Records that Are Good for Testing Harshness and Shrillness

Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

More on the Subject of Tubes in Audio

What to listen for on this album?

That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness.

We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI the way they did back in the ’70s. Harry Pearson loved many of their recordings, but I sure didn’t. 

To this day, some of the records on the TAS List seem to me better suited to the Old School Audio Systems of the ’60s and ’70s than the modern systems of today. These kinds of records used to sound good on those older systems, and I should know, I had an Old School stereo and some of the records I used to think sounded good back in the day don’t sound too good to me anymore. For a more complete list of those records, not just the ones on the TAS List, click here.

I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles so often make about the sound of the records they play, my own judgments included — to five basic problem areas that create havoc when attempting to reproduce recorded music in the home:

  1. equipment shortcomings,
  2. poor setups,
  3. bad electricity,
  4. bad rooms, and
  5. poor record cleaning

As for equipment shortcomings, if you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s such as McIntosh, Marantz, etc. — I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that exist today.

Today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like. 

The more revealing, more accurate systems of today are in fact what make it possible for us to find Hot Stamper pressings.

We used to not do our job nearly as well, and we talk about it in our Live and Learn section.

You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like. They should sound amazing on your system and in your room, and we stand behind that claim with a 100% Money Back Guarantee. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record is correct. All you need to do is play it back properly.

Not everyone can do that, and we do get returns from time to time of records we are pretty sure would be hard to beat. When we hear that someone’s Mobile Fidelity pressings sound better to them, we know there is nothing we can do but give such a person his money back. See one through five above.

However

With each improvement you make in your system, the kinds of high quality pressings we sell — we call them Hot Stampers — will continue to reveal the better sound that was always in their grooves.

This is not true for the Modern Heavy Vinyl reissue. The better a system gets, the more the faults of those pressings come to light.  This sad story is one that is all too common among our customers.


FURTHER READING

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

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Steely Dan – Testing for Energy with Green Earrings

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for The Royal Scam

The first two tracks on side two tell you everything you need to know about the sound. Most copies are going to be aggressive. There’s an edge to Fagen’s vocals. It’ll become especially apparent when the backing vocals come in on the line “The rings of rare design.”

If the sound is too midrangy and edgy, you simply do not have a good copy. You will probably not find the experience particularly enjoyable. Rather than finding yourself lost in the music, you may find yourself wondering what the fuss was all about when this album came out.

On a musical note, it’s songs like this one and the two that follow that make me realize how ENERGETIC an album this is. It’s actually the last high energy Steely Dan album, second only in that respect to Countdown To Ecstasy.

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Art Garfunkel – Generally Grainy, Harsh and Shrill

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

Records that Do Not Belong on a Super Disc List

The problem with this album is that, for whatever reason, practically every copy you find is, to some degree, grainy, harsh and shrill in the loudest passages of the music. When the music gets loud, the sound often becomes strained and unpleasant. A copy like this one that doesn’t do that is the exception, not the rule.

Listen to the song ‘Disney Girls’ on side one. If you own the average pressing – odds are your copy is in fact quite average unless you went through a pile of copies and played them in order to find a good one – parts of that song will sound painfully hard and shrill, assuming your playing the record at the kinds of levels we do.

Which is the main reason I’ve never understand what qualified this record to be on the TAS Super Disc list. Now, having heard the best of the best copies sounding so big, rich and tubey, I can certainly say I hear what impressed HP (he likes that sound, as do we). It may indeed be a very well recorded album, but we feel it falls a bit short for our own Rock and Pop Top 100 List. (To be fair, as you know we play a lot of amazing albums around here.)

The Best Songs

The late Harry Pearson knew little about popular music and may have been more impressed by this album than those of us who play pop and rock albums by the boatload.

Most of the pop albums on his Super Disc TAS list are a joke. Only the people who listen almost exclusively to classical or jazz seem to take them seriously, in my experience anyway. (Check out the 12″ pop singles for a good laugh.)

That said, there are some wonderful songs on this album. Check out Break Away or 99 Miles From L.A. for some very good sounding, very well produced adult pop music. The version of Jobim’s Waters of March here is another high point.


WHAT TO LISTEN FOR

Choruses that Are Big, Clear and Lively

Grit and Grain

Midrange (Upper) – Shrillness

Steely Dan / The Royal Scam – Listening in Depth

More Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for The Royal Scam

We really went overboard with the track commentary for this one. This should make it easy for you to compare what we say about the sound of these songs with what they sound like to you on your system, using the copy you own or, better yet, one of our Hot Stampers. 

