Miscellany

Our Playback System – And Why You Shouldn’t Care

Below you will find a list of most of the equipment we currently use to carry out our pressing evaluations, our “Hot Stamper shootouts.”

Of course the old 80/20 Rule comes into play here — 80% (probably more like 90 or 95%, truth be told) of the sound is what you do with your audio system, 20% (or 10 or 5%) of the sound is the result of the components you own.

We like to say it’s not about the audio you have, it’s about the audio you do: how you set up your system, what you’ve done to treat your room, how good your electricity is and all the rest of it.

Our VPI Aries (original, not the latest model) with Super Platter (no longer made) and TTWeights Carbon Fiber Platter (a big upgrade) / VPI Synchronous Drive System (as of 2016 now sitting on a Townshend Seismic Sink) Triplanar Tonearm / Dynavector 17d3 / Aurios (no longer made), which sit on a Townshend Seismic Sink (another big upgrade, contact me if interested) / EAR 324P and the hundreds of hours we’ve spent setting up and tweaking this beast is at the heart of everything we do around here.

Mix in extensive room treatments, aided inestimably by three pairs of Hallographs (as we like to say, there is no practically no Hi-Fi without them), more than thirty years of experience and endless hours of experimentation and you have a system that can separate the winners from the losers like nobody’s business.

Exactly like nobody’s business, because nobody does it in this business but us. Having heard hundreds of systems over the years, it’s an open question as to whether anyone else could do what we do. (more…)

Classic Tracks: “She’s Not There”

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Classic Tracks: “She’s Not There, The Zombies

If one of the defining characteristics of a Classic Track is its immediate recognition, then The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” is as classic as it comes. One of its atypical characteristics, the distinctive opening bass notes and subsequent line that continues throughout the track, surely helped the band win the 1964 Hert’s Beat Competition, which earned them a recording contract with Decca Records. On the map and on their way.

The band had gotten together when they were 15-year-old schoolmates in 1961 in their hometown of St. Albans, England. Keyboardist Rod Argent recruited some of the members, as lead vocalist Colin Blunstone remembers, based on the alphabet. “We sat in class in alphabetical order, and I had a guitar,” Blunstone recalls.

Then after they won the competition, according to Blunstone, and just two weeks prior to their big recording session, producer Ken Jones said, “You could always try to write something.” (more…)

The VPI Super Platter and Our Testing Methodologies

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We love it! It’s a big step up over the acrylic platter, which makes records sound more like CDs, kind of thin, vague, edgy. The original TNT type Aries platter is a very similar design to the Super Platter, and so when I got my super platter it was obviously better after the first five seconds of play but not dramatically better. On a customer’s TNT with the acrylic platter it was huge.

The bigger and more powerful the stereo the bigger will be the difference, because it has to do with weight and heft and solidness and those sorts of issues, the kind that so many modern audiophiles ignore. (The CD guys don’t even know what those things are because CDs never have those qualities!)

According to VPI:

This is the most advanced platter VPI has ever made, and it is compatible with the VPI Periphery ring. Made from an acrylic/stainless/acrylic sandwich (just like the HRX chassis) and weighing in at 25 pounds, this is a big bad platter upgrade. It has better bass performance, is ultra quiet and has more stability, great slam and power.

The Super Platter will fit the HW-19 series, all Aries, all Scouts, Scoutmasters and SuperScoutmasters. It’ll even fit all the previous 20 years of TNTs. It just doesn’t fit the HRX because that model has a larger diameter bearing assembly and its own optional super platter.


That’s what VPI says, but what do we have to say about it?

It has been our experience that VPI upgrades tend to be actual sonic improvements over the earlier versions of their equipment, unlike so much of what passes for “better” audio in the land of Hi-Fi, which is often just different and in many cases actually worse.

These are the kind of upgrades we love to do, and the reason is no doubt obvious to all you audiophiles out there. Pop the new platter on and thirty seconds later you can hear the difference. Not sure about the change? Don’t like it? Thirty seconds later you can have your old platter spinning to see exactly what happened to the sound.

It’s the kind of testing we do here all day long with Hot Stamper and other pressings. Take ten copies of any title and play them, making notes as to their strengths and weaknesses. Assign each one am overall sonic grade. Think numbers 2 and 7 are the best of the bunch on side one, but not quite sure which of the two is better? No problem. Take one of them, throw it back on the table, listen for a minute, then pop on the other. That kind of head-to-head shootout is the easiest, most accurate way to find out which record really has the Hot Stamper Magic and which one only appears to.

Not sure if your new turntable or cartridge does everything better than your old one? That’s a tough test. It’s practically impossible to quickly set up the old table or mount up the old cartridge for a head to head. Unless something in the sound is just plain driving you crazy you’re not likely to want to go through the hassle of setting up the old system, and who can blame you — it’s a pain in the ass.

One of the reasons I had never upgraded from my original Aries is that after years and years and scores and scores of hours of tweaking the damn thing, the sound was so right I didn’t want to mess with it. Any new table would be starting from scratch and I just couldn’t bear the thought. I’ve set up a number of TNTs and new Aries 3 tables and to my ear they could not better what I was already hearing, for one simple reason — they hadn’t been tweaked yet. (And none of them had my Triplanar arm, which is pretty hard to beat with a JMW.)

