Top Engineers – Eddie Offord

Yes / The Yes Album – Rhino 180g Reviewed

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Yes Album Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Yes Album

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Sonic Grade: F

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

The worst version ever? Could be!

That notorious hack Ron McMaster strikes again.

Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino bills their releases as pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl”. However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.

The CD versions of most of the LP titles they released early on are far better sounding than the lifeless, flat, pinched, so-called audiophile pressings they did starting around 2000.

The mastering engineer for this garbage actually has the nerve to feature his name in the ads for the records. He should be run out of town, not promoted as a keeper of the faith and defender of the virtues of “vinyl.” If this is what vinyl sounds like I’d would have switched to CD years ago.

And the amazing thing is, as bad as these records are, there are people who like them. I’ve read postings on the internet from people who say the sound on these records is just fine. It’s sad.

Their Grateful Dead titles sound as bad as the cheapest Super Saver reissue copies I have ever heard. And those are terrible!


FURTHER READING

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Yes / Close To The Edge – A MoFi Winner, Or Was It? I Don’t Think We’ll Ever Really Know

Hot Stamper Pressings of Close to the Edge Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Close to the Edge

Sonic Grade: Side One: B to B+ / Side Two: C

Many, many years ago (2005?) we wrote the commentary you see below. We can’t say if we would still agree with the sentiments expressed, so take what you read with a grain of salt, and remember that no two records sound the same. If your copy is better or worse on either side it will not come as a surprise to us here at Better Records!

This is a great MOFI! (On side one anyway.) I have to admit I was partly wrong about this pressing. I used to think it was mud. Either the copy I have here is much better than the copy I played years ago, or my stereo has changed. I’m going to guess that it’s the stereo that has changed. I used to like the original American copies of this album and now I hear that they are upper midrangy and aggressive. So my stereo must have been too forgiving in that area, which in turn would have made this MOFI sound too dull.

Side one is as good as I’ve ever heard it outside of the best British originals. [We don’t even buy those anymore. Maybe that’s the problem with this comparison.] Since almost none of those have survived in clean enough condition to be played on modern audiophile turntables, there isn’t much of an alternative to this pressing.

And it should be noted that there is distortion on the tape. It’s on every LP copy and it’s on the CD too. There are cacophonous passages that have what sounds like board overload, mike preamp overload, tape saturation or something of the kind.

Eddie Offord, the recording engineer, is famous for complaining that the boys in the band were totally out of control when it came to adding layer upon layer and track upon track to their recordings, running the risk of such a dense mix that nothing would be heard above the din. He was always fighting a losing battle trying to rein them in. Although he did his best, it appears his efforts failed in some of the musical passages on this album.

So here’s a MOFI I like, but I only really like side one. Side two, although it’s decent enough, errs a little on the smooth, dull side. I have copies in which the guitars have wonderfully extended harmonics and sweeter tone. Some of them are even domestic pressings! On the MOFI there is a “blunting” of the acoustic guitar transients. (more…)

The Yes Album – What a Recording!

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Yes Album Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Yes Album

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At its best, this album is a Big Speaker Prog-Rock opus with tremendous power and dynamic range, but it takes a special pressing like this one to really bring it to life. 

These guys — and by that I mean this particular iteration of the band, the actual players that were involved in the making of this album — came together for the first time and created the sound of Yes on this very album, rather aptly titled when you think about it.

With the amazing Eddie Offord at the board, as well as the best batch of songs ever to appear on a single Yes album, they produced both their sonic and musical masterpiece — good news for audiophiles with Big Speakers!

Drop the needle on this bad boy and you will find yourself on a Yes journey the likes of which you have never known. And that’s what I’m in this audiophile game for. The Heavy Vinyl crowd can have their dead-as-a-doornail, wake-me-when-it’s-over pressings that play quietly. I couldn’t sit through one with a gun to my head. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Debut

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Reviews and Commentaries for Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Debut

Folks, this is ANALOG at its Tubey Magical finest. You ain’t never gonna play a CD that sounds like this as long as you live. I don’t mean to rain on your parade but let’s face it, digital media are pretty much incapable of reproducing this kind of sound. There are nice sounding CDs in the world but there aren’t any that sound like this, not in my experience anyway. If you are thinking that someday a better digital system is going to come along and save you the trouble and expense of having to find and acquire these expensive original pressings, think again. Ain’t gonna happen. This is the kind of record that shows you what’s wrong with your BEST sounding CDs. (Let’s not even talk about the average ones in our collections; the less said the better.)

