Records We Don’t Like for Their Music

Kansas – Leftoverture – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Audiophile Record debunked.

Way too bright and thin. What were they thinking?

It’s the sound that most audiophiles are fooled by to this day! Brighter and more detailed is rarely better. Most of the time it’s just brighter. Not many half-speed mastered audiophile records are dull. They’re bright because the audiophiles who bought them preferred that sound. I did. Hopefully we’ve all learned our lesson, expensive and painful as it may have been. 

The average copy of this record is so bright, thin, aggressive and transistory it will peel the paint in your living room and leave your ears bleeding.

Unmusicality

The best copies get rid of a problem that quickly becomes irritating as you play track after track: a certain “squaky, pinched” sound to the guitars. Bad copies of the album have that sound through and through, along with excessive amounts of grain and grunge. The guitars are very prominent in the mix on practically every song here, so when the guitars sound sour, the track as a whole does too.

These mastering and pressing problems make the overall sound simply UNMUSICAL. The way we found that out was simple. We cleaned and played lots of copies, and every once in a while we heard one that allowed the music to breathe, open up, sound balanced, make sense even.

Those copies showed us a Leftoverture we didn’t know existed and gave us a goal to shoot for with all the other copies we played. After hearing such a truly killer copy we often go back and downgrade the ratings for the copies we thought were the best. Such is the way with these shootouts. (more…)

Dave Brubeck – A Cut Above – An Awful Direct to Disc Recording (with synths!)

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Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing.

This Direct Disk Labs Double LP is an exceptionally WELL-RECORDED Direct-to-Disc. The bass is punchy, the piano sounds tonally Right On The Money (ROTM) and the overall sound is lively and immediate. It’s one of the better sounding Direct-to-Discs we’ve played lately.

The music goes nowhere however, hence the grade.  

The Moody Blues – To Our Children’s Children’s Children

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  • Lush but clear Tubey Magical Double Plus (A++) British Decca LP sound on both sides, on quiet vinyl to boot
  • You get richness, fullness and warmth on both of these sides, which is exactly what you want for the Moodies’ music
  • “It is the fourth of what are popularly considered the group’s “core seven” (or Classic Seven) albums from 1967 to 1972, and as such represents the peak of their career to some.”
  • “There are no extended suites on this album, but Justin Hayward’s “Watching and Waiting” and “Gypsy” have proved to be among the most popular songs in the group’s history.”

This British Decca pressing has two excellent sides. Most aren’t nearly this airy, open or spacious. The bottom end is strong with nice weight and much improved bass definition. The vocals are big and solid. (more…)

Paul Simon – Graceland – What to Think When the New Version Is Completely Unrecognizable?

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from? Having played at least 50 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded very much like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can’t say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing?

Well, in favor of that proposition I guess you could say it sounds less like a CD now. On the other side of the ledger, it now sounds a great deal more like a bad LP.

We listen to piles of pressings of Graceland regularly. We know what the album generally sounds like, the range from bad to good, and we know what qualities the very best copies must have in order to win one of our shootouts.

Above all the one thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals. The best of the best copies have all these qualities, but the one quality any good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s good about the sound of the record. Without clarity the music doesn’t even work.

The new version has been “fixed”. It got rid of all that pesky grit and grain and CD-like sound from the original digital mix by heavy-handedly equalizing them away.

Cut the top, cut the upper mids, boost the lower mids and upper bass and voila – now it’s what Graceland would have sounded like had it been all analog from the start, AAA baby!

Or at least analog for those who don’t know what good analog sounds like. (more…)

Ry Cooder Plays Jazz (of a Sort)

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See all of our Ry Cooder albums in stock

 

We’re big fans of Ry here at Better Records, and it’s always a lot of fun to hear the eccentric instruments and arrangements he and his cohorts cook up. Of course, it’s even more fun when you get a great sounding pressing like this one!

Far Beyond Your Average Rock or Jazz Record

The instrumentation here goes far beyond your average rock or jazz record. Rounding up a panoply of relatively exotic instruments for an album doesn’t make it especially noteworthy. Thankfully Cooder’s up to more than that. Using an ensemble of seriously talented musicians, as well as studio engineers who really understand how to capture these instruments, with Jazz Cooder succeeds in giving the audiophile public a full course spread of new and unusual sounds, all the while staying true to these popular songs from days long gone. (more…)

Toto’s Debut and Copy Number Three

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  • This superb pressing of Toto’s debut studio album boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Lukather’s overdriven guitar adds so much power to the music – the perfect combo of Grungy guitars and Rock Star vocals makes Hold the Line a staple of rock radio to this day
  • Exceptional vinyl throughout – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – they didn’t press them any quieter
  • “Toto had already influenced the course of ’70s popular music by playing on half the albums that came out of L.A. All they were doing with this album was going public.”

This is analog, make no mistake about it. Those smooth sweet vocals, open top and rich full bottom are a dead giveaway that you are playing a record and not a CD. (I understand the CD for this title is awful; bright, thin and downright painful. This is the problem with the CD: if they do a bad job making it, and you no longer own a turntable, what are your options? Squat, pretty much.)

Pop production techniques were very advanced by 1978, providing plenty of natural sounding roomy reverb around the vocals and guitars. Lukather’s overdriven, distorted guitar has near-perfect tonality; it adds so much power to the music.