Bottom Line — we love the new Super Platter and recommend everyone who owns the acrylic platter replace it immediately. If you are looking to buy a VPI table you can save hundreds of dollars by ordering it with the Super Platter installed. You will be glad you did.


And one more thing: Aurios (more…)

Wired Investigates the World of Hot Stampers

Check out our Wired Article.

If you have time, go to the comments section and read the 300 plus postings of how preposterous the very idea of Hot Stampers is, along with analog vinyl itself and the ridiculously expensive audiophile equipment used to play it, as if you didn’t know already!

Cat Stevens Asks How Do You Like Your Congas: Light, Medium or Heavy?

 

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During the shootout for this record a while back we made a very important discovery, a seemingly obvious one but one that nevertheless had eluded us for the past twenty plus years (so how obvious could it have been?). It became clear, for the first time, what accounts for the wide disparity in ENERGY and DRIVE from one copy to the next. We can sum it up for you in one five letter word, and that word is conga.

The congas are what drive the high-energy songs, songs like Tuesday’s Dead and Changes IV. Here is how we stumbled upon their critically important contribution.

We were listening to one of the better copies during a recent shootout. The first track on side one, The Wind, was especially gorgeous; Cat and his acoustic guitar were right there in the room with us. The transparency, tonal neutrality, presence and all the rest were just superb. Then came time to move to the other test track on side one, which is Changes IV, one of the higher energy songs we like to play.

But the energy we expected to hear was nowhere to be found. The powerful rhythmic drive of the best copies of the album just wasn’t happening. The more we listened the more it became clear that the congas were not doing what they normally do. The midbass to lower midrange area of the LP lacked energy, weight and power, and this prevented the song from coming to LIFE the way the truly Hot Stampers can and do.

Big Speakers

For twenty years Tuesday’s Dead has been one of my favorite tracks for demonstrating what The Big Speaker Sound is all about. Now I think I better understand why. Big speakers are the only way to reproduce the physical size and tremendous energy of the congas (and other drums of course) that play such a big part in driving the rhythmic energy of the song.

In my experience no six inch woofer — or seven, or eight, or ten even — gets the sound of the conga right, from bottom to top, drum to skin. No screen can do it either. It’s simply a sound that large dynamic drivers reproduce well and other speaker designs do not reproduce so well.

Since this is one of my favorite records of all time, a true Desert Island Disc, I would never want to be without a pair of big speakers to play it, because those are the kinds of speakers that play it well. (more…)

Tubes Versus Transistors – Some Background from Skeptoid

Below you will find a link to a reasonably fair and balanced look at the battle between transistors and tubes from Brian Dunning’s skeptoid website, daily reading for those of us who favor a skeptical approach to life (and especially this hobby).

Thirty plus years ago, when I started my little record business, I knew that most records marketed to audiophiles offered junk sound (half-speed masters) or junk music (direct to discs). As our playback has improved, fewer and fewer of these “specialty” pressings have survived the test of time, a subject we write about endlessly on our site and here on this blog.

For the longest time our motto has been “Records for Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records,” and we see no reason to change it.  If anything, the current spate of manufacturers of Heavy Vinyl pressings are making records that get worse sounding by the day. Many of the most egregious offenders can be found here.

More commentaries about Heavy Vinyl can be found here. We are not fans of the stuff, not because it’s our competition. It just doesn’t sound very good.

In order to do the work we do, our approach to audio has to be fundamentally different from that of the audiophile who listens for enjoyment. Critical listening and listening for enjoyment go hand in hand, but they are not the same thing.

The first — developing and applying your critical listening skills — allows you to achieve good audio and find the best pressings of the music you love.

Once you have a good stereo and a good record to play on it, your enjoyment of recorded music should increase dramatically.

A great sounding record on a killer system is a thrill.

A Heavy Vinyl mediocrity, played back on what passes for so many audiophile systems these days — regardless of cost — is, to these ears, an intolerable bore.

If this sounds arrogant and elitist, so be it. We set a higher standard, and price our records commensurate with their superior sound.  For those who appreciate the difference, and have resources sufficient to afford them, the cost is reasonable. If it were not we would have gone out of business years ago.

Hot Stampers are not cheap. If the price could not be justified by the better sound quality and quieter surfaces, who in his right mind would buy them? We can’t really be fooling so many audiophiles, can we?

Our approach to equipment and records is explained in more detail below, in a listing centered around an early pressing of a Ted Heath Big Band album from the Fifties that knocked our socks off.  The right record at loud levels on Big Speakers can do that.

 

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We went wild recently over a marvelous copy of the Ted Heath record you see pictured. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound was positively uncanny. This was vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve upon it.

This is our kind of sound. It’s also important to keep in mind that our stereo seemed to love the record. (Stereos do that.) Let’s talk about why that might be the case.

Our system is fast, accurate and uncolored. We like to think of our speakers as the audiophile equivalent of studio monitors, showing us exactly what is on the record, with nothing added and (hopefully) nothing taken away. (more…)

The Very Best Sounding Records – One Customer’s Defense of Hot Stampers

There is an active thread on Audiogon inviting members to list what they believe are the

Very best sounding vinyl records

in their collection.

One of my customers made the case for some of his Hot Stamper pressings
and, as you can imagine, it was as well received as the proverbial turd in the punchbowl.

Please to enjoy!

Comments or questions? Please send them to tom@better-records.com