Top Engineers – Robin Black

Alice Cooper – Is This the Warner Bros. House Sound?

More of the Music of Alice Cooper

Reviews and Commentaries for Warner Bros. Records

This White Hot Stamper copy had the two best sides back to back we heard in our shootout, with a Triple Plus side two that really brrough this music to life.

Which is not easy to do, given that the average copy of this album is a sonic mess —

  • dark,
  • murky,
  • recessed,
  • compressed,
  • thick,
  • veiled and
  • congested.

There are a lot of green label Warner Bros. records from the ’70s that sound like that, one might even call it their “house sound.”

When you play the later pressings, it’s obvious that they’ve gone overboard in cleaning up the murk, leaving a sound that is lean, flat and modern — in other words, unmusical, inappropriate and just plain wrong.

Finding the right balance of fullness and clarity, especially on this album, may not be easy, but it can be done. This side two was far and away the best we heard and proves that the album can sound good. (more…)

Audiophile Wire Testing with Jethro Tull and His Friend Aqualung

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

… who seems to have a rather nasty bronchial condition…

[This commentary is from 2008 or so I’m guessing. Still holds up though.]

Like Heart’s Little Queen album, Aqualung presents us with a Demo Disc / Test Disc that really puts a stereo through its paces, assuming it’s the kind of stereo that’s designed to play an album like Aqualung.

Not many audiophile systems I’ve run across over the years were capable of reproducing the Big Rock Sound this album requires, but perhaps you have one and would like to use the album to test some of your tweaks and components. I used it to show me how bad sounding some of the audiophile wire I was testing really was.

Here’s what I wrote:

A quick note about some wire testing I was doing a while back. My favorite wire testing record at the time (2007)? None other than Aqualung!

Part One

Here’s why: Big Whomp Factor. Take the whomp out of Aqualung and the music simply doesn’t work, at all. To rock you need whomp, and much of Aqualung wants to rock.

Part Two

But not all of it. Some of it is quite pretty, so you must make sure to preserve the breathy flutes and recorders, and the delicate harmonics in the strummed acoustic guitar parts. That’s more or less the job of the top end; the whomp is the bottom end’s job. There’s no real mystery to either of those sonic elements.

Part Three

But the third and most important quality Aqualung has that makes it an ideal test disc is the honky midrange it has in places, especially in the “singing through a telephone” break in the middle of the title track. Why is this important?

Simply because many audiophile wires lean out the lower midrange and boost the upper midrange, which adds “clarity” and “detail” to the sound. (Detail can be a trap, something we discuss here.)

It’s not always easy to tell that that’s what’s really happening if you play the typical audiophile test record (whatever that may be. I don’t use them but I suspect there might be others that do.) On Aqualung that extra boost in the voice is positively ruinous. It already has a little problem there, so if that problem gets worse, it’s easy to spot.

Phony Audiophile Sound

The phony “presence” of most audiophile wire is exactly what Aqualung helps to guard against, because Aqualung doesn’t need any more presence.

It needs rich, full-bodied, punchy sound, with plenty of weight from 250 Hz on down. These are qualities found in few audiophile interconnects or speaker wires in my experience.

Come to think of it, none of the audiophile wires I’ve tried in the last two or three years [this was 15 years ago] would pass the Aqualung test. (I used different recordings before the recent discovery of the Hot Stamper Aqualung, but the recordings I used all showed up the same problems in wire after wire.)

Wire shootouts are very frustrating. Most wires do wonderful things in some part of the frequency spectrum — that’s why their inventors and proponents love them so much. They are often highly resolving and amazingly transparent.

But what they give with one hand they take away with the other — leaning out the sound, transforming rock records that used to really rock into rock records that kinda rock. When that happens I put them in their fancy boxes and ship them back from whence they came.

An Invitation

Here’s an idea. Next time you want to test some audiophile wire, invite your non-audiophile friends over to hear Aqualung with the new wires. My guess is they’re less likely to be fooled by the wire’s tricks than we audiophiles would be. They’ll know when the music works and when it doesn’t; you’ll be able to see it on their faces.

It’s easy to lose sight of what this hobby is all about when the money and the egos and the “new improved technologies” all get mixed up with the sound.

Fortunately Aqualung doesn’t care about all that crap. That’s why he’s a good guy to keep around.

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Paul McCartney’s Must Own Masterpiece

More of the Music of Paul McCartney

More Recordings by Robin Black

The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. It sounds like it’s recorded live in the studio, but of course that’s impossible, because Paul plays practically all the instruments himself! It just goes to show how good a multi-track studio recording can sound when it’s done well.

The recording also has an unprocessed quality which we have always found attractive, with some songs sounding more like demos than finished takes, about as far from Abbey Road as it is possible to get.

