Records that Are Good for Testing Ambience, Size and Space

Listening in Depth to Romantic Warrior

Romantic Warrior is my favorite JAZZ/ROCK FUSION album of all time. As good as the music is, the sound is even better. This is the Jazz/Rock Demo Disc that stands head and shoulders above the rest. In my experience, no record of this kind is more DYNAMIC or has better BASS. Not one. Demo Disc doesn’t begin to do this kind of sound justice.

Simply put, not only is this one of the greatest musical statements of all time, it’s one of the great recording statements. Few albums in the history of the world can lay claim to this kind of POWER and ENERGY.

But the Super Sound has a purpose, a raison d’etre. This is the kind of music that requires it; better yet, DEMANDS it. In truth, the sound is not only up to the challenge of expressing the life of the music on this album, it positively ENHANCES it.

Those monster Lenny White drum rolls that run across the soundstage from wall to wall may be a recording studio trick, but they’re there to draw your attention to his amazing powers, and it works! The drums are EVERYWHERE on this album, constantly jumping out of the soundfield and taking the music into the stratosphere where it belongs.

TRACK LISTING and COMMENTARY

Side One

Medieval Overture

The grandiose opening of this record serves as an important sonic checkpoint, as well as a tipoff for the pyrotechnics to come. On the better copies Corea’s multi-layered, swirling synths occupy their own space, clearly separated from each other, not blurred and inarticulate as they are on the poorer pressings.

Also notice how much attack Lenny White’s drums have, especially in the more exposed sections. The transients are breathtakingly immediate. Run-of-the-mill copies tend to flatten Mr White, making his acrobatic playing seem two-dimensional and less-than-inspired. The best copies prove that nothing could be further from the truth.

Sorceress

This groove-oriented track is a testament to RTF’s diversity, as well as the mastery of Messrs. Clarke and White as a rhythm section. This is a real test for bottom end. Even though the bass goes unbelievably deep, the best copies manage to exhibit plenty of control while still allowing you to FEEL the bass rising up through the floorboards and into your chair. There is so much deep bass at the opening of this track that at any sort of serious levels I would immediately run out of the wattage needed to sustain them. It was either back off the volume or distort like crazy. You need some serious juice to play this track, or a very efficient speaker, or both.

All the members of this All-Star cast are showcased in the improv section, highlighted by Corea’s brilliant piano solo in the middle, one of my personal favorite solos of all time. Corea is a musician’s musician. There is nothing he or his bandmates are not capable of on this recording. This is more than mere fusion. On this album the whole world of jazz can be heard.

The Romantic Warrior

Side Two

Majestic Dance

The blistering opening track for side two is the quintessence of guitar-driven prog rock, a heads up for what’s to come. Most copies lack the top end extension that allows the hottest copies to open up and come alive. With the right top to bottom mastering and pressing this track is Gold! Demo Disc Quality all the way and then some.

The Magician

Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant

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Eagles – One Of These Nights

More Eagles

  • On an exceptionally good sounding copy such as this one, the soaring guitar solo of the title track really comes alive – assuming you have it turned up GOOD and LOUD
  • Lyin’ Eyes and Take It To The Limit sound the way they should – we guarantee you have never heard them sound remotely as good as they do here
  • 4 stars: “…a lyrical stance — knowing and disillusioned, but desperately hopeful — had evolved, and the musical arrangements were tighter and more purposeful. The result was the Eagles’ best-realized and most popular album so far.”

Another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

What to listen for you ask? Dynamic, soaring guitar solos! On the best copies the guitar solos are the loudest parts of some songs, which, as everyone who’s ever been to a rock concert knows, is exactly what happens in live rock music.

This is one of the toughest Eagles albums to find with good sound. This album may never sound quite as good as Hotel California or the self-titled debut, but there are some wonderful songs here and a Hot Stamper like this brings them to life in a way most pressings cannot hope to do.

