Listening in General

Balancing Night with Day on Joe Jackson’s Masterpiece from 1982

Night and Day Hot Stampers in Stock

 

xxx

Night and Day is Joe Jackson’s masterpiece. It’s simply WONDERFUL from start to finish. This is adult popular music that belongs in any serious thinking person’s record collection. Not many records from the ’80s sound as natural as this one. It’s analog, that’s for damn sure.

Balancing Night and Day

There are basically four elements that go into the making of Night and Day: vocals; keyboards (mostly the piano); percussion (in the mids and highs) and rhythm (drums and bass).

No two copies will get all of these elements to sound their best. The trick to finding the hotter of the Hot Stamper pressings is to find copies of the album that reproduce these four elements clearly and correctly, in balance, and reveals their placement in a large, three-dimensional studio space.

It may sound easy but I assure you it is not. With this many instruments in the mix it’s a lot to get right.

Vocals

Pop records live and die by the quality of their vocals and Night and Day is no different in that respect. The vocals have to be front and center. Veiling in the midrange costs a fair number of points. They should also be smooth, not thin or edgy. I would rather have slightly veiled vocals relative to thin and edgy ones, but some copies manage to give you full, clear, present vocals, and those are the ones we tend to like the best.

Keyboards

When the sound is thin in the lower midrange and upper bass the piano will lose its weight and solidity. In the denser mixes it can easily get washed out, and nobody wants a washed out piano.

There is no guitar on this record. The piano carries much of the structural energy of the music. You need to be able to hear the piano clearly and hear that it is both full-bodied and percussive.

Percussion

The list of percussion instruments played on this record is long indeed, with congas, bongos, timbales, bells and let us not forget the all-import xylophone. (See the Musicians and Instruments tab above.)Most copies don’t have the extension on the top end to reproduce the harmonics of most of the higher-frequency instruments, but the few that do can show you a world of sound that the other pressings barely hint at.

The percussion also drives the rhythmic energy and fills out the studio space above the vocals. The energy level drops when these instruments aren’t heard properly, and the space of the music shrinks in proportion as well.

The big drum and other percussion instruments that lead off Another World on side one — and by percussion instruments I am also referring to the piano — tell you most everything you need to know. The timbre of that big drum is very pronounced on the better copies.

Rhythm

Another critically important element in a pop/rock record, and especially important to this one. The thinner, somewhat leaned-out copies emphasize the mids and upper-mids too much. They tend to be harsher and more unpleasant. The ones with clear, tight bass and solid drums to anchor the arrangements naturally work the best.

Reissues

Most reissues are clearly made from sub-generation tapes. They sound smeared and dead and are guaranteed to bore you to tears. With the right originals the sound is MAGIC.

Lesser original copies can be grainy, irritating, flat and lifeless. Nothing new there, right? You have to work to find a good Night and Day — or buy one from us because we’ve already done the work!

 

What We Listened For in 2005: Brass Timbre and Tonality

This superb copy just went up today

xxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

This 2005 commentary discusses how easy it is to be fooled by tweaks that seem to offer more transparency and detail at the expense of weight and heft. It took the brass on this album to set me straight.

I was playing this record today (5/24/05) after having made some changes in my stereo over the weekend, and I noticed some things didn’t sound quite right. Knowing that this is an exceptionally good sounding record, albeit a very challenging one, I started playing around with the stereo, trying to recapture the sound as I remembered it from the last copy that had come in a few months back.

As I tweaked and untweaked the system around this record I could hear immediately what was better and what was worse, what was more musical and what was more Hi-Fi. The track I was playing was Night In Tunisia, which has practically every brass instrument known to man, in every combination one can imagine. Since this is a Mono pressing I didn’t have to worry about silly issues like soundstaging, which can be very deceptive. I was concerned with tonality and the overall presentation of the various elements in the recording.

To make a long story short, I ended up undoing all the things that I had done to the system over the weekend! In other words, what improvements I thought I had made turned out not to be improvements at all. And this is the album that showed me the error of my ways.

Brass instruments are some of the most difficult to reproduce, especially brass choirs. You have to get the leading edges so that the instruments have “bite”. You can’t have too much harmonic distortion or smearing, because harmonic distortion and smearing are very obvious on brass instruments.

But the one thing above all that is intolerable when trying to reproduce brass is a lack of weight or heft. There is nothing worse than thin sounding brass. It becomes hard, shrill, sour and altogether unpleasant. (This is another reason why I don’t like small speakers: they have trouble reproducing the weight of brass instruments, in both jazz and classical music.)

The tweaking I had done over the weekend resulted in greater transparency and openness. But greater transparency and openness at the expense of richness, fullness, correct tonality and proper overall presentation is a bad trade-off. Many audiophiles fall into this trap. I fell into it myself. Thank goodness I had this wonderful jazz record to help me find my way out. If I had been playing Patricia Barber I would have never realized how wrong I had gone.

This is yet another reason that it’s important to play REAL MUSIC recorded by real engineers and not AUDIOPHILE MUSIC recorded by audiophile engineers when adjusting or tweaking your system.

Art Pepper’s Modern Jazz Classic

A Superb Hot Stamper Pressing

  • A Big, Bold and Lively copy, with each side rating a Double Plus (A++) or BETTER for this exceptionally well recorded album
  • The sound is rich, warm and full-bodied, both clear and open — the brass sounds phenomenal on this pressing
  • Here is the Tubey Magic of the originals without the problems that make the average original so much less involving
  • A longtime audiophile favorite – 5 stars on Allmusic: “This is a true classic. Essential music for all serious jazz collections.”

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has got that Modern Jazz Classics Magic. On a great copy such as this one you can really pick out each of the musicians and follow them throughout the course of the track. When you’re able to appreciate everyone’s contributions you really get a sense of how much work went into the making of this album. It’s nothing short of epic.

This is one DYNAMIC jazz record — drop the needle on any track and prepare yourself to be very impressed. The sound is full-bodied and energetic with tight bass, breathy brass, and lots of ambience.

See all of our Art Pepper albums in stock

(more…)

Today’s Cool Record Find from 1966 – Luiz Bonfa’s Softly…

Our White Hot Shootout Winner

xxx

  • This original Epic pressing has superb Shootout Winning sound, earning a Triple Plus (A+++) grade on side two and close to it on side one
  • If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1966 All Tube Analog sound can be, this copy is just the record that can do it
  • The soundstage, depth and height of this spacious recording are as huge and three-dimensional as any you’ve heard
  • “One of the better early bossa albums by Bonfa, and one that doesn’t have the sleepy quality that you find on some of his other records. Luiz’ guitar is backed by a nice little combo, and the tracks have a lively rhythm, with occasional vocals, and some nice flute solos from time to time.”

See more recordings with especially Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars

xxxx

This is a simply wonderful Brazilian jazz guitar record, as well as what appears to be a mostly undiscovered gem. As an exceptional recording of excellent Brazilian guitar music from 1966, it is being offered to you by the music loving audiophiles at Better Records, folks who like to think they know a good sounding record when they hear one. (more…)

Our Hall of Shame – Nearly 300 Strong – Thanks Classic Records!

Awful in Every Way

Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition

Classic Records Debunked

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

The shrillness, the hardness, the sourness, the loss of texture to the strings, the phony boosted deep bass — this is the kind of sound that makes my skin crawl. After a minute or two I’ve had it. And the performance is dreadful as well.

HP put this on his TAS List? Yes he did!

More Pictures at an Exhibition

What do you get with Hot Stampers compared to the Classic Heavy Vinyl reissue? Dramatically more warmth, sweetness, delicacy, transparency, space, energy, size, naturalness (no boost on the top end or the bottom, a common failing of anything on Classic); in other words, the kind of difference you almost ALWAYS get comparing the best vintage pressings with their modern remastered counterparts, in our experience anyway. (more…)

Latest Thoughts on Let It Be

 

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.

LET IT BE

beatles_letitbe-660x660

Including:

A top copy, the MoFi, the new Heavy Vinyl pressing, What to Listen For and our take on the Bell Sound domestic original.

Boz Scaggs and His Background Singers – How Well Can You “See” Them?

See all of our Boz Scaggs albums in stock

scaggbozsc_wtlf_1280317073

This original (SD-8239) pressing has two excellent sides, which is two more than the typical cardboardy, flat, thin, lifeless copy has. If you like your music dry and clean, try the remixed version (SD-19166), the CD, or perhaps there is a heavy vinyl version out there (at one tenth the price). That’s not our sound here at Better Records.

The best recordings from the era do not have that sound, so when we find that kind of analog richness, sweetness and naturalness on a pressing such as this, we know the record is RIGHT.

What to Listen For — Background Singers You Can “See”

If you have multiple copies of the album and want to shoot them out, here’s an easy test. Listen for how clear and correct the female background singers sound. This is an excellent test because it will hold true for both sides on the album.

On opaque copies they are hard to “see”; on transparent copies they are easy to “see”. On tonally thin copies they will sound edgier and harder than they should. And on Tubey Magical copies they will sound full-bodied, solid and real.


Further Reading

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

Transparency, the other side of the Tubey Magical coin, is also key to the better pressings of this album as well as many of our other favorite demo discs.

 

 

Boz Scaggs and Silk Degrees and Its Rich, Solid Piano – The Forgotten Sound of ’70s Rock

 

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.

Silk Degrees

xxx

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

What do you hear on the best copies? Well, the first thing you hear is a rich, solid piano, a piano that’s missing from the CBS Half-Speed and 90% of the reissues we’ve played. Like so many recordings from the ’70s this album is surprisingly natural sounding. I’ve had the same experience with Billy Joel’s ’70s records. I was surprised to hear how well recorded they are — and how full-bodied the piano is — after I stopped listening to the audiophile and import pressings and went back to the original domestic copies.

When you get the right ones they’re wonderfully rich and smooth, the way good analog should be.

And these were the kinds of records that we audiophiles were complaining about back in the day. We lamented the fact that these pressings weren’t audiophile quality, like the best MoFis and Japanese pressings. Can you imagine?

This is how bad even good equipment must have been back then.

Of course we got what we deserved. We got lots of phony, hyped-up pressings to fool us into thinking we were hearing better sound, when in fact the opposite was true. I regret to say that nothing has changed — most pressings aimed at audiophiles are still mediocre if not outright awful (bad enough to fill up our Hall of Shame in fact.

The other record that immediately comes to mind to show you the sound that’s missing from many pressings, both vintage and modern, is Aja. Here’s what we had to say about it:

If you own the Cisco 180 gram pressing, focus on Victor Feldman’s piano at the beginning of the song. It lacks body, weight and ambience on the new pressing, but any of our better Hot Stamper copies will show you a piano with those qualities in spades all the way through. It’s some of my favorite work by the Steely Dan vibesman. The thin piano on the Cisco release must be recognized for what it is: a major error on the part of the mastering engineers.

A full piano is key to the sound of the best pressing of Silk Degrees. The other thing you hear on the best copies is a smooth, sweet top end, which is likewise missing from the above mentioned pressings.

Most copies lack presence and top end. Dull, thick, opaque sound is far too common on Silk Degrees, which may account for some audiophiles finding the half-speed preferable. Of course, our Hot Stampers give you the presence and highs that let this music come to life. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be Hot Stampers now would they?

Some of the Best Live Rock Sound Ever Recorded

Cream Goodbye 

in stock

 

creamgoodb_fame_1447758382

When you get a good side one of Goodbye you’ll have no trouble hearing why we think it’s one of the Best Sounding Live Rock Albums of all time.

Goodbye has the Big Rock Sound that we go crazy for here at Better Records. The best pressings, the ones that are full-bodied and smooth, let you crank the levels and reproduce the album good and loud the way live rock music is meant to be heard.

It’s clearly one of BILL HALVERSON‘s Engineering Triumphs, along with Deja Vu and Steve Stills’ first album (now that’s a trio!). Live Rock Music on record just does not sound better than a White Hot Stamper side one of Goodbye.

See all of our Cream albums in stock

When it’s all working, you’re front and center for a fiery Cream concert with these guys delivering one heckuva performance. And where else are you gonna get that these days?

What To Listen For (WTLF) (more…)

What to Listen For on this Classic EMI with the Music of Prokofiev

An Amazing White Hot Stamper Copy

 

prokosym1_emi_1504_2_1153511995

See all our pressings of Prokofiev’s music in stock

 

This pressing contains one of my favorite performances of the Classical Symphony. There is a recording by Previn and the LA Phil from 1986 with a performance To Die For. Unfortunately it comes with the kind of mid-’80s tear-your-head-off-digital shrillness that makes the CD medium the worn out joke we analog lovers have long known it to be.

The First Symphony happens to be one of my favorite classical works of all time, right up there with The Planets and Pictures at an Exhibition. I wouldn’t want to go to my desert island without all three.

This is truly a sublime recording that belongs in any music collection, whether you’re a fan of classical music or not. It’s a work of such joy that I’ve never failed to be uplifted by it — except when the performance is too slow, which it much too often is.

This is a difficult piece to pull off. Most of the time either the orchestra is not up to the task or the conductor misunderstands the work. Previn has a spritely take on the piece, which is precisely what it needs and, every bit as important, the London Symphony has the chops to bring his vision to life.

What to Listen for

That’s an easy one: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label the way they did back the day. I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles make about the sound of records, my own included — we do have a We Was Wrong section right here on the site — to the limitations of the equipment, bad rooms and poor record cleaning. (more…)