Records that Are Good for Testing String Tone and Texture

Carly Simon / No Secrets – Listening in Depth

More Carly Simon

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Balance is key to getting all the tracks to sound their best. Many copies we played were too dull or too bright.

One more note: having your VTA set just right is critical to getting the best out of this album. The loudest vocal parts can easily strain otherwise. Once you get your settings dialed in correctly, a copy like this will give you the kind of rich, sweet sound that brings out the best in this music.

Two Points

Listen to Embrace Me, You Child on side two — on the best copies you can really hear the rosiny texture of the strings as they are bowed.

The cymbals can sound amazing — listen to how extended the crashes are on You’re So Vain.

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Does Anybody (Other than Us) Ever Talk About the Dry String Tone of Some London Pressings?

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Not that we know of. If audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them are listening critically to these famous recordings on high quality equipment, why do they never talk about this problem?

Here is what we noticed when we played a big batch of Nutcracker recordings on London and Decca:

On some copies of this album the strings are dry, lacking Tubey Magic. This is decidedly not our sound, although it can often be heard on the hundreds of London pressings we’ve played over the years.

And we imagined that this might be the culprit:

If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange, the one that so many moving coils have these days, you may not notice this tonality issue nearly as often as we do.

Our Dynavector 17Dx Karat is ruler flat and quite tonally unforgiving in this regard. It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in all but the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.

We discussed the issue in a commentary entitled Hi-Fi Beats My-Fi If You Are At All Serious about Audio.

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

Can we really be hearing all these things that nobody else seems to be hearing? Things like:

If audiophiles and audiophile reviewers are hearing these things on the records they review, in magazines and audiophile forums, why aren’t they discussing them?

Case in Point

We occasionally take the time to create a little “test” to see if audiophiles — customers or just visitors to the blog, makes no difference to us — can hear a specific quality we’d noticed when auditioning a record. Normally this would be a quality that jumped out at us when playing the record, and we were just curious as to whether it jumped out at anybody else.

On this version of Sweet Baby James we heard something that took us by surprise, an artifact we subsequently dubbed an “EQ Anomaly.” We put the question of what this anomaly might be to our readers and waited for someone to spot it. And here is what we got in return. (more…)

Liszt in Living Stereo – Rich, Rosiny Lower Strings Like These Are to Die For

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1880)

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The rich, textured, rosin-on-the-bow lower strings on this record are to die for.

Find me a modern record with that sound and I will eat it.

And by “modern record” we hasten to include both modern recordings and modern remasterings of older recordings. No one alive today can make a record that sound like this. To call it a lost art is to understand something that few vinyl-loving audiophiles appear to have fully grasped since the advent of the Modern Reissue, which is simply this: compared head to head they are simply not competitive.

After twenty years of trying and literally hundreds of failed examples, both the boutique and major labels of today have yet to make a record that sounds as powerful or as lifelike as this RCA from the old days. (This is actually a later pressing; in some ways it sounded more tubey and rich than many of the Shaded Dogs we played against it.)

Fortunately for us record lovers and collectors, we at Better Records are not trying to make a record sound the way these sides do, we’re just trying to find ones that do, and folks, we found some very, very good sides here. (more…)

Debussy / Iberia on Classic Records – What, Specifically, Are Its Shortcomings?

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Album Reviews of the music of Claude Debussy

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

The Classic of LSC 2222 is all but unlistenable on a highly resolving, properly set-up hi-fidelity system.

The opacity, transient smear and loss of harmonic information and ambience found on Classic’s pressing was enough to drive us right up the wall. Who can sit through a record that sounds like that? Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound” and said as much in our catalogs.

With each passing year — 26 and counting — we like that sound less.  The Classic may be on Harry’s TAS list — sad but true — but that certainly has no bearing on the fact that it’s not a very good record.

MORE RECORDS GOOD FOR JUDGING THESE QUALITIES

Ambience, Size and Space

Smear

String Tone and Texture

Transparency Vs Opacity

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Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

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Reviews and Commentaries for Bridge Over Troubled Water

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  • An outstanding 360 Stereo pressing (the only ones we offer) of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • There’s a reason you rarely see this title on our site – we have a devil of a time finding clean 360s without marks or significant surface noise, especially for the title track
  • The sound is big, lively, and clear, with the kind of Tubey Magical richness that only the best 360 pressings can offer
  • Surely this is BY FAR the toughest album of theirs to find with top quality sound and decent surfaces
  • This Magnum Opus ended the duo’s collaboration with a ginormous over the top production, which taxed the recording technology of the day and is sure to tax any system that attempts to reproduce it
  • 5 stars: “Perhaps the most delicately textured album to close out the 1960s from any major rock act… the songs matched the standard of craftsmanship that had been established on the duo’s two prior albums”

Both sides here KILLED every other copy we played.

