Advice – What to Listen For – Midrange (Upper) – Shrillness

Lee Michaels – 5th

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  • A superb 2-pack, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two
  • “Do You Know What I Mean” rocks, with prodigious amounts of surprisingly deep bass – it’s a real Bass Demo Track
  • This copy plays about as quiet as we can find them, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus on side one and Mint Minus Minus on side two
  • “There are only a few originals on the album, and one, “Do You Know What I Mean” (which really sounded like a cover), was a monstrous hit and cemented Lee Michaels as one of the best white blues performers of the period, along with Joe Cocker and Steve Winwood.”

As is usually the case with our 2-packs, the killer sides are each backed with something much more typical, so you don’t have to take our word for how bad the average pressing is — you can just flip the record over and hear it for yourself. Of course, if you don’t have time to listen to mediocre sounding records you can stick with the killer sides and leave the tedium of hearing bad sound to us. (more…)

Got Old Records? Played ‘Em Lately? What Did You Think of the Sound?

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It’s not that most copies of 5th sound bad; it’s that most of them just sound like old records — thick, dull, opaque, smeary, closed-in, two-dimensional, lifeless and boring.

You know that sound. It’s on a lot of the records we play, and no doubt on a lot of the records you own, especially the records you haven’t cleaned and played in a while (it’s there; you just aren’t aware of it).

Pull out your old copy of 5th. Back in the day it sounded just fine, but if you’ve been listening to mostly better records lately (assuming you haven’t fallen into the Heavy Vinyl trap), doubtlessly on much improved equipment than you had 40 years ago, your old A&M copy probably doesn’t sound as good as you remember it.

The records may not have changed, but your stereo and your standards should have.

Couple that with improved listening skills and before long the average old record starts to sound a lot more average than you wish it did. Even today’s better pot can’t fix the problems of most vintage pressings (or the Heavy Vinyl and CD reissues which are two of the biggest jokes ever played on the audiophile public).

But we can fix the problems — well, not really: we’re just finding the copies that managed to be mastered and pressed without the problems — and our Hot Stampers are 100% legal to boot! (more…)

Ridiculously Phony and Compressed Sound – The Beatles White Album on MoFi

beatlwhitemfslSonic Grade: D

Another MoFi LP debunked.

The last time I played a copy of the MoFi I could not believe how ridiculously phony and compressed it was. And to think I used to like their version when it came out back in the ’80s!

A good example: on Yer Blues, the MFSL pressing positively wreaks havoc with all the added bass and top end The Beatles put on this track. The MoFi version is already too bright, and has sloppy bass to start with, so the result on this track is way too much BAD bass and way too much BAD spitty 10k-boosted treble, unlike the good imports, which have way too much GOOD bass and treble.

Yer Blues ROCKS! Listen to the big jam at the end of the song, where John’s vocal mic is turned off but his performance is still caught by a room or overheard mic. They obviously did this on purpose, killing his vocal track so that the “leaked” vocal could be heard.

Those crazy Beatles! It’s more than just a cool “effect”. It actually seems to kick the energy and power of the song up a notch. It’s clearly an accident, but an accident that works. I rather doubt George Martin approved. That kind of “throw the rule book out” approach is what makes Beatles recordings so fascinating, and The White Album the most fascinating of them all.

The EQ for this song is also a good example of something The Beatles were experimenting with, as detailed in their recording sessions and interviews with the engineers. They were pushing the boundaries of normal EQ, of how much bass and treble a track could have. This track has seriously boosted bass, way too much, but somehow it works!
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Set-up Discs, Part Two – Dialing in the Anti-Skate

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

I once adjusted my anti-skate while playing this very album, at the time dialing it in to a “T”. Over the years I’ve found that the best test for fine anti-skate adjustment is massed strings, and not just at the end of a side but right at the beginning too.

When you have all the rosiny texture, the high-end harmonic extension, the least shrillness and the widest and deepest staging, you are there, assuming that tracking weight, azimuth and VTA are correct as well.

Four variables to mess with is admittedly a bitch, but having the right record to test with is absolutely critical as well. Maybe we should call it five variables.

And if I only had one record to bring to someone’s house in order to evaluate their equipment, this would certainly be a top choice. If you can make this record sound the way it should, your stereo is cookin’. If you are having problems, this record will show them to you in short order. (more…)

Prokofiev / Symphonies No. 1 & 7 – Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

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What to listen for on this album? That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label the way they did back the day. I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles tend to make about the sound of records, my own judgments included — to the limitations of the equipment, bad setups, bad rooms and poor record cleaning. 

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that are possible today.

Working in unfathomably complicated and unpredictable combination, today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like. 

