Records that Are Good for Testing Smear

The Glorious Sound of Triple Flutes

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More of the Music of Count Basie

Hot Stamper Pressings of Big Band Recordings

Check out the triple flutes on the first track on side two – on a copy like this you will hear some shockingly Tubey Magical, breathy, sweet, natural flutes. And there are three of them! Only the largest classical orchestras have three flutes. The sound is to die for.

Play any number of copies and listen for the tri-flute sound – some copies are tubier and a bit smeary, some are breathier and a bit thin, some are recessed, some are more present. On a sufficiently resolving system, no two pressings will have those flutes sounding exactly the same.

Don’t judge the whole side by just the flutes, they are only one element in a complex array. But they are a very strong clue as to what the rest of the sound is doing better or worse. One might even go so far as to say right and wrong.

Basie Big Band is a Top Basie Big Band title in every way — musically, sonically, you name it, this album has got it going on.

If you like your brass big, rich, powerful and dynamic, you came to the right place. In practically every way this copy is Hard To Fault.

With 18 pieces in the studio (five trumpets!, four trombones!, five saxes!) this album can be a real powerhouse — if you have the right copy, and both White Hot Stamper sides here show you just how lively and dynamic this music can be. It’s got real Demo Disc qualities, no doubt about it.

When you get this record home, pay special attention to how natural and correct the timbre of the brass is. This is the hallmark of a well recorded album — it sounds right.

Freddie Hubbard – Listen for Smear on the Trumpet

More of the Music of Freddie Hubbard

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Trumpet

More Recordings that Are Good for Testing Smear

This Hot Stamper original CTI pressing from our shootout in 2011 has a truly SUPERB side two that put to shame most of what we played.

Smeary blurred trumpet blasts? Not here. Nope, the transient bite and energy of the trumpet is as REAL as it gets. 

Side Two

This Super Hot side earned a grade of A++ with its exceptional high end (although it doesn’t extend quite all the way, just most of the way) and its amazing transparency. It’s so clear! You really hear into this one, in the way that the best of the classic jazz recordings allow you to do, recordings such as Kind of Blue and the better Contemporaries.

And no smear. Trumpet records with no smear, by Freddie Hubbard or anyone else, or hard to come by. A bit more richness and this one would have been in White Hot Stamper territory. It is awfully close to the best we heard.

Side One

Earning a grade of A Plus, this is the side where some of that smear we discussed earlier can clearly be heard. The sound is rich, richer than side two even, with a huge stage and full size instruments. It’s just that the midrange is a bit veiled and smeary, and the midrange is where the trumpet is.

Our Standard RVG Hot Stamper Overview / Backhanded Compliment

Rudy Van Gelder does it again! I hear virtually none of his bad EQ, compressor overload and general unpleasantness. Instead, this recording has smooth, sweet mids; open unexaggerated highs; and rich, tonally correct bass. In other words, you would never know it’s an RVG recording.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

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 so often make about the sound of the records they play, my own judgments included — to five basic problem areas that create havoc when attempting to reproduce recorded music in the home:

  1. equipment shortcomings,
  2. poor setups,
  3. bad electricity,
  4. bad rooms, and
  5. 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 find Hot Stamper pressings.

We used to not do our job nearly 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.

Not everyone can do that, and we do get returns from time to time of records we are pretty sure would be hard to beat. When we hear that someone’s Mobile Fidelity pressings sound better to them, we know there is nothing we can do but give such a person his money back. See one through five above.

However

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.


FURTHER READING

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

More on the Subject of Tubes in Audio

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

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Gilbert and Sullivan / Overtures – How Did They Do It?

More of the music of Gilbert (1836–1911) and Sullivan (1842–1900)

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

The hall is HUGE: spacious and open as any you will hear, but not at the expense of richness or fullness. The orchestra is solid and full-bodied, yet the woodwinds and flutes soar above the other sections, so breathy and clear.

How did the Decca (recording) and RCA (mastering) engineers succeed so brilliantly where so many others have failed, failed and failed again, right up to this very day?

Who knows? It’s still a mystery that has yet to be explained, to my satisfaction anyway.

Essential Music – And No Singing

The music of Gilbert and Sullivan belongs in any serious classical collection. This is without a doubt the best way to get the most Gilbert and Sullivan music with the best sound. And no singing.

If for some reason you don’t have a good recording of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Overtures, you are really missing out. This is some of the most wonderful music ever composed. It’s the kind of music that will immediately put you in a good mood. Here the Overtures are played to perfection. For music and sound, this one is hard to fault.

