Top Engineers – Geoff Emerick

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…)

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 White Album – A True MoFi Disaster

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Sonic Grade: D

Another MoFi LP debunked. 

The last time I played the MoFi I could not believe how ridiculously phony and compressed it was. And to think I used to like their version when it came out back in the ’80s!

Take Yer Blues. The MFSL pressing positively wreaks havoc with all the added bass and top end The Beatles put on this track. The MoFi version is already too bright, and has sloppy bass to start with, so the result on this track is way too much BAD bass and way too much BAD spitty 10k-boosted treble, unlike the good imports, which have way too much GOOD bass and treble.

Yer Blues ROCKS. Listen to the big jam at the end of the song, where John’s vocal mic is turned off but his performace is still caught by a room or overheard mic. They obviously did this on purpose, killing his vocal track so that the “leaked” vocal could be heard.

Those crazy Beatles. It’s more than just a cool “effect”. It actually seems to kick the energy and power of the song up a notch. It’s clearly an accident, but an accident that works. I rather doubt George Martin approved. That kind of “throw the rule book out” approach is what makes The Beatles’ recordings so fascinating, and The White Album the most fascinating of them all.

The EQ for this song is also a good example of something The Beatles were experimenting with, as detailed in their recording sessions and interviews with the engineers. They were pushing the boundaries of normal EQ, of how much bass and treble a track could have. This track has seriously boosted bass, way too much, but somehow it works!

Difficulty of Reproduction

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.

In its way this is an ideal record to gauge how much progress you have made in audio. 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 thirty 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 one of our Hot Stampers.

The Beatles – A Collection of Beatles Oldies

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A Collection of Beatles Oldies

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  • Triple Plus (A+++) Demo Disc quality sound or very close to it on both sides; only the second copy to hit the site in many years! 
  • The overall sound here is incredibly full, rich, spacious, big and present, with zero smear
  • Amazing sound for From Me to You, We Can Work It Out, Yesterday and I Feel Fine
  • Fairly quiet vinyl throughout with both sides playing Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus

Incredible Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this collection of singles left off the the Beatles’ British albums. As is usually the case with compilations like this, there is some variation between tracks — what works well for a track from 1963 may not quite suit a song from 1966 — but from start to finish on both sides this record strikes a MUCH better balance than others! (more…)

Robin Trower – Bridge of Sighs on Awesome UK Vinyl

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  • Two outstanding sides rating Double to Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) for sound, coming in just behind our shootout winner – quiet vinyl too
  • This glorious early UK pressing is huge, rich and punchy, with guitar solos that soar like few others you’ve heard
  • Brilliant engineering by Geoff Emerick at George Martin’s AIR studios – maybe the best sounding album Emerick ever made
  • Top 100 (soon), AMG: “Guitarist Robin Trower’s watershed sophomore solo disc remains his most stunning, representative, and consistent collection of tunes. Mixing obvious Hendrix influences with blues and psychedelia, then adding the immensely soulful vocals of James Dewar, Trower pushed the often limited boundaries of the power trio concept into refreshing new waters…”

We’ve been wandering around in the dark for more than a decade with Bridge of Sighs — that is, until we found a clean early UK Chrysalis pressing. Now we know just how good this album can sound, and that means astonishingly good. The three-dimensional space is really something else on the better UK copies. (more…)

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

beatlessgt

 

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.
(more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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