Records that Are Good for Testing Treble Issues

James Taylor / One Man Dog – Quick Listening Tests

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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…)

Casino Royale Can Be Amazing on the Right Copy, If You’ve Got the System For It…

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

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This is a record that has its share of problems, but if you’ve got the system for it (huge, heavily tweaked, fast, free from obvious colorations and capable of tremendous resolution), the best pressings are sure to impress.

Having heard the best sounding pressings I now understand why this has been such a highly regarded long-term resident of the TAS Superdisc List. The best copies are SUPERDISCS… while the average copy of this album is anything but. Who could take such harsh, grainy, thin, veiled, compressed sound seriously? What was Harry Pearson smokin’?

I can honestly and truthfully say that until we discovered the Hot Stampers for this album, I never thought this record deserved the praise Harry heaped upon it. Now I do. I once was blind but now I see, or something like that.

And by the way, does his copy sound as good as this one? Let’s face it: the late Harry Pearson was simply not the kind of guy who would sit down with five or ten copies and shoot them out.

When you listen to the average pressing of Casino Royale, you get the feeling that you’re hearing a standard-issue, boxy, lightweight, blary ’60s soundtrack. Perhaps you hear some promise in the recording, but it’s a promise that’s unfulfilled by the record on your turntable. This copy will completely redefine what you know about the sound of this music.

The space is big and the sound relatively rich (although the sound does vary quite a bit from track to track). The vocals have notably less hardness than most and the orchestra is not as brash as it can be on so many of the copies we audition. Huge amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies, and critical to The Look of Love.

The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD. (more…)

Bernstein / Symphonic Dances and the Need for Full Brass and Clean Cymbal Crashes

More music written or performed by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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This reissue had the sound we were looking for!

One of the biggest advantages this copy had over most of what we played is fuller brass. The shrill sounding horns on most Columbia albums is what gets them tossed in the trade pile. Fortunately for us audiophiles who care about these sorts of things, the sound here is rich and clean, with solid, deep bass. The stage is huge, with the multi-miking kept to a minimum so that you can really hear the space this big group of musicians occupies.

This pressing is a reissue, not a Six Eye original. The reason this particular LP beat every other pressing we played comes down to one specific quality — the top is dramatically cleaner and more extended.

There is a HUGE amount of top end on this recording. Wildly splashing cymbals and other percussion instruments are everywhere, and they are a joy to hear. No original was as clean up top as this reissue, and without a clear, (mostly) distortion-free top end, the work will simply not sound the way Bernstein wanted it to.

All that percussion is in the score. The high-frequency energy – perhaps the most I have ever heard from any recording of his music — is there for a reason. He conducted his own score, and one can only assume he liked the way it came out. We sure did. (more…)

Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish, this mind-blowing recording is guaranteed to rock your world
  • The transparency, the clarity, the energy, the power – it’s all here on these very special import pressings
  • Just listen to how clear the clocks are on Time, how breathy the vocals are on Breathe, how textured the synthesizers are and how silky the top end is from the beginning of the album all the way to the powerful finish
  • A Top 100 album (Top Ten actually) and Demo Disc to rival the most amazing sounding records of all time
  • 5 stars: “…what gives the album true power is the subtly textured music… no other record defines [Pink Floyd] quite as well as this one.”

This vintage import pressing has the presence, the richness, the size and the energy you always wanted to hear on Dark Side — AND NOW YOU CAN! (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…)

Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair

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More Art Rock

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  • An outstanding early British pressing, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Rich, spacious and lively, with an open, extended top end – this is the sound you want from Tears for Fears
  • More great songs than practically anything from the ’80s – Shout, Everybody Wants To Rule The World and Head Over Heels, just to name a few
  • 4 1/2 stars: “It is not only a commercial triumph, it is an artistic tour de force. And in the loping, percolating “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” Tears for Fears perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the mid-’80s while impossibly managing to also create a dreamy, timeless pop classic. Songs From the Big Chair is one of the finest statements of the decade.”

This is a CLASSIC in the Tears for Fears canon, probably the album most people regard as their best. I myself prefer Seeds of Love, which should take nothing away from Big Chair — both are exceptional productions from the ’80s no matter how you look at them.

SFTBC went to Number One on the charts for a reason. There’s really not a bad song on either side and mostly absolutely brilliant ones. (more…)

Airto – Fingers

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records are getting too expensive to find in clean condition nowadays, and that makes the expense and labor costs of doing shootouts for them hard to justify. Fingers is a Desert Island Disc for yours truly, and the links below will take you to many more.

