*Robert Brook’s Guide for the Budding Analog Audiophile

Robert Brook Shoots Out Brilliant Corners

More from Robert Brook

One of our good customers has a blog which he calls


Below you will find a link to the shootout Robert recently conducted for Thelonious Monk’s amazing Brilliant Corners album on OJC.


I will have something to add soon I hope.

Further Reading


Robert Brook Discusses His Evolving Understanding of Bass

More from Robert Brook

One of our good customers has a blog which he calls


Below you will find a link to Robert’s story about the famous Charlie Mingus record you see pictured.

He had a number of different pressings, each of which showed him some qualities that the others lacked. Ultimately you have to pick one to play, and he did.

“GETTING” BASS with Charles Mingus’ BLUES & ROOTS

Robert went from a $20,000 speaker with one eight inch woofer to the Legacy III’s, a speaker costing less than half as much, with three ten inch woofers, to the Legacy Focus, a speaker quite a bit less than $20k, with three twelve inch woofers.

Robert learned something about his Parsifals by playing a speaker that could do so much more down low:

But I’ve learned since that, for all their strengths, the Parsifal had at least one fatal flaw – they made just about every record sound good.


Making every record sound good is, it turns out, not a good quality to have in a speaker, nor in any other piece of equipment you use. At least it’s not if you want the best possible sound from your analog system.

And summing it all up this way:

The short explanation for why this is, is that if your speakers make nearly every record sound good, then they’ll likely make very few of them sound great and almost none of them sound incredible. The Parsifal were always a pleasure to listen to, but, as I was to discover, they sometimes relied too heavily on not showing me what I was missing. That is, they were rather a good pair of  speakers that were also rather good at hiding the flaws of the records they played.

We having been banging on a similar drum for a very long time, perhaps as many as forty years by now. Much of the equipment audiophiles own is good at making the average pressing they find on the shelf enjoyable to play. These systems allow their owners to keep their record collections intact no matter how many mediocre or substandard pressings they contain.

Good enough is the standard. Their stereos create a floor below which only the worst records can fall. But Robert now sees that these same systems create a ceiling that holds back their best records and keeps them from breaking through. If you want to be thrilled by your best records, you need a system very different from the ones many audiophiles own.

If you want to break through, you need big speakers, and you need to be able to turn them up.

Furthermore, you need playback accuracy to show you the faults of your bad records and the strengths of your better ones, strengths and faults you are not even aware of until your system becomes revealing enough to show them to you.

Unless you are very serious about collecting truly high quality pressings, you don’t want a stereo like ours or like Robert’s. The average record, on both or our systems, is more often than not a bore, and sometimes a positively painful one. Revealing just how good a good record can be, on the other hand, is often an absolutely glorious experience, one Robert himself has written about.

Robert and I (as well as many of my customers) have taken their systems in the direction of more revealing, because when you have exceptionally good records, more revealing is what you want. Good records want to show you just how amazing they can sound. If you want to experience an amazing recording, only the most revealing stereos will let you do that.

Judging Bass

We discussed how some audiophiles judge (or misjudge) bass in their systems in a commentary for Rickie Lee Jones’ first album.

Recently we created a game centered on Led Zeppelin II, in which contestants would compare the Robert Ludwig originals to the Jimmy Page-approved remaster (a record we give away for free with every early pressing we sell).

The bass on those two pressings could not be more different. If you want to compare them for yourself, we would love to know what you think the differences are.

There are a great many records we’ve auditioned over the years that are good for testing bass, and these are some of the best we’ve found:

If you would like to own some records with exceptionally good bass, we have those too:

More on Robert’s system here. You may notice that it has a lot in common with the one we use. This is definitely not an accident.

And it is also no accident that these two systems just happen to be very good at showing their owners the manifold shortcomings of the Modern Remastered LP, as well as the benefits to be gained by doing shootouts in order to find dramatically better sounding pressings to play.


Better Electricity Took Robert Brook’s Stereo to the Next Level

More from Robert Brook

One of our good customers has a blog which he calls


Below you will find a link to Robert’s story about the improvements he heard in his stereo by doing some experiments we had recommended he do, experiments which, for reasons unknown to the wider audiophile community and generally dismissed by same, managed to take his system to places he never expected it could go.

