Records that Are Good for Testing Sibilance (It’s a Bitch)

The Beatles on MoFi – Another Disgracefully Spitty Half-Speed

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Please Please Me

Sonic Grade: C

If you own the Mobile Fidelity LP, do yourself a favor and buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings. (Actually any good British import pressing will do.)

What’s the first thing you will notice other than correct tonality, better bass and a lot more “life” overall?

No spit! As we’ve commented elsewhere, because of the wacky cutting system they used, Mobile Fidelity pressings are full of sibilance. 

As I was playing a British pressing of this record many years ago, maybe by about the fifth or sixth song it occurred to me that I hadn’t been hearing the spit that I was used to from my MoFi LP. You don’t notice it when it’s not there.

But your MoFi sure has a bad case of spitty vocals. If you never noticed them before, you will now. (more…)

Mobile Fidelity and the Limited Edition Pressing – The Answer Is No

More on the so-called Ultra High Quality Record

Can you take the guesswork out of buying high quality records?

The answer is no and it must remain no.

Many audiophiles are still operating 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 mistaken this way of thinking is, assuming you have these four things:

  1. Good cleaning fluids and a machine,
  2. Multiple copies of the same record,
  3. A reasonably revealing stereo, and
  4. Two working ears (I guess that’s actually five things, my bad).

With all five the reality of pressing variations — sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic — for ALL pressings is both obvious and incontrovertible.

The fact that this is a controversial viewpoint in 2022 does not speak well of the audiophile community.

The raison d’être of the Limited Edition Audiophile Record is to take the guesswork out of buying the Best Sounding Pressing money can buy.

But it just doesn’t work that way. Not that I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but our 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. Everybody knows what the audiophile pressings are, and there would be nothing for us 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?

I was guilty of the same Bad Audiophile Thinking myself in 1982. I remember buying the UHQR of Sgt. Pepper and thinking how amazing it sounded and how lucky I was to have the world’s best version of Sgt. Pepper. Yay for me!

If I were to play that record now it would be positively painful. All I would hear would be the famous MoFi 10K boost on the top end (the one that MoFi lovers never seem to notice), and the flabby Half-Speed mastered bass (ditto). Having heard really good copies of Sgt. Pepper, like the wonderful Hot Stampers we have on the site most of the time, now the MoFi UHQR sounds so phony to me that I wouldn’t be able to sit through it with a gun to my head.


FURTHER READING

Half-Speed Mastered Disasters 

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Paul Simon / Still Crazy After All These Years – Listening in Depth

More of the Music of Paul Simon

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Paul Simon (and Art Garfunkel)

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Still Crazy. Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

As exceptionally well-produced, well-engineered Pop Albums from the ’70s, the very best copies can proudly hold their heads high. Wait a minute. Our last commentary noted what a mess most of the pressings of this album sound like, with so much spit and grain. Have we changed our minds? Well, yes and no, and as usual we make no excuses for having changed our minds. We call it progress.

Yes, most copies are still a mess, but No, some copies now sound far better than we ever thought possible.

As we noted in our previous commentary for the Hot Stamper Still Crazy (back in 2005!), when we first dropped the needle on side one of another copy of this record, we were shocked to hear how spitty, grainy and transistory sounding the album was. We could hardly believe that a mainstream pop album by Paul Simon could sound this bad. It was pure spitty DISTORTION with ZERO midrange magic. A CD would sound better. Even Graceland, a famously compressed, phony, digital sounding album wouldn’t sound this bad!

A bad copy you say? Maybe they don’t all sound bad on side one, but there sure are a lot of them that do. Two tracks in particular — in fact, the two biggest tracks on side one — have fairly bad sound on almost any copy you play: Still Crazy and 50 Ways…

The True Tests for Side One

What separates the mediocre-to-bad-sounding average copy from a Hot Stamper is how well mastered those two songs are. In other words, if you get those two tracks right — breathy vocals, sounding smooth and sweet, with the sibilance under control, supported by good solid bass — the whole side is going to be good, maybe even as good as it gets.

We noted previously that:

“… side two on every copy is better sounding than side one. Why this is I have no idea. It’s not as though they recorded all of side one’s tracks together and they didn’t come out as well. That’s not the way it’s done. The order of the tracks is determined long after they are recorded and mixed. But the songs on side two are consistently more open and sweeter, with silkier, more delicate background vocals and a more natural timbre to Paul’s voice. He sounds less like a transistor radio and more like a person.”

