Records that Are Good for Testing Ambience, Size and Space

Phil Manzanera – A Truly Awesome Feat of Engineering by Rhett Davies

More of the Music of Phil Manzanera

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Phil Manzanera

You may recall reading this bit about Rhett Daviesengineering on Dire Straits’ debut:

“…until something better comes along, this is his Masterpiece. It has to be one of the best sounding rock records ever made, with Tubey Magical mids, prodigious bass, transparency and freedom from hi-fi-ishness and distortion like few rock recordings you have ever heard.”

Well, something better has now come along, and it’s called Diamond Head.

It has some of the Biggest, Boldest Sound we have ever heard. Diamond Head isn’t known as an audiophile album but it should be — the sound is glorious — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, and as rich and dynamic as it gets.

It’s clearly a Big Speaker Demo Disc. Play this one as loud as you can. The louder you play it, the better it sounds.

The best copies have Room Shaking Deep Bass with the kind of Whomp that can drive this music to practically unexplored heights.

It’s also transparent, with a large, deep soundfield that really allows you to hear into the music and the studio space in which it was created. The clarity is superb with all the detail and texture one could hope for, but the real kicker is the amount of Energy and Musical Drive that these two sides have going for them.

This is what the Master Tape is really capable of — Mind Bogglingly Good Sound.

Looking for Tubey Magic? Rhett Davies is your man. Just think about the sound of the first Dire Straits album or Avalon. The best pressings of those albums — those with truly Hot Stampers — are swimming in it. (more…)

Bob and Ray – This Buck Dance Had Highs Like No Other

More Albums by Bob and Ray

More Living Stereo Recordings

[This review is probably about ten years old.]

It’s been nearly two years but the waiting is over — we’ve found another copy of the famous Bob and Ray on Living Stereo with DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND! Without a doubt this is the best sound I have ever heard for side one of this album. The sound here is so amazing I’m willing to go out on a limb and make the following recklessly bold statement. Buck Dance on this pressing has the most extended, natural and harmonically correct high frequencies I have ever heard from my speakers (or anyone else’s for that matter). 

And the crazy thing about it is, when played against an actual original pressing of Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp, this copy, which one would assume is made from a dub, SOUNDS FAR BETTER.

Now of course we don’t have ten copies (or even two copies) of LSP 1866 which would allow us to find one with an even better Buck Dance than the one heard here on Bob and Ray, which means we cannot be definitive in any way about the disparity in sound between the two albums.

We can only judge the records we have in hand, not the ones we might have heard years ago or — even worse — speculate about the sound of records we have not actually played, recently or otherwise.

So we will stick to the facts, and the facts of this side one are that it is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING sounding.

But not perfect. We had three Bob and Rays and one of them was a bit more transparent. One of the them had more deep bass. (That first crack of thunder on side one is an obvious test for bottom end; it can really rattle the room on the right copy.)

So let’s be fair and say that overall this copy earns a grade of A++, having two shortcomings, but that Buck Dance earns a grade of A+++, having NO shortcomings!

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Stravinsky / The Firebird – Hard to Beat for Table Setup

Reviews and Commentaries for The Firebird on Mercury

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

White Hot Front Row Center sound – amazingly lifelike. One listen to either side and you’ll know this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time. Dorati breathes life into the work as only he can.

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury.

These sides really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy. Some of our favorite (and not so favorite) Mercury classical and orchestral recordings can be found here.


Table Setup

This is an excellent record for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like. Classical music is really the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge setup (and evaluation). A huge and powerful recording such as this quickly separates the men from the boys when it comes to proper orchestral reproduction.

Recordings of this quality are the reason $10,000+ front ends exist in the first place. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you do, this is the record that will show you what you got for your hard-earned dough.

Ideally you would want to work your setup magic at home with this record, then take it to a friend’s house and see if you can achieve the same results on his system. I’ve done this sort of thing for years. (Sadly, not so much anymore; nobody I know can play records like these the way we can. Playing and critically evaluating records all day, every day, year after year, you get pretty good at it. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.)

Properly set VTA is especially critical on this record, as it is on most classical recordings. The smallest change will dramatically affect the timbre, texture and harmonic information of the strings, as well as the rest of instruments of the orchestra.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More VTA Advice

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Oscar Peterson Trio / West Side Story – His Best Recording? Sure Sounds Like It to Us

More of the Music of Oscar Peterson

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Oscar Peterson

I’ve known this was a well-recorded album since I first heard the DCC Gold CD back in the ’90s.

It sounded great to me at the time although I had nothing to compare it to; I was not a fan in those day. But it sure didn’t sound like this Shootout Winner!

I now realize that this album is clearly one of the best jazz piano recordings we’ve ever played. In its own way it’s every bit as good as the other landmark recording we talk so much about, The Three, from 1975.

Both belong in any right thinking audiophile’s jazz collection. Here are some others we’ve put in our Core Jazz Collection.

Both are phenomenal Demo Discs on the best pressings. Other Jazz Demo Discs can be found here.

The description for the amazing copy we found in our shootout more than a decade ago has been reproduced below.

The Right Sound from the Get Go

Side one starts out with a solid, full-bodied piano and snare drum, a sure sign of great sound to come. This side was richer and fuller than all the other copies we played. That rich tonality is key to getting the music to work. It keeps all the instrumental elements in balance. The natural top on this side is just more evidence that the mastering and pressing are top drawer. Great space and immediacy, powerful driving energy — this side could not be beat.

And side two was every bit as good! The sound was jumpin’ out of the speakers. There was not a trace of smear on the piano, which is unusual in our experience, although no one ever seems to talk about smeary pianos in the audiophile world (except for us of course).

Ray Brown’s bass is huge, probably bigger than it would be in real life, but I can live with that. Once again, with this kind of extended top end, the space of the studio and harmonics of the instruments are reproduced brilliantly.

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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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10cc – Is There a Better Sounding Record on the Site?

More of the Music of 10cc

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of 10cc

Yet Another Record We’re Obsessed With

On any given day a White Hot side one of The Original Soundtrack could very well be the best sounding record we have on the site.

“On any given day” being a day when we don’t have a hot German copy of Dark Side of the Moon to offer, or a killer Eagles first album, or a top copy of the self-titled BS&T, or an RL Zep II, or a White Hot Teaser and the Firecat.

Most days we don’t have such records on the site, and on those days this 10cc album is a recording Tour De Force that would be bigger, bolder, more dynamic, and more powerful than anything we could throw against it.
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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 recorded in their showroom at night and on 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

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 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 lurking in the grooves of the best Aja’s that simply cannot be revealed without better 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.

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