Records that Are Good for Testing Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars

The best of the best pressings of the albums listed here have exceptionally Tubey Magical acoustic guitars. Their electric guitars should also be Tubey Magical — the two tend to go hand in hand — but the acoustic guitars is where you will hear the truly magical sound that is the hallmark of vintage analog.

The extraordinarily Tubey Magical harmonic richness of the acoustic guitar that opens Where Do the Children Play on Tea For the Tillerman is one that, without a good turntable and top quality pressing of the album, simply cannot be experienced. (Note that, in our experience, no modern reissue has managed to reproduce that sound on vinyl, and we suspect that no modern reissue ever will. If you listen exclusively to modern remasterings, or CDs, you really have no way of knowing what you are missing.)

Elton John – These Strings Are a Tough Test

More of the Music of Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Elton John’s Self-Titled Second Album

What’s especially remarkable about this album is the quality of Paul Buckmaster‘s string arrangements. I don’t know of another pop record that uses strings better or has better string tone and texture. Strings are all over this record, not only adding uniquely interesting qualities to the backgrounds of the arrangements but actually taking the foreground on some of the songs, most notably Sixty Years On.

When the strings give in to a lovely Spanish guitar in the left channel (which sounds like a harp!) just before Elton starts singing, the effect is positively glorious. It’s the nexus where amazing Tubey Magical sound meets the best in popular music suffused with brilliant orchestral instrumentation. Who did it better than The Beatles and Elton John? They stand alone.

Correct string tone and texture are key to the best-sounding copies. The arrangements are often subtle, so only the most transparent copies can provide a window into the backgrounds of the songs that reproduce the texture of the strings.

Without extension on the top, the strings can sound shrill and hard, a common problem with many pressings and one that positively ruins any chance of musical involvement.

Without a good solid bottom end the rockers (“Take Me to the Pilot”) don’t work either of course, but you can even hear problems in the lower strings when the bass is lightweight.

String tone on a pop record is a tough nut to crack, even more so on a record like this where the strings play such a prominent role. It’s the rare copy that allows you to forget the recording and lets you just enjoy the music.

For that you really need a Hot Stamper.

These Are Some of the Qualities We’re Listening For in Our Shootouts for Elton’s Eponymous Second Album

There are probably closer to a dozen, but some of the more important ones would be:

Ambience, Size and Space

High Frequency Extension

Midrange Congestion 

Midrange Presence

Smear

String tone and texture

Transparency 


Extraordinary Engineering

There are three amazing-sounding Elton John records on our Top 100 list, one of them engineered by the estimable Robin Geoffrey Cable, Trident Studios’ house engineer in 1972. His work on this album and Tumbleweed Connection marks him as one of the All-Time Greats in my book. Madman Across the Water, the album to follow, seems to be a more difficult recording to master properly. That said, the best copies — we call them White Hot Stampers – are very nearly as good sounding as the two titles mentioned above.

*The others are, in order of quality: Tumbleweed Connection (#1), Honky Chateau (#2), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (#3) and Madman Across the Water (#5).

(more…)

Loggins & Messina – These Choruses Really Get Up and Going

Hot Stamper Albums with Huge Choruses that Are Big and Clear

More Records that Are Good for Testing Big, Clear and Lively Choruses

At about the two minute mark the big chorus in Watching the River Run is also a great test for weight, resolution, dynamic energy, and freedom from strain in the loudest parts. When the whole band is really belting it out, the shortcomings of any copy will be exposed, assuming you are playing the album at loud levels on big dynamic speakers.

It was a key test every pressing had to pass. That’s what makes it a Good Test Disc.

When the music gets loud you want it to get better, with more size, energy and, especially, emotional power, just they way it would be heard in concert.

Any strain or congestion in the choruses we hear in our shootout causes the pressing in question to be downgraded substantially.

Hot Stampers are all about the life of the music, and when this music gets lively, it needs to be clear and clean.

This is of course one of the biggest issues we have with Heavy Vinyl — it never gets up and it never gets going the way real records do. “Boring” is the adjective we most commonly use to critique the few we hear, and who wants to listen to boring records?

EQ Issues

Practically all copies have a midrange equalization problem, with a lack of lower mids and boosted upper mids, which often thins out the vocals and leads to hardness and honkiness.

The better copies manage to keep the EQ anomalies within bounds while giving us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthusiasm; harmonically-rich guitars, and a three-dimensional soundstage that reveals the space around them all. (more…)

Detail on Crosby, Stills and Nash – Holy Grail or Audio Trap?

More of the Music of Crosby, Stills and Nash

Reviews and Commentaries for Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Debut

More Crosby / More Stills / More Nash

Detail may be the Holy Grail to some audiophiles, but detail can be a trap we all too easily fall into if we are not careful.

Tonal balance is the key. Without it no judgments about detail have any real value. 

One example: As good as the Classic Heavy Vinyl pressing is, the guitar at the opening of Helplessly Hoping tells you everything you need to know about what’s missing. The guitar on the better Hot Stamper domestic copies has a transparency and harmonic integrity that cannot be found on Classic’s version.