The best copies are richer and sweeter. When you turn them up, they really come to life. When you play the better sides at Rock Music Volumes they really ROCK. When a copy is cut really clean, as the best ones are, the louder you play them the better they sound. They’re tonally correct at loud levels and a bit dull at what we would call “audiophile” levels. That’s the way it should be. (more…)

The Beatles – Which Is More 3-Dimensional, Mono or Twin Track?

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Please Please Me

With all due respect to Sir George Martin, we’ve played a number of mono pressings of this album in the past twenty or so years and have never been particularly impressed with any of them. The monos jam all the voices and instruments together in the middle, stacking them one in front of the other, and lots of musical information gets mashed together and simply disappears in the congestion. 

But is Twin Track stereo any better?

Yes, when you do it the way Norman Smith did on Please Please Me.

Twin Track stereo (which is actually not very much like two-track stereo, I’m sure Wikipedia must have a listing for it if you’re interested) is like two mono tracks running simultaneously. It allows the completely separate voices to occupy one channel and the completely separate instruments to occupy another, with no leakage between them.

On some stereos it may seem as though the musicians and the singers are not playing together the way they would if one were hearing them in mono. They are in fact recorded on two separate mono tracks, the instruments appearing in the left channel and the singers in the right, separated as much as is physically possible.

Stuck in their individual stereo speakers, so far apart from one another, the members of the band don’t even seem to be playing together in the same room.

That’s on some stereos, and by some stereos I mean stereos that need improvement. Here’s why.

Three-Dimensional Mono?

In the final mixing stage, Norman Smith added separate reverb to each of the two channels, sending the reverb for the sound recorded in each channel to the opposite channel. This has the effect of making the studio, the physical space that The Beatles appear to be in, seem to stretch all the way from the right channel, where the Beatles’ voices are heard, to the back left corner of the studio, where the reverb eventually trails off.

And vice versa for the instruments. They reach all the way from the left speaker, where they are heard playing, to the right rear corner of the studio, where the reverb for them trails off.

Which has the effect of making The Beatles sound like they are in a big studio. Both voices and instruments “occupy” the entire studio this way, stretching wall to wall, with at least the appearance of three-dimensionality. The sound reaches right across the stage in both directions and trails off in the dark corners at the back of the room.

It may only be an illusion, but it’s a convincing one never the less.

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Passion Flower Is Clearly Better Than For Duke

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pablo Recordings

More Reviews and Commentaries for Our Favorite Pablo Recordings

This is one of the all time great Pablo sleepers.

Why is no one else writing about records like these? The music is wonderful and the sound is top drawer on the best copies. If you’ve tried and failed with other Pablo Zoot Sims records, fear not: this title is one of the best we have ever played, musically and sonically.

The ensemble is huge, probably at least a dozen pieces at any given time, and all that energy is captured on the best copies with tremendous engineering skill. The lively arrangements are by none other than Benny Carter, a man who knows his jazz. His career started in the ’20s(!) and lasted into this century if you can believe it. I consider myself fortunate to have seen him play locally when he was more than 90 years old. He stlll had it, kind of.

What to Listen For

Clarity and transients.

Thickness and fatness were common problems with Passion Flower — many copies were overly rich and somewhat opaque. It’s not necessarily a bad sound, but it becomes more and more irritating as you find yourself struggling to hear into the musical space of the studio. Smear is a problem too; many copies were lacking the transient information of the best.

In a nutshell, our Hot Stamper pressings are the most transparent copies that are tonally correct, with the least amount of smear.

forduke

Better Sound than a Direct Disc?

Musically Passion Flower is everything that For Duke isn’t, and although it may not be a Direct to Disc recording, it sure sounds better to these ears than that pricey TAS List Super Disc. The insufferably dead room For Duke was recorded in has forever ruined the album for me. I can’t stand that sound (which helps explain our aversion to Heavy Vinyl around these parts — the sound of the new remasters is consistently lacking in space, ambience and three-dimensionality).

Passion Flower was engineered by Bob Simpson at the RCA recording studios in NY, and Dennis Sands in Hollywood. These guys know a lot more about recording a large jazz ensemble than a couple of audiophiles who owned a stereo store and could record in their showroom at night and on the weekends.

Experience is surely a great teacher in this regard.

