Top Engineers – Norman Smith

The Beatles – Two Key Tracks for Testing Rubber Soul

Hot Stamper Pressings of Rubber Soul Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul is one of the most difficult Beatles records to get to sound right. The individual tracks seem to vary drastically in terms of their tonality. Some (What Goes On) sound sweet, rich and near perfect. Others (You Won’t See Me) can be thin and midrangy. What’s a mother to do?

I think what we’re dealing with here are completely different approaches to the final mix. The Beatles were experimenting with different kinds of sounds, and their experiments produced very different results from track to track on this album more than practically any other I can think of besides The White Album (which was recorded in multiple studios by multiple producers and engineers).

Is Your Rig Up To It?

One final note: this is the kind of record that really rewards a good cartridge/ arm/ table combination. You do not want to play this record with a lean or bright sounding cartridge, or a front end that does not track sibilances well. (I could name some equipment that I would not want to play this record on, but rather than insult the owners of such equipment, let’s just say they will have a tough time with this record.)

The Toughest Test on Side One

Nowhere Man.” Unless you have an especially good copy this song will sound VERY compressed, much too thick and congealed to be as enjoyable as it should be. The best copies manage to find the richness in the sound as well as the breathiness in the vocals that others barely hint at.

Play this track on whatever copies you own (more than one I hope) and see if it doesn’t sound as compressed, thick and congested as we describe.

The Toughest Test on Side Two

Wait,” a song we’ve never commented about before. The drums in the left channel are a key test — they should have huge amounts of energy.

In the other channel, the shakers and tambourines are well up in the mix and really come jumping out of the right speaker on the best copies.

The bass is a slightly lean compared to the other tracks and tends to get lost somewhat. If you can follow it throughout the song that’s a good thing.

Balancing the bass and drums in the left channel with the vocals and percussion in the right channel is not easy to do, which is of course what makes it a great track to test with.

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The Beatles / Past Masters Volumes 1 & 2 – Digital Remastering at its Worst

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Beatles Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Beatles

Hall of Shame pressing and another album reviewed and found to be perfectly suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past.

The late-’80s import pressings of this album are bright (the tambourine on Hey Jude will tear your head off, for example) and aggressive and very digital sounding.

Unfortunately, if you want better sounding versions of these songs, you’re gonna have to buy lots of pressings of the band’s albums and singles and EPs in order to find good sounding versions of them, which is exactly what I did back in the ’80s. It took me years to do it.

In the ’90s, when I was actually selling this awful record (because my system was just too dark and unrevealing to show me how awful it was), I wrote:

These are all the songs that aren’t on the original 13 British albums, so for those of you with the MoFi Beatles box, these 2 LPs give you all the tracks you don’t have.  

This was written so long ago that we actually refer to the MoFi Beatles Box as something an audiophile would own.

To be clear, in this day and age, no serious audiophile who loves The Beatles should have the MoFi Box Set or Past Masters in his collection.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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Listening in Depth to Rubber Soul

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Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul Is a Record We’ve Been Obsessed With for a Very Long Time

After playing so many copies of this record over the last few years, all of us here at Better Records have come to appreciate just how wonderful an album Rubber Soul really is. It has 14 fairly compact, well-structured, well-arranged pop songs, each of which is a gem in its own right. It reminds me a bit of the second album (With The Beatles) in that respect — short and to the point, get in and get out. 

But the second album does not feature acoustic guitars the way Rubber Soul does. From an audiophile point of view, the strumming of those amazingly Tubey Magical acoustic guitars is in large part what makes Rubber Soul such a special recording. (For more records that are good for testing how much Tubey Magic their acoustic guitars have, click here.)

But what we’ve noticed only recently [recently as in about 15 years ago] is how much the tambourine is used. It’s all over this album, and the good news is that most of the time it sounds great. There are other high frequency percussion instruments — shakers and the like — and between the tambourine and all the rest there’s just a lot of percussive energy on most of the songs that really carries them along.

As far as I am concerned, this could be called The Tambourine Album. No other Beatles album features that instrument so boldly in the mix and builds so many songs around it.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Drive My Car

Mobile Fidelity made a mess of this song on their Half-Speed Mastered release. They took out far too much upper midrange and top end.

What drives the energy of the song are the cow bell, the drums and other percussion. Instead of a scalpel Mobile Fidelity took a hatchet to this slightly bright track, leaving a dull, lifeless, boring mess. Some Parlophone copies may be a little bright and lack bass, but they still manage to convey the energy of the song. The purple label Capitols can also be quite good. A bit harsher and spittier, yes, but in spite of these shortcomings they communicates the music.

