Advice – What to Listen For – Polarity

Rossini-Respighi / La Boutique Fantasque – Reversed Polarity Copy

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This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

This is a WONDERFUL sounding, very quiet original Shaded Dog pressing of one of the rarest Living Stereo titles. Dropping the needle on side one was a shock — the sound was terrible: thin, shrill and practically unlistenable. Since I know this to be an exceptionally good sounding record, there was only one possibility: reverse absolute phase. Sure enough, the magic of Living Stereo reappeared. If you can’t reverse your polarity, this is not the record for you! 

Are they all that way? I have no way of knowing. I run across a clean quiet copy like this once every ten years or so. If any of you out there own this record and yours is not reversed phase let me know what your stamper numbers are, I’d be very interested.

This has always been a favorite title with audiophiles. It’s full of lovely orchestral colors, much like The Nutcracker. As usual, Fiedler and the Boston Pops are accorded superb sound.

Dave Grusin / Discovered Again! – Relax, Stare into the Middle Distance and Listen to the Players As a Group

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Many years ago we had discussed the polarity issues associated with this record:

According to the liner notes, this album has its polarity reversed. They tell you straight out to reverse the positive and negative at the speaker terminals for the best “transient response and spatial clarity.”

That out of phase quality is as plain as the nose on your face when you know what to listen for. There’s an unpleasant hardness and hollowness to the midrange, a lack of depth, and an off-putting opaque quality to the sound. The top gets dull and the bass gets weird and wonky.

With our EAR 324p phono stage, the click of a button reverses the polarity. I can’t tell you how handy it is to have such a tool at your disposal. Checking the polarity for Discovered Again couldn’t have been easier.

But get this: most side ones are NOT out of polarity. How about them apples! We could not have been more shocked. Here is the most famous reversed polarity audiophile recording in the history of the world, and it turns out most copies are not reversed on side one at all.

Latest Findings

I did not do the shootout for the album, but I wanted to check on the polarity just to hear it for myself. I must admit I had to go back and forth a number of times, using my favorite song on the album and an old Demo track from back in my earliest days in audio, the mid- to late-’70s: Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow.

Harvey Mason’s super punchy drum playing catches your attention right off the back. A tambourine comes along in the left channel at some point. Lots of bass. Rit’s guitar in the right channel and Grusin’s keyboards in the center fill out the soundstage. The ensemble is on fire.

Evaluating the sonic differences of the individual instruments in and out of polarity had me confused. A typical conundrum: Should the tambourine be smoother with more body, or brighter with more harmonic overtones? Which is right? Who can say definitively?

It was only after about fifteen minutes of playing the album, switching the polarity back and forth, that the penny dropped.

Focussed on an individual instrument, I could hear it just fine both ways. But then I noticed that with the polarity reversed the group got vague. The images seemed blurrier, less defined. If I relaxed and just stared into the middle distance and let the music flow, the band seemed to be more jumbled up and messy.

That was the key. The obvious change when the polarity was wrong was a loss of image specificity. Flipping the record over to side two and using my new “lens” to hear the difference with the polarity changed, it was obvious when the polarity was right or wrong.

I have experimented with polarity on scores of records. Certain effects on certain records are unmistakable. But these effects seem to vary a great deal from title to title. Grusin’s brilliant direct to disc recording initially had me at a loss. With a little experimentation, the improvement in the sound with the correct polarity became evident over time, as it always seems to do. Thank god I didn’t have to change speaker leads the way I used to in the old days. (more…)

Brahms / Concerto for Violin and Cello – Heifetz / Piatigorsky (LDS 2513)

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This RCA Soria pressing plays about Mint Minus, pretty quiet for a Shaded Dog era pressing.

The orchestra is its typical shrill self. The cello and violin sound wonderful most of the time. When they really get going the sound can be a bit much. At moderate volumes the record is very enjoyable.

If I’m not mistaken, reversing your polarity will help the sound some.

This is a famous recording for having distortion and congestion in the louder orchestral passages. There is no such thing as a copy of this record that doesn’t have that problem. You listen to this record for the wonderful interplay between Heifetz and Piatigorsky and not much else.

Side One Is Actually In Phase (Usually) and You Read It Here First (Probably)

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

According to the liner notes, this Dave Grusin album has reversed absolute phase. They tell you to switch the positive and negative at the speaker for the best transient response and spatial clarity. But get this: most side ones are NOT in reversed phase.

