Top Engineers – Rhett Davies

Phil Manzanera – A Truly Awesome Feat of Engineering by Rhett Davies

More of the Music of Phil Manzanera

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Phil Manzanera

You may recall reading this bit about Rhett Daviesengineering on Dire Straits’ debut:

“…until something better comes along, this is his Masterpiece. It has to be one of the best sounding rock records ever made, with Tubey Magical mids, prodigious bass, transparency and freedom from hi-fi-ishness and distortion like few rock recordings you have ever heard.”

Well, something better has now come along, and it’s called Diamond Head.

It has some of the Biggest, Boldest Sound we have ever heard. Diamond Head isn’t known as an audiophile album but it should be — the sound is glorious — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, and as rich and dynamic as it gets.

It’s clearly a Big Speaker Demo Disc. Play this one as loud as you can. The louder you play it, the better it sounds.

The best copies have Room Shaking Deep Bass with the kind of Whomp that can drive this music to practically unexplored heights.

It’s also transparent, with a large, deep soundfield that really allows you to hear into the music and the studio space in which it was created. The clarity is superb with all the detail and texture one could hope for, but the real kicker is the amount of Energy and Musical Drive that these two sides have going for them.

This is what the Master Tape is really capable of — Mind Bogglingly Good Sound.

Looking for Tubey Magic? Rhett Davies is your man. Just think about the sound of the first Dire Straits album or Avalon. The best pressings of those albums — those with truly Hot Stampers — are swimming in it. (more…)

Dire Straits – Self-Titled

More Dire Straits

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides of this UK pressing of the band’s brilliant debut
  • One of the best sounding rock records ever made, with rich, sweet, smooth mids; prodigious amounts of bass; superb transparency and clarity; and a freedom from hi-fi-ishness and a lack of distortion like very few rock records we have ever heard
  • Rhett Davies knocked this one out of the park – it’s a Top 100 title, a member of the Tubey Magical Top Ten, and our favorite by the band for both sound and music
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Knopfler also shows an inclination toward Dylanesque imagery, which enhances the smoky, low-key atmosphere of the album… the album is remarkably accomplished for a debut, and Dire Straits had difficulty surpassing it throughout their career.”

Rhett Davies is one of our favorite engineers. He’s the man behind Taking Tiger Mountain, 801 Live and Avalon to name just a few of his most famous recordings, all favorites of ours of course.

The man may be famous for some fairly artificial sounding recordings — Eno’s, Roxy Music’s and The Talking Heads’ albums come to mind — but it’s obvious to us now, if it wasn’t before, that those are entirely artistic choices, not engineering shortcomings.

Rhett Davies, by virtue of the existence of this album alone, has proven that he belongs in the company of the greatest engineers of all time, right up there with the likes of Bill Porter, Ken Scott, Stephen Barncard, Geoff Emerick, Glyn Johns and others we could mention. (more…)

Roxy Music – Manifesto

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More Roxy Music

  • An incredible early UK import pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • It’s simply BIGGER and RICHER than any other copy we played, with rock solid energy to beat them all
  • Forget the dubby domestic pressings and whatever crappy Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – the Tubey Magic on this pressing and the others in our shootout prove again and again that the UK LPs are the only way to fly on Manifesto
  • “The songs ending each side fade out with real grace and leave you hanging, wanting more — drenched in a romance out of reach.”
  • If you’re a Roxy fan, this title from 1979 surely deserves a place in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1979 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Roxy Music / Avalon – A Simply Vinyl Mastering Success? Or Is It?

More of the Music of Roxy Music

Reviews and Commentaries for Avalon

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Roxy Music

[These notes were written many years ago, which means that we ourselves may not agree with some or all of the commentary you see below.]

Sonic Grade: B (I’m guessing)

This version just plain KILLS most domestic copies and probably quite a few Brit ones too. Simply Vinyl did a superb job here.

Correction: an unnamed mastering engineer at the label did a superb job. Simply Vinyl isn’t in the business of mastering ANYTHING. They leave that up to the pros at the record labels. Sometimes those guys screw it up and sometimes they get it right.

