Top Engineers – Ken Scott

Listening for Harmonically Correct Acoustic Guitars on America’s Debut

More America

More America – America

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo fidelity. As it says below, most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. They often sound veiled and dull, and on a copy with a bit too much top end they will have an unnatural hi-fi-ish sparkle.

(This kind of sparkle can be heard on practically every record Mobile Fidelity made in the ’70s and ’80s. Tea for the Tillerman, Sundown, Year of the Cat, Finger Paintings, Byrd at the Gate, Quarter Moon in a 10 Cent Town — the list would be very long indeed, and these are just the records with prominent acoustic guitars!) 

The key song on side one that we use to test is Three Roses. There are three sonically-separated individuals each playing six string acoustic guitars, and when this side is cut right the guitars sound just gorgeous: sweet, with all their harmonic structures intact. (It’s also my favorite song on side one.) (more…)

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

More Supertramp

More Crime of the Century

xxxxx

  • A huge and powerful UK pressing of Supertramp’s Masterpiece, offering outstanding Double Plus (A++) quality sound or BETTER on both sides
  • Ken Scott engineered this one to have Cinerama-sized height, width and depth to rival the best albums you’ve ever heard
  • Clearly their Magnum Opus, a great leap forward and a permanent member of our Rock & Pop Top 100 Album List – fairly QUIET vinyl too
  • “The tuneful, tightly played songs, pristine clarity of sound, and myriad imaginative sound effects, helped create an album that Sounds magazine likened to ‘Genesis, The Beach Boys… a smattering of [Pink] Floyd.'”

This is engineer Ken Scott’s (and the band’s) MASTERPIECE, but the average copy sure can’t get your blood pumping the way this one will. We’ve long recognized that Crime of the Century is a true Demo Disc in the world of rock recordings, a member of our Rock & Pop Top 100 list right from the get go. We admit to being overly impressed with the MoFi back in the ’80s and the Speakers Corner pressing in the ’00s. Our Hot Stamper pressings are guaranteed to handily beat either one and any domestic or import pressing you care to put to the test as well.

When you hear the guitars come jumping out of your speakers on School or Bloody Well Right you can be sure that you’re playing a very special pressing of a very special recording indeed. (Yes, you need both. That’s why we’re here.) (more…)

The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour – Are Your Cellists Digging In?

More The Beatles

More Are Your Cellists Digging In?

xxxxx
xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Over the last decade I Am The Walrus has evolved into a good test for side one, a fact that came as a complete surprise to me. As I was listening to the various copies in a shootout years ago I noted that the opening cellos and basses in the right channel were often tonally identical from copy to copy, but sounded quite a bit more lively and energetic on some pressings relative to others. Was it EQ? Level? Compression?  

Why so much more passion from the players on some copies and not others?

As I tried to puzzle it out, playing first one copy and then another, it became clear to me what was happening. The cellists and the bassists were just plain digging HARDER into the strings on the best copies. When you see live classical music, the cellists at the front of the orchestra are usually sawing away with abandon when the music is really going. They dig their bows hard into the strings to make them vibrate as loud as possible. To make their instruments heard in the back row it becomes a matter of muscle, of pure physical exertion.

So armed with the copies where the string players are working the hardest, I checked the other tracks. Sure enough, the opening cut, MMT, jumped out of the speakers with the most energy I had heard on any copy. As I went through the tracks one by one, they had the most life of any of the copies I had been listening to. To use a word that was popular at the time, the music was HAPPENING.

This was the final piece to the puzzle. Tonality always comes first. Frequency extension; lack of distortion; rich, powerful bass — these are important qualities as well. But the life of the music is in the micro and macro dynamics, and that is what I had not been paying sufficient attention to in the shootout. That was until I listened to Walrus and heard the players working up a good healthy sweat. Then I knew I had a hot stamper. And when I played the not so hot stampers, the string guys sounded like session musicians picking up a paycheck. Where was their passion? Didn’t they realize they were making a Classic?

If you get the right pressing they sure were!



Further Reading

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. The tutti passages will tear your head off unless you are using a very good cartridge and arm.

In its way, this is an ideal record to gauge how much progress you have made in audio. I remember playing these DG pressings only five to ten years ago and hearing shrill strings, harmonic distortion and many other unpleasant qualities in the sound. With those very same pressings today the sound is dramatically better. This is no accident. It is the result of both hard work and the Revolutions in Audio we discuss on the site.

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 twenty 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 these Hot Stampers.

David Bowie – The Man Who Sold The World

More David Bowie

More The Man Who Sold The World

xxxxx

  • This UK RCA copy is out of this world with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • Big space, breathy vocals, grungy guitars and the Tubey Magic is luscious throughout
  • Pretty darn quiet throughout — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • As it says on the back of the jacket, “Many thanks to our engineer Ken (Scott, one of our favorites).”

Stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides. The sound is rich and full, just the way the Brits like it. The heavy compression that both Bowie and Scott favor works its magic at every turn, adding fatness and richness and lovely harmonics to the guitars and the drums.  (more…)

The Beatles White Album – A True MoFi Disaster

More The Beatles

More The White Album

xxxxx

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.

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

More George Harrison

More All Things Must Pass

xxxxx

  • To say that this one has been a long time coming would be an understatement! FINALLY, an incredible sounding copy of All Things Must Pass
  • Superb Double to Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on the fifth side and Double Plus (A++) sound on the remaining five sides — wonderfully big, full and Tubey Magical yet still clean and clear with tons of space and a lovely bottom end
  • “Without a doubt, Harrison’s first solo recording, originally issued as a triple album, is his best.” – All Music

Tubey Magic Is Key

This original 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 all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Supertramp – Crime of the Century on MoFi – What to Listen For

More Supertramp

More Crime of the Century on MoFi

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your MoFi copy of COTC.

Listen to the vocals at the end of Dreamer. If they are bright, the bells at the end of the song sound super-extended and harmonically rich. But at what price? The vocals are TOO BRIGHT. Which is more important, good vocals or good bells? There has to be a balance. This is something audiophiles and audiophile labels, who should obviously know better, often have trouble understanding.

We get these MoFis in on a regular basis, and they usually sound as phony and wrong as can be. They’re the perfect example of a hyped-up audiophile record that appeals to people with lifeless stereos, the kind that need amped-up records to get them going.

I’ve been telling people for years that the MoFi was junk, and that they should get rid of their copy and replace it with a tonally correct version, easily done since there is a very good sounding Speakers Corner 180g reissue currently in print which does not suffer from the ridiculously boosted top end and bloated bass that characterizes the typical MoFi COTC pressing. (more…)

Lou Reed – Transformer

More Lou Reed

More David Bowie

xxxxx

  • Excellent sound for Lou Reed’s Glam Rock Classic, Transformer — Double Plus (A++) or BETTER on both sides
  • Here is an import pressing with the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce
  • Transformer is an absolute tour de force of ’70s Glam Rock / Classic Rock / Alternative Rock
  • “… Bowie and Ronson gave their hero a new lease on life — and a solid album in the bargain.” – All Music

Transformer is an absolute tour de force of ’70s Glam Rock / Classic Rock / Alternative Rock. You’ve got Lou Reed teamed up with David Bowie (in the producer’s chair!), Mick Ronson, Herbie Flowers and Klaus Voorman, and on top of that the album was recorded at Trident and mixed by the great Ken Scott. (more…)

America’s Phenomenal Debut on a Phenomenally Good Sounding Pressing

More America More Hippie Folk Rock

More America

xxxxx
xxxxx
xxxxx

  • An incredible sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • One of our favorite Hippie Folk Rock albums – the instruments and voices seem to be right in your listening room
  • The Tubey Magical acoustic guitars on this record are a true test of stereo reproduction – thanks Ken Scott!
  • “America’s debut album is a folk-pop classic, a stellar collection of memorable songs that would prove influential on such acts as the Eagles and Dan Fogelberg…”

This is clearly America’s best album, and on the better pressings like this one the sound is worthy of Demo Disc status. You’ll find the kind of immediacy, richness and harmonic texture that not many records (and even fewer CDs) are capable of reproducing.

The version we are offering here has the song A Horse With No Name. Some copies without that song can sound very good as well, but with grades these good this copy is going to be very hard to beat.

Interestingly A Horse With No Name never sounds quite as good as the rest of the album. It was recorded after the album came out in 1971 and added to later pressings starting in 1972. Unlike the rest of the album, it was not engineered by Ken Scott at Trident, but by a different engineer at Morgan Studios. (more…)

Ken Scott Is One of Our Top Five Favorite Engineers

More Ken Scott

More of Our Favorite Engineers

xxxxx

xxxxx
xxxxx

KEN SCOTT is one of our favorite record engineers and producers. Click on the link to find the albums on our site that Ken worked on, along with plenty of our commentaries about the sound of his recordings. 

Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century, Truth, Birds of Fire) is the man responsible for the sound of many of our All Time Favorite Albums here at Better Records.

The kind of Tubey Magical richness, smoothness and fullness he achieved at Trident in the early ’70s has never been equaled elsewhere in our opinion.

In 2008 I had the opportunity to hear Ken speak at an AES meeting here in Los Angeles. I won’t bore you by trying to recap his talk, but if it ever comes out on youtube or the like, you should definitely check it out. The Behind-The-Scenes discussion of these artists and their recordings was a thrill for someone like me who has been playing and enjoying the hell out of most of his albums for more than thirty years.

Many can be found in our Rock and Pop Top 100 List of Best Sounding Albums with the Best Music (limited to titles that we can actually find sufficient copies of with which to do our Hot Stamper shootouts).