Advice – What to Listen For – Size and Space

Sergio Mendes – Look Around – Then Listen for the Huge Room on Roda

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises

If you have a good copy of Look Around and a high-rez stereo/room and want to have some fun, play the second track on side one, Roda. In the left channel there is some double-tracked clapping (or two people, how could you tell the difference?) in a HUGE room. Actually although it sounds like a huge room it’s probably a normal sized room with lots of reverb added. Either way it sounds awesome. 

These hand claps drive the energy and rhythm of the song, and they are so well recorded you will think the back wall of your listening room just collapsed behind the left speaker. On the truly transparent copies the echo goes WAY back. (more…)

Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out The Lights – Bigger, Taller, Wider, Deeper

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what to listen for (WTLF).

One of the qualities we don’t talk about nearly enough on the site is the SIZE of a record’s presentation. Some copies of the album don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. Other copies do, creating a huge soundfield from which the instruments and voices positively jump out of the speakers. 

When you hear a copy that can do that, needless to say (at least to anyone who’s actually bought some of our best Hot Stamper pressings) it’s an entirely different listening experience.

With constant improvements to the system Shoot Out is now so powerful a recording that we had no choice but to add it to our Top 100 list in 2014, but we would go even further than that and say that it would belong on a list of the Top Ten Best Sounding Rock Records of All Time. (more…)

Dave Brubeck – Time Out

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  • An exceptional pressing – Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) on side one, an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two, big and open, with note-like bass and huge amounts of studio space
  • Original Six Eye stereo LPs in playable condition are getting tough to find nowadays – even this one has issues
  • 5 stars on Allmusic, an audiophile favorite and a great example of what’s phenomenally good about 1959 All Tube Analog recordings
  • “Dave Brubeck’s defining masterpiece, Time Out is one of the most rhythmically innovative albums in jazz history, the first to consciously explore time signatures outside of the standard 4/4 beat or 3/4 waltz time.”

Spacious and transparent, this copy has the big three-dimensional soundstage that makes this record such a joy to listen to. The piano has weight and heft, the drums are big and dynamic, and everything is relaxed and sweet — in short, this copy is doing pretty much everything we want a top quality Time Out to do.  (more…)

Dave Brubeck Quartet Time Further Out – What to Listen For

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The best copies such as this one demonstrate the big-as-life Fred Plaut Columbia Sound at its best (better than even Time Out in our opinion). These vintage recordings are full-bodied, spacious, three-dimensional, rich, sweet and warm in the best tradition of an All Tube Analog recording. If you want to hear big drums in a big room these Brubeck recordings will show you that sound better than practically any record we know of. The Engineering tab below has much more on that subject. 

The one standout track on this album for audiophiles is surely Unsquare Dance, what with its uncannily real sounding handclaps in 7/4. The copies that did the best job of reproducing that “flesh on flesh” sound of actual human hands clapping scored very well in our shootout.

More to Listen For

For starters listen for a fat snare and rich piano on the first track of side one. When you hear that, assuming you do, you should know you are in for a treat. Our best copies captured those two sounds brilliantly.

On the second track the clarity of the brushed snare is key to how resolving and transparent any copy is. The rich, smooth sound of Desmond’s sax balanced against the clarity of the brushes will help you make sure that the overall sound is tonally correct from top to bottom. (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues (S9) and Obvious Pressing Variations

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

WOW! Here’s a stunningly good sounding and shockingly quiet copy of The Big One — Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues’ first Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP aka S9. We’ve been comparing and contrasting pressings of this album for a long time and this is one of the very best — and QUIETEST — copies we’ve ever had the good luck to stumble on. The sound is BIG, RICH and FULL OF ENERGY. We gave side one an A++ and side two our top grade of A+++. It is ridiculously tough to find this record anymore, let alone a pressing this amazing. Who knows when we’ll find another copy, let alone one that sounds like this!

Can you imagine doing a shootout for a Super Rare and Collectible Audiophile Title, the kind of record you might run across once every ten years or so? Well, your friends at Better Records managed to find a handful of copies of the legendary Sheffield first album, S9, (for the most part in practically unplayed condition) and decided that it would be fun to actually find out which copy sounded the best. That’s what do around here all day, so why would we treat S9 any differently than any other record?

Pressing Variations

I have to confess we were actually quite shocked at the pressing variations on this record. These direct to discs are all over the map sonically. Some Sheffield pressings are aggressive, many of them are dull and lack the spark of live music, some of them have wonky bass or are lacking in the lowest octave — they are prey to every fault that befalls other pressings, direct to disc and otherwise. (more…)

Wes Montgomery – California Dreaming – Cisco Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Heavy Vinyl pressing from Cisco / Impex reviewed. 

