Top Artists – The Beatles (Individually and Collectively)

The music is great, but how’s the sound? We weigh in with our two cents worth.

Heavy Vinyl – Is This the Best Sounding Sgt. Pepper?

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You might agree with some reviewers that EMI’s engineers did a pretty good job with the new Pepper. In the March 2013 issue of Stereophile Art Dudley weighed in, finding little to fault on this title but being less impressed with most of the others in the new box set. His reference disc? The MoFi UHQR! Oh, and he also has some old mono pressings and a domestic Let It Be. Now there’s a man who knows his Beatles. Fanatical? Who wouldn’t be? We’re talkin’ The Beatles for Christ’s sake.

When I read the reviews by writers such as these I often get the sense that I must’ve fallen through some sort of Audio Time Warp and landed back in 1982. How is it that our so-called experts evince so little understanding of how records are made, how variable the pressings can be, and, more importantly, how absolutely crucial it is to understand and implement rigorous protocols when attempting to carry out comparisons among pressings.
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What We Listen For: The Spirit and Enthusiasm of the Musicians

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

This discussion, brought about by a Hot Stamper shootout we conducted for Revolver many years ago (2007!), touches on many issues near and dear to us here at Better Records: pressing variations, system upgrades, dead wax secrets, and the quality we prize most in a recording: LIFE, or, if you prefer, energy.

At the end of the commentary we of course take the opportunity to bash the MoFi pressing of the album, a regular feature of our Beatles Hot Stamper shootouts. We’re not saying the MoFi Beatles records are bad; in the overall scheme of things they are mostly pretty decent. What we are saying is that, with our help, you can do a helluva lot better. Our help doesn’t come cheap, as anyone on our mailing list will tell you. You may have to pay a lot, but we think you get what you pay for, and we gladly back up that claim with a 100% money back guarantee for every Hot Stamper pressing we sell.

The Story of Revolver, Dateline October 2007

White Hot Stampers for Revolver are finally HERE! Let the celebrations begin! Seriously, this is a very special day for us here at Better Records. The Toughest Nut to Crack in the Beatles’ catalog has officially been cracked. Yowza!

Presenting the first TRULY AWESOME copy of Revolver to ever make it to the site. There’s a good reason why Hot Stamper shootouts for practically every other Beatles album have already been done, most of them many times over, and it is simply this: finding good sounding copies of Revolver is almost IMPOSSIBLE. The typical British Parlophone or Apple pressing, as well as every German, Japanese and domestic LP we’ve played in the last year or two just plain sucked. Where was the analog magic we heard in the albums before and after, the rapturously wonderful sound that’s all over our Hot Stamper Rubber Souls and Sgt. Peppers? How could Revolver go so horribly off the rails for no apparent reason? (more…)

The Beatles Please Please Me – We Review the Mobile Fidelity Half-Speed

 

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Half Speed reviewed.

If you own the MoFi LP, do yourself a favor and buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings. (Actually any good British import pressing will do.) What’s the first thing you will notice other than correct tonality, better bass and a lot more “life” overall?

No spit! As we’ve commented elsewhere, because of the wacky cutting system they used, MoFis are full of sibilance. 

As I was playing this record many years ago, maybe by about the fifth or sixth song it occurred to me that I hadn’t been hearing the spit that I was used to from my MoFi LP. You don’t notice it when it’s not there. But your MoFi sure has a bad case of spitty vocals. If you never noticed them before, you will now. (more…)

The Beatles Blue Album – Reviewed in 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This is a WONDERFUL SOUNDING early German Import 2 LP set — pressed on fairly quiet vinyl to boot! We are on record as finding the British pressings of 1967-1970 too bright; certainly most of them are anyway. This German set has much more natural sound to my ear — it’s RICH, SMOOTH and SWEET, with plenty of tubey magic and little of the grain and grunge of the Brits. (The original domestic pressings, as anyone who has ever played one can attest, mastered at Sterling no less, are absolutely godawful.) 

Like most compilations, some songs sound better than others, but Don’t Let Me Down and Come Together are two that really stand out here. For some of you out there who have never tried one of our Hot Stamper Beatles records, this may be the best sound you’ve ever heard from them. The CDs — even the new ones — sure don’t sound like this!

The Beatles – Past Masters Volumes 1 & 2 – Digital Remastering at its Worst

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Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing.

The ’90s import pressings of this album are bright and aggressive and very digital sounding, but if you want better sounding versions of these songs you’re gonna have to buy a lot of pressings of a lot of albums in order to find good sounding versions of them (which I did back in the ’80s and it took years to do it).

