Difficult to Reproduce Recordings

The Rolling Stones / Exile On Main Street – A Good Test for Grit and Grain

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More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

The best copies will tend to have the qualities detailed below, and the more abundant these qualities are on any given pressing, the higher its grade will be.

Yes, it is a science, an empirical one, which can only be carried out by the use of strict protocols and controls, but it sure ain’t rocket science. All you need is the system, the room, the records, the time and the will to do the painstaking critical listening required to carry out the task.

It can be done, but you could spend a lifetime meeting audiophiles of the vinyl persuasion and never run into a single one who has made the effort more than a handful of times.

To be honest, shootouts are a bitch. If you aren’t getting paid to do them the way we are, finding the motivation to devote the time and energy required to do them right — not to mention the piles of copies of each record you will need — is daunting to say the least.

So, back to the question: what to listen for? (more…)

Turntable Testing Using Court and Spark and a Yellow Pad

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

Hot Stamper Pressings of Court and Spark Available Now

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There are loud vocal choruses on many tracks, and more often than not at their loudest they sound like they are either breaking up or threatening to do so. I always assumed it was compressor or board overload, which is easily heard on Down to You. On the best copies there is no breakup — the voices get loud and stay clean throughout.

This assumes that your equipment is up to the job. The loudest choruses are a tough test for any system.

Setup Advice

If you have one of our hottest Hot Stampers, try adjusting your setup – VTA, Tracking Weight, Azimuth, Anti-Skate (especially! Audiophiles often overlook this one, at their peril) — and note how cleanly the loudest passages play using various combinations of settings.

Keep a yellow pad handy and write everything down step by step as you make your changes, along with what differences you hear in the sound.

You will learn more about sound from this exercise than you can from practically any other. Even shootouts won’t teach you what you can learn from variations in your table setup.

And once you have your setup dialed in better, you will find that your shootouts go a lot smoother than they used to. (more…)

The Monkees / The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees – Yes, Some Copies Actually Do Sound Good

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More Sixties Pop Recordings

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  • KILLER sound throughout for this original Colgems pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them – the vinyl is fairly quiet for a vintage Monkees record too
  • The key to any Monkees record is the midrange, and here is the low-distortion, rich, breathy, present, Tubey Magical sound that no other side one had in such abundance
  • Daydream Believer was the big hit and it is absolutely killer here
  • “Featuring more than half of its material written by band members, The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees ranks as a favorite among longtime fans… it’s one of the band’s finest records, a great representation of the era and an even better pop album.” – Ultimate Classic Rock

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Casino Royale Can Be Amazing on the Right Copy, If You’ve Got the System For It…

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

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This is a record that has its share of problems, but if you’ve got the system for it (huge, heavily tweaked, fast, free from obvious colorations and capable of tremendous resolution), the best pressings are sure to impress.

Having heard the best sounding pressings I now understand why this has been such a highly regarded long-term resident of the TAS Superdisc List. The best copies are SUPERDISCS… while the average copy of this album is anything but. Who could take such harsh, grainy, thin, veiled, compressed sound seriously? What was Harry Pearson smokin’?

I can honestly and truthfully say that until we discovered the Hot Stampers for this album, I never thought this record deserved the praise Harry heaped upon it. Now I do. I once was blind but now I see, or something like that.

And by the way, does his copy sound as good as this one? Let’s face it: the late Harry Pearson was simply not the kind of guy who would sit down with five or ten copies and shoot them out.

When you listen to the average pressing of Casino Royale, you get the feeling that you’re hearing a standard-issue, boxy, lightweight, blary ’60s soundtrack. Perhaps you hear some promise in the recording, but it’s a promise that’s unfulfilled by the record on your turntable. This copy will completely redefine what you know about the sound of this music.

The space is big and the sound relatively rich (although the sound does vary quite a bit from track to track). The vocals have notably less hardness than most and the orchestra is not as brash as it can be on so many of the copies we audition. Huge amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies, and critical to The Look of Love.

The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD. (more…)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Self-Titled

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  • Wow – Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish for the band’s debut and vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find
  • These sides are exceptionally low-distortion, solid, dynamic, with the neutral tonality completely missing from the current spate of reissues
  • Featuring classics such as I Put a Spell on You, the extended-length jam Susie Q (8:37, perfect for Underground Radio), The Working Man, Porterville and more
  • 4 stars: “CCR’s self-titled debut album was gloriously out-of-step with the times, teeming with John Fogerty’s Americana fascinations. … the band’s sound is vibrant, with gutsy arrangements that borrow equally from Sun, Stax, and the swamp.”

It’s unlikely you will be demonstrating your system with this record, but you may find yourself enjoying the hell out of it for what it is — an early example of Roots Rock that still holds up today.

This is an album that’s nearly impossible to find with excellent sound and clean surfaces. This is one of the best copies we’ve managed to come across. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Look Around

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

More Bossa Nova

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  • This superb pressing boasts Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • We go CRAZY for the breathy multi-tracked female vocals and the layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, as well as the piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself
  • “The Look of Love” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” are the epitome of the group’s ability to create Bossa Nova Magic
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Sergio Mendes took a deep breath, expanded his sound to include strings lavishly arranged by the young Dave Grusin and Dick Hazard, went further into Brazil, and out came a gorgeous record of Brasil ’66 at the peak of its form.”