In our experience, the real McCartney Magic is only found on the best domestic Apple pressings. We’ve never heard an import that did much for us, and the later CBS issues are hardly worth the vinyl they’re pressed on.

This album, like Unplugged and Band on the Run (and not a whole lot else) is SUPERB from start to finish. At the end of side two you want MORE. I wish I could say that about the rest of his discography.

McCartney Checks Off Some Big Boxes for Us

It’s a Must Own record.

It’s a Rock and Pop Masterpiece.

And it’s a Personal Favorite of mine, one which I have been obsessed with since I first discovered how well recorded the album was sometime in the early ’90s.

The blog you are on now as well as our website are both devoted to very special records such as these.

In my opinion, this is also a record that should be more popular with audiophiles. If you have not heard this classic, check it out.

It is the very definition of a Big Speaker album. The better pressings have the kind of ENERGY in their grooves that are sure to leave most audiophile systems begging for mercy.

This is The Audio Challenge that awaits you. If you don’t have a system designed to play records with this kind of size and power, don’t expect to hear them the way McCartney, engineer Robin Black and anybody else involved in the production wanted you to.

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Paul McCartney – McCartney

More Paul McCartney

More Beatles

  • This copy of McCartney’s Apple debut boasts killer sound  from first note to last
  • Both sides are big and rich, with plenty of low end, strong midrange presence and the kind of spatiality that will fill your entire listening room
  • Record Collector highlighted “Every Night”, “Junk,” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” as songs that “still sound absolutely effortless and demonstrate the man’s natural genius with a melody.”
  • A Top 100 pick and Paul McCartney’s One and Only Masterpiece – a Must Own when it sounds this good!

The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. The music jumps right out of the speakers and fills up the room. (more…)

Today’s Bad Heavy Vinyl Pressing Is… Aqualung!

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

An Audiophile Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Rock LP badly mastered for the benefit of audiophiles looking for easy answers and quick fixes.

By the time the guitars at the end of the title track fade out you will be ready to take your heavy vinyl Classic Record pressing and ceremoniously drop it in a trashcan. (Actually, the best use for it is to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends that no heavy vinyl pressing can begin to compete with a Hot Stamper from Better Records. Not in a million years.)

We Was Wrong on All Counts

Over the course of the last 25 years we was wrong three ways from Sunday about our down-and-out friend Aqualung here.

We originally liked the MoFi from the early ’80s. Wrong. Proof positive that In the early ’80s I didn’t have good reproduction or know much about records, but I sure thought I did!

When the DCC 180g came along in 1997 we liked that one better. Wrong again. It didn’t have MoFi’s usual midrange suckout and sloppy bass, but it was bad in so many other ways that it is hard for me to believe I ever liked it. But I did, to some degree anyway.

Back then I was a DCC believer, a mistake I would come to recognize once a few more years had passed. See here and here.

And a few years back I was briefly enamored with some original British imports. Wrong for the third time.

After playing more than two dozen pressings of Aqualung in our recent [circa 2010] shootout, it’s pretty clear that the right early Reprise pressings KILL any and all contenders. Forget all the Green Label Chrysalis pressings. Forget the reissues. Forget the imports. It’s original domestic Reprise or nothing when it comes to Aqualung.
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Jethro Tull / Thick As a Brick – A Milestone Title from 2007

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More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Thick as a Brick

More Milestone Events in the History of Better Records

Until about 2007 this was the undiscovered gem (by me anyway) in the Tull catalog. The pressings we had heard up until then were nothing special, and of course the average pressing of this album is exactly that: no great shakes.

With the advent of better record cleaning fluids and much better tables, phono stages, room treatments and the like — taking full advantage of the remarkable number of revolutions in audio that have occurred over the last two or three decades –some copies of Thick As A Brick have shown themselves to be truly amazing sounding. Even the All Music Guide could hear how well-engineered the album was.

Marking Two Milestones from the Past

The 2007 commentary you see below discusses the pros and cons of both the British and Domestic original pressings. With continuing improvements to the system, room, etc., it would not be long before we realized that the British pressings were simply not competitive with the best domestic ones.

You might say this record helped us mark two important milestones in the developing history of Better Records.

The first, around 2007, was recognized by the fact that we had improved our playback to a very high level, one high enough to reproduce the album with all the clarity, size and energy we were shocked we were actually able to hear at the time.

The second milestone would result from the audio changes we continued to make for the next couple of years, from 2007 to 2010, which allowed us to recognize that the best British pressings, as good as they might be, were not in the same league as the best domestic ones. We broke down in detail exactly what we were listening for and what were hearing in this commentary, and the Brits were clearly not cutting it at the highest levels by 2010.

If you find yourself with one of more British copies of the album that you think have superior sound to the domestic, we would love to send you one of our Hot Stampers so you can hear what you are missing.

