Records that Are Good for Testing Smear

Cream / Heavy Cream – Not Recommended

More Cream

More British Blues Rock

Sonic Grade: D

A Polydor Double LP mastered by Robert Ludwig.

The tonal balance is right on the money, but of course, because this is a compilation, it is made from copies of the master tapes, not real master tapes themselves, so it will always have that blurry, smeary, opaque, airless, sub-generation tape quality sound.

Hey, that’s what we hear on most of the Heavy Vinyl we audition. Imagine that.


James Taylor / One Man Dog – Quick Listening Tests

More James Taylor

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If you have a Hot Side One for One Man Dog you will know it in a hurry. The guitars and congas will leap out of your speakers at the beginning of One Man Parade.

If they don’t, forget it, move along to the next copy and keep going until you find one in which they do. There are plenty of subtle cues to separate the White Hot copies from the merely Hot, but if the sound doesn’t come to life right from the get go, it never will.

Side Two Has Bells

The first track is a bit dull on even the best copies, so don’t lose hope if your first track sounds rolled off. They almost all do. One Morning in May, the second track and the one featuring Linda Ronstadt on background vocals, is a much better test, as is track three, Instrumental II, the one with the lovely bells.

Wte paid a lot of attention to the bells on Instrumental II to help us get a handle on the top end. Sure enough, those bells are key to the best copies.

Fanfare is one of the few songs here with horns, so it became another key track. The horns need to have bite and texture, with the best copies really bringing out the breath in the sax. Any smearing or dulling of the sound and the horns go south in a hurry, along with the rest of the instruments. (more…)

In 2005, I Fell Into a Common Audiophile Trap – This Is the Album that Helped Me Find My Way Out

Reviews and Commentaries for Michel Legrand

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This 2005 commentary discusses how easy it is to be fooled by tweaks that seem to offer more transparency and detail at the expense of weight and heft.

The brass on this wonderful Six Eye Mono pressing of the album set me straight. [Since that time I have not been able to find mono pressings that sounded as good as I remember this one sounding. That sh*t happens.]

I was playing this record today (5/24/05) after having made some changes in my stereo over the weekend, and I noticed some things didn’t sound quite right. Knowing that this is an exceptionally good sounding record, albeit a very challenging one, I started playing around with the stereo, trying to recapture the sound as I remembered it from the last copy that had come in a few months back.

As I tweaked and untweaked the system around this record I could hear immediately what was better and what was worse, what was more musical and what was more Hi-Fi. The track I was playing was Night In Tunisia, which has practically every brass instrument known to man, in every combination one can imagine. Since this is a Mono pressing I didn’t have to worry about silly issues like soundstaging, which can be very deceptive. I was concerned with tonality and the overall presentation of the various elements in the recording.

To make a long story short, I ended up undoing all the things that I had done to the system over the weekend! In other words, what improvements I thought I had made turned out not to be improvements at all. And this is the album that showed me the error of my ways.

Brass instruments are some of the most difficult to reproduce, especially brass choirs. You have to get the leading edges so that the instruments have “bite”. You can’t have too much harmonic distortion or smearing, because harmonic distortion and smearing are very obvious on brass instruments.

But the one thing above all that is intolerable when trying to reproduce brass is a lack of weight or heft. There is nothing worse than thin sounding brass. It becomes hard, shrill, sour and altogether unpleasant. This is another reason why I don’t like small speakers: they have trouble reproducing the weight of brass instruments, in both jazz and classical music. (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

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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…)

Rachmaninoff / Concerto No. 2 – Katchen / Solti

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

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  • An outstanding reissue pressing of this superb recording with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • I’ve known how good this reissue can sound for more than twenty years – it is guaranteed to beat any and every pressing you have of the work or your money back
  • Big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the sound that simply does not exist except in the world of the properly cleaned, properly pressed vintage LP
  • On both of these sides you’ll hear rich strings, clear horns, a piano that is full-bodied and natural, with a solid low end (the kind you rarely hear on record but is nonetheless strikingly obvious in the presence of the real instrument)
  • “Is the pulse even, building in steady crescendo, or do those famous opening measures find some subtle phrase within? Most settle for the former; not so, Katchen and Solti – and that pretty much describes the attitude of these artists in this piece altogether: searching for and finding the phrase within the obvious.”

