Key Tracks for Critical Listening

Listening in Depth to Little Queen

More of the Music of Heart

Reviews and Commentaries for Little Queen

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

This is a recording that I credit with making me a better audiophile. When I first heard a killer Hot Stamper pressing played back through the EAR 324P phono stage at a friend’s house, I immediately called the distributor and ordered one. Compared to the 834P I had been using, the 324P simply took the recording to a level I had no idea existed.

Once I had reached that level, I set about using the album for tweaking and testing, and learned a lot doing it. Along with a substantial number of other records I have come across in my forty plus years as a hobbyist and audiophile record dealer, Little Queen is one that has surely helped me to become a better listener. [1]

Side One

Barracuda

One of the little tricks I used toward the end of my marathon Little Queen tweaking session from many years ago (which lasted more than six hours one Saturday evening, leaving me euphoric but exhausted) was to listen to the ending of Barracuda. Some of the big guitar chords at the end of the song are louder than others, and the more the differences in level among them can be heard, the better the stereo and the room must be at exposing these micro-dynamic changes.

You can’t make the guitarist play some of the notes at the end louder than others, you can only reveal the fact that he indeed must have. This is what is meant by Hi-Fidelity, the higher the better.

Love Alive

This is as good as it gets for Heart. They really rock on this track — the sound of the drums and the guitars are perfection. This may sound heretical, but I would put Love Alive right up there with some of my favorite Led Zeppelin tunes. It ROCKS. The band is on fire; give them their due. The rhythm section on the early Heart albums is Top Notch and then some. Maybe not Bonham and Jones Quality but pretty darn good in their own right.

The beginning section has so many subtle details (such as the autoharp and tabla) that simply disappear on a run-of-the-mill system. On the best copies the autoharp sounds rich and chimey and the tabla has a fair amount of low end extension. All this gets lost in the sauce if you’re listening to the average copy, or the average stereo.

This was precisely the kind of information that my 834p had been keeping from me and my 324p was now revealing. the memory of that afternoon, circa 2005 — an audio milestone if there ever was one — is etched in my mind to this day


[1] The albums listed here not only informed my taste in music, but helped guide the progress of the stereo equipment I use to play that music on. I’ve had large scale dynamic speakers for close to five decades, precisely in order to play demanding recordings such as these, the music I fell in love with as a budding audiophile in my twenties. (And sometimes even earlier, as in the case of The Beatles. I still have my 45 of She Loves You, which I bought at the tender age of 10 in 1964, my first record purchased using my own money. The record itself may be cracked, but the picture sleeve, worn as it is after some early abuse, is priceless.)

There is no question that the artists that recorded these albums, in concert with their remarkably talented producers and engineers, sweated every detail of these exceptional recordings. Year after year, we have done everything we could think of to get these recordings to sound their best. We know how good they can sound on systems that have what it takes to play them.

The more tweaking and tuning you do — on your system, room and electricity — the more progress you will make in this hobby, and the bigger and bolder these recordings will come to sound. They are the most difficult-to-reproduce albums we know of, the ones that can help you make real, demonstrable progress in this hobby.

Again and again it was meeting the challenge of reproducing recordings such as these that allowed us to get to the next level, and they can do the same for you.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Records that Are Good for Testing Bass and Whomp

More Records that Are Good for Testing Transparency

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

Jethro Tull / Stand Up – Listening Track by Track

Reviews and Commentaries for Stand Up

Hot Stamper Pressings of Jethro Tull’s Albums Available Now

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Stand Up.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

If British Blues Rock is your thing, then Stand Up is a record that definitely belongs in your collection.

Side One

A New Day Yesterday

This is one of my favorite Jethro Tull songs of all time. (This and To Cry You a Song from Benefit are pretty darn hard to beat.) Clive Bunker’s drumming is incredibly energetic; it drives the song to levels few bands could ever hope to reach. It reminds me of the kind of all-out ASSAULT on the skins you hear in the work of Dave Grohl and John Bonham. Bunker is a highly underrated player; his bandmates Barre and Cornick don’t get the respect they deserve either, for reasons that I’ll never understand. They’re about as good as it gets in my book. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Mona Bone Jakon

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Mona Bone Jakon

When you hear I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on a Hot Stamper copy, you will be convinced, as I am, that this is one of the greatest popular recordings in the history of the genre. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one. 

Right off the bat I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folk-pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Lady d’Arbanville

This track will always be a little bright. It was supposed to be a hit song, and hit songs are frequently mixed a little bright.

Maybe You’re Right
Pop Star
I Think I See the Light (more…)

Listening in Depth to In Search Of The Lost Chord

More of the Music of The Moody Blues

Reviews and Commentaries for The Moody Blues

Achieving just the right balance of Tubey Magical, rich but not too rich “Moody Blues Sound” is no mean feat. You had better be using the real master tape for starters. Then you need a pressing with actual extension at the top, a quality rarely found on most imports. Finally, good bass definition is essential; it keeps the bottom end from blurring the midrange. No domestic copy in our experience has ever had these three qualities, and only the best of the imports manages to combine all three on the same LP.

