Advice – What to Listen For – Transparency Vs Opacity

Sibelius / Finlandia / Mackerras – Reviewed in 2015

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A shocking Stereo Treasury sleeper with a superb Shaded-Dog-beating side one. Side one is nearly White Hot – it’s exceptionally transparent and dynamic. Real Demo Disc sound and music on side one – spectacular works played with feeling.

This is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1960 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.

One of the quietest pressings we played in our shootout, if not the quietest.

Side One

More spacious than practically any other copy we heard thanks to an extended, correct top end.

This side was also very dynamic, and it gets loud in the right way, never harsh or screechy.

Correct from top to bottom, and there are not many records we can say that about. So natural in every way.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL on this side. Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The brass is big and clear and weighty, just the way it should be, as that is precisely the sound you hear in the concert hall, especially that part about being clear: live music is more than anything else completely clear. We should all strive for that sound in our reproduction of orchestral music.

Side Two

Good clarity and top extension, with full-bodied, textured strings. Gets a little hot at its loudest but manages to stay under control and enjoyable throughout.

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical.

Two Things

You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original probably won’t sound as good, likely having been cut on cruder equipment.

And two, no modern recutting of the tapes (by the likes of Speakers Corner for example, but you can substitute any company you care to name) could begin to capture this kind of naturalistic orchestral sound.

I have never heard a Heavy Vinyl pressing begin to do what this record is doing. The Decca we have here may be a budget reissue pressing, but it was mastered by real Decca engineers (a few different ones in fact), pressed in England on high quality vinyl, and made from fairly fresh tapes (nine years old, not fifty years old!), then mastered about as well as a record can be mastered.

The sound is, above all, REAL and BELIEVABLE.

The brass has weight, the top extends beautifully for those glorious cymbal crashes, the hall is huge and the staging very three-dimensional — there is little to fault in the sound on either side. (more…)

Oscar Peterson Trio with Milt Jackson / Very Tall – Another Awful Anadisq

If you made the mistake of buying the atrocious Anadisq pressing MoFi put out in the ’90s, our Hot Stamper pressings will let you hear what a wonderful recording Val Valentin cooked up with these cats back in the day. (more…)

Sibelius / Finlandia / Mackerras / London Proms

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout – a superb Shaded-Dog-beating Finlandia
  • Both sides are big, clear, transparent and dynamic – no Heavy Vinyl pressing can do what this record is doing
  • Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago
  • Demo Disc sound and music – spectacular works played with feeling

Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1961 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from the early-’70s, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL. Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical. (more…)

Dave Mason – Alone Together on MCA Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing. I confess I actually used to like and recommend the Heavy Vinyl MCA pressing. Rest assured that is no longer the case. Nowadays it sounds as opaque, ambience-challenged, lifeless and pointless as the rest of its 180 gram brethren.

We struggled for years with the bad vinyl and the murky sound of this album. Finally, with dozens of advances in playback quality and dramatically better cleaning techniques, we have now managed to overcome the problems which we assumed were baked into the recording. I haven’t heard the master tape, but I have heard scores of pressings made from it over the years. 

It is a surely a MASTERPIECE that belongs in any Rock Collection worthy of the name. Every track is good, and most are amazingly good. There’s not a scrap of filler here. The recording by Bruce Botnick is hard to fault as well.

1970 was a great time in music. Tea for the Tillerman, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Moondance, Sweet Baby James, Tumbleweed Connection, After the Goldrush, The Yes Album, McCartney, Elton John, His Band And Street Choir, Deja Vu, Workingman’s Dead, Tarkio, Stillness, Let It Be — need I go on?

Even in such illustrious company — I defy anyone to name ten albums of comparable quality to come out in any year — Alone Together ranks as one of the best releases of the year. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Room Treatments Bring Out The Best

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Only the best copies are sufficiently transparent to grant the listener the privilege of hearing all the elements laid out clearly, each occupying a real three-dimensional space within the soundfield. 

With recent changes to some of our room treatments, we now have even more transparency in the mids and highs, while improving the whomp factor (the formula goes like this: deep bass + mid bass + speed + dynamics = whomp) at the listening position. (There’s always tons of bass being produced when you have three 12′ woofers firing away, but getting the bass out of the corners and into the center of the room is one of the toughest tricks in audio.)

For a while we were quite enamored with some later pressings of this album — they were cut super clean, with extended highs and amazing transparency, with virtually none of the congestion in the loud parts you hear on practically every copy.

But that clarity comes at a price, and it’s a steep one. The best early pressings have whomp down below only hinted at by the “cleaner” reissues. It’s the same way super transparent half-speeds fool most audiophiles. For some reason audiophiles rarely seem to notice the lack of weight and solidity down below that they’ve sacrificed for this improved clarity. (Probably because it’s the rare audiophile speaker that can really move enough air to produce the whomp we are talking about here.)

But hey, look who’s talking! I was fooled too. You have to get huge amounts of garbage out of your system (and your room) before the trade-offs become obvious. When you find that special early pressing, one with all the magic in the midrange and top without any loss of power down below, then my friend you have one of those “I Can’t Believe It’s A Record” records. We call them Hot Stampers here at Better Records, and they’re guaranteed to blow your mind.

Funky Brazilian Music For Audiophiles

This is one of my favorite albums, one which certainly belongs in any Audiophile’s collection. Better sound is hard to find — when you have the right pressing. Unfortunately those are pretty hard to come by. Most LPs are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled and full of compressor distortion in the louder parts: this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

But we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and have since Day One. One of the first records I ever played for my good audio buddy Robert Pincus (Cisco Records) to demonstrate the sound of my system was Sergio’s syncopated version of Day Tripper off this album. That was thirty years ago, and I can honestly say I have never tired of this music in the decades since.

