Jazz

Thoughts on Smear (and the Smear-Prone Components that Makes Audio Progress Difficult)

More on Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

xxxxx

Listen to the trumpet at the start of Freddie Freeloader. Most copies do not clearly convey the transient information of Miles’ horn, causing it to have an easily recognizable quality we talk about all the time on the site: smear.

No two pressings will have precisely the same amount of smear on his trumpet, so look for the least smeary copy that does everything else right too.

Meaning simply that smear is important, but not all-important.

More recordings that are good for testing smear.

If you click on the above link, you will see that we regularly talk about smeary pianos, smeary brass, smeary violins and smeary Classic Records classical reissues. Nobody else seems particularly bothered by smear as far as we can tell, and one of our many theories about the stereo shortcomings of reviewers and audiophiles in general is that their systems are fairly smeary, so a little extra smear is mostly inaudible to them.

I had a smeary system for my first twenty or more years in audio, so I know whereof I speak.

And of course I was just as clueless as everybody else.

We’ve worked very hard over the last twenty years or so to make sure our system has a practically undetectable amount of smear. Any smear we hear on a record means that the smear is on the record. It is not the product of shortcomings in our playback system.

And almost any system that uses vintage tubes — whatever their pros and cons, however much you may like the sound they produce — will have some smear.

We got rid of our tube equipment a long time ago, and having done so, the smear it added to the sound of the records we were playing at that time was dramatically reduced.

About a hundred other tweaks and improvements got rid of the rest. As I say, it took about twenty years.

(more…)

We Knew This Was a Good Record in the ’80s, We Just Didn’t Know How Good

More Chet Baker

This is a wonderful Chet Baker record that doesn’t seem to be getting the respect it deserves in the wider jazz world. You may just like it every bit as much as the Chet Baker “Chet” album, and that is one helluva record to compare any album to. In our estimation it is about as good as it gets in most respects.  

Both sides of the best copy in our last shootout were Tubey Magical, rich, open, spacious and tonally correct. We’d never heard the record sound better, and we’d been playing the album since it was first reissued in the ’80s.

I used to sell these very records in the ’90s — we retailed them for ten bucks, if you can believe it — but we had no clue just how good they could sound back then.

We couldn’t clean them right, or even play them right, and it would never have occurred to us to listen to a big pile of them one after another in order to pick out the best sounding copies.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound correctly on to disc was simply to thread up that tape on a reasonably good machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record — certainly not as good sounding as this one — these days tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years.

George Horn was doing brilliant work for Fantasy all through the ’80s. This album is proof that his sound is the right sound for this music. (more…)

Frank Zappa / The Grand Wazoo – Smear, Sibilance and Tubey Magical Keyboards to Die For

More Frank Zappa

The Tubey Magic found on the title cut is really something to hear.

The Grand Wazoo now gets my vote as the best sounding record Zappa ever made (along with Absolutely Free).

Biggest Problems

Smear on the horn transients are always a problem on this album (and Zappa’s previous big band album, Waka/Jawaka) .

After that we would say a lack of top end is the other most common shortcoming we hear. To find a copy that’s not dull and smeary is no mean feat.

The vocals on For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) are usually slightly spitty. The best copies keep the spit under control. (more…)

The Mahavishnu Orchestra – The Inner Mounting Flame

More Mahavishnu Orchestra

More 5 Star Albums

xxxxx 

  • A KILLER copy with Double Plus (A++) or BETTER sound from the first note to the last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The band’s debut is a true Jazz/Rock Fusion Demo Disc with the Big Sound we love here at Better Records
  • This album was recorded in 1971, only a year after Bitches Brew single-handedly created the genre of Jazz Fusion itself
  • 5 Stars “…a furious, high-energy, yet rigorously conceived meeting of virtuosos that, for all intents and purposes, defined the fusion of jazz and rock…”

This is the first album by the band, recorded only a year after Bitches Brew single-handedly created the genre of Jazz Fusion itself. Or is it better described as an album of Prog Rock without the vocals? Remember, King Crimson had a violinist and not a whole lot of singing too.

Whatever it is, mostly what this music wants to do is rock. And on this copy it rocks like you will not believe. The louder you play it the better it sounds.

The best copies had huge amounts of bottom end weight as well as rich, Tubey Magical grungy guitar tone. Once you’ve heard it sound that way, on the copies without both you’ll notice that the sound falls flat pretty quickly.

It’s hard to think of another record that rocks as hard, and it’s not even a real rock record! We find ourselves playing albums like Zep II and Back in Black for hour after hour, with dozens of copies to get through, and we do it on a regular basis. If anybody knows Big Rock Sound, it’s us. But can we really say that those albums rock any harder than this one (more…)

Pat Metheny – Watercolors

More Pat Metheny

xxxxx

  • A KILLER sounding copy with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both of these sides were clean, clear and lively with tons of detail and a solid bottom end
  • 4 stars: “Metheny’s softly focused, asymmetrical guitar style, with echoes of apparent influences as disparate as Jim Hall, George Benson, Jerry Garcia, and various country guitarists, is quite distinctive even at this early juncture.”

