Advice – What to Listen For – Transparency Vs Opacity

Saint-Saens / Symphony #3 / Mehta – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Symphony #3 / Mehta

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

This British London pressing is the winner of our recent shootout. We had three London pressings, all the same stamper numbers if I recall correctly, and this is the only copy to have Super Hot Stamper sound on either side. Side one is actually quite nice, with lovely texture to the strings. The sound is transparent and natural, two qualities that are in short supply on most of the recordings Mehta did with the L.A. Phil. in our experience.

We pulled out all the copies of this famous work we could find in the backroom and most of them were just awful. This is not an easy work to record, incorporating as it does an organ with a large orchestra. (I saw the work performed back in 2009 and it was magical. There is nothing like the sound of violins playing high over the organ notes below.) (more…)

Romantic Russia – Who on Earth Could Possibly Take This Kind of Sound Seriously?

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Borodin, Glinka & Mussorgsky / Romantic Russia / Solti

 

Sonic Grade: F

Another MoFi LP debunked.

A well-known reviewer has many kind things to say about this pressing, but we think it sounds like a hi-fi-ish version of a ’70s London, which means it’s opaque and the strings are badly lacking in Tubey Magic.

The bass is like jello on the MoFi, unlike the real London which has fairly decent bass.

More orchestral music conducted by Georg Solti

MoFi had a bad habit of making bright classical records. I suppose you could say they had a bad habit of making bright records in general. A few are dull, some are just right, but most of them are bright in one way or another. Dull playback equipment? An attempt to confuse detail with resolution? Whatever the reasons, the better and more accurate your equipment becomes, the most obvious this shortcoming will be. My tolerance for their phony EQ is at an all time low. But hey, that’s me. (more…)

Prokofiev / Symphonic Suite of Waltzes / Schweiger – Cisco Reviewed

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Symphonic Suite of Waltzes / Gypsy Fantasy / Schweiger

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Sonic Grade: B-

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B-” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back when this record came out, but here it is anyway.  

“Another superb choice from Cisco. These shorter pieces really come to life here. The sound has more hall than the Mozart title they did and every bit the lifelike tonality and transparency.”

[UPDATE: None of Cisco’s records turned out to be transparent in the least, so that’s a big red flag right there. The music is quite good, so if you don’t pay much you won’t get hurt too badly by the mediocre sound.] (more…)

Neil Young – Transparency – and that Wonderful Feeling of Being There

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises .

For our review of the new Heavy Vinyl After the Gold Rush we wrote:

Cleverly the engineers responsible for this remaster have managed to reproduce the sound of a dead studio on a record that wasn’t recorded in one. 

This pressing has no real space or ambience. Now the album sounds like it was recorded in a heavily baffled studio, but we know that’s not what happened, because the originals of After the Gold Rush, like most of Neil’s other albums from the era, are clear, open and spacious.

In other words, they are TRANSPARENT.

Modern records like the new After the Gold Rush are just so damn opaque. We can’t stand that sound. It drives us crazy. Important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate regular pressings — is simply nowhere to be found. That audiophiles as a group — including those that pass themselves off as champions of analog in the audio press — do not notice these failings does not speak well for either their equipment or their critical listening skills. (more…)

Paul Simon – Graceland – When Clarity Is King

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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 Graceland

We regularly do shootouts for Graceland. Having played so many copies over the years we’re become quite familiar with the range of sound on the album, what constitutes good, better and best, and we understand precisely what qualities the premier copy must have in order to win one of our shootouts. 

Above all the thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It has many other good qualities as well: It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals.

The better copies have all these qualities to some degree, but the one thing a good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s especially good about the sound of Graceland. (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…)

Andrew Gold – What’s Wrong With This Picture? (2015)

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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

The best copies of Gold’s sophomore release are incredibly rich, sweet and Tubey Magical. They also have tons of deep punchy bass and wonderfully breathy vocals.

If you own many Asylum records, you know this title is yet another example of classic Asylum Analog. Think of the sound of the Eagles first album and you won’t be far off.

AAndrew Gold is another talented popster who got little respect from the critics, or the public for that matter. His music has a lot of the same qualities as Buddy Holly’s: simple catchy tunes about love, with clever lyrics and tons of hooks. He covers one of Holly’s songs on this very album. (more…)

Airto – Fingers – Top End Extension Is Key to the Best Pressings

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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 Fingers.

The best copies have the highs that are missing from so many of the CTI originals. When you play them against most copies there is an extension to the top end that you won’t hear elsewhere. Since this album is heavy on percussion, that difference is critical. The HARMONICS of the percussion are critically important to the music. When they go missing it’s as if the music seems to slow down, a strange effect but a fairly common one with rhythmically dense arrangements such as these. 

With an extended top end the sound is SWEET, not HARSH. Believe us when we tell you, the last thing you want is a harsh sounding pressing of a Rudy Van Gelder recording. (Not unless you have a dull, dull, deadly dull stereo. Those “Old School” stereos are practically the only way one can tolerate some of his early recordings.) (more…)

Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – Striking It Rich

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Striking It Rich

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

Normally this record sounds thick and dead. It’s very rare to find a copy like this that has any real transparency. The vocals are sweet and silky and the string instruments are more clear in the mix.

There’s nothing more frustrating than a record that defies every effort to hear into it, typically the feeling I get when listening to Dan Hicks’ recordings. But on this pressing I could actually appreciate the music without having to fight the sound.

The tracks with violin accompaniment tend to sound the best for some reason. Some tracks are recorded a bit dry for my taste, but others are just right.

This is probably the band’s masterpiece, all things considered. It’s the most consistent album of theirs overall and has wonderful high points in I Scare Myself and Canned Music.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

You Gotta Believe 
Walkin’ One and Only 
O’Reilly at the Bar 
Moody Richard (The Innocent Bystander) 
Flight of the Fly 
I Scare Myself 
Philly Rag

Side Two

The Laughing Song 
Canned Music 
I’m an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande) 
Woe, the Luck 
Presently in the Past 
Skippy’s Farewell  
Fujiyama

AMG Review

Striking It Rich features 14 more sides of hipster acoustic swing from Hicks and his helpmates, including the fan favorites “I Scare Myself” and “Canned Music.” The band’s musicianship remains mostly on the mark, but there are elements of the album that go beyond kitsch and the humor here is considerably darker than in the past…

Bizet-Shchedrin / Carmen Ballet Suite / Rozhdestvensky – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875) 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

This White Hot Stamper copy of Bizet’s Carmen, rearranged by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin for strings and 47 percussion instruments, has two AMAZING sides back to back, which makes it only the second copy of this quality to ever hit the site, and the first to do so in two years.

Demo Quality Sound barely begins to do it justice. If you have the system to play it, this copy is a KNOCKOUT. (more…)