Records that Are Good for Testing Upper Midrange Shrillness

Are All MoFis Created Equal? A Pair of Pink Floyd LPs Proved They Aren’t

[This commentary was written more than ten years ago. Still true though.]

Many audiophiles are still under the misapprehension that Mobile Fidelity, with their strict “quality control”, managed to eliminate pressing variations of the kind we discuss endlessly on the site.

Such is simply not the case, and it’s child’s play to demonstrate how false this way of thinking is, assuming you have these four things: good cleaning fluids and a machine, multiple copies of the same record, a reasonably revealing stereo, and two working ears.

With all four the reality of pressing variations for ALL pressings is both obvious and incontrovertible.

The discussion below of a Hot Stamper Pair of Dark Sides may shed light on some of the issues involved.

Remember Classic Records Comparison Packages?

This is our first Hot Stamper Comparison Package.

For those who remember the 45 RPM/ 33 RPM Classic Records comparison packages, this is somewhat in the same vein. Of course, we don’t know that they kept the EQ the same for the 45 versions compared to the 33s of the albums included in the package, so the comparison is suspect at best. You’re not really comparing apples to apples unless you keep the EQ exactly the same. I rather doubt they did, because on Simon and Garfunkel the sound was noticeably worse at 45 than it was at 33. This is the main reason we don’t carry the 45 versions of Classic’s records: they are a lot more money, and who knows if they’re even any better?

[This one sure wasn’t better. This guy liked it, but he is rarely right about any of this record and equipment stuff, as I hope everyone knows by now.]

Money

How did this come about, you ask? Well, it’s kind of an interesting story. My record grading associate, Robert Pincus, handed back to me a MOFI Dark Side Of The Moon that he said had an amazing version of the song Money on side two. Since we both don’t like MOFI, his comment was, “they sure got that song right, even if they can’t figure out how to do the rest of the album”.

A couple of weeks later I got in another Dark Side Of The Moon on MOFI, and I needed to know what the playing condition was because it had a few light marks, so I dropped the needle on the first track on side one: Breathe. Now Breathe is my favorite test track for side one for any version of Dark Side Of The Moon, Half-Speed or otherwise.

When the voices come in about halfway through the song, you can tell that most copies are too bright simply by listening to the vocals on this track. The cymbals might sound wonderful; lots of other instruments might sound wonderful; and there might be plenty of ambience, detail and transparency. But all of that counts for nothing if the voices don’t sound right. And on most copies the voices sound bright, aggressive, grainy and transitory. (This is the case with the new 180 gram 30th Anniversary copy, I’m sorry to say.)

So on this MOFI copy I was playing I was shocked — shocked — to hear smooth, sweet vocals. I happen to know the Hot Stampers for side one and I immediately checked the stampers to see what they were. Sure enough it was the Hot Stamper for side one.

I flipped the record over, and started up side two. The sound was DREADFUL. As I was listening to Money, the thought kept going through my head, “This is the track that MOFI was supposed to have gotten right on side two?” It sucks! It’s hard; there’s no real transparency; the bass is all flabby and wrong. The whole affair is sour and off-putting.

Then I realized: this must be a bad stamper for side two. I pulled out the copy that Robert had raved about, and sure enough, side two was MAGICAL. There was simply no comparison between the two. They were night and day different. One was completely involving and one made me question whether my stereo was working right.

Of course, most audiophiles are still under the misapprehension that Mobile Fidelity, with their strict ‘quality control’, which they spend hundreds of words explaining on their inner sleeves, eliminates pressing variations of these kinds.

Isn’t that the reason for the Limited Edition Audiophile Record in the first place? The whole idea is to take the guesswork out of buying the Best Sounding Copy money can buy.

But it just doesn’t work that way. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but my entire website is based on the proposition that nothing of the sort is true. If paying more money for an audiophile pressing guaranteed the buyer better sound, 80% of what we do around here would be a waste of time. [Now 100%.] Everybody knows what the audiophile pressings are, and there would be nothing for me to do but find them and throw them up on the website for you to buy. Why even bother to play them if they all sound so good?

Obviously this is not the case. Most of them suck. You’ll notice that we carry virtually no new releases from Speakers Corner anymore, when we used to bring in the new titles on a regular basis. The current quality of their mastering (Elvis, the new Mercury’s, etc) is so abysmal that it would take much too long and cost much too much money to unearth the few gems they got right from the huge pile of crappy new records they released.

If you’ve spent any time on the site at all you know I am not a fan of Mobile Fidelity’s mastering. There are a dozen or so really great MOFIs. Dark Side Of The Moon has never made it to the list, and for good reason. The average copy of DSOTM on MOFI is Not Good.

