Making Audio Progress

It can be done. Here are some ideas.

Good Audio Advice and Critical Listening Skills

[This is an updated version of a commentary written in 2009.]

The latest Mapleshade catalog (Spring 09) has, along with hundreds of recommendations, this little piece of audio advice that caught my eye:

For much improved bass and huge soundstage, put your listening chair or sofa right against the wall behind you. Move your speakers in to 5’ in front of you and 7’ or more apart. No room treatments will yield this much bass improvement.

I literally had to read through it a couple of times to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating. But every time I read it, it still said the same thing, so I know I can’t have been dreaming. This is crazy talk. What the hell is wrong with these people?

Well, it’s not all crazy. There is actually a factually true statement at the end of that paragraph. Yes, it is true that no room treatments will yield as much bass as sitting up against a wall. But why stop there? Bass, regardless of its source, immediately seeks out the corners of the room. That’s where the most bass will always be: where the room boundaries are. If you want to hear the maximum amount of bass your speakers are producing, put your head in the corner of the room down at the floor, where three boundaries intersect. Like the sound now? Getting enough bass are ya?

Along the same lines, for a “huge soundstage” try putting one speaker at one end of the room and the other speaker at the opposite end. Why stop at seven feet? My listening room is twenty feet deep; I can get a soundstage that’s twenty feet across without any problem at all.

I would just have to be dumb enough to think that doing such a thing would be a good idea.

Fellow audiophiles and music lovers, it is not. Let’s talk about why. (more…)

The Insufficiently Dedicated Will Struggle Mightily with The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

 

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An orchestral dreadnought such as this requires mastering and pressing of the highest quality.

Herrmann’s music taxes the limits of LP playback itself, with deep organ notes (listen for the famous Decca rumble accompanying the organ if you have the deep bass reproduction to hear it); incredible dynamics from every area of the stage; masses of strings playing at the top of their registers with abandon; huge drums; powerful brass effects everywhere — every sound an orchestra can produce is found on this record, and then some.

You will hear plenty of sounds that defy description, that’s for sure. Some of the time I can’t even imagine what instrument could possibly make such a sound!

Your Hard Work Pays Off

A recording of this size and scope will bring virtually any stereo system to its knees. This is the real Power Of The Orchestra! You had better have a top quality front end if you want to play this record properly, not to mention plenty of power and big speakers.

This is not the record for the Weekend Budget Audiophile. If you haven’t put in the years of effort and invested the tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and room treatments it takes to play records of this difficulty, your system is probably not up to the challenge this album represents.

If on the other hand, you have done the work and spent the money, this is the album that will show you what you have achieved. (more…)

Making Mistakes – Advice from Better Records

More Lessons Learned from Record Experiments

A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers

Wise men and women throughout the ages have commented on the value of making mistakes. Here is one of our favorite quotes on the subject.

A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying… that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.”  Alexander Pope, in Swift, Miscellanies

When I think of the 20 odd years (early ’70s to early ’90s) I wasted trying to figure out how audio works before I had learned to develop critical listening skills, it brings to mind that old Faces’ song, “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.”

Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and most cogently in this commentary from way back in 2005.

We believe that the only way to really learn about records is to gather a big pile of them together, clean them up and listen to them one by one as critically as you can.

We do not recommend devoting much time to reading about them in magazines or on forums.

We also would dissuade the serious record collector from paying much attention to what the most sought after or most expensive pressings are. Records have market prices based on a host of factors that mostly have nothing to do with sound quality.

And don’t think you can “logically” predict which pressings should sound the best and then just go about acquiring them.

None of these methods are likely to produce good results.

Making mistakes will though. And the more you make, the more you learn. The more you learn, the easier it is to recognize and pursue good records. It also makes it easy to part with your bad ones. The latter group we hope will include the majority of your holdings of Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered Recordings. At best those should be seen as placeholders. They’ll do until something better comes along.

Buffalo Springfield – Again – Extracting the Midrange Magic

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So many copies of this album sound so bad and play so poorly that most audiophiles have given up by now and written it off as a lost cause.

But we didn’t. We kept at it. Our main motivation? The music.

Extracting the midrange magic from a album like this should be the goal of every right-thinking audiophile. Who cares what’s on the TAS Super Disc List? I want to play the music that I love, not because it sounds good, but because I love it. And if the only way to find good sounding copies of typically poorly-mastered, beat-to-death records such as this one is to go through a big pile of them, well then, I guess that’s what we’ll have to do. (more…)

Gino Vannelli and The Amazing Audio Research SP3A-1 Tube Preamp

 

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Storm at Sunup used to be my favorite Gino Vannelli album. I played it all the time back in the ’70s. It was one of a handful of recordings that made me want to pursue audiophile equipment with the hope that higher quality playback would allow the album to sound even bigger and more exciting.

It was pretty damn big and exciting already, but I wanted more. 

Right around that time I got my first audiophile tube preamp, the Audio Research SP3A-1, which replaced a Crown IC-150. As you can imagine, especially if you know the IC-150 at all well, playing this album through that state-of-the-art tube preamp was a revelation.

From then on there was no looking back. I started spending all my money on better and better equipment and more and more records. That was forty plus years ago and I haven’t stopped yet.

This is also the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Stereo Systems driving Big Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound that I can enjoy. Anything less is just not for me. (more…)

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: (more…)

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

More Commentaries and Advice on Equipment

Below you will find a list of most of the equipment we have been using over the years to carry out our Hot Stamper pressing evaluations, or “shootouts” as we like to call them.

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…)