Labels We Love – Parlophone/Apple

The Beatles Rubber Soul – Listening in Depth

More The Beatles

More Rubber Soul

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy (or our copy) of Rubber Soul. (If you have the MoFi pressing please click on the Track Listing tab below to read about its most glaring shortcoming.)

After playing so many copies of this record over the last few years, all of us here at Better Records have come to appreciate just how wonderful an album Rubber Soul really is. It has 14 fairly compact, well-structured, well-arranged pop songs, each of which is a gem in its own right. It reminds me a bit of the second album (With The Beatles) in that respect — short and to the point, get in and get out.  (more…)

The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour – Are Your Cellists Digging In?

More The Beatles

More Are Your Cellists Digging In?

xxxxx
xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Over the last decade I Am The Walrus has evolved into a good test for side one, a fact that came as a complete surprise to me. As I was listening to the various copies in a shootout years ago I noted that the opening cellos and basses in the right channel were often tonally identical from copy to copy, but sounded quite a bit more lively and energetic on some pressings relative to others. Was it EQ? Level? Compression?  

Why so much more passion from the players on some copies and not others?

As I tried to puzzle it out, playing first one copy and then another, it became clear to me what was happening. The cellists and the bassists were just plain digging HARDER into the strings on the best copies. When you see live classical music, the cellists at the front of the orchestra are usually sawing away with abandon when the music is really going. They dig their bows hard into the strings to make them vibrate as loud as possible. To make their instruments heard in the back row it becomes a matter of muscle, of pure physical exertion.

So armed with the copies where the string players are working the hardest, I checked the other tracks. Sure enough, the opening cut, MMT, jumped out of the speakers with the most energy I had heard on any copy. As I went through the tracks one by one, they had the most life of any of the copies I had been listening to. To use a word that was popular at the time, the music was HAPPENING.

This was the final piece to the puzzle. Tonality always comes first. Frequency extension; lack of distortion; rich, powerful bass — these are important qualities as well. But the life of the music is in the micro and macro dynamics, and that is what I had not been paying sufficient attention to in the shootout. That was until I listened to Walrus and heard the players working up a good healthy sweat. Then I knew I had a hot stamper. And when I played the not so hot stampers, the string guys sounded like session musicians picking up a paycheck. Where was their passion? Didn’t they realize they were making a Classic?

If you get the right pressing they sure were!



Further Reading

This recording is quite difficult to reproduce, which means it ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS). Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment. The tutti passages will tear your head off unless you are using a very good cartridge and arm.

In its way, this is an ideal record to gauge how much progress you have made in audio. I remember playing these DG pressings only five to ten years ago and hearing shrill strings, harmonic distortion and many other unpleasant qualities in the sound. With those very same pressings today the sound is dramatically better. This is no accident. It is the result of both hard work and the Revolutions in Audio we discuss on the site.

Here is what I had to say about a Brewer and Shipley album that ranks high on the DOR scale:

I can also tell you that if you have a modest system this record is just going to sound like crap. It sounded like crap for years in my system, even when I thought I had a good one. Vinyl playback has come a long way in the last five or ten years and if you’ve participated in some of the revolutionary changes that I talk about elsewhere on the site, you should hear some pretty respectable sound. Otherwise, I would pass. On the Difficulty of Reproduction scale, this record scores fairly high. You need lots of tubey magic and freedom from distortion, the kind of sound I rarely hear on any but the most heavily tweaked systems, the kind of systems that guys like me have been slaving over for twenty years. If you’re a Weekend Warrior when it comes to stereo, this is not the record for you.

Much like Synchronicity, this is a tough record to get the right sound out of — even if you do have an excellent pressing. It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively.

It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too. As we’ve said before about these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring any audio system that tries to reproduce them to its knees.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this requires, demands even, you are going to hear some amazing sound when you drop the needle on these Hot Stampers.

