Beatles

The music is great, but how’s the sound? We weigh in with our two cents worth.

McCartney’s Must Own Masterpiece

McCartney

 

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We have been touting McCartney’s first solo album for more than a decade. Ever read a word about it in an audiophile context elsewhere? Of course you haven’t! The audiophile world doesn’t know and doesn’t care about great albums like this one, but we at Better Records LIVE for albums with sound and music of this caliber. It’s a permanent resident of our Top 100 List for a reason: no other solo album by a Beatle can touch it.

As for surface issues, we wish we could find them quiet, but that is simply not an option, especially considering how dynamic the recording is. We’ve used every trick in the book to try to get copies of this album to play Mint Minus, but it’s not usually in the cards. Maybe I’m Amazed, in particular, seems to be noisy on nine copies out of every ten. If you’re looking for a copy without any surface noise, you’re probably better off tracking down the DCC Gold CD, which is actually quite good.

But no CD is ever going to sound like our record, not now, not ever. This is where I simply can’t understand how the typical audiophile can make the tradeoff for flat, average sound with quiet vinyl — the sound of these Heavy Vinyl reissues that have sprouted up all over the place, each one worse than the last — and the wonderful, but slightly noisy, sound to be found on the best originals.

Of course the obvious answer is that it is simply too much work to find enough original copies to clean and play in order to come across that needle in a haystack: the Hot Stamper pressing.

See all of our Paul McCartney albums in stock

The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. It sounds like it’s recorded live in the studio, but of course that’s impossible, because Paul plays practically all the instruments himself! It just goes to show how good a multi-track studio recording can sound when done well.

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New Paradigms and Old

beatlrubbeoriginalIt 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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Ridiculously Phony and Compressed Sound

beatlwhitemfslSonic Grade: D

Another MoFi LP debunked.

The last time I played a copy of the MoFi I could not believe how ridiculously phony and compressed it was. And to think I used to like their version when it came out back in the ’80s!

A good example: on Yer Blues, the MFSL pressing positively wreaks havoc with all the added bass and top end The Beatles put on this track. The MoFi version is already too bright, and has sloppy bass to start with, so the result on this track is way too much BAD bass and way too much BAD spitty 10k-boosted treble, unlike the good imports, which have way too much GOOD bass and treble.

Yer Blues ROCKS! Listen to the big jam at the end of the song, where John’s vocal mic is turned off but his performance is still caught by a room or overheard mic. They obviously did this on purpose, killing his vocal track so that the “leaked” vocal could be heard.

Those crazy Beatles! It’s more than just a cool “effect”. It actually seems to kick the energy and power of the song up a notch. It’s clearly an accident, but an accident that works. I rather doubt George Martin approved. That kind of “throw the rule book out” approach is what makes Beatles recordings so fascinating, and The White Album the most fascinating of them all.

The EQ for this song is also a good example of something The Beatles were experimenting with, as detailed in their recording sessions and interviews with the engineers. They were pushing the boundaries of normal EQ, of how much bass and treble a track could have. This track has seriously boosted bass, way too much, but somehow it works!
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Spending More Time With The Beatles

beatlwitht_x20To find the Hottest Stampers it helps to have piles and piles of minty British pressings. And lots of time on your hands. Fortunately we have both!

This is a tough album to get to sound right, as long-time readers of our site surely know, but on a good copy it can sound wonderful. This one really delivers, with plenty of presence and energy as well as natural, balanced tonality.

So, What’s Out There?

We’ve heard copies that were smeared, murky, muddy, grainy, or all of the above. Almost all of them had no real magic in the midrange. And of course, we heard tons of copies with the kind of gritty vocals that you’ll find all over the average Parlophone Beatles pressing. So when we dropped the needle on this copy, it was nothing short of a revelation! It has the energy and the life of the music in the grooves in a way I guarantee you have never heard before.
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Finally, MF and TP Agree on Something

beatlrubbeWe are so excited to tell you about the first of the Heavy Vinyl Beatles remasters we’ve played! As we cycle through our regular Hot Stamper shootouts for The Beatles’ albums we will be of course be reviewing more of them*. I specifically chose this one to start with, having spent a great deal of time over the last year testing the best vinyl pressings against three different CD versions of Rubber Soul.

The short version of our review of the new Rubber Soul vinyl would simply point out that it’s awful, and, unsurprisingly, it’s awful in most of the ways that practically all modern Heavy Vinyl records are: it’s opaque, airless, energyless and just a drag.

I was looking forward to the opportunity to take Michael Fremer (the champion of thick vinyl dreck from sources far and wide) to task in expectation of his rave review, when to my surprise I found the rug had been pulled out from under me — he didn’t like it either! Damn it all.
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Sgt. Peppers – Practical Advice on What to Avoid

beatlessgtChris, our erstwhile customer, sent us a letter a while back describing his search for a good sounding Sgt. Pepper.

The first thing that comes to mind when reading his letter is that many record collecting rules were broken in going about his search the way he did. But then I thought, What rules? Whose rules? Where exactly does one find these rules? If one wants to avoid breaking them they need to be written down someplace, don’t they?

Wikipedia maybe?

Sadly, no, not at Wikipedia, or any place else for that matter — until now. As crazy as it sounds, we are going to try to lay down a few record collecting rules for record loving audiophiles, specifically to aid these individuals in their search for better sounding vinyl pressings. And by “these individuals” we mean you.

See if you can spot the rules that were broken by Chris in his fruitless search for a good sounding Sgt. Pepper. Note that this letter came to us long before the new Beatles CDs and vinyl had been remastered.
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The Original Beatles Pressings Are the Best, Right?

beatles help label

 

Nope. 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.
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Magical Mystery Touring

Magical Mystery Tour

 

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We discuss in detail what we’re listening for and what the best copies seem to do well that the run-of-the-mill copies simply do not. If you own a copy of the German MMT plays yours and listen for what we’re listening for. It’s all laid out in the track commentary.

Side One

Magical Mystery Tour

The fact that this is a key track should be obvious to anyone who has ever played the album. If you don’t have a good copy of the MMT this song will take your head off. Only the German pressings have any real hope of getting it right — the MOFI, British, Japanese, domestic, etc. are uniformly awful in my experience: aggressive and irritating, the worst being the MOFI I would guess.

The German ones break down into three groups – too smooth; just right; and a bit bright or thin. Now remember, almost every copy of this record I played had the exact same stamper numbers. You can’t tell one from another except by dropping the needle on them. There is no visual clue on the record to associate with the sound, no possibility of bias. What comes out of the speakers is all I had to go by.

And it’s easy to confuse the overly smooth ones with the best ones, because on the song MMT smooth is a good thing . But when is smooth too smooth? That’s where track two comes in.

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Sgt. Pepper’s on Heavy Vinyl

beatlessgt

 

You might agree with some reviewers that EMI’s engineers did a pretty good job with the new Pepper. In the March 2013 issue of Stereophile Art Dudley weighed in, finding little to fault on this title but being less impressed with most of the others in the new box set. His reference disc? The MoFi UHQR! Oh, and he also has some old mono pressings and a domestic Let It Be. Now there’s a man who knows his Beatles. Fanatical? Who wouldn’t be? We’re talkin’ The Beatles for Christ’s sake.

When I read the reviews by writers such as these I often get the sense that I must’ve fallen through some sort of Audio Time Warp and landed back in 1982. How is it that our so-called experts evince so little understanding of how records are made, how variable the pressings can be, and, more importantly, how absolutely crucial it is to understand and implement rigorous protocols when attempting to carry out comparisons among pressings.
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