Top Artists – The Beatles (Individually and Collectively)

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

Mobile Fidelity and the Limited Edition Pressing

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Many audiophiles are still operating under the misapprehension that Mobile Fidelity, what with their strict ’quality control’, managed to eliminate pressing variations of the kind we discuss endlessly on the site. 

Such is simply not the case, and it’s child’s play to demonstrate how false this way of thinking is, assuming you have these four things: good cleaning fluids and a machine, multiple copies of the same record, a reasonably revealing stereo, and two working ears (I guess that’s actually five things, my bad). With all five the reality of pressing variations for ALL pressings is both obvious and incontrovertible.

The raison d’être of the Limited Edition Audiophile Record is to take the guesswork out of buying the Best Sounding Pressing money can buy.

But it just doesn’t work that way. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but our entire website is based on the proposition that nothing of the sort is true. If paying more money for an audiophile pressing guaranteed the buyer better sound, 80% of what we do around here would be a waste of time. Everybody knows what the audiophile pressings are, and there would be nothing for us to do but find them and throw them up on the website for you to buy. Why even bother to play them if they all sound so good?

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. (more…)

The Beatles – Revolver – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

MASTER TAPE SOUND on BOTH sides of this British White Hot Stamper LP! Having played scores of copies over the years, this is As Good As It Gets as far as we know. Want to be blown away by Beatles sound you never imagined you would ever have the chance to experience for yourself? Drop the needle on Taxman on this very side one — that’s your ticket to ride, baby! We were blown away and we guarantee you will be too.

Both sides of this killer pressing have all the qualities we look for on this album: vocal presence, Tubey Magic, huge weight to the bottom end, and most importantly of all, SERIOUS ENERGY. It’s also very smooth, sweet and above all analog-sounding — the grit and grain that ruin the typical pressing are nowhere to be found here.

Life As We Know It

This knockout copy clearly had the most ENERGY of any copy we played. Unlike so many copies of the album, the band here is enthusiastic and rockin’ like crazy. Right off the bat the electric guitar transients were just jumping out of the speakers in a way that no other copy managed to achieve. This copy brings the music to LIFE in a way that no other we have heard could. That’s our definition of White Hot Stamper sound in a nutshell.

Side One

A+++, super clear and clean and rockin’ like you will not believe. Zero smear. Zero distortion. As BIG and SOLID as a rock record can sound. Not as Tubey-Magical as some other copies we heard, but is that sound really on the tape, or is that a mastering coloration? We don’t know, no one does, but we love the fact that this copy has ZERO coloration. It lets us think we are sitting in the control room for a playback with Geoff and George.

Side Two

A+++ again, but not in the same way. This side is richer than side one, but every bit as big and clear. I was tempted to award it our famous Four Plus grade, but what the hell, Three Pluses is supposed to be As Good As It Gets, and this side is definitely that.

Listen to how grungy and smooth the guitars are on And Your Bird Can Sing — they are perfection! My notes say this copy is by far the best side two we heard, and that pretty much says it all.

The Revolver Revolution Beginning in 2007

Finding amazingly good sounding copies of Revolver used to be almost impossible. The typical British Parlophone or Apple pressing, as well as every German, Japanese and domestic LP we played a few years back 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 For Sale – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

MASTER TAPE SOUND ON SIDE ONE! We feel Beatles For Sale is a criminally underappreciated album, and a killer copy like this will show you exactly why. The startling presence and immediacy allow the emotional qualities of these lovely songs to really come through. The clarity of the vocals is going to blow you away. No matter what copy you’ve been listening to, I’m completely confident that this one will slaughter it. We play a ton of these every year, but there’s a good reason you don’t see too many of them hit the site — most of them bore us to tears.

Side one is OUT OF THIS WORLD — warm, sweet and delicate with shocking vocal clarity. You won’t believe the transparency on this copy — you can easily pick out the vocal harmonies and follow the individual voices. In our shootout, we found copies with amazing presence that lacked some sweetness, and vice versa. This copy has the best of both worlds! Drop the needle on I’ll Follow The Sun and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

There’s MIDRANGE MAGIC here that you just don’t find on the typical pressing of this album — just listen to the all the ambience around the full-bodied sound of the electric guitar. The acoustic guitars are PERFECTION. The overall sound is spacious, lively, and energetic, and we rate side one an A+++, As Good As It Gets.

Side two is wonderful, but not quite in the same league as the first side. The sound is open and transparent with all the tubey magic needed to give you smooth, sweet vocals. It’s also clean, clear, and relaxed — exactly the kind of sound you want for these lovely early Beatles songs.

