Top Engineers – Norman Smith

The Beatles – With The Beatles

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  • Superb space and immediacy, rich and (relatively) smooth and oh-so-Tubey Magical lead and harmony vocals – this is exactly the right sound for With The Beatles
  • So many great songs: All My Loving, Please Mr. Postman, Til There Was You, You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me, Devil In Her Heart… fourteen in all
  • “It was clear that, even at this early stage, the Beatles were rapidly maturing and changing, turning into expert craftsmen and musical innovators.”
  • Far from the best album the band ever released, it’s still full of great songs and must be seen as a Classic from 1963 that should appeal to any fan of the early Beatles
  • The complete list of titles from 1963 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This is a tough album to get to sound right, as long-time readers of our site surely know, but here are the sides that prove this album can sound very good indeed. Looking for the best sound? Try Till There Was You on side one and You Really Got A Hold On Me on the flipside. (more…)

The Beatles / Please Please Me – Which Is More 3-Dimensional, Mono or Twin Track?

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Please Please Me

With all due respect to Sir George Martin, we’ve played a number of mono pressings of this album in the past twenty or so years and have never been particularly impressed with any of them. The monos jam all the voices and instruments together in the middle, stacking them one in front of the other, and lots of musical information gets mashed together and simply disappears in the congestion. 

But is Twin Track stereo any better? Yes, when you do it the way Norman Smith did on Please Please Me.

Twin Track stereo (which is actually not very much like two-track stereo, I’m sure Wikipedia must have a listing for it if you’re interested) is like two mono tracks running simultaneously. It allows the completely separate voices to occupy one channel and the completely separate instruments to occupy another with no leakage between them.

On some stereos it may seem as though the musicians and the singers are not playing together the way they would if one were hearing them in mono. They are in fact recorded on two separate mono tracks, the instruments appearing in the left channel and the singers in the right, separated as much as is physically possible.

Stuck in their individual stereo speakers, so far apart from one another, the members of the band don’t even seem to be playing together in the same room.

That’s on some stereos, and by some stereos I mean stereos that need improvement. Here’s why. (more…)

The Beatles on Vinyl – An Audiophile Wake Up Call

This commentary was written about 15 years ago. Unlike some of the things I used to say about records and audio, every word of this commentary still holds true in my opinion.

The sound of the best pressings of The Beatles — when cleaned with the Walker Enzyme fluids on the Odyssey machine — are truly revelatory.

So much of what holds their records back is not bad mastering or poor pressing quality or problems with the recording itself. It’s getting the damn vinyl clean. (It’s also helpful to have high quality playback equipment that doesn’t add to the inherent limitations of the recordings.)

Know why you never hear Beatles vinyl playing in stereo stores or audio shows?*

Because they’re TOO DAMN HARD to reproduce. You have to have seriously tweaked, top-quality, correct-sounding equipment — and just the right pressings, natch — to get The Beatles’ music to sound right, and that’s just not the kind of stuff they have at stereo stores and audio shows. (Don’t get me started.)

However, you may have noticed that we sell tons of Beatles Hot Stamper Pressings. We have the stereo that can play them, we have the technology to clean them, and we know just how good the best pressings can sound. The result? Listings for Beatles Hot Stampers on the site all the time.

Five of their titles — the most of any band — are on our Rock and Pop Top 100 List. That ought to tell you something. (Let It Be and Revolver would easily make the list as well, but seven albums from one band seemed like overkill, so we’re holding firm at five for now.)

A True Pass/Fail Test for Equipment

I’ve been saying for years that an audiophile system that can’t play Beatles records is a system that has failed a fundamentally important test of musicality. Everyone knows what The Beatles sound like. We’ve been hearing their music our whole lives.

We know what kind of energy their songs have.

What kind of presence.

What kind of power.

When all or most or even just many of those qualities are missing from the sound coming out of the speakers, we have no choice but to admit that something is very very wrong.

I’ve heard an awful lot of audiophile stereos that can play audiophile records just fine, but when it comes to The Beatles they fall apart, and badly. Embarrassingly badly.

Super Detailed may be fine for echo-drenched Patricia Barber records, but it sure won’t cut it with The Beatles. Of course the owners of these wacky systems soon start pointing fingers at the recordings themselves, but we at Better Records — and our Hot Stamper customers — know better.

You can blame the messenger as much as you want — it’s a natural human tendency, I do it myself on occasion — but that sure won’t help you get your stereo working right.

The Beatles albums are the ultimate Audiophile Wake Up Call. It’s the reason practically no equipment reviewers in the world have ever used recordings by The Beatles as test records when making their judgments. The typical audiophile system — regardless of price — just can’t cut it.