That turned out to still be generally true, but there were some exceptional sounding sides twos in this batch, so we can’t say that side two is always worse, just most of the time.

There is no substitute for having multiple clean copies and shooting them out. Every copy I played was original — no Nice Price junk, no bad imports, no throwaways. Good copies are the rare exception on this album — sad, but true. If you have an LP of this one, see how much Still Crazy spits. I’ll bet it spits like crazy; most of them do.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Still Crazy After All These Years

The toughest test of them all. If this song sounds good, you are 90% of the way there.

My Little Town

This track was supposed to be a hit single and has the radio mix to prove it, and it WAS a hit, but it’s not exactly as pleasing to the audiophile ear as the other songs on the side.

I Do It for Your Love
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

This track often has some midrange hardness and more of a dry, transistory quality than others on side one, that is of course unless you happen to be playing an exceptionally good copy. The better copies also seem to have substantially more ambience. It’s really a quite well recorded song when good mastering lets you hear it right.

On most copies, in the louder parts of the chorus there is also something that sounds like compressor or limiter distortion on the voices. Turns out it’s actually a mastering or pressing issue; on the best copies the loudest vocal parts sound just fine.

How about that awesome Steve Gadd drum part? What pop song relies more on its beat than this one? It’s practically worth the price of the album to hear those drums sound so good.

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Crosby, Stills and Nash / Replay – Listening in Depth

More of the Music of Crosby, Stills and Nash

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening (112 Strong as of 2022)

We stopped doing shootouts for this album many years ago after running into too many mediocre-at-best if not downright awful sounding copies. These notes are from about ten years ago.

Replay is a very handy record for setting your VTA. The end of Shadow Captain has loud vocals and punchy bass, which are a bit difficult to reproduce. (Forget trying to get this song to sound good if you don’t have an exceptionally good copy.) 

The next song is To The Last Whale, which starts with Nash and Crosby’s multitracked voices in a big hall. With the correct VTA, their voices should sound silky and sweet. If your arm is too far down in the back, they will get a bit dull. Too high, and they will lose that breathy, “fluffy” quality.

And once you get their voices to sound just right, make sure the ending of Shadow Captain is still punchy and dynamic.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Carry On 

A crappy remix, with added guitar, ugh. (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

More Sly & The Family Stone

  • Tired of the crude, congested, hard, harsh and otherwise unpleasant sound of most pressings? The solution is right here!
  • Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, Everyday People, You Can Make It If You Try — what a killer lineup of songs
  • 5 stars: “Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment. …everything simply gels here, resulting in no separation between the astounding funk, effervescent irresistible melodies, psychedelicized guitars, and deep rhythms.”
  • This is a Must Own Soul Classic from 1969 that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1969 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Sly and The Family Stone – Greatest Hits

More Sly and the Family Stone

More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • An INCREDIBLE pressing of this nearly perfect Sly record, with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • The sound is huge – big, wide, deep, and open, with a punchy bottom end and rhythmic energy to spare, as well as cleaner, smoother, sweeter upper mids and a more extended top
  • You will find real high-resolution sound on this pressing, not the congestion, opacity and smear you would expect from a greatest hits compilation
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This summarizes their first four albums perfectly, adding the singles ‘Hot Fun in the Summertime,’ ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),’ and ‘Everybody Is a Star,’ possibly the loveliest thing they ever recorded… Greatest hits don’t come better than this — in fact, music rarely does.”

Both sides here have lively punchy drums; a big soundfield, front to back and side to side; tonally correct vocals (which obviously are key and sound edgy and thin on most copies), and real resolution to the sound overall, not the opacity and blur you would expect from a greatest hits compilation.

Also, and just as importantly, you lose the sibilance most copies suffer from and the smear on the horns goes away, thank goodness.

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Two Reviews of Child Is Father to the Man – Fremer Vs. Better Records

More of the Music of Blood, Sweat and Tears

Reviews and Commentaries for Blood, Sweat and Tears

Audiophile Reviewers – Who Needs ‘Em!

In 2010 MF reviewed both the Sundazed and Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl pressings of the album.

I think his review is mistaken on a number of counts, and mostly unhelpful. The commentary below will discuss his errors in detail, in the hopes that you, dear reader, will not make the same mistakes yourself. 

