Records that Are Good for Testing

The Who / Quadrophenia – What to Listen For

More of the Music of The Who

More Records We Only Offer on Imported Vinyl

On the best copies the energy factor is OFF THE CHARTS. The highs are silky sweet, the bottom end is meaty, the drums are punchy and the vocals are present and tonally correct. The piano has real weight, the synths float breathily in the air, and there’s wonderful three-dimensional depth to the soundfield. 

There’s a POWER to the sound that the average copy only hints at. The crashing guitar chords that are the hallmark of The Who Sound often lack the weight of the real thing; they don’t punch you in the gut the way Townsend no doubt wanted them to.

Moon’s drums need to blast away like cannons. This is the quintessential Who sound. Everybody who’s ever seen them live knows it. I saw them back in the day when Moon was still behind his kit and it’s a sound I’ll never forget. 

Most copies don’t have nearly this much Tubey Magic — you aren’t going to believe all the richness, sweetness, and warmth here. The clarity and transparency are superb in their own right, and the impressive dynamic range really allows this copy to communicate the explosive energy of The Who at their peak..

As with any Who album, this is obviously not your typical Audiophile Demo Disc. We don’t imagine you’ll be enjoying this one with wine, cigars, and polite conversation. This one is for turning up loud and rockin’ out — in other words, it’s our kind of record!

Turn It Up

Now if you want to play this record at 70 db, little of our commentary about the power of this recording will make much sense. There are some dumb ideas floating out there in Audiophile land, but playing your records quietly in order to hear them better has to be one of the dumbest. Anybody who plays a record like Quadrophenia at moderate levels should be taken out in the street and hosed down. How do you think Townsend went deaf, by playing his music too softly? He played his music LOUD because that’s the way he wanted you to hear it. Moon beats the hell out of his drums because he likes the sound of drums beaten HARD.

If you don’t have the stereo to play this record right, don’t make excuses and don’t make up bizarre theories about volume levels in the home. You’re not fooling anybody with those kinds of rationalizations. If your speaker distorts that’s your problem, pal. Don’t lay that trip on me.

Some of us have done our homework and take pride in what we’ve managed to accomplish. We’ve been challenging ourselves and our systems with records like Zep II and Aqualung and Quadrophenia for thirty years. We know how good these records can sound on systems that have what it takes to play them at good loud levels. If you’re not going to play this Hard Rockin’ Record right, better to save your money for the kinds of records that sound fine at moderate levels. This is not one of them.


Further Reading

We’ve identified a number of Demo Discs for Bass on the site, and there are surely many more to come.

Whomp is a quality of the bottom end we look for here at Better Records. If you have speakers that move a lot of air down low and like to play your music loud, you know what whomp is all about.

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.

The Eagles / The Long Run – The True Test for Side One

More of the Music of The Eagles

More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

Most copies have a smeary, veiled, stuck-in-the-speaker quality that makes for some painful listening. Cardboard drums. Non-existent ambience. No energy. (Unless you get one of the hard, edgy, thin ones — we’re not sure which is worse.)

This one is a whole different story, with the kind of big, punchy, full-bodied sound this music absolutely demands.

What’s Bill Szymczyk’s problem anyway, you might ask. Can’t the guy record an album any better than this after being in the studio for all these years?

Yes he can. Don’t make the mistake of judging his work by the typical bad pressing of it, the kind that Elektra was churning out by the millions back in the day.

Believe me, the master tape must be AWESOME if the sound of some of the records we played is any indication (which of course it is).

What We Listen For on The Long Run

Less grit – smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on The Long Run.

A bigger presentation – more size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record the better.

More bass and tighter bass. This is fundamentally a pure rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way Bill Szymczyk wanted it to.

Present, breathy vocals. A veiled midrange is the rule, not the exception.

Good top-end extension to reproduce the harmonics of the instruments and details of the recording including the studio ambience.

Last but not least, balance. All the elements from top to bottom should be heard in harmony with each other. Take our word for it, assuming you haven’t played a pile of these yourself, balance is not that easy to find.

Our best copies will have it though, of that there is no doubt.

