Difficult to Reproduce Recordings

Harry Nilsson – Pussy Cats

More Harry Nilsson

More John Lennon

  • Pussy Cats returns to the site on this vintage RCA Victor pressing with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Both of these sides are rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical with lots of energy
  • Produced by John Lennon, Nilsson’s partner in crime, it’s a really fun album, with an appealingly ragged and spontaneous vibe
  • “It may not be as wild as the lost weekend itself, but it couldn’t have been recorded at any other time and remains a fascinating aural snapshot of the early days of 1974.”

The soundstage is huge and open, there’s some real richness and body to the vocals and, perhaps most importantly, you get all the energy and presence required to bring this wild album to life.

John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were notorious partiers during Lennon’s “lost weekend” away from Yoko, and the album basically plays like all that excess playing out in the studio. The vibe is loose and spontaneous, and Nilsson’s voice is at its most ragged. That looseness and raggedness results in some startlingly emotional peaks — “Many Rivers To Cross” and “Don’t Forget Me” are positively spine-tingling — and some good-natured romps through classic covers like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Rock Around The Clock.” It’s a whole lot of fun — especially when you have a copy that sounds like this!

This album may not be a demo disc like A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night, but that’s really not the point here. This record is about the atmosphere, and this copy has the kind of big, open soundstage and smooth, musical tonality that really make the music work! It’s actually one of the best-sounding Nilsson albums, and the sound is perfectly matched to the material.

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The Beatles – The White Album

More of The Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for The White Album

  • An outstanding British pressing of The White Album, with solid 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 erroneous and unacceptable mastering choices
  • They are simply not enjoyable on high-quality equipment (or shouldn’t be if your stereo is doing its job right), unlike this wonderful pressing, 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…)

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Stillness

More Sergio Mendes

More Bossa Nova

  • An early A&M pressing of this incredibly well-recorded and criminally-overlooked LP, with STUNNING Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Side two of the best sounding copies will always be out of polarity – for those of you who cannot reverse your polarity, we will have some second-tier copies coming to the site soon
  • The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that will absolutely blow you away (assuming you have big speakers and like to turn them up good and loud)
  • Wonderfully present and breathy vocals from the lovely ladies in Sergio’s band – they’re the audiophile (and sex) appeal, and we know of nothing else like them on record
  • A permanent member of our Top 100 and Demo Disc par excellence,
  • 4 stars: “Stillness is a concept album — the title tune opens and closes it in moody stillness — and a transition piece all at once…. Overlooked in its day, Stillness is the great sleeper album of Sergio Mendes’ first A&M period.”

We figure we’re about due for a thank you note from Mr. Mendes, because we’ve turned a huge number of audiophiles into die-hard fans of this album. It’s easy to see why when you play a copy that sounds like this. All of the qualities we look for on this album are right here.

If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as wonderful, look no further — this is the record for you.

If I had one song to play to show what my stereo can really do, “For What It’s Worth” on a Hot Stamper copy would probably be my choice. I can’t think of any material that sounds better. It’s amazingly spacious and open, yet punchy and full bodied the way only vintage analog recordings ever are. This one being from 1970 fits the bill nicely.

Side two of this album can be one of THE MOST MAGICAL sides of ANY record — when you’ve got a killer copy. I don’t know of any other record like it. It seems to be in a class of its own. It’s an excellent test disc as well. All tweaks and equipment changes and room treatments must pass the Stillness test.

To fail to make this record sound better is to fail completely. The production is so dense, and so difficult to reproduce properly, that only recently have I begun to hear just how good this record can sound. There is still plenty to discover locked in these grooves, and I enthusiastically accept the challenge to find all the sounds that Sergio created in the studio, locked away in the 50+ year old vinyl.

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Yes / Fragile – Listening in Depth

yes__fragi_depth_1392743863More of the Music of Yes

Reviews and Commentaries for Fragile

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

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

Side One

Roundabout

You can tell by the sound of the opening guitar whether you have a copy that is tonally correct, has its ambience intact, as well as the proper leading edge transients to the strings plucks. Most of the reissues will sound either thin and edgy, or dull and blunted. On the best copies, that guitar will just sound out of this world.