Hey, Sir George: We Respectfully Disagree!

We had a lot of fun reading The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, which details the band’s studio history from 1962 – 1970. In the book, George Martin mentions that he felt this album was a rush job and that he has trouble listening to it to this day. As much respect as we have for Sir George, we couldn’t disagree more. This album is WONDERFUL! The more we played this album, the more we enjoyed it. Repeated listenings only enhanced our enjoyment, and a good copy like this let us hear things in the music that we hadn’t heard before. This isn’t the kind of record that beats you over the head with mega pop hits sure to enthrall screaming teens. With wonderful songs like I’ll Follow The Sun, Eight Days A Week, I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party and What You’re Doing, this album gives you a glimpse at the more heartfelt side of the band. It’s an extremely sweet, delicate album and a superb copy like this lets you fully appreciate that.

A Wonderfully Fun Album

Of all the Beatle records that we play around here, this, along with Abbey Road and perhaps Please Please Me, was one of the most enjoyable shootouts because the music is so good and hasn’t been beaten to death with overplaying. You might even call it the undiscovered album. Everyone knows The White Album and Sgt. Pepper’s like the back of their hands, but what about Beatles For Sale? If more people had Hot Stamper pressings of this LP, we guarantee you’d hear a lot more about this album! When the sound is this good, this album is MAGICAL.

AMG Review

There are some important changes on Beatles for Sale, most notably Lennon’s discovery of Bob Dylan and folk-rock. The opening three songs, along with “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” are implicitly confessional and all quite bleak, which is a new development… Its best moments find them moving from Merseybeat to the sophisticated pop/rock they developed in mid-career.

The Beatles – Abbey Road – Our First Shootout Winner from Way Back in 2007

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This Minty Apple British Import pressing has MASTER TAPE SOUND ON SIDE ONE! We just finished a big Abbey Road shootout (1/16/07) and this side one was IN A LEAGUE OF ITS OWN!

This is the first Hot Stamper Abbey Road we’ve ever listed … and there’s a good reason for that. It’s practically impossible to find a properly mastered copy. For whatever reasons — probably because this recording is so complicated and required so many tracks — Abbey Road is the toughest nut to crack in the Beatles’ catalog.

This copy is actually my personal Ref Copy, which I have had in my collection for many years. Surprisingly, while doing this shootout we discovered that it doesn’t have the ultimate side two, which is the side I really liked on this copy. It still merits an A+ for side two, but it’s interesting that one of the things that we often discover in these shootouts is copies that exceed our expectations and set entriely new standards for albums we’ve been listening to critically for decades. This copy turned out to have the Ultimate Side One — A+++. No other copy came close; it’s two full grades above the next best pressing.

Frankly up to now we’ve been afraid to take on Abbey Road. With recent improvements to the stereo, and knowing that I had at least one superb sounding copy, now was the time. Out of all the Imports I’ve been collecting over the last dozen years or so, only three or four copies really qualified as having Hot Stampers.

The biggest problem with Abbey Road is aggressive highs. There are so many places on both sides that can sound shrill and unpleasant. (See the Track Commentary below.) To find copies that remain sweet and smooth throughout was exceptionally difficult, but we managed to do it.

Side one is amazingly transparent, with tons of ambience and immediacy to the vocals. There’s no trace of phony EQ or bad mastering whatsoever. It rates an A+++ — As Good As It Gets. As we’ve said for some of our other White Hot Stampers, you’ll feel as though the master tape is threaded up and playing through your stereo.

Side two is wonderful as well, with SUPERB clarity. We only heard one side two that had better sound. This one has a wonderfully punchy bottom end with deep, well-defined bass.

One more thing. This is a BIG SPEAKER RECORDING. If you’re trying to squeeze the nine tracks of Beatles’ voices in the song Because through some little box, you are wasting your time. This is the final statement from The Beatles. To take away the power of this album by playing it through inadequate equipment makes a mockery of the effort they put into it.

With the Beatles – The MoFi Half Speed Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C+

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The Mobile Fidelity pressing of this album has so many problems it would take an hour to describe them all. Suffice it to say, it’s thinner and brighter, with voices that are grittier and grainier. The overall effect is the sinking feeling that you are listening to a cheap reissue and not the real thing. Don’t the Beatles sound better than this? To be fair, some tracks are okay, others a disaster.

If you own the MoFi, play it. Listen to it carefully. Make notes of which songs sound better than others and why. That’s how we spend our days, evaluating the relative merits of various pressings, and it’s that and that alone that has given us the critical listening skills necessary to recognize and appreciate the differences among the records we play.