Beatles For Sale – Listening in Depth

More Beatles

More Beatles For Sale

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of For Sale. We note that Words of Love is a tough track to get right: 

There are some lively, jangly guitars behind the smooth voices. Many copies seem to sacrifice one for the other, leaving you with either irritating guitars or dull voices. The better copies get them both right.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

No Reply
I’m a Loser
Baby’s in Black

This song tends to be a bit dull on most pressings of the album, but on a superb copy you’ll get wonderful Tubey Magic, warmth and life.

Rock & Roll Music
I’ll Follow the Sun

It seems to us that I’ll Follow the Sun would have to be on any list of The Beatles’ very best. On a good copy the vocals are rich, sweet and delicate beyond belief.

Paul pops the mic on one word in this song — if your system has reasonable resolution and bottom end speed, you should be able to pick it out. Drop us a line if you can tell us what word it is — we’re curious to know if you heard what we heard.

Mr. Moonlight
Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! [Medley]

Side Two

Eight Days a Week
Words of Love

A tough track to get right. There are some lively, jangly guitars behind the smooth voices. Many copies seem to sacrifice one for the other, leaving you with either irritating guitars or dull voices. The better copies get them both right.

Honey Don’t
Every Little Thing
I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party
What You’re Doing

The transient information on this song is often just a bit smeared. On the more transparent copies you’ll be able to hear each time the piano’s hammer hits the strings. Listen for the space between the notes when the piano is playing briskly.

This track is also a good test for how punchy the bottom is. With that big drum in the intro it won’t take long for you to figure out if your copy has much deep low end.

Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby


Further Reading

When it comes to The Beatles we make it quite clear that we have never been fans of the original Parlophone pressings, at least for their records up through The White Album. To support our case we have a number of entries in our original equals better? series. Here we debunk the conventional wisdom regarding what are the best sounding pressings for specific artists and titles.

We have a large number of entries in our Listening in Depth series.

We have a section foAudio Advice of all kinds.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

AMG Review

There are some important changes on Beatles for Sale, most notably Lennon’s discovery of Bob Dylan and folk-rock. The opening three songs, along with “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” are implicitly confessional and all quite bleak, which is a new development… Its best moments find them moving from Merseybeat to the sophisticated pop/rock they developed in mid-career.

The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night – It’s (Almost) All About the Midrange

More The Beatles

More A Hard Day’s Night

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of A Hard Day’s Night.

This music has a HUGE amount of upper midrange and high frequency information. (Just note how present the tambourines are in the mixes.) If the record isn’t cut properly, or pressed properly for that matter, the sound can REALLY be unpleasant. 

One of our good customers made an astute comment in an email to us — the typical copy of this album makes you want to turn DOWN the volume. Sad but true.

It’s (Almost) All About The Midrange

There are two important traits that all the best copies have in common. Tonally they aren’t bright and aggressive (which eliminates 80 percent of the AHDN pressings you find) and they have a wonderful warmth and sweetness in the midrange that really brings out the quality of the Beatles’ individual voices.

When comparing pressings of this record, the copies that get their voices to sound both present and warm, smooth, and sweet, especially during the harmonies, are always the best. All the other instruments seem to fall in line when the vocals are correct. This is an old truism — it’s all about the midrange — but in this case, it really is true.

Badfinger – Straight Up Power Pop

More Badfinger

xxxxx

  • This KILLER copy boasts Double Plus sound (A++) on both sides of this brilliant early Apple pressing with some of the quietest vinyl we have heard in a long while
  • Clean, clear and dynamic with tons of space and transparency, this is the way to hear this band’s masterpiece 
  • The sound here just JUMPS out of the speakers, which is exactly what the best copies of the album are supposed to (but rarely) do
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This fine songwriting, combined with sharp performances and exquisite studio craft, make Straight Up one of the cornerstones of power-pop, a record that proved that it was possible to make classic guitar-pop after its golden era had passed.” 