The Brit is a great sounding record, don’t get us wrong. Head to head against our killer domestic pressings, its shortcomings should be obvious. This is why we do shootouts, and why you must do them too, if owning the highest quality pressings is important to you.

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Pink Floyd – Way Back in 2007 We Discovered the Hottest Stampers of Them All

Reviews and Commentaries for Meddle

Reviews and Commentaries for Pink Floyd

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

This review from 2007 describes our experience of having stumbled upon the right stampers for Meddle. To this day, only these stampers and no others have won the many shootouts we’ve done for the album over the ensuing years, perhaps as many as a dozen shootouts or more. These stampers are also very hard to find, which is why you have not seen a copy of Meddle hit the site in a while.

To see more albums with one set of stampers that consistently win shootouts, click here.

Want to find your own shootout winner? Scroll to the bottom to see our advice on doing just that.

This Harvest Green Label British Import pressing has a side one that goes FAR beyond anything we’ve ever heard for this album. We had no choice but to award this side one the very rare A with FOUR pluses A++++. We’ve never given any side of any other Pink Floyd record such a high grade, so you can be sure that you’ve never heard them sound this amazing!

We’ve been buying up every clean copy we can find with good stampers since we found our last White Hot Meddle back in March. Unfortunately, most of them left us a bit cold. Most copies just don’t have the kind of magic that we know is on the tape. Beyond that, many of them are too noisy to sell — even the minty looking ones. 

The Best Side One Ever

Side one here is OFF THE CHARTS, OUT OF THIS WORLD, DEMO DISC QUALITY. Everything you’ve ever wanted in a Pink Floyd album is here in generous quantities — transparency, breathy vocals, HUGE bass, warmth, richness, ambience, and depth to the soundfield. A copy like this allows you to hear INTO the music in a way that would never be possible with a lesser pressing. The presence and immediacy are staggering, and the bass is going to blow your mind. There’s TONS of life and energy, and the highs are silky beyond belief. This is tubey magical analog at its best, folks — it’s an A++++ side without doubt. (more…)

Listening in Depth to McCartney

More of the Music of Paul McCartney

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. The music jumps right out of the speakers and fills up the room.

The album sounds like it’s recorded live in the studio, but of course that’s impossible, because Paul plays practically all the instruments himself! It just goes to show how good a multi-track studio recording can sound when done well. (More rock and pop recordings with live in the studio sound can be found here.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

The Lovely Linda 
That Would Be Something 
Valentine Day 
Every Night 
Hot as Sun/Glasses 
Junk 
Man We Was Lonely

Side Two

Oo You

The distorted guitar in a huge and reverberant room that leads off this side is one of my favorite “sounds” on any McCartney album. The bigger, richer and grungier the guitar sounds, the better.

Momma Miss America
Teddy Boy

This is a very tough track to get right. There is processing on Paul’s voice that some copies make a mess of, adding a kind of unpleasant resonance, which of course the better copies do not.

It’s a fairly simple arrangement: acoustic guitar, bass, voice and Linda’s backing vocals. When all of these things are in balance, the sound will be lovely. Paul’s voice, because of the processing I mentioned, doesn’t sound as natural as it does on other tracks, but it shouldn’t be irritating or disagreeable.

Singalong Junk
Maybe I’m Amazed

Another exceptionally hard track to get right. On a top copy the guitar solo will JUMP right out of your speakers. It should have the energy of LIVE MUSIC

Kreen-Akrore

The Word Is Out

We have been touting McCartney’s first solo album for more than a decade. Ever read a word about it in an audiophile context elsewhere?

Of course you haven’t. The audiophile world doesn’t know and doesn’t care about great albums like this one, but we at Better Records LIVE for albums with sound and music of this caliber. It’s a permanent resident of our Top 100 List for a reason: no other solo album by a Beatle can touch it.

As for surface issues, we wish we could find them quiet, but that is simply not an option, especially considering how dynamic the recording is. We’ve used every trick in the book to try to get copies of this album to play Mint Minus, but it’s not usually in the cards. Maybe I’m Amazed, in particular, seems to be noisy on nine copies out of every ten. If you’re looking for a copy without any surface noise, you’re probably better off tracking down the DCC Gold CD, which is actually quite good.

But no CD is ever going to sound like our record, not now, not ever. This is where I simply can’t understand how the typical audiophile can make the tradeoff for flat, average sound with quiet vinyl — the sound of these Heavy Vinyl reissues that have sprouted up all over the place, each one worse than the last — and the wonderful, but slightly noisy, sound to be found on the best originals.

Of course the obvious answer is that it is simply too much work to find enough original copies to clean and play in order to come across that needle in a haystack: the Hot Stamper pressing.


