Top Engineers – Geoff Emerick

The Beatles – Help – Germans Versus Brits

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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 Help. 

We’ve heard some excellent German pressings before, but this time [circa 2011] nothing could match up to our best Brit copies. What the best British copies have is more of the TUBEY MAGIC that can typically be heard on early pressings, due no doubt to the fact that they are mastered with tube equipment.

One reason we were so crazy about the German pressings is how amazingly clean and clear they can be. I can’t tell you how many distorted Brit copies we’ve played of this album over the years.

Some of the old cutting equipment clearly adds its own layer of distortion to the distortion that already exists on the tape for many of these Imports. A clean, clear, super low distortion Brit copy like this one is certainly the exception and NOT the rule. (more…)

The Beatles – Please Please Me – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series, this time for The Beatles’ amazing debut from 1963, Please Please Me.

The first Beatles record is nothing short of amazing. It captures more of the live sound of these four guys playing together as a rock and roll band than any record they ever made afterwards. (Let It Be gets some of that live quality too and makes a great bookend for the group.)

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

I Saw Her Standing There

Like any of the boys’ most radio ready singles, this song tends to be a bit bright. If this track sounds at all dull, there’s probably no hope for the rest of this side.

Misery

This track should sound lively and punchy. The best copies have excellent bass definition and superb clarity, allowing you to appreciate how the wonderful bounce of the rhythm section really energizes the song.

Anna (Go to Him)

Does it get any better? This is the real Beatles magic baby!

Chains

Note that the vocals on this track are not as well recorded as they are on the track above. As a rule they’re a bit edgier and not as transparent.

Go back and forth between the two songs a number of times and we think you will hear exactly what we mean. Although this difference is more audible on the better copies, it should still be noticeable on any Hot Stamper pressing.

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Badfinger – Straight Up – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate the album.

The best sides have the kind of PRESENCE in the midrange that most copies can’t begin to reproduce. The sound on the right pressings just JUMPS out of the speakers, which is exactly what the best copies are supposed to (but rarely) do.  (more…)

The Beatles – Please Please Me – Which Is More 3-Dimensional, Mono or Twin Track?

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With all due respect to Sir George Martin, we’ve played a number of mono pressings of this album in the past twenty or so years and have never been particularly impressed with any of them. The monos jam all the voices and instruments together in the middle, stacking them one in front of the other, and lots of musical information gets mashed together and simply disappears in the congestion. 

But is Twin Track stereo any better? Yes, when you do it the way Norman Smith did on Please Please Me.

Twin Track stereo (which is actually not very much like two-track stereo, I’m sure Wikipedia must have a listing for it if you’re interested) is like two mono tracks running simultaneously. It allows the completely separate voices to occupy one channel and the completely separate instruments to occupy another with no leakage between them.

On some stereos it may seem as though the musicians and the singers are not playing together the way they would if one were hearing them in mono. They are in fact recorded on two separate mono tracks, the instruments appearing in the left channel and the singers in the right, separated as much as is physically possible.

Stuck in their individual stereo speakers, so far apart from one another, the members of the band don’t even seem to be playing together in the same room.

That’s on some stereos, and by some stereos I mean stereos that need improvement. Here’s why. (more…)

Elvis Costello – Armed Forces – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2009

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This White Hot Stamper side one was HEAD AND SHOULDERS better than ANY side of ANY other copy we played. We are awarding it our very special “Four Plus” A++++grade; the sound goes beyond anything we’ve heard before. It’s also one of less than two dozen such records to ever hit the site.

At this point we’ve easily done more than a thousand Hot Stamper listings, so we are talking in the range of the top one or two percent for sound. Most audiophiles will go their whole lives without hearing a rock record sound this good, considering the tens of thousands of records we’ve had to buy, clean and play to find the handful of OFF THE CHARTS copies we’ve reviewed. (more…)

Elvis Costello – Spike

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  • A superb sounding copy of Elvis Costello’s Last Really Good Album with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • This copy showed us a Spike we never knew existed — so much energy and presence to the sound, it came jumping out of the speakers and simply refused to mind its manners. Elvis should be proud. Why don’t more records sound like this?
  • This is one of the best batches of songs Elvis (and his buddy Paul McCartney) ever wrote!

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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. (more…)

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…)