Top Engineers – Geoff Emerick

The Beatles / Sgt. Peppers – Practical Advice on Which Pressings to Avoid

beatlessgtHot Stampers of Sgt. Peppers in Stock Now

Letters and Commentaries for Sgt. Peppers

Chris, an erstwhile customer from a very long time ago, sent us a letter describing his search for a good sounding Sgt. Pepper.

The first thing that comes to mind when reading his letter is that many record collecting rules were broken in going about his search the way he did. But then I thought, What rules? Whose rules? Where exactly does one find these rules? If one wants to avoid breaking them they need to be written down someplace, don’t they?

Wikipedia maybe?

Sadly, no, not at Wikipedia, or any place else for that matter — until now. As crazy as it sounds, we are going to try to lay down a few record collecting rules for record loving audiophiles, specifically to aid these individuals in their search for better sounding vinyl pressings. And by “these individuals” we mean you.

See if you can spot the rules that were broken by Chris in his fruitless search for a good sounding Sgt. Pepper. Note that this letter came to us long before the new Beatles CDs and vinyl had been remastered.
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Mobile Fidelity and the Limited Edition Pressing – The Answer Is No

More on the so-called Ultra High Quality Record

Can you take the guesswork out of buying high quality records?

The answer is no and it must remain no.

Many audiophiles are still operating under the misapprehension that Mobile Fidelity, with their strict “quality control,” managed to eliminate pressing variations of the kind we discuss endlessly on the site. 

Such is simply not the case, and it’s child’s play to demonstrate how mistaken this way of thinking is, assuming you have these four things:

  1. Good cleaning fluids and a machine,
  2. Multiple copies of the same record,
  3. A reasonably revealing stereo, and
  4. Two working ears (I guess that’s actually five things, my bad).

With all five the reality of pressing variations — sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic — for ALL pressings is both obvious and incontrovertible.

The fact that this is a controversial viewpoint in 2022 does not speak well of the audiophile community.

The raison d’être of the Limited Edition Audiophile Record is to take the guesswork out of buying the Best Sounding Pressing money can buy.

But it just doesn’t work that way. Not that I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but our entire website is based on the proposition that nothing of the sort is true. If paying more money for an audiophile pressing guaranteed the buyer better sound, 80% of what we do around here would be a waste of time. Everybody knows what the audiophile pressings are, and there would be nothing for us to do but find them and throw them up on the website for you to buy. Why even bother to play them if they all sound so good?

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. Yay for me!

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 have on the site most of the 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.


FURTHER READING

Half-Speed Mastered Disasters 

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A Fun and Easy Test for Abbey Road: MoFi Versus Apple

More of the Music of The Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for Abbey Road

There is a relatively simple test you can use to find out if you have a good Mobile Fidelity pressing of Abbey Road. Yes, as shocking as it may seem, they actually do exist, we’ve played them, but they are few and far between (and never as good as the best Brits).

The test involves doing a little shootout of the song Golden Slumbers between whatever MoFi pressing you have and whatever British Parlophone pressing you have. If you don’t have both LPs this shootout will be difficult to do. The idea is to compare aspects of the sound of both pressings head to head, which should shed light on which one of them is more natural and which is more hi-fi-ish sounding.

The Golden Slumbers Test

I’ve come to realize that this is a Key Track for side two, because what it shows you is whether the midrange of your pressing — or your system — is correct.

At the beginning Paul’s voice is naked, front and center, before the strings come in. Most Mobile Fidelity pressings, as good as they may be in other areas, are not tonally correct in the middle of the midrange.

The middle of the voice is a little sucked out and the top of the voice is a little boosted.

It’s really hard to notice this fact unless one plays a good British pressing side by side with the MoFi.

Then the typical MoFi EQ anomaly become obvious. It may add some texture to the strings, but the song is not about the strings.

Having heard a number of audiophile systems (especially recently) that have trouble getting this part of the spectrum right, it would not be surprising that many of you do not find the typical MoFi objectionable, and may even prefer it to the good British copies. The point I’m belaboring here is that when it’s right, it’s RIGHT and everything else becomes more obviously wrong, even if only slightly wrong.

The Heart of the Midrange

For a while in my record reviewing system many years ago I had a relatively cheap Grado moving magnet cartridge. The midrange of that cartridge is still some of the best midrange reproduction I have ever heard. It was completely free of any “audiophile” sound. It was real in a way that took me by surprise. I played Abbey Road with that cartridge in the system and heard The Beatles sound EXACTLY the way I wanted them to sound.

Exactly the way I think they SHOULD sound, in my mind’s ear. Playing the very same record on much more expensive front ends, with much more expensive moving coils, was disappointing at that time. It’s easy to lose sight of the heart of the music when the equipment dazzles us by doing so many other things well.

Good moving coils are amazingly spacious, refined, sweet, extended, three-dimensional and all that other good stuff.

But they don’t always get the heart of the music right. And it’s good to hear something that may be more crude but at the same time more correct in order to bring our listening journey back to a truer course.

Alternative Sound

I think that people who listen to CDs exclusively — One Format listeners as I like to call them — suffer greatly from a lack of an alternative or comparison sound. It’s easy to get used to the “CD sound” and forget that all that digital garbage doesn’t really belong in music. Records have their own problems, but their problems don’t give me a headache the way the problems of CDs do.


FURTHER READING on the subject of Half-Speed Mastering

If you are buying remastered LPs, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl Pressings and Half-Speed Masters.