Cans and Brahms
We Have Heaven
South Side of the Sky

What really separates the amazing copies from the merely good copies is the WEIGHT of the sound. The lower midrange is key in this regard. When you hear the piano on this track, it should have tremendous body and sustain to the notes. If the piano comes across at all anemic, the sound will be unbearably harsh.

Side Two

Five Per Cent for Nothing
Long Distance Runaround

This is one of the best sounding Yes tracks of all time. Jon Anderson’s voice is so present; he sounds as if he’s standing right between the speakers.

Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)
Mood for a Day

The top pressings exhibit amazing transparency and sweetness on this track. We would rate this one of the best rock acoustic guitar recordings on the planet. I’ve recently come to realize that this is actually a key track for side two. The guitar can sound midrangy and hard; too fat; blunted; and I’m sure lots of other ways.

And I’m talking about ONLY the best early pressings (the four digit ones). None of the later pressings sound any good to me at all.

This is where the surface noise will be most audible. After playing a number of copies, I noticed that there was always surface noise on this track, but not necessarily others. And then it dawned on me: the surface noise has to be spread evenly throughout the record; it’s on this track that you can actually hear it. The other tracks tend to be loud and little surface noise will ever be audible.

Heart of the Sunrise

My second favorite track on the album. All those aggressive guitar parts can be very irritating if you do not have a copy that’s cut properly, which in this case means smooth and full-bodied. Any thinness or edginess will be all but unbearable on this track.

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King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King

  • KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides of this original Island Sunray pressing
  • We had a wide variety of Islands (Pink and Sunray) and UK Polydor pressings, and if you want to know which of them sounds the best all you have to do is buy this LP!
  • At good loud levels the horns blasting away on “21st Century Schizoid Man” are guaranteed to blow your mind on this copy
  • 5 Stars: “The group’s definitive album, and one of the most daring debut albums ever …. it blew all of the progressive/psychedelic competition out of the running, although it was almost too good for the band’s own good — it took King Crimson nearly four years to come up with a record as strong or concise.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. In the Court of the Crimson King is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

Over the many years of doing shootouts for this album, we’ve listened to a lot of different pressings. Right from the start we could hear that no domestic pressing was, or was likely to ever be, remotely competitive with the best Brits.

Most later reissues — domestic or import — were as flat and lifeless as a cassette, although we admit that some were clearly better than others.

The MoFi pressing is one of their best. Unfortunately we have little tolerance for the dynamic compression, overall lifelessness and wonky bass heard on practically every record they ever remastered. One of the reasons your MoFi might not sound wrong to you is that it isn’t really “wrong.” It’s doing most things right, and it probably will beat whatever you can find to throw at it.

But it’s lacking some important qualities, and a listen to one of our Hot Stampers will allow you to hear exactly what you’re not getting when you play an audiophile pressing of In The Court Of The Crimson King, even one as good as MoFi’s.

Side by side the comparison will surely be striking. How much energy, size and power and passion is missing from the record you own? There’s only one way to find out, and it’s by playing a better copy of the album. This one will do nicely!

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Paul Simon / Still Crazy After All These Years – Listening in Depth

More of the Music of Paul Simon

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Paul Simon (and Art Garfunkel)

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Still Crazy. Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

As exceptionally well-produced, well-engineered Pop Albums from the ’70s, the very best copies can proudly hold their heads high. Wait a minute. Our last commentary noted what a mess most of the pressings of this album sound like, with so much spit and grain. Have we changed our minds? Well, yes and no, and as usual we make no excuses for having changed our minds. We call it progress.

Yes, most copies are still a mess, but No, some copies now sound far better than we ever thought possible.

