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

James Taylor / Sweet Baby James

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Reviews and Commentaries for Sweet Baby James

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  • This STUNNING copy of Sweet Baby James boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too, especially for this album
  • All that lovely echo is a dead giveaway that this pressing has resolution far beyond that of the others you may have heard (and of course the Rhino Heavy Vinyl)
  • Top 100, inarguably a Masterpiece – Fire and Rain and Suite for 20 G (one of JT’s All Time Best) are killer here
  • 5 stars: “Sweet Baby James launched not only Taylor’s career as a pop superstar but also the entire singer/songwriter movement of the early ’70s that included Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and others…”

Vocal reproduction is key to the best sounding copies of Sweet Baby James, as it is on so many Singer Songwriter albums from the era.

To find a copy where Taylor’s vocals are front and center — which is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet, tonally correct and Tubey Magical is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off.

Out of the dozen or more Green Label early pressings we play every year, relatively few have the full complement of midrange magic we know the best copies can have. As a rule of thumb, the hotter the stamper, the better the vocal reproduction on that copy.

Hot Stamper sound is rarely about the details of a given recording. In the case of this album, more than anything else a Hot Stamper must succeed at recreating a solid, palpable, real James Taylor singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

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  • With stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy will be tough to beat – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • 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.”

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Loggins and Messina / Sittin’ In – Hear that Boost at 10K?

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Recordings that Are Good for Testing Sibilance

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Practically any copy you find will have a bit of a boost in the bottom end. The kick drum really kicks on this album, more than it should in fact.

And almost all copies have too much top end right around 10k. The ones with the worst case of boosted highs and boosted bass sound like they were mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed in Japan, much like those put out by a famous label back in the ’70s.

Oddly enough, many audiophiles to this day do not seem to know that this particular label has been responsible for a slough of the phoniest sounding audiophile records ever pressed.

There is also a sibilance problem with the recording. Some copies keep it under control, while other, more crudely mastered and pressed ones, suffer greatly from spitty vocals, especially noticeable on Danny’s Song. The better copies will tend to have the “cleanest”, least-objectionable sibilance.

Sibilance is a bitch. The best pressings, with the most extension up top and the least amount of aggressive grit and grain mixed in with the music, played using the highest quality properly set up front ends, will keep sibilance to a minimum.

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

We discuss the sibilance problems of MoFi records all the time. Have you ever read Word One about this problem elsewhere? Of course not.

Audiophiles and the hacks that write for them just seem to put up with these problems, or ignore them, or — even worse — simply fail to recognize them at all.

Play around with your table setup for a few hours and you will no doubt be able to reduce the severity of the sibilance on your favorite test and demo discs. All your other records will thank you for it too.

Back to Sittin’ In (more…)

Listening in Depth to Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of Simon & Garfunkel’s groundbreaking third album (from 1966 no less!).

TRACK COMMENTARY

Side One

Scarborough Fair/Canticle

Listen carefully to the voices on this track, one of our favorites to test with. On the best copies they sound exceptionally delicate yet full-bodied. (more…)

Sergio Mendes / Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Another Spitty and Thin MoFi

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Sonic Grade: D

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

So spitty and thin! Why, in God’s name, why?

When you have a recording that is already plenty bright, adding top end and taking out more lower midrange is the last thing in the world you should be doing. Since that is standard operating procedure for MoFi and other Half-Speed mastering outfits around this time, that’s exactly the approach they ended up taking.

Those of you who have had the opportunity to play the Mobile Fidelity pressing of this record should know what a disaster it is.

Is brighter better? Apparently Mobile Fidelity thinks so. And they did the same thing to Gordon Lightfoot’s album. His voice sounds so phony on the MoFi that you’d swear it’s a bad CD.

But it’s not a bad CD. It’s an expensive audiophile record!

If you’ve spent any time on this site, you should know by now that many audiophile records sound WORSE than the typical CD. The typical CD does not have an equalization curve resembling a smile. The classic smile curve starts up high on the left, gets low in the middle, and rises again at the end, resulting in boosted bass, boosted top end, and a sucked out midrange — the Mobile Fidelity formula in a nutshell. (more…)

Sly & The Family Stone / There’s A Riot Going On – From the Analog Master!