The True Test for Side One

Want to know if you have a good side one on your copy? Here’s an easy test. Timothy B Schmit’s vocal on I Can’t Tell You Why rarely sounds right. Most of the time he’s muffled, pretty far back in the soundstage, and the booth he’s in has practically no ambience. On the good copies, he’s not exactly jumping out of the speakers, but he’s clear, focused, and his voice is breathy and full of emotional subtleties that make the song the heartbreaking powerhouse it is.

This is why you need a Hot Stamper. Most copies don’t let you FEEL the song.

And the rest of the band is cookin’ here as well. From the big, full-bodied bass to the fat, punchy snare, this side is doing practically everything we want it to.

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Bola Sete / Tour De Force – Analogue Productions Reviewed

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Bola Sete

Hot Stamper Pressings of Bossa Nova Recordings Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

Acoustic Sounds had Stan Ricker remaster this record a number of years ago, and of course they (he) ruined it. A twinkly top end and flabby bass were just two of the major shortcomings of their version. Nothing surprising there, as Stan Ricker is famous for his “smile” curve, boosting both ends of the audio spectrum, whether they need boosting or not. (They rarely do).

When you add too much top end to a guitar album and ruin the sound of the guitar, what exactly are you left with?

Please note that not a single title from the Analog Revival series is any good, to the best of my knowledge, and every last one of them should be avoided if high quality sound is important to you.

The same is true for all the 180 gram jazz titles on Analogue Productions that were mastered by Doug Sax, as you may have read elsewhere on the site. Those records received rave reviews in the audiophile press when they came out, but you won’t find too many audiophile reviewers sticking up for them now, as they are, without exception, murky, compressed disasters of the worst kind.

I guess these reviewers eventually acquired equipment accurate enough to notice how bad those pressings are, which I guess goes to show there is hope for practically anyone.

Listening in Depth to Romantic Warrior

Romantic Warrior is my favorite JAZZ/ROCK FUSION album of all time. As good as the music is, the sound is even better. This is the Jazz/Rock Demo Disc that stands head and shoulders above the rest. In my experience, no record of this kind is more DYNAMIC or has better BASS. Not one. Demo Disc doesn’t begin to do this kind of sound justice.

Simply put, not only is this one of the greatest musical statements of all time, it’s one of the great recording statements. Few albums in the history of the world can lay claim to this kind of POWER and ENERGY.

But the Super Sound has a purpose, a raison d’etre. This is the kind of music that requires it; better yet, DEMANDS it. In truth, the sound is not only up to the challenge of expressing the life of the music on this album, it positively ENHANCES it.

Those monster Lenny White drum rolls that run across the soundstage from wall to wall may be a recording studio trick, but they’re there to draw your attention to his amazing powers, and it works! The drums are EVERYWHERE on this album, constantly jumping out of the soundfield and taking the music into the stratosphere where it belongs.

TRACK LISTING and COMMENTARY

Side One

Medieval Overture

The grandiose opening of this record serves as an important sonic checkpoint, as well as a tipoff for the pyrotechnics to come. On the better copies Corea’s multi-layered, swirling synths occupy their own space, clearly separated from each other, not blurred and inarticulate as they are on the poorer pressings.

Also notice how much attack Lenny White’s drums have, especially in the more exposed sections. The transients are breathtakingly immediate. Run-of-the-mill copies tend to flatten Mr White, making his acrobatic playing seem two-dimensional and less-than-inspired. The best copies prove that nothing could be further from the truth.

Sorceress

This groove-oriented track is a testament to RTF’s diversity, as well as the mastery of Messrs. Clarke and White as a rhythm section. This is a real test for bottom end. Even though the bass goes unbelievably deep, the best copies manage to exhibit plenty of control while still allowing you to FEEL the bass rising up through the floorboards and into your chair. There is so much deep bass at the opening of this track that at any sort of serious levels I would immediately run out of the wattage needed to sustain them. It was either back off the volume or distort like crazy. You need some serious juice to play this track, or a very efficient speaker, or both.

