Records that Are Good for Testing Big, Clear and Lively Choruses

Michael Jackson / Thriller – Thoughts on Thriller, Circa 2006

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Reviews and Commentaries for Thriller

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

This pressing has a side two that is so amazing sounding that it COMPLETELY CHANGED my understanding and appreciation of this album. The average copy is a nice pop record. This copy is a MASTERPIECE of production and engineering.

After playing a bunch of these we noticed some recurring shortcomings on most of the pressings. Either they lacked extension on the top end or they lacked bass definition and weight, or both. When this copy hit the table, the first thing we noticed was that the top end was Right On The Money and the bottom end was also Right On The Money. Not surprisingly, the middle fell right into place.

It ended up having the most ambience, the most transparency, the most resolution, the most dynamic contrasts, the most presence — in short, it had more of EVERYTHING than any copy we’ve ever heard. The lesson to be learned there may be that when the extremes are somehow properly transferred to the vinyl, the middle will take care of itself. Since the extremes seem to be the hardest thing to get right, at least on this record, that might explain why so many copies don’t quite cut the mustard.

Side one fits perfectly into this theory. The bottom end is MEATY with plenty of punchy, solid bass, but the top end is lacking a bit of extension compared to the very best. The result is that there’s a trace of hardness in the vocals that shouldn’t be there. If you can add a dB or two of extreme highs, EVERYTHING will sound right on side one. It all comes back to life.

I remember twenty years ago playing Thriller and thinking they were all so transistory, spitty, and aggressive sounding. Well, I didn’t have a Triplanar tonearm, a beautiful VPI table and everything that goes along with it back then. Now I can play this record. I couldn’t back then. All that spit was simply mistracking. The record is no different, it just sounds different now. In other words, this record is a great test. If you can play this record, you can play practically anything.

Loggins & Messina – Full Sail

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  • Excellent Double Plus sound or better on both sides
  • Our first shootout for the album – it’s been a long time coming
  • Both sides are clean, clear, lively and present with deep punchy bass
  • “[Messina] achieves a musical flow that’s exhilarating …”

Practically all copies have a midrange equalization problem, with a lack of lower mids and boosted upper mids, which often thins out the vocals and leads to hardness and honkiness.

The better copies manage to keep the EQ anomalies within bounds while giving us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthusiasm; harmonically-rich guitars, and a three-dimensional soundstage that reveals the space around them all. (more…)

Styx – Pieces Of Eight

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  • A KILLER copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • Here is the kind of sound we want on our ELP, Yes and Queen-like multi-layered Proggy Pop Rock – big, full-bodied and lively
  • 4 stars: “Styx’s feisty, straightforward brand of album rock is represented best by ‘Blue Collar Man,’ an invigorating keyboard and guitar rush… reaching number 21, with the frolicking romp of ‘Renegade’ edging in at number 16 only six months later… the rest of the album includes tracks that rekindle some of Styx’s early progressive rock sound, only cleaner. Tracks like ‘Sing for the Day,’ ‘Lords of the Ring,’ and ‘Aku-Aku’ all contain slightly more complex instrumental foundations…”

Who likes their Wall of Sound small and closed-in? Certainly not Big Speaker guys like us. By all accounts this band wanted their records to sound good, or at least as good as their contemporaries (and the bands that inspired them, name-checked above). There’s no shortage of production polish here and on the best pressings, the sound really works. (more…)

Christopher Cross – What to Listen For

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Hot Stamper Albums with Choruses that Are Big and Clear

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

There’s one test on side two that few copies do well on. The mostly instrumental section in the middle of Ride Like the Wind has a huge chorus singing in a wonderfully reverberant studio. Only the most transparent, most distortion-free copies let you clearly hear all their voices bouncing off the walls.

Take any two copies and listen for just this one effect and you will soon see that no two copies reproduce the reverberations identically, and many barely reproduce them at all.

Overall

The sound is full, rich, lively and even Tubey Magical in the best tradition of the glossy Pop Productions that were all the rage in the late-’70s. If you like Michael McDonald, Toto, The Doobies, Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and countless other bands we have lovingly found a home for in our Hot Stamper sections you will no doubt find much to like here.

A guilty pleasure you say? When a record sounds this good there is nothing to feel guilty about!

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Journey – Escape

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  • This outstanding copy of the band’s 1981 release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • This copy was big and bold, with huge choruses that really come alive – just the way we like our Journey albums to sound
  • A #1 album jam-packed with hits: Don’t Stop Believin’, Stone in Love, Who’s Crying Now and Open Arms
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Outside of the singles, there is a certain electricity that circulates through the rest of the album. The songs are timeless, and as a whole, they have a way of rekindling the innocence of youthful romance and the rebelliousness of growing up, built from heartfelt songwriting and sturdy musicianship.””

We’ve been trying to find good sound on Journey records for close to a decade, and finally we have something to show for all that work — killer sound on their only Number One album, with monster jams like Don’t Stop Believin’, Stone in Love, Who’s Crying Now — the first three tracks on side one! — and the big closer for side two, Open Arms.

Most greatest hits albums don’t have this many classic rockers. Not sure how we’ll fare with the rest of their catalog, but this one is a good place to start if you’re a fan of the band.

