Advice – What to Listen For – Transparency Vs Opacity

Finlandia – The Music of Sibelius and Grieg / Mackerras

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

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  • A KILLER copy of Finlandia with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • Both sides are big, rich, transparent, spacious 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
  • These spectacular works are played with feeling – we know of no better performance or better sound

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.

You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original won’t sound as good, 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 fancy) could begin to capture this kind of naturalistic orchestral sound. (more…)

VTA Adjustment on Crosby Stills and Nash – Using the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP

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More VTA Adjustment

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This commentary from way back when (2005!) describes how to go about adjusting your VTA for 200 gram vinyl, using the CSN track Helplessly Hoping from the first album.

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song with plenty of energy in the midrange and upper midrange area which is difficult to get right. Just today (4/25/05) I was playing around with VTA, having recently installed a new Dynavector DV-20x on my playgrading table (a real sweetheart, by the way), and this song showed me EXACTLY how to get the VTA right.

VTA is all about balance. The reason this song is so good for adjusting VTA is that the guitar at the opening is a little smooth and the harmony vocals that come in after the intro can be a little bright. Finding the balance between these two elements is key to getting the VTA adjusted properly. (more…)

Varese et al. / Percussion Music / New Jersey Percussion Ensemble

TAS List Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

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WHITE HOT stampers on side one of this CRAZY FUN 20th Century Percussion Music album, featuring classical works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (piano and voice also make appearances). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

But the main reason audiophiles will love this album is not the music, but the SOUND. Ionisation has amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one. And the bottom end is BIG and powerful, probably the main reason the album has been on the TAS Super Disc for decades. If you’ve got full range speakers with big woofers and like to play your music loud, this record will give your system quite a workout.

With the invention of new instruments and increased cross-cultural exchange in the 20th century, composers’ interest in writing for percussion exploded, creating a uniquely modern genre that embraced both the future and the ancient past. The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble was founded in 1968 to perform this new literature, here performing works by Varèse, Cowell, and others.

It also makes a superb test disc. Subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this. The instrumental palette is large and colorful, giving the critical listener plenty to work with.

And this copy is perfect for testing because is is nearly FLAWLESS in its sound on side one. No other copy could touch it. Many copies are not especially transparent, spacious or three-dimensional, and lack extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum.

The SPEED of the percussion is also critical to its accurate reproduction. No two pieces of electronics will get this record to sound the same, and some will fail miserably. If vintage tube gear is your idea of good sound, this record may help you to better understand where its shortcomings lie. (more…)

Boz Scaggs and His Background Singers – How Well Can You “See” Them?

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What to Listen For – Transparency Vs Opacity

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This original (SD-8239) pressing has two excellent sides, which is two more than the typical cardboardy, flat, thin, lifeless copy has. If you like your music dry and clean, try the remixed version (SD-19166), the CD, or perhaps there is a heavy vinyl version out there (at one tenth the price). That’s not our sound here at Better Records.

The best recordings from the era do not have that sound, so when we find that kind of analog richness, sweetness and naturalness on a pressing such as this, we know the record is RIGHT.

What to Listen For — Background Singers You Can “See”

If you have multiple copies of the album and want to shoot them out, here’s an easy test. Listen for how clear and correct the female background singers sound. This is an excellent test because it will hold true for both sides on the album.

On opaque copies they are hard to “see”; on transparent copies they are easy to “see.” On tonally thin copies they will sound edgier and harder than they should. And on Tubey Magical copies they will sound full-bodied, solid and real.

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Talking Heads / More Songs About Buildings and Food – 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 the album.

With Our Love turned out to be one of our favorite tests for side one. The picking of the rhythmic guitar in the intro told us just about everything we needed to know about smear, veiling and resolution. On most copies the instrument is simply blurry, the notes mashed together. When you’ve got a copy with its transients intact, resolving properly and clearly right there in front of you, you have the makings of a Hot Stamper side one.

My other test track for side one was Warning Signs. This is a great track for evaluating transparency and bass. On the average copy you’d never know how much ambience exists around the drums. Hint: it’s a lot.

Our favorite copies have a fair amount of WHOMP down low, giving the bass guitar that rich, beefy sound that we’re simply crazy for here at Better Records. Once you’ve heard a copy with well-defined, note-like bass, nothing less will do.

Artists Only

A great test track for side two is Artists Only. The guitars in the intro section are almost unbearable to listen to on most copies. I recognize that I am somewhat sensitive to harsh high frequencies, but I’m literally in pain when I listen to an overly compressed, overly midrangy copy. There’s got to be a better way! (more…)

Doc Watson / Home Again – Another Dog from Cisco Records

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Folks, if you made the mistake of buying the Cisco Heavy Vinyl reissue of this album that came out in the early 2000s, you are in for treat if you are able to grab one of our Hot Stamper pressings.