As we noted in our previous commentary for the Hot Stamper Still Crazy (back in 2005!), when we first dropped the needle on side one of another copy of this record, we were shocked to hear how spitty, grainy and transistory sounding the album was. We could hardly believe that a mainstream pop album by Paul Simon could sound this bad. It was pure spitty DISTORTION with ZERO midrange magic. A CD would sound better. Even Graceland, a famously compressed, phony, digital sounding album wouldn’t sound this bad!

A bad copy you say? Maybe they don’t all sound bad on side one, but there sure are a lot of them that do. Two tracks in particular — in fact, the two biggest tracks on side one — have fairly bad sound on almost any copy you play: Still Crazy and 50 Ways…

The True Tests for Side One

What separates the mediocre-to-bad-sounding average copy from a Hot Stamper is how well mastered those two songs are. In other words, if you get those two tracks right — breathy vocals, sounding smooth and sweet, with the sibilance under control, supported by good solid bass — the whole side is going to be good, maybe even as good as it gets.

We noted previously that:

“… side two on every copy is better sounding than side one. Why this is I have no idea. It’s not as though they recorded all of side one’s tracks together and they didn’t come out as well. That’s not the way it’s done. The order of the tracks is determined long after they are recorded and mixed. But the songs on side two are consistently more open and sweeter, with silkier, more delicate background vocals and a more natural timbre to Paul’s voice. He sounds less like a transistor radio and more like a person.”

That turned out to still be generally true, but there were some exceptional sounding sides twos in this batch, so we can’t say that side two is always worse, just most of the time.

There is no substitute for having multiple clean copies and shooting them out. Every copy I played was original — no Nice Price junk, no bad imports, no throwaways. Good copies are the rare exception on this album — sad, but true. If you have an LP of this one, see how much Still Crazy spits. I’ll bet it spits like crazy; most of them do.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Still Crazy After All These Years

The toughest test of them all. If this song sounds good, you are 90% of the way there.

My Little Town

This track was supposed to be a hit single and has the radio mix to prove it, and it WAS a hit, but it’s not exactly as pleasing to the audiophile ear as the other songs on the side.

I Do It for Your Love
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

This track often has some midrange hardness and more of a dry, transistory quality than others on side one, that is of course unless you happen to be playing an exceptionally good copy. The better copies also seem to have substantially more ambience. It’s really a quite well recorded song when good mastering lets you hear it right.

On most copies, in the louder parts of the chorus there is also something that sounds like compressor or limiter distortion on the voices. Turns out it’s actually a mastering or pressing issue; on the best copies the loudest vocal parts sound just fine.

How about that awesome Steve Gadd drum part? What pop song relies more on its beat than this one? It’s practically worth the price of the album to hear those drums sound so good.

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Ambrosia – Right at the Top of Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

More of the Music of Ambrosia

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ambrosia

You can play hard-to-reproduce records all day long if your system is tuned up and working fine. Ours has to be, all day, every day. The shootouts we do require that everything is working properly or we simply couldn’t do them.

But you can’t play this record on such a system without retesting everything, because this is the Single Most Difficult to Reproduce Recording I know of.

This is what makes it such a great test disc; to call it a challenge doesn’t begin to convey the difficulty of playing a record that places such heavy demands on a system.

Which means I had to retweak a lot of my table setup to make sure it was 100% right, by ear. Getting the VTA right on this record is absolutely critical to its reproduction

(None of those silly setup tools for us here at Better Records. You can hear when it’s right and if you can’t then you need to keep at it until you can.)


A Must Own Rock Record

This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Rock Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

It also ranks fairly high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale. Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment.

Unless your system is firing on all cylinders, even our hottest Hot Stamper copies — the Super Hot and White Hot pressings with the biggest, most dynamic, clearest, and least distorted sound — can have problems .

Your system should be thoroughly warmed up, your electricity should be clean and cooking, you’ve got to be using the right room treatments, and we also highly recommend using a demagnetizer such as the Walker Talisman on the record, your cables (power, interconnect and speaker) as well as the individual drivers of your speakers.

