Demo Discs for Energy

Cat Stevens Wants to Know How You Like Your Congas: Light, Medium or Heavy?

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

During the shootout for this record a while back [the late 2000s would be my guess], we made a very important discovery, a seemingly obvious one but one that nevertheless had eluded us for the past twenty plus years (so how obvious could it have been?). It became clear, for the first time, what accounts for the wide disparity in ENERGY and DRIVE from one copy to the next. We can sum it up for you in one five letter word, and that word is conga.

The congas are what drive the high-energy songs, songs like Tuesday’s Dead and Changes IV.

Here is how we stumbled upon their critically important contribution.

We were listening to one of the better copies during a recent shootout. The first track on side one, The Wind, was especially gorgeous; Cat and his acoustic guitar were right there in the room with us. The transparency, tonal neutrality, presence and all the rest were just superb. Then came time to move to the other test track on side one, which is Changes IV, one of the higher energy songs we like to play.

But the energy we expected to hear was nowhere to be found. The powerful rhythmic drive of the best copies of the album just wasn’t happening. The more we listened the more it became clear that the congas were not doing what they normally do. The midbass to lower midrange area of the LP lacked energy, weight and power, and this prevented the song from coming to LIFE the way the truly Hot Stampers can and do.

Big Speakers

For twenty years Tuesday’s Dead has been one of my favorite tracks for demonstrating what The Big Speaker Sound is all about. Now I think I better understand why. Big speakers are the only way to reproduce the physical size and tremendous energy of the congas (and other drums of course) that play such a big part in driving the rhythmic energy of the song.

In my experience no six inch woofer — or seven, or eight, or ten even — gets the sound of the conga right, from bottom to top, drum to skin. No screen can do it either. It’s simply a sound that large dynamic drivers reproduce well and other speaker designs do not reproduce so well.

Since this is one of my favorite records of all time, a true Desert Island Disc, I would never want to be without a pair of big speakers to play it, because those are the kinds of speakers that play it well. (more…)

801 – 801 Live

More Brian Eno

More Live Recordings of Interest

  • 801 Live IS BACK and rocks harder than ever on this early Island import copy with excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We shot out a number of other imports and this one had the presence, bass, and dynamics that were missing from most of the other copies we played, not to mention that LIVE ROCK and ROLL ENERGY that old records have and new records don’t
  • Recorded at Queen Elisabeth Hall in September 1976 – one of only three gigs the group (a side project of Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera) did over a two-month period
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This album marks probably one of the last times that Eno rocked out in such an un-self-consciously fun fashion, but that’s not the only reason to buy it: 801 Live is a cohesive document of an unlikely crew who had fun and took chances. Listeners will never know what else they might have done if their schedules had been less crowded, but this album’s a good reminder.”

801 Live ranks near the top of the list of my All Time Favorite Albums — a Desert Island Disc if ever there was one.

I stumbled across it decades ago and have loved it ever since. (It started when a college buddy played me the wildly original “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the album and asked me to name the tune. Eno’s take is so different from The Beatles version that I confess it took me an embarrassingly long while to catch on.)

What’s especially interesting about this copy is that we went crazy for it even though it did not have the best bass of the copies we played, which, as you will see below, clearly contradicts what we had previously written. We thought that the copies with the best bass had the best everything else too, but that was not what we heard this time around.

THIS copy got the music to work its magic, and it did it with most, but not all, of the bass of the best. Not sure how to explain it. Rules were made to be broken maybe?

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Steeleye Span / Commoners Crown – We Love Dynamic Choruses, and These Are Amazing!

More of the Music of Steeleye Span

Hot Stamper Albums with Huge Choruses

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that actually has actual, measurable, serious dynamic contrasts in its levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many songs . The second track on side two, Demon Lover, is a perfect example. Not only are the choruses noticeably louder than the verses, but later on in the song the choruses get REALLY LOUD, louder than the choruses of 99 out of 100 rock/pop records we audition. It sometimes takes a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically everything else you own is.

The sad fact of the matter is that most mixes for rock and pop recordings are much too safe. The engineers believe that the mixes have to be for the average (read: crap) stereo to be able to play the record.

We like when music gets loud. It gets loud in live performance. Why shouldn’t some of that energy make it to the record? It does of course, especially in classical music, but all too rarely even then.

We happened to do the shootout for Thick as a Brick the same week as Commoner’s Crown, and let us tell you, those are two records with shockingly real dynamics in the grooves of the best copies. If you like your music loud — which is just another way of saying you like it to sound LIVE — then the better copies of either album are guaranteed to blow your mind with their dynamic energy and power.

It’s the Engineer?

That can’t be a coincidence, can it? Well, it can, but in the case of these two albums it seems it isn’t. The engineering for both records was done by none other than Robin Black at Morgan Studios. Robin co-produced Commoner’s, takes the main engineering credit, and is solely credited with the mix. He is the sole engineer on TAAB (along with lots of other Tull albums, including Benefit and Aqualung).

Apparently he has no problem putting the dynamic contrasts and powerful energy of the live performance into his recordings and preserving them all the way through to the final mix. God bless him for it.

