Top Artists – Fleetwood Mac

Strict Quality Control? We Put That Proposition to the Test

Yet Another Important Lesson We Learned from Record Experiments bellcurve500Part one of this commentary concerns the random nature of record making processes. It can be found here.

A number of years ago we had the opportunity to crack open two brand new sealed copies of a recently remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing. We were told that with this record every effort was made to produce the highest quality product and to maintain the highest quality control throughout the production process, such that every copy produced, from first to last, would be more or less identical. Not just in terms of surfaces, but sound quality too.

To accomplish this feat the producer used the real master tape (we were told), had a well known mastering engineer do the mastering at a highly-regarded studio, then had a well-known audiophile pressing plant in Germany make the record, using the highest quality vinyl compounds available, in presses that meet the highest standards in the industry, operated by highly skilled professionals.

Long before any stamper could possibly be worn out it would be replaced. All the metal mothers and stampers would be made in a way designed to eliminate any possible variation. One and only one complete run would be made; if another was needed at some later date the whole process would have to be started over from scratch using the same strict quality controls.

No corners would be cut, nothing would be left to chance. Each one of the finished records would reflect the exceptional efforts brought to bear at every stage in the process. Every copy would be quiet, the sound would be of the highest audiophile quality, and, more to the point, every copy — from number 001 all the way to number 7,500 — would sound as good as any other.

Our Experience

As you might suspect, our opinion as to the possibility of these results being achievable is that they are not.

Bear in mind that this is an opinion supported by the playing of thousands and thousands of records, including sometimes more than a hundred of the same title, and having them all sound different to some degree.

So we proceeded to test the proposition that by exercising maximal control over all the known variables of record production, using the most exacting standards at each and every step, two copies of the same record, chosen at random, would sound the same.

We picked a song, cued it up and listened to it for a minute or so. Then we put the other copy on our table, cued up the same track and let it rip.

Falsified in Fifteen Seconds

Immediately the sound was different and, importantly, quite a bit better. The first big cymbal splash was brighter and more life-like, with more extended high frequencies. The bass was better too: deeper, as well as more solid and easier to follow. All of this was evident within the first fifteen seconds of playing the second copy. So much for controlling the variables.

The random variability inherent in the record making process cannot be overcome by best practices and high standards. The process is complex, not well understood, and surely stochastic; some parts of it can be controlled but not all the parts of it can be controlled, which means that the finished product will have some unavoidable element of randomness. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac / Bare Trees – Listening in Depth

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Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Bare Trees. Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Child of Mine

A real rocker from Danny Kirwan. If the electric piano is rich on your copy and you have some top end and space you are probably off to a very good start.

The Ghost
Homeward Bound
Sunny Side of Heaven

A wonderfully poignant, even melancholy instrumental track by Bob Welch. Not sure if that’s him on guitar but the playing is beautiful. The high point of side one.

Side Two

This is where most of the best music on Bare Trees can be found. We like every song on this side.

Bare Trees

If this song doesn’t get your blood pumping, you need to turn up the volume another click or two. There is tremendous energy and joy in this song, and it needs to be played loud to get those feelings across.

Sentimental Lady
Danny’s Chant
Spare Me a Little of Your Love

This is a tough track to get right. The Brit is smoother and sweeter, which works on this song. Bad copies can sound hard on Christine’s vocals as well as the chorus.

Dust

One of my all time favorite Fleetwood Mac songs. On a good copy this track sounds so sweet. The texture to the voices is right on the money — neither grainy nor dull.

Thoughts on a Grey Day (more…)

The Fleetwood Mac You Don’t Know – Kiln House

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More Recordings Engineered by Martin Birch

Kiln House is one of the all-time great Fleetwood Mac albums. It’s the first they recorded after Peter Green left. With Green gone, Jeremy Spencer’s influence came to the fore. He was apparently quite a fan of Buddy Holly. His songs are straightforward and unerringly melodic.

The co-leader here is Danny Kirwan and he rocks the hell out of this album. Three of the best songs the band ever did, regardless of incarnation, are here: Tell Me All The Things You Do, Station Man and Jewel Eyed Judy, all written by Kirwan (with the help of others). His guitar work on these three songs is blistering.

Any Fleetwood Mac greatest hits collection would be a joke without these tracks. Of course they are consistently missing from all such compilations, at least the ones with which I am familiar. The sad fact is that few people miss them because few people have ever heard them.

And Let’s Not Forget Christine McVie

It’s amazing to realize that this album was made by just four guys. Actually that’s not true. Christine McVie (known as Christine Perfect at the time) not only did the lovely artwork for the cover, but she sings uncredited background vocals on some of the songs. Her contribution to Station Man is especially lovely. She would officially join the band on their next album, a personal favorite of mine, Future Games. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Mirage

  • A STUNNING original Warner Bros. pressing of Mirage, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from top to bottom
  • Most copies are washed-out, recessed, and lack weight, but this one will show you just how right this music can sound
  • The producing-engineering team of Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut return to provide top quality Rumours-like production
  • The album spent five weeks at Number One, probably on the strength of the amazingly fun single “Hold Me.”