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Desert Island Discs Available Now

Desert Island Discs – The Complete List

  • Excellent from first note to last – Double Plus sound (A++) on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Incredibly impressive funky Brazilian jazz sound with HUGE lifelike percussion – thanks RVG!
  • “Produced by Taylor and recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s famous New Jersey studio, this LP demonstrates just how exciting and creative 1970s fusion could be. When Moreira and his colleagues blend jazz with Brazilian music, rock and funk on such cuts as “Wind Chant,” “Tombo in 7/4” and “Romance of Death,” the results are consistently enriching. Fingers is an album to savor.”

This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto.

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.) (more…)

Frank Zappa / Cruising With Ruben & The Jets – A Desert Island Disc for Yours Truly

More Frank Zappa (With or Without the Mothers of Invention)

More Desert Island Discs

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  • A KILLER copy with both sides earning top honors in our recent shootout – Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Both sides here are stunning — clean, clear and present with a big bottom end, tons of energy and lots of space around all of the players
  • It’s a classic of twisted Doo-Wop that belongs in your collection. At least we think you should give it a chance anyway; hearing it sound this good might just make a believer out of you
  • The new CD – with its modernized sound and wrong-headed re-recorded rhythm tracks – is a bad joke next to the top early pressings

Is the thought bubble on the cover the real story behind the album?

Is this the Mothers of Invention recording under a different name in a last ditch attempt to get their cruddy music on the radio?

Amazing sound for this record of greasy love songs and cretin simplicity to offer to audiophiles and music lovers alike from all corners of the world. We absolutely LOVE this album here at Better Records, or at least that portion of Better Records that remembers it from high school still loves it (which would narrow it down to a subset of just me I guess, but who’s counting?). Anyway, it’s a classic of twisted Doo-Wop that belongs in your collection. At least we think you should give it a chance anyway; hearing it sound this good might just make a believer out of you.

Tubey Magic Is Key

Many copies are just too thin and edgy to be as fun and enjoyable as we have every right to expect from this kind of purposely un-hip, un-cool, goofy retro-pop. We were gratified to find that the top finishers had a healthy dose of the Tubey Magical richness found on the best analog recordings from the latter half of the ’60s (1968 in this case).

This is a very good recording indeed, judged, as is only fair, solely by the best of the pressings we’ve heard. In other words, the bad pressings sound like crap, but that’s no reflection on the quality of the master tape.

As with most Zappa records, an extended top end is devilishly hard to come by. That said, on of a primarily vocal album such as this, the midrange is where the music lives or dies. The copies that were rich and full-bodied, with natural vocal reproduction, tended to score the highest grades in our shootout.

Copies that failed to convey the energy and exuberance of the singers and musicians — their love of this music that time had forgotten even by 1968 — as you may well imagine scored relatively poorly. This music is supposed to be fun, and really not a whole lot else, so the copies that aren’t fun scored sub-Hot Stamper grades. (Lifelessness is of course our main beef with Heavy Vinyl these days. When we play one of these new thick LPs the sound is often so blase that I feel that the longer it plays, the more the air is being sucked out of the room.) (more…)

Mike Oldfield / Tubular Bells – A Record We May Never Shootout Again

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records never justified the time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them in order to make it worth our while to do another shootout for them. This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more.

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  • This British Virgin LP has an incredible Triple Plus (A+++) side one backed with an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two
  • The space, the richness and the clarity all combine to make this a powerful listening experience
  • It’s incredibly hard to find good sounding copies of this record – this is only the second White Hot copy to hit the site in a long time
  • “Mike Oldfield’s groundbreaking album Tubular Bells is arguably the finest conglomeration of off-centered instruments concerted together to form a single, unique piece. A variety of instruments are combined to create an excitable multitude of rhythms, tones, pitches, and harmonies that all fuse neatly into each other, resulting in an astounding plethora of music.”

These sides sounds good from top to bottom — the top end extension brings out the harmonics in the bells, and the deep bass really brings the organ to life. Many copies are smeary and veiled, but this one has no such problems.

There is a lot going on here, and unless you have a clear and transparent copy like this one it just turns into a mess. This one has all the presence and space required to bring this music to life, with no attendant sacrifice in richness or Tubey Magic.

What makes this copy better than the others we played? An extended top end; spaciousness and transparency; richness and fullness, and so much more.

Many copies were congested in the louder sections, some never got big, some were thin and lacking the lovely analog richness of the best — we heard plenty of copies whose faults were obvious when played against two excellent sides such as these. (more…)

Jackson Browne -Self-Titled

More Jackson Browne

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  • A STUNNING copy of Jackson Browne’s debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Balanced, musical, present and full-bodied throughout – this pressing was a big step up from every other copy we played
  • “… Jackson Browne’s first album is among the most auspicious debuts in pop music history”
  • 5 stars: “… the album has long since come to seem a timeless collection of reflective ballads touching on still-difficult subjects — suicide (explicitly), depression and drug use (probably), spiritual uncertainty and desperate hope — all in calm, reasoned tones, and all with an amazingly eloquent sense of language.”

(more…)