As the liner notes say, “…immense charm, good-natured energy and the ‘rightness’ that announces the influence of a superb musical command”.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

The Mikado
The Yeomen of the Guard
Ruddigore

Side Two

Iolanthe
H.M.S. Pinafore
The Pirates of Penzance

Debussy / Clair de Lune – Compare and Contrast Sides One and Two

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Album Reviews of the music of Claude Debussy

More Records with Side to Side Differences

This Shaded Dog LP has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND, if what you’re demonstrating is not a Hi-Fi spectacular, but rather a sublime presentation of an exceptionally sweet and natural string section in an orchestra, presented here on analog disc pressed more than sixty years ago.  

I can’t imagine a more beautiful record, both in terms of the program and the sound. This record is a wonderful example of what the Decca recording engineers were able to capture on tape, and the RCA mastering engineers were able to master from that tape.

Even though the album was recorded by Decca, it’s a superb example of Living Stereo Tubey Magic at its best. There will never be a reissue of this record that even remotely captures the space, transparency, sweetness and richness of the sound here.

Side Two

A++ to A+++ or better! Without more copies in hand it’s hard to know how good the sound can get, but we found it Hard To Fault (HTF).

This side has more extension up top and down low and more texture to the strings.

Side One

A++, although it starts out a bit weaker than that and only really gets good a few minutes into the side. (We hear this effect fairly often on the records we play. Noticing things like this is what we do for a living.)

There is some smear and it is slightly opaque as well.

You will hear what we mean when you flip it over and those two problems disappear.

The music is superb on this side. One could play this record every day for a month and never tire of it.

Performed by the London Proms Symphony under the direction of Raymond Agoult. This performance also includes works by Massenet, Faure, Bach, Tchaikovsky and Gluck.

The record you see to your left is a budget reissue produced by Decca in 1970 of the same recording, and on the best pressings it too can sound amazing.


If you’re a fan of classical music, this RCA from 1959 belongs in your collection. The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Miles Davis / Kind of Blue – How Smeary Is Miles’ Trumpet on Your Copy?

Reviews and Commentaries for Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

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.

Here are 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 instruments, 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 present 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 at least some smear. We got rid of our tube equipment 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.

This guy can’t hear it.

But we can find no evidence that he can hear anything, much less smear. It appears to us that smear is only one problem he has yet to solve among a number of others.


The Giants Who Created Kind of Blue

Engineer Extraordinaire

Fred Plaut was a recording engineer and amateur photographer. He was employed by Columbia Records during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, eventually becoming the label’s chief engineer.

Plaut engineered sessions for what would result in many of Columbia’s famous albums, including the original cast recordings of South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, jazz LPs Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty by Charles Mingus.

CBS 30th Street Studio

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

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Offenbach – More Smeary Dreck from Classic Records

More of the Music of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

More Reviews and Commentaries for Gaite Parisienne

Our Favorite Performance of Gaite Parisienne

Sonic Grade: F

The last time I played the Classic I thought it was nothing but a smeary mess, as awful as their awful Scheherazade (both shamefully on the Super Disc List as I recall). If I were to play it today I’m guessing it would join the other Classic Records entries in our Hall of Shame. 

I love Fiedler’s performance and the 1954 two track RCA Living Stereo sound, but finding an original Shaded Dog pressing in clean condition under $500 with the right stampers (something above 10 as a rule) is all but impossible nowadays.

If you want to go that way, more power to you. 

This 1954 2-track recording is RCA’s first stereo recording of the work. 1954. Can you believe it? A few mics and two channels and it blows away most of the classical recordings ever done! Some old record collectors and tube lovers say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be. This record proves it.

FURTHER READING

Here are some other records that are good for testing string tone and texture.

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XTC – English Settlement

More XTC

More New Wave

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on all FOUR sides of this early Virgin UK import pressing – impossibly quiet vinyl too
  • Side two boasts the best condition grade we give out, Mint Minus, and the other three sides play close to it – you won’t find another record on the site with vinyl this quiet!
  • You won’t believe how good this record sounds – on a Big System with lots of firepower down low, this is a sonic tour de force, a MONSTER Demo Disc
  • The first three sides of this copy have huge amounts of open studio space and that Tubey Magical, rich, fat, dense, bass-heavy British Rock Sound we love, and the fourth isn’t far behind in all those areas
  • It has taken YEARS to get this shootout going – what happened to all the clean British pressings? They have disappeared over the last five years it seems
  • 4 stars: “There are plenty of pop gems – ‘Senses Working Overtime’ stands as one of their finest songs — but the main focus seems to be the more expansive sound…the textural sound of the album is quite remarkable.”