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The Barbarian
Take a Pebble

Superb sound! Big, spacious and effortlessly alive!

Knife Edge

Again, some of the best sound to be found on any ELP album. We much prefer the tracks with vocals as opposed to the heavy keyboard ones. This is PROG at its best, right up there with Yes’s and King Crimson’s biggest and boldest musical statements. When it’s good, it’s REALLY GOOD. (Conversely, of course, when it’s bad, it’s pretty bad. Played Relayer lately?)

Side Two

The Three Fates: Clotho/Lachesis/Atropos

This is a super tough test for side two. It’s guaranteed to bring even the biggest and best systems to their knees. The organ is HUGE, so big and powerful it has a tendency to break up a bit in the loudest parts, either from groove damage or the inability of the cutting system to properly transfer the enormous amounts of bass that exist on the master tape onto the cutting acetate. You need plenty of amplifier cutting power and not every mastering chain had it.

Tank
Lucky Man

My favorite ELP track, sounding about as good as it gets. You need the right Cotillion copy for the ultimate sound; the better bass brings Palmer’s kick drum to life, not to mention the synthesizer solo.

Listen also to the electric guitar solo in the left channel. On the best copies it really comes to life and rocks out. If it lays back in the mix you do not have a Hot Stamper for side two, I can assure you of that!

By the way, this track is cut a bit low compared to the two that precede it. It needs click or two on the volume knob to work its magic. (more…)

Yes – Close To The Edge

  • A STUNNING pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – these early pressings are the only ones that can make sense of this challenging music
  • On such a dynamic recording, with so many quiet passages, finding surfaces as quiet as these is a dubious proposition for even the most committed audiophile
  • An incredibly complex recording, with huge organs, light-speed changes and an abundance of multi-tracked parts
  • 5 stars: “Close to the Edge comprised just three tracks, the epic ‘And You and I’ and ‘Siberian Khatru,’ plus a side-long title track that represented the musical, lyrical, and sonic culmination of all that Yes had worked toward over the past five years.”

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John Lennon / Imagine – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – this was one of the better copies to emerge from our most recent shootout
  • These superb UK pressings are rich, weighty and oh-so-tubey – it took us a long time to find the right stampers
  • Two of our favorite engineers worked their magic on this recording – our thanks go to Eddie Offord and Shelly Yakus
  • 5 stars: “…it was only marginally less confessional than its predecessor. Underneath the sweet strings of “Jealous Guy” lies a broken and scared man, the jaunty “Crippled Inside” is a mocking assault at an acquaintance, and “Imagine” is a paean for peace in a world with no gods, possessions, or classes, where everyone is equal… A remarkable collection of songs that Lennon would never be able to better again.”

NOTE: A very small mark near the end of track three, side two, How Do You Sleep?, makes three loud pops.

Both sides here are excellent. capturing the essence of what Lennon and Phil Spector (and let’s not forget Yoko, who also gets a producer credit here) were going for. Copies that sound as good as this one do not grow on trees. If it wasn’t ridiculously difficult to find Hot Stamper pressings of Imagine it certainly would not have taken us until 2015 to offer one. (more…)

Emerson, Lake & Palmer / Self-Titled – Out of This World Sound on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

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More Prog Rock

  • This vintage Island Pink Rim import pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • Spacious, rich and dynamic, with especially smooth, present vocals – this is what we love about Eddie Offord’s work here
  • ANALOG at its Tubey Magical finest – you’ll never play a CD that sounds this good as long as you live
  • Lucky Man and Take A Pebble on this copy have Demo Disc Quality Sound like you won’t believe
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Lively, ambitious, almost entirely successful debut album… [which] showcased the group at its least pretentious and most musicianly …there isn’t much excess, and there is a lot of impressive musicianship here.”

If you’ve got the system to play this one loud enough, with the low end weight and energy it requires, you are in for a treat. The organ that opens side two will rattle the foundation of your house if you’re not careful. This music really needs that kind of megawatt reproduction to make sense. This is bombastic prog that wants desperately to rock your world. At moderate levels it just sounds overblown and silly. At loud levels, it actually will rock your world.

This UK Island pink rim import pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely 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…)

Yes, We’re Getting Awfully Close To The Edge…

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Reviews and Commentaries for Close to the Edge

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.

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.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this demands, when you drop the needle on the best of our Hot Stamper pressings, you are going to hear some amazing sound .

