Making Audio Progress

It can be done. Here are some ideas.

What We Listen For: The Spirit and Enthusiasm of the Musicians

More Revolver

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This discussion, brought about by a Hot Stamper shootout we conducted for Revolver many years ago (2007!), touches on many issues near and dear to us here at Better Records: pressing variations, system upgrades, dead wax secrets, and the quality we prize most in a recording: LIFE, or, if you prefer, energy.

At the end of the commentary we of course take the opportunity to bash the MoFi pressing of the album, a regular feature of our Beatles Hot Stamper shootouts. We’re not saying the MoFi Beatles records are bad; in the overall scheme of things they are mostly pretty decent. What we are saying is that, with our help, you can do a helluva lot better. Our help doesn’t come cheap, as anyone on our mailing list will tell you. You may have to pay a lot, but we think you get what you pay for, and we gladly back up that claim with a 100% money back guarantee for every Hot Stamper pressing we sell.

The Story of Revolver, Dateline October 2007

White Hot Stampers for Revolver are finally HERE! Let the celebrations begin! Seriously, this is a very special day for us here at Better Records. The Toughest Nut to Crack in the Beatles’ catalog has officially been cracked. Yowza!

Presenting the first TRULY AWESOME copy of Revolver to ever make it to the site. There’s a good reason why Hot Stamper shootouts for practically every other Beatles album have already been done, most of them many times over, and it is simply this: finding good sounding copies of Revolver is almost IMPOSSIBLE. The typical British Parlophone or Apple pressing, as well as every German, Japanese and domestic LP we’ve played in the last year or two just plain sucked. Where was the analog magic we heard in the albums before and after, the rapturously wonderful sound that’s all over our Hot Stamper Rubber Souls and Sgt. Peppers? How could Revolver go so horribly off the rails for no apparent reason? (more…)

Stan Getz / Getz Au Go Go – Live and Learn

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A classic case of We Was Wrong. Many years ago we had written:

Of course, you would never know this is a good recording by playing the average domestic copy. This Japanese LP is one of the few pressings that can show you that this wonderful smoky night club jazz LP really can have Demo Disc sound.

Ridiculous, right? Well, at the time we believed it. Now our understanding is quite a bit more sophisticated, in the sense that the Japanese pressing is clearly better than most originals, not all of them.

More importantly, there are amazing sounding domestic reissues of the album that we’ve auditioned over the last ten years or so that really blew our minds and helped to set an even higher standard for the sound of Getz Au Go Go.

Our old story:

Way back in 2005 I discussed this very subject when listing a sealed copy:

There are pressing variations for this title on Japanese vinyl, and there’s no way to know what this one sounds like but all of them are better than any other pressing I know of. As I played the open copy we have listed on the site (1/12/05) I couldn’t help but marvel at the quality of the sound.

These days we would crack open a sealed one, clean it up and shoot it out with any others we could lay our hands on, because finding a copy with sound like this is a positive THRILL.

I’m no fan of Japanese pressings as readers of this Web site know very well, but the Japanese sure got this one right!

The domestic copies of this album are mediocre at best — there’s simply no real top end to be found on any Verve pressing I have ever heard. The top end is precisely where the magic is! Astrud Gilberto’s breathy voice needs high frequencies to sound breathy. Gary Burton’s vibes need high frequencies to emerge from the mix, otherwise you can hardly hear them. And Stan Getz’s sax shouldn’t sound like it’s being played under a blanket. The only version of this album that allows you to hear all the players right is a Japanese pressing, and then only when you get a good one.

The Revolutions in Audio of the last twenty years made it possible to get the domestic pressings — originals and reissues — to sound much better than the Japanese imports we used to like.

Got Nice Equipment?

stereoold

 

It’s Only the First Step on the Long Long Road to Good Sound.

The audio magazines that various and sundry reviewers write for are purveyors of what we consider to be one of the Biggest Lies in all of audio — that buying more expensive equipment is the key to better sound. (It’s technically not a lie; they probably actually believe it. It’s more of an Untruth. But The Big Untruth isn’t especially catchy, so we’re going with The Big Lie.)

From the audiophile rags’ point of view, this makes perfect sense. They extoll the virtues of one piece of sexy hardware after another on page after page of their glossy magazines. The ten bucks a year you pony up to subscribe doesn’t even cover the cost of all that pretty paper. They make their real money by selling advertising to equipment manufacturers, who in turn advertise equipment they want you to buy. What are all the glossy pages of these magazines devoted to? The fawning and credulous discussion of the sexy equipment being advertised.
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You Too Can Get an Old Buffalo Springfield Record to Sound This Good

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Not long ago we found a White Hot Stamper pressing of Last Time Around that really blew our minds. We were surprised to hear some of the breathiest, silkiest vocals we’ve ever heard on ANY Buffalo Springfield album, with startling presence and immediacy to boot! Side two had BY FAR the most energy and life of any side of any copy we’ve ever played. Man, does it ROCK.

Even as recently as 2010 we would not have expected to find that kind of sound on a vintage ’60s pop/rock album. We know better now.

When you get hold of the right copy and know how to clean it and play it right, these vintage pressings (well, the White Hot ones anyway) are a damn sight better than the vast majority of audiophiles think they are. How is such apparently never-before-possible sound being heard now, 45 years after the record came out? Our answer can be found below. 

The kind of MIDRANGE MAGIC found on this pressing let us hear into the music in a way we (and you too I’m guessing) never imagined was possible.

Most copies have no bass, no real top, and are compressed so badly they sound more like cardboard than vinyl. But not this copy — it breaks the mold, revealing to the world (well, our world anyway, the world at Better Records) that those badly recorded Buffalo Springfield records from the ’60s weren’t so badly recorded after all. (more…)

Our Playback System – And Why You Shouldn’t Care

Below you will find a list of most of the equipment we currently use to carry out our pressing evaluations, our “Hot Stamper shootouts.”

Of course the old 80/20 Rule comes into play here — 80% (probably more like 90 or 95%, truth be told) of the sound is what you do with your audio system, 20% (or 10 or 5%) of the sound is the result of the components you own.

We like to say it’s not about the audio you have, it’s about the audio you do: how you set up your system, what you’ve done to treat your room, how good your electricity is and all the rest of it.

Our VPI Aries (original, not the latest model) with Super Platter (no longer made) and TTWeights Carbon Fiber Platter (a big upgrade) / VPI Synchronous Drive System (as of 2016 now sitting on a Townshend Seismic Sink) Triplanar Tonearm / Dynavector 17d3 / Aurios (no longer made), which sit on a Townshend Seismic Sink (another big upgrade, contact me if interested) / EAR 324P and the hundreds of hours we’ve spent setting up and tweaking this beast is at the heart of everything we do around here.

Mix in extensive room treatments, aided inestimably by three pairs of Hallographs (as we like to say, there is no practically no Hi-Fi without them), more than thirty years of experience and endless hours of experimentation and you have a system that can separate the winners from the losers like nobody’s business.

Exactly like nobody’s business, because nobody does it in this business but us. Having heard hundreds of systems over the years, it’s an open question as to whether anyone else could do what we do. (more…)

Steely Dan / Katy Lied on Japanese Vinyl – If You Are Serious About Audio, You Cop to Your Mistakes

And to think I used to swear by this pressing — specifically the 2000 Yen reissue, not the 1500 Yen original — another example of just how Wrong one can be.

We happily admit to our mistakes because we know that all this audio stuff and especially the search for Hot Stampers is a matter of trial and error. We do the trials; that’s how we avoid the kinds of errors most audiophiles and audiophile record dealers make when it comes to finding the best sounding records. Of course, being human we can’t help but make our share of mistakes. The difference is that we learn from them. We report the facts to the best of our ability every time out. 

Every record gets a chance to show us what it’s made of, regardless of where it was made, who made it or why they made it. (Like anybody cares.)

If we used to like it and now we don’t, that’s what you will read in our commentary. Our obligation is to only one person: you, the listener. (Even better: you, the customer. Buy something already!) (more…)

Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Truly a Country Rock Masterpiece

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  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them, this copy was giving us KILLER sound for Linda Ronstadt’s Best Album
  • Both sides here are rich, full-bodied and warm, with harmonically rich guitars and real immediacy to Linda’s heartfelt vocals
  • A Must Own Classic, the best album Ms Ronstadt ever made, and a True Country Rock Masterpiece virtually without peer
  • 5 stars: “What really makes HLAW a breakthrough is the inventive arrangements that producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt, and the studio musicians have developed. …[they] help turn Heart Like a Wheel into a veritable catalog of Californian soft rock, and it stands as a landmark of ’70s mainstream pop/rock.”

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 46 years by my calculation, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on the album. Folks, we heard it for ourselves: the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here on practically every song.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing. (more…)

Talisman Testimonial – … Damn! And to think I doubted you …

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Tom,

I’m in receipt of the Talisman and have tried it on numerous CDs, LPs and DVDs… damn! And to think I doubted you. A truly serious upgrade without spending serious money. A sheen has been removed from the top and I can hear farther into the recording than ever before, whatever the format. It definitely benefits LP playback more, at least on my system (a Linn rig). Mids are more palpable and instruments play more to their natural voice.

I’m a member of the St. Louis Symphony and recordings that I have participated in sound more like the sound I hear when I’m in the midst of my colleagues on stage at Powell Hall. Thanks for your help.

Tom D.

Tom,

O ye of little faith… Seriously, could you ever be without it now? And the private email I sent you explaining how to get even more out of the device surely meant an even greater improvement in the sound of your system. The kind of change you describe — for a couple hundred bucks! — is practically unheard of nowadays, but of course you heard it, I heard it, everybody hears it. The only people who don’t hear it are the people who are so skeptical that they cannot allow themselves the opportunity to hear it.

This is the kind of thinking that I rather unkindly refer to as Stone Age Audio. If you don’t believe audio has made huge strides in recent years, you simply haven’t taken advantage of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we talk about on the site. Talisman? Magic Pillow? Hallographs? These things can’t work!

Of course it’s easy to say that if you’ve never heard them, not so easy once you have. If you’re happy with the sound of your stereo, don’t really see the need to make it sound any better, hey, you sure don’t need any of these products.

If, however, you, like us, are THRILLED with the fact that the sound of your favorite recordings is constantly improving, then you need to have a little faith in your friends here at Better Records. We talk the talk because we walk the walk, five days a week and twice on Sunday. My [old] annual tweaking budget is easily in the multi-hundreds of hours; that’s what it takes to make improvements of the kind that we have implemented over the years. With a system like mine, nine out of ten things I try don’t work. It’s that tenth one that makes it all worthwhile.

For our customers, however, we make it so easy. The devices we recommend are guaranteed to work or your money back. They do not require hours of tedious tweaking and listening in search of an appreciable change (that might never materialize). The equipment and sound improving devices we recommend make a DRAMATIC and OBVIOUS change right from the get go.

The only people who don’t know that are the ones who haven’t tried them. Perhaps with a little more faith… (more…)

Acoustic Sounds Was Selling This “Tas List” Record Back in the ’90s

[This commentary was written circa 2001. The record above came out in 1986]

I remember 15 years ago when Acoustic Sounds was selling the then in-print 25th Anniversary Island pressing (7U, as I recall) for $15, claiming that it was a TAS list record. If you’ve ever heard that pressing, you know it has no business going anywhere near a Super Disc List. It’s mediocre at best and has virtually none of the magic of the good originals.

I refused to sell it back in those days, for no other reason than it’s far from a Better Sounding Record. I don’t like misrepresenting records and I don’t like ripping off my customers.

That pressing was a fraud and I was having none of it.

Chad probably didn’t even know the difference. When you don’t know much about records, you can say all sorts of things and not get called out for them. Audiophiles are a credulous bunch and always have been. They still believe the same nonsense that I foolishly believed back in the ’80s (and even as late as 2000).

Over the last twenty years we’ve figured a few things out. Most of what we learned you can read right here on this blog.

We’re still waiting for most of the audiophile community to catch up with us. Excessive amounts of credulity make it hard for audiophiles to approach audio problems scientifically. They believe things that are easily disproven, but when you want to believe as badly as most audiophiles do, why make the effort to find out whether what you believe is true or not?

Yes, We’re Getting Awfully Close To The Edge…

Are Your Planets Aligned?

A word of caution: Even our Hottest Stamper copies can sound problematical unless your system is firing on all cylinders. Your electricity has got to be cooking, you’ve got to be using the right room treatments, and ideally you should be using a demagnetizer such as the Talisman on the record itself, your cables (power, interconnect and speaker) as well as the individual drivers of your speakers.

This is a record that’s going to demand a lot from the listener, and we want to make sure that you’re up to the challenge. If you don’t mind putting in a little hard work, here’s a record that will reward you many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process.

We’d started and abandoned this shootout multiple times in the previous decade; the typical sounding copy was just too painful to listen to, and the better pressings weren’t doing what we had hoped they would. Where was the Tubey Magical analog sound with the HUGE whomp factor that we’d been hearing on the best copies of Fragile and The Yes Album? We just could not find that sound on Close to the Edge.

As futile as our previous attempts were, we decided in 2008 that we would take another stab at it. After all, there had been quite a few changes around here that had the stereo working really well —  the addition of the Odyssey Record Cleaning Machine and Walker Enzyme solution to our cleaning process, the Talisman Magnetic Optimizer, the third pair of Hallographs we added years back, tons of smaller tweaks, and a few other tricks that we’re going to have to leave hidden up our sleeves for now.

The Planets Align

Think about it: This is a highly COMPLEX recording, with HUGE organs, light-speed changes, lots of multi-tracking, and what amounts to an OVERLOAD of musical information. Can you imagine how irritating that would sound on a third-rate copy? We didn’t have to imagine it — we lived through it! (more…)