Top Engineers – David Hentschel

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – What to Listen For

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The richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality is most obvious where you often hear it on a Pop Rock Big Production like GYBR: in the loudest, densest, most climactic choruses.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly become 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 bigger and louder than anything on the record, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-tracked screaming “Who I am” about three quarters of the way through the track. Those, however, are clearly exceptions to the rule. Most of the time it’s the final chorus of a pop song that gets bigger and louder than what has come before.

A pop song is usually designed to build momentum as it works its way through the 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 of the song should be very loud and very powerful.

Testing the Climaxes

The climax of the biggest, most dynamic songs are almost always the toughest tests 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 sitting in front of two speakers. Our Top 100 is full of records that reward that kind of intense listening at loud levels.

We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s precisely what the best vintage analog pressings do so brilliantly. In fact 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.

Two to Listen For

Number one: Too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression, there will be too many elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space in the upper part of the midrange, causing congestion and a loss of clarity.

With the more solid sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich. Above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments and voices comfortably, without piling them on top of one another as so often happens. Consequently, the upper midrange “space” does not get overloaded and overwhelmed with musical information.

Number Two: edgy vocals, which is related to Number One above. Almost all copies have at least some edge to the vocals — the boys want to really belt it out in the choruses, and they do — but the best copies keep the edge under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull or smeary.

The highest quality equipment, on the hottest Hot Stamper copies, will play the loudest and most difficult-to-reproduce passages with virtually no edge, grit or grain, even at very loud levels. (more…)

Elton John / Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – A Heavy Vinyl Winner!

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Sonic Grade: B (or better)

[I think these are the labels for the copy we played, It came out around 2000-2005. It’s not Speakers Corner, Simply Vinyl or Back to Black. Those are labels best avoided in our experience.]

Hey, they really did a good job with this one. We are going to listen to it again at a later date to see if our initial impressions were correct [I guess by now it should be clear that we are never going to do that, sorry], but it sure sounded good to us when we played it recently during our big GYBR shootout. 

I’m guessing no domestic copy can beat it, and certainly no audiophile half-speed mastered pressing can hold a candle to it. Those records are pretty awful. (more…)

Genesis – Seconds Out

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  • You’ll find superb Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on three sides and outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on the fourth, giving you very impressive live Genesis sound
  • This is an excellent set of songs and a surprisingly good recording
  • After suffering through so much bad Genesis sound over the years — their pressings are all over the map — it was a real treat to hear the better copies of this one let these classic songs really come to life
  • “Indeed, part of the beauty of this album is the sheer flexibility of the band during this period — in addition to superb vocals by Collins throughout, the drumming by Chester Thompson is at least a match for Collins’ best playing.”

This live album from 1977 has some of the best Genesis sound we’ve heard. Their studio recordings are often a bit flat and dull, so it’s really a treat to hear those songs with this kind of big, open, dynamic sound! Phil Collins handles the lead vocals here, but he does a great job even on the Peter Gabriel material.

This vintage British Charisma pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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…)

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

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  • 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…)

Elton John – Caribou

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Not the most consistent of Elton’s albums in the ’70s, but the best tracks — Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me and The Bitch Is Back spring to mind — are killer, right up there with the best work the man was doing at the time.  

This Super Hot Stamper original British DJM pressing has some of the best sound we have ever heard on Caribou. There’s a good reason you’ve practically never seen this album for sale on our site. In fact there are quite a number of good reasons.

The first one is bad vinyl — most DJM pressings of Caribou are just too noisy to sell. They can look perfectly mint and play noisy as hell; it’s not abuse, it’s bad vinyl. (Empty Sky is the same way; out and out bad vinyl, full of noise, grit and grain.) (more…)

Elton John’s Caribou Is Usually Noisy and Sounds Bad – Why Is That?

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There’s a good reason you’ve practically never seen this album for sale on our site. In fact there are quite a number of good reasons.

The first one is bad vinyl — most DJM pressings of Caribou are just too noisy to sell. They can look perfectly mint and play noisy as hell; it’s not abuse, it’s bad vinyl. (Empty Sky is the same way; out and out bad vinyl, full of noise, grit and grain.)

