Making Audio Progress

It can be done. Here are some ideas.

First Get Good Sound – Then You Can Recognize and Acquire Good Records

I defy anyone who has not made a lifelong study of record collecting to tell me what even a small fraction of the records pictured here sound like. 

The owner can’t possibly know either.

You know why this guy has so many records? Because it’s easy to be a collector; you just collect stuff.

To get your stereo and room to sound right, and recognize when they are sounding right, that is very, very hard.

I’ve been at it for forty-five years. I still work at it and try to learn new things every day.

Until you get your stereo, room and ears working, collecting good sounding records is all but impossible.

You will very likely waste a fortune on “Collectible Audiophile Records.” The kind with Collector Value and very little else.

These are the precise opposite of Hot Stamper pressings. All their value is tied up in their Music and Sound, which is where we think it should be.

(more…)

The Beatles on Vinyl – An Audiophile Wake Up Call

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Beatles Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Beatles

beatlesdoor

This commentary was written about 15 years ago. Unlike some of the things I used to say about records and audio, every word of this commentary still holds true in my opinion.

The sound of the best pressings of The Beatles — when cleaned with the Walker Enzyme fluids on the Odyssey machine — are truly revelatory.

So much of what holds their records back is not bad mastering or poor pressing quality or problems with the recording itself. It’s getting the damn vinyl clean. (It’s also helpful to have high quality playback equipment that doesn’t add to the inherent limitations of the recordings.)

Know why you never hear Beatles vinyl playing in stereo stores or audio shows?*

Because they’re TOO DAMN HARD to reproduce. You have to have seriously tweaked, top-quality, correct-sounding equipment — and just the right pressings, natch — to get The Beatles’ music to sound right, and that’s just not the kind of stuff they have at stereo stores and audio shows. (Don’t get me started.)
(more…)

Extreme Record Collecting Part II: There’s Only One Way to Find Better Records

A few months back Richard Metzger posted on the Dangerous Minds website a story recounting his lifelong search for better sounding pressings of his favorite albums.

The third paragraph evinced a deep understanding of this hobby of ours, as you can see:

Please allow me to state the obvious right here at the outset: Most people WILL NOT GIVE A SHIT about what follows. One out of a hundred maybe, no, make that one out of a thousand. Almost none of you who have read this far will care about this stuff. If you are that one in a thousand person, read on, this was written especially for you. Everyone else, I won’t blame you a bit if you want to bail.

The story of my life! Part One of Richard’s life story can be found here.

Gadzooks – Now there’s a Part Two!

After reading Richard’s post, I contacted him and offered to send him a Hot Stamper pressing of a record of his choosing, about which he was of course free to say anything he liked. (This is still America, right?)

That record turned out to be Aja and it seems he was pretty pleased with the copy we sent him.

Here is a link to his article.

I hope to have some comments to add when time permits.


Speaking of Aja, we’ve been playing that one since the day it came out in 1977. We’ve written extensively about the album since we started doing shootouts for it around 2006. Here is the link to some of our Reviews and Commentaries.

If you are interested in a Hot Stamper Steely Dan album, we have some of those too, but probably not Aja, because copies of Aja are getting very hard to find nowadays and the ones we do find with killer sound sell quickly.

The picture below was taken many years ago. That particular shootout involved 16 copies, but finding 16 copies of the album to do a shootout nowadays would take us at least two years, and maybe three. They are not sitting in the bins like they used to be.

However, since we have easily played more than a hundred pressings over the years, closer to two hundred by now I would guess, we know when Aja sounds right and when it doesn’t.  That’s why it was so easy to know how bad this version was when we first played it back in 2007.

Trying to Get at the Truth of The Four Seasons with Transistors

A classic case of Live and Learn

Tubes in Audio

zzz

In 2007 we did a shootout for this album and noted the following:

For those with better tube gear, the string tone on this record is sublime, with that rosin-on-the-bow quality that tubes seem to bring out in a way virtually nothing else can, at least in my experience.