The Classic gets the tonal balance right, but their guitar doesn’t have the subtlety and harmonic resolution of the real thing.

I’m laboring here to avoid the word detail, since many audiophiles like bright, phony sounding records because of all their wonderful “detail.” Patricia Barber’s albums come to mind.

The MoFi guys and the CD guys often fall into this trap.

Get the sound tonally balanced first, then see how much detail you have left.

Detail is not the end-all and be-all of audio. Those who think it is usually have systems that make my head hurt.

But most people will never know what they’re missing on Helplessly Hoping, because they will never have an amazing sounding copy of this album. The hot copies are just too rare.


THIS RECORD IS GOOD FOR TESTING

Midrange Congestion 

Midrange Presence 

Midrange Tonality

Transparency 

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars 

Graham Nash / David Crosby – Listening in Depth

More of the Music of David Crosby

More of the Music of Graham Nash

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Graham Nash David Crosby.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

This album has some of the BEST SOUND Crosby and Nash ever recorded, but you’d never know that playing the average pressing. You need plenty of deliciously rich Tubey Magic if this music is going to work, and on that count this copy certainly delivers.

BILL HALVERSON was the engineer for this album, the man behind the first CSN album and many others.

On a song like Where Will I Be the sound is so unbelievably transparent, open and intimate, it sounds like an outtake from David Crosby’s first album, one of the ten best sounding rock records ever made.

Listen to the three-dimensional quality of the piano on the first track of side two. Skip to the second track and you will hear some of the best bass to be found on the side. The song is not about the bass, obviously, so we hasten to point out the vocals and harmonies — the sine qua non of any CSN or Y record — are Truly Right On The Money as well.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Southbound Train

This song would be right at home on Graham Nash’s first album, a desert island disc for me. This gets side one off to a great start.

Whole Cloth
Blacknotes
Strangers Room
Where Will I Be?

The best sound on side one, and a great test track. When the chorus of voices really starts pushing the meter, most copies will run into harmonic distortion trouble. Only the truly Hot Stampers manage to keep the loudest parts of the song clean and clear.

Page 43

Listen for the attack of the snare; so many copies have that cardboardy drum sound we have to put up with on albums from this era, but the best ones get a nice crisp attack to the snare that really sells it.

(more…)

Listening in Depth to Mona Bone Jakon

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Mona Bone Jakon

When you hear I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on a Hot Stamper copy, you will be convinced, as I am, that this is one of the greatest popular recordings in the history of the genre. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one. 

Right off the bat I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folk-pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Lady d’Arbanville

This track will always be a little bright. It was supposed to be a hit song, and hit songs are frequently mixed a little bright.

Maybe You’re Right
Pop Star
I Think I See the Light (more…)

Bread and Elektra on Vinyl – Balancing Richness and Tubey Magic with Transparency, Clarity and Speed

More of the Music of Bread

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pure Pop Albums Available Now

Manna has the clear signature of Elektra from the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s unmistakably ANALOG, but that double-edged sword cuts both ways. Richness and Tubey Magic (the kind you had in your old ’70s stereo equipment) often comes at the expense of transparency, clarity, speed and transient information (the things your ’70s equipment probably struggled with).

We heard a lot of copies that were opaque, smeary and dull up top, so the trick for us (and for those of you doing your own shootouts) is to find a copy with the resolving power and transparency that will cut through the thickness. (more…)

Joni Mitchell / For The Roses – The Most Underrated Album of Her Early Period?

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

Some current thoughts on Joni’s oeuvre have been added in brackets to this older commentary.

This is probably the most underrated Joni Mitchell album, both in terms of sonics and music. It seems that everyone wants a great copy of Blue or Court And Spark, but this album ranks right up there with them and seems to have been undeservedly overlooked.

Let’s face it, we love Blue (1971), but most pressings suffer from a raft of sonic problems, as does Ladies of the Canyon (1970).

Court and Spark (1974) is up at the top up the list as well, but Roses (1972) seems to have more recording purity. Perhaps the engineers saw this as an opportunity to address the problems with Blue, the album that preceded it.

By the time Joni had fully indulged her jazzier inclinations with Court and Spark, some of the recording quality had been lost in the quest for slicker production values for which that album is known. The complexity of the instrumentation required more multi-tracking and overdubbing, and as good as that record can sound on the best copies, in a head to head matchup with For the Roses the latter would probably win, and probably by no more than a nose.

Side One

Clear, present, breathy vocals, about as good as Joni can sound on vinyl, which is saying a lot.

The second track is a great test. Here the guitars are full-bodied, harmonically rich, with more reverb and space than practically any side one we have ever played. The Tubey Magical liquidity of the sound is what vintage analog is all about. No reissue and no CD will ever get that sound the way this copy does.

And you don’t need tubes in your system to hear it. The magic is on the tape and it was transferred beautifully to this piece of vinyl.

