing of this record many years ago, some time back in the early ’90s if memory serves, and at the time I could hardly believe that the good people of MoFi would release a record that was so ridiculously SPITTY. The sibilance is positively out of control, the result of their wacky cutting system and phony EQ.

But then I remembered that there has never been a title produced by these people with sound so bad that they would have cancelled its release,

The audiophile public was clamoring for remastered pressings of their favorite albums and MoFi saw it as their duty to serve them.

In other words, to paraphrase a famous wag, their fans had spoken and now they must be punished.

It started with their execrable remastering of Katy Lied and continued all the way to the turgid muck of the Anadisc series and beyond. Those who have visited our Hall of Shame have seen many of their worst productions on display. If we had more time to write listings for them I’m sure I could come up with double or triple the number that are in there now.

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