This pressing sounds just like the last import version I had, which sounded great but unfortunately went out of print in the mid-nineties as I remember. Might be mastered by the same guy using the same tape on the same cutter for all I know.

Take it from me, this pressing gets this music right in a way that will not leave the listener wanting more. It really delivers. The sound is superb — sweet, open, with punchy bass and extended highs.

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801 – Clarity Was Never the Point

More of the Music of Brian Eno

Reviews and Commentaries for 801 Live

Some audiophiles get worked up listening for details in their favorite recordings. Is that where the music is – in the details? Lots of details come out when one copy is brighter than another.

Brighter ain’t necessarily better. Most of the time it’s just brighter. 

This album isn’t about clarity. It’s about the sound of a Rock Concert. It’s about the raw power of one of the most phenomenal rhythm sections ever captured in performance on analog tape.

Next time you try out some audiophile wire or a new tweak, play this record to make sure you haven’t lost the essential weight and power of the sound. This album doesn’t care about your love of detail. It wants you to feel those bass notes going right through you. If the new wire can’t get that right, it’s got to go.

Our Hot Stamper Commentary for 801 Live Circa 2007

This is a one of my All Time Favorite records — a Desert Island Disc if there ever was one. I treasure this album. And I just now finally figured out how to tell the good ones from the not-so-good ones. I confess I was listening for the wrong things in the shootouts I was doing over the last few years, and in that I have the feeling I was not alone. I think this is a fairly common Major Audiophile Pitfall that we all get stuck in on occasion.

In this case I was trying to find a more transparent copy, one with more shimmer to the cymbals and air around the instruments. The first track is a little opaque and I wanted to be able to hear into the music better. I tried many import and domestic copies, but none of them seemed to have the particular qualities I was looking for. They all sounded different, but I could not for the life of me find one that sounded clearly better.

That was my mistake. I was guilty of Bad Audiophile Thinking.

This album isn’t about clarity. It’s about the sound of a live Rock and Roll concert. It’s about the raw power of one of the most phenomenal rhythm sections ever captured on tape.

I discovered that fact only a few days ago (03/07), [yes, this is a very old commentary, but it still holds up!] even though I have been listening to this album for 30 years. (It started when a college buddy played me the wildly original Tomorrow Never Knows from the album and asked me to name the tune. It’s so different from The Beatles version I confess it took me until the vocals came in and I recognized the lyrics.)

Having recently acquired another nice import, I cleaned it up and threw it on, just checking for condition and really not intending to get too involved in the sound. Immediately I was struck by how beefy the bass was. (The Legacy Focus’ speakers I currently audition with have three 12″ woofers that can really pump it out down low.)

I hadn’t played the record recently, not since the latest round of improvements, and I was hearing a solid bottom end that I never knew this record had. Was it a Hot Stamper? A magical copy?

Separating the Men from the Boys

I had to know, so it was shootout time. I won’t bore you with the details, but at some point I realized that what separates the men from the boys on this LP is bass. The copies with the most powerful, deepest bass, the stuff under 50 cycles, seem to get everything else right too. The bass is the foundation to the sound, and without it the guitars and voices don’t sound right. They sound relatively thin.

The bass-heavy copies are more dynamic too. They communicate the power of the music in a way that the leaner copies simply do not. With the leaner copies it’s a good album. With the bass-heavy copies YOU ARE THERE. (That’s assuming you play this record at the levels necessary for the suspension of disbelief effect to take hold, i.e., loud.)

I stumbled upon the secret to this album by accident. With all my training and all my effort over the years, I still wasn’t able to focus on the key elements in the music that needed to be reproduced properly for the music to work.

It was nothing less than a Milestone Event in the History of Better Records.

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Bryan Ferry / Boys And Girls – Two Tracks Are Key

More of the Music of Bryan Ferry

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

The song Valentine, the second track on side two, is a key test for that side. Note how processed Ferry’s vocals are. On even the best copies they will sound somewhat bright. The test is the background singers: they should sound tonally correct and silky sweet.