Thrills

We admit to being thrillseekers here at Better Records, and make no apologies for it. The better the system and the hotter the stamper, the bigger the thrill. It’s precisely the dynamic sound found on these two albums that rocks our world and makes our job fun. It makes us want to play records all day, sifting through the crap to find the few — too few — pressings with truly serious Hot Stamper sound. (There is, of course, no other way to find such sound, and, of course, probably never will be.)

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Supertramp – Breakfast In America

  • A truly superb recording with huge, powerful, dynamic sound – the Tubey Magical richness of these sides will have your jaw on the floor
  • A Top 100 title and True Demo Disc – turn it up and this recording gets LOUD like few rock records we’ve ever played
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The majority of the album consisted of tightly written, catchy, well-constructed pop songs, like the hits ‘The Logical Song,’ ‘Take the Long Way Home,’ and ‘Goodbye Stranger.'”

Turn it up good and loud and you will be amazed at how dynamic some of the guitar solos are.

We’ve just concluded another big shootout for Breakfast, the band’s biggest charting success, and once again we were blown away by just how good the best copies can sound – huge, spacious, punchy sound we can never get enough of around here. If you have big speakers a great copy will blow your mind, and it will probably blow your mind even if you don’t.

We are not the least bit ashamed to say that we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and a copy like this will certainly help to show you why. Drop the needle on Gone Hollywood, The Logical Song or Take The Long Way Home to hear how powerful this music can sound when you have a great pressing.

Most copies of this record are grainy, thin, shrill and aggressive. When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the highs are sweet and silky. This recording has plenty of top end, so if the highs aren’t correct it pretty much ruins the sound of the record. (more…)

The Who – Live At Leeds

More of The Who

Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

  • A hard-rockin’ copy – this British Track pressing boasts powerful DEMO DISC sound on both sides
  • The recording is huge and lively with startling dynamics and in-the-room-presence like nothing you’ve heard
  • Drums so solid, punchy and present they put to shame 99% of the rock records on the planet
  • Cited as the best live rock recording of all time by The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, the BBC Q magazine, and Rolling Stone. In 2003, it was ranked number 170 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Get ready to rock out, as this is one of the BEST SOUNDING live albums ever recorded. “Young Man Blues” on a copy such as this has drums that are so solid, punchy and present they positively put to shame the drum sound on 99 out of 100 rock records! Keith Moon lives on!

The bass is AMAZING on this record. Present vocals and clear guitars in both channels are key to the best copies such as this one. Most pressings do not get the guitars to jump out of the speakers the way the best can. Few copies get the highest highs and the lowest lows but this one had it going on from top to bottom.

The seven minute long “Magic Bus” that finishes out the side is The Who at their best. Rock fans will have a hard time finding a better sounding Who pressing than this one, on either side.

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Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular – Our Favorite Record for Cartridge Setup

Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular just happens to be our favorite Test Disc, eclipsing all others in the areas of naturalness and difficulty of reproduction. Any tweak or new room treatment — we seem to do them almost weekly these days — has to pass one test and one test only — the Bob and Ray Test. 

This record has the power to help you get to the next level in audio like no other. Six words hold the key to better sound: The Song of the Volga Boatman.

For the purpose of mounting new carts, our favorite track is The Song of the Volga Boatman on Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular (LSP 1773). It’s by far the most difficult track we know of to get to sound right.

There are about twenty places in the music that we use as tests, and the right setting is the one that gets the most of them to sound their best. With every change some of the twenty will sound better and some will sound worse. Recognizing when the sound is the biggest, clearest, and most balanced from top to bottom is a skill that has taken me twenty years to acquire.

It’s a lot harder than it looks. The longer you have been in audio the more complicated it seems, which may be counterintuitive but comports well with our day-to-day experience very well.

All our room treatments and tweaks must pass The Bob and Ray Test as well. It’s the one record we have relied on more than any other over the course of the last year or two.

Presenting as it does a huge studio full of brass players, no record we know of is more dynamic or more natural sounding — when the system is working right. When it’s not working right the first thirty seconds is all it takes to show you the trouble you are in.

If you don’t have a record like that in your collection, you need to find one.

It will be invaluable in the long run. The copy we have is so good (White Hot, the best we have ever played), and so important to our operation here, that it would not be for sale at any (well, almost any) price.

The Bob and Ray Trombone / Trumpet Test

One of the key tests on Bob and Ray that keeps us on the straight and narrow is the duet between the trombone and the trumpet about half way through The Song of the Volga Boatman. I have never heard a small speaker reproduce a trombone properly, and when tweaking the system, when the trombone has more of the heft and solidity of the real instrument, that is a tweak we want to pursue. The trumpet interweaving with it in the right rear corner of the studio tests the transients and high frequency harmonics in the same section. With any change to the stereo, both of those instruments are going to sound better. For a change to be positive they must both sound better. (more…)

The Reiner Sound – A Demo Disc for Energy, Dynamics and Top End

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Music Conducted by Fritz Reiner

This review was written in 2010. I don’t think we have found a Reiner Sound as nice as this one since then.

