Advice – What to Listen For – Sibilance (It’s a Bitch)

Rod Stewart – Atlantic Crossing

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  • You’ll find truly exceptional Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this vastly underrated Rod Stewart classic
  • One of the few to hit our site over the years, and for that we apologize – Atlantic Crossing should be enjoyed by everyone in Hot Stamper form
  • This is some of the best Muscle Shoals rock- and soul-inflected pop from producer Tom Dowd we know of
  • It’s the last consistently good record Rod Stewart made – I bought it when it came out and I listen to it to this very day
  • AMG awards 4 1/2 stars and raves, “Three Time Loser and Stone Cold Sober catch fire,” and on this copy we guarantee they do

The copies we liked best were the biggest and richest, the least thin and dry. Many of the brighter copies also had noticeable sibilance problems, which the richer and tubier ones did not. (more…)

10cc / Deceptive Bends – Sibilance Can Be a Bitch (and a Good Test for Table Set-Up Too)

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Listening Test

On side two the tonal balance is key. If there is any boost to the top end the vocals on track two will SPIT LIKE CRAZY.

This is also a good test for how well your cartridge and arm are doing their jobs. Sibilance is a bitch. The best pressings, with the most extension up top and the least amount of aggressive grit and grain mixed into the sound, played using the best front ends, will keep it to a minimum. VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate adjustments are critical to reducing the spit in your records.

We discuss the sibilance problems of MoFi records all over the site. Have you ever read Word One about this problem elsewhere? Of course not. Audiophiles and audiophile reviewers just seem to put up with these problems, or ignore them, or — even worse — simply fail to recognize them at all.

Play around with your table setup for a few hours and you will no doubt be able to reduce the sibilance problems on your favorite test and demo discs. All your other records will thank you for it too. (Especially your Beatles records. Many Beatles pressings are spitty, and the MoFi Beatles pressings are REALLY bad.)

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Frank Zappa – The Grand Wazoo – What to Listen For

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The Tubey Magical keyboards at the start of The Grand Wazoo are amazing sounding on the best copies. How Zappa ever decided to go digital when he managed to record so well in analog (from time to time, let’s be honest) is beyond me.

Problems?

Smear on the horn transients are always an issue on this album (and Zappa’s previous big band album, Waka/Jawaka). After that we would say a lack of top end is the other most common shortcoming we hear. To find a copy that’s not dull and smeary is no mean feat.

The vocals on For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) are usually slightly spitty. The best copies keep the spit under control.

Blue Labels and Reissues

The Blue Label originals are dramatically better than the later Warner Brother reissues. I would avoid any reissues of Zappa’s albums; we’ve never heard a good one. And that includes the Classic Heavy Vinyl reissue of Hot Rats. (more…)

Johnny Mathis – Heavenly

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  • A superb 360 Stereo pressing of Heavenly, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • This copy had all the Tubey Magical richness of the best coupled with the hardest thing to find on an old Columbia record: top end extension
  • Natural vocal reproduction is the sine qua non of a Johnny Mathis album – this pressing showed us just how good Columbia was back in 1959
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “The tempos are slow, the strings swell, and Mathis’ vulnerable tenor, dripping with tender emotion yet never missing a beat, soars and swoops over all. The best track, a revelation when it appeared on this album, is “Misty,” a treatment of Erroll Garner’s jazz piano classic with a newly added lyric by Johnny Burke.”

*NOTE: On side one, a mark on the edge makes 3 moderate pops at the beginning of Track 1, Heavenly.

Mobile Fidelity remastered Heavenly back in 1984 (I think), and if you own one and want to know what the album should have sounded like, this is your chance. Simply play this original LP. It will help you understand why your copy is still sitting on the shelf in mint condition to this day. When you remaster something for “audiophiles,” you run the risk of ruining what made the original album such a joy to listen to in the first place. MoFi never had a clue how to get the midrange on their records right, but Columbia was doing just fine twenty five years earlier. (more…)

10cc – Deceptive Bends

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A Demo Disc for Bass

A Demo Discs for Dynamics

A Demo Discs for Energy

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides, this huge, lively copy of Deceptive Bends will be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A longstanding member of our Top 100 – it’s one of the most DYNAMIC, ENERGETIC, well recorded pop albums we know of
  • “Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman kept the group alive and turned in a surprisingly solid album with 1977’s Deceptive Bends. It may lack the devil-may-care wackiness that popped up on previous 10cc albums, but it makes up for it by crafting a series of lush, catchy pop songs that are witty in their own right. All in all, Deceptive Bends is the finest achievement of 10cc’s post-Godley and Creme lineup and well worth a spin for anyone who enjoyed Sheet Music or The Original Soundtrack.”