Just like the Hot Stampers for Aqualung, when the guitar sounds this good, it really makes you sit up and take notice of the guy’s playing. When the sound works the music works, our definition of a Hot Stamper in seven words or less.

Turn up the volume? You better believe it! (more…)

Dog and Butterfly – Listen for the Fat Snare on Straight On

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

Take five copies of the album, clean them well and then cue up Straight On. Now listen for how fat and solid the snare sounds. At least three will have a snare that doesn’t have the heft of the real thing. At most one will show you what it should really sound like.

Of course the copy with the right snare sound may have other problems, most assuredly does have other problems, which is why you need about ten to fifteen copies to really do a proper shootout.

Side Two

The vocals were breathy and clear on this side two, and the overall sound was punchy and energetic. The main areas we took points off for were a lack of warmth and a bit of smear on the acoustic guitars. Most copies have trouble getting all the transient information to resolve properly. The acoustic guitars are the place where this is most easily heard.

Side one earned the full Three Pluses for sound, with some of the breathiest background vocals we heard on any copy. That is a key sign of transparency — the background vocals are clear and breathy behind the lead singers. Most of the time they will be audible but the texture of the voices will be compromised.

Rich full sound is of course key to any rock record; it’s a quality that we rarely find on Heavy Vinyl reissues these days. (Granted we play very few but the ones we do play don’t sound very good so why bother?)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Cook With Fire 
High Time 
Hijinx 
Straight On

Side Two

Dog & Butterfly 
Lighter Touch 
Nada One 
Mistral Wind

AMG Review

Like their Magazine album, Dog & Butterfly peaked at number 17 on the charts, but the material from it is much stronger from every standpoint, with Anne and Nancy Wilson involving themselves to a greater extent. The light, afternoon feel of the title track peaked at number 34, while the more resounding punch of Straight On went all the way to number 15 as the album’s first single. With keyboard player Howard Leese making his presence felt, and the vocals and guitar work sounding fuller and more focused, the band seems to be rather comfortable once again.

Van Halen – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Van Halen’s debut album.

Most copies just do not have the kind of weight to the bottom and lower mids that this music needs to work. Put simply, if your Van Halen LP doesn’t rock, then what exactly is the point of playing it?

The other qualities to look for on the best pressings are, firstly, space — the best pressings are huge and three-dimensional, with large, lively, exceptionally dynamic choruses.

The copies with the most resolving power are easy to spot — they display plenty of lovely analog reverb trailing the guitars and vocals.

And lastly (although we could go on for days with this kind of stuff), listen for spit on the vocals. Even the best copies have some sibilance, but the bad copies have much too much and make the sibilance gritty to boot.

A “Modern” Classic

Go ahead and turn up your nose if you like, but this music is widely considered classic rock by now. I’m not going to pretend it’s on a level with After The Gold Rush or Zep II, but this album does exactly what it’s trying to do — it really ROCKS.

At least it does when you have a pressing as good as this one. The All Music Guide gives the album 5 Big Stars, and I’m sure that more than a few of you out there think it deserves every last one of them.

Donn Landee

Credit DONN LANDEE (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records. Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.

The DCC

As I recall it wasn’t very good — thick and dull and closed-in; in other words, boring — but it was quite a while ago that I played it. If your copy sounds better, more power to you, but I bet it doesn’t. Any copy we sell is guaranteed to blow the doors off of it — as well as any other pressing you own — or your money back.

In Defense of Simply Vinyl – Are Their LPs Really Worse Than Anybody Else’s?

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Making Movies on Simply Vinyl had been out of print for quite a while, so when it was repressed recently [in the mid-2000s I would guess] we took the opportunity to give it a fresh spin and were SHOCKED — that’s right, SHOCKED — to hear how good it sounded, every bit as good as we remember it from years ago.

It sounded like a good British import, not some 180 gram remastered wannabe. Most 180 gram records don’t do anything for us these days [circa 2008] — they leave a lot to be desired as we point out left and right in our commentaries — but here’s a wonderful exception to the dismal heavy vinyl rule.

But it is a good British (or Dutch, same thing) import, because Simply Vinyl is not in the remastering business.

Addedum 2012 

We played another copy on SV a year or so later, 2009 or 2010 as I recall, and it did not sound nearly as good as the one we describe above, for what that’s worth.

Also SV has “newer” masterings of many of their records which in our experience are uniformly inferior to the earlier ones. I would not buy any SV if I were you unless I heard it first or could return it.

 

Chicago and The Hottest Stampers – Are You a Thrillseeker Too?

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When it comes to sound, I’m a Thrillseeker. I want to hear it LOUDER and BETTER, with more ENERGY and EXCITEMENT, and the reason I spent so many hundreds, even thousands, of hours working on my stereo is that that kind of sound doesn’t happen by accident. You have to work your ass off to get it. And spend a lot of money. And dig through a lot of dusty record bins buying LPs until you find one that sounds the way you want it to.

I don’t play records to drink wine and smoke cigars. I play records to ROCK. Whether the music is rock, jazz or classical, I want to feel the power of the music just as you would feel it at the live event. To me that means big speakers and loud levels. We played Chicago VII as loud as we could… (more…)