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Sonic Grade: F

Ouch this record sounds bad. Some of the worst sound I have ever heard on Heavy Vinyl. The average cassette sounds better than this piece of crap.

My notes:

Side one: track one is thin and hard. Track two is not very tubey and the sibilance is harsh.

Side two: track two is full and tubey but track three shows that the sound may be tubey but it is very compressed.

But some people think that records that were made from the analog master tapes should sound good.  Especially those pressed on virgin vinyl.

What could possibly have gone wrong?

We have no idea. We just play the records and listen to them. We let them tell us if they are wrong or right.

This one told us it may have been made from good tapes — may have been, the good folks at Columbia records might be lying to us about that, it wouldn’t be the first time and I certainly would not put it past them — but it sure wasn’t made very well. (more…)

Blood, Sweat and Tears / Child Is Father to the Man – What to Listen For

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Reviews and Commentaries for Blood, Sweat and Tears

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At the end of a long day of listening at loud levels to multiple copies of this album you may want to run yourself a nice hot bath and light some candles. If you have an isolation tank so much the better.

You could of course turn down the volume, but what fun is that? This music wasn’t meant to be heard at moderate levels. Playing it that way is an insult to the musicians who worked so hard to make it.

The Right Balance

Every once in a while you hear a pressing in which the right balance has been struck, and this one clearly belongs to that group. It’s not perfect; you have to put up with a few rough patches to get the sound that serves most of the music properly. No copy will do it all; with this album the goal is to do the best you can.
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Cat Stevens’ Albums – Lee Hulko Cut Them All – Good, Bad and Otherwise

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Is the Pink Label Island original pressing THE way to go? That’s what Harry Pearson — not to mention most audiophile record dealers — would have you believe.

But it’s just not true. And that’s good news for you, Dear (Record Loving Audiophile) Reader.

HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM JOHN BARLEYCORN

Since that’s a Lee Hulko cutting just like Tea here, the same insights, if you can call them that, apply. Here’s what we wrote: (more…)

Michael Jackson / Thriller – Thoughts on Thriller, Circa 2006

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Reviews and Commentaries for Thriller

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

This pressing has a side two that is so amazing sounding that it COMPLETELY CHANGED my understanding and appreciation of this album. The average copy is a nice pop record. This copy is a MASTERPIECE of production and engineering.

After playing a bunch of these we noticed some recurring shortcomings on most of the pressings. Either they lacked extension on the top end or they lacked bass definition and weight, or both. When this copy hit the table, the first thing we noticed was that the top end was Right On The Money and the bottom end was also Right On The Money. Not surprisingly, the middle fell right into place.

It ended up having the most ambience, the most transparency, the most resolution, the most dynamic contrasts, the most presence — in short, it had more of EVERYTHING than any copy we’ve ever heard. The lesson to be learned there may be that when the extremes are somehow properly transferred to the vinyl, the middle will take care of itself. Since the extremes seem to be the hardest thing to get right, at least on this record, that might explain why so many copies don’t quite cut the mustard.

Side one fits perfectly into this theory. The bottom end is MEATY with plenty of punchy, solid bass, but the top end is lacking a bit of extension compared to the very best. The result is that there’s a trace of hardness in the vocals that shouldn’t be there. If you can add a dB or two of extreme highs, EVERYTHING will sound right on side one. It all comes back to life.

I remember twenty years ago playing Thriller and thinking they were all so transistory, spitty, and aggressive sounding. Well, I didn’t have a Triplanar tonearm, a beautiful VPI table and everything that goes along with it back then. Now I can play this record. I couldn’t back then. All that spit was simply mistracking. The record is no different, it just sounds different now. In other words, this record is a great test. If you can play this record, you can play practically anything.

Mobile Fidelity and the Limited Edition Pressing

More on the so-called Ultra High Quality Record

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Many audiophiles are still operating under the misapprehension that Mobile Fidelity, what 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:

  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 2021 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 (81)

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