As you may have noticed, we here at Better Records are HUGE Sergio Mendes fans. Nowhere else in the world of music can you find the wonderfully diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the girls’ breathy multi-tracked vocals and the layers and layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the crucially important, always tasteful keyboards and arrangements of Sergio himself.

Most copies of Look Around are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled, smeary and full of compressor distortion in the loud parts. Clearly, this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure. Our Hot Stamper pressings are the ones that are as far from that kind of sound as we can find them. We’re looking for the records that have none of those bad qualities. I’m happy to report that we have managed to find some awfully good sounding copies for our Hot Stamper customers. (more…)

Yes / Close To The Edge – A MoFi Winner, Or Was It? I Don’t Think We’ll Ever Really Know

Hot Stamper Pressings of Close to the Edge Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Close to the Edge

Sonic Grade: Side One: B to B+ / Side Two: C

Many, many years ago (2005?) we wrote the commentary you see below. We can’t say if we would still agree with the sentiments expressed, so take what you read with a grain of salt, and remember that no two records sound the same. If your copy is better or worse on either side it will not come as a surprise to us here at Better Records!

This is a great MOFI! (On side one anyway.) I have to admit I was partly wrong about this pressing. I used to think it was mud. Either the copy I have here is much better than the copy I played years ago, or my stereo has changed. I’m going to guess that it’s the stereo that has changed. I used to like the original American copies of this album and now I hear that they are upper midrangy and aggressive. So my stereo must have been too forgiving in that area, which in turn would have made this MOFI sound too dull.

Side one is as good as I’ve ever heard it outside of the best British originals. [We don’t even buy those anymore. Maybe that’s the problem with this comparison.] Since almost none of those have survived in clean enough condition to be played on modern audiophile turntables, there isn’t much of an alternative to this pressing.

And it should be noted that there is distortion on the tape. It’s on every LP copy and it’s on the CD too. There are cacophonous passages that have what sounds like board overload, mike preamp overload, tape saturation or something of the kind.

Eddie Offord, the recording engineer, is famous for complaining that the boys in the band were totally out of control when it came to adding layer upon layer and track upon track to their recordings, running the risk of such a dense mix that nothing would be heard above the din. He was always fighting a losing battle trying to rein them in. Although he did his best, it appears his efforts failed in some of the musical passages on this album.

So here’s a MOFI I like, but I only really like side one. Side two, although it’s decent enough, errs a little on the smooth, dull side. I have copies in which the guitars have wonderfully extended harmonics and sweeter tone. Some of them are even domestic pressings! On the MOFI there is a “blunting” of the acoustic guitar transients. (more…)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Pendulum

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More Roots Rock LPs

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  • This Fantasy stereo pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Bigger and bolder, with more bass, more energy, and more of that “you-are-there-immediacy” of ANALOG that set the best vintage pressings apart from reissues, CDs, and whatever else you care to name
  • 4 stars: “John Fogerty spent time polishing the production, bringing in keyboards, horns, even a vocal choir. His songs became self-consciously serious and tighter, working with the aesthetic of the rock underground — Pendulum was constructed as a proper album, contrasting dramatically with CCR’s previous records, all throwbacks to joyous early rock records where covers sat nicely next to hits and overlooked gems tucked away at the end of the second side.”

This copy will surely beat any pressing you put it up against. This will be especially true if you put it up against the Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl from years back, which will sound thick, opaque, airless and congested next to a properly mastered Fantasy pressing (deep groove or otherwise) such as this one. (more…)

Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

More on the Subject of Tubes in Audio

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What to listen for on this album? That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness.

We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI the way they did back in the ’70s. Harry Pearson loved many of their recordings, but I sure didn’t.  To this day, some of the records on the TAS List seem to me better suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the ’70s than the modern systems of today.

I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles tend to make about the sound of records, my own judgments included — to the four basics:

  • the limitations of the equipment,
  • bad setups,
  • bad rooms, and
  • poor record cleaning

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s such as McIntosh, Marantz, etc. — I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that exist today.

Today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like. 

The more revealing, more accurate systems of today are in fact what make it possible for us to do our job.

We used to not do it as well, and we talk about it in our Live and Learn section.

You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like. They should sound amazing on your system and in your room, and we stand behind that claim with a 100% Money Back Guarantee. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record is correct. All you need to do is play it back properly.

With each improvement you make in your system, the kinds of high quality pressings we sell — we call them Hot Stampers — will continue to reveal better and better sound in their grooves.

This is not true for the Modern Heavy Vinyl reissue. The better a system gets, the more the faults of those pressings come to light.  This typically sad story is one that is all too common with our customers. (more…)

The Beatles – The White Album

More of The Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for The White Album

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  • An outstanding British pressing of The White Album, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on all four sides
  • This copy of the Beatles’ Masterpiece (my personal favorite of all their albums) is going to thrill and delight the lucky person who snags it
  • If you’ve heard the half-speed and Heavy Vinyl versions of The White Album, then you know how riddled they are with unacceptable flaws and not enjoyable on high-quality equipment, unlike this copy which is guaranteed to be an unalloyed joy to play
  • “If there is still any doubt that Lennon and McCartney are the greatest song writers since Schubert, then next Friday – with the publication of the new Beatles double LP – should surely see the last vestiges of cultural snobbery and bourgeois prejudice swept away in a deluge of joyful music making…” Right On!

Our Hot Stampers have always been a BIG hit with the folks who’ve been lucky enough to snare them. If you’re ready for a High-Quality copy of The White Album that’s sure to massacre all the pressings you’ve heard until now, you should jump right on this bad boy. (more…)