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

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…)

Rod Stewart – Atlantic Crossing – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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

This copy just murdered the competition. The last consistently good Rod Stewart album? It gets my vote.

The copies we liked best were the biggest and richest, and the least thin and dry. Many of the brighter copies also had sibilance problems which the richer and tubier ones do not.

Side One

Triple Plus. The space is huge, the sound is rich, it rocks like only “The Memphis Horns and three-quarters of Booker T. and the MG’s” can — this side is practically without fault. We’ve never heard it sound like this, and we’ve been playing this record (at least I have) since it came out in 1975.

Side Two

Triple Plus again, with acoustic guitars that are clear and extend beautifully, exhibiting the most harmonic information we heard all day from side two of Atlantic Crossing, hence our top grade. So big and rich. Finally the album sounds the way it should!

Domestic Vs. British Vinyl

On some of the Rod Stewart albums that we happen to know well the British pressings are clearly superior; the first two Rod Stewart albums come immediately to mind. After that, strange as it may seem, all the best pressings are domestic. This album is certainly no exception. I remember bringing back a few Brit copies from England many years ago and being surprised that they were so thick, dull and dubby sounding. Of course they were; the album was recorded right here in the good old US of A. The master tapes are here. The Brit pressings sound dubby because they are made from copies.

If there is any doubt, the following is a list of the studios in which Atlantic Crossing was recorded.

  • A&R, NY
  • Criteria, Miami, FL
  • Wally Heider, Los Angeles, CA
  • Hi Recording and
  • Muscle Shoals Sound, AL

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Bonnie Raitt – Nick Of Time – Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2009

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

This Minty Capitol LP has an UNBELIEVABLE White Hot Stamper As Good As It Gets (AGAIG) Side Two backed by a Side One that was nearly its equal! The original grade for side one was in fact A+++, but after hearing a copy that was even better we had to lower the grade to A Double Plus. Hey, that’s how we roll here at Better Records. Side one will blow your mind, but if we hear something better, we lower the grade on the nearly White Hot copy, no matter how good it is. 

We expect that, as good as side one is, when you drop the needle on side two you will hear EVEN BETTER sound.

Prepare to have your mind blown, because this album sure sounds a whole lot better than I remember it. And that’s a good thing. I have a new respect for this album (along with Don Was’ somewhat heavy-handed production).

Both sides are POWERFULLY BIG AND BOLD, with meaty, deep bass (such a big part of the rockers here, Thing Called Love being a prime example) and the sweetest, richest, most ANALOG sound we’ve heard from any record Don Was has been involved with. When you hear it like this — something probably pretty close to what he heard during the control room playback for the final mix — it actually makes sense. It works. It’s not exactly “natural”, but natural is not what they were going for, now is it?

Missing Too Much

The no-longer-surprising thing about these Hot Stamper pressings is how completely they MURDER the DCC LP. Folks, it’s really no contest. Yes, the DCC is tonally balanced and can sound very good, but it can’t compete with the best original pressings. It’s missing too much of the presence, intimacy, immediacy and transparency that we’ve discovered on these hot copies.

Like practically every Heavy Vinyl record pressed at RTI, there is a suffocating loss of ambience throughout, a kind of sterility to the sound. These remastered records just do not BREATHE like the real thing. Good EQ or Bad EQ, they all suffer to one degree or another from a kind of audio enervation. Where is the life of the music? You can turn up the volume on these remastered LPs all you want but they just never seem to want to come to life. We play albums like this VERY LOUD. I’ve seen Bonnie Raitt live a number of times and although I can’t begin to get her to play as loud in my livingroom as she did on stage, I can try. To do less is to do her a great disservice. (more…)

Neil Young – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This original Two Tone Super Hot Stamper pressing had condition issues — they all do don’t you know — but it also had KILLER Neil Young LIVE ROCK Sound. The best tracks have that Live-in-the-Studio quality, with minimal processing and maximum ENERGY. (Our commentary about Zuma to the left gets more heavily into the subject.) Suffice to say we love that sound.

Full-bodied and transparent, a combination that balances the best qualities of the recording beautifully, this copy has the goods. The sound is Big and Bold in the best Neil Young tradition, with studio ambience bouncing off the walls and into the open mics he favors. Not quite in the league with the likes of Gold Rush or Zuma, the best sounding tracks — and that does not mean all of them by any means — are a rough guide of what was to come as Neil and his engineer David Briggs got better and better, until they were As Good As It Gets. (For which they get no credit outside of Better Records of course.)

Sibilance Is Key

When the sibilance is cut clean, kept to a minimum and not grainy or gritty sounding, that’s the sign you have a copy with real Hot Stamper potential. This is one of those copies. (more…)

The Beatles Please Please Me – We Review the Mobile Fidelity Half-Speed

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Sonic Grade: C

If you own the MoFi LP, do yourself a favor and buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings. (Actually any good British import pressing will do.) What’s the first thing you will notice other than correct tonality, better bass and a lot more “life” overall?

No spit! As we’ve commented elsewhere, because of the wacky cutting system they used, MoFis are full of sibilance. 

As I was playing this record many years ago, maybe by about the fifth or sixth song it occurred to me that I hadn’t been hearing the spit that I was used to from my MoFi LP. You don’t notice it when it’s not there. But your MoFi sure has a bad case of spitty vocals. If you never noticed them before, you will now. (more…)

Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends – Here’s an Audio Exercise You Can Do at Home

Musically side two is one of the strongest in the entire Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre (if you’ll pardon my French). Each of the five songs could hold its own as a potential hit on the radio, and no filler to be found whatsoever. How many albums from 1968 can make that claim?

The estimable ROY HALEE handled the engineering duties. Not the most ‘natural” sounding record he ever made, but that’s clearly not what he or the duo were going for. The three of them would obviously take their sound much farther in that direction with the Grammy winning Bridge Over Troubled Water from 1970.

The bigger production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.

The Wrecking Crew provided top quality backup, with Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano and keyboards.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Bookends Theme
Save the Life of My Child
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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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Van Halen – What to Listen For

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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 Van Halen’s debut album.

Most copies just do not have the kind of weight to the bottom and lower mids that this music needs to work. Put simply, if your Van Halen LP doesn’t rock, then what exactly is the point of playing it?

The other qualities to look for on the best pressings are, firstly, space — the best pressings are huge and three-dimensional, with large, lively, exceptionally dynamic choruses.

The copies with the most resolving power are easy to spot — they display plenty of lovely analog reverb trailing the guitars and vocals. (more…)