Our experience since 2007 has changed our view concerning the magical power of tubes to bring out the rosiny texture of bowed stringed instruments. We have in fact changed our minds completely with respect to that unquestioned belief.

Our transistor equipment — and by ours we mean the unnamed low-powered ’70s integrated amp we use, mated with the EAR 324P phono, making no claims whatsoever for any other transistor equipment of any kind, almost all of which in my experience is not very good — is dramatically faster, more transparent, dynamic and resolving than any tube equipment we have ever heard.

It is, simply put, much more TRUTHFUL. It is precisely this quality that is hardest to find in all of audio.

It is also the one quality of our system that, more than any other, allows us to do our job correctly and efficiently.

Our equipment lets us hear the sound of the record being played, uncolored and unadorned. It also has the added benefit of sounding to us more like live music. 

(more…)

Music Does the Driving

More Crosby, Stills and Nash

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young

csny

Of course it’s easy to argue that finding good sound on an album with two or more members of Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young, in any configuration, has never been easy.

It’s the rare copy of either of the first two albums that’s even listenable, and the CSN album from 1977 doesn’t sound nearly as good as any of the first three Crosby/Nash albums. Which simply means that the “good” sound of our Hot Stamper copies is far better than what most audiophiles own of any of these guys in combination.

Their solo albums are a different story altogether. The first solo albums by David Crosby (1971), Stephen Stills (1970) and Graham Nash (1971) are three of my favorite records of all time; each is a brilliant recording, each contains powerful, compelling music (the Nash album especially). Two made our Top 100. (more…)

The Original Pressings of Beatles Albums Are the Best, Right?

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Beatles Available Now

Records that Sound Better on the Right Reissue

(excluding The Beatles)

beatles help label

Nope. We think it’s just another Record Myth.

Back in 2005 we compared the MFSL pressing of Help to a British Parlophone LP and were — mistakenly, as you may have already surmised — impressed by the MoFi.

Mobile Fidelity did a GREAT JOB with Help!. Help! is a famously dull sounding record. I don’t know of a single original pressing that has the top end mastered properly. Mobile Fidelity restored the highs that are missing from most copies.

The source of the error in our commentary above is in this sentence, see if you can spot it:

I don’t know of a single original pressing that has the top end mastered properly.

Did you figure it out? If you’ve spent much time on our site of course you did.

Original pressing?

Is that the standard?

Why?

Who said so? Where is it written?

Cut It Right

The domestic original Capitol pressings are awful and the original British import pressings of Help NEVER have any real top end. The Yellow and Black Parlophone pressings have many wonderful qualities, Tubey Magic for days being one of the most pleasurable, but frequency extension up top is not among them. Neither is tight, articulate bass. The old tube cutting systems just didn’t have what it takes to cut the highs and lows well.

The middle may be glorious, but the rest of the frequency spectrum is a mess.

Stop the Presses

In 2021 we found an exception to that rule.

And here is the one record we have always preferred on the Yellow and Black label.

(more…)

Extreme Record Collecting: Confessions of an Analog Vinyl Snob

Writing for Dangerous Minds, Richard Metzger recounts his journey though the world of audiophile equipment and his lifelong search for better sounding pressings of his favorite albums.

The first paragraph had me hooked:

Sorry, but this is not going to be one of those analog vs. digital rants that goofball audiophile types like to indulge in at the drop of a hat. In fact I probably should have just called it something like “Why you should never buy new vinyl versions of classic albums.”

Seems pretty clear he knows what he is talking about. Later on he adds this bit:

Nothing trumps empirically comparing a stack of different pressings of the same album in a shootout. This is why you should take what Tom Port of Better Records has to say very seriously. Whether or not you’re willing to pay his Hot Stamper prices, Port probably knows more about records than anyone on Earth and his On The Record blog is one of the very best repositories of hard won empirical evidence relating to audiophile vinyl that’s out there. It might take weeks to read everything, but it’s quite an education.

I couldn’t agree more. The whole story can be found here. I suspect that if you have spent any length of time on this blog, you will get a lot out of it.