Elton John / Madman Across The Water – Lush Sound Is Key to the Best Pressings

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  • An outstanding copy of Madman with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • A ridiculously tough album to find with the right sound and reasonably quiet surfaces – which is why we so rarely have them on the site
  • The last of the classic albums Elton recorded at Trident, the best of which have more Tubey Magic than anything that came after
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic: “The record remains an ambitious and rewarding work, and John never attained its darkly introspective atmosphere again.”

This Madman is guaranteed to blow your mind.

The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that of the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Beatles (of course) and far too many others to list. This is some of the best high production value rock music of the ’70s.

It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted. Of course, as it turns out, recording technology only got worse as the decade wore on, and during the ’80s the sound of most Big Rock records went off a cliff.

Madman Is Lush

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on the best copies of Madman. For those of you who’ve experienced top quality analog pressings of Meddle or Dark Side of the Moon, or practically any jazz album on Contemporary, whether played through tubes or transistors, that’s the luscious sound of Tubey Magic, and it is all over the album.

The problem is that most British copies — the only ones that have any hope of sounding good in our experience — don’t have all the Tubey Magic that can be heard on the best copies. They are simply not as rich, tubey, and LUSH as the best that we’ve played.

This is the one quality that separates the winners of the shootout from the copies that came in second or third. Lushness isn’t the only thing to listen for of course. The rich copies can’t be too rich, to the point of being murky and muddy. Achieving just the right balance of Tubey Magical Madman Sound with other qualities we prize such as space, clarity, transparency and presence is no mean feat.

It’s the rare copy that will do well in all these areas, and even our best Shootout Winning sides will have to compromise somewhere. There is always a balance to be struck between richness and clarity, with no copy able to show us the maximum amounts of both that we know are possible. (more…)

Paul Simon – Graceland

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame and a record that ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale.

Super transparent and hi-res with no attendant sacrifice in low end or fullness, this is about as tonally balanced as Graceland gets. The top end is more delicate and extended, which was not true for most of the copies we played.

There’s a much more pleasant smoothness here, standing in sharp contrast to the typically grainy, spitty copy, with more weight down low and more presence to Simon’s vocals.

We listen to piles of pressings of Graceland regularly. We know the range of sound on the album, what constitutes good, better and best, and we know 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 quality a good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s especially good about the sound of the record.

Without clarity the music doesn’t work. The shortest definition of a Hot Stamper is that it’s the pressing where the music works. You can be sure that any Hot Stamper copy on our site has at least that going for it. (more…)

Bizet-Shchedrin / Carmen Ballet Suite / Rozhdestvensky – Our 4+ Shootout Winner from 2019

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

Unbelievable Shootout Winning Demo Disc quality sound throughout — QUADRUPLE PLUS (A++++) on the first side and Triple Plus (A+++) on the second. Side one has by far the better music – it’s where the most exciting, most percussive movements can be found – and this pressing, with Beyond White Hot sound for that side, is guaranteed to be bigger and more lively than you ever imagined (because that’s how we felt about it, hence the fourth plus).

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. We rarely find records with this kind of sound, just a few times a year at most — this is the only one on the site at this time.

Both sides show up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave side one that fourth plus!

This Angle Melodiya pressing of Bizet’s Carmen, rearranged by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin for strings and 47 percussion instruments, has two incredible sides. Demo Quality Sound barely begins to do it justice. If you have the system to play it, this copy is a KNOCKOUT.

But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce. You better have everything working right when you play this one — it’s guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. Speed, resolving power and freedom from distortion are what this record needs to sound its best. Is your system up to it? There’s only one way to find out.

And if you have any peaky audiophile wire or equipment in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this. More than anything this is a record that rewards your system’s neutrality. (more…)

Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got

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

For the first time ever, an incredible Triple Triple (A+++) copy of Sinead O’Connor’s best-selling sophomore release. You won’t believe how good Nothing Compares 2 U sounds here. 

I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got is widely considered one of the best albums of the ’90s, a brilliant and unique piece of work. I positively love this album. The emotion is every bit as naked and compelling as that found on Joni’s Blue, and I do not say that lightly. I know the power of Blue, and this album has that kind of power. This is some heavy heavy stuff. Hearing it sound right is a thrill I won’t soon forget.

Although the record was popular in its day, it’s one of those albums that just never seems to show up in the record bins. I wish we could find more of them, but they just aren’t out there. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

UNBELIEVABLE! The sound on this Decca Blue Label British Import pressing went far beyond our expectations and far beyond that of any copy we played it against — on BOTH sides. And the music? It’s the Stones at their best, baby — we love it!

The credit must of course go to GLYN JOHNS, who happens to be one of our favorite producers and recording / mixing engineers. It’s albums with sound like this that make us such big fans of his work.

From the moment we dropped the needle on side one, we were SHOCKED by the presence, the clarity, and the energy — and that’s just talking about the sound of the audience! About a minute after the music got going, we had to collect our jaws off the floor. No other copy we had heard could have led us to believe we would hear this album sound THIS amazing. The sound is both tubey magical and clear, and the energy and immediacy are off the charts. Turn it up loud and you are in the middle of the Stones’ concert of a lifetime! I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what kind of money Stones’ tickets go for these days, but I think it’s safe to say you’ll get better sound for your dollars on this White Hot Stamper LP. (more…)