(more…)

Shelly Manne and his Friends / My Fair Lady – This Black Label Original Stereo Pressing Was Just Awful

In our experience, the Black Label stereo originals with D4/D5 stampers are terrible sounding.

With those stampers, My Fair Lady is a Hall of Shame pressing, as well as another early pressing we’ve reviewed and found wanting. Both sides graded “No,” our not-especially-technical term for a record that sounds bad.

Notes for Side One:

Track one is bright and unnatural up top. Track two is not very musical.

Notes for Side Two:

Track one is very weird sounding, thin and small.

(Obviously there was no need to play a second track.)

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, some Contemporary originals are very poorly mastered, which should put paid to the idea that Hot Stampers are only, or even usually, original pressings.

In our most recent shootout, the second-best sounding pressing was on the early Black Label. We would love to give out the stampers for that one, but we don’t do that.

Click here to read about the various labels that Contemporary used over the years. Some people like to search for relationships between the sound of the pressing and the label it has, but in our experience that is more often than not a fool’s game once you account for the confirmation biases that go along with that approach.


(more…)

Barney Kessel / Carmen – A Great Disc for Testing Transparency

More Barney Kessel

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Barney Kessel

xxxxx

We highly recommend you make every effort to find yourself a copy of this album and use it to test your system. The right pressing can be both a great Demo Disc and a great Test Disc.

Transparency Is Key

The best Hot Stamper Original pressings have the Tubey Magic we’ve come to expect from Contemporary circa 1958, with that warm, rich, full-bodied sound that RVG often struggles to get on tape. However, some pressings in our shootout managed to give us an extra level of transparency and ambience that most original pressings rarely did.

There’s a room around this drum kit. So many copies don’t show you that room, not if they have the full sound that a copy like this does.

It’s amazing all the detail you can hear in a leaned-out record, but what good is that? The sound is all leaned out.

If you like that sound, buy the OJC or the CD. Leave these originals to those of us who are after this sound. (more…)

Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Further Out

More Dave Brubeck

Reviews and Commentaries for Time Further Out

xxxxx

  • You’ll find KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish on this original 6 Eye Stereo Pressing
  • These sides are incredibly tubey – rich, full-bodied and warm – yet clear, lively and dynamic
  • This copy demonstrates the big-as-life Fred Plaut Columbia Sound at its best – better even than Time Out(!)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The selections, which range in time signatures from 5/4 to 9/8, are handled with apparent ease (or at least not too much difficulty) by pianist Brubeck, altoist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright, and drummer Joe Morello on this near-classic.”

Time Further Out is consistently more varied and, dare we say, more musically interesting than Time Out.

If you want to hear big drums in a big room these Brubeck recordings will show you that sound better than practically any record we know of. These vintage recordings are full-bodied, spacious, three-dimensional, rich, sweet and warm in the best tradition of an All Tube Analog recording. (more…)

Duke Ellington – The Ellington Suites

More Duke Ellington

More Big Band Jazz

xxx

  • The Ellington Suites finally returns to the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • Lively, dynamic, transparent, spacious and musical throughout – you won’t believe how good this Jazz Classic from 1976 sounds
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness and presence on this copy than anything you have ever heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • “Ellington devoted special attention to The Queen’s Suite, which in the end hewed closely to his original sketch. Its six episodes were inspired by natural phenomena encountered in his travels. . .”

I know of no other Pablo record with sound so rich, full, and warm. This one destroyed a big stack of copies we’d been collecting for years in order to do this shootout. Unless you have a good-sized batch, ten or more, you will have a tough time finding one with sound anywhere near this amazing.

The Queen’s Suite, which takes up side one, was recorded in 1959 and sounds amazing. As you can imagine, this has one of the best Ellington bands ever assembled, with players like Clark Terry, Paul Gonzalves, Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges… the list of jazz giants goes on and on. If you enjoy the classic albums by Mingus on Atlantic, you’re gonna love this work. The sound is excellent as well, spacious and transparent with tight bass and an extended top end.

Side two has material performed by Ellington in the early ’70s, which though not as good musically, is still very enjoyable. On this copy, it sounds amazing, with incredible transparency and immediacy. The overall sound is airy and open with lots of breathy texture to the horns and woodwinds.

1976 Grammy Award Winner for Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band! (more…)

The Search for Lush Life – We Broke Through in 2016

More John Coltrane

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

coltrlushl_1608_1_1465837168

We’ve been searching for years trying to find just what kind of Lush Life pressing — what era, what label, what stampers, mono or stereo, import or domestic — had the potential for good sound.

No, scratch that. We should have said excellent sound. Exceptional sound. We’ve played plenty of copies that sounded pretty good, even very good, but exceptional? That pressing had eluded us — until a few months ago.

Yes, it was only a few months ago, early in 2016 in fact, that we chanced upon the right kind of pressing — the right era, the right label, the right stampers, the right sound. Not just the right sound though. Better sound than we ever thought this album could have. (more…)