That out of phase quality is as plain as the nose on your face when you know what to listen for. There’s an unpleasant hardness and hollowness to the midrange, a lack of depth, and an off-putting opaque quality to the sound.

With our EAR 324p Phono Stage, the click of a button reverses phase, also known as polarity. I can’t tell you how handy it is to have such a tool at your disposal. Checking the phase for Discovered Again couldn’t have been easier.

An Amazing Discovery

But get this: most side ones are NOT reversed phase. (All the side twos we played were however.) How about them apples! We could not have been more shocked. Here is the most famous out of phase audiophile recording in the history of the world, and it turns out most copies are not out of phase at all!

(more…)

Kansas – Reverse Your Polarity, My Wayward Son

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This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

About eight years ago (time flies!) we discovered that the first track on side one is in the wrong polarity, or out of absolute phase, whichever terminology you prefer (we ourselves use both). The full story can be found below.

Here’s what we wrote:

But last night (07/13/06) we made an AMAZING discovery. I was listening to another Sterling original, and the slightly aggressive, hi-fi-ish quality of the opening vocals made me think that maybe I had been putting up with a problem that I should have investigated further. What really sold me on the idea was listening to the vocals and noticing that the ambience was “disconnected” from the voices. It’s hard to explain exactly what that sound is, but it’s almost as if the ambience is added in on top of the voice instead of surrounding and resulting from the voice. I suspected reversed absolute phase.
(more…)

Kansas – Leftoverture – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

This copy of Kansas’ most consistent album, their masterpiece I might venture to say, has an OFF THE CHARTS A+++ side two! This is the ROCK album they recorded; the average copy of Leftoverture only hints at the power of the band.  

Side two just KILLED from start to finish, with the deepest, punchiest bass, moving up the frequency ladder to the clearest sweetest mids, and following it all the way to the top with the most extended grain-free, silky highs.

Most copies, like so many rock records from the era, are veiled and smeary. Often they lack extension at one or both ends of the frequency spectrum, more often than not up top, which results in harshness and shrillness, not the sound you want on a Kansas record! (more…)

Offenbach / Gaite Parisienne – Fiedler – Reviewed in 2005

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

Superb sound! The top end of this record is PERFECTION. When you hear all the percussion instruments, the tambourines, triangles, wood blocks they just sound so lovely. The overall sound is rich and sweet, just like a good vintage RCA should sound. Some may find the sound colored, but I find it enchanting.

Side two, however, sounded fairly unpleasant when I first played it. As I listened more and more, I came to the realization that the absolute phase was probably inverted. The orchestra, rather than being back behind the speakers where they belong, was coming AT me, a sure sign that something is funny. One way to think about it is the sound stage becomes convex instead of concave.

So I switched my headshell leads and sure enough everything got much better — the orchestra now had depth and the strings became less forward and shrill, and the horns took on more body and had less of that blary quality they sometimes do. (more…)

Brahms / Sonatas #2 & 3 / Rubinstein and Szeryng – Reviewed in 2010

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

3S/ 4S RCA Shaded Dog. The sound is actually quite decent when you INVERT the ABSOLUTE PHASE. If you cannot or will not do that, this record will not sound good — it’s somewhat hard and bright. It will never be a Top Shaded Dog but it is a good one with the absolute phase inverted.

This record is third in a series of masterpieces for violin and piano.

Franck / Piano Quintette & Brahms / Heifetz, Piatigorsky et al. – Reviewed in 2013

More Franck

More Piano Quintette & Brahms / Heifetz, Piatigorsky et al.

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

A stellar reading of the Franck from this formidable group. Side one of this Shaded Dog is Super Hot: rich, smooth and sweet. The piano is exceptionally well-recorded, with real weight. The Brahms is very good if you can reverse your polarity.    (more…)

Dick Schory – Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp – Check Your Polarity!

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More Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises .

An amazing discovery from Better Records. Many copies of this album are REVERSED POLARITY on side two (the side with Buck Dance, one of the better tracks on that side and great for testing). Yes, once again you heard it here first, folks. We had two 4S copies of the album and both of them had side two out of polarity.  

NEWSFLASH: 7s on side two is out of polarity too. Just played one today. There’s practically no real top end extension until you reverse the polarity.

Reversing the absolute phase on this record today was a REVELATION. There before me was all the ambience, openness, sweetness, silkiness and warmth I had come to expect from the best pressings of this longtime member of HP’s TAS List of Super Discs, a record that really is a Super Disc when you hear a good one, and this is a very very good one indeed, on side two anyway. (more…)