Listening in Depth

Listening in Depth to Pretzel Logic

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Pretzel Logic

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It’s positively criminal the way this amazingly well-recorded music sounds on the typical LP. And how can you possibly be expected to appreciate the music when it sounds like that?

The reason we audiophiles go through the trouble of owning and tweaking our temperamental equipment is we know how hard it is to appreciate good music which sounds bad. Bad sound is a barrier to understanding and enjoyment, to us audiophiles anyway.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Rikki Don’t Lose That Number

By far the biggest hit on this album and one of the biggest for the band, it’s also one of the clearest indicators of Hot Stamper Sound. The Horace Silver inspired intro is at its best when you can easily hear the acoustic guitar in the left channel doubling the piano. On most copies it’s blurry and dull, which causes it to get lost in the mix. Transparent copies pull it out in the open where it belongs.

That’s the first test, but the real test for this track is how well the (surprisingly) DYNAMIC chorus is handled. On a properly mastered and pressed copy, Fagen’s singing in the chorus is powerful and very present. He is RIGHT THERE, full of energy and drive, challenging the rest of the band to keep up with him. And they do! The best copies demonstrate what a lively group of musicians he has backing him on this track. (If you know anything about Steely Dan’s recordings, you know the guys in these sessions are the best of the best.)

Check out the big floor tom that gets smacked right before the first chorus. On the best copies the whomp factor is off the scale.

Shocking as it may seem, most copies of this album are DOA on this track. They’re severely compressed — they never come to life, they never get LOUD. The result? Fagen and the band sound bored. And that feeling is contagious.

Of course most audiophiles have no idea how dynamic this recording is because they’ve never heard a good pressing. Only a handful of the copies we played had truly powerful dynamics. These are Pretzel Logics with far more life than I ever dreamed possible. Hey, who knew?

(As an aside, back in 1976 I had my fifty favorite albums professionally cleaned on a KMAL record cleaning machine at the stereo store I worked at. They would give you a custom record sleeve along with the cleaning, and sure enough I found my original Pretzel Logic with its KMAL sleeve. My copy was pretty good but no Hot Stamper.)

So, yes, it really did take us thirty years to find the best copy!

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Listening in Depth to Heart Like a Wheel

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Heart Like a Wheel

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Heart Like a Wheel.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

You’re No Good

Right from the git-go, if the opening drum and bass intro on this one doesn’t get your foot tapping, something definitely ain’t right. Check to make sure your stereo is working up to par with a record you know well. If it is, your copy of HLAW belongs on the reject pile along with the other 90% of the copies ever pressed.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Amazing acoustic guitars! Lots of tubey magic for a mid-’70s pop album. And just listen to the breathy quality of Linda’s voice. She’s swimming in echo, but it’s a good kind of echo. Being able to hear so much of it tells you that your pressing is one of the few with tremendous transparency and high resolution.

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Listening in Depth to Led Zeppelin

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

We always have a great time doing Zep IV shootouts. It’s one of those all-too-rare cases where amazing music and amazing sonics coexist on the same slab of vinyl. You just need to find the right slab, a proposition that turns out to be much harder than it sounds.

You probably know by now just how tough it is to find audiophile quality sonics on this album. Far too many copies just leave us cold, but the best pressings, whether British or domestic, are so good, and so much fun at the loud volumes we employ, that it ends up being worth all the time, trouble and expense it takes to wade through the vinyl dreck to find them.

But the best copies are so good, and so much fun, that it was definitely worth the trouble. Because the best copies ROCK, and 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.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Black Dog

The key to both of the first two tracks is to find a copy with a solid bottom end. Next look for an extended top end, easily heard on all the splashing cymbals.

Now listen for a tonally correct Robert Plant. The copies with lots of top will typically have him sounding too bright. The copies with little in the way of high frequency extension will have him sounding veiled and dull.

One out of ten copies (with potentially good stampers) will get all three right: the top, the bottom and his voice. When you hear it you know it immediately, but you sure do have to go through a lot of copies before you have much of a chance of hearing it!