People have been known to ask us:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your copy. And if for some reason you disagree that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

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The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band

  • Huge, spacious and detailed, with the Tubey Magic of a fresh tape, this is the way to hear Sgt. Pepper in all its analog glory, not remixed and not remastered
  • Most pressings – especially the new ones – have nothing approaching the Tubey Magic, space and energy of this LP
  • A Better Records Top 100 Title – “It’s possible to argue that there are better Beatles albums, yet no album is as historically important as this.”
  • If you’re a fan of The Beatles, this reissue of their 1967 Masterpiece surely belong in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The sound here is so big and rich, so clear and transparent, that we would be very surprised, shocked even, if you’ve ever imagined that Sgt. Pepper could sound this powerful and REAL. (more…)

Robin Trower / Bridge of Sighs – A Demo Disc for Size and Space 

More Robin Trower

Reviews and Commentaries for Robin Trower and Procol Harum

A Demo Disc for Size and Space 

  • An outstanding copy of Trower’s amazingly well recorded Psych masterpiece with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides
  • This early UK pressing is huge, rich and punchy, with guitar solos that soar like few others you’ve heard
  • The title track is on this killer side one – you have never begun to hear it sound like this!
  • Brilliant engineering by Geoff Emerick at George Martin’s AIR studios – maybe the best sounding album Emerick ever made
  • Top 100 and 4 1/2 stars on AMG: “…his most stunning, representative, and consistent collection of tunes. Bridge of Sighs holds up to repeated listenings as a timeless work, as well as the crown jewel in Trower’s extensive catalog.”

We’d been wandering around in the dark for more than a decade with Bridge of Sighs — that is, until about 2015 when we finally stumbled upon a certain UK Chrysalis pressing in audiophile playing condition.

Now we know just how good this album can sound. How good? Astonishingly good. The three-dimensional space is positively breathtaking on the best UK copies.

There is a substantial amount of Tubey Magic and liquidity on the tape, recalling the kind of hi-rez vintage analog sound that makes the luminous A Space in Time (1971) such a mind-expanding experience. Both albums have the kind of High Production Value sound that we go crazy for here at Better Records.

You can find many of our favorites in our Rock and Pop Top 100, and if we can find more of this title, it will surely be on the list as well. (more…)

Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom

More Elvis Costello

More 5 Star Albums

  • 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.”
  • If you’re an Elvis Costello fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1982 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1982 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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 also get Four Stars, 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 it flow through to the end, and that is clearly the best way to appreciate and enjoy the work of this very gifted man.

Check out the Tracklist below to see a sample of some of the lyrics to a few of the songs on the album.

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Paul McCartney – Unplugged

More Paul McCartney

More Beatles

  • A true Demo Disc and superb sounding import pressing with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on both sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • A strikingly intimate document of a live show, fronted by one of the greatest performers in history, Sir Paul McCartney
  • You get more extension up top, more weight down low, and more transparency in the midrange
  • 4 stars: “… it remains one of the most enjoyable records in McCartney’s catalog. McCartney is carefree and charming, making songs like “Be-Bop-a-Lula” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” sound fresh.”

Superb sound for this amazing recording! It’s a strikingly intimate document of a live show, one which just happens to be fronted by one of the greatest performers in the history of popular music, Sir Paul McCartney.

On the best copies, the sound is warmer, richer, and sweeter, or in a word, more ANALOG sounding. You get more extension up top, more weight down low, and more transparency in the midrange. It’s surprising how veiled and two-dimensional so many copies can be, considering that this is a live recording (by the legendary Geoff Emerick himself) with not a lot of “messing around” after the fact. (more…)

Paul McCartney / Unplugged – Testing for Life-Size Images and Living Presence

More of the Music of Paul McCartney

More of the Music of The Beatles

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…)

America – Hideaway

More America

  • Both of these sides are clean, clear and full-bodied with breathy, less gritty vocals and more transparency than every other copy we played
  • “Hideaway is the sixth original studio album by American folk rock trio America, released in 1976. The album was produced by legendary Beatles producer George Martin. The album was a hit in the US, peaking at number 11 on the Billboard album chart and being certified GOLD by the RIAA.” – Wikipedia

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The Beatles / Revolver – The Mono Recut from 1981 Is a Joke

Hot Stamper Pressings of Revolver Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Revolver

A great sounding record in stereo, potentially anyway, but this later reissue in mono is so awful it deserves a special place in our Hall of Shame.

My notes for side one: hard, sour, no bass.

Side two: dumbass small mono, so unclear.

We love the mono mix of For No One, but not when it sounds like this! The only Beatles vinyl we offer on our site are stereo pressings. Our reasons for doing this are straightforward enough.

The Beatles records in mono, contrary to the opinion of audiophiles and music lovers alike, virtually never have the presence, energy and resolution found on the best stereo copies. If your stereo cannot resolve all the information on the tape, sure, Twin Track Stereo (used on the first two albums, hard-panned multi-track afterwards) ends up sounding like some of the instruments are stuck in the speakers, hard left and hard right, with nothing but a hole in the middle.

But there is a great deal of information spreading into the middle when we play those records here, and nothing feels stuck in the speakers that doesn’t sound like it was supposed to be heard coming directly from one of the speakers.

It is our contention that the best audio equipment, properly tweaked, can show you a world of musical information that exists only on the stereo pressings, information that the mono mixes only hint at.

Original Vs. Reissue

We can tell you this potentially helpful piece of information about Revolver pressings: no original Yellow and Black British pressing has ever fared well in a shootout we’ve conducted. The better your stereo gets, the more bandwidth-limited, distorted, compressed and congested the originals will reveal themselves to be.

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