All the members of this All-Star cast are showcased in the improv section, highlighted by Corea’s brilliant piano solo in the middle, one of my personal favorite solos of all time. Corea is a musician’s musician. There is nothing he or his bandmates are not capable of on this recording. This is more than mere fusion. On this album the whole world of jazz can be heard.

The Romantic Warrior

Side Two

Majestic Dance

The blistering opening track for side two is the quintessence of guitar-driven prog rock, a heads up for what’s to come. Most copies lack the top end extension that allows the hottest copies to open up and come alive. With the right top to bottom mastering and pressing this track is Gold! Demo Disc Quality all the way and then some.

The Magician

Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant

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Little Feat – A MoFi Pseudo-Hot Stamper

Little Feat Albums with Hot Stampers

Little Feat Albums We’ve Reviewed

Sonic Grade: C

Ten or fifteen years ago we did a listing for this Mobile Fidelity pressing as a Pseudo-Hot Stamper. Here is what we wrote at the time:

This is actually a pretty good sounding record, all things considered. We put this one through our cleaning process and gave it a listen. Although our Hot Stamper copies do sound better, they’re also quite a bit more expensive. This copy had the best sound we heard out of the three or four we played, which makes it a Hot Stamper I suppose, but we are instead just calling it a Very Good Sounding Copy.

Waiting for Columbus is one of the greatest live rock and roll albums ever made, containing performances by one of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever play. If you only buy one Little Feat album in your lifetime, make it this one.

We spent years trying to get shootouts together for this album, but kept running into the fact that in a head to head shootout the right MoFi pressing — sloppy bass and all — was hard to beat.

This is no longer the case, courtesy of that same old laundry list you have no doubt seen on the site countless times: better equipment, tweaks, record cleaning, room treatments, etcetera, etcetera. Now the shortcomings of the MoFi are clear for all to see, and the strengths of the best non-half-speed mastered pressings are too, which simply means that playing the MoFi now would be an excruciating experience. All I can hear is what it does wrong. I was so much happier with it when I didn’t know better.

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Herb Alpert / Whipped Cream & Other Delights – Top End Extension Is Key

More Sixties Pop Recordings

More 5 Star Albums

The better pressings have the kind of Tubey Magical, big-bottomed, punchy, spacious sound that we’ve come to expect from Larry Levine‘s engineering for A&M. If you have any Hot Stamper pressings of Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66’s albums, then you know exactly the kind of sound we’re talking about.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack the full complement of harmonic information.

In addition, when the top end is lacking, the upper midrange and high frequencies get jammed together — the highs can’t extend up and away from the upper mids.

This causes a number of much-too-common problems that we hear in the upper midrange of many of the records we play: congestion, hardness, harshness, and squawk.

Painstaking Vertical Tracking Angle adjustment is absolutely critical if you want your records to play with the least amount of these problems, a subject we discuss in the Commentary section of the site at length.

Full-bodied sound is especially critical to the horns.

Any blare, leanness or squawk ruins at least some of the fun, certainly at the louder levels the record should be playing at.

The frequency extremes (on the best copies) are not boosted in any way. When you play this record quietly, the bottom and top will disappear (due to the way the ear handles quieter sounds as described by the Fletcher-Munson curve).

Most records (like most audiophile stereos) are designed to sound correct at moderate levels. Not this album. It wants you to turn it up. Then, and only then, will everything sound completely right musically and tonally from top to bottom.

10cc – Is There a Better Sounding Record on the Site?

More of the Music of 10cc

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of 10cc

Yet Another Record We’re Obsessed With

On any given day a White Hot side one of The Original Soundtrack could very well be the best sounding record on the site.

“On any given day” being a day when we don’t have a hot German copy of Dark Side of the Moon to offer, or a killer Eagles first album, or a top copy of the self-titled BS&T, or an RL Zep II, or a White Hot Teaser and the Firecat.