If Ferry sounds correct, they will sound dull, and so will the rest of the side. That processed sound on his vocal is on the tape. Trying to “fix” it will ruin everything.

You can be pretty sure that whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing has been made for this album that they tried to fix the hell out of it. Doubtless the result is not a pretty one. It rarely is.

On the top copies the lead on the very next track, Stone Woman, is tonally right on the money.

These two tracks, two of the best on the album, together make it easy to know if your copy is correct in the midrange.

Track two: background vocals.

Track three: lead vocal.

What could be easier?

Key Listening Test for Both Sides

The quality of the percussion is critical to much of the music here. There’s tons of it on Boys and Girls, even more than on its predecessor Avalon, and unless you have plenty of top end, presence and transparency, all that percussion can’t work its magic to drive this rhythmic music.

How About the British Pressings?

Bryan Ferry is British, as is bandmate David Gilmour and the recording and producing team headed by the amazing Rhett Davies. And yes, the recording was done at many studios, most of them overseas.

But the album is mixed by Bob Clearmountain at The Power Station and mastered by Robert Ludwig at Masterdisk, and that means the master tape was right here in America when it came time to get the sound of the tape onto vinyl.

The British pressings are made from dubs and sound like it.

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Roxy Music – Avalon

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More Roxy Music

  • This excellent UK pressing boasts Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Copies that are exceptionally transparent, with three-dimensional depth and a wide soundstage, present this music the way it was meant to be heard
  • Credit Rhett Davies with creating the sonic space to allow the singers, instruments and subtle studio effects to be balanced and integrated from front to back, side to side and top to bottom
  • 5 stars: “Ferry was never this romantic or seductive, either with Roxy or as a solo artist, and Avalon shimmers with elegance in both its music and its lyrics.”

Records like Avalon get people (often known as audiophiles) to spend wads and wads of money in pursuit of expensive analog equipment good enough to bring this wonderful music to life in their very own listening rooms.

The album rewards a stereo with many of the qualities that audiophiles prize most highly when selecting equipment — spaciousness, transparency, clarity, detail, depth, soundstaging, speed, high frequency extension and the like.

The mix is as dense as any we know. Only the best copies have the ability to show you everything that’s on the tape. Credit must go to the amazingly talented Rhett Davies for creating the space to put so many instruments and sounds in.

We would add to that list presence and energy, along with warmth, fullness, and lack of smear on the transients. Whomp and rock and roll power do not seem to play much part in separating the best from the rest, although it’s nice when the bottom end is big and solid.

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801 / 801 Live – None Rocks Harder

A Member of the Prestigious “None Rocks Harder” Club

Reviews and Commentaries for 801 Live

The best Island copies of this album ROCK HARDER than practically any record we’ve ever played. If you have the system for it, this one will bring a Live Art Rock concert right into your living room!

This is a BIG SPEAKER record. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at fairly loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It’s right at the top of the list of my Favorite Albums — a Desert Island Disc if ever there was one. I stumbled across it more thirty years ago and I’ve loved it ever since. It all started when a college buddy played me the wildly original Tomorrow Never Knows from the album and asked me to name the tune. Eno’s take is so different from The Beatles version that I confess it took me an embarrassingly long while to catch on.

Click here to see more titles that have earned a place on our None Rocks Harder List

Adventures in Music and Sound

Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno were founding members of Roxy Music.

AMG calls Roxy Music the “most adventurous rock band of the early ’70s” and I’m inclined to agree with them.

Roxy are certainly one of the most influential and important bands in my growth as a music lover and audiophile, joining the ranks of Supertramp, Ambrosia, 10cc, Steely Dan, Yes, Bowie and countless others, musicians and bands who seemed to me dedicated to exploring and exploding the conventions of popular music.

My equipment was forced to evolve in order to be able to play the scores of challenging recordings issued by these groups in the ’70s.

You could say that the albums of Roxy Music and others informed not only my taste in music but the actual stereo I play that music on. I’ve had large scale dynamic speakers for the last four decades, precisely in order to play records like this, the kind of music I fell in love with more than forty years ago.