Wow, the first nice Reiner Sound on Shaded Dog to make it to our site. Why? Because the few copies we’ve run across that looked decent enough to clean and play were just too noisy to enjoy. Not many copies have survived the bad turntables of their day with all their top end and inner grooves intact, but we’re proud to say that this one has! 

This former TAS List record really surprised us on two counts. First, you will not believe how DYNAMIC the recording is. Of all the classical recordings we’ve played lately I would have to say this is THE MOST DYNAMIC of them all. 

I really don’t have the wattage to handle the explosively loud sections of these wonderful works, with their huge orchestral effects, dynamic contrasts that are clearly part of the composer’s intentions but ones that rarely make it from the concert hall to vinyl disc the way they do here. 

Second, there is simply an amazing amount of TOP END on this record. Rarely do I hear Golden Age recordings with this kind of ENERGY and extension up top. Again, it has to be some of the best I have heard recently.

This is of course one of the reasons the Classic reissue is such a disaster. With all that top end energy, Bernie’s gritty cutting system and penchant for boosted upper midrange frequencies positively guarantees that the Classic Reiner Sound will be all but unplayable on a proper system. Boosting the bass and highs and adding transistory harshness is the last thing in the world that The Reiner Sound needs.

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Humble Pie – What Other Live Rock Record Sounds This Good?

One of the best — if not THE best — rock concert albums we have ever heard. Can you imagine if Frampton Comes Alive sounded like this? If you want to hear some smokin’ Peter Frampton guitar work from the days when he was with the band, this album captures that sound better than any of their studio releases, and far better than FCA on even the best copies.

Grungy guitars that jump out of the speakers, prodigious amounts of punchy deep bass, dynamic vocals and drum work — the best pressings of Rockin’ The Fillmore have more firepower than any live recording we’ve ever heard.

We know about quite a few records that rock this hard. We seek them out, and we know how to play them.

Who knew?  We didn’t, of course, until not that many years ago (2014 maybe?). But we are in the business of finding these things out. We get paid by our customers to find them the best sounding pressings in the world. It’s our job and we take it very seriously.

Did any audiophile reviewers ever play the album and report on its amazing sound? Not that we are aware of.

Do they have the kind of playback systems — the big rooms, the big speakers, the freedom from compression and artificiality — that are required to get the most from a recording such as this one?

Doubtful. Unlikely in the extreme even.

They don’t know how good a record like this can sound because they aren’t able to play it the way it needs to be played.

And when was the last time you read a review of a record that hadn’t just been reissued on Heavy Vinyl?

There was a time when audiophile reviewers wrote about exceptionally good sounding vintage pressings they had come across. Harry Pearson comes immediately to mind, but there were many others following his lead. Now they it seems none of them can be bothered. More’s the pity.

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

And One We Also Just Added to Our Rock & Pop Top 100 List

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Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

More Led Zeppelin

A Member of the Prestigious “None Rocks Harder” Club

  • Insane Rock and Roll ENERGY like nothing you have ever heard – the sound is exceptionally full-bodied, smooth and solid, making it possible to get the volume up good and high where it belongs
  • Here are the Rock and Roll Classics that reign supreme to this very day – Black Dog, Rock & Roll, Stairway to Heaven, When the Levee Breaks, every one sounding better than you’ve ever heard them or your money back
  • 5 stars: “Encompassing heavy metal, folk, pure rock & roll, and blues, Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album is a monolithic record, defining not only Led Zeppelin but the sound and style of ’70s hard rock.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this title from 1971 is clearly one of their best, and one of their best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

It is a positive THRILL to hear this record rock the way it was meant to. If you have big speakers and the power to drive them, your neighbors are going to be very upset with you when you play this copy at the listening levels it was meant to be heard at.

You’d better be ready to rock, because this copy has the ENERGY and WHOMP that will make you want to. Zep IV demands loud levels, but practically any copy will punish you mercilessly if you try to play it at anything even approaching live levels.

I never met John Bonham, and it’s probably too late now, but I imagine he would feel more than a little disrespected if he found out people were playing his music at the polite listening levels many audiophiles prefer. The term “hi-fidelity” loses its meaning if the instruments are playing at impossibly low levels. If the instruments could never be heard that way live, where exactly is the fidelity?

How on earth is a speaker system like this one going to reproduce the 22 inch (or more!) kick drum of John Bonham?

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Heart / Dreamboat Annie – Turn Up Your Volume and Rock Out

More of the Music of Heart

More Records that Sound Their Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

Dreamboat Annie is yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the big room, big speakers, and the power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house. When the boys behind Heart (superb musicians all) let loose with some of those Zep-like monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.)

Not many records have this kind of big, rockin’ sound, that’s for sure! If you’re an audiophile who loves classic rock, you just haven’t lived until you’ve heard this album on a White Hot Stamper pressing. There is so much more LIFE to this recording than I ever thought possible, and only the best pressings let that energy come through. In a nutshell those are the ones that earn our top Hot Stamper grades.

We’re pretty fond of these ladies here at Better Records. Their second album, Little Queen, has been a favorite test disc around here for years. When Heart is at their best, the music is wonderful. If you’re lucky enough to own the right pressing — this one will do nicely — this band can ROCK with the best of them.

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