On the best of the best the clarity and resolution comes without a sacrifice in the Tubey Magical richness, warmth and lushness for which the Moody Blues recordings are justifiably famous. In our experience the best LPs are correct from top to bottom, present and alive in the midrange, yet still retain the richness and sweetness we expect from British (and Dutch) Moody Blues records. They manage, against all odds, to remove the sonic barriers put up by most pressings of the Moodies’ unique music. Who knew, after so many years and so many bad records, that such a thing was even possible?

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Departure

The beginning of this track is fairly quiet and noise will be audible behind the music. Side two will suffer likewise.

Also, for some reason this track tends not to sound as good as those that follow. We had never really noticed that effect before but during a shootout many years ago it became obvious that the real Moody Magic starts with track two.

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Listening In Depth to Gaucho, The Dan’s Last Good Album

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Gaucho

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Gaucho.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

Of all the great albums Steely Dan made, and that means their seven original albums and nothing that came after, there are only three in our opinion that actually support their reputation as studio wizards and recording geniuses.

Chronologically they are Pretzel Logic, Aja, and Gaucho. Every sound captured on these albums is so carefully crafted and considered that it practically brings one to tears to contemplate what the defective DBX noise reduction system did to the work of genius that is Katy Lied, their best album and the worst sounding. (Those cymbal crashes can really mess with your mind if you let them. To get a better picture of the DBX sound just bang two trash can lids together as close to your head as possible.)

The first two albums can sound very good, as can Royal Scam, but none of those can compete with The Big Three mentioned above for sonics. A Hot Stamper copy of any of them would be a seriously good sounding record indeed. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Rubber Soul

More of the Music of Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul Is a Record We’ve Been Obsessed With for a Very Long Time

After playing so many copies of this record over the last few years, all of us here at Better Records have come to appreciate just how wonderful an album Rubber Soul really is. It has 14 fairly compact, well-structured, well-arranged pop songs, each of which is a gem in its own right. It reminds me a bit of the second album (With The Beatles) in that respect — short and to the point, get in and get out. 

But the second album does not feature acoustic guitars the way Rubber Soul does. From an audiophile point of view, the strumming of those amazingly Tubey Magical acoustic guitars is in large part what makes Rubber Soul such a special recording. (For more records that are good for testing how much Tubey Magic their acoustic guitars have, click here.)

But what we’ve noticed only recently [recently as in about 15 years ago] is how much the tambourine is used. It’s all over this album, and the good news is that most of the time it sounds great. There are other high frequency percussion instruments — shakers and the like — and between the tambourine and all the rest there’s just a lot of percussive energy on most of the songs that really carries them along.

As far as I am concerned, this could be called The Tambourine Album. No other Beatles album features that instrument so boldly in the mix and builds so many songs around it.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Drive My Car

Mobile Fidelity made a mess of this song on their Half-Speed Mastered release. They took out far too much upper midrange and top end.

What drives the energy of the song are the cow bell, the drums and other percussion. Instead of a scalpel Mobile Fidelity took a hatchet to this slightly bright track, leaving a dull, lifeless, boring mess. Some Parlophone copies may be a little bright and lack bass, but they still manage to convey the energy of the song. The purple label Capitols can also be quite good. A bit harsher and spittier, yes, but in spite of these shortcomings they communicates the music.

As much as I might like some of the MoFi Beatle records, and even what MoFi did with some of the other tracks on Rubber Soul, they sure sucked the life out of Drive My Car. We all remember how much fun that song was when it would come on the radio. Playing it on a very high quality stereo should make it more fun, not less. If you’ve got a Rubber Soul with a Drive My Car that’s no fun, it’s time to get another one.

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Listening in Depth to A Hard Day’s Night

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for A Hard Day’s Night

Play it against your MoFi or Heavy Vinyl pressing and you will quickly see why those lifeless LPs bore us to tears. Who in his right mind would want to suffer through a boring Beatles record?

Drop the needle on any song on the first side to see why we went crazy over a recent Shootout Winner on side one. The emotional quality of the boys’ performances really comes through on this copy.

They aren’t just singing — they’re really BELTIN’ it out. Can you imagine what that sounds like on the title track? We didn’t have to imagine it, WE HEARD IT!

TRACK LISTING

Side One

A Hard Day’s Night
I Should Have Known Better
If I Fell

This is a wonderful example of The Beatles’ harmonies at their best. Toward the end of the song, during one of their harmonic excursions, you can hear John’s voice drop out when something apparently catches in his throat, and I could swear that you can hear Paul McCartney react to it with a little laugh.

If their voices sound warm, sweet, and transparent on this track, at the very least you have a contender, and possibly a winner. Not many pressings are going to bring out all the timbral qualities of their voices.

I’m Happy Just to Dance With You
And I Love Her
Tell Me Why
Can’t Buy Me Love

Always starts with a bit of grit and grain, but usually sounds better by the second verse.

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Listening in Depth to Romantic Warrior

Romantic Warrior is my favorite JAZZ/ROCK FUSION album of all time. As good as the music is, the sound is even better. This is the Jazz/Rock Demo Disc that stands head and shoulders above the rest. In my experience, no record of this kind is more DYNAMIC or has better BASS. Not one. Demo Disc doesn’t begin to do this kind of sound justice.

