Top Engineers – Bruce Swedien

Off the Wall Vs. Thriller – Which One Has More Tubey Magic?

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ABSOLUTELY STUNNING SOUND for this White Hot Stamper pressing!

Both sides cannot be beat — both have the BIG M.J. SOUND that jumps out of the speakers and fills the room. We’ve never heard a copy that was so full of ANALOG MAGIC!

The vocals are PERFECTION — breathy, full-bodied, and present. The top end is extended and sweet, with tons of ambience the likes of which I’ve never heard before.

Normally when you have a copy with strong midrange presence it will be somewhat sibilant in places. Not so here. For some reason this copy has all the highs, but it’s cut so clean it practically doesn’t spit at all. Even on the song I Can’t Help It, which normally has a problem in that respect. Since that’s my favorite song on this album, and probably my favorite MJ song of all time, hearing it sound so good was a revelation.

Better Sound than Thriller?

Yes. As consistently brilliant as Thriller may be musically — it is the biggest selling album of all time after all — speaking strictly in terms of sonics the sound of the best copies of Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, and more ANALOG than Thriller.

Thriller is clearly more aggressive and processed-sounding than Off the Wall. The Girl Is Mine or Human Nature from Thriller would fit just fine anywhere on Off the Wall, but could the same be said for Beat It or Thriller? Just thinking about them you can hear the artificiality of the sound of both those songs in your head. Think about the snare that opens Beat It. I’ve never heard a snare sound like that in my life. Practically no instrument on Off the Wall has that kind of overly processed EQ’d sound.

Choruses Are Key

The richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality is most apparent on Off the Wall where you most always hear it on a pop record: in the biggest, loudest, densest, climactic choruses.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly grow to be without crossing the line into distortion or congestion. On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record. On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is the biggest and loudest element in the mix, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-track screaming “Who I am” about three quarters of the way through the track. Those are clearly exceptions though. Usually it’s the final chorus that gets bigger and louder than anything else.

A pop song is usually structured so as to build more and more power as it works its way through its verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording — one with real dynamics — that part should be very loud and very powerful.

Testing Off the Wall

It’s almost always the toughest test for a pop record, and it’s the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album’s largest scaled productions are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have. Our Top 100 is full of the kinds of records that reward that listening at loud levels.

We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s what vintage analog pressings do so brilliantly. They do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and certainly no substitute. If you’re on this site you probably already know that.

To bring this discussion back to the subject at hand, the loudest choruses on Off the Wall are richer, smoother, sweeter and more free of processing artifacts than those on Thriller. (more…)

Michael Jackson – Bad

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More Bad

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  • A KILLER copy with two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides – this is some of the best sound we have ever heard on Bad – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • This one beat every other copy we played against it – the sound is huge, full-bodied, punchy and relatively smooth throughout, with real space and ambience around the vocals and instruments
  • Includes some of Jackson’s biggest 80’s hits, “Man in the Mirror,” “Dirty Diana,” Smooth Criminal,” and of course, the title track 
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… essentially taking each portion of Thriller to an extreme, while increasing the quotient of immaculate studiocraft. He wound up with a sleeker, slicker Thriller, which isn’t a bad thing…”

Michael Jackson’s records always make for tough shootouts. His everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to recording make it difficult to translate so much sound to disc. vinyl or otherwise. Everything has to be tuned up and on the money before we can even hope to get the record sounding right. (Careful VTA adjustment could not be more critical in this respect.) (more…)

Michael Jackson – Off The Wall – Listening in Depth

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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 Off The Wall.

On the better copies the multi-tracked chorus and background vocals are as breathy, rich, sweet and Tubey Magical as any pop recording we know of. An extended top end opens up the space for the huge, dense production to occupy. There is Midrange Magic To Die For exceeding anything to be found on Thriller.

Track Commentary

Side One

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

The first single from the album was designed to go to Number One and it certainly met all expectations in that regard.

On the properly mastered and pressed copies the vocals and percussion will be a bit brighter than those on most of the tracks that follow. The percussion is often somewhat brittle on even the best copies; it’s surely on the tape that way.

It should be big, clear and lively right out of the gate. (more…)

Michael Jackson’s Thriller Is White Hot

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More Thriller

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  • The two INCREDIBLE sides here are guaranteed to make this by far the best sounding Thriller you have ever heard – Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it
  • The sound is HUGE – wide, deep, and open, with a solid bottom end and relentless rhythmic energy to spare 
  • Billie Jean and Beat It sound out of this world, but that’s not fair, since every track on this copy is good enough to blow your mind
  • “This was a record that had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul — expanding the approach to have something for every audience.” AMG 5 stars

Note that the slightly better sounding of the two sides here is the second side, which we feel is the stronger side of the album. with Beat It, followed by Billie Jean and ending on the single most emotional song MJ ever sang, The Lady in My Life.

Clearly one of the greatest lineups to be found on any side of any album from any era. No other Michael Jackson album can hold a candle to it.

The sound on this copy is huge, with the kind of three-dimensional soundstaging that lets the music unfold in front of you and around you as well. The bass is meaty and well-defined, showing you the rhythmic foundation that the music needs. The overall sound is transparent with amazing texture to practically every element.

Michael’s voice is marvelous on this copy — breathy, textured, and positively dripping with emotion (just listen to him break down on The Lady in My Life). (more…)