For fans of the band — and Power Pop in general — this is the Straight Up you have been waiting for!

We rarely do shootouts for this album, not because we don’t like the record or have enough customers for it; rather it’s the fact that clean copies of the album just aren’t out there in the bins the way they used to be. Two or three a year is all we can find, and that’s with hitting the stores every week. Subtract the noisy and groove-damaged ones and you don’t have much to work with until years have gone by. (more…)

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

More George Harrison

More All Things Must Pass

xxxxx

  • To say that this one has been a long time coming would be an understatement! FINALLY, an incredible sounding copy of All Things Must Pass
  • Superb Double to Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on the fifth side and Double Plus (A++) sound on the remaining five sides — wonderfully big, full and Tubey Magical yet still clean and clear with tons of space and a lovely bottom end
  • “Without a doubt, Harrison’s first solo recording, originally issued as a triple album, is his best.” – All Music

Tubey Magic Is Key

This original British pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

The Beatles Let It Be – Listening In Depth

More The Beatles

More Let It Be

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about the business of critically evaluating copies of Let It Be.

This is the first time we’ve discussed individual tracks on the album. Our recent shootout, in which we discovered a mind-boggling, rule-breaking side one, motivated us to sit down and explain what the best copies should do on each side of the album for the tracks we test with. Better late than never I suppose. 

(These also happen to be ones that we can stand to hear over and over, dozens of times in fact, which becomes an important consideration when doing shootouts as we do for hours on end). (more…)

The Beatles – A Collection of Beatles Oldies

More from The Beatles

A Collection of Beatles Oldies

xxxxx

  • Triple Plus (A+++) Demo Disc quality sound or very close to it on both sides; only the second copy to hit the site in many years! 
  • The overall sound here is incredibly full, rich, spacious, big and present, with zero smear
  • Amazing sound for From Me to You, We Can Work It Out, Yesterday and I Feel Fine
  • Fairly quiet vinyl throughout with both sides playing Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus

Incredible Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this collection of singles left off the the Beatles’ British albums. As is usually the case with compilations like this, there is some variation between tracks — what works well for a track from 1963 may not quite suit a song from 1966 — but from start to finish on both sides this record strikes a MUCH better balance than others! (more…)

What We Listen For: The Spirit and Enthusiasm of the Musicians

More Revolver

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

This discussion, brought about by a Hot Stamper shootout we conducted for Revolver many years ago (2007!), touches on many issues near and dear to us here at Better Records: pressing variations, system upgrades, dead wax secrets, and the quality we prize most in a recording: LIFE, or, if you prefer, energy.

At the end of the commentary we of course take the opportunity to bash the MoFi pressing of the album, a regular feature of our Beatles Hot Stamper shootouts. We’re not saying the MoFi Beatles records are bad; in the overall scheme of things they are mostly pretty decent. What we are saying is that, with our help, you can do a helluva lot better. Our help doesn’t come cheap, as anyone on our mailing list will tell you. You may have to pay a lot, but we think you get what you pay for, and we gladly back up that claim with a 100% money back guarantee for every Hot Stamper pressing we sell. (more…)

The Beatles Blue Album – Reviewed in 2010

More Beatles

More of The Blue Album

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This is a WONDERFUL SOUNDING early German Import 2 LP set — pressed on fairly quiet vinyl to boot! We are on record as finding the British pressings of 1967-1970 too bright; certainly most of them are anyway. This German set has much more natural sound to my ear — it’s RICH, SMOOTH and SWEET, with plenty of tubey magic and little of the grain and grunge of the Brits. (The original domestic pressings, as anyone who has ever played one can attest, mastered at Sterling no less, are absolutely godawful.) 

Like most compilations, some songs sound better than others, but Don’t Let Me Down and Come Together are two that really stand out here. For some of you out there who have never tried one of our Hot Stamper Beatles records, this may be the best sound you’ve ever heard from them. The CDs — even the new ones — sure don’t sound like this!