1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005

Although for years shunned and treated as the devil’s plastic, for ostensibly shattering The Beatles’ dream, Paul McCartney’s first solo album is never less than charming. While Lennon and Harrison were busy making their point and Ringo was busy recording pub singalongs, McCartney released this naive template for his solo career: some blinding songs; some stoned noodles; and some frankly embarrassing tosh.

Recorded during the end of 1969 at home in London’s St. John’s Wood, McCartney feels wistfully undercooked — a deliberate reaction to the smooth veneers of The Beatles’ swansong, Abbey Road. After all the recent tension of working with the group in the studio, here McCartney worked alone, overdubbing on his Studer four-track recorder with a lone microphone.

The album is full of the touches that both enthrall and infuriate about McCartney. His two Beatles leftovers display these extremes perfectly: whereas “Junk” is wistful, poetic, and vivid, “Teddy Boy” is painfully silly. However, the whole album rests in the shadow of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which arrives late and effortlessly demonstrates just how much an architect of the Abbey Road sound he was. A mature adult love ballad, it is possibly his finest song ever.

Released in April 1970, the album received sniffy reactions from the media, but quickly topped the American charts and reached the runner-up position in the UK. With its symbolic cover and snapshots of his new family, McCartney was not so much a willful post-Fab nose-thumbing as a manifesto of his intent and a catalog for his new life.

Daryl Easlea

Circus, 7/70

McCartney is better than the Beatles’ newest, Let It Be, better than the Beatles together. Which is, after all these years both a sad and an instructive thing to observe. Paul plays all the instruments — drums, bass, lead, rhythm, piano — and has in effect become the Beatles in himself, incorporating everything, including possibly the personalities of the other three. His sound is the Beatles still, and that is poignant, because the rest of them are not there, and maybe never will be.

Paul’s exhibiting some of the most together sounds any of the Beatles have ever put together. He is still innocent, charming, touching, lyrical, sympathetic, wistful, sad, longing, elfish, and poignant, But he is no longer a Beatle, just a damn fine musician and writer. His drum solo on “Hot As Sun,” accompanied by heavy breathing, is work for him, an effort but which in the end comes very naturally. Very heavy head record, too. “Maybe I’m Amazed” is incontestably the love ballad of all time.

Jonathan Eisen

Jethro Tull – A MoFi Disaster (But Some Folks Refuse to Believe It)

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

Sonic Grade: D

[This commentary was written about fifteen years ago, perhaps more.]

We noted in our Hot Stamper review for Aqualung that the MoFi is a disaster, with the murky bloated DCC even worse. (We didn’t like the Classic either. We’re hard to please when it comes to Aqualung it seems.) 

But we used to like the MoFi and DCC just fine. What could possibly have changed?

It’s a long story, and a pretty long commentary, which we have excerpted from a customer’s letter, along with our reply. Note that we have edited our original commentary and his letter for the sake of brevity. Now the letter:

To: Tom Port,

As far as “Aqualung” is concerned, I have a Mobile Fidelity issue of this album which sounds great and being pressed on some of the best vinyl in the world by people who are known for their meticulous care with records, I don’t think that there would be much difference at all in the quality of different MoFi pressings of this or any of their records.

The key phrase here is “I don’t think that there would be much difference at all…”. You see, this is not something to think about, this is something to test. Thinking got this gentleman nowhere; testing might have had the opposite effect.

How About Abbey Road?

And speaking of MoFis all sounding the same, we had a MoFi that we called “the Killer MFSL Abbey Road of All Time” which sold for $500. Our average copy is about $75. Which one do you think sounded better? And how can there be that big of a difference in the sound of one MoFi relative to another?

Don’t ask me; we just play them and price them according to the sound. Those big questions I defer to Joe. He thinks he has the answers.

Old Hot Stampers

There were no Hot Stampers thirty years ago. This is a process that has been evolving over the course of many years, but for all practical purposes Hot Stampers as much more than a concept didn’t exist until sometime in the ’90s.

With continual improvements in our equipment, room acoustics, electrical quality, cleaning techniques and last but not least, listening skills, our audio world has turned completely upside down. 180 gram? Half-Speed Masters? Don’t make me laugh. We can beat that junk with one arm tied behind our back. It’s like taking candy from a baby.

Twenty Five Years Is a Lifetime in Audio

As for the MoFi being better than a record he used to have, ouch. Does Joe ever upgrade his equipment? Does anything ever change? I never liked the original domestic Aqualungs either, but as my stereo got better, my views changed one hundred and eighty degrees. The site is full of commentary to that effect for records too numerous to mention.

The MoFi is a forty year old record. If you’re using a forty year old system to play it, you might not notice all its faults. A stereo like that is so antiquated it can actually succeed in hiding them. But any decent modern system should make the shortcomings of that pressing woefully obvious and unbearable.

Joe, buddy, time for some new equipment. Toss that Technics and start hearