Records that Are Good for Testing Smear

Duke Ellington Indigos – Amazingly Spacious Sound

More Duke Ellington

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  • With two outstanding sides rating a Double Plus (A++) for sound, this was one of the better copies in our most recent shootout
  • This original 6-Eye Stereo pressing blew us away with its superbly well recorded romantic big band jazz, of which Ellington was a true master
  • A near-perfect demonstration of just how good 1958 All Tube Analog sound can be – no modern record can hold a candle to a pressing as good as this one
  • If you like your jazz ballads performed with deep feeling, by a road-tested group of virtuoso players, this record is for you

If you like the sound of relaxed, tube-mastered jazz, you can’t do much better than Ellington Indigos. Many of the other Six Eye copies we played suffered from blubbery bass and transient smearing, but the clarity and bass definition here are surprisingly good. The warmth and immediacy of this sound may just blow your mind.

We played a handful of later pressings that didn’t really do it for us. They offer improved clarity, but can’t deliver the tubey goodness that you’ll hear on the best early pressings. We won’t be bothering with them anymore. It’s tubes or nothing on this album.

The key for vintage super-tubey recordings is balancing clarity with richness. The easiest way to test for those two qualities on this album is to find a track with clear, lively, loud trumpets that also includes rich trombones and other low brass. On side one that track is Where or When. If your copy has clear, lively trumpets and rich, full-bodied, Tubey Magical low brass, it is definitely doing something right. (more…)

The Monty Alexander 7 / Jamento – Listening for Speed and Smear

What to Listen For – Smear

What to Listen For – Speed

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Clear piano notes, first and foremost. Any smear or loss of speed (a problem with hi-fi equipment since the beginning of time) detracts from the fun. 

Next, the tonality of the best copies is rich and solid; accept nothing less.

And, finally, the proper reproduction of the percussion instruments is critically important to the energy and drive of the music. The better you hear them — without losing the weight and richness of the piano — the more you will enjoy your copy of the record.

No two copies will reproduce all these elements equally well. On high quality equipment with the volume turned up good and loud the winners are easily separated from the losers. (more…)

America – Self-Titled

More America

More Hippie Folk Rock

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  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the best we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of our favorite Hippie Folk Rock albums – the instruments and voices are so well recorded they will seem to be floating right in front of you
  • The Tubey Magical acoustic guitars on this record are a true test of stereo reproduction – thanks Ken Scott!
  • A tough record to find these days on the early Green Label with sound this good and audiophile playing surfaces that are this quiet
  • 4 stars: “America’s debut album is a folk-pop classic, a stellar collection of memorable songs that would prove influential on such acts as the Eagles and Dan Fogelberg…”

These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.

This is clearly America’s best album, and on the better pressings like this one, the sound is worthy of Demo Disc status. You’ll find the kind of immediacy, richness and harmonic texture that not many records (and even fewer CDs) are capable of reproducing.

The version we are offering here has the song A Horse With No Name. Some copies without that song can sound very good as well, but with grades this good, this copy is going to be very hard to beat.

Interestingly, A Horse With No Name never sounds quite as good as the rest of the album. It was recorded in 1971, after the album had already been released, and subsequently added to newer pressings starting in 1972. Unlike the rest of the album, it was not engineered by Ken Scott at Trident, but by a different engineer at Morgan Studios. The engineer of that song took a different approach to the one that Scott had, and we leave it to you to decide how well that approach worked.

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Violin Recordings (Vintage or Modern) and the Problem of Smear

More Violin Recordings

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

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This copy had practically no smear on either the violin or the orchestra. Try to find a violin concerto record with no smear. We often say that Shaded Dogs, being vintage All Tube recordings, tend to have tube smear. But what about the ’70s Transistor Mastered Red Label pressings – where does their smear come from?

Let’s face it: records from every era more often than not have some smear and we can never really know what accounts for it.

The key thing is to be able to recognize it for what it is. (We find modern records, especially those pressed at RTI, to be quite smeary as a rule. They also tend to be congested, blurry, thick, veiled, and ambience-challenged. For some reason most audiophiles — and the reviewers who write for them — rarely seem to notice these shortcomings.)

Of course, if your system itself has smear it becomes that much harder to hear the smear on your records.  Practically every tube system I have ever heard had more smear than I could tolerate – it comes with the territory. And high-powered transistor amps are notoriously smeary, opaque and ambience-challenged. Our low-powered, all-transistor rig has no trouble showing us the amount of smear on records, including those that have virtually none.

Keep in mind that one thing live music never has is smear of any kind. Live music is smear-free. It can be harmonically distorted, hard, edgy, thin, fat, dark, and all the rest, but one thing can never be is smeary. That is a shortcoming unique to the reproduction of music, and one which causes many of the pressings we sell to have their sonic grades lowered. (more…)

Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain

More Miles Davis

More Jazz Trumpet Albums

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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…)

Talking Heads / More Songs About Buildings and Food – What to Listen For

More Talking Heads

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

With Our Love turned out to be one of our favorite tests for side one. The picking of the rhythmic guitar in the intro told us just about everything we needed to know about smear, veiling and resolution. On most copies the instrument is simply blurry, the notes mashed together. When you’ve got a copy with its transients intact, resolving properly and clearly right there in front of you, you have the makings of a Hot Stamper side one.

My other test track for side one was Warning Signs. This is a great track for evaluating transparency and bass. On the average copy you’d never know how much ambience exists around the drums. Hint: it’s a lot.