Reviewers and the magazines they write for don’t want you to know that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

* (Love doesn’t count; give me a break. I hope we’re over that one by now. Couldn’t stand to be in the room with it.)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Beatles

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FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Revolutions in Audio, Anyone?

Making Audio Progress 

Unsolicited Audio Advice

Record Cleaning Advice

Record Playback Advice

Turntable Setup Advice

The Beatles / Rubber Soul – How Does the Heavy Vinyl Sound?

This review was originally written in 2015

We are so excited to tell you about the first of the Heavy Vinyl Beatles remasters we’ve played! As we cycle through our regular Hot Stamper shootouts for The Beatles’ albums we will be of course be reviewing more of them*. I specifically chose this one to start with, having spent a great deal of time over the last year testing the best vinyl pressings against three different CD versions of Rubber Soul.

The short version of our review of the new Rubber Soul vinyl would simply point out that it’s awful, and, unsurprisingly, it’s awful in most of the ways that practically all modern Heavy Vinyl records are: it’s opaque, airless, energy-less and just a drag.

I was looking forward to the opportunity to take Michael Fremer, the foremost champion of thick vinyl dreck from sources far and wide, to task in expectation of his rave review, when to my surprise I found the rug had been pulled out from under me — he didn’t like it either. Damn!.
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The Original Pressings of Beatles Albums Are the Best, Right?

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Beatles Available Now

Records that Sound Better on the Right Reissue

(excluding The Beatles)

beatles help label

Nope. We think it’s just another Record Myth.

Back in 2005 we compared the MFSL pressing of Help to a British Parlophone LP and were — mistakenly, as you may have already surmised — impressed by the MoFi.

Mobile Fidelity did a GREAT JOB with Help!. Help! is a famously dull sounding record. I don’t know of a single original pressing that has the top end mastered properly. Mobile Fidelity restored the highs that are missing from most copies.

The source of the error in our commentary above is in this sentence, see if you can spot it:

I don’t know of a single original pressing that has the top end mastered properly.

Did you figure it out? If you’ve spent much time on our site of course you did.

Original pressing?

Is that the standard?

Why?

Who said so? Where is it written?

Cut It Right

The domestic original Capitol pressings are awful and the original British import pressings of Help NEVER have any real top end. The Yellow and Black Parlophone pressings have many wonderful qualities, Tubey Magic for days being one of the most pleasurable, but frequency extension up top is not among them. Neither is tight, articulate bass. The old tube cutting systems just didn’t have what it takes to cut the highs and lows well.

The middle may be glorious, but the rest of the frequency spectrum is a mess.

Stop the Presses

In 2021 we found an exception to that rule.

And here is the one record we have always preferred on the Yellow and Black label.

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The Beatles – Help

More Help

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  • A STUNNING UK pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Everything that’s great about Help is here – jangly 12 string guitars, harmonically rich tambourines, and, most important of all, breathy, in-the-room, tonally-correct vocals
  • If you’re like us and think the new Beatles Heavy Vinyl reissues are boosted in the bass and way too smooth in the midrange, take comfort in the fact that this pressing is neither of those things, because it sounds right
  • Side one alone boasts 7 classics: Help!, The Night Before, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, I Need You, Another Girl, You’re Gonna Lose That Girl and Ticket to Ride – whew!

Want to hear The Beatles at their Tubey Magical best? Just play You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away on this copy.

One of the reasons this song stands out in a crowd of great tracks is that there are only acoustic instruments being played. There’s not an electric guitar to be found anywhere in the mix, one of the few tracks on side one for which that is true.

We flip out over the Tubey Magical acoustic guitars and harmony vocals found on early Beatles albums, and this song can be an exceptionally good example of both when you’re lucky enough to have the right pressing playing. (more…)

The Beatles / With The Beatles – These Are the Stampers to Avoid

In our experience, the stereo pressings with -2/-2 stampers are terrible sounding. We do not have any on hand, but we doubt that -1/-1 — the original, the first, the one approved by George Martin himself! — is any better.

With -2 stampers this is a Hall of Shame pressing, as well as another early LP reviewed and found wanting.

We’ve auditioned countless pressings like this one in the 33 years we’ve been in business — buying, cleaning and playing them by the thousands. This is how we find the best sounding vinyl pressings ever made.

Not the ones that should sound the best. The ones that actually do sound the best.

If you’re an audiophile looking for top quality sound on vintage vinyl, we’d be happy to send you the Hot Stamper pressing guaranteed to beat anything and everything you’ve heard, especially if you have any pressing marketed as suitable for an audiophile. Those, with very few exceptions, are the worst.

And if we can’t beat whatever LP you own or have heard, you get your money back.  It’s as simple as that.