As much as I might like some of the MoFi Beatle records, and even what MoFi did with some of the other tracks on Rubber Soul, they sure sucked the life out of Drive My Car. We all remember how much fun that song was when it would come on the radio. Playing it on a very high quality stereo should make it more fun, not less. If you’ve got a Rubber Soul with a Drive My Car that’s no fun, it’s time to get another one.

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Listening in Depth to A Hard Day’s Night

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Play it against your MoFi or Heavy Vinyl pressing and you will quickly see why those lifeless LPs bore us to tears. Who in his right mind would want to suffer through a boring Beatles record?

Drop the needle on any song on the first side to see why we went crazy over a recent Shootout Winner on side one. The emotional quality of the boys’ performances really comes through on this copy.

They aren’t just singing — they’re really BELTIN’ it out. Can you imagine what that sounds like on the title track? We didn’t have to imagine it, WE HEARD IT!

TRACK LISTING

Side One

A Hard Day’s Night
I Should Have Known Better
If I Fell

This is a wonderful example of The Beatles’ harmonies at their best. Toward the end of the song, during one of their harmonic excursions, you can hear John’s voice drop out when something apparently catches in his throat, and I could swear that you can hear Paul McCartney react to it with a little laugh.

If their voices sound warm, sweet, and transparent on this track, at the very least you have a contender, and possibly a winner. Not many pressings are going to bring out all the timbral qualities of their voices.

I’m Happy Just to Dance With You
And I Love Her
Tell Me Why
Can’t Buy Me Love

Always starts with a bit of grit and grain, but usually sounds better by the second verse.

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Where Can I Find Your Hot Stamper Beatles Pressings in Mono?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Rubber Soul

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

I notice you don’t mention whether the Beatles recordings are stereo or mono. The rubber soul that just arrived is stereo. I’m guessing that the one I reordered is also stereo.

Do you guys stock the mono versions? Do you say on the site when something is mono. Let me know, as I like mono versions too.

I was close with Geoff Emerick and he always stressed to me that they spent tons of time on the mono mixes and not much on the stereos (up through Revolver). So let me know if/when you have mono for Rubber Soul and Revolver and perhaps I can snatch them up.

Brian

Brian,

All our records are stereo unless we specifically mention otherwise, as are our Beatles records.

We never sell Beatles records in mono, ever. Here is a little something I wrote about it:

Revolver in Disgraceful Mono

They spent time on the mono mixes because getting the levels right for all the elements in a recording is ten times harder than deciding whether an instrument or voice should be placed in the left, middle or right of the soundstage.

And they didn’t even do the stereo mixes right some of the time, IMHO.

But wall to wall beats all stacked up in the middle any day of the week in my book.

If you like mono Beatles records you will have to do your own shootouts, sorry!

Best, TP

  Hey Tom, 

Very interesting info on the Mono Beatles. I’ve never had the opportunity to play any early stereo pressings against the monos. Thanks for the opinion. I looked over the versions of the Beatles albums I bought that you are replacing for me and I noticed that they are 4th or 5th pressings.

Do you find that era better than first or second pressings (in general) or is it just a price and condition thing. Just curious. I’m new to higher end collecting and looking for an expert opinion (which clearly you are!). I’m excited to hear the better versions you’re sending me.

Brian

Brian,

Some of the best pressings, but not all the best pressings, were cut by Harry Moss in the ’70s, on much better transistor mastering equipment than they had in the ’60s, and that is part of the reason why some of them sound so much better than most of the earlier pressings. (The same thing happened at Columbia for Kind of Blue and a small number of other albums.)

But plenty of what Moss cut does not sound good, so searching out his versions may be helpful but not as helpful as most people think.

It’s what scientists and historians refer to as “the illusion of knowledge.” It prevents you from understanding what is really going on with records.

This accounts for virtually every internet thread and every comments section that audiophiles can be found on. These are people who think they know a lot more than they do, and therefore have no need to find out more, because they already know it.

A Mr Dunning and a Mr Kruger wrote about it here, and it should be well worth your time to read.

Best, TP

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The Beatles on MoFi – Another Disgracefully Spitty Half-Speed

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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 – A Hard Day’s Night

  • With killer sound throughout, we guarantee you’ve never heard the 14 tracks of A Hard Day’s Night sound remotely as good as they do here
  • Both sides are big, spacious and absolutely jumping out of the speakers, with relatively rich, smooth sound
  • This one gets the heart of the music right – the lad’s voices – and that’s what makes The Beatles FUN to listen to
  • 5 stars: “Decades after its original release, its punchy blend of propulsive rhythms, jangly guitars, and infectious, singalong melodies is remarkably fresh.”

Drop the needle on any song on either side to see why we went crazy over this one. The emotional quality of the boys’ performances really comes through on this copy. They aren’t just singing — they’re really BELTIN’ it out. Can you imagine what that sounds like on the title track? We didn’t have to imagine it, WE HEARD IT! (more…)