These are what make it possible for us to do our job. You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like on your system and in your room. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record will be yours to enjoy for as long as you live. (more…)

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon – Quick and Easy Listening Test

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More Dark Side of the Moon

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Breathe is my favorite test track for side one for any version of Dark Side Of The Moon, Half-Speed or otherwise. When the voices come in about halfway through the song, you can tell that most copies are too bright simply by listening to the vocals on this track. The cymbals might sound wonderful; lots of other instruments might sound wonderful; and there might be plenty of ambience, detail and transparency.

But all of that counts for nothing if the voices don’t sound right. And on most copies the voices sound bright, aggressive, grainy and transitory. (This is the case with the new 180 gram 30th Anniversary copy I regret to say.)  (more…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

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  • An insanely good 360 Label pressing of this Simon & Garfunkel classic, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The sound is here is As Good As It Gets — big, lively, open and clear with Tubey Magical richness that only these good early pressings can show you
  • The toughest Simon & Garfunkel album to find with excellent sound and reasonable surfaces — no contest 
  • 5 stars: “Perhaps the most delicately textured album to close out the 1960s from any major rock act… the songs matched the standard of craftsmanship that had been established on the duo’s two prior albums”

Both sides here KILLED every other copy we played. The overall sound is tubey and lush with a strong bottom end. The strings on the title track actually have some texture, and Cecilia really comes to life. There’s not as much spit or grit as you’d get on most copies, and the sound is far more musical and enjoyable than you would expect to hear, especially if you own a reissue on the red label or an audiophile reissue of any kind. These sides have an extra measure of presence and an extra degree of clarity, the kind of thing that makes them White Hot.

So many copies of this album sound wrong in so many ways, it would be impossible to list them all here. Suffice it to say, a Hot Stamper copy has to pass a lot of tests before we’re willing to vouch for it, and this copy passed those tests with flying colors. For starters, the vocals aren’t too spitty, the guitars don’t sound grainy, and the bottom end isn’t lean. Add in some of the silkiest, breathiest voices we’ve heard for this album and this Super Hot Stamper is sure to please. (more…)

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – You’re Gonna Get It!

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You’re Gonna Get It!

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  • A solidly hard rockin’ copy with seriously good grades of Double Plus (A++) or BETTER on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Rich and open with a killer bottom end, musically it’s surely the best record Tom Petty ever made – a late ’70s Rock Classic 
  • Three of Petty’s best songs are on this one – Restless, I Need To Know and Listen To Her Heart – and they sound amazing
  • “Overall, the current LP boasts an impressive stylistic cohesiveness with its predecessor, but what makes the album exciting are the fresh hints of openness and expansion just beneath the surface. The rhythms are a bit looser, and there’s a new emphasis on Petty’s rough, driving, rock & roll guitar in the mix.” Rolling Stone

Sweetly textured guitars, breathy vocals — all the subtleties of a High Quality Recording are here, along with prodigious amounts of bass and powerful dynamics. Check out that drum sound! If you can play this one at the levels it demands you might just be shocked at how good it sounds. (more…)

Tom Petty – Hard Promises

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Hard Promises

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  • An impressive copy of this 1981 release, with KILLER nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Recorded at Sound City, home to some of the greatest analog sound ever recorded
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…filled with great songwriting, something that’s as difficult to achieve as a distinctive sound… The Waiting became the best-known song on the record, but there’s no discounting A Woman in Love, Nightwatchman, Kings Road, and The Criminal Kind, album tracks that would become fan favorites… it has a tremendous set of songs and a unified sound that makes it one of Petty’s finest records.”

Two stunning sides for one of our favorite Petty records! This one is a huge step up from most, which tend to be bright, thin, edgy, pinched and gritty — radio friendly, maybe, but not especially audiophile friendly.

We hate that sound but we are happy to report that some copies manage to avoid it, and this is one of them. Is that richer, fuller sound the sound of what’s on the master tape or did the mastering engineer “fix” it? We’ll never know, now will we? What we can know is the sound of the pressings we actually have to play, and this one is killer.

Recorded by Shelly Yakus at Sound City, Van Nuys and at Cherokee Studios, Hollywood, CA. (more…)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Long After Dark

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on this copy of the band’s fifth studio album
  • Rich and full-bodied with tight bass, and brimming with Petty’s unique brand of “meat and potatoes” rock and roll
  • You Got Lucky was the big hit on this album 4 Star Album from 1982
  • Rolling Stone raves “…overall, Long after Dark is Petty’s most accomplished record.”

Long After Dark boasts the monster rocker You Got Lucky and very good sound considering that the album was recorded in 1982, not an especially good year (or decade) to be recording rock music. (more…)