I hope to add a few comments of my own down the road, especially in the form of rebuttals to uncharacteristically bad advice such as this:

Michael Fremer’s Analog Planet website is a great resource for finding out about new and upcoming quality vinyl releases. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world when it comes to vinyl and he’s also produced a handy YouTube guide to AAA mastered new vinyl releases that you should definitely watch.

I guess it makes sense to play nice with the heavy hitters in the audiophile world. Seriously though, Fremer is the last person that anyone should take advice from. He may be one step ahead of the audiophiles who follow him, but that doesn’t mean he can tell a good record from a bad one. I have been reading him off and on (mostly off) for twenty five years and I see no evidence that he has learned much about records in all those years, or improved his critical listening skills in the slightest.

That fact that this list of crap vinyl is still to be found on his site, with neither corrections nor apologies, should tell you that he hasn’t got a clue and is not likely to come into possession of one any time soon

I have a section devoted to Reviewer Malpractice which contains a goodly portion of quotes from this so-called expert. Any attempt to correct the positive things Fremer has written for the kind of third-rate records he tends to review would quickly turn into a full time job. I might even have to hire an assistant.

If Fremer recommends a Heavy Vinyl reissue that we have a corresponding Hot Stamper pressing of, there is not a chance in the world that our record won’t beat the pants off his for sound quality. He has opinions, most of which are way off the mark. We have better sounding records, so good they are guaranteed to beat any other copy you have ever heard or you get your money back.

We have to be right, or we wouldn’t still be in business, owing in large part to the fact that we sell records for ten times as much money as the ones he recommends. He has never had to pay a price for getting the sound of record after record wrong.

The only people that suffer for his mistakes are the credulous audiophiles who bought the mediocre-at-best Heavy Vinyl pressings he’s been promoting for years and are now stuck with. They have a collection of junk vinyl he recommended to them and few of them will ever know something better exists because they think they already have the best.

As Richard goes out of his way again and again to make clear in his piece, empirically comparing pressings is the only way to learn anything of real value when it comes to the sound of record pressings. If you own any Heavy Vinyl LP, it would be my honor to send you the vintage pressing that will help you to hear everything that’s wrong with the sound of it.

It’s what we do. That’s why the business is called Better Records. And we’re still here because we actually do sell the best sounding records in the world. You don’t need to believe a single word of what we say about records, ours or anybody else’s. You just need to put one of our Hot Stampers on your turntable and play it.

Hundreds of audiophiles have done just that and they seem to be pretty darn pleased with the records we’ve sent them.

Want to know more about Hot Stampers? Check out our new introductory page.

Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

More on the Subject of Tubes in Audio

xxxxx

What to listen for on this album? That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness.

We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI the way they did back in the ’70s. Harry Pearson loved many of their recordings, but I sure didn’t.  To this day, some of the records on the TAS List seem to me better suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the ’70s than the modern systems of today.

I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles tend to make about the sound of records, my own judgments included — to the four basics:

  • the limitations of the equipment,
  • bad setups,
  • bad rooms, and
  • poor record cleaning

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s such as McIntosh, Marantz, etc. — I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that exist today.

Today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like. 

The more revealing, more accurate systems of today are in fact what make it possible for us to do our job.

We used to not do it as well, and we talk about it in our Live and Learn section.

You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like. They should sound amazing on your system and in your room, and we stand behind that claim with a 100% Money Back Guarantee. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record is correct. All you need to do is play it back properly.

With each improvement you make in your system, the kinds of high quality pressings we sell — we call them Hot Stampers — will continue to reveal better and better sound in their grooves.

This is not true for the Modern Heavy Vinyl reissue. The better a system gets, the more the faults of those pressings come to light.  This typically sad story is one that is all too common with our customers. (more…)

Reducing the Glare in Your Audio System – A Thought Experiment

Robert Brook has some crazy ideas about audio. Some of them he got from me.

We talk about them on his blog.

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Tuesdays with Tom: EPISODE 1 – TRANSPARENCY & TFTT

(more…)