If you end up with one of our Hot Stampers, listen carefully for the effects we describe below. This is a very tough record to reproduce — everything has to be working in tip-top form to even begin to get this complicated music sounding the way it should — but if you’ve done your homework and gotten your system really cooking, you are in for the time of your Steely Dan life.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Kid Charlemagne

By far the most sonically aggressive track on this album, Kid Charlemagne is a quick indicator of what you can expect from the rest of the side. The typical copy is an overly-compressed sonic assault on the ears. The glaring upper midrange and tizzy grit that passes for highs will have you jumping out of your easy chair to turn down the volume. Even my younger employees who grew up playing in loud punk rock bands were cringing at the sound.

However, the good copies take this aggressive energy and turn it into pure excitement. The boys are ready to rock, and they’ve got the pulsing bass, hammering drums, and screaming guitars to do it.

Without the grit and tizz and radio EQ, which could have been added during mastering or caused by the sound of some bad ABC vinyl, who can say which, the sound is actually quite good on the best of the best copies. It’s one of the toughest tests for side one. Sad to say, most copies earn a failing grade right out of the gate on this album.

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Listening in Depth to Country Life

More of the Music of Bryan Ferry

More of the Music of Roxy Music

The domestic, German, Japanese and Dutch pressings are not remotely competitive with the Brits on this album (which is not true for all Roxy’s albums but clearly true for this one, Siren being the obvious exception to the rule).

Now for those of you who are not big Roxy Music fans and don’t know this music, this album may take a bit of getting used to. We assure you it will be well worth your while. We think it’s brilliant.

And if you do consider yourself a fan of Art Rock, every Roxy album should be on your shelf, right up there with your Bowie, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Eno, Peter Gabriel, 10cc and too many others to list. (Most are personal favorites of mine, albums I have played hundreds of times over the last 40 years and plan to keep playing until my ears give out.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

The Thrill of It All
Three and Nine

On the best copies this track is the very definition of Tubey Magical richness and smoothness.

All I Want Is You

A little thinner and brighter than the other tracks on this side as a rule.

Out of the Blue

The best guitar solo ever played on the violin. Go Eddie!

If It Takes All Night

Side Two

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Kansas – Leftoverture

  • Just the second Triple Triple (A+++) Shootout Winning copy to hit the site since 2011 – this copy is a KNOCKOUT
  • Both sides earned our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++) with real Prog Rock Energy and a huge punchy bottom end
  • Carry On My Wayward Son on this Triple Plus side one is guaranteed to blow your mind – the spaciousness and the amount of bass on this side are off the charts
  • “Undoubtedly their finest album, Leftoverture warrants Kansas a spot right alongside Boston and Styx as one of the fresh new American bands who combine hard-driving group instrumentation with short, tight melody lines…” Rolling Stone

Clearly Kansas’s most consistent and engaging album, their true masterpiece by our lights, a copy as good as this will show you the awesome ENERGY the band brought to their music.

On the hottest of our Hot Stampers the recording is a glorious example of the Big Rock Sound we love here at Better Records. Wall to wall and floor to ceiling barely begins to do it justice. Like so many of the great rock recordings we offer, when you play one of our Hot Stampers the sound commands your attention. (more…)

Kansas – Point of Know Return

More Kansas

More Prog Rock

  • An outstanding pression of Point of No Return, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big and solid guitars and keyboards, with great bass, full vocals, and tons of Tubey Magic – this the way to hear the band
  • Our Hot Stamper here manages to combine this kind of high-rez, extended top with natural, balanced tonality – this one really gets it right
  • 4 Stars: “This is the definitive Kansas recording … their interplay and superior musicianship make this both an essential classic rock and progressive rock recording.”

Drop the needle on Dust in the Wind — here the guitars and vocals are full-bodied and natural, qualities unfortunately in short supply on the typical pressing. (more…)

The Pretenders / Get Close – What to Listen For

More of the Music of The Pretenders

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Pretenders

Take it from us, it is the rare pressing that manages to get rid of the harshness and congestion that plague so many copies.

Look for a copy that opens up the soundstage — the wider, deeper and taller the soundstage the better the sound — as long as the tonal balance stays right.