That Old Canard

The early pressings are consistently grittier, edgier and more crude than the later pressings we played. So much for that old canard “original is better”. When it comes to With The Beatles it just ain’t so, and it doesn’t take a state of the art system or a pair of golden ears to hear it.

The audiophile community seems not to have caught on to the faults of the early Beatles pressings, but we here at Better Records are doing our best to correct their all-too-common misperceptions, one Hot Stamper pressing at a time.

It may be a lot of work, but we don’t mind — we love The Beatles! We want to find the best sounding copies of ALL their records, and there is simply no other way to do it than to play them by the dozens.

More of The Beatles

More Stamper and Pressing Information, Gratis

Reviews and Commentaries for With the Beatles

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The Beatles / Please Please Me – Our Killer White Hot Shootout Winning Copy

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Reviews and Commentaries for Please Please Me

  • A stunning copy of the Beatles debut studio album with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Side one of this copy has superb presence, clarity and size – it’s bigger, bolder and richer, as well as more clean, clear and open than any other pressing we played
  • A Triple Plus PPM would clearly be a top pick for a Beatles Demo Disc – your jaw will drop
  • “… [The Beatles] were a group with the luck to meet opportunities, the wit to recognize them, the drive to seize them, and the talent to fulfil them. Please Please Me is the sound of them doing all four.”

Folks, if you’re looking for an amazing Top Quality copy of the first Beatles release, here it is! Big and lively with superb presence and energy, this is EXACTLY the right sound for this music. The album itself is nothing short of amazing. It captures more of the live sound of these four guys playing together as a rock and roll band than any record they ever made afterwards. (Let It Be gets some of that live quality too and makes a great bookend for the group.) (more…)

The Beatles / Please Please Me – The Best You Can Expect on UK Vinyl

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Reviews and Commentaries for Please Please Me

  • This British stereo pressing offers excellent Hot Stamper sound or BETTER (on side two) for the brilliant debut from the Fab Four – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Here’s proof that any Hot Stamper will soundly (ahem) beat the Heavy Vinyl pressing, and anything else you care to throw at it
  • 5 Stars at Allmusic and a Top 100 album, as well as our clear favorite of the band’s first five releases
  • Glorious live-in-the-studio sound to rival The Beatles’ best recordings – the immediacy and energy are really something to hear

Folks, if you’re looking for an wonderful copy of the first Beatles album, here it is. The music itself is nothing short of amazing. Please Please Me captures more of the live sound of these four guys playing together as a rock and roll band than anything that came after. (The better copies of Let It Be, on some songs at least, reproduce much of that live-in-the-studio quality and make a great bookend for the group.)

You Are There

On the top copies the presence of the vocals and guitars is so real it’s positively startling at times.

Just play Baby It’s You to hear what we’re talking about. When the boys all say “Oooooh,” you can pick out WHO is saying it and HOW they’re saying it.

Anna (Go To Him) is another stunner on the best pressings. It’s Tubey Magical with amazing immediacy and presence. The voices are PERFECTION — smooth, sweet, rich, full and breathy. The overall sound is lively and energetic with a meaty bottom end — in other words, it really rocks!

Stampers

PPM Hot Stampers are a regular feature on our site. We’ve been telling anyone who will listen for years that The Beatles were exceptionally well-recorded right from the get-go, but it takes the right pressing to prove it.

And the odd thing — not so odd to us anymore but odd to most record collectors I would guess — is that many of the hot copies have exactly the same stampers as the less than hot copies. It’s a mystery, and the only way to solve such a mystery is… to play the record. That’s what we do around here all day, and what we heard on this very copy was musically involving Hot Stamper sound. (more…)

The Beatles – Rubber Soul

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Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

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  • With a seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish, this vintage UK stereo pressing has plenty of analog magic in its grooves – exceptionally quiet vinyl too, about as quiet as they can be found
  • We guarantee you’ve never heard Girl, I’m Looking Through You, In My Life, Wait, and If I Needed Someone sound better – and that’s just side two
  • A Must Own Folk Rock Masterpiece
  • 5 stars: “The lyrics represented a quantum leap in terms of thoughtfulness, maturity, and complex ambiguities. Musically, too, it was a substantial leap forward, with intricate folk-rock arrangements that reflected the increasing influence of Dylan and the Byrds.”

Since this is one of the best sounding Beatles recordings, this could very well be some of the BEST SOUND you will ever hear on a Beatles album!

There’s wonderful ambience and echo to be heard. Just listen to the rimshots on Michelle — you can clearly hear the room around the drum. On the best pressings, Michelle is incredibly 3-D; it’s one of the best sounding tracks on the entire album, if not THE best.

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this recording. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings, and especially from modern remasterings.  (more…)