Records that Are Good for Testing the Lower Midrange and Mid-Bass

The Who / Quadrophenia – What to Listen For

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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.

Gene Harris Big Band – A Concord Record that Isn’t Mediocre (!)

More of the Music of Count Basie

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Since when did Concord learn to make a record that sounds as good as this one, with inspired, energetic performances from this solid group of veterans of the jazz wars no less.

Where is the typical Concord sub-gen, opaque, closed-in, compressed and lifeless sound we’ve been hearing all our lives?

This is one jazz label that has done almost nothing of any real interest from the very start, and yet somehow they not only managed to get Gene Harris and his band of All Stars to play with tremendous enthusiasm and skill, they actually managed to capture, with considerable fidelity I might add, the prodigious big band energy they produced onto a reel of analog tape.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard it with my own two ears.

Not only is the sound EXCELLENT, but the big band really swings. They pull out all the stops. Gene Harris, one of my favorite pianists, leads an all star crew on a series of tracks performed in the spirit of Count Basie. Not a slavish recreation, but an inspired performance in his style. This has to be one of the best sounding Concord records I’ve ever heard. Without a doubt one of the real sleepers from that label. (more…)

Cat Stevens / Teaser & The Firecat – Two Tracks Are Key

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

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Just ran across the following in an old listing. We’re nothing if not consistent here at Better Records!

And if you are ever tempted to pick up one of those recently remastered versions on heavy vinyl, don’t do it. There is simply no one alive today making records that sound like these good originals. Not to these ears anyway. We may choose to indulge ourselves in the audacity of hope, but reality has to set in sooner or later. After thirty years of trying, the modern mastering engineers of the world have nothing to show for their efforts but a pile of failures. The time to call it quits has come and gone. Let’s face facts: when it comes to Teaser and the Firecat, it’s the Real Thing or nothing.

If you’re looking for an amazing Demo Quality Rock Recording, you’ve come to the right place.

If you want a timeless Classic Rock Record, it’s here too.

They just don’t know how to make them like this anymore. Those of you waiting for audiophile vinyl reissues with the kind of magic found on these originals will be in your graves long before it ever comes to pass.

Analogue Productions tried and failed — more than once — to produce a good sounding Heavy Vinyl pressing of Tea for the Tillerman.

You can be sure there is little chance they would have better luck with Teaser and the Firecat.

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Tchaikovsky / Piano Concerto No. 1 – Now That’s the Way a Piano Should Sound!

I don’t know of another recording of the work that gets the sound of the piano better. On the better copies the percussive quality of the instrument really comes through. It’s amazing how many piano recordings have poorly miked pianos. The badly recorded pianos are either too distant, lack proper reproduction of the lower registers, or somehow smear the pounding of the keys into a blurry mess.

Or is it a mastering issue?

A pressing issue?

To be honest, it’s probably all three.

On the best copies the rich texture of the strings is out of this world — you will have a very hard time finding a DG with better string tone. This record does not have the shortcomings of the average DG: it’s not hard, shrill, or sour.

DG made plenty of good records in the ’50s and ’60s, then proceeded to fall apart, like most labels did. This is one of their finest. It proves conclusively that at one time — 1962 to be exact — they clearly knew what they were doing.

Richter Owns the Work

Richter is brutal at the piano. He pounds the hell out of it, which is precisely what the work demands. Karajan, in contrast to his partner in all of this, has the orchestra play especially sweetly, the opposite of what you would expect from the man. Thankfully he is able to summon the brute power of the orchestra when called for. I’ve never been a fan of Karajan; I know of few of his recordings that are compelling. What his reputation as a great conductor is based on is frankly a mystery to me. Having said that, on this record he is wonderful. I cannot begin to fault his work here in any way.

The RCA

What’s shocking is how lifeless the famous Van Cliburn (LSC 2252) recording is. Granted we did not have ten copies to play, but the ones we did play were the smallest and most compressed classical recording we listened to all day. They went into the trade pile and we will never buy another.

This DG recording has little competition in terms of sonics. Furthermore, we feel strongly that it has no competition in terms of performance. It’s simply the best.

Most Copies Do Not Sound Good…

So What Else Is New?

My good friend Robert Pincus turned me on to this recording close to twenty years ago. Since then I’ve had the chance to audition dozens of clean copies of it and have found rather shocking amounts of pressing variablity. I was, naively of course, expecting to be able to find good copies to shoot out and offer on the site on a regular basis.