Incidentally, Dennis Sands is the engineer for one of the All Time Great Basie recordings on Pablo, Farmers Market Barbecue.


FURTHER READING

Bob Simpson Engineered Albums with Hot Stampers

Bob Simpson Engineered Albums We’ve Reviewed

Dennis Sands Engineered Albums We’ve Reviewed

Today’s Bad Heavy Vinyl Pressing Is… Aqualung!

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Rock LP badly mastered for the benefit of audiophiles looking for easy answers and quick fixes.

By the time the guitars at the end of the title track fade out you will be ready to take your heavy vinyl Classic and ceremoniously drop it in a trashcan. (Actually, the best use for it is to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends that no heavy vinyl pressing can begin to compete with a Hot Stamper from Better Records. Not in a million years.)

Over the course of the last 25 years we was wrong three ways from Sunday about our down-and-out friend Aqualung here. We originally liked the MoFi. When the DCC 180g came along we liked that one better, and a few years back I was somewhat enamored with some original British imports. Wrong on all counts. After playing more than two dozen pressings, it’s pretty clear that the right domestic pressings KILL any and all contenders.
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Dave Brubeck – Reproducing the Phenomenal Size and Space of Time Out

More Columbia 30th Street Studio Recordings

Reviews of Recordings Made at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio

Spacious and transparent, this copy has the big three-dimensional soundstage that makes this record such a joy to listen to. The piano has weight and heft, the drums are big and dynamic, and everything is relaxed and sweet — in short, this copy is doing pretty much everything we want a top quality Time Out to do. 

Listen to the drums on Everybody’s Jumpin’. This album was recorded on a big sound stage and there is a HUGE room which can clearly be heard surrounding the drum kit. Add to that that some of the drums are in the left channel and some of the drums are in the right channel and you have one big drum kit — exactly the way it was intended to sound.

Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it’s an entirely different listening experience.

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Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – It Took Us Until 2011 to Resolve the Studio Ambience

More of the Music of Tom Petty

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Tom Petty

This commentary was written way back in 2011 after playing the best sounding copy of the album we had ever heard up to that point.

For those who may be interested, we offer some unsolicited audio advice toward the end of our review regarding what kind of stereo is not appropriate for Tom Petty’s albums..

Our story from 2011:

This Minty looking Shelter original LP has THE TWO BEST SOUNDING SIDES we have ever heard for this album! It’s a freak in the world of Tom Petty records, which tend to have NO good sounding sides.

And this is the band’s MASTERPIECE to boot, with four or five of their best and Hardest Rockin’ songs.

Both sides come flyin’ out of the gate with straight ahead rockers that have the Big Sound we go crazy for here at Better Records.

Side one was so unbelievable that we had to award it the rare Four Plus (A++++) rating.

Of course the sound is punchy and alive — with Hot Stampers, what else would they be? — but where did all that studio ambience come from?

Simple: the best copies have the RESOLUTION that’s missing from the average pressing. You know the kind of run-of-the-mill LP I’m talking about: punchy but crude and just a bit too aggressive to really enjoy.

Oh, but not this bad boy. Sweetly textured guitars, breathy vocals — all the subtleties of a Top Quality Recording are here, along with prodigious amounts of bass and powerful dynamics. (Check out that drum sound!)

If you can play this one good and loud you will be shocked at how good it sounds.

I’ve paraphrased a bit of commentary from Aja for this listing where we discussed the kind of changes we needed to go through here at Better Records to make it possible to play a hard-drivin’ rock record like this one and get it to sound the way we always wanted it to.

We Now Return to The Revolution, Which Is Already in Progress

As audiophiles we all know that when it sounds this good, it makes you appreciate the music even more. We had to make quite a few improvements in the system before that reality hit home. The third pair of Hallographs and the new EAR 324P phono stage we brought on board since the last shootout made a HUGE difference in the sound. Aja is now without a doubt a real DEMO DISC, and I wouldn’t want to live without it. It’s a THRILL to finally hear this album sound the way it should have sounded, but for various and sundry reasons never quite did.