Side Two

Listen to how huge the piano is — no other copy could reproduce the size, weight and clarity of that piano. No two copies will show you the same piano, which makes it a great test for sound. Put this side up against the best you’ve got, it should be no contest.

Breathy, immediate vocals are key to any Joni Mitchell record and this side reproduces them as well as any we heard in our shootout.

Listening in Depth to Rubber Soul

More of the Music of Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul Is a Record We’ve Been Obsessed With for a Very Long Time

After playing so many copies of this record over the last few years, all of us here at Better Records have come to appreciate just how wonderful an album Rubber Soul really is. It has 14 fairly compact, well-structured, well-arranged pop songs, each of which is a gem in its own right. It reminds me a bit of the second album (With The Beatles) in that respect — short and to the point, get in and get out. 

But the second album does not feature acoustic guitars the way Rubber Soul does. From an audiophile point of view, the strumming of those amazingly Tubey Magical acoustic guitars is in large part what makes Rubber Soul such a special recording. (For more records that are good for testing how much Tubey Magic their acoustic guitars have, click here.)

But what we’ve noticed only recently [recently as in about 15 years ago] is how much the tambourine is used. It’s all over this album, and the good news is that most of the time it sounds great. There are other high frequency percussion instruments — shakers and the like — and between the tambourine and all the rest there’s just a lot of percussive energy on most of the songs that really carries them along.

As far as I am concerned, this could be called The Tambourine Album. No other Beatles album features that instrument so boldly in the mix and builds so many songs around it.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Drive My Car

Mobile Fidelity made a mess of this song on their Half-Speed Mastered release. They took out far too much upper midrange and top end.

What drives the energy of the song are the cow bell, the drums and other percussion. Instead of a scalpel Mobile Fidelity took a hatchet to this slightly bright track, leaving a dull, lifeless, boring mess. Some Parlophone copies may be a little bright and lack bass, but they still manage to convey the energy of the song. The purple label Capitols can also be quite good. A bit harsher and spittier, yes, but in spite of these shortcomings they communicates the music.

As much as I might like some of the MoFi Beatle records, and even what MoFi did with some of the other tracks on Rubber Soul, they sure sucked the life out of Drive My Car. We all remember how much fun that song was when it would come on the radio. Playing it on a very high quality stereo should make it more fun, not less. If you’ve got a Rubber Soul with a Drive My Car that’s no fun, it’s time to get another one.

(more…)

Cat Stevens / Teaser & The Firecat – Two Tracks Are Key

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

Just ran across the following in an old listing. We’re nothing if not consistent here at Better Records!

And if you are ever tempted to pick up one of those recently remastered versions on heavy vinyl, don’t do it. There is simply no one alive today making records that sound like these good originals. Not to these ears anyway. We may choose to indulge ourselves in the audacity of hope, but reality has to set in sooner or later. After thirty years of trying, the modern mastering engineers of the world have nothing to show for their efforts but a pile of failures. The time to call it quits has come and gone. Let’s face facts: when it comes to Teaser and the Firecat, it’s the Real Thing or nothing.

If you’re looking for an amazing Demo Quality Rock Recording, you’ve come to the right place.

If you want a timeless Classic Rock Record, it’s here too.

They just don’t know how to make them like this anymore. Those of you waiting for audiophile vinyl reissues with the kind of magic found on these originals will be in your graves long before it ever comes to pass.

Analogue Productions tried and failed — more than once — to produce a good sounding Heavy Vinyl pressing of Tea for the Tillerman.

You can be sure there is little chance they would have better luck with Teaser and the Firecat.

(more…)

The Grateful Dead – Barncard Knocked It Out of the Park with This One

More of the Music of The Grateful Dead

Hot Stamper Pressings of Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

The crowning glory of the Grateful Dead, this is their MASTERPIECE. Albums like this come along once in a band’s life — if they’re lucky. This is the zenith of the Grateful Dead. Workingman’s Dead is a good album. American Beauty is a great one.

If you don’t have a killer copy yet, it’s time to get on the bus. Stephen Barncard is the recording engineer responsible for this album, Deja Vu, Brewer and Shipley’s Tarkio, and a host of other amazingly rich, sweet and natural, mostly acoustic recordings that stand head and shoulders above the bulk of their contemporaries. American Beauty is one of them.

All the Elements Come Together for Once

All of the elements necessary to take this music to an entirely new level are here, my friends: smooth, sweet vocals; rich, meaty bass; an open and airy top end; top-notch presence and so forth. The sound is so spacious and transparent that you can easily pick out each of the instruments and follow them over the course of the songs.

The acoustic guitars sound magical on this one, and I can’t believe how wonderful these guys’ voices sound. The Tubey Magic and immediacy on this copy are going to STUN you.

You could choose any track you wanted to and find lovely sound here, but I’d recommend Ripple and Attics Of My Life for starters.

Most copies suffer from a glaring lack of highs, but just listen to the ride cymbal on this one to find out that the top end is still alive and well here.

Here are some other records we’ve played that can often have No Real Top End.