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

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…)

Loggins & Messina – Sittin’ In – What to Listen For

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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 Sittin’ In. 

Practically any copy you find will have a bit of a boost in the bottom end. The kick drum really kicks on this album, more than it should in fact.

And almost all copies have too much top end right around 10k. The ones with the worst case of boosted highs and boosted bass sound like they were mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed in Japan, much like those put out by a famous label back in the ’70s.

Oddly enough, many audiophiles to this day do not seem to know that this particular label has been responsible for a slough of the phoniest sounding audiophile records ever pressed.

There is also a sibilance problem with the recording. Some copies keep it under control, while other, more crudely mastered and pressed ones, suffer greatly from spitty vocals, especially noticeable on Danny’s Song. The better copies will tend to have the “cleanest”, least-objectionable sibilance. (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

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  • With stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and Double Plus (A++) on the second, this copy will be tough to beat!
  • Tired of the crude, congested, hard, harsh and otherwise unpleasant sound of most pressings? We have the answer
  • Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, Sing A Simple Song, Everyday People, You Can Make It If You Try — what a killer lineup of songs!
  • 5 stars: “Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment.”

Good News

Finally, a White Hot copy of Sly’s classic Stand album from 1969, one of the few times that this album has EVER sounded the way it is supposed to! Man, most copies of this album just plain suck — sonically of course. (more…)

Atlantic Crossing – The Last Good Rod Stewart Album

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  • You’ll find superb Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from first note to last on this vastly underrated Rod Stewart classic
  • One of the few to hit our site in the last four years, and for that we apologize – Atlantic Crossing should be enjoyed by everyone in Hot Stamper form
  • This is some of the best Muscle Shoals rock- and soul-inflected pop from producer Tom Dowd we know of
  • AMG raves that “Three Time Loser and Stone Cold Sober catch fire,” and on this copy we guarantee they do

The last consistently good Rod Stewart album? Atlantic Crossing definitely gets my vote.

The copies we liked best were the biggest and richest, the least thin and dry. Many of the brighter copies also had sibilance problems which the richer and tubier ones did not.

What do the best pressings give you?

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music? The best copies rock like only “The Memphis Horns and three-quarters of Booker T. and the MG’s” can. We’ve been playing this record (at least I have) since it came out in 1975 and love the way it can sound on the better pressings.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the guitar notes, not the smear and thickness so common to most LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Domestic Vs. British Vinyl

On some of the Rod Stewart albums that we happen to know well, the British pressings are clearly superior; the first two Rod Stewart albums come immediately to mind. After that, strange as it may seem, all the best pressings are domestic. This album is certainly no exception. (more…)

Van Halen – 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 Van Halen’s debut album.

Most copies just do not have the kind of weight to the bottom and lower mids that this music needs to work. Put simply, if your Van Halen LP doesn’t rock, then what exactly is the point of playing it?

The other qualities to look for on the best pressings are, firstly, space — the best pressings are huge and three-dimensional, with large, lively, exceptionally dynamic choruses.

The copies with the most resolving power are easy to spot — they display plenty of lovely analog reverb trailing the guitars and vocals.

And lastly (although we could go on for days with this kind of stuff), listen for spit on the vocals. Even the best copies have some sibilance, but the bad copies have much too much and make the sibilance gritty to boot.

A “Modern” Classic

Go ahead and turn up your nose if you like, but this music is widely considered classic rock by now. I’m not going to pretend it’s on a level with After The Gold Rush or Zep II, but this album does exactly what it’s trying to do — it really ROCKS.

At least it does when you have a pressing as good as this one. The All Music Guide gives the album 5 Big Stars, and I’m sure that more than a few of you out there think it deserves every last one of them.

Donn Landee

Credit DONN LANDEE (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records. Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.

The DCC

As I recall it wasn’t very good — thick and dull and closed-in; in other words, boring — but it was quite a while ago that I played it. If your copy sounds better, more power to you, but I bet it doesn’t. Any copy we sell is guaranteed to blow the doors off of it — as well as any other pressing you own — or your money back.

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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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…)