It’s a surprisingly good album if you can find the right copy.

The mids and highs can be really silky and sweet. The whole album has that glossy sound, clearly the influence of Lindsay Buckingham and his production team. The sound of Fleetwood Mac in this period is their doing, and with a phenomenal run of success that’s rarely been seen in pop history, it’s hard to argue with either their approach to the material or the sound. It sounds like they used every track on the multi-track recorder and then some. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Self-Titled

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Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac’s Self-Titled Album from 1975

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this vintage Reprise pressing of the 1975 self-titled album boasts outstanding sound
  • A Rock and Pop Top 100 Title – their best recording bar none – the sound is Tubey Magical like no other Mac LP
  • Unlike the MoFi, the best early pressings have huge amounts of deep bass, and if you’ve got the speakers to play an album with a bottom this big, you are in for a thrill
  • 5 stars: “Fleetwood Mac is a blockbuster album that isn’t dominated by its hit singles, and its album tracks demonstrate a depth of both songwriting and musicality that would blossom fully on Rumours.”

(more…)

In the Market for New Speakers? – See How Well They Handle the Fat Snare on Dreams

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Reviews and Commentaries for Rumours

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Rumours Is a Record that Is Good for Testing Your Speakers’ Lower Midrange and Mid-Bass Reproduction 

What do the best copies of Rumours have that the also-rans don’t? Lots and lots of qualities, far too many to mention here, but there is one you should pay special attention to: the sound of the snare.

When the snare is fat and solid and present, with a good “slap” to the sound, you have a copy with weight, presence, transparency, energy — all the analog stuff we ADORE about the sound of the best copies.

Now if your speaker is not capable of really bringing the snare to life, perhaps because you have screen speakers or a small boxed design, this is still a handy test. Next time you are on the hunt to buy new speakers, see which ones can really rock the snare. That’s probably going to be the speaker that can do justice to Rumours, and The Beatles, and Zuma, and lots of other favorite records of ours, and we hope favorites of yours too.

RECORDS THAT ARE GOOD FOR TESTING

Records that Are Good for Testing Ambience, Size and Space 

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass and Whomp  (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Future Games

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More Recordings Engineered by Martin Birch

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Future Games you’ve heard
  • You’ll find HUGE sound on this copy – it’s big, bold and lively – this is clearly the right sound for Future Games
  • Fleetwood Mac practically invented Space Rock, which reached its apotheosis in 1973 on Mystery to Me (my favorite by the band)
  • A criminally underrated album unlike anything you’ve heard and a Better Records favorite for more than 40 years
  • It’s also a record that has disappeared off the face of the earth – we would love to do more shootouts for the album, but we just never see them anymore (more…)

Fleetwood Mac / Penguin – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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As Good As It Gets sound on side two of this Minty Reprise original LP. The sound is positively JUMPING out of the speakers in a way that was completely unexpected. We simply did not hear this kind of sound on any other copy. We often talk about the size of the soundfield on a particular pressing, side to side, bottom to top, and even more often about the energy found on one copy relative to another. On this side two we were surprised by a Penguin that was BIGGER and more ENERGETIC than we have ever heard.

As would be expected, when one side is this good, the other side is unlikely to be comparable, and that is indeed the case here. Side one earned a sonic grade of A+ to A++, far better than most but far from the amazing sound of this side two. 

One of my favorite songs on the album is one of Christine McVie’s best from this period, Did You Ever Love Me. On this pressing it has Demo Disc sound — it’s alive!

Side Two

A+++. Right in every way. When you hear a copy that sounds like this, it’s hard to know what to say about it other than that this must be what the Master Tape sounds like!

Side One

A+ to A++, rich and smooth with a lovely analog midrange. Could use more top end extension and the bass is a bit “hollow”, but this side one is easy on the ears and that’s a good thing. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Heroes Are Hard To Find

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  • A superb copy of the band’s 1974 release, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • This is the sound you want on Heroes Are Hard to Find – not midrangy, but rich and full-bodied, with an extended top end for sweeter, silkier vocals
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the way to go
  • “… the album is one of their most cohesive yet diverse… Heroes is a minor gem that retains its effortless pop charms and contains some buried jewels in the extensive Fleetwood Mac catalog.”

If you’re a fan and have never heard this album, you will find numerous gems that make it worth the price. The title track is excellent, as is Come a Little Bit Closer. (Practically everything Christine McVie does on these pre-Buckingham Nicks albums is good. On weak albums such as Penguin it’s McVie’s performances and songwriting that carry the day.) (more…)

Every Label Made Bad Sounding Records – Reprise Released this Fleetwood Mac Album in 1969

Never heard this album sound good, on domestic or import vinyl. If you know of a good sounding pressing, drop us a line, would love to know what it is.

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more inexcusable. (more…)