These are all the songs that aren’t on the original 13 British albums, so for those of you with the MoFi Beatles box, these 2 LPs give you all the tracks you don’t have.  

Sgt. Pepper’s and Bad Audiophile Thinking (Hint: the UHQR Is Wrong)

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Sonic Grade: D

We charge hundreds of dollars for a Hot Stamper Sgt. Pepper, which is a lot to pay for a record. But consider this: the MoFi UHQR typically sells for more than the price we charge and doesn’t sound as good. 

Of course the people that buy UHQRs would never find themselves in a position to recognize how much better one of our Hot Stampers sounds in a head to head shootout with their precious and oh-so-collectible UHQR. They assume that they’ve already purchased the Ultimate Pressing and see no need to try another.

I was guilty of the same Bad Audiophile Thinking myself in 1982. I remember buying the UHQR of Sgt. Pepper and thinking how amazing it sounded and how lucky I was to have the world’s best version of Sgt. Pepper.

If I were to play that record now it would be positively painful. All I would hear would be the famous MoFi 10K Boost on the top end (the one that MoFi lovers never seem to notice), and the flabby Half-Speed mastered bass (ditto). Having heard really good copies of Sgt. Pepper, like the wonderful Hot Stampers we put on the site from time to time, now the MoFi UHQR sounds so phony to me that I wouldn’t be able to sit through it with a gun to my head.

The Beatles Abbey Road – Listening in Depth

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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 Abbey Road.  

Those of you who follow the site (or do your own shootouts) know that it’s much tougher to find great copies of Abbey Road than it is for MMT or Please Please Me. Most of the copies we’ve played just aren’t good enough to put on the site. For whatever reasons — probably because this recording is so complicated and required so many tracks — Abbey Road is arguably the toughest nut to crack in the Beatles’ catalog. 

Most of the copies we’ve played over the years suffer from too much grit and grain, particularly on the vocals. Not the best ones though. We just couldn’t believe how smooth and sweet the vocals were on our shootout winner last time around, especially on side two, without sacrificing any breath or texture.

The Power of Abbey Road

This is the final statement from The Beatles. To take away the power of this music by playing it through inadequate equipment makes a mockery of the monumental effort that went into it. Remember, the original title for the album was Everest. That should tell you something about the size and scope of the music and sound that the Beatles had in mind. In-Depth Track Commentary (more…)

The Beatles – Beatles ’65 – Reversed Polarity

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This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

This is a Capitol Records Purple Label LP with THE BEST SOUND I have ever heard for a Capitol Beatles LP (as of 7/5/06). But there’s a catch. It only sounds good if you reverse your absolute phase. If you don’t, or can’t, forget it. 

I wrote the rave review you see below without realizing that I had reversed my headshell leads for the previous record I was playing and had forgotten to change them back. So all the nice things I said about Capitol really aren’t true: they got the phase backwards, which positively ruins the sound unless you can correct for it. I did, and was astonished at how musical the album sounded.

Do you want an AMAZING example of how phase can affect the sound of a recording? Switch back and forth on Honey Don’t, especially if you are the skeptical type like me. You will become a believer on the spot, all doubt forever banished.

I wonder how many other bad Beatle albums are phase reversed? We will report our findings as time goes on so watch for them.

This is what I initially said about the record:

This is a Minty Capitol Purple Label LP with THE BEST SOUND I have ever heard for a Capitol Beatles LP. If more of them sounded like this we wouldn’t have said all those mean and nasty things about Capitol Records for the past forty years. Yes, they still “butchered” For Sale to create this “album”, but that’s not the point. The point is this record sounds like a good Parlophone pressing — rich and sweet, with dead-on tonality. Whatever tapes Capitol may have used had plenty of that famous Beatles Analog Magic in them — you won’t hear any Beatles CDs sound like this, that I can assure you. That sound is gone and it ain’t comin’ back.

The late Capitol mastering here is Right On The Money. I don’t think they ever cut a record better. You can be sure the original Rainbow Label pressings sound as bad as you remember. I have never heard ANY original Capitol pressing that sounded like this — not even close.

The two singles mentioned below both have DREADFUL SOUND, the kind we have come to expect from Capitol. Everything else is wonderful.

“Dave Dexter, Jr. (a name which will live in infamy) “assisted” the Beatles by pulling eight tracks from Beatles for Sale, one from A Hard Day’s Night [I’ll Be Back], and both sides of the latest Beatles single (“I Feel Fine”/”She’s a Woman”) for the creation of this album.” – AMG

Let It Be – John’s Really Digging a Pony. Are You?