When you hear a copy sound like this one, relatively rich and sweet, the minor shortcomings of the recording no longer seem to interfere with your enjoyment of the music. Like a properly tweaked stereo, a good record lets you forget all that audio stuff and just listen to the music as music. Here at Better Records we — like our customers — think that’s what it’s all about.

And we know that only the top copies will let you do that, something that not everyone in the audiophile community fully appreciates to this day. We’re doing what we can to change that way of thinking, but progress is, as you may well imagine, slow.

What to Listen For

The best copies have superb extension up top, which allows the grit and edge on the vocals to almost entirely disappear. Some of it is there on the tape for a reason — that’s partly the sound they were going for, this is after all a Bob Clearmountain mix and a Jimmy Iovine production — but bad mastering and pressing adds plenty of grit to the average copy, enough to ruin it in fact.

You can test for that edgy quality on side one very easily using the jangly guitar harmonics and breathy vocals of My Baby.

If the harmonic information is clear and extending naturally, in a big space, you are more than likely hearing a top quality copy.

The Domestic LP and CD

The domestic LP is pretty awful, and the domestic CD is even worse, practically unlistenable in fact. I have one in my car; only the judicious use of the treble control, set steeply downwards, makes the sound even tolerable.

But the album rocks — it’s great driving music.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

My Baby
When I Change My Life
Light of the Moon
Dance!
Tradition of Love

Side Two

Don’t Get Me Wrong
I Remember You
How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?
Chill Factor
Hymn to Her
Room Full of Mirrors

AMG  Review

Get Close is never less than solid as a work of craft, and guitarist Robbie McIntosh, drummer Blair Cunningham, and bassist T.M. Stevens deliver tight and emphatic performances throughout…

While Hynde always dominated the Pretenders, by this time it was obvious that this was fully her show, and if she felt less like rocking and more like exploring her emotions and thoughts about parenthood on midtempo pop tunes, no one in the group was going to prod her into doing otherwise; the presence of a large number of additional session players further buffs away any of Get Close’s potential sharp edges.

Despite all this, Hynde’s voice is in great form throughout, and when she gets her dander up, she still has plenty to say and good ways to say it; “How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?” is a gleefully venomous attack on the musically unscrupulous; “Don’t Get Me Wrong” is a superb pop tune and a deserved hit single; and the Motown-flavored “I Remember You” and the moody “Chill Factor” suggest she’d been learning a lot from her old soul singles.

Witches’ Brew / Gibson

DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND, of a sort. As I’ve said elsewhere on the site, this is not my idea of natural tonality.

As for the music, I have long held that the Danse Macabre on this album is the best ever. I probably still agree with that [not anymore, here’s a better one], but so much of the material on this record is amazingly good that that’s actually kind of a left-handed compliment. The entire side 2 is outstanding from start to finish.

The excerpt on side 1 from Pictures at an Exhibition and the complete A Night on Bare Mountain are both played with a kind of energy and requisite orchestral technical quality that makes these pieces come alive right in your living room.

Only the Arnold piece on this record is not particularly inspiring, although it does have excellent sound. All in all, an amazing group of warhorses given a fresh reading by Alexander Gibson and the New Symphony Orchestra of London.

Now let’s talk about the Classic Records 200 gram version, painful as that may be. I’ve long held that the remastering of that album is nothing less than a crime against music lovers and audiophiles of every stripe. Boosting the bass and highs and adding transistory harshness is the last thing in the world that Witches’ Brew needed.

At the risk of insulting some of you out there, if you think the Classic Records version of this album sounds good, your system must be very dull and bass shy, or you must like really hi-fi-ish sound. There is no way that that record should ever sound good on a system that’s remotely accurate. I’ve heard this record played by people attempting to demonstrate the sound of their system, which nearly caused blood to run from my ears. All the while they had a big grin on their face, so pleased with the sound. I don’t understand how anyone can put up with that kind of sound, but obviously people do, so what can I say? People like lots of things I don’t like, and the Classic record is just one more to add to that list. If you want to know why I hate the Classic, buy this pressing and see for yourself where Bernie went wrong.

Verdi, Rossini, et al. / Venice – Classic Records Debunked

Hot Stamper Pressings of Classical and Orchestral Music

More music conducted by Georg Solti

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

Classic Records remastered LSC 2313 and even the people that like the sound of Classic’s Heavy Vinyl pressings complain about it, so you can imagine what we think of it.

What a piece of garbage. Smeary and shrill, it gives no indication of the beauty that is on the tape. 

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