Advice – Listening Track by Track

Electric Light Orchestra – A New World Record – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

As a result of Jeff Lynne’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production approach, it will be the rare copy that provides enough transparency and resolution to bring out all the elements in these incredibly dense mixes, strings included. But when you find a copy that does, what a THRILL it is. This is the band’s MASTERPIECE in my humble opinion. For audiophiles ELO on LP doesn’t get any better. 

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Tightrope

Both sides start off with a uptempo rocker, and this side’s is Tightrope.

Watch your string tone. If it’s shrill or grainy you are going to find yourself in trouble on practically every song on A New World Record — they all have strings and lots of them.

You need richness in the lower mids, harmonic extension up top, and just plain highly resolving sound if the strings are going to sound right in the mix.

Note that sometimes the highs get better on a record as it plays. Check to see if you don’t have more top end by the second track, or even halfway through this one. Happens to us all the time. (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Ye-Me-Le – 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 Ye-Me-Le.

The first three tracks on side 1 are the best reason to own this album, especially the first two (Wichita Lineman and Norwegian Wood), which are as good as anything the group ever did. I’m a big fan so that has to be seen as high praise indeed.

Let’s be frank: the average LP of this album is terrible. Shrill, aggressive sound is the norm, but compression and overly smooth (read; thick and dull) sound are also problems common to Ye-Me-Le. There’s also a “strained” quality to the loud vocal passages on almost every copy; only the best are free of it.

Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

This recording is quite Difficult to Reproduce, which means it ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS). Do not attempt to play it using any but the best front ends. Unless you are using a very good cartridge and arm the vocals are apt to tear your head off when they get loud (which they do; this is a dynamic recording).

In a way, this is the perfect record to demonstrate how much progress you have made in audio. I remember playing these albums many years ago and hearing lots of harmonic distortion and other unpleasant sonic qualities. Those very same pressings sound DRAMATICALLY better today. (more…)

The Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead – Watch for Strain in Jerry’s Voice

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

High Time tells you the most about the sound of side one on any given copy. If the pressing in question is lean, bright, grainy, transistory or aggressive in any way, Jerry Garcia’s voice will sound strained. Far from a professionally trained singer, he’s already straining to some degree on even the best copies. 

The better pressings have him sounding ever so slightly dull at the beginning of the track. As the song progresses he starts pushing his pipes pretty hard. The sound will become quite unpleasant if there is any added brightness when he tries to reach those high notes. (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…)

The Beatles – Please Please Me – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series, this time for The Beatles’ amazing debut from 1963, Please Please Me.

The first Beatles record is nothing short of amazing. It captures more of the live sound of these four guys playing together as a rock and roll band than any record they ever made afterwards. (Let It Be gets some of that live quality too and makes a great bookend for the group.)

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

I Saw Her Standing There

Like any of the boys’ most radio ready singles, this song tends to be a bit bright. If this track sounds at all dull, there’s probably no hope for the rest of this side.

Misery

This track should sound lively and punchy. The best copies have excellent bass definition and superb clarity, allowing you to appreciate how the wonderful bounce of the rhythm section really energizes the song.

Anna (Go to Him)

Does it get any better? This is the real Beatles magic baby!

Chains

Note that the vocals on this track are not as well recorded as they are on the track above. As a rule they’re a bit edgier and not as transparent.

Go back and forth between the two songs a number of times and we think you will hear exactly what we mean. Although this difference is more audible on the better copies, it should still be noticeable on any Hot Stamper pressing.

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The Police – Synchronicity

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Synchronicity

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  • This stunning pressing of the band’s final studio album boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • Clearly better than every other pressing we played – when you can hear it sound this good you may just come to appreciate how good the music is
  • Every Breath You Take and Wrapped Around Your Finger are amazingly big, rich and Tubey Magical here
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Few other albums from 1983 merged tasteful pop, sophistication, and expert songwriting as well as Synchronicity did, resulting in yet another all-time classic.”

This music can have real Rock and Roll POWER — if you’re lucky enough to own a pressing with all the energy of the master tapes inscribed in its grooves. Some have it and some don’t. Welcome to the world of analog, where no two copies sound the same and most are nothing special. (No two covers of this album look the same either. Get a pile of them out and see if you can find two that match. It’s not easy.) (more…)

Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon – 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 Mona Bone Jakon. 

When you hear I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on a Hot Stamper copy you will be convinced, as I am, that this is one of the greatest popular recordings in the history of the world. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one. 

Right off the bat I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folk-pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better. (more…)

Stevie Wonder – Innervisions

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Innervisions

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  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this is an all around killer pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the funkiest audiophile-quality discs money can buy, but you need a copy that sounds as good as this one to make that case
  • The key qualities are richness, warmth, Tubey Magic, and clarity, and here you will find a healthy dose of all four
  • “Stevie Wonder applied his tremendous songwriting talents to the unsettled social morass that was the early ’70s and produced one of his greatest, most important works, a rich panoply of songs addressing drugs, spirituality, political ethics, and what looked to be the failure of the ’60s dream — all set within a collection of charts as funky and catchy as any he’d written before.”

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this 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 Stevie Wonder singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)

Roxy Music – Avalon – 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 Avalon. 

The best British original Super DeLuxe pressings of Avalon are sweet and silky, big and lively, with the kind of sound that drives us audiophiles wild — which of course it the main reason this album was on Extra Heavy Rotation at most stereo stores back in the day.

It’s records like this that get people (otherwise known as audiophiles) to spend wads and wads of money in pursuit of expensive analog equipment good enough to bring this wonderful music to life.

This album rewards a stereo with the qualities that audiophiles prize most highly when selecting equipment — spaciousness, transparency, clarity, detail, depth, soundstaging, speed, high frequency extension, and the like. Those qualities are important but not enough for big speaker rock and roll guys like us, but on this record they are key to reproducing the best of what Avalon has to offer.

We would add to that list presence and energy, along with warmth, fullness and lack of smear on the transients. Whomp and rock and roll power do not seem to play much part in separating the best from the rest, although it’s nice when the bottom end is big and solid. (more…)

Heart – Little Queen – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Little Queen.

One of the little tricks I used toward the end of my marathon Little Queen tweaking session from a few years back (which lasted more than six hours one Saturday evening, leaving me euphoric but exhausted) was to listen to the ending of Barracuda.  

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Barracuda

One of the little tricks I used toward the end of my marathon Little Queen tweaking session from a few years back (which lasted more than six hours one Saturday evening, leaving me euphoric but exhausted) was to listen to the ending of Barracuda. Some of the big guitar chords at the end of the song are louder than others, and the more the differences in level among them can be heard, the better the stereo and the room must be doing.

You can’t make the guitarist play some of the notes at the end louder than others, you can only reveal the fact that he indeed must have. This is what is meant by FIDELITY, the higher the better. (more…)