Rock and Roll

“[Rock and Roll] was a little tough to record because with the hi-hat being so open and [Bonham] hitting it that hard it was difficult to control. But I managed somehow or another.”

Andy Johns

“The best copies prove once and for all that these are some of most up-front, lively and above all real sounding rock cymbals ever put on tape.”

Tom Port

The Battle of Evermore
Stairway to Heaven

Side Two

Misty Mountain Hop

Note that the vocals for the first track are always somewhat edgy on even the best copies. After playing scores and scores of copies, having adjusted the VTA every which way we could, no copy did not have at least a bit of an edge on Plant’s vocal. We’re pretty sure it’s that way on the tape. Our job is to find the copy that reproduces it as cleanly and accurately as possible.

Four Sticks
Going to California
When the Levee Breaks

When The Levee Breaks is rarely mastered properly and consequently rarely sounds the way it should. If the cymbals or the double-tracked harmonicas on your copy don’t get at least a little gritty you probably have an overly smooth copy, and it’s even possible that it’s made from a second or third generation tape. On the best copies both are alive with presence and energy.

And the room around the drums is huge, as is that famous 26″ Ludwig bass drum.*

The Classic Records reissue corrects this problem somewhat, but at a cost. They’ve completely robbed the song of all the Zep magic. It’s not as big, not as open, not as rich, not as lively, not as punchy, and so on — but the cymbals are clean. Is that the tradeoff we should be happy to live with? If you’re on our site you already know the answer.


*Andy Johns interviewed about recording When the Levee Breaks

The drum sound on When The Levee Breaks is one of Johns’ greatest contributions to IV

One night Zeppelin were all going down the boozer and I said, ‘You guys bugger off but Bonzo, you stay behind because I’ve got an idea.’ So we took his kit out of the room where the other guys had been recording and stuck it in this lobby area. I got a couple of microphones and put them up the first set of the stairs.

It wasn’t just the stairwell that got that famous, earthy delay sound though…

I used two Beyerdynamic M160 microphones and I put a couple of limiters over the two mics and used a Binson Echorec echo device that Jimmy Page had bought. They were Italian-made and instead of tape they used a very thin steel drum.

Tape would wear out and you’d have to keep replacing it. But this wafer-thin drum worked on the same principle as a wire recorder. It was magnetised and had various heads on it and there were different settings. They were very cool things!

And so playing at that particular tempo on ‘Levee the limiters had time to breathe and that’s how Bonzo got that ‘Ga Gack’ sound because of the Binson. He wasn’t playing that. It was the Binson that made him sound like that. I remember playing it back in the Stones’ mobile truck and thinking, ‘Bonzo’s gotta f**king like this!’ I had never heard anything like it and the drum sound was quite spectacular.

What was Bonham’s reaction to hearing the track back?

I said: ‘Bonzo, come and listen to this, dear chap.’ And he came in and said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s more f**king like it!’ And everyone was very happy. I guess I must have done it as a one-off thing and I didn’t start using that technique of room mics all the time until later in the ’70s with people like Rod Stewart. Jimmy picked up on it and used it on ‘Kashmir’. When The Levee Breaks came out quite well and people still ask me about it when I appear on music biz panels and what-not.

More Led Zeppelin

Julie Is Her Name – A Boxstar Bomb

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A Hall of Shame pressing from Cisco / Impex / Boxstar.

One question: Where’s the Tubey Magic?

We would never have pointed you in the direction of this awful Boxstar 45 of Julie Is Her Name, cut by Bernie Grundman, supposedly on tube equipment. I regret to say that we actually sold some copies, but in my defense I can honestly and truthfully claim that we never wrote a single nice thing about the sound of the record. That has to count for something, right?

We found the Tubey Magic on his pressing to be non-existent, as non-existent as it is on practically every Classic Record release he cut. If you have his version you are in for quite a treat when you finally get this one home and on your table. There is a world of difference between the sound of the two versions and we would be very surprised if it takes you more than ten seconds to hear it.

