Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Congestion

Autoamerican (and Lots of Other Records) Need Their Space, Man

More Blondie

More Records that Are Good for Testing Ambience, Size and Space

xxxxx

The Space in the Middle

Allow us to present a key finding we discovered while playing so many of these LPs. I’m sure you’ve noticed this effect on some of your favorite recordings as well. In this case it’s the one quality that allowed some copies to soar while others were left grounded.

About halfway through the session I noticed that the copies with the most top end extension and the deepest bass had another quality which was even more involving: they left more SPACE in the middle for every other element of the mix to occupy. There was no CROWDING in other words. This may be the result of less compression in the mastering phase; compression tends to richen up the sound, but it has an unfortunate tendency to jam it all together in the middle as well.

Or it just may be higher resolution, so that the space around all the elements is clearly reproduced. Or it may be equalization, so that the higher parts of the bass stay down and the lower parts of the highs stay up, keeping both from seeping into the midrange.

Who knows what it is? One thing I can tell you is this: it sure is easy to HEAR it. Big as life, with spaciousness and three-dimensionality to beat the band, the sound on this “open middle” copy simply was in a league of its own. Perhaps you know that sound from your own favorite recordings. It’s the kind of thing that turns a good pop album into a Demo Disc. (more…)

Billy Joel – An Innocent Man

More Billy Joel

xxxxx

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last on this copy of Joel’s ninth studio album
  • Dynamic and open, with driving rhythmic energy – this early pressing brings this great batch of songs to life
  • Jam packed with hits: An Innocent Man, The Longest Time, Tell Her About It, Uptown Girl, Leave a Tender Moment Alone, and more – seven singles in all
  • 4 stars: “[H]e’s effortlessly spinning out infectious, memorable melodies in a variety of styles, from the Four Seasons send-up “Uptown Girl” and the soulful “Tell Her About It” to a pair of doo wop tributes, “The Longest Time” and “Careless Talk.” Joel has rarely sounded so carefree either in performance or writing, possibly due to “Christie Lee” Brinkley, a supermodel who became his new love prior to An Innocent Man.”

Both of these sides have the huge soundstage and startling clarity and immediacy that characterizes this album, but they also add an ingredient missing from most we heard — a full, rich, musical midrange!

On many pressings, the vocals can get hard and harsh on the uptempo tracks (“Uptown Girl” is a notable offender, and never sounds quite as good as the rest of the album), but this copy manages to fix that problem (mostly) without sacrificing transparency or top end.

This was a monster in its day, generating a Number One hit and seven total single releases out of the ten songs that comprise it. Seven out of ten, not a bad track record. We couldn’t find a weak song on the album either, which is surely one of the reasons it sold seven million copies in the states alone. (more…)

The Pretenders – Learning To Crawl

More of The Pretenders

More Women Who Rock

xxxxx

  • A superb pressing of the band’s third studio album with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • It takes years to get a shootout for this album going – three to five is my best guess, so get while the gettin’s good if you’re a fan of the most muscular rock album this band ever recorded
  • Both sides of this (very specific) German pressing were richer, clearer and more energetic than virtually any of the others we played
  • With Robbie McIntosh having joined the band, this is first and foremost a guitar rock record – his brilliant, jangly, grungy riffs drive every song
  • 5 stars: “Three albums into her recording career, Chrissie Hynde found herself having to put the past to bed and carve out a new beginning for herself with Learning to Crawl, but she pulled it off with a striking mixture of courage, strength, and great rock & roll; with the exception of the instant-classic debut album, it’s the Pretenders’ finest work.”

(more…)

Eagles / Desperado – The Absolute Sound Was Half Right

More Eagles

More Country and Country Rock

xxxxx

A True Super Disc (Second Only to the First Album in that Respect)

Of course, the best sound on an Eagles record is found on the first album. For whatever reason, that record was left off the TAS Super Disc list, even though we feel that both musically and sonically it beats this one by a bit.

On the TAS Super Disc List, Harry Pearson recommends the British SYL pressings for this album. SYL pressings can sound very good; we’ve previously found one that rated a Double Plus on both sides. But our champions for both sides were both domestic, both this time and last time.

Does that mean the best domestics will always beat the best SYL pressings? Not at all. Only critical listening can separate the better pressings from the more typical ones. After playing more than a dozen copies of this album this week, we can definitively tell you that there are FAR more mediocre copies of this record — both domestic and import — than truly exceptional ones.

The typical pressing of this album, whether the domestic or SYL, falls far short of belonging on a Super Disc List.

There are killer domestic copies AND killer SYL imports out there, and the only way to know which ones sound good is to collect ’em, clean ’em, and play ’em. Remember: TAS List doesn’t guarantee great sound, but Better Records does — if you don’t think a record sounds as good as we’ve stated, we’ll always happily take that record back and refund your money. Good luck getting ol’ Harry to send you a check when the TAS-approved pressings you pick up don’t deliver.

(more…)

An Extraordinary Recording of the Carmen Fantasie – This Is Why You Must Do Shootouts

 

bizetcarme_6165_1091228730

This London Whiteback LP has DEMO DISC sound like you will not believe, especially on side two, which earned our coveted A Triple Plus rating. The sound is warm, sweet and transparent; in short, absolutely GORGEOUS. We call it AGAIG — As Good As It Gets!

As this is one of the Greatest Violin Showpiece Albums of All Time, it is certainly a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophle’s collection. (If you’re on our site and taking the time to read this, that probably means you.) Ruggiero Ricci is superb throughout.