The vocals on Who’s Crying Now are sweet and breathy like no copy you’ve heard. Texture without grit — now that’s hard to do on a Journey album. (Or Queen, see below.) (more…)

Two of Robin Black’s Engineering Masterpieces

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Albums Engineered by Robin Black

Recordings with Exceptionally Tubey Magical Guitars

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Thick As A Brick is quite possibly the BEST SOUNDING ALBUM Jethro Tull ever made. It’s dynamic; has really solid, deep punchy bass; transparency and sweetness in the midrange; Tubey Magical acoustic guitars and flutes; in other words, the record has EVERYTHING that we go crazy for here at Better Records. I can guarantee you there is no CD on the planet that could ever do this recording justice. The Hot Stamper pressings have a kind of MAGIC that just can’t be captured on one of them there silvery discs.

We play quite a few original British and domestic copies of this record when we do these shootouts and let me tell you, the sound and the music are so good I can’t get enough of it. Until about 2007 this was the undiscovered gem (by me, anyway) in the Tull catalog. The pressings I had heard up until then were nothing special, and of course the average pressing of this album is exactly that: no great shakes. But with the advent of better record cleaning fluids and much better tables, phono stages and the like, some copies of Thick As A Brick have shown themselves to be AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUNDING. Even the All Music Guide could hear how well-engineered it was.

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Michael Jackson – Off The Wall

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this MJ classic with some of the most heartfelt, emotional and powerful music he ever recorded
  • Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, more relaxed and more ANALOG than any other Michael Jackson album
  • We’re constantly blown away by just how good the best copies of Off the Wall sound – what a recording!
  • Clearly MJ’s best sounding release – 5 stars: “This was a visionary album … part of a colorful tapestry of lush ballads and strings, smooth soul and pop, soft rock, and alluring funk.”

As consistently brilliant as Thriller may be musically — it is the biggest selling album of all time after all [scratch that, the Eagles Greatest Hits just took the top spot away from Thriller recently] — speaking strictly in terms of sonics the sound of the best copies of Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, and more ANALOG than Thriller.

Thriller is clearly more aggressive and processed-sounding than Off the Wall. The Girl Is Mine or Human Nature from Thriller would fit just fine anywhere on Off the Wall, but could the same be said for Beat It or Thriller? Just thinking about them you can hear the artificiality of the sound of both those songs in your head. Think about the snare that opens Beat It. I’ve never heard a snare sound like that in my life. Practically no instrument on Off the Wall has that kind of overly processed EQ’d sound.

Normally when you have a copy with plenty of presence, it can be somewhat sibilant in places. Sibilance is hardly a problem here. For some reason this copy has all the highs, but it’s cut so clean it practically doesn’t spit at all. Even on the song I Can’t Help It, which normally has a problem in that respect. Since that’s my favorite song on this album, and probably my favorite MJ song of all time, hearing it sound so good was a revelation. (more…)

Earth, Wind and Fire – All ‘N All

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  • This outstanding copy of All ‘N All boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Balanced, musical and full throughout – this pressing is a big step up from every other copy we played
  • These sides are doing it all right — richer, fuller, better bass, more Tubey Magic, and the list goes on
  • 4 stars: “Earth, Wind & Fire’s artistic and commercial winning streak continued with its ninth album, All ‘N All, the diverse jewel that spawned major hits like ‘Serpentine Fire’ and the dreamy ‘Fantasy.’ . . . a highly rewarding addition to EWF’s catalog.”

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Ramping Up the Horsepower of The Cars Like Crazy

More of The Cars

More Records that Sound Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

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The best copies must have one key ingredient that we’ve discovered is absolutely essential if this groundbreaking New Wave album is to come to life — a huge, spacious soundstage.

Some copies are huge; others, not so much. The effect of these size differentials is ENORMOUS. The power of the music ramps up like crazy — how could this recording possibly be this BIG and POWERFUL? How did it achieve this kind of scale? You may need twenty copies to find one like this, which begs the question: why don’t the other 19 sound the way this one does? The sound we heard has to be on the master tape in some sense, doesn’t it? Mastering clearly contributes to the sound, but can it really be a factor of this magnitude?
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John Baldry Knows One Thing: It Ain’t Easy Finding Good Sounding Pressings of His Albums

A Record We may Never Shootout Again

Some records were just too much work to find, too expensive to buy and whose sales never really justified the investment in time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them to offer to our customers.

This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more.

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  • For its debut on the site, we present this amazing sounding British original pressing, with a Triple Plus (A+++) side one (the Rod Stewart side)
  • Side two (the Elton John produced side) was outstanding as well, earning a Double Plus (A++) for its rich, tubey sound
  • No wonder side one sounds like the best of Rod Stewart & The Faces’ early-’70s albums – Mike Bobak engineered them
  • “The backing band on Stewart’s side include fellow Face and future Rolling Stone, Ron Wood, on electric guitar and acoustic guitarist Sam Mitchell, who appeared on many of Stewart’s early-’70s solo albums.”

Here’s how this shootout got started.

A few years ago while I was working on the site I had music on youtube playing. The song “Flying” came on from the It Ain’t Easy album, and when the chorus came in I could not believe how big, rich and powerful it sounded — this, on computer speakers! (more…)