Most days we don’t have such records on the site, and on those days this 10cc album is a recording Tour De Force that would be bigger, bolder, more dynamic, and more powerful than anything we could throw against it.
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Rimsky-Korsakov on Speakers Corner – Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Just So Damn VAGUE

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Hot Stamper Pressings of Decca/London Recordings

Sonic Grade: C

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing shown here in order to see how it would fare up against a pair of wonderful sounding Londons we were in the process of shooting out some time ago. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.
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Barbra Streisand / Guilty – Bab’s Best and Most Underrated Album (By Too Many Audiophiles Anyway)

More Barbra Streisand

This ain’t no zombie audiophile BS, the kind of sleep-inducing, reverb-drenched trash that passes for “female vocals” in bad audio showrooms around the globe. (Paging Diana Krall.) This is Barbra and The Bee Gees at the peak of their Pop Powers. It just doesn’t get any better.

This is THE BEST ALBUM Babs ever made, and you can take that to the bank. It’s also one of the best sounding, if not THE best sounding of her later Monster Pop Productions. Can’t say for sure as I haven’t played all that many. Her first album is a true Demo Disc as well, but that one’s all about the Tubey Magical ’60s Columbia era, the Golden Age of Natural Sound, a world away from Guilty and its layers and layers of tracks. Having said that, there are multi-tracks and then there are multi-tracks.

The engineers and producers here pull it off brilliantly.

If you don’t feel something deep inside when playing this record, open up a vein and let some of that ice water that passes for blood in your system run out.

It’s From WHERE?

This very copy was on the site for a long time. Nobody wanted to buy it even though it was quite cheap, and there’s a good reason nobody wanted to buy it: it’s a Japanese pressing.

That’s right, it’s one of those typically awful Japanese pressings that we criticize endlessly on the site, the purest form of audiophle BS vinyl in the history of the world. We played side one and heard the kind of sound that did not exactly float our boats. (Before it was cleaned it really sounded bad.)

But when we filpped it over we were positively KNOCKED OUT by the sound and decided it had to be part of our shootout. While evaluating the record the listening panel (mostly me) had no idea which pressing was playing. When the Side Two A Triple Plus Gold Star was awarded to this much-maligned Japanese pressing we were FLABBERGASTED.

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Earth, Wind, Fire – Hard and Honky Brass Is a Dealbreaker

More of the Music of Earth, Wind and Fire

More Recordings by George Massenburg

As you can imagine, most copies of this album leave a lot to be desired. Most were, to one degree or another, dull, smeary, opaque, gritty or shrill.

Our Hot Stampers, on the other hand, depending on hot hot they are, will give you the sound you’re looking for. If you’re a fan of BIG HORNS, with jump-out-of-the-speakers presence, this is the album for you. Some of the best R&B-POP brass ever recorded can be found here — full-bodied, powerful, fast, dynamic and tonally correct.

Advice

Here is some specific advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of The Best of Earth Wind & Fire.

When the brass sounded the least bit squawky on a given copy, that was almost always a dealbreaker and out it went.

When the BIG, MULTI-TRACKED vocals get going they need to have plenty of space to expand into. They also need to be breathy and warm, with airy extension for the harmonies (and those crazy high notes that only Philip Bailey can sing). Proper tape hiss is a dead giveaway in this respect.

This advice will of course work for any Earth Wind & Fire record you happen to have multiple copies of.

Choruses Are Key

Three distinctive qualities of vintage analog recordings — richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality — are most clearly heard on a Big Production Recording like this one in the loudest, densest, most climactic choruses of the songs.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly become without crossing the line into distortion or congestion. On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record.

On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is bigger and louder than anything on the record, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-tracked screaming “Who I am” about three-quarters of the way through the track. Those, however, are clearly exceptions to the rule. Most of the time it’s the final chorus of a pop song that gets bigger and louder than what has come before.

A pop song is usually designed to build momentum as it works its way through the verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording — one with real dynamics — that part of the song should be very loud and very powerful.

The climax of the biggest, most dynamic songs are almost always the toughest tests for a pop record, and it’s the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album’s largest scaled productions are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have sitting in front of two speakers. Our Top 100 is full of records that reward that kind of intense listening at loud levels.

We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s precisely what the best vintage analog pressings do brilliantly. In fact they do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and certainly no substitute. If you’re on this site you probably already know that.