Much to our chagrin we discovered that many of the clean copies we were lucky enough to find tended to sound compressed, harsh, lacking in ambience, and missing the full weight of the piano, one of the qualities that makes this recording such an exceptionally powerful listening experience. This explains why our shootouts are so infrequent. Who knows when the next one will be. The record gods appear to be more and more capricious with each passing day.

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The Doors – Waiting For The Sun on DCC Heavy Vinyl

More of the Music of The Doors

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We rate the DCC LP a B Minus

We used to really like the DCC pressing of this Doors album. Now… not so much. It’s a classic case of Live and Learn.

Keep in mind that the only way you can never be wrong about your records is simply to avoid playing them. If you have better equipment than you did, say, five or ten years ago, try playing some of your MoFi’s, 180 gram LPs, Japanese pressings, 45 RPM remasters and the like. You might be in for quite a shock.

Of course the question on everyone’s mind is, “How does our Hot Stamper copy stack up to the famous DCC pressing?” After all, it’s the one we were touting all through the ’90s as The One To Beat.

Well, to be honest, the DCC is a nice record, but a really special original copy throws a pretty strong light on its faults, which are numerous and quite bothersome.

The top end on the copy I played was a touch boosted, causing a number of problems.

For one, the cymbals sounded slightly tizzy compared to the real thing, which had a fairly natural, though not especially extended, top end.

But the real problem was in the midrange. Morrison sounded thinner and brighter, more like a tenor and less like a baritone, with a somewhat hi-fi-ish quality added to the top of his voice. Folks, I hate to say it, but if someone had told me that the record playing was half-speed mastered, I probably would have believed it. I detest that sound, and the DCC pressing bugged the hell out of me in that respect.

Morrison has one of the richest and most distinctive voices in the history of rock. When it doesn’t sound like the guy I’ve been listening to for close to forty years, something ain’t right.

The bottom end was also a tad boosted — not in the deep bass, but more in that area around 100-200 cycles, causing the sound to be overly rich. None of the originals we played had anything like it, so I’m pretty sure that’s a bit of added EQ Hoffman introduced for reasons better known to him.

Not So Fast There, O Hot Stamper Guru

But wait a minute — don’t all records sound different? Is it really fair to paint his version with such a broad brush on the basis of having played only one copy?

Of course not. Perhaps other copies sound better. (Maybe they sound worse. Think about that.) So here’s our offer to you, dear customer: We absolutely guarantee our Hot Stamper copies will handily beat the DCC pressing or your money back. We’ll even pay the return domestic shipping if for some reason you are not 100% satisfied with the sound of our Hot Stamper. Now there’s an offer you can’t refuse, for those of you who love this album and have a bunch of money burning a hole in your pocket.

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David Bowie / Let’s Dance – Energy Is Key

More of the Music of David Bowie

More Records that Sound Their Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

With Let’s Dance the name of the game is ENERGY, and boy does this copy have it! Both sides have the deep, punchy bass and sweet, extended highs that Bowie’s music needs to come ALIVE. With that big bass and smooth top end, this is one record you can turn up GOOD and LOUD without fear of fatigue. On a big pair of dynamic speakers you will really get your money’s worth from the best Hot Stamper pressings. 

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Let’s Dance.

Here are some albums on our site you can buy with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

Side One

Modern Love

This track has a tendency to be a bit brighter than those that follow. To find out if your Let’s Dance is killer, see how the title track sounds.

China Girl
Let’s Dance

The best sounding track on the album and one of the handful of best sounding Bowie tracks ever recorded. With a truly Hot Stamper copy, try as you might you will be very hard pressed to find better sound. Demo Disc Quality doesn’t begin to do it justice.

Without You

Side Two

Ricochet
Criminal World
Cat People (Putting Out Fire)

The best sound and music on side two. A top Bowie track.

Shake It (more…)

The Bloated Cello Sound Some Audiophiles Find Appealing

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Claude Debussy

On this pressing we were a bit surprised at how natural the cello sounded — more like the real instrument and less like the typical recording of it. 

Normally when recording the cello, the microphones are placed fairly close to the instrument. This often results in what’s known as the “proximity effect,” which simply describes a boost in the lower frequencies relative to the more linear response of the microphone when placed at a distance.

The famous Starker cello recordings on Mercury — you know the ones, the originals and even the reissues sell for hundreds and hundreds of dollars — suffer from this effect, which audiophiles seem to prefer. (The Mercury heavy vinyl reissues, at least the ones I’ve played, were ridiculously fat and bloated in the bottom.)

Audiophiles did not seem to mind much, judging by the apparently strong sales and the rave reviews I read. Bass shy systems, and that means most of the systems owned by audiophiles, probably benefited from the bass boost. Systems with lots of large woofers — at least in our case — would of course make the sound of these pressings positively unbearable. That indeed was our experience.)

