Records that Are Good for Testing Energy

Phil Manzanera – A Truly Awesome Feat of Engineering by Rhett Davies

More of the Music of Phil Manzanera

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Phil Manzanera

You may recall reading this bit about Rhett Daviesengineering on Dire Straits’ debut:

“…until something better comes along, this is his Masterpiece. It has to be one of the best sounding rock records ever made, with Tubey Magical mids, prodigious bass, transparency and freedom from hi-fi-ishness and distortion like few rock recordings you have ever heard.”

Well, something better has now come along, and it’s called Diamond Head.

It has some of the Biggest, Boldest Sound we have ever heard. Diamond Head isn’t known as an audiophile album but it should be — the sound is glorious — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, and as rich and dynamic as it gets.

It’s clearly a Big Speaker Demo Disc. Play this one as loud as you can. The louder you play it, the better it sounds.

The best copies have Room Shaking Deep Bass with the kind of Whomp that can drive this music to practically unexplored heights.

It’s also transparent, with a large, deep soundfield that really allows you to hear into the music and the studio space in which it was created. The clarity is superb with all the detail and texture one could hope for, but the real kicker is the amount of Energy and Musical Drive that these two sides have going for them.

This is what the Master Tape is really capable of — Mind Bogglingly Good Sound.

Looking for Tubey Magic? Rhett Davies is your man. Just think about the sound of the first Dire Straits album or Avalon. The best pressings of those albums — those with truly Hot Stampers — are swimming in it. (more…)

Loggins & Messina – These Choruses Really Get Up and Going

Hot Stamper Albums with Huge Choruses that Are Big and Clear

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

At about the two minute mark the big chorus in Watching the River Run is also a great test for weight, resolution, dynamic energy, and freedom from strain in the loudest parts. When the whole band is really belting it out, the shortcomings of any copy will be exposed, assuming you are playing the album at loud levels on big dynamic speakers.

It was a key test every pressing had to pass. That’s what makes it a Good Test Disc.

When the music gets loud you want it to get better, with more size, energy and, especially, emotional power, just they way it would be heard in concert.

Any strain or congestion in the choruses we hear in our shootout causes the pressing in question to be downgraded substantially.

Hot Stampers are all about the life of the music, and when this music gets lively, it needs to be clear and clean.

This is of course one of the biggest issues we have with Heavy Vinyl — it never gets up and it never gets going the way real records do. “Boring” is the adjective we most commonly use to critique the few we hear, and who wants to listen to boring records?

EQ Issues

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…)

Airto / Fingers – Top End Extension Is Key to the Best Pressings

airtofinge_

More of the Music of Airto

Hot Stamper Pressings of Jazz Fusion Albums Available Now

The best copies have the highs that are missing from so many of the CTI originals. When you play them against most copies, there is an extension to the top end that you won’t hear elsewhere. Since this album is heavy on percussion, that difference is critical.

The HARMONICS of the percussion are critically important to the music. When they go missing, it’s as if the music seems to slow down, a strange effect but a fairly common one with rhythmically dense arrangements such as these. Some of the energy of the music is lost. 

With an extended top end the sound is SWEET, not HARSH. Believe us when we tell you, the last thing you want is a harsh sounding pressing of a Rudy Van Gelder recording. (Not unless you have a dull, dull, deadly dull system. Those “Old School Stereos” are practically the only way one can tolerate some of his early recordings.)

With so many high frequency transients and such complex arrangements, this is a record that must be mastered (and pressed) with great skill or the result is going to be trouble. RVG, who both recorded and mastered the album, has a penchant for over-cutting records and being heavy handed when it comes to his favorite studio tricks, often to the detriment of instrumental fidelity. When his approach works, the resulting recordings are wonderful. When he gets too carried away with his “sound,” look out.