The strings on the title track actually have some texture, and Cecilia comes to life in a way we guarantee you have never heard before. There’s also much less of the spit and grit that you find on many copies.

The sound is quite a bit more musical and enjoyable than you might expect, especially if you own a reissue on the red label or an audiophile reissue of any kind. All our copies are on the 360 label, and none of them are on Heavy Vinyl or Half-Speed Mastered. If it’s not a 360, it’s not a Hot Stamper in our book. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra / On the Third Day – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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This White Hot Stamper Side Two is proof positive that the master tape used to cut the album back in 1973 was right here in the good old U. S. of A. The sound is positively JUMPING out of the speakers, like nothing you’ve ever heard before from this band — especially if you have a British pressing of the album. The sound has real life to it, unlike the sound on the import pressings of the album. Once you’ve played a good domestic pressing such as this one, it’s obvious that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers.

We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our shootout and they all sucked. We always buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that sound the best, the domestic pressings time and again sounding as though they were mastered from dub tapes. But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British. Live and learn I guess. (more…)

Elton John – Self-Titled

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

  • Stunning DEMO DISC sound throughout – Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and close to that on the first
  • An original UK pressing with sound this good is a Must Own for all right thinking audiophile record lovers, not just Elton John fans
  • No modern record ever sounded like this – these sides are HUGE, with sound that positively jumps out of the speakers
  • Some of the most remarkable string arrangements (and Tubey Magical string sound) ever recorded for a pop album
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Even with the strings and choirs that dominate the sound of the album, John manages to rock out on a fair share of the record. …Elton John remains one of his best records.”

Folks, if you’re looking for Classic Rock that still appeals to sophisticated adults forty plus years after it came out, this is the album for you. It’s one of the four Classic Elton John records (five if you count GYBR) that belong in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection.*

It’s full of analog Tubey Magic — the richness, sweetness, and warmth are nothing short of stunning. The transparency, clarity, texture, dynamics, energy, spaciousness, and three-dimensionality of this recording are really something to be heard. The piano has real weight, the vocals are breathy and full, and the string tone is some of the best we have ever heard on a pop album.

Drop the needle on Border Song. When it hits the big “Holy Moses” chorus, you can pick out and follow all the different voices. The sound of the harp on Sixty Years On is positively sublime. (more…)

Every Label Made Bad Sounding Records – RCA Released This Living Stereo with Reiner in 1958

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Some audiophiles buy albums based on their labels. For example, this Shaded Dog pressing from the Golden Age of RCA Living Stereo might appeal to a certain kind of audiophile who treasures LSC’s on the original label.

More than that, he might limit himself to 1S Indianapolis pressings. Hooray! What could be better?

However, many records from this era simply do not sound good, and this is one of them. We have never heard a good sounding copy of LSC 2112, and we’ve played plenty of them over the decades we’ve been in the business of selling Golden Age Classical records.

A copy came in just last week and I figured it was time to give it a spin and see if there was any reason to change my opinion. Hey, maybe this one had Hot Stampers! Can’t say it wouldn’t be possible. Unlikely, yes, impossible, no.

So here’s what I heard: A wide stage. A bit dry.

But then the trouble started: Shrill strings?! That’s all she wrote. A Johann Strauss record with shrill strings is a non-starter. (more…)

Beethoven – String Quartet Opus 130 / Grosse Fuge / Quartetto Italiano

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

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  • This wonderful Philips recording makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • This is a superb recording – big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic, and is guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of chamber music you own
  • This copy showed that it had the balance of clarity and sweetness we were looking for in the tone of the violins, viola and cello
  • Above all, the recording sounds natural and real, and with Shootout Winning sides, this pressing was the most natural and most real of all the copies we played

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Electric Light Orchestra – On the Third Day

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  • This outstanding copy of the band’s third studio album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • This domestic LP is proof that the master tape used to cut the album in 1973 was right here in the good old U.S. of A.
  • “Electric Light Orchestra’s third album showed a marked advancement, with a fuller, more cohesive sound from the band as a whole and major improvements in Jeff Lynne’s singing and songwriting.”
  • “The ELO’s blending of rock drums, pop violins, a semiclassical feel in the sweep of these same violins, the midrange colors of the cello, and a vocal blend that reminds one of the Beatles in their sophisticated studio days, makes up all the key elements in their music.”

Once you’ve played a good domestic pressing, it’s obvious that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports make it sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers.

We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our first big shootout in 2010 and they all sucked. We always buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that sound the best, the domestic pressings time and again sounding as though they were mastered from dub tapes.

But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British. Live and learn I guess. (more…)