Top Artists – The Beatles (Individually and Collectively)

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

McCartney Unplugged – Life-Size Images and Living Presence

More Paul McCartney

More Unplugged

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises. (This is one of our earliest ones, from all the way back in 2006!)

On the song Blackbird Paul moves the microphone, scraping it along the floor, which causes a huge wave of bass to envelop the room. I was over at one of my customer’s houses a while ago, doing some testing with electronics and tweaks, and I remember distinctly that the microphone stand was shrunken and lean sounding in a way I had never heard before. Now this customer, whose system was in the $100K range, had no idea what that microphone stand could really do. I did, because I’ve been hearing it do it for years.

Some speakers can’t move enough air down low to reproduce that sound. And some speakers, usually those with woofers under 12 inches, shrink the size of images. These are many things to test for for in a given system, dozens and dozens in fact, but two of the important ones are these: if it doesn’t have a solid foundation (read: a big bottom end), and it doesn’t have correctly-sized images for the instruments, that’s a system that is failing in fundamentally important ways. 

If you close your eyes, you’re not in the presence of full-size musicians. Ipso facto, the fidelity to the live event has been compromised.

That’s precisely what makes this a good test disc. The band is RIGHT THERE. To the extent that you can make them sound live in your living room, you are getting the job done.

The last bit of resolution is not the point. Full-sized live musicians in your living room is the point. Either Paul and his band are in front of you, or they’re not. When they’re not, it’s time to get to work and find out what part of the system is not doing its job.

Hint: you can be pretty sure it’s the speaker. Most audiophile speakers are not very good at moving enough air. You need multiple large dynamic drivers with plenty of piston area to do the job correctly. Speakers of that design are usually large and expensive. I recommend the original Legacy Focus (not the current model) as the best sounding, most affordable full size speaker on the used market.

McCartney’s Must Own Masterpiece with White Hot Stamper Sound

xxx

The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. It sounds like it’s recorded live in the studio, but of course that’s impossible, because Paul plays practically all the instruments himself! It just goes to show how good a multi-track studio recording can sound when done well.

What the best sides of this McCartney Classic from 1970 have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl import pressings like this one offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with the guitars and drums having the correct sound for this kind of recording
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we listed above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Looking For The McCartney Magic? Look No Further (more…)

Let It Be on Heavy Vinyl – The Gong Rings Once More

letitbe

At the end of a recent shootout for Let It Be (June 2014) we decided to see how the 2012 Digitally Remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing would hold up against the 12 (yes, twelve!) British copies we had just finished critically auditioning.

Having evaluated the two best copies on side two, we felt we knew exactly what separated the killer copies (White Hot) from the next tier down (Super Hot). Armed with a vivid memory of how good the music could sound fresh in our minds, we threw on the new pressing. We worked on the VTA adjustment for a couple of minutes to get the sound balanced and as hi-rez as possible for the thicker record and after a few waves of the Talisman we were soon hearing the grungy guitar intro of I’ve Got a Feeling.
(more…)

Twin Track Stereo on Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul

 

Image

Assembling the latest Beatles album. Can’t see the label so can’t tell if this is the original real Parlophone (which we have never been fans of) or the original Capitol pressing with different tracks (which is equally awful).

But here is the question of the day:

How is it that none of the critics of “twin track stereo” — the two-track recording approach used on the first two albums, with the elements hard-panned left and right — has ever come clean about the obvious twin track sound of Rubber Soul? We used tracks four, five and six to test side two with, and in all three the vocals are hard panned right with most of the instruments hard-panned left. Why is it wrong for Please Please Me to sound that way — the mono mix being the critic’s choice — but fine for Rubber Soul to be heard that way?
(more…)

Listening in Depth to The Beatles – Help

More Beatles

More Help

Listening in Depth

xxxxx

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series, this time for The Beatles’ amazing fifth album, released in 1965, Help.

Much like we said about the Please Please Me Hot Stampers, on the top copies the presence of the vocals and guitars is so real it’s positively startling at times. Drop the needle on You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away and turn up the volume — on the best copies it will be as if John and Paul were right there in your living room!