This is without a doubt The Best Album Airto ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

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Janis Joplin – Energy Is Key

More of the Music of Janis Joplin

Hot Stamper Pressings of Blues Rock Albums

More Records that Are Good for Testing Energy 

ENERGY is the key element missing from the average copy of I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, but not on this bad boy (or girl if you prefer). In addition, the electric guitars are Tubey Magical and the bass is solid and punchy.

Drop the needle on the great song Try and just listen to how crisp, punchy, and BIG the drums sound.

On many copies — too many copies — the vocals are pinched and edgy. Here they’re breathy and full — a much better way for Janis to sound. There’s a slight amount of grit to the vocals at times and the brass as well, but the life force on these sides is so strong that we much preferred it to the smoother, duller, deader copies we heard that didn’t have that issue.

On copy after copy we heard pinched squawky horns and harsh vocals, not a good sound for this album. Janis’ voice needs lots of space up top to get good and loud, and both of these sides have all the space she needs.

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The Beatles – John’s Really Digging a Pony. Are You?

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Let It Be

The best copies of Let It Be are Demo Discs for Energy, and here are some others that we’ve discovered are good for testing that quality on vinyl.

What blew our minds about the Shootout Winning side one we played recently was how outrageously big, open and transparent it was on the song Dig a Pony. As the song started up the studio space seemed to expand in every direction, creating more height, width and depth than we’d ever experienced with this song before. 

But there is no studio space; the song was recorded on Apple’s rooftop. The “space” has to be some combination of “air” from the live event and artificial reverb added live or later during mixing. Whatever it is, the copies with more resolution and transparency show you a lot more of “it” than run-of-the-mill pressings do (including the new Heavy Vinyl, which is so airless and compressed we gave it a grade of F and banished it to our Shame Hall).  (more…)

Simply Red – The Best Import Pressings Have Explosive Dynamics

More of the Music of Simply Red

More Debut Albums of Interest

I actually used to demonstrate my stereo with “Sad Old Red.” At one point the sound really explodes, an effect which has always had a strong appeal for me. That’s what live music does and that’s what I want my stereo to do.

For thirty [now 45+] years I’ve avoided little boxes and screens and gone straight for the big dynamic speaker systems that can really show you the life that’s hiding in your recordings.

That’s what the Revolutionary Changes in Audio commentary is all about — unlocking all the energy and excitement that a good LP has to offer.

Holding Back the Years” also boasts superb sound. It may be the best track the band ever recorded, and it’s probably the one most everyone knows, but there are many here that are nearly as good. The cover of The Talking Heads’ “Heaven” (from Fear of Music) is out of this world.

I still remember standing in a record store — I think it was Tower; I lived in San Diego at the time and went there often — when I heard a song I could not quite place. Eventually I realized it was “Heaven” from Fear of Music, but it wasn’t The Talking Heads singing it.

I bought the album, one I knew next to nothing about, on the spot. Any band that wants to cover The Talking Heads is a band with taste, and once I got the album home I knew this band had plenty of talent too.

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 LOUD. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended for it to if you play it at moderate levels.

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.

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Listening in Depth to Mona Bone Jakon

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Mona Bone Jakon

When you hear I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on a Hot Stamper copy, you will be convinced, as I am, that this is one of the greatest popular recordings in the history of the genre. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one. 

Right off the bat I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folk-pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Lady d’Arbanville

This track will always be a little bright. It was supposed to be a hit song, and hit songs are frequently mixed a little bright.

Maybe You’re Right
Pop Star
I Think I See the Light (more…)

War – Bass, Choruses and Energy Are Key to the Best Pressings

More of the Music of War

More Jazz / Rock Fusion Records with Hot Stampers

[This review was originally published about 2012 or so. Note that we rarely have any War records in stock. If you see one, grab it, the recordings on the best pressings are positively amazing on big speakers at loud levels.]

We just finished our first big shootout for this fun album — the All Music Guide calls it “a magical ride with plenty of surprises to keep the listener on his or her toes” and we couldn’t agree more.