Instead of Doc and his bandmates playing from behind a thick curtain at the back of your sound room, they can now be heard where they should have been all along: front and center between your speakers!

The difference between a truly outstanding vintage pressing and a modern mockery of analog could not be more striking.

We never got around to putting the Cisco pressing in our Hall of Shame (300+ strong!). There are just not enough hours in the day…

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XTC – English Settlement – What to Listen For

More Demo Discs for Bass

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For Big Production Rock Albums like English Settlement there are some obvious problem areas that are often heard on at least one or two sides of practically any copy of this four sided album.  

With so many heavily-produced instruments crammed into the soundfield, if the overall sound is at all veiled, recessed or smeared — problems common to 90+% of the records we play in our shootouts — the mix quickly becomes opaque, forcing the listener to work too hard to separate out the elements of interest.

Exhaustion, especially on this album, soon follows.

Transparency, clarity and presence are key. Note that none of the British copies we played was thin and anemic. (The domestic copies are made from dubs and can’t begin to compete.) Almost all had plenty of tubey magic and bottom end, so thankfully that was almost never a problem. They did however tend to lack top end extension and transparency, and many were overly compressed. The sides that had sound that jumped out of the speakers, with driving rhythmic energy, worked the best for us. They really brought this complex music to life and allowed us to make sense of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Piano Concerto #1 / Richter/ Karajan

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides and reasonably quiet DG vinyl make this one powerful Demo Disc set
  • Without a doubt some of THE BEST SOUND we have ever heard for this recording!
  • The huge space of a real concert hall seemingly transported right into your listening room
  • Richter is magnificent – our favorite performance of the Tchaikovsky First bar none

This reasonably quiet White Hot Stamper DG pressing has without a doubt some of THE BEST SOUND we have ever heard for this recording! Dynamically, Powerfully Hot, with the huge space of a real concert hall seemingly transported right into your listening room. With this copy, all you need do is close your eyes and your speakers will disappear, replaced by Karajan and the VSO at the height of their glorious powers.

On both sides the piano is weighty, solid and powerful. Once the needle has dropped you will quickly forget about the sound and simply find yourself in the presence of some of the greatest musicians of their generation.

Audio Myths Exploded

Yes, both the originals and the reissues can be good on this record. Don’t buy into that audiophile canard that “original equals better.”

Two Stunning Sides

Really, really BIG and really, really CLEAR like no other copy we played. It’s nothing less than phenomenal! Lively, present and real, with sweet strings and a big bottom end.

The piano is clearly present and solid. The heavy compression of most copies is much less of a problem here; the levels stay correct right through to the big finish (which is really really big).

If you have the transparency in your system to be able to hear it (we didn’t even three years ago), listen for how clearly both the left and right hand can be heard at the piano. It’s shocking how big and clear these sides are, yet still as rich and as solid as any we played. That’s what we call White Hot Stamper sound.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

The pizzicato playing of the strings early in the piece are a great test. Transients, transparency and spaciousness will vary dramatically in these three areas on every pressing you play. This one excelled in every one of these areas. A true Demo Disc.

THE Tchaicovsky First Piano Concerto Recording

Since this is our favorite performance of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto of all time. Even the copies with minor shortcomings in the sound are so good that we quickly find ourselves ignoring them and being lost instead in the performance. (more…)

Bizet-Shchedrin / Carmen Ballet Suite / Rozhdestvensky

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

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  • Unbelievable Shootout Winning Demo Disc quality sound on side one – this Triple Plus (A+++) side had more energy and snap than practically any we played
  • Side two was not especially good, but that’s really not a problem since side one has by far the better music – it’s where the most exciting, most percussive movements can be found
  • To be honest, the copy I owned for years still had a pristine side two, mostly because I never bothered to play it much
  • When you come to the end of side one you will not be wanting more – you will have heard everything that’s good about this remarkable composition
  • This gloriously exciting and fun music belongs in any audiophile’s collection

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Rod Stewart – Never A Dull Moment

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  • With incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sonic grades on both sides, this copy gets the heart of Rod’s Brit rock right like no other we played – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Extremely well-recorded, full of great songs, Rod Stewart was on top of the world when he followed up the brilliant Every Picture Tells a Story with this album in 1972
  • The music comes alive on this vintage pressing, assuming you have your volume up good and loud
  • 5 stars in AMG, and simply “… a masterful record … He never got quite this good ever again.”

Listen to the percussion on Angel — you can really hear all the transients and the sound of the drum skins. The meaty guitar in the left channel sounds mind-blowingly good. The bass is deep and well-defined, and the sound of the drums is awesome in every way. Who has a better drum sound than Rod Stewart on his two best albums?

Along with Every Picture Tells A Story this is one of the two Must Own Rod Stewart albums. Practically every song here is a classic, with not a dog in the bunch. Rod Stewart did what few artists have ever managed to do: release his two best albums back to back.

And this, not to put too fine a point on it, is clearly the way to hear it. (more…)