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What blew our minds about the Shootout Winning side one we played recently was how outrageously big, open and transparent it was on the song Dig a Pony. As the song started up the studio space seemed to expand in every direction, creating more height, width and depth than we’d ever experienced with this song before. 

But there is no studio space; the song was recorded on Apple’s rooftop. The “space” has to be some combination of “air” from the live event and artificial reverb added live or later during mixing. Whatever it is, the copies with more resolution and transparency show you a lot more of “it” than run-of-the-mill pressings do (including the new Heavy Vinyl, which is so airless and compressed we gave it a grade of F and banished it to our Shame Hall). 

In addition, Ringo’s kit was dramatically more clear and present in the center of the soundfield just behind the vocal, raising the energy of the track to a level higher than we had any right to believe was possible. The way he attacks the hi-hat on this song is crazy good, and the engineering team of Glyn Johns and Alan Parsons really give it the snap it needs.

These are precisely the qualities that speed and transparency can contribute to the sound. If you have Old School vintage tube equipment, these are two of the qualities you are most likely living without. You only need play this one track on faster, better-resolving equipment to hear what you’ve been missing.

On the line after “All I want is you”, the energy of “Everything has got to be just like you want it to” should make it sound like The Beatles are shouting at the top of their lungs. If you have the right pressing they really get LOUD on that line.

The Beatles: Rock Band

On the better pressings the natural rock n’ roll energy of a song such as Dig A Pony will blow your mind. There’s no studio wizardry, no heavy-handed mastering, no phony EQ — just the sound of the greatest pop/rock band of all time playing and singing their hearts out.

It’s the kind of thrill you really don’t get from the more psychedelic albums like Sgt. Pepper’s or Magical Mystery Tour. You have to go all the way back to Long Tall Sally and Roll Over Beethoven to find the Beatles consistently letting loose the way they do on Let It Be (or at least on the tracks that are more or less live, which make up about half the album).

Further Reading

Other recordings that we have found to be especially Tubey Magical can be found here.

Transparency, the other side of the Tubey Magical coin, is also key to the better pressings of this album as well as many of our other favorite demo discs.

The entries linked here may help you gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding Hot Stampers.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

Our Approach to Audio

Over the years we have put literally thousands of hours into our system and room in order to extract the maximum amount of information, musical and otherwise, from the records we play, or as close to the maximum as we can manage. Ours is as big and open as any system in an 18 by 20 by 8 room I’ve ever heard. (I can’t compete with bigger rooms and higher ceilings; it’s a glorious sound but custom room additions are just way out of our budget.)

It’s also as free from colorations of any kind as we can possibly make it. We want to hear the record in its naked form; not the way we like it to sound, or want it to sound, but the way it actually does sound. That way, when you get the record home and play it yourself, it should sound the way we described it.

If too much of the sound we hear is what our stereo is doing, not what the record is doing, how can we know what will it sound like on your system? We try to be as truthful and as critical as we can when describing the records we sell. Too much coloration in the system would make those tasks much more difficult, if not downright impossible.

Click here to read more about our playback equipment.

The Beatles White Album – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with plenty of What to Listen For (WTLF) tips. 

It’s exceedingly difficult to find audiophile quality sound on The White Album. The Beatles were breaking apart, often recording independently of each other, with their own favorite engineers as enablers, and George Martin nowhere to be found most of the time. They were also experimenting more and more with sound itself, which resulted in wonderful songs and interesting effects. However, these new approaches and added complexity often result in a loss of sonic “purity.”

Let’s face it, most audiophiles like simplicity: A female vocal, a solo guitar — these things are easy to reproduce and often result in pleasing sound, the kind of sound that doesn’t take a lot of expensive equipment or much effort to reproduce.

Dense mixes with wacky EQ are hard to reproduce (our famous Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS) comes into play here), and the White Album is full of that sound, taking a break for songs like Blackbird and Julia.

Some of the Tubey Magic that you hear on Pepper is gone for good. (Play With a Little Help from My Friends on a seriously good Hot Stamper to see what has been lost forever.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Looks at the lineup for side one. Is there a rock album on the planet with a better batch of songs?

Having done shootouts for the White Album by the score, we can also say with some certainty that side one is the most difficult side to find White Hot stamper sound for. It’s somewhat rare to find a side one that earns our top Triple Plus (A+++) sonic grade, even when all the other sides do. (Actually what happens more often than not is that we take the best second discs and mate them with the best first discs to make the grades consistent for the whole album. But don’t tell anybody.) (more…)