See all of our Julie London albums in stock

What to Listen For (WTLF)

On side one listen to how rich the bottom end is on Barney Kessel’s guitar. The Tubey Magic on this side is off the charts. Some copies can be dry, but that is clearly not a problem on this one. The naturalness of the presentation puts this album right at the top of best sounding female vocal albums of all time.

To take nothing away from her performance, which got better with every copy we played. Julie’s rendition of Cry Me a River may be definitive.

If only Ella Fitzgerald on Clap Hands got this kind of sound! As good as the best copies of that album are, this record takes the concept of intimate female vocals to an entirely new level.

Forgotten Sound

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These Liberty pressings are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.

THIS is the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made that sound like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There actually IS a CD of this album, and youtube videos of it too, but those of us with a good turntable could care less.

Records For Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records

Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely that we are shocked when an audiophile record is even halfway decent. After playing so many badly remastered pressings for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records.

A mass-produced vintage record like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the pressing at hand.

It has opened up to us a world of sound that the typical audiophile — he who believes the audiophile pressing hype — will never have a chance to experience.


Further Reading

Other recordings that we have found to be especially Tubey Magical can be found here.

 

 

This Is the Kind of Thing You Notice When You Play Scores of Copies of the Same Album

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If you have a copy or two laying around, there is a very good chance that side two will be noticeably thinner and brighter than side one. That has been our experience anyway, and we’ve been playing batches of this album for well over a decade. To find a copy with a rich side two is rare indeed.

More Hall and Oates

Most copies lack the top end extension that makes the sound sweet, opens it up and puts air around every instrument. It makes the high hat silky, not spitty or gritty. It lets you hear all the harmonics of the guitars and mandolins that feature so prominently in the mixes.

If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, is full of TUBEY MAGIC, and has consistently good music, look no further.

As Good As It Gets

Until I picked up one of these nice originals I had no idea how amazing the record could sound. For an early ’70s multi-track pop recording it’s about as good as it gets. It’s rich, sweet, open, natural, smooth most of the time — in short, it’s got all the stuff audiophiles like you and me LOVE.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

On the better copies practically every track on this side will have killer sound.

When the Morning Comes
Had I Known You Better Then
Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)
She’s Gone
I’m Just a Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like a Man)

Side Two

Abandoned Luncheonette

In our experience only the best copies (and the best stereos) can make sense of this track.

Lady Rain

Wall to wall, floor to ceiling multi-track ANALOG MAGIC.

Laughing Boy
Everytime I Look at You

The FUNKIEST Hall and Oates track ever. Bernard Purdie on the drums! And who’s that funky rhythm guitarist with the Motown Sound? None other than John Oates hisself. If you hear echoes of Motown throughout this record, you’re hearing what we’re hearing. Who doesn’t love that sound? (If we could only find real Motown records that sound like this one…)


Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

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

We have a section for Audio 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.

 

Listening in Depth to Harvest, In Search Of The Lost Chord, Bookends, Layla and Graham Nash/ David Crosby

youngharvest600Neil Young – Harvest

Listening in Depth



Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Harvest.
Many copies we played would work for the heavy songs and then fall behind on the softer numbers. Others had gorgeous sound on the country-tinged numbers but couldn’t deliever any whomp for the rockers. Only a select group of copies could hold their own in all of the styles and engage us from start to finish; we’re pleased to present those exceptional pressings as the Hot Stamper copies of Harvest that so many of you have been begging for.

See all of our Neil Young albums in stock



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The Moody Blues – In Search Of The Lost Chord

Listening in Depth



Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.
Achieving just the right balance of Tubey Magical, rich but not too rich “Moody Blues Sound” and transparency is no mean feat. You had better be using the real master tape for starters. Then you need a pressing with actual extension at the top, a quality rarely found on most imports. Finally, good bass definition is essential; it keeps the bottom end from blurring the midrange.

See all of our Moody Blues albums in stock



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Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends

Listening in Depth



Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Bookends.
Musically side two is one of the strongest in the entire Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre (if you’ll pardon my French). Each of the five songs could hold its own as a potential hit on the radio, and no filler to be found whatsoever. How many albums from 1968 can make that claim?