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801 – 801 Live

More Brian Eno

More Live Recordings of Interest

  • 801 Live IS BACK and rocks harder than ever on this early Island import copy with excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We shot out a number of other imports and this one had the presence, bass, and dynamics that were missing from most of the other copies we played, not to mention that LIVE ROCK and ROLL ENERGY that old records have and new records don’t
  • Recorded at Queen Elisabeth Hall in September 1976 – one of only three gigs the group (a side project of Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera) did over a two-month period
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This album marks probably one of the last times that Eno rocked out in such an un-self-consciously fun fashion, but that’s not the only reason to buy it: 801 Live is a cohesive document of an unlikely crew who had fun and took chances. Listeners will never know what else they might have done if their schedules had been less crowded, but this album’s a good reminder.”

801 Live ranks near the top of the list of my All Time Favorite Albums — a Desert Island Disc if ever there was one.

I stumbled across it decades ago and have loved it ever since. (It started when a college buddy played me the wildly original “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the album and asked me to name the tune. Eno’s take is so different from The Beatles version that I confess it took me an embarrassingly long while to catch on.)

What’s especially interesting about this copy is that we went crazy for it even though it did not have the best bass of the copies we played, which, as you will see below, clearly contradicts what we had previously written. We thought that the copies with the best bass had the best everything else too, but that was not what we heard this time around.

THIS copy got the music to work its magic, and it did it with most, but not all, of the bass of the best. Not sure how to explain it. Rules were made to be broken maybe?

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Talking Heads’ Masterpiece – More Songs About Buildings and Food

More of the Music of Talking Heads

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of More Songs.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

I don’t think these guys (and gal) ever put together a better group of songs. The ultimate pressings of Little Creatures go a step further sonically, but the best copies of this one can sound incredible, if not quite Demo Disc worthy.

We’re huge fans of late ’70s / early ’80s Art Rock and New Wave music, and these guys are obviously some of the best in the biz. I’d be hard pressed to name another act from the era who put out so many good records.

Along with this album, More Songs About Buildings And Food, Fear Of Music, and Little Creatures are all works of genius. ’77 is full of good ideas, but it doesn’t sound like a fully realized work of art the way the next four albums did.

Key Test Tracks

With Our Love turned out to be one of the better tests for side one. The picking of the rhythmic guitar in the intro told us just about everything we needed to know about smear, veiling and resolution. On most copies the instrument is simply blurry, the notes mashed together. When you get a copy with its transients intact, resolving properly and clearly right there in front of you, you have the makings of a Hot Stamper side one.

My other test track for side one was Warning Signs. This is a great track for evaluating transparency and bass. On the average copy you’d never know how much ambience exists around the drums. Hint: it’s a lot.

Our favorite copies have a fair amount of WHOMP down low, giving the bass guitar that rich, beefy sound that we’re simply crazy for here at Better Records. Once you’ve heard a copy with well-defined, note-like bass, nothing less will do.

Artists Only

A great test track for side two is Artists Only. The guitars in the intro section are almost unbearable to listen to on most copies. I recognize that I am somewhat sensitive to harsh high frequencies, but I’m literally in pain when I listen to an overly compressed, overly midrangy copy. There’s got to be a better way!

Wait, there is. Find a copy that actually has a sweet top end. It makes all the difference.

Take Me to the River

One of the best sounding tracks on the album is the awesome cover of Al Green’s Take Me To The River. Most copies are very skimpy with the amount of bottom end information you get.

Pay attention to the opening before the keys start. The best pressings give you texture on the bass that you won’t find on most. When everything’s working right you’ll also hear ambience around the organ that’s nowhere to be found on the average pressing.

The bass should be tight, punchy, and fairly deep. We wouldn’t mind if some of the tracks were mixed with a bit more punch to the bottom end, but far be it from us to tell Brian Eno and Rhett Davies how to do their jobs. At least on some copies the bass has the kind of power that brings a song like Take Me To the River to heights you probably never imagined it could go.

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