All at the cost of exactly zero dollars. It’s quite a ride, check it out:


We have written a fair amount about the benefits of feeding the system better juice ourselves:

The value of experimenting with electricity is part and parcel of tweaking and tuning your system to reveal the superior sound locked within it. As we noted in our discussion of the Pareto Effect:

The amount of tweaking you do with your setup, components, room, electricity and the like is the only thing that can take you to the highest levels of audio.

The unfortunate reality audiophiles must eventually come to grips with in their journey to higher quality sound is that you cannot buy equipment that will get you there.

You can only teach yourself, painstakingly, over the course of many, many years, how to tweak your equipment — regardless of cost or quality — to get to the highest levels of audio fidelity.

And tweaking and tuning your equipment has other, fundamentally more important benefits in addition to its original purpose: making your stereo sound better.

At most 20% of the sound of your stereo is what you bought.

At least 80% is what you’ve done with it.

Based on my experience I would put the number closer to 90%.

I suspect that Robert Brook, having heard for himself the remarkable improvement he achieved by simply throwing a few breakers in his home, would be the first to agree with Mr. Pareto.

In a nutshell, Brook’s main goal in audio is to get the recordings that mean the most to him to come alive in his home.

Like me, he is a thrillseeeker, and proud of it. Getting better stereo sound has been my life’s work. It’s not just at the heart of our business, it’s the very reason we created a business in the first place. Our goal from the start was to offer the audiophile public the finest sounding pressings ever made. (We didn’t really know how to do that for the first fifteen years of our business, but that is a story for another time.)

Robert has approached solving the various problems he’s encountered scientifically, methodically and carefully, along these three fronts:

Improving his equipment,

Teaching himself how to do a better job dialing in his turntable setup, and

Learning how to do rigorous shootouts for his favorite albums.

“Bravo” to a job well done by Robert Brook.

More on Robert’s system here. You may notice that it has a lot in common with the one we use. This is not an accident.

And it is also no accident that these two systems just happen to be very good at showing their owners the manifold shortcomings of the Modern Remastered LP, as well as the benefits to be gained by doing shootouts in order to find dramatically better sounding pressings to play.


Robert Brook Shoots Out One Flight Up

We have never heard the Tone Poets pressing that Robert played against his Van Gelder cutting he discusses in the commentary below. We have one in stock and are just waiting to do the shootout for the album so that we can compare it to the better pressings we know we will find. You may have read that we were knocked out by a killer copy way back in 2007. We expect to be no less knocked out in 2023.

Robert concludes with his take on the strengths and weaknesses of the two pressings. Here is a small excerpt you may find of interest:

Overall, the Tone Poet is closed, distant and frankly boring to listen to. Where is the energy of the music? Where is the presence of these musicians? Where is the studio space?

He goes on in much more detail, but this is exactly the kind of sound we hear on one Heavy Vinyl pressing after another. For some reason, none of these shortcomings appear to bother the fans of the label. I get why this guy is missing the boat: he actually thinks a system with five inch woofers can play jazz. What excuses do these other people have? [1]

The complete review can be found below. If you are considering following the crowd and buying some of this label’s albums, you might want to take it slow. (Those of you with five inch woofers can charge right ahead. The sonic problems with the Tone Poets releases Robert Brook describes would barely be audible on such a system, so get while the gettin’s good. Just make sure you are never tempted to upgrade to big speakers. You could find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing a new record collection to go along with them. Unlike Tone Poets releases, good records ain’t cheap.)

Dexter Gordon’s ONE FLIGHT UP: One of the Better TONE POETS?

[1] This is rhetorical question. These other folks have no excuses. They have exactly the sound quality they have earned by deploying the two most important audio resources they have at their disposal: time and money.

If they have failed to put in enough of either one or both, they have only themselves to blame for allowing themselves to be fooled by the chalatans currently marketing one meretricious [2] Heavy Vinyl pressing after another.

If they choosee to remedy this sad state of affairs, we are more than happy to guide them in the new and exciting direction we’ve pioneered over the course of the last twenty years or so. The advice we give in the commentary below would be a good place to start:

For another 60+ pieces of record collecting advice, more than enough to keep anyone busy for months, perhaps years, please click here.

[2] To save you the trouble of looking it up, Merrian-Webster defines meretricious as apparently attractive but having in reality no value or integrity. Used to suggest pretense, insincerity, and cheap or tawdry ornamentation.