Simply put, not only is this one of the greatest musical statements of all time, it’s one of the great recording statements. Few albums in the history of the world can lay claim to this kind of POWER and ENERGY.

But the Super Sound has a purpose, a raison d’etre. This is the kind of music that requires it; better yet, DEMANDS it. In truth, the sound is not only up to the challenge of expressing the life of the music on this album, it positively ENHANCES it.

Those monster Lenny White drum rolls that run across the soundstage from wall to wall may be a recording studio trick, but they’re there to draw your attention to his amazing powers, and it works! The drums are EVERYWHERE on this album, constantly jumping out of the soundfield and taking the music into the stratosphere where it belongs.

TRACK LISTING and COMMENTARY

Side One

Medieval Overture

The grandiose opening of this record serves as an important sonic checkpoint, as well as a tipoff for the pyrotechnics to come. On the better copies Corea’s multi-layered, swirling synths occupy their own space, clearly separated from each other, not blurred and inarticulate as they are on the poorer pressings.

Also notice how much attack Lenny White’s drums have, especially in the more exposed sections. The transients are breathtakingly immediate. Run-of-the-mill copies tend to flatten Mr White, making his acrobatic playing seem two-dimensional and less-than-inspired. The best copies prove that nothing could be further from the truth.

Sorceress

This groove-oriented track is a testament to RTF’s diversity, as well as the mastery of Messrs. Clarke and White as a rhythm section. This is a real test for bottom end. Even though the bass goes unbelievably deep, the best copies manage to exhibit plenty of control while still allowing you to FEEL the bass rising up through the floorboards and into your chair. There is so much deep bass at the opening of this track that at any sort of serious levels I would immediately run out of the wattage needed to sustain them. It was either back off the volume or distort like crazy. You need some serious juice to play this track, or a very efficient speaker, or both.

All the members of this All-Star cast are showcased in the improv section, highlighted by Corea’s brilliant piano solo in the middle, one of my personal favorite solos of all time. Corea is a musician’s musician. There is nothing he or his bandmates are not capable of on this recording. This is more than mere fusion. On this album the whole world of jazz can be heard.

The Romantic Warrior

Side Two

Majestic Dance

The blistering opening track for side two is the quintessence of guitar-driven prog rock, a heads up for what’s to come. Most copies lack the top end extension that allows the hottest copies to open up and come alive. With the right top to bottom mastering and pressing this track is Gold! Demo Disc Quality all the way and then some.

The Magician

Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant

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Cat Stevens / Teaser & The Firecat – Two Tracks Are Key

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

Just ran across the following in an old listing. We’re nothing if not consistent here at Better Records!

And if you are ever tempted to pick up one of those recently remastered versions on heavy vinyl, don’t do it. There is simply no one alive today making records that sound like these good originals. Not to these ears anyway. We may choose to indulge ourselves in the audacity of hope, but reality has to set in sooner or later. After thirty years of trying, the modern mastering engineers of the world have nothing to show for their efforts but a pile of failures. The time to call it quits has come and gone. Let’s face facts: when it comes to Teaser and the Firecat, it’s the Real Thing or nothing.

If you’re looking for an amazing Demo Quality Rock Recording, you’ve come to the right place.

If you want a timeless Classic Rock Record, it’s here too.

They just don’t know how to make them like this anymore. Those of you waiting for audiophile vinyl reissues with the kind of magic found on these originals will be in your graves long before it ever comes to pass.

Analogue Productions tried and failed — more than once — to produce a good sounding Heavy Vinyl pressing of Tea for the Tillerman.

You can be sure there is little chance they would have better luck with Teaser and the Firecat.

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Listening in Depth to Sticky Fingers

More of the Music of The Rolling Stones

Reviews and Commentaries for Sticky Fingers

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Sticky Fingers.

Here are some albums on our site you can buy with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

A QUICK TEST: The best copies have texture and real dynamics in the brass. The bad copies are smeared, grainy and unpleasant when the brass comes in. Toss those bad ones and start shooting out the good ones. Believe me, if you find a good one it will be worth all the work.

Even through the noise of the bad vinyl you can hear the audio magic. The sound is exactly what you want from a Stones album: deep punchy bass and dynamic grungy guitars. This record is to be played loud like it says on the inner sleeve and the surface noise is to be ignored. The louder you play it, the less bothersome the noise will be. This album ROCKS and it was not made to be listened to in a comfy chair with a glass of wine.


Track Commentary

Side One

Brown Sugar

If Brown Sugar makes you want to turn up the volume, you have a good copy! That song tends to be just plain irritating on most copies. You need a hot copy to listen to it at the level the Stones want you to: LOUD.

Sway
Wild Horses

Demonstration Quality Sound! Listen to those choruses. When have the Stones’ voices been recorded better? Never! None more times.

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking

My favorite test track for side one. The Stones have never been better. If you have a copy with rock solid bass and a transparent midrange, you have yourself a real Demo Track here. (Assuming you have the big speakers with plenty of power needed to play it.)

You Gotta Move

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