And side one was just a step below the second side in terms of sound quality, with very solid A++ sound. To find two sides of this caliber, on quiet vinyl no less, is no mean feat. You could easily go through ten copies without finding one as consistently good sounding as this one.

A True Demo Disc, Or Was It?

Ricci’s playing of the Bizet-Sarasate Carmen Fantasie is OUT OF THIS WORLD. There is no greater perforrmance on record in my opinion, and few works that have as much Audiophile Appeal.

Which is why I’ve had a copy of this record in my own collection for about fifteen years marked “My Demo Disc”. But this copy KILLED it. How could that be?

It just goes to show: No matter how good a particular copy of a record may sound to you, when you clean and play enough of them you will almost always find one that’s better, and often surprisingly better. Shootouts are the only way to find these kinds of records. Nothing else works. If you’re not doing shootouts (or buying the winners of shootouts from us) you simply don’t have top quality copies in your collection, except in the rare instances where you just got lucky. In the world of records luck can only take you so far. The rest of the journey requires effort. (more…)

Bob Seger – Night Moves – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

xxxxx

  • A KILLER vintage pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout for Bob Seger’s breakthrough album (the 8th time’s the charm)
  • A big step up over every other copy we heard – richer, fuller, more dynamic, more lively and just plain more fun
  • Knock the album if you like, but there’s no denying it’s one of Seger’s best and certainly a ’70s classic – every song’s a hit, and deservedly so
  • 5 stars: “One of the universally acknowledged high points of late-’70s rock & roll. And, because of his passion and craft, it remains a thoroughly terrific record years later.”

It’s not easy to find good pressings of this album — it took us plenty of fruitless shootouts before we figured anything out. Most copies out there are thin and dry, which is no way to hear these classic ’70s tracks. We brought in copy after copy that made us think, “I swear this sounds better on the radio!”

Finally, after pulling together a ton of copies from different eras, we started to realize that there were indeed vinyl pressings of Night Moves that sounded right… but they are few and far between, the exception and not the rule so to speak. This copy is one of the better ones we played in our most recent shootout, no question about it.

Knock this album if you like, but there’s no denying it’s one of Seger’s best and certainly a ’70s classic. It may not have the audiophile appeal of Tea For The Tillerman, but it’s a blast when it sounds this good. (more…)

Joe Walsh – The Best of…

xxxxx

  • An outstanding copy of Walsh’s first compilation album, with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on side one matched to a Hot Stamper side two 
  • With sound close to our Shootout Winner on side one, Turn To Stone and Rocky Mountain Way are amazing here
  • We expected to hear dubby, sub-generation tape copy sound, but instead we discovered that these tracks – on the right pressings, natch – sound pretty darn close to the ones on the albums they originally came from
  • The perfect sampler for a casual Joe Walsh fan, featuring songs from his tenure with the James Gang along with some of his best known solo tracks

(more…)

Joe Walsh – The Smoker You Drink…

xxxxx

  • Walsh’s sophomore release finally returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • This copy has rich, warm guitars and tight, punchy bass, there’s real weight to the bottom end, and Joe’s vocals sound exactly right to our ears
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get features some of the most remembered Joe Walsh tracks, but it’s not just these that make the album a success. Each of the nine tracks is a song to be proud of. This is a superb album by anyone’s standards.”

We grew quite fond of this music once we heard it sound this good. If you’re already a fan of the album, I bet you’ll get a real thrill out of hearing this copy. (more…)

Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends – Here’s an Audio Exercise You Can Do at Home

Musically side two is one of the strongest in the entire Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre (if you’ll pardon my French). Each of the five songs could hold its own as a potential hit on the radio, and no filler to be found whatsoever. How many albums from 1968 can make that claim?

The estimable ROY HALEE handled the engineering duties. Not the most ‘natural” sounding record he ever made, but that’s clearly not what he or the duo were going for. The three of them would obviously take their sound much farther in that direction with the Grammy winning Bridge Over Troubled Water from 1970.

The bigger production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.

The Wrecking Crew provided top quality backup, with Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano and keyboards.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Bookends Theme
Save the Life of My Child
(more…)

Joe Walsh – So What

xxxxx

  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side two and a better than Double Plus (A++ to A+++) side one, this copy is practically as good as it gets
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the only way to go
  • Includes a couple of classic tracks, notably Welcome to the Club and a remake of Turn to Stone
  • You’ll hear most of the Eagles playing on this one, produced and engineered by the redoubtable Bill Szymczyk
  • “So What sees Walsh in top form as a guitarist. Most of the nine tracks feature solos of unquestionable quality in his usual rock style.”

We were impressed with how rich and punchy this copy sounded after hearing dozens of dry, thin, lifeless pressings over the years. Once we had heard at least one copy sound good we proceeded to gather up every LP we could get our hands on and make this shootout happen.

Unfortunately, most of what we ended up playing had the kind of mediocre sound we had been suffering through for decades. The best copies had real energy, surprising dynamics, and lots of that ’70s Tubey Magic we love so much and never tire of talking about. (It’s also a sound that you will have a very hard time finding on most Heavy Vinyl pressings being made these days, as you doubtless know.)

The best pressings have (relatively; this is still Joe Walsh album we’re talking about) rich, warm guitars and vocals, supported by tight, punchy bass. Most copies were far less energetic and dynamic than this one. Excellent transparency as well.

All in all, this is pretty much as good as it gets for Joe Walsh in 1974. The very next year he would become an Eagle and help those boys knock it out of the park with Hotel California. (more…)