This is an AMAZINGLY well-recorded album, with huge amounts of open studio space and that Tubey Magical, rich, fat, dense British Rock Sound. That sound isn’t easy to reproduce, but this copy absolutely nails it. Nothing else in our shootout came close to it!

If you have big speakers and the room to play to play them good and loud , this is quite the sonic tour de force.

Credit Hugh Padgham, producer and engineer, who’s worked with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Genesis, The Police, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Those bands recorded music that makes good use of Padgham’s trademark sound: wall-to-wall, deep, layered, smooth, rich and stuffed to the gills. XTC, with Padgham’s help, have here produced a real steamroller of an album in English Settlement.

The big hit on this album is one that most audiophiles will probably know: “Senses Working Overtime.” Even over the radio you can hear how dense the production is. Imagine what it sounds like on an original British pressing with Hot Stampers, played on a modern audiophile rig. Simply put, IT ROCKS.

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Elvis Costello / Punch The Clock – Bass and Horns Are Key to the Best Imports

Hot Stamper Pressings of Elvis’s Albums Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elvis Costello

More Personal Favorites

The bottom end is as punchy, well-defined and powerful as they come. There’s plenty of low-end on this record; regrettably most copies suffer from either a lack of bass or a lack of bass definition. I can’t tell you how much you’re missing when the bass isn’t right on this album. (Or if you have the typical bass-shy audiophile speaker, yuck.) When the bass is lacking or ill-defined, the music seems labored; the moment-to-moment rhythmic changes in the songs blur together, and the band just doesn’t swing the way it’s supposed to.

The bass, along with the horn sound, are the two key elements to getting a good copy of this record. The horns are often compressed, making them lose their bite and smearing them together.

On some copies you can pick out the trombones and on some copies you can’t; you just hear Horns because the individual instruments are smashed into a congested mess. This is Elvis’ Motown Album; the horns are what bring the music to life. They’re what make this album fun.

On this copy, you get the full-on bottom end WHOMP you paid for, with no loss in control. You can clearly follow Bruce Thomas’s bass lines throughout the songs, a real treat for any music lover. (He and Elvis don’t get along, hence the end of the Attractions as his backing band. I guess we should be thankful for the nine albums on which they were together; many of them are Desert Island Discs for me.)

Not only that, but the drums have real body and resonance, a far cry from the wimpy cardboard drums so many rock records have. Listen to the drum sound on Charm School. Man, those are some BIG FAT PUNCHY DRUMS. Very reminiscent of Bowie’s Let’s Dance. The drum sound on that album is some of the best we’ve ever heard, bar none.

Right out of the gate, Let Them All Talk is lively and full of energy. Elvis’ vocals have all the presence and clarity you could hope for. Since the drums are such a driving force for the Attractions, you have got to have room and spaciousness around them. This copy showcases the percussion with weight down low and harmonics on the cymbals.

The female background singers are clear, another tough test.

It should be noted that this is not an easy record to reproduce well. Everything needs to be working at its best to bring this recording to life, especially in the range of 200 cycles and under, an area where most audiophile systems are at their weakest. If you’ve got power to spare down there, this one will really rock.


WHAT TO LISTEN FOR

Bass and Whomp

Smear

Transparency Vs Opacity


Further Reading

We’ve identified a number of Demo Discs for Bass on the site, and there are surely many more to come.

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Gilbert and Sullivan – Overtures / Ward

More of the music of Gilbert and Sullivan

More Classical Recordings in Living Stereo

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides of this superb Living Stereo pressing of Gilbert and Sullivan’s music
  • Rich and sweet Living Stereo sound from the first note to the last – who can resist these sublime orchestral arrangements?
  • The Overtures are played to perfection – for music and sound, this one is hard to fault, a Top Title in every way and one that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection

The hall is HUGE: spacious and open as any you will hear, but not at the expense of richness or fullness. The orchestra is solid and full-bodied, yet the woodwinds and flutes soar above the other sections, so breathy and clear. How did the Decca (recording) and RCA (mastering) engineers succeed so brilliantly where so many others have failed, failed right up to this very day?

Who knows? It’s still a mystery that has yet to be explained, to my satisfaction anyway.

(more…)