Advice – Listening Track by Track

Stan Getz – Getz Au Go Go – Critical Listening Exercise

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

This album is useful as a test disc. The third track on side 2, The Telephone Song, has a breathy vocal by Astrud, soon followed by Getz’s saxophone solo. If those two elements in the recording are in balance, your system is working, tonally anyway.

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

Track Commentary

Side One 

Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars) 

On the best copies the voice is perfection. The horn is always a bit hard sounding on this track though.

It Might As Well Be Spring

The best copies are warm, rich and sweet here, with much better sound for Getz’s sax. This track has some of the tubiest magic you will find on the album.

Eu E Voce (Me and You)
Summertime

This one has real dynamics — the playing and the sound are lively, but somehow still cool…

Nix-Quix-Flix

Side Two

Only Trust Your Heart
The Singing Song
The Telephone Song

The best song on side two, certainly the most fun, and a wonderful test track as mentioned earlier.

One Note Samba
Here’s That Rainy Day

This is one of Rudy Van Gelder’s greatest recordings. I think it’s as good as it is because he was out of his studio (mostly) and had to revert to Recording 101, where you set up some good mics and get the thing on tape as correctly as you can. There’s hardly a trace of his normal compression and bad EQ on this album. (The sax is problematical in places but most everyone else is right on the money.) (more…)

David Bowie – Let’s Dance

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

With Let’s Dance the name of the game is ENERGY, and boy does this copy have it! Both sides have the deep, punchy bass and sweet, extended highs that Bowie’s music needs to come ALIVE. With that big bass and smooth top end this is one record you can turn up GOOD and LOUD without fear of fatique. On a big pair of dynamic speakers you will really get your money’s worth from the best Hot Stamper pressings. 

Compression? No Thank You!

Most copies we came across during our extensive shootout were painfully compressed and thin. Sure, they could convey some of the enormous energy of this recording, but the highs always ended up being brittle and edgy. Subsequently the vocals would lose presence and the whole operation turned smeary. When this happens, tracks like “Modern Love” turn the joy of the music into boredom and even outright misery.

But the good ones boggle the mind, they practically defy understanding. How did they get that much punchy note-like bass onto a piece of vinyl, not to mention all those silky sweet highs? (more…)

II – Our History with Led Zeppelin’s Rock Classic from 1990 – 2010

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

This pressing just knocked us out from beginning to end — this is the Zep II sound you want. 

At least 80% of the copies we buy these days — for many hundreds of dollars each I might add — go right back to the seller. The biggest problem we run into besides obvious scratches that play and worn out grooves is easy to spot: just play the song Thank You at the end of side one. Most of the time there is inner groove damage so bad that the track becomes virtually unlistenable.

It’s become a common dealbreaker for the records we buy on the internet. We get them in, we play that track, we hear it distort and we pack the record up and sent it back to the seller.

But this copy plays clean all the way to the end on both sides — assuming you have a highly-tweaked, high-performance front end of course.

After we heard this copy sound so good and play so well we decided it was time to set a record here at Better Records for the most expensive record to ever hit the site.

Turn It Up!

This is undoubtedly one of the best, maybe THE best hard rock recording of all time, but you need a good pressing if you’re going to unleash anything approaching its full potential. We just conducted a shootout and heard MUCH more bad sound than good. You name it — imports, reissues, originals — we’ve played ’em, and most of them were TERRIBLE. (Especially the non-RL originals. That’s some of the worst sound we’ve ever heard. If you see a “J” stamper run for your life.) (more…)

Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of John Barleycorn Must Die.

The toughest test on side two is the first track, Stranger to Himself. Getting the voices right is practically impossible. If the voices are full, smooth, yet breathy and clear, you have that rare copy that actually gets the midrange right. Not many do.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Glad

The last portion of this track has some really interesting percussion and organ effects. Traffic were trying to break out of the standard pop song format by letting this song wander into psychedelic territory for a few minutes at the end. It’s now become my favorite part of the song.
The reason you want to pay close attention to this part is because it helps you to judge the transparency, immediacy, and top end extension for the whole side. It should be amazingly clear and open-sounding. On too many pressings, the percussion instruments are blurred and lost in the mix. On a Hot Stamper copy they’ll be right in front of you, allowing you to appreciate the interplay among the musicians as they contributed their various parts. (more…)

Eagles – Eagles – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

A WHITE HOT side one that was so darn good, we had to break our own rules and give it FOUR BIG PLUSES — A++++! This side one is a DEMO DISC like you will not believe. When the big chorus comes in on Take It Easy — one of the toughest tests for side one — you will be amazed by how energetic and downright GLORIOUS these boys can sound. Believe us when we tell you, it’s the rare copy that can pass that test. 

This side one had some of the best ENERGY we heard in our entire shootout (composed of all original pressings by the way; nothing else comes close, a subject we discuss below). With big bass and huge scope, this may become your favorite disc for showing your friends just what analog is really capable of. (We’ve heard many times from customers that they use Hot Stamper pressings of this very album for that exact purpose.)

It won’t take the future owner of this record long to recognize what we’ve known for years: the Eagles first album is clearly and inarguably one of the Best Sounding Rock Recordings Ever Made. Want your speakers to disappear? Want to hear Live Rock Music in your listening room? This side one will make it happen!

The Eagles first album is without a doubt Glyn Johns’ masterpiece — rock records just don’t sound any better. It’s exactly the kind of record that makes virtually ANY Audiophile pressing pale in comparison. (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…)