He talks about his history with the album for a while, and then notes:

Anyway, the original “360 Sound” edition of this record sounds fantastic. It’s a high quality Columbia studio recording, with vivid harmonics, impressive transparency and dynamics, shimmering highs and tight extended bass. The soundstage is expansive and the images tightly presented. I’m not sure it can get much better than the original given how well-pressed Columbia records were in those days, especially if you have a clean original.

We, however, seem to hold precisely the opposite view. I quote from our review:

Why did it take us so long [to do a Hot Stamper shootout]? Let me ask you this: have you ever played this album? The average copy of this record is a sonic MESS. Even the best copies have problems.

We then go on to discuss in detail what most copies do wrong and what to listen for in order to find a copy that gets it right. (More on that later.)

Shortcomings? What Shortcomings?

Fremer continues:

There are two reissues of this. One is from Sundazed and there’s a far more expensive one from Speakers Corner…

The Speakers Corner reissue, which uses the wrong label art is pressed at Pallas and consequently it’s quieter and better finished overall. However, the Sundazed copy I got was very well finished and reasonably quiet, but not as quiet.

On the other hand the Speakers Corner version was somewhat more hyped up at the frequency extremes and cut somewhat hotter, but not objectionably so. The Sundazed sounds somewhat closer to the original overall, so for half the price, you do the math!

“Somewhat hyped up”? We liked it a whole lot less than Mr. Fremer apparently did. Early last year I gave it a big fat F for FAILURE, writing at the time:

This is the worst sounding Heavy Vinyl Reissue LP I have heard in longer than I can remember. To make a record sound this bad you have to work at it.

What the hell were they thinking? Any audiophile record dealer that would sell you this record should be run out of town on a rail. Of course that won’t happen, because every last one of them (present company excluded) will be carrying it, of that you can be sure.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, out comes a record like this to prove that it can. I look forward to Fremer’s rave review.

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Johnny Hartman / I Just Dropped By To Say Hello – A Forgotten Vocal Classic

More Pop and Jazz Vocals

Reviews and Commentaries for More Male Vocal Albums

hartmijust_wtlf_1309353711

Folks, the later Stereo Impulse pressing of this classic Hartman album we dropped the needle on recently was so Tubey Magical, RICH yet CLEAR, and above all shockingly natural, it would be hard to imagine a Male Vocal record produced in the last thirty years that could hold a candle to it (outside of the Coltrane-Hartman record from the year before of course).

The Bennett-Evans record we love so much here at Better Records would qualify as a contender, but that album was recorded in 1975. And it doesn’t have half the Tubey Magic this Hartman album from 1963 does.

RVG Knocks Another One Out of the Park

Our hats are off to Rudy Van Gelder once again! Here’s an album that justifies his reputation. If only more of them did…

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Johnny Mathis / Heavenly – Testing For Sibilance

All copies have sibilance, some more than others. The best copies have the least amount and make the spit they do have much less gritty and objectionable.

We’ve known for decades how good a test sibilance is for tables, cartridges and arms. Sibilance is a bitch. The best pressings, with the most extension up top and the least amount of aggressive grit and grain mixed into the music, played using the highest quality, most carefully dialed-in front ends, will keep sibilance to an acceptable minimum.

VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate adjustments are critical to reducing the amount and the quality of the spit in your records.

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Surfer Girl Takes MoFi Spit to a New Level

More of the Music of The Beach Boys

More Recordings that Are Good for Testing Sibilance

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found wanting.

I played the MoFi pressing of this record many years ago, some time back in the early ’90s if memory serves, and at the time I could hardly believe that the good people of MoFi would release a record that was so ridiculously SPITTY. The sibilance is positively out of control, the result of their wacky cutting system and phony EQ and who knows what else.

But then I remembered that there has never been a title produced by these people with sound so bad that they would have cancelled its release. {This is a classic case of begging the question. I really have no idea why some of their titles that exist only on test pressing — Pearl for one — never saw the light of day. It is possible that it was cancelled because it sounded worse than even the hard-of-hearing Powers That Be at MoFi could tolerate. Doubtful, but possible.)

The audiophile public was clamoring for remastered pressings of their favorite albums and MoFi saw it as an opportunity to serve them.

In other words, to paraphrase a famous wag, their fans had spoken and now they must be punished.

It started with their execrable remastering of Katy Lied and continued all the way to the turgid muck of the Anadisc series and beyond. Those who have visited our Hall of Shame have seen many of their worst productions on display. If we had more time to write listings for them I’m sure I could come up with double or triple the number that are in there now. 


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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