The person who buys this two LP Package will have the opportunity to hear for himself just how bad most MOFI pressings of Dark Side are. With these two LPs, you are getting an Amazing Side One and an Amazing Side Two – just not on the same piece of vinyl. (The joke here at Better Records is that I should label which side sounds good and which side doesn’t in case the buyer has trouble telling them apart. Since so many audiophiles like so many bad sounding records – don’t get me started – this is not as ridiculous as it sounds. But the difference between the two sides is so OBVIOUS that virtually anyone will hear it. (Even those people who still think that MOFI was a great label.)

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Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – You’re Gonna Get It!

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More of Our Favorite Titles from 1978

  • Musically it’s surely the best record Tom Petty ever made – a late ’70s Rock Classic 
  • Three of Petty’s best songs are on this one – Restless, I Need To Know and Listen To Her Heart – and they sound amazing
  • “Overall, the current LP boasts an impressive stylistic cohesiveness with its predecessor, but what makes the album exciting are the fresh hints of openness and expansion just beneath the surface. The rhythms are a bit looser, and there’s a new emphasis on Petty’s rough, driving, rock & roll guitar in the mix.” Rolling Stone

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in exceptionally clean shape. Most of them will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG.

Sweetly textured guitars, breathy vocals — all the subtleties of a High Quality Recording are here, along with prodigious amounts of bass and powerful dynamics. Check out that drum sound! If you can play this one at the levels it demands you might just be shocked at how good it sounds. (more…)

Tom Petty – Hard Promises

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More of Our Favorite Titles from 1981

  • An impressive copy of this 1981 release, with KILLER nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Recorded at Sound City, home to some of the greatest analog sound ever recorded
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…filled with great songwriting, something that’s as difficult to achieve as a distinctive sound… The Waiting became the best-known song on the record, but there’s no discounting A Woman in Love, Nightwatchman, Kings Road, and The Criminal Kind, album tracks that would become fan favorites… it has a tremendous set of songs and a unified sound that makes it one of Petty’s finest records.”

This one is a huge step up from most of what we played. The album tends to be bright, thin, edgy, pinched and gritty — radio friendly, maybe, but not especially audiophile friendly.

We hate that sound but we are happy to report that some copies manage to avoid it, and this is one of them. Is that richer, fuller sound the sound of what’s on the master tape or did the mastering engineer “fix” it? We’ll never know, now will we? What we can know is the sound of the pressings we actually have to play, and this one is killer. (more…)

Billie Holiday – All Or Nothing At All

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More Titles that Sound Best in Mono

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on all four sides – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • This 2 LP set features most of the tracks from the original release plus another handful of recordings from the same period (1955-1956)
  • It’s one of the better sounding Billie Holiday records we’ve heard, any guaranteed to beat any Heavy Vinyl reissue you’ve wasted your money on
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… features some of Billie Holiday’s top Verve performances from the mid-’50s… she runs the emotional gamut from summery optimism to pathos-rich musings. Befitting her perennial after-hours mood, the majority of songs here feature Holiday in a low-down mood of the highest order.”

Naturally, the highest quality vocal reproduction has to be the main focus on a Hot Stamper pressing for any Billie Holiday record we would offer. Her voice should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and present.

In addition to being tonally correct and natural, the pressings we offer must also be highly resolving. With the right room and the right equipment, properly setup and adjusted of course, you will hear everything that these vintage recordings have to offer, including the three-dimensional space of the studios in which the various sessions were recorded, under the auspices of Norman Granz.

The Sound of the Original

The original Trumpet Player Verve mono we had on hand to play suffered from an EQ problem we frequently run into during our shootouts for vintage vocal albums. Actually, to be clear, there were two main problems in the case of All or Nothing At All: a boosted midrange and occasional quite serious sibilance issues.

Ella Fitzgerald’s albums can suffer from these same two problems. It’s a trick to find the copies that are tonally correct in the midrange and do not have the kind of cutter head distortions that result in excessive sibilance. (more…)

Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

More on the Subject of Tubes in Audio

What to listen for on this album? That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness.

We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI the way they did back in the ’70s. Harry Pearson loved many of their recordings, but I sure didn’t.  To this day, some of the records on the TAS List seem to me better suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the ’70s than the modern systems of today.

I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles tend to make about the sound of records, my own judgments included — to the four basics:

  • the limitations of the equipment,
  • bad setups,
  • bad rooms, and
  • poor record cleaning

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s such as McIntosh, Marantz, etc. — I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that exist today.