This is a record that’s going to demand a lot from the audio enthusiast, and we want to make sure that you feel you’re up to the challenge. If you don’t mind putting in a little hard work, here’s a record that will reward your time and effort many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process.


Further Reading

Record Cleaning Advice

Record Playback Advice

Turntable Setup Advice

Set-up Discs, Part Two – Dialing in the Anti-Skate

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Turntable Setup Advice

More Advice on Adjusting Anti-skate

I once adjusted my anti-skate while playing this very album, at the time dialing it in to a “T”. Over the years I’ve found that the best test for fine anti-skate adjustment is massed strings, and not just at the end of a side but right at the beginning too.

When you have all the rosiny texture, the high-end harmonic extension, the least shrillness and the widest and deepest staging, you are there, assuming that tracking weight, azimuth and VTA are correct as well.

Four variables to mess with is admittedly a bitch, but having the right record to test with is absolutely critical as well. Maybe we should call it five variables.

And if I only had one record to bring to someone’s house in order to evaluate their equipment, this would certainly be a top choice. If you can make this record sound the way it should, your stereo is cookin’. If you are having problems, this record will show them to you in short order. (more…)

Jethro Tull / Stand Up – Where’s the Bass?

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Hot Stamper Pressings of British Blues Rock

It’s common for pressings of Stand Up to lack bass or highs, and more often than not the copies that we play in our shootouts, shootouts which are strictly limited to import pressings on Island or Chrysalis, lack both.

The bass-shy ones tend to be more transparent and open sounding — of course, that’s the sound you get when you take out the bass.

90 plus percent of all the audiophile stereos I’ve ever heard were bass shy, no doubt for precisely that very reason: less bass equals more detail, more openness and more transparency. Go to any stereo store or audiophile show and notice how bright the sound is. (Yet another good reason not to go to those shows. We stopped decades ago.)

Just what good is a British Classic Rock Record that lacks bass? It won’t rock, and if it don’t rock, who needs it? You might as well be playing the CD. (The average CD of Stand Up — I have a couple of them — is terrible, but the MoFi Gold CD is superb in all respects.)

The copies that lack extreme highs are often dull and thick, and usually have a smeary, blurry quality to their sound. When you can’t hear into the music, the music itself quickly becomes boring. Most Island pressings suffer from these shortcomings.

If I had to choose, I would take a copy that’s a little dull on top as long as it had a meaty, powerful, full-bodied sound over something that’s thinner and more leaned out. There are many audiophiles who can put up with that sound — I might go so far as to say the vast majority can — but I am not one of them.

The Flute

Of course one of the key elements to any Jethro Tull record is the quality of the flute. You want it to be airy and breathy — like a real flute — and some copies will give you that, but keep in mind there are always trade-offs at work on old rock records like this. It’s a full-bodied, rich sounding recording with the volume up good and high. Make sure your system is playing it that way before you start to focus on the flute, otherwise you are very likely to be led astray.

A Big Speaker Record

Let’s face it, this is a Big Speaker recording. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It demands to be played good and loud. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended if you play it at moderate levels.

This is also the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Systems driving Big Dynamic Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound I enjoy. Anything less is just not for me.


As of 2022, this record sounds best this way:

On Big Speakers at Loud Levels

On the Right Import Pressing 

On the Right Reissue Pressing

If you are interested, click on the link below for

More Moderately Helpful Title Specific Advice

Steely Dan – Testing for Energy with Green Earrings

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for The Royal Scam

The first two tracks on side two tell you everything you need to know about the sound. Most copies are going to be aggressive. There’s an edge to Fagen’s vocals. It’ll become especially apparent when the backing vocals come in on the line “The rings of rare design.”

If the sound is too midrangy and edgy, you simply do not have a good copy. You will probably not find the experience particularly enjoyable. Rather than finding yourself lost in the music, you may find yourself wondering what the fuss was all about when this album came out.

On a musical note, it’s songs like this one and the two that follow that make me realize how ENERGETIC an album this is. It’s actually the last high energy Steely Dan album, second only in that respect to Countdown To Ecstasy.

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