(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…)

Beethoven / Violin Concerto – Classic Records Reviewed

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

Reviews and Commentaries for Recordings Featuring Jascha Heifetz

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Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

It is an airless fraud, a cheap fake reproduction that’s incapable of fooling anyone with two good ears, a properly set up stereo and a decent collection of Golden Age violin concertos. 

The Classic pressing of this album does not present the listener with the sound of a real, wood instrument bowed by horsehair in physical space.

Notes from a Recent Hot Stamper Pressing (more…)

Debussy / Iberia on Classic Records – What, Specifically, Are Its Shortcomings?

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Album Reviews of the music of Claude Debussy

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

The Classic of LSC 2222 is all but unlistenable on a highly resolving, properly set-up hi-fidelity system.

The opacity, transient smear and loss of harmonic information and ambience found on Classic’s pressing was enough to drive us right up the wall. Who can sit through a record that sounds like that? Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound” and said as much in our catalogs.

With each passing year — 26 and counting — we like that sound less.  The Classic may be on Harry’s TAS list — sad but true — but that certainly has no bearing on the fact that it’s not a very good record.

MORE RECORDS GOOD FOR JUDGING THESE QUALITIES

Ambience, Size and Space

Smear

String Tone and Texture

Transparency Vs Opacity

(more…)

Miles Davis / Kind of Blue – Quick Listening Test

More on Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

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Listen to the trumpet at the start of Freddie Freeloader. Most copies do not fully convey the transient information of Miles’ horn, causing it to have an easily recognizable quality we talk about all the time on the site: smear. No two pressings will have precisely the same amount of smear on his trumpet, so look for the least smeary copy that does everything else right too.

Meaning simply that smear is important, but not all-important.

More recordings that are good for testing smear.

If you click on the above link, you will see that we regularly talk about smeary pianos, smeary brass, smeary violins and smeary Classic Records classical reissues. Nobody else seems bothered by smear, and one of our many theories about the stereo shortcomings of reviewers and audiophiles in general is that their systems are fairly smeary, so a little extra smear is mostly inaudible to them. I had a smeary system for my first twenty or more years in audio, so I know whereof I speak.

Our system has virtually no smear. Any smear we hear on a record means that the smear is on the record, not in our system.

Any system with vintage tubes — whatever their pros and cons — will have plenty of smear. We got rid of ours a long time ago.

Back to our listening tests:

On track one, side two, the drums in the right channel are key to evaluating the sound of the better copies. The snare should sound solid and fat — like a real snare — and if there is space in the recording on your copy you will have no trouble hearing the room around the kit.

We will be discussing the faults of the 45 RPM MoFi down the road, but the drums on that record are so wrong it all but beggars belief. (more…)

Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain

More Miles Davis

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  • This outstanding Columbia 360 Stereo pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • The good copies capture the realistic sound of Davis’s horn, the body, the breath and the bite (and not a little of the squawk as well)
  • Balanced, clear and undistorted, this 30th Street recording shows just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • A couple of marks play, so this copy is being offered at a much lower price than it otherwise would have been for those of you who can tolerate the pops
  • 5 stars: “Sketches of Spain is the most luxuriant and stridently romantic recording Davis ever made. To listen to it in the 21st century is still a spine-tingling experience…”

*NOTE: On side two, two marks make 24 moderate pops one-quarter inch from the end of Track 2, Saeta, and 15 moderate pops one-quarter inch into Track 3, Solea.

On the best pressings of this masterpiece, the sound is truly magical. (AMG has that dead right in their review.) It is lively but never strained. Davis’s horn has breath and bite, just like the real thing. What more can you ask for? (more…)