Beware any and all imitations, even this one, which I admit I used to like somewhat. They barely BEGIN to convey the qualities of the real master tape the way the best pressings do. Our Hot Stampers exhibit huge amounts of ambience and spaciousnesss, with far more energy and the kind of “see into the studio” quality that only the real thing ever seems to have.

Note especially how so much musical information is coming from the far sides of the soundfield on the best copies. The Cisco reissue makes a mockery of that wall to wall sound, sucking it into the middle and flattening it into a single plane. (more…)

Sketches Of Spain on Six Eye in Stereo

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1960 – It Was a Very Good Year

When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the sound is truly MAGICAL. (AMG has that dead right in their review.) Tons of ambience, Tubey Magic all over the place; let’s face it, this is one of those famous Columbia recordings that shows just how good the Columbia engineers were back then. The sound is lively but never strained. Davis’s horn has breath and bite just like the real thing. What more can you ask for?

We Was Wrong in the Past About HP and Six Eye Labels

In previous commentary we had written:

Harry Pearson added this record to his TAS List of Super Discs a few years back, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording?

Of course you can be quite sure that he would have been listening exclusively to the earliest pressings on the Six Eye label. Which simply means that he probably never heard a copy with the clarity, transparency and freedom from distortion that these later label pressings offer.

The Six Eyes are full of Tubey Magic, don’t get me wrong; Davis’s trumpet can be and usually is wonderful sounding. It’s everything else that tends to suffer, especially the strings, which are shrill and smeary on most copies, Six Eyes, 360s and Red Labels included.

Over the course of the last few years we’ve come to appreciate just how good the right Six Eye stereo pressing can sound.

In fact, the two copies earning the highest grades were both original stereo pressings. Other pressings did well, but none did as well as the originals. This has never been our experience with Kind of Blue by the way. The later pressings have always done the best job of communicating the music on that album. (more…)

Willie Dixon – I Am The Blues – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

It was pretty easy to separate the men from the boys in this shootout. A quick drop of the needle on each side would immediately answer our number one question: “How BIG is the sound?” The copies that lacked top end extension or heft in the bottom end were just too uninvolving. This is the BLUES, baby — you think it’s supposed to sound small and distant?

Another problem we ran into on many copies was excessive smoothness. When a copies was overly rich or smeary, it usually lacked the “gritty” feel that music like this should have.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m listening to the blues I am not looking for glossy sound. Give me the texture and the detail that Willie Dixon put on the tape. I don’t want his sound to be “fixed” after the fact. (more…)

If You Like Power Pop, Get The Knack

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  • The Knack’s debut finally returns to the site and with excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • With plenty of bass punch, the music comes to life like you’ve never heard before
  • Wall to Wall Live-in-the-Studio Rock Sound to rival Back in Black and Nevermind
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Get the Knack is at once sleazy, sexist, hook-filled, and endlessly catchy — above all, it’s a guilty pleasure and an exercise in simple fun.”

This Monster Power Pop Debut by the Knack is an AMAZINGLY well-recorded album, with the kind of Wall to Wall Big Beat Live Rock Sound that rivals Back in Black and Nevermind — if you’re lucky enough to have a copy that sounds like this! (If you’re not then it doesn’t.)

This is a Rock Demo Disc that is very likely to lay waste to whatever rock demo disc you currently treasure. My Sharona is simply STUNNING here. You just can’t record drums and bass any better! 

And let’s not forget the song Lucinda. It’s got exactly the same incredibly meaty, grungy, ballsy sound that Back in Black does, but it managed to do it in 1979, a year earlier!

Mike Chapman produced this album and clearly he is an audiophile production genius. With a pair of Number One charting, amazing sounding Pop albums back to back — Blondie’s Parallel Lines in 1978 and this album early the next year — how much better could he get? The answer is: None more better. (more…)

Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo Is Crazy Tubey Magical

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  • KILLER sound from start to finish: Triple Plus on side two, nearly that good (A++ to A+++) on side one 
  • DEMO DISC QUALITY – full-bodied, rich, spacious, BIG and PRESENT, with practically zero smear on the horns (nice!
  • The Tubey Magical keyboards found on the title cut are really something to hear, especially on this copy
  • The Grand Wazoo now gets my vote as the best sounding record Zappa ever made (along with Absolutely Free)

Wow – big, present and clear, with lots of lovely studio space, yet full-bodied. These sides about as right as any we’ve ever heard.

As noted above, the Tubey Magical keyboards at the start of The Grand Wazoo are amazing sounding here. How Zappa ever decided to go digital when he managed to record so well in analog (from time to time, let’s be honest) is beyond me.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the 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. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience. (more…)