This is an AMAZINGLY WELL RECORDED album, a record I would have no problem ranking in the Top Rock Recordings of All Time! We’re tough graders on this album because we know how good it can sound, which is SHOCKINGLY GOOD. (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

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  • A killer sounding copy with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, Sing A Simple Song, Everyday People, You Can Make It If You Try – what a phenomenal lineup of songs
  • 5 stars: “Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment. …everything simply gels here, resulting in no separation between the astounding funk, effervescent irresistible melodies, psychedelicized guitars, and deep rhythms.”

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Loggins & Messina – Sittin’ In

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  • This copy of L&M’s debut and Masterpiece boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is big, lively, open and clear with Tubey Magical richness that only these good vintage pressings can show you
  • One of our favorite albums, this one just keeps getting better and better
  • Every track on side one is brilliant, from Nobody But You, to Danny’s Song, to Vahevala, to the ending of the Trilogy with Peace of Mind
  • 4 1/2 stars: “With their infectious blend of country, folk, rock and Caribbean music, L&M started out at the top of their game”

We love this album and have been playing it regularly since it came out in 1972. That’s a long time, and the good news is it just keeps getting better and better, like all the better records in your collection should. (more…)

Off the Wall Vs. Thriller – Which One Has More Tubey Magic?

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ABSOLUTELY STUNNING SOUND for this White Hot Stamper pressing!

Both sides cannot be beat — both have the BIG M.J. SOUND that jumps out of the speakers and fills the room. We’ve never heard a copy that was so full of ANALOG MAGIC!

The vocals are PERFECTION — breathy, full-bodied, and present. The top end is extended and sweet, with tons of ambience the likes of which I’ve never heard before.

Normally when you have a copy with strong midrange presence it will be somewhat sibilant in places. Not so here. For some reason this copy has all the highs, but it’s cut so clean it practically doesn’t spit at all. Even on the song I Can’t Help It, which normally has a problem in that respect. Since that’s my favorite song on this album, and probably my favorite MJ song of all time, hearing it sound so good was a revelation.

Better Sound than Thriller?

Yes. As consistently brilliant as Thriller may be musically — it is the biggest selling album of all time after all — speaking strictly in terms of sonics the sound of the best copies of Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, and more ANALOG than Thriller.

Thriller is clearly more aggressive and processed-sounding than Off the Wall. The Girl Is Mine or Human Nature from Thriller would fit just fine anywhere on Off the Wall, but could the same be said for Beat It or Thriller? Just thinking about them you can hear the artificiality of the sound of both those songs in your head. Think about the snare that opens Beat It. I’ve never heard a snare sound like that in my life. Practically no instrument on Off the Wall has that kind of overly processed EQ’d sound.

Choruses Are Key

The richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality is most apparent on Off the Wall where you most always hear it on a pop record: in the biggest, loudest, densest, climactic choruses.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly grow to be without crossing the line into distortion or congestion. On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record. On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is the biggest and loudest element in the mix, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-track screaming “Who I am” about three quarters of the way through the track. Those are clearly exceptions though. Usually it’s the final chorus that gets bigger and louder than anything else.

A pop song is usually structured so as to build more and more power as it works its way through its verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording — one with real dynamics — that part should be very loud and very powerful.

Testing Off the Wall

It’s almost always the toughest test for a pop record, and it’s the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album’s largest scaled productions are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have. Our Top 100 is full of the kinds of records that reward that listening at loud levels.

We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s what vintage analog pressings do so brilliantly. They do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and certainly no substitute. If you’re on this site you probably already know that.

To bring this discussion back to the subject at hand, the loudest choruses on Off the Wall are richer, smoother, sweeter and more free of processing artifacts than those on Thriller. (more…)

Bonnie Raitt – Nick Of Time

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  • An insanely good pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from the first note to the last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides are rich and full-bodied with a nice extended top end and tight, note-like bass – Have A Heart is a Demo Quality track
  • Some of the sweetest, richest, most ANALOG sound we’ve heard from any record Don Was produced
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Producer Don Was used Raitt’s classic early-’70s records as a blueprint, choosing to update the sound with a smooth, professional production and a batch of excellent contemporary songs. In this context, Raitt flourishes; she never rocks too hard, but there is grit to her singing and playing, even when the surfaces are clean and inviting. A great comeback album that made for a great story.”

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Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years – Our Four Plus Winner

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  • This KILLER pressing earned Shootout Winning QUADRUPLE Plus (A++++) sound on the first side and Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first
  • The immediacy of the vocals is striking, putting a living, breathing Paul Simon right between your speakers
  • An extremely tough album to find with the kind of big, spacious, Tubey Magical sound this pressing offers
  • Clean, clear and open are nice qualities to have, but the richer, smoother, more natural sounding copies are the ones that win our shootouts
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…he was never more in tune with his audience: Still Crazy topped the charts, spawned four Top 40 hits, and won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Vocal Performance.

Please note: we award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side one here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus! (more…)