Audio Progress

It can be done. Here are some ideas.

The Science of Hot Stampers – Incomplete, Imperfect, and (Gulp!) Provisional

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We have a section on the website you may have seen called We Was Wrong. This section is devoted to discussiing the records we think we got, uh, wrong.

Oh yes, it’s true. But it’s not really a problem for us here at Better Records. We see no need to cover up our mistakes. The process of learning involves recognizing and correcting previous errors. Approached scientifically, all knowledge — in any field, not just record collecting or music reproduction — is incomplete, imperfect, and must be considered provisional.

What seems true today might easily be proven false tomorrow. If you haven’t found that out for yourself firsthand yet, one thing’s for sure, you haven’t been in this hobby for very long.

We’re so used to the conventional wisdom being wrong, and having our own previous findings overturned by new ones, that we gladly go out of way in listing after listing to point out just how wrong we were. (And of course why we think we are correct now.)

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New Paradigms and Old

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It is our strongly held belief that if your equipment (regardless of cost) or your critical listening skills do not allow you to hear the kinds of sonic differences among pressings we describe, then whether you are just getting started in audio or are a self-identified audio expert writing for the most prestigious magazines and websites, you still have a very long way to go in this hobby.

Purveyors of the old paradigms — original is better, money buys good sound — may eventually find their approach to records and equipment unsatisfactory (when it isn’t just plain wrong), but they will only do so if they start to rely more on empirical findings and less on convenient theories and received wisdom.

A reviewer we all know well is clearly stuck in the Old Paradigm, illustrated perfectly by this comment:

It’s not my pleasure to be so negative but since I have a clean UK original (signed for me by George Martin!) I’ll not be playing this one again. Yes, there are some panning mistakes and whatever else Martin “cleaned up” but really, sometimes it’s best to leave well-enough (and this album was well-enough!) alone.

We can’t imagine how anyone can have a system in this day and age that can obscure the flaws of the original Parlophone pressings of Rubber Soul (or any other Yellow and Black label Parlophone pressing for that matter). MF apparently does (as do some of our customers, truth be told), but we have something very different indeed. One might even consider it the opposite of such a system. Our system is designed to relentlessly and ruthlessly expose the flaws of every record we play. Only the best of the best can survive that level of scrutiny. This commentary addresses this issue in more depth.
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You Too Can Get an Old Buffalo Springfield Record to Sound This Good

More Last Time Around

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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! This 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. 

Tubey Magical Midrange

 The kind of MIDRANGE MAGIC 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.

It Only Takes One

Badly mastered, badly pressed, yes, we can all agree on that.

But all it takes is an amazing sounding copy like this one to disprove the theory that these are bad recordings — an inconvenient truth shall we call it? — and we found more than one. The proposition that this band’s records can’t sound good has officially and definitively been falsified. (more…)

Where Cheap Turntables Fall Flat

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

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Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge set-up. The Liszt recording you see pictured is a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.

One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as Liszt’s two piano concertos. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has paid for.

It has been my experience that cheap tables more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this.
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Making Mistakes – Advice from Better Records

More on So Far

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.
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Making Mistakes and Other Advice from Better Records

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.

“Making a different mistake every day is not only acceptable, it is the definition of progress.”
~Robert Brault

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.
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A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers – The More Mistakes the Merrier, Part One

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I was reading an article on the web recently when I came across an old joke Red Skelton used to tell:

All men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner.

Now if you’re like me and you play, think and write (hopefully in that order) about records all day, everything sooner or later relates back to records, even a modestly amusing old joke such as this. Making mistakes is fundamental to learning about records, especially if you, like us, believe that most of the received wisdom handed down to record lovers of all kinds is more likely to be wrong than right.

If you don’t believe that to be true, then it’s high time you really started making mistakes.
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Dave Brubeck’s Bossa Nova USA – Who Knew?

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Who knew? Not us and not anybody else it seems. We are not aware that any of the audiophile cognoscenti have ever taken this recording seriously, but that just goes to show how uninformed — or perhaps more likely underinformed — they’ve always been.

Gems such as this sit undiscovered even after thousands of pages of audiophile record reviews have been written. Then, along come a handful of guys in Thousand Oaks, California many years later, 52 to be exact, and reveal to the world a heretofore all but unknown yet nonetheless amazing Brubeck record.

And they back up everything they say with actual records that sound as good as they say they will.

But wait just a minute. We sold an early pressing ourselves back in 2010 for $30 as a “nice sounding” record, nothing more, so who are we to talk?

Which simply goes to show that the decade we spent perfecting the Record Shootout has finally paid off for Bossa Nova U.S.A. Now we can clean them better, play them better, hear them better, and, with a big stack to work with, find one that sounds as good as this one does.

See all of our Dave Brubeck albums in stock


Further Reading

Other recordings that we have found to be especially Tubey Magical can be found here.

Transparency, the other side of the Tubey Magical coin, is also key to the better pressings of this album as well as many of our other favorite demo discs.

Traveling Back in Time with Cat Stevens on MoFi


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to Hear It on Vintage Equipment

Our good customer Roger wrote us a letter years ago about his MoFi TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN, in which he remarked, “Sometimes I wish I kept my old crappy stereo to see if I could now tell what it was that made these audiophile pressings so attractive then.”

It got me to thinking. Yes, that would be fun, and better yet, it could be done. There are actually plenty of those Old School systems still around. Just look at what many of the forum posters — god bless ’em — are running. They’ve got some awesome ’70s Japanese turntables, some Monster Cable and some vintage tube gear and speakers going all the way back to the ’50s.

With this stuff you could in effect travel back in time, virtually erasing all the audio progress of the last 30 years. Then you could hear your MoFi Tea for the Tillerman sound the way it used to when you could actually stand to be in the same room with it.
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Making Audio Progress – Step One: Weed Out the Heavy Vinyl

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In his latest letter Dan tells us of his disappointment with the new reissues he’s been trying:

… And thanks again for that amazing “Who’s Next” record. It was startling to hear the difference between that and the Classic – and that was one of the better modern audiophile records!I can’t tell you how many modern reissues I’ve bought over the past couple months that have lost, and lost badly, to just my one single original or early pressing of an album. Reissues by AC/DC, The Who, ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones, and Patti Smith have all failed miserably against my merely average sounding originals.
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