Top Engineers – Norman Smith

The Beatles on MoFi – Another Disgracefully Spitty Half-Speed

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Please Please Me

Sonic Grade: C

If you own the Mobile Fidelity LP, do yourself a favor and buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings. (Actually any good British import pressing will do.)

What’s the first thing you will notice other than correct tonality, better bass and a lot more “life” overall?

No spit! As we’ve commented elsewhere, because of the wacky cutting system they used, Mobile Fidelity pressings are full of sibilance. 

As I was playing a British pressing of this record many years ago, maybe by about the fifth or sixth song it occurred to me that I hadn’t been hearing the spit that I was used to from my MoFi LP. You don’t notice it when it’s not there.

But your MoFi sure has a bad case of spitty vocals. If you never noticed them before, you will now. (more…)

The Beatles – Rubber Soul

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Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it, 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,” “If I Needed Someone” and “Run for Your Life” sound better – and that’s just side two!
  • A Must Own Folk Rock Masterpiece and permanent member of our Top 100
  • 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…)

The Beatles / Beatles For Sale

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  • Especially rich and spacious, this is the album that moves away from the midrangy sound of A Hard Day’s Night and With The Beatles
  • A criminally underrated album by the Fab Four – Allmusic gives it Five Big Stars and we like it every bit as much as they do
  • “I’m A Loser,” “Baby’s In Black,” “Rock And Roll Music,” “I’ll Follow The Sun,” “Eight Days A Week,” “Words Of Love,” “Every Little Thing,” “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” “What You’re Doing,” and 4 more – 14 tracks in all (!)

Beatles For Sale is a criminally underappreciated album, and a killer copy like this will show you exactly why. The startling presence and immediacy of the sound here allow the emotional qualities of these lovely songs to work some real Beatles vocal magic.

There is one important trait that all the best copies have in common: wonderful midrange warmth and sweetness. It’s the single most important factor in bringing out The Beatles’ individual voices and harmonies. Of the first five albums, from Please Please Me to Help, For Sale is clearly the most natural and Tubey Magical. (For those of you keeping score at home, With the Beatles is clearly the worst, with A Hard Day’s Night not far behind.)

When comparing pressings of this record, the copies that get their voices to sound present, while at the same time warm, smooth, and sweet, especially during the harmonies and in the loudest choruses, are always the best. All the other instruments seem to fall in line when the vocals are correct. This is an old truism — it’s all about the midrange — but in the case of an early Beatles album such as For Sale, it really is true. (more…)

The Beatles – 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.

Three-Dimensional Mono?

In the final mixing stage, Norman Smith added separate reverb to each of the two channels, sending the reverb for the sound recorded in each channel to the opposite channel. This has the effect of making the studio, the physical space that The Beatles appear to be in, seem to stretch all the way from the right channel, where the Beatles’ voices are heard, to the back left corner of the studio, where the reverb eventually trails off.

And vice versa for the instruments. They reach all the way from the left speaker, where they are heard playing, to the right rear corner of the studio, where the reverb for them trails off.

Which has the effect of making The Beatles sound like they are in a big studio. Both voices and instruments “occupy” the entire studio this way, stretching wall to wall, with at least the appearance of three-dimensionality. The sound reaches right across the stage in both directions and trails off in the dark corners at the back of the room.

It may only be an illusion, but it’s a convincing one never the less.

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The Beatles – With The Beatles

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  • A KILLER copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Superb space and immediacy, rich and (relatively) smooth and oh-so-Tubey Magical lead and harmony vocals – this is the right sound for With The Beatles and it sure doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it
  • 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
  • 5 stars: “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.

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The Beatles / Help – Listening in Depth to Their Fifth Album

Hot Stamper Pressings of Help Available Now

More of the Music of The Beatles

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

Much like we said about the Please Please Me Hot Stampers, on the top copies the presence of the vocals and guitars is so real it’s positively startling at times.

Drop the needle on You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away and turn up the volume — on the best copies it will be as if John and Paul were right there in your living room.

The best import copies of this album sound AMAZING, but the typical one is pretty mediocre. Most tend to be dull, with not enough extension up top, as well as thin, lacking weight and body from the lower midrange on down.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Help! (A Number One Hit)
The Night Before

One of the biggest problems we found with this album is that the top end tends to be somewhat lacking. On the better copies, the cymbals on this track will sound correct and lively.

You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away

One of the reasons this song sounds so good 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 that can make that claim. We love the Tubey Magical guitars and voices found on early Beatles albums, and this song is a good example of both.

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Spending More Time With The Beatles

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More of the Music of The Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Beatles

To find the Hottest Stampers it helps to have piles and piles of minty British pressings. And lots of time on your hands. Fortunately we have both!

This is a tough album to get to sound right, as long-time readers of our site surely know, but on a good copy it can sound wonderful. This one really delivers, with plenty of presence and energy as well as natural, balanced tonality.

So, What’s Out There?

We’ve heard copies that were smeared, murky, muddy, grainy, or all of the above. Almost all of them had no real magic in the midrange. And of course, we heard tons of copies with the kind of gritty vocals that you’ll find all over the average Parlophone Beatles pressing.

Early or Late Pressing?

So many Parlophone copies would have you think With The Beatles is a gritty, edgy, crude recording — especially if you made the mistake of buying an early pressing.

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.

Looking for the best sound? Try Till There Was You on side one and You Really Got A Hold On Me on the flipside.

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The Beatles – The Original A Hard Day’s Night on CD

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More Reviews and Commentaries for A Hard Day’s Night

The Old CD – You Know, the Original Mono One that the General Public Used to Say Was So Great…

(That is of course the stereo record you see pictured to the left.)

I have the early generation mono CD of this album. Although my car has a very good stereo system, you would never know there was any magic to the sound of these recordings by playing that CD. The whole thing is hopelessly flat and gray.

It starts to perk up by the song Things We Said Today, the 10th(!) track. Before that it just sounds compressed, with all the voices and instruments mashed together. There’s no transparency to the sound. It reminds me of listening to this music on the radio. If that’s the effect George Martin was going for with the old mono mix, he succeeded brilliantly. I prefer the twin-track unapproved stereo mixes found on the LPs.

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The Beatles on Vinyl – An Audiophile Wake Up Call

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Beatles

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 recordings of The Beatles they fall apart, and badly. Really 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 putative shortcomings of 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.)

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

Hot Stamper Pressings of Rubber Soul

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

[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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