One of the biggest problems with the average Parlophone copy is just the reverse of the MOFI. They tend to have rolled off highs, which emphasizes the harshness in the upper midrange and causes a loss of transparency. (The best Hot Stamper copies are of course as smooth, sweet, and transparent as they come.) Even with those shortcomings though, I would still rather listen to a typical Parlophone pressing. I wouldn’t be frustrated by the sound of somebody fooling with the EQ and screwing it up. 

Generic Audiophile Bashing

The most serious fault of the typical Half-Speed Mastered LP is not incorrect tonality or poor bass definition, although you will have a hard time finding one that doesn’t suffer from both.

It’s Dead As A Doornail sound, plain and simple, a subject we discuss in greater depth here.

And most Heavy Vinyl pressings coming down the pike these days are as guilty of this sin as their audiophile forerunners from the ’70s and ’80s. The average Heavy Vinyl LP I throw on my turntable sounds like it’s playing in another room. What audiophile in his right mind could possibly find that quality appealing? But there are scores of companies turning out this crap; somebody must be buying it.

The Beatles Rubber Soul – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy (or our copy) of Rubber Soul. (If you have the MoFi pressing please click on the Track Listing tab below to read about its most glaring shortcoming.)

After playing so many copies of this record over the last few years, all of us here at Better Records have come to appreciate just how wonderful an album Rubber Soul really is. It has 14 fairly compact, well-structured, well-arranged pop songs, each of which is a gem in its own right. It reminds me a bit of the second album (With The Beatles) in that respect — short and to the point, get in and get out.  (more…)

The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour – Are Your Cellists Digging In?

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Over the last decade I Am The Walrus has evolved into a good test for side one, a fact that came as a complete surprise to me. As I was listening to the various copies in a shootout years ago I noted that the opening cellos and basses in the right channel were often tonally identical from copy to copy, but sounded quite a bit more lively and energetic on some pressings relative to others. Was it EQ? Level? Compression?  

Why so much more passion from the players on some copies and not others?

As I tried to puzzle it out, playing first one copy and then another, it became clear to me what was happening. The cellists and the bassists were just plain digging HARDER into the strings on the best copies. When you see live classical music, the cellists at the front of the orchestra are usually sawing away with abandon when the music is really going. They dig their bows hard into the strings to make them vibrate as loud as possible. To make their instruments heard in the back row it becomes a matter of muscle, of pure physical exertion.

So armed with the copies where the string players are working the hardest, I checked the other tracks. Sure enough, the opening cut, MMT, jumped out of the speakers with the most energy I had heard on any copy. As I went through the tracks one by one, they had the most life of any of the copies I had been listening to. To use a word that was popular at the time, the music was HAPPENING.

This was the final piece to the puzzle. Tonality always comes first. Frequency extension; lack of distortion; rich, powerful bass — these are important qualities as well. But the life of the music is in the micro and macro dynamics, and that is what I had not been paying sufficient attention to in the shootout. That was until I listened to Walrus and heard the players working up a good healthy sweat. Then I knew I had a hot stamper. And when I played the not so hot stampers, the string guys sounded like session musicians picking up a paycheck. Where was their passion? Didn’t they realize they were making a Classic?

If you get the right pressing they sure were!



Further Reading

This recording is quite difficult to reproduce, which means it ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS). Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment. The tutti passages will tear your head off unless you are using a very good cartridge and arm.

In its way, this is an ideal record to gauge how much progress you have made in audio. I remember playing these DG pressings only five to ten years ago and hearing shrill strings, harmonic distortion and many other unpleasant qualities in the sound. With those very same pressings today the sound is dramatically better. This is no accident. It is the result of both hard work and the Revolutions in Audio we discuss on the site.

Here is what I had to say about a Brewer and Shipley album that ranks high on the DOR scale:

I can also tell you that if you have a modest system this record is just going to sound like crap. It sounded like crap for years in my system, even when I thought I had a good one. Vinyl playback has come a long way in the last five or ten years and if you’ve participated in some of the revolutionary changes that I talk about elsewhere on the site, you should hear some pretty respectable sound. Otherwise, I would pass. On the Difficulty of Reproduction scale, this record scores fairly high. You need lots of tubey magic and freedom from distortion, the kind of sound I rarely hear on any but the most heavily tweaked systems, the kind of systems that guys like me have been slaving over for twenty years. If you’re a Weekend Warrior when it comes to stereo, this is not the record for you.

Much like Synchronicity, this is a tough record to get the right sound out of — even if you do have an excellent pressing. It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively.

It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too. As we’ve said before about these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring any audio system that tries to reproduce them to its knees.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this requires, demands even, you are going to hear some amazing sound when you drop the needle on these Hot Stampers.