Getting back to the record at hand, it presents a more natural cello if only because the instrument has been miked from a greater distance.

Side two is a bit fuller sounding than side one, and one of them is going to sound more correct on your system than the other. I would not even want to say for sure which one actually is more correct, as the slight difference between them might be subtle enough to play into room and system non-linearities that plague all stereos and rooms.

Both sides here will sound the way these real instruments sound when played in the kinds of rooms that one might hear them in, practicing perhaps. That makes this recording unusual in the world of “audiophile recordings,” if I can call this one, and no less refreshing and enjoyable for it.

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The Who By Numbers – More Bass or More Detail, Which Is Right?

With Doug Sax mastering from the real tape, you get a Rock Solid Bottom End like you will not believe. Talk about punchy, well-defined and deep, man, this record has BASS that you sure don’t hear too often on rock records. 

And it’s not just bass that separates the Men from the Boys, or the Real Thing from the Classic Reissue for that matter. It’s WEIGHT, fullness, the part of the frequency range from the lower midrange to the upper bass, that area that spans roughly 150 to 600 cycles.

It’s what makes Daltry’s voice sound full and rich, not thin and modern.

It’s what makes the drums solid and fat the way Johns intended.

The good copies of Who’s Next and Quadrophenia have plenty of muscle in this area, and so do the imports we played.

But not the Classic. Oh no, so much of what gives Who By Numbers its Classic Rock sound has been equalized right out of the Heavy Vinyl reissue by Chris Bellman at BG’s mastering house.

Some have said the originals are warmer but not as detailed. I would have to agree, but that misses the point entirely: take out the warmth — the fullness that makes the original pressings sound so right — and you of course hear more detail, as the detail region is no longer masked by all the stuff going on below it.

Want to hear detail? Disconnect your woofers — you’ll hear plenty of detail all right!

Keep that in mind when they tell you at the store that the record you brought in to audition is at fault, not their expensive and therefore “correct” equipment. I’ve been in enough of these places to know better. To mangle another old saying, if you know your records, their excuses should fall on deaf ears. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Can You Hear the Bloated Bass of the DCC Pressing?

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

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[This review was written many years ago, around 2004 I think. This was one of the first DCC records I did a shootout with up against run-of-the-mill Mastering Lab domestic pressings, only to find, somewhat surprisingly, at least at that time, that the DCC came up short, as you will see in the review below.]

Sonic Grade: C

As much as I admire Steve Hoffman’s work for DCC, on this title the DCC is not as good as the best domestic copies. The best domestic pressings are cleaner, leaner and meaner than the DCC, and just plain more fun.

The DCC sounds thick in the midrange and fat in the bass, although some of that boost in the bass could have been used to the advantage of some of the domestic pressings we played. 1 DB or so at 50-60 cycles would help, but the DCC has a boost in the middle and upper bass that causes the bass to sound bloated next to a properly mastered, properly pressed LP. 

I like rich sounding records just like Steve does, but his version of this title is too rich for my blood. If your system is lean sounding you may prefer the DCC, but we found it less than agreeable over here.

Not sure why so few reviewers and audiophiles notice these rather obvious shortcomings, but we sure do, and we don’t like it when records sound that way. These are records for those who are not sufficiently advanced in the hobby to know just how compromised and wrong they are.

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Dean Martin – Dream With Dean

Reviews and Commentaries for Dean Martin

One of Our Favorite Titles from 1964

  • This hard-to-find Dean Martin Classic of relaxed, intimate vocals returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • One of our all-time favorite male vocal LPs – the sound on both sides is both warm and natural, with excellent presence and transparency
  • The early stereo tri-color label pressings are almost impossible to find in audiophile condition these days, but here’s one, and it is a knockout
  • “It sounds as if they tracked the album in one afternoon, and it is not only a very pleasant listening experience, it shows what a tremendous vocalist Dean Martin truly was.”

*NOTE: On side two, a mark makes 3 light ticks, followed by 2 moderate pops in the middle of track 3, Hands Across the Table. A second mark makes 11 light ticks one-quarter inch before the end of track 4, Smile.

An outstanding copy of the classic Dream With Dean!

This is my favorite Dean Martin record of all time; just Dean and a jazz guitar quartet (including no less than Contemporary favorites Barney Kessel and Red Mitchell) behind him doing standards. On the best copies the immediacy is absolutely mind-blowing. It’s a shame that there aren’t more Frank Sinatra records that sound like this.

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