The best import copies of this album sound AMAZING, but the typical one is pretty mediocre. Most tend to be dull, with not enough extension up top, as well as thin, lacking weight and body from the lower midrange on down.


 In-Depth Track Commentary (more…)

Spending More Time With The Beatles

With The Beatles

beatlwitht_x20

 

To find the Hottest Stampers it helps to have piles and piles of minty British pressings. And lots of time on your hands. Fortunately we have both!

This is a tough album to get to sound right, as long-time readers of our site surely know, but on a good copy it can sound wonderful. This one really delivers, with plenty of presence and energy as well as natural, balanced tonality.

So, What’s Out There?

We’ve heard copies that were smeared, murky, muddy, grainy, or all of the above. Almost all of them had no real magic in the midrange. And of course, we heard tons of copies with the kind of gritty vocals that you’ll find all over the average Parlophone Beatles pressing. So when we dropped the needle on this copy, it was nothing short of a revelation! It has the energy and the life of the music in the grooves in a way I guarantee you have never heard before.
(more…)

Revolver Recut in 1981 — The Mono Reissue Is a Joke

beatlrevmonolabel

A great sounding record in stereo, potentially anyway, but this later reissue in mono is so awful it deserves a special place in our Hall of Shame.

My notes for side one: hard, sour, no bass. Side two: dumbass small mono, so unclear.

We love the mono mix of For No One, but not when it sounds like this! The only Beatles vinyl we offer on our site are stereo pressings. Our reasons for doing this are straightforward enough. (more…)

Magical Mystery Touring

Magical Mystery Tour

 

beatlmagic_depth_1176424879

We discuss in detail what we’re listening for and what the best copies seem to do well that the run-of-the-mill copies simply do not. If you own a copy of the German MMT plays yours and listen for what we’re listening for. It’s all laid out in the track commentary.

Side One

Magical Mystery Tour

The fact that this is a key track should be obvious to anyone who has ever played the album. If you don’t have a good copy of the MMT this song will take your head off. Only the German pressings have any real hope of getting it right — the MOFI, British, Japanese, domestic, etc. are uniformly awful in my experience: aggressive and irritating, the worst being the MOFI I would guess.

The German ones break down into three groups – too smooth; just right; and a bit bright or thin. Now remember, almost every copy of this record I played had the exact same stamper numbers. You can’t tell one from another except by dropping the needle on them. There is no visual clue on the record to associate with the sound, no possibility of bias. What comes out of the speakers is all I had to go by.

And it’s easy to confuse the overly smooth ones with the best ones, because on the song MMT smooth is a good thing . But when is smooth too smooth? That’s where track two comes in.

(more…)

The Beatles – Beatles For Sale – Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2017


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2017

xxx

  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for the band’s classic fourth album – both sides earned our top grade of A+++
  • Superb energy and presence – the band is RIGHT THERE and full of the LIFE the best Beatles pressings always have
  • An underrated Beatles album – Allmusic gives it Five Big Stars and we like it every bit as much as they do
  • I’m A Loser, Baby’s In Black, Rock And Roll Music, I’ll Follow The Sun. Eight Days A Week, Words Of Love, Every Little Thing, I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party, What You’re Doing and 4 more – 14 tracks in all (!)

See all of our Beatles albums in stock

 

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 work some Beatles magic. We play a ton of these every year, but there’s a good reason you don’t see too many top copies like this one hit the site — they are just too hard to find. (more…)

John Lennon – Imagine – Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018

xxx

  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • These killer UK pressings are rich, weighty and oh-so-tubey – it took us a long time to find stampers like these
  • Two of our favorite engineers worked their magic on this recording – our thanks to Eddie Offord and Shelly Yakus
  • “A remarkable collection of songs that Lennon would never be able to better again” — Allmusic, 5 stars

See all of our John Lennon albums in stock

Both sides here are OUT OF THIS WORLD! capturing the essence of what Lennon and Phil Spector (and let’s not forget Yoko, who also gets a producer credit here) were going for.

Tubey Magic Is Key

This early British pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds. (more…)