Beatles For Sale – 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 For Sale. We note that Words of Love is a tough track to get right: 

There are some lively, jangly guitars behind the smooth voices. Many copies seem to sacrifice one for the other, leaving you with either irritating guitars or dull voices. The better copies get them both right.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

No Reply
I’m a Loser
Baby’s in Black

This song tends to be a bit dull on most pressings of the album, but on a superb copy you’ll get wonderful Tubey Magic, warmth and life.

Rock & Roll Music
I’ll Follow the Sun

It seems to us that I’ll Follow the Sun would have to be on any list of The Beatles’ very best. On a good copy the vocals are rich, sweet and delicate beyond belief.

Paul pops the mic on one word in this song — if your system has reasonable resolution and bottom end speed, you should be able to pick it out. Drop us a line if you can tell us what word it is — we’re curious to know if you heard what we heard.

Mr. Moonlight
Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! [Medley]

Side Two

Eight Days a Week
Words of Love

A tough track to get right. There are some lively, jangly guitars behind the smooth voices. Many copies seem to sacrifice one for the other, leaving you with either irritating guitars or dull voices. The better copies get them both right.

Honey Don’t
Every Little Thing
I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party
What You’re Doing

The transient information on this song is often just a bit smeared. On the more transparent copies you’ll be able to hear each time the piano’s hammer hits the strings. Listen for the space between the notes when the piano is playing briskly.

This track is also a good test for how punchy the bottom is. With that big drum in the intro it won’t take long for you to figure out if your copy has much deep low end.

Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby


Further Reading

When it comes to The Beatles we make it quite clear that we have never been fans of the original Parlophone pressings, at least for their records up through The White Album. To support our case we have a number of entries in our original equals better? series. Here we debunk the conventional wisdom regarding what are the best sounding pressings for specific artists and titles.

We have a large number of entries in our Listening in Depth series.

We have a section foAudio Advice of all kinds.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.

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.

AMG Review

There are some important changes on Beatles for Sale, most notably Lennon’s discovery of Bob Dylan and folk-rock. The opening three songs, along with “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” are implicitly confessional and all quite bleak, which is a new development… Its best moments find them moving from Merseybeat to the sophisticated pop/rock they developed in mid-career.

The Beatles – Let It Be – MoFi Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B or B-

Although I haven’t played my copy in quite a while — it might have been as far back as 2007 or 2008 if memory serves — I recall that it struck me as one of their better titles.

All things considered, it’s actually pretty good, assuming your copy sounds like mine (an assumption we really can’t make of course — no two records sound the same — but for the purposes of this review we’re going to assume it anyway). I would give it a “B” or “B-“. It can’t hold a candle to the real thing, but at least MoFi didn’t ruin it like they did with so many of the other Beatles albums. 

nother Mobile Fidelity Pressing reviewed. Our Audiophile Scorecard has plenty more where this one came from.

Generic Audiophile Bashing

The most serious fault of the typical Half-Speed Mastered LP is not incorrect tonality or poor bass definition, although you will have a hard time finding one that doesn’t suffer from both.

It’s Dead As A Doornail sound, plain and simple, a subject we discuss in greater depth here.

And most Heavy Vinyl pressings coming down the pike these days are as guilty of this sin as their audiophile forerunners from the ’70s and ’80s. The average Heavy Vinyl LP I throw on my turntable sounds like it’s playing in another room. What audiophile in his right mind could possibly find that quality appealing? But there are scores of companies turning out this crap; somebody must be buying it.



If you’re in the market for a Hot Stamper pressing, you may be in luck. Click
 here to see what we currently have on hand.

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 – A Hard Day’s Night – It’s (Almost) All About the Midrange

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of A Hard Day’s Night.

This music has a HUGE amount of upper midrange and high frequency information. (Just note how present the tambourines are in the mixes.) If the record isn’t cut properly, or pressed properly for that matter, the sound can REALLY be unpleasant. 

One of our good customers made an astute comment in an email to us — the typical copy of this album makes you want to turn DOWN the volume. Sad but true.

It’s (Almost) All About The Midrange

There are two important traits that all the best copies have in common. Tonally they aren’t bright and aggressive (which eliminates 80 percent of the AHDN pressings you find) and they have a wonderful warmth and sweetness in the midrange that really brings out the quality of the Beatles’ individual voices.

When comparing pressings of this record, the copies that get their voices to sound both present and warm, smooth, and sweet, especially during the harmonies, are always the best. All the other instruments seem to fall in line when the vocals are correct. This is an old truism — it’s all about the midrange — but in this case, it really is true.