For a deeply meretricious release of recent vintage (OBI strip!, custom booklet!, premium heavy vinyl!, fold-open cover!), see The Cars on Rhino. The only thing left out of the package was a good sounding LP.

Further Reading


Turntable Set Up Guide Part 1: Why You Need to Do It Yourself

More from Robert Brook

One of our good customers has a blog which he calls


Below you will find a link to an article about turntable setup in which I am quoted on the subject. I would have loved to write something along these lines myself, but never found the time to do so.

Robert Brook took the job upon himself and has explained it well, so if you would like to learn more about turntable setup, I encourage you to visit his blog and read more about it.

Turntable Set Up Guide Part 1: Why You Need to Do It Yourself

Further Reading


Robert Brook Wants to Help You Set Your Anti-Skate

More of the music of Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

Robert Brook writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Robert recently recounted a story that aligned very much with my own experience.

Way back in the dark ages of the 90s, I was afraid to mess with my turntable, arm and cartridge for fear of getting them “out of alignment.”

Of course, I had simply assumed at the time that they were in alignment. I had followed all the instructions to the best of my ability, but it wouldn’t be until years later that I learned just how crude an approximation that way of doing it had turned out to be.

Robert writes:

For years, even decades, I was afraid to touch any of the settings on my turntable, only to discover that when I finally did, I wished I’d done it a lot sooner. Turntable setup has taught me a lot, and as I’ve gotten better at it and better informed about it, I now need to go back and revise the turntable setup guides I posted a few years ago, which are in need of revision and updating.

Here is the complete story. I hope to write more about anti-skate in depth down the road, but for now, check out Robert’s story and then return to this listing and scroll down to read what we’ve written about the subject to date.

System Sounding BRIGHT? 🕶 Might Be Time to ADJUST YOUR ANTI-SKATE

Here we discuss one of our favorite test records. Strings are one of the hardest elements in any recording — including pop and jazz records — to get right. They also make it very easy to spot when something, somewhere, is off.

Advice for using vocals on pop albums to tweak and tune your setup.

Way back in 2005 we discussed the four major imputs that go into setting up tonearms and cartridges.

Wherein we discuss the use of our three favorite test discs, while also providing links to hundreds of other records that are good for testing various aspects of reproduction.

These are the records that challenged me to make more progress in audio. If you want to improve your stereo, these are some of the records that can help you get to the next level.


Robert Brook and I Discuss His Revolver Shootout on Youtube

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls

The Broken Record


He has now started a youtube channel and he invited me to talk about records for about an hour or so.

Please to enjoy.

Quick tip: set the playback speed at 1.25, 1.5 or 1.75, the conversation will still be intelligible and a lot shorter!

Robert Brook Discusses His Youtube Shootout Video

Hot Stamper Pressings of Revolver Available Now

More Reviews and Commentaries for Revolver

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE. 

He recently made a youtube video for his shootout for Revolver, which we wrote about here.

Now he has posted some context and talked about his journey in audio which we think you will enjoy reading. Robert and I will be doing a video next week about his shootout, so expect to see that here on The Skeptical Audiophile soon.



Robert Brook Makes History with the First Shootout Video Ever Posted on Youtube

Hot Stamper Pressings of Revolver Available Now

More Reviews and Commentaries for Revolver

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE. You can find it by clicking the link below.

Welcome to The Broken Record!

We recently loaned Robert some copies of Revolver so that he could do the first youtube-acceptable Record Shootout video in the history of mankind. He had three copies of his own to play along with the five we loaned him, plenty to work with.

We hope to be able to discuss the experience of doing the shootout and the video with him soon, but for now, let’s just enjoy the first of its kind.

Robert now knows firsthand something few audiophiles have made the effort to learn:

Shootouts are a great deal of work if you do them right.

If you have just a few pressings on hand and don’t bother to clean them carefully, or follow rigorous testing protocols, that kind of shootout anyone can do. You can find those kinds of shootouts on youtube, but we have never seen fit to take them seriously.

The results of shootouts that are not carried out in the serious way that we do and the way that Robert did cannot be trusted, for reasons that anyone reading this blog should find obvious.

Art Dudley illustrates this approach, but you could pick any reviewer you like — none of them have ever undertaken a shootout worthy of the name to our knowledge.

Here is an especially egregious example of how to go about it all wrong.