Today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like. 

The more revealing, more accurate systems of today are in fact what make it possible for us to do our job.

We used to not do it as well, and we talk about it in our Live and Learn section.

You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like. They should sound amazing on your system and in your room, and we stand behind that claim with a 100% Money Back Guarantee. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record is correct. All you need to do is play it back properly.

With each improvement you make in your system, the kinds of high quality pressings we sell — we call them Hot Stampers — will continue to reveal better and better sound in their grooves.

This is not true for the Modern Heavy Vinyl reissue. The better a system gets, the more the faults of those pressings come to light.  This typically sad story is one that is all too common with our customers. (more…)

Billy Joel – An Innocent Man

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  • 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…)

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

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Reviews and Commentaries for Bridge Over Troubled Water

  • An outstanding 360 Stereo pressing (the only ones we offer) of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • There’s a reason you rarely see this title on our site – we have a devil of a time finding clean 360s without marks or significant surface noise, especially for the title track
  • The sound is big, lively, and clear, with the kind of Tubey Magical richness that only the best 360 pressings can offer
  • Surely this is BY FAR the toughest album of theirs to find with top quality sound and decent surfaces
  • This Magnum Opus ended the duo’s collaboration with a ginormous over the top production, which taxed the recording technology of the day and is sure to tax any system that attempts to reproduce it
  • 5 stars: “Perhaps the most delicately textured album to close out the 1960s from any major rock act… the songs matched the standard of craftsmanship that had been established on the duo’s two prior albums”

Both sides here KILLED every other copy we played.

The strings on the title track actually have some texture, and Cecilia comes to life in a way we guarantee you have never heard before. There’s also much less of the spit and grit that you find on many copies.

The sound is quite a bit more musical and enjoyable than you might expect, especially if you own a reissue on the red label or an audiophile reissue of any kind. All our copies are on the 360 label, and none of them are on Heavy Vinyl or Half-Speed Mastered. If it’s not a 360, it’s not a Hot Stamper in our book. (more…)

Set-up Discs, Part Two – Dialing in the Anti-Skate

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Turntable Setup Advice

More Advice for Setting Your Anti-skate

I once adjusted my anti-skate while playing this very album, at the time dialing it in to a “T”. Over the years I’ve found that the best test for fine anti-skate adjustment is massed strings, and not just at the end of a side but right at the beginning too.

When you have all the rosiny texture, the high-end harmonic extension, the least shrillness and the widest and deepest staging, you are there, assuming that tracking weight, azimuth and VTA are correct as well.

Four variables to mess with is admittedly a bitch, but having the right record to test with is absolutely critical as well. Maybe we should call it five variables.

And if I only had one record to bring to someone’s house in order to evaluate their equipment, this would certainly be a top choice. If you can make this record sound the way it should, your stereo is cookin’. If you are having problems, this record will show them to you in short order. (more…)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Long After Dark

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  • A STUNNING sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too!
  • Both sides are brimming with Petty’s unique brand of “meat and potatoes” rock and roll
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • Rich and full-bodied with tight bass, and brimming with Petty’s unique brand of straight ahead rock and roll, best exemplified by the radio smash You Got Lucky
  • Rolling Stone raves “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play a finely crafted brand of meat-and-potatoes rock. They shudder to a stop for the occasional ballad or showy guitar figure, but the next surging chorus is never far away. They’ve been honing that sound for five albums now, and Petty has gradually hoisted himself into the company of such masterful travelers of Route 66 as Seger and Springsteen. …overall, Long after Dark is Petty’s most accomplished record.”

Long After Dark boasts the monster rocker You Got Lucky and very good sound considering that the album was recorded in 1982, not an especially good year (or decade) to be recording rock music. (more…)

Janis Joplin – I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

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More Blues Rock Albums

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  • This outstanding 360 Stereo pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This copy has the ideal combination of openness and transparency, coupled with the richness and solidity of vintage analog
  • When Janis starts singing, watch out – her voice positively JUMPS out of the speakers, something we didn’t hear her do on many of the other copies in our shootout
  • Features Try, one of Janis’s All Time Classics — and with these grades you can be sure it sounds positively amazing here

This Columbia 360 Stereo pressing is THE CURE for Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues!

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

The bottom end has real weight and the top end is silky and extended. The overall sound is rich, full, and smooth.

ENERGY is the key element missing from the average copy, but not on this bad boy (or girl if you prefer). The electric guitars are super Tubey Magical and the bass is solid and punchy.

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 it in spades.

Few other copies had this combination of openness and transparency on the one hand, and full, rich tonality on the other. (more…)