Top Engineers – Geoff Emerick

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.

The Story of Revolver, Dateline October 2007

White Hot Stampers for Revolver are finally HERE! Let the celebrations begin! Seriously, this is a very special day for us here at Better Records. The Toughest Nut to Crack in the Beatles’ catalog has officially been cracked. Yowza!

Presenting the first TRULY AWESOME copy of Revolver to ever make it to the site. There’s a good reason why Hot Stamper shootouts for practically every other Beatles album have already been done, most of them many times over, and it is simply this: finding good sounding copies of Revolver is almost IMPOSSIBLE. The typical British Parlophone or Apple pressing, as well as every German, Japanese and domestic LP we’ve played in the last year or two 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…)

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.

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.

The Beatles Abbey Road – Listening in Depth

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More Abbey Road

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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

Let It Be – John’s Really Digging a Pony. Are You?

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What blew our minds about the Shootout Winning side one we played recently was how outrageously big, open and transparent it was on the song Dig a Pony. As the song started up the studio space seemed to expand in every direction, creating more height, width and depth than we’d ever experienced with this song before. 

But there is no studio space; the song was recorded on Apple’s rooftop. The “space” has to be some combination of “air” from the live event and artificial reverb added live or later during mixing. Whatever it is, the copies with more resolution and transparency show you a lot more of “it” than run-of-the-mill pressings do (including the new Heavy Vinyl, which is so airless and compressed we gave it a grade of F and banished it to our Shame Hall). 

In addition, Ringo’s kit was dramatically more clear and present in the center of the soundfield just behind the vocal, raising the energy of the track to a level higher than we had any right to believe was possible. The way he attacks the hi-hat on this song is crazy good, and the engineering team of Glyn Johns and Alan Parsons really give it the snap it needs.

These are precisely the qualities that speed and transparency can contribute to the sound. If you have Old School vintage tube equipment, these are two of the qualities you are most likely living without. You only need play this one track on faster, better-resolving equipment to hear what you’ve been missing.

On the line after “All I want is you”, the energy of “Everything has got to be just like you want it to” should make it sound like The Beatles are shouting at the top of their lungs. If you have the right pressing they really get LOUD on that line.

The Beatles: Rock Band

On the better pressings the natural rock n’ roll energy of a song such as Dig A Pony will blow your mind. There’s no studio wizardry, no heavy-handed mastering, no phony EQ — just the sound of the greatest pop/rock band of all time playing and singing their hearts out.

It’s the kind of thrill you really don’t get from the more psychedelic albums like Sgt. Pepper’s or Magical Mystery Tour. You have to go all the way back to Long Tall Sally and Roll Over Beethoven to find the Beatles consistently letting loose the way they do on Let It Be (or at least on the tracks that are more or less live, which make up about half the album).

Further Reading

Other recordings that we have found to be especially Tubey Magical can be found here.

Transparency, the other side of the Tubey Magical coin, is also key to the better pressings of this album as well as many of our other favorite demo discs.

The entries linked here may help you gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding Hot Stampers.

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.

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 Original Pressings of Beatles Albums Are the Best, Right?

beatles help label

 

Nope. It’s just another Record Myth.

Back in 2005 we compared the MFSL pressing of Help to a British Parlophone LP and were — mistakenly, as you may have already surmised — impressed by the MoFi.

Mobile Fidelity did a GREAT JOB with Help!. Help! is a famously dull sounding record. I don’t know of a single original pressing that has the top end mastered properly. Mobile Fidelity restored the highs that are missing from most copies.

The source of the error in our commentary above is in this sentence, see if you can spot it:

I don’t know of a single original pressing that has the top end mastered properly.

Did you figure it out? If you’ve spent much time on our site of course you did.
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McCartney Unplugged – Life-Size Images and Living Presence

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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.  (more…)

Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom

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  • With Triple Plus (A+++) sound or something close to it on both sides this is as good a copy as we have ever offered
  • Geoff Emerick engineered, creating a unique sound – a sound which only works if you have the right pressing
  • This dense, darkly serious album contains some of the best songs EC ever wrote – the last of his True Classics
  • Allmusic 5 Stars: “Essentially, the songs on Imperial Bedroom are an extension of Costello’s jazz and pop infatuations on Trust. Costello’s music is complex and intricate, yet it flows so smoothly, it’s easy to miss the bitter, brutal lyrics.”

Six of Elvis’s first seven albums received a Five Star rating from Allmusic, the exception being Almost Blue, and we generally would agree with that assessment (although Get Happy should probably get Four Stars also, not Five). 

Which is to say that Elvis Costello is a brilliant artist whose albums work as albums, a fact that is in danger of being lost in a world of single song downloads and greatest hits packages. We record-playing audiophiles are inclined to start at the beginning of a side and let if flow through to the end, and that is clearly the best way to appreciate and enjoy the work of this very gifted man.

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Making Progress in Audio with Supertramp

Even in the Quietest Moments

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The story behind this record is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

We wrote up this album in 2005 as a Hot Stamper Stalled listing; we just couldn’t find anything that really sounded right to us. The imports were a smeary mess, the half-speed was and is a complete joke (we used to like it but that just goes to show how wrong you can be), and the domestic copies were so grainy and phony-sounding we knew there was no way to make the case that this was some sort of audiophile recording.

Could it be that when Geoff Emerick took over the recording duties from his friend Ken Scott, who had engineered the two previous albums, both of which are stunning — Crime of the Century and Crisis? What Crisis? — he had simply dropped the ball and done a bad job? How could that be possible? (more…)

Twin Track Stereo on Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul

 

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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?
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