We ourselves struggled back in the old days. in 2005, our attempted shootout for Blue could not get off the ground. Two years and scores of shootouts later, we had been able to find and clean some amazing sounding copies, which is how we were able to tell how far off the mark this pressing was.

For a quick tutorial on shootouts, please click on one or both of the links below:


Are Reviews Objective?

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Robert recently addressed an issue that came up when someone left a comment about the sound of Tone Poets reissues vis a vis the the pressings that Rudy Van Gelder mastered, to wit:

“To say anything other than the difference (between the T.P. and the RVG) is subjective is misleading the audience.”

Robert explains in the post linked below that he has worked very hard to make his system as neutral as he possibly can, and why he thinks that is a good idea. He also notes that he isn’t done, that there is plenty of work left to do, and that a more revealing, more truthful system is his one and only goal.

Any piece of equipment, or tweak, or setup adjustment that brings him closer to the sound his critical listening skills tell him are an improvement is to be adopted. They have passed passed the “more truthful” test.

Are My REVIEWS Objective?

There are scores of posts on this very blog that are there to explain what we do and how we do it, maybe even hundreds.

We tell you about our playback system and why it’s good at its job.

In addition, practically every listing on our site has standardized text detailing the three areas that are key to understanding our vintage vinyl offerings. They include:

  1. What sonic attributes our Hot Stampers have.
  2. How we go about finding records with these attributes, and
  3. What we’re listening for in order to distinguish the superior pressings from the more average ones.

This is what all that looks like on our site:

What The Best Sides Of [Record X] Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

    • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
    • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in [insert year here]
    • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
    • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
    • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing these records are the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find pressings that sound as good as these three do.

Standard Operating Procedures

What are the criteria by which a record like this should be judged? Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, and so on down through the list.

When we can get all, or most all, of the qualities above to come together on any given side we provisionally award it a grade of “contender.” Once we’ve been through all our copies on one side we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner for that side. Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides matched up.

Record shootouts may not be rocket science, but they’re a science of a kind, one with strict protocols developed over the course of many years to ensure that the sonic grades we assign to our Hot Stampers are as accurate as we can make them.

The result of all our work speaks for itself, on this very record in fact. We guarantee you have never heard this music sound better than it does on our Hot Stamper pressing — or your money back.

What We’re Listening For On [Record X]

    • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
    • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
    • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
    • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
    • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
    • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
    • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

All this boilerplate is there to explain how we go about finding the records we think are superior, the rigorous evaluation protocols we employ and the scientific methods we follow.

Over the last twenty five years, we’ve written hundreds and hundreds of commentaries that get deep into the weeds on specific aspects of the sound we made not of on the albums we auditioned. This is information that, to our knowledge, exists on this blog and nowhere else. (This commentary discusses a handful of the issues we’ve addressed.)

What’s Your Point?

My point is simply this. In order to take the subjectivity out of our reviews, we try to approach records the way Consumer Reports tests blenders: we put them through their paces and we name the names of the winners and losers. We wrote about it another commentary explaining why we had so little respect for the mastering engineers making records today. An excerpt:

Blender X is terrible at making margaritas and blender Y is good at making them. The company that makes bad blenders should be called to account for making blenders that make lousy margaritas. If there is a name attached to that company, then I guess we can say that the person who runs that company should learn how to make better blenders or find something else to do with his time.

I am not the least bit impressed with the quality of the records being made today, and it follows that those who make them, the owners of the labels and the mastering engineers they’ve chosen to employ, are responsible for the poor quality of the remastered LPs they produce. (The complete text is here.)

We don’t test blenders, we test records, and we do that by cleaning and critically evaluating different pressings of the same album in head to head shootouts, using the most revealing equipment available to us.

When we run experiments with Heavy Vinyl records, comparing them to the vintage vinyl pressings we have on hand, the one thing we can say about them is that they are certain to be inferior. Some are a great deal worse than others, to be sure, but they are all inferior to one degree or another.

We have yet to play a Tone Poets reissue in one of our shootouts. We have a couple of titles scheduled and should be able to report our findings soon.

If you as an audiophile want to make the case for the superior quality of the records put out by this label, we are happy to entertain the possibility. The chances of their records having sound we would find acceptable are vanishingly small, but we can’t say they are zero.

Repeating the tiresome truism that since all reviews are subjective, your review is as credible as any other, will not do.