The second problem is bad sound. Whether it’s bad mastering or bad vinyl incapable of holding onto good mastering, no one can say. Since so many copies were pressed of this monster Number One album (topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic), perhaps they pressed a few too many after the stampers were worn out.

Or pulled too many stampers off the mother.

Or made too many stampers from the father.

Or used crap vinyl right from the start.

Of course there’s not an iota of evidence to back up any of these assertions, but I just thought I would throw it out there as a topic for speculation. (Have you noticed how much audiophiles and audiophile reviewers love to talk about things that they have no empirical evidence for one way or the other? Very little of that sort of thing can be found on our site. We like to stick to the sound of the records we’ve played and leave most of the “reasoning” about the sound to others.)

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Disastrous Remasters from MoFi and Direct Disk Labs

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Sonic Grade: F (DD Labs) / D (MoFi)

2 Hall of Shame entries and two more Half Speeds debunked.

If you have the Direct Disc Labs half-speed you have one truly awful record in your collection, so sucked out in the midrange, so compressed everywhere, what the hell were they thinking making this rockin’ album sound like that? It’s positively disgraceful. It makes MoFi look like they knew what they doing, and we know that sure isn’t true.

In truth we did not actually have a copy of the MoFi handy for this shootout, but in our defense let us just say that we’ve heard their pressing many times over the course of the last twenty years. It’s better than the DD Labs version but not good enough for me to want to play it — compressed and sucked-out like practically every record they ever made, just not as badly as the DD Labs version.

The most obvious problems with the sound of this album are ones common to many if not most rock records of the era: lack of presence, too much compression, smear, lack of weight from the lower mids on down — we hear lots of Classic Rock records with this litany of shortcomings. But it’s not the fault of the master tape, it’s probably not even the fault of the mastering engineer most of the time. It’s just plain bad pressing quality. The sound simply doesn’t get stamped onto the vinyl right and the result is one or more of the problems above. And if you don’t know how to clean your records properly, forget it, you have virtually no chance of hearing good sound on GYBR.

The Average Copy (more…)

Genesis – Wind and Wuthering

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side two and a superb Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy will be very hard to beat 
  • These two outstanding UK-pressed sides are dramatically more present, dynamic and detailed than you’ve heard elsewhere, guaranteed
  • Their Masterpiece is still A Trick of the Tail, the album before this one, but Wind and Wuthering certainly has much to offer as well
  • “Wind & Wuthering followed quickly on the heels of A Trick of the Tail and they’re very much cut from the same cloth, working the same English eccentric ground that was the group’s stock in trade since Trespass.”

We have struggled like crazy to find copies of the album that are able to present the music as well as this one does. Most of the pressings we’ve gotten our hands on were a disaster, and that includes everything that does not say Made in England on the label. (more…)

Genesis – A Trick Of The Tail

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GENESIS AT LAST! Here’s an amazing Trick Of the Tail that absolutely blows the typical pressing out of the water! The sound is BIG, BOLD and OPEN, breaking free from the grainy and cloudly qualities that screw up the average copy.

It was a thrill to finally hear this album sound great after all these years. The cymbals are clean and silky, the vocals are present, the bass has real weight and the overall sound is balanced and natural! You’ve got to clean and play a TON of copies to have any hope of finding one that’d come anywhere near this one.

At the end of the second track on side one, Entangled, there is a wonderful sounding choral effect which Alan Parsons liked so much he decided to use it liberally on his own recordings. He’s famous for having admitted to analyzing classic rock records, then taking the best bits and pieces, cobbling them together and producing the “music” that he is known for. I prefer the original bits and pieces myself.  (more…)

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – The Earliest Stampers Sound the Best, Right?

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Nope. It’s just another Record Myth.

We had a White Hot stamper listing a while back with these comments featured prominently in the description: 

This is BY FAR the best sounding Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to ever hit the site, and BY FAR the best sounding copy we have ever played here at Better Records. And for those of you who think that the early stampers must be the best, note that this killer copy had no side with a stamper under three. How about them apples? As we like to say, screw all that Platonic thinking; we find the empirical approach of playing the records works a whole lot better, thank you very much.

We certainly never expected to hear it sound like this, I can tell you that. I’ve never begun to hear these songs have the energy, presence and rock and roll POWER that they do here. (more…)