Our favorite copies have a fair amount of WHOMP down low, giving the bass guitar that rich, beefy sound that we’re simply crazy for here at Better Records. Once you’ve heard a copy with well-defined, note-like bass, nothing less will do.

Artists Only

A great test track for side two is Artists Only. The guitars in the intro section are almost unbearable to listen to on most copies. I recognize that I am somewhat sensitive to harsh high frequencies, but I’m literally in pain when I listen to an overly compressed, overly midrangy copy. There’s got to be a better way! (more…)

XTC – English Settlement – What to Listen For

More Demo Discs for Bass

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For Big Production Rock Albums like English Settlement there are some obvious problem areas that are often heard on at least one or two sides of practically any copy of this four sided album.  

With so many heavily-produced instruments crammed into the soundfield, if the overall sound is at all veiled, recessed or smeared — problems common to 90+% of the records we play in our shootouts — the mix quickly becomes opaque, forcing the listener to work too hard to separate out the elements of interest.

Exhaustion, especially on this album, soon follows.

Transparency, clarity and presence are key. Note that none of the British copies we played was thin and anemic. (The domestic copies are made from dubs and can’t begin to compete.) Almost all had plenty of tubey magic and bottom end, so thankfully that was almost never a problem. They did however tend to lack top end extension and transparency, and many were overly compressed. The sides that had sound that jumped out of the speakers, with driving rhythmic energy, worked the best for us. They really brought this complex music to life and allowed us to make sense of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay

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  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Red Clay sound remotely as good as it does here
  • It’s one of our Five Favorite CTI albums – Red Clay is Hubbard’s Soul Jazz Masterpiece, and it’s a record that belongs in every audiophile’s jazz collection
  • Lenny White drums up a storm on this album – with sound this good, he is playing right in the room with you
  • 5 Stars: “This may be Freddie Hubbard’s finest moment as a leader, in that it embodies and utilizes all of his strengths as a composer, soloist, and frontman. [It] places the trumpeter in the company of giants such as saxophonist Joe Henderson, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Lenny White… This is a classic, hands down.”

Hubbard was a master of funky jazz, and the song Red Clay is arguably the funkiest jazz track he ever committed to tape. At 12 minutes in length it is a transcendentally powerful experience — and the bigger your speakers and the louder you turn them up the more moving that experience is going to be!

The intro to Red Clay begins with a stylized free-form jam, sounding like a bop-jazz band of old, then takes form and solidifies into a groove of monstrous proportions. Ron Carter’s bass playing is stellar! We rated this side Single to Double Plus. It’s big and lively with tons of presence and energy.

Like many of our funky favorites, this one was eventually sampled for a popular hip-hop song. That may not mean much to you, but it definitely means that nice copies of this album get swiped up quickly by young DJs and producers. (more…)

An Extraordinary Recording of the Carmen Fantasie – This Is Why You Must Do Shootouts

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

 

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This London Whiteback LP has DEMO DISC sound like you will not believe, especially on side two, which earned our coveted A Triple Plus rating. The sound is warm, sweet and transparent; in short, absolutely GORGEOUS. We call it AGAIG — As Good As It Gets!

As this is one of the Greatest Violin Showpiece Albums of All Time, it is certainly a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophle’s collection. (If you’re on our site and taking the time to read this, that probably means you.) Ruggiero Ricci is superb throughout.

And side one was just a step below the second side in terms of sound quality, with very solid A++ sound. To find two sides of this caliber, on quiet vinyl no less, is no mean feat. You could easily go through ten copies without finding one as consistently good sounding as this one.

A True Demo Disc, Or Was It?

Ricci’s playing of the Bizet-Sarasate Carmen Fantasie is OUT OF THIS WORLD. There is no greater perforrmance on record in my opinion, and few works that have as much Audiophile Appeal.

Which is why I’ve had a copy of this record in my own collection for about fifteen years marked “My Demo Disc”. But this copy KILLED it. How could that be?

It just goes to show: No matter how good a particular copy of a record may sound to you, when you clean and play enough of them you will almost always find one that’s better, and often surprisingly better. Shootouts are the only way to find these kinds of records. Nothing else works. If you’re not doing shootouts (or buying the winners of shootouts from us) you simply don’t have top quality copies in your collection, except in the rare instances where you just got lucky. In the world of records luck can only take you so far. The rest of the journey requires effort. (more…)

Prokofiev / Love for Three Oranges Suite / Dorati on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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The standard Classic Records failings are as obvious and as irritating on this remaster as they are on practically all of the others.

  • A lack of ambience.
  • Smeary and hard strings.
  • A lack of Tubey Magic.
  • Overall veiled and recessed presentation.

The Bottom line: This is not a good sounding record.

It should go without saying that the real Mercury pressing is none of these things.

It has long been our judgment that Classic Records made very few good records. Why should this one be any different?

These Mercury releases apparently fooled a lot of audiophiles though.  Allow me to quote a writer with his own website devoted to explaining and judging classical recordings of all kinds. His initials are A.S. for those of you who have been to his site.

Classic Records Reissues (both 33 and 45 RPM) – These are, by far, the best sounding Mercury pressings. Unfortunately, only six records were ever released by Classic. Three of them (Ravel, Prokofiev and Stravinsky) are among the very finest sounding records ever made by anyone. Every audiophile (with a turntable) should have these “big three.”

Obviously we could not disagree more. I’ve played all six of the Classic Mercurys. The Ravel and Prokofiev titles are actually even worse than the Stravinsky we reviewed here on the blog.

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