See more of our in-stock copies of Simon and Garfunkel’s albums



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Derek and The Dominos – Layla

Listening in Depth



Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.
The best copies of Layla are Tubey Magical, energetic, and tonally balanced. Most importantly, they sound CORRECT; you get the sense that you are hearing the music exactly as the band intended. The best sounding tracks have presence, clarity, and transparency like you have never heard — that is, unless you’ve gone through a pile of copies the way we do.

See all of our Eric Clapton and Cream albums in stock



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Crosby / Nash – Graham Nash/ David Crosby

Listening in Depth



Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.
This album has some of the BEST SOUND Crosby and Nash ever recorded, but you’d never know that listening to the average pressing. You need plenty of deliciously rich Tubey Magic if this music is going to work, and on that count this copy certainly delivers.

See all Hot Stamper pressings by C, S, N or Y in stock



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Eddie Offord Takes Charge

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Fragile

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with plenty of advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Fragile.

EDDIE OFFORD took charge of Yes’s engineering starting with Time and a Word (1970) and we are very lucky that he did. Although his masterpiece is surely ELP’s first album, both The Yes Album and Fragile are so amazingly well recorded they clearly belong at the top of any list of All Time Great Sounding Rock Albums.

In-Depth Track Commentary
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Listening in Depth to Crosby Stills & Nash – with Bonus CD Advice

crosbcrosb_newAnother in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first album.

Although millions of copies of this album were sold, so few were mastered and pressed well, and so many mastered and pressed poorly, that few copies actually make it to the site as Hot Stampers. We wish that were not the case — we love the album — but the copies we know to have the potential for Hot Stamper sound are just not sitting around in the record bins these days.

Whatever you do, don’t waste your money on the Joe Gastwirt-mastered CD. It couldn’t be any more awful. (His Deja Vu is just as bad.)

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

What’s magical about Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young? Their voices of course. It’s not a trick question. They revolutionized rock music with their genius for harmony. Any good pressing must sound correct on their voices or it has no value whatsoever. A CSN record with bad midrange — like most of them — is a worthless record.
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Listening in Depth to The Band

band_band600Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of The Band’s second album.

The best copies have no trace of phony sound from top to bottom. They’re raw and real in a way that makes most pop records sound processed and wrong. Our best Hot Stampers have plenty of the qualities we look for in The Band. Energy, presence, transparency, Tubey Magic… you name it — you will find it there. The biggest strength of this recording is its wonderful, natural midrange. And tons of bass.

Despite what anyone might tell you, it’s no mean feat to find good sounding copies of this record. There are good originals and bad originals, as well as good reissues and bad reissues. Folks, we’ve said it many times — the label can’t tell you how a record sounds, but there’s a sure way to find out that information. You’ve got to clean ’em and play ’em to find out which ones have Hot Stampers, and we seem to be the only record dealers who are doing that, in the process making unusually good pressings available to you, the music-loving audiophile.

Vinyl Reissues and Gold CDs

There are some pretty bad sounding Heavy Vinyl reissues available on vinyl these days. And then there is the gold CD Hoffman mastered for Audio Fidelity, which I frankly didn’t care for much. It’s clean and clear the way most CDs are, and kind of misses the point the way most CDs do.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Across The Great Divide

This song should sound very smooth, with correct tonality from top to bottom; that’s the way it is on the best copies.

It’s easy to tell when the sound is boosted in the upper midrange: the vocals sound “shouty,” not smooth and real the way they can on the killer Hot Stamper copies.

If the sound is rich, smooth and sweet, you are off to a good start. If this track sounds “modern” – clean with lots of presence — all is lost. If you can hear much detail on this track, the record is too bright. (Or your system is.)

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Listening in Depth to Aja (Includes Free Cisco Debunking Tool)

Aja

 

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Another in our series of “Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Aja.

Our track commentary for the song Home at Last makes it easy to spot an obvious problem with Cisco’s remastered Aja: This is the toughest song to get right on side two. Nine out of ten copies have grainy, irritating vocals; the deep bass is often missing too. Home at Last is just plain unpleasant as a rule, which is why it’s such a great test track.

Get this one right and it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there on out.
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