A World of Sound Awaits You

That’s what the Recent Revolutionary Changes in Audio link (seen at left) is all about. If you haven’t taken advantage of all the new technologies that make LP playback dramatically better than it was even five years ago, Aja won’t do what it’s supposed to do. Trust me, there’s a world of sound lurkng in the grooves of the best Aja’s that simply cannot be revealed without Disc Doctor cleaning fluids, Aurios, Hallographs, top quality front ends, big speakers and all the rest. Our playback system is designed to play records like Aja with all the size, weight and power of the real thing. We live for this kind of Big Rock sound here at Better Records. We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to play records like this with Maximum Fidelity, secure in the knowledge that a system that can play Aja can play ANYTHING.

Substitute You’re Gonna Get It! for the word Aja in the paragraphs above and you will get what I’m driving at.

Any system that can’t play a good Tom Petty album has no business being owned by anyone, let alone an audiophile.

That meaty bottom end, those perfectly distorted guitars — find equipment that can play that stuff right and buy it.

Don’t settle for some wimpy audiophile bullshit system.

Get a system that lets you play the music YOU love, not the music your stereo dealer likes to play in his showroom.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Revolutions in Audio, Anyone?

Why You’re Gonna Get It Won’t Sound Right on Any System that Looks Like This

Making Audio Progress 

Paul McCartney / Unplugged – Testing for Life-Size Images and Living Presence

More of the Music of Paul McCartney

More of the Music of The Beatles

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises. (This is one of our earliest ones, from all the way back in 2006!)

On the song Blackbird Paul moves the microphone, scraping it along the floor, which causes a huge wave of bass to envelop the room. I was over at one of my customer’s houses a while ago, doing some testing with electronics and tweaks, and I remember distinctly that the microphone stand was shrunken and lean sounding in a way I had never heard before. Now this customer, whose system was in the $100K range, had no idea what that microphone stand could really do. I did, because I’ve been hearing it do it for years.

Some speakers can’t move enough air down low to reproduce that sound. And some speakers, usually those with woofers under 12 inches, shrink the size of images. These are many things to test for for in a given system, dozens and dozens in fact, but two of the important ones are these: if it doesn’t have a solid foundation (read: a big bottom end), and it doesn’t have correctly-sized images for the instruments, that’s a system that is failing in fundamentally important ways.  (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – String Tone and Texture Are Key to the Best Pressings

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

More of the Music of Nelson Riddle

We’ve criticized the engineer George Massenburg in the past, but with this copy we almost want to take it all back.

What he gets right on this recording is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with various jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio.

The sound stretches far to Linda’s left, far to her right, as well as back far behind her in a huge semi-circle. She is of course singing in a vocal booth, with her vocal placed front and center in the soundstage.

What to Listen for

That’s easy on this album: the strings. When the strings are big and rich, not shrill and thin, that’s a good thing. Rosiny texture means you have a copy with less smear and higher resolution. Harmonics up top means that the top end of your copy is extending properly.

Bottom line: If the strings are bad on this album probably everything else is too.

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

Having said that, this is an album of standards sung by a woman with a very recognizable voice. If Linda doesn’t sound right, what’s the point of the record? To hear Nelson Riddle’s well-recorded strings?

The best copies have Linda sounding rich and breathy. Few managed to pull off that particular trick as well as we would have liked. We took major points off for those copies that had her sounding too thin or forced in her upper range.

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Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile

More of the Music of Yes

Reviews and Commentaries for Fragile

The Analogue Productions 180g reissue shown here is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray, two guys with reputations for doing good work, but the results of their latest collaboration [can you believe this record came out in 2006!?] leave much to be desired.

The overall sound is lean. This is especially noticeable on the too-thin-sounding guitars and vocals. Believe me, it’s no fun to play a Yes album with thin guitars and vocals.

Also, there’s a noticeable lack of ambience throughout the record. What comes to mind when I hear a record that sounds like this is the dreaded R word: Reissue. I find it hard to believe they had the actual two-track original master tape to work with. The sound is just too anemic to have come from the real tape. If they did have the real tape, then they really botched the job.
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