This copy gives you punchy bass, airy flutes, hard-hitting percussion and loads of Tubey Magic. Many copies we played had too much hardness, edge, and midrange honk, but this one is smooth, sweet and rich.

Engineered by the brilliant Chris Huston, this recording displays all his trademark gifts.

His mixes feature:

lots of bass;

huge, room-filling choruses that get loud without straining or congestion; and

rhythmic energy that few pop recordings could lay claim to in 1972.

The links above will take you to other albums that are good for testing all of these qualities.

As for the choruses, allow me to paraphrase our listing from Commoner’s Crown.

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that actually has actual, measurable, serious dynamic contrasts in its levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many songs. The first track on side two, Four Cornered Room, is a perfect example. Not only are the choruses noticeably louder than the verses, but later on in the song the choruses get REALLY LOUD, louder than the choruses of 99 out of 100 rock/pop records we audition. It sometimes takes a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically everything else you own is.

The Top Is Important Too

Richness and weight are key to the sound, but oddly enough an extended top end was almost as crucial to the success of the best copies. When the top end extends, the sound is open and relaxed. When the various songs build to their climaxes, the copies with lots of clean top end had a sense of “ease” that simply was not to be found on the smoother (read: duller) brethren.

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Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Folks, This Is Why We Love Analog

More of the Music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer

Hot Stamper Pressings of Prog Rock Albums Available Now

This is ANALOG at its Tubey Magical finest. You ain’t never gonna play a CD that sounds like this as long as you live. I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but digital media are evidently incapable of reproducing this kind of sound. There are nice sounding CDs in the world but there aren’t any that sound like this, not in my experience anyway.

If you are thinking that someday a better digital system is going to come along in order to save you the trouble and expense of having to find and acquire these expensive original pressings, think again.

This is the kind of record that shows you what’s wrong with your BEST sounding CDs. (Let’s not even talk about the average one in your collection, or mine; the less said the better.)

This is the kind of record that somebody might hear in a stereo store and realize that the digital road he’s been going down for so many years is nothing but a sonic dead end.

The organ captured here by Eddie Offord (of Yes engineering fame, we’re his biggest fans) and then transferred so well onto our Hot Stamper pressings will rattle the foundation of your house if you’re not careful. This music really needs that kind of megawatt reproduction to make sense. It’s big Bombastic Prog that wants desperately to rock your world. At moderate levels it just sounds overblown and silly. At loud levels it actually does rock your world.

Unlike most British pressings of the first album, the Brits here really ROCK, with greater dynamic contrasts and seriously prodigious bass, some of the best ever committed to vinyl. This music needs real whomp down below and lots of jump factor to work its magic. These Brits are super-low distortion, with an open, sweet sound, especially up top, but they still manage to convey the awesome power of the music, no mean feat.


FURTHER READING

This record sounds best to us this way:

On Big Speakers at Loud Levels 

On the Right Early Pressing 

On the Right Import Pressing

For more modestly helpful title-specific advice, click here.

The Three / Self-Titled (45 RPM) – Our Four Plus Copy from 2013

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Three Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Three

We had six (yes, six!) of these 45 RPM pressings (and five Inner City’s and a couple of Eastwind 33’s — it was a big shootout), and this side one had the most ENERGY of any of them. This is a quality no one seems to be writing about, other than us of course, but what could possibly be more important? On this record, it took the performances of the players to a level beyond all expectations.

More background on our Four Plus (A++++) pressings.

Folks, you are looking at the BEST SOUNDING RECORD we have ever played here at Better Records, and the good news for you dear reader, whether you’re a true believer, a skeptic, or fall somewhere in between, is that it can be yours. There was a time when a record like this would go directly into my collection. If I wanted to impress someone, audiophile or otherwise, with the You-Are-There illusion that only Big Speakers in a dedicated room playing a LIVE recording can create, this would be the clear choice, possibly the only choice. There is simply nothing like it on vinyl in my experience. (more…)