Even our Hottest Stamper copies can sound problematical unless your system is firing on all cylinders. Your electricity has got to be cooking, you’ve got to be using the right room treatments, and ideally you should be using a demagnetizer such as the Talisman on the record itself, your cables (power, interconnect and speaker) as well as the individual drivers of your speakers.

This is a record that’s going to demand a lot from the listener, and we want to make sure that you’re up to the challenge. If you don’t mind putting in a little hard work, here’s a record that will reward you many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process.

We’d started and abandoned this shootout multiple times in the previous decade; the typical sounding copy was just too painful to listen to, and the better pressings weren’t doing what we had hoped they would. Where was the Tubey Magical analog sound with the HUGE whomp factor that we’d been hearing on the best copies of Fragile and The Yes Album? We just could not find that sound on Close to the Edge.

As futile as our previous attempts were, we decided in 2008 that we would take another stab at it. After all, there had been quite a few changes around here that had the stereo working really well —  the addition of the Odyssey Record Cleaning Machine and Walker Enzyme solution to our cleaning process, the Talisman Magnetic Optimizer, the third pair of Hallographs we added years back, tons of smaller tweaks, and a few other tricks that we’re going to have to leave hidden up our sleeves for now.

The Planets Align

Think about it: This is a highly COMPLEX recording, with HUGE organs, light-speed changes, lots of multi-tracking, and what amounts to an OVERLOAD of musical information. Can you imagine how irritating that would sound on a third-rate copy? We didn’t have to imagine it — we lived through it! (more…)

Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Pictures at an Exhibition

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  • Outstanding sound throughout for this ELP Classic Live Album, earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • Tubey Magical and exceptionally spacious, with a massive bottom end and plenty of Rock and Roll energy
  • Listen to that GIGANTIC organ that plays the fanfare opening of the work – you can thank the brilliant engineering of Eddie Offord for getting that sound on tape
  • “…it teased the brain with its mix of melody and heavy rock, and for anyone with some musical knowledge, serious or casual, it was a sufficiently bold use of Mussorgsky’s original to stimulate hours of delightful listening.”

This British Island LP has real weight and heft, so when Emerson lays into the organ it’ll rattle your walls! As we said previously, it “has that big, fat, rich, smooth sound that we love here at Better Records. It’s warm and full, not thick and sludgy. It’s on the opposite end of the transistory spectrum.”

Listen to that GIGANTIC organ that plays the fanfare opening of the work. Honestly, I have not EVER heard a rock album with an organ sound that stretched from wall to wall and sounds like it’s seventy five feet tall. No, I take that back. The first ELP album has an organ that sounds about that big, but that’s a studio album. How did they manage to get that kind of organ sound in a live setting without actually having to build one inside the concert hall?

The domestic copies are a bad joke as you no doubt have guessed. You might think that you could just pick up any old Brit pressing to get Hot Stamper sound, but you’d be wrong. We’ve played a bunch of Original Brit Island pressings over the years that looked just like this one but sure didn’t sound as good.

Many of them are thick, dull, smeary, veiled, congested and/or just plain lifeless. This one, on the other hand, sounds JUST RIGHT. (more…)

Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Tarkus

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other copy of Tarkus you’ve heard
  • This early British pressing with the Island Pink Rim label is guaranteed to rock like no other copy you’ve ever played
  • Eddie Offord’s trademark Tubey Magic, energy, resolution, whomp factor and dynamics are all over this phenomenal recording
  • “More accomplished than the trio’s first album, but not quite as polished as Brain Salad Surgery, Tarkus is nevertheless a must-have.”

This killer copy features some of the more intense prog rock sound to hit our table in quite some time. This is a true Demo Disc LP, one of the most dynamic and powerful rock recordings ever made.

The organ captured here by Eddie Offord (of Yes engineering fame, we’re his biggest fans) and then transferred so well onto our Hot Stamper pressings will rattle the foundation of your house if you’re not careful. This music really needs that kind of megawatt reproduction to make sense. It’s big Bombastic Prog that wants desperately to rock your world. At moderate levels it just sounds overblown and silly. At loud levels it actually does rock your world.

Unlike most British pressings of the first album, the Brits here really ROCK, with greater dynamic contrasts and seriously prodigious bass, some of the best ever committed to vinyl. This music needs real whomp down below and lots of jump factor to work its magic. These Brits are super-low distortion, with an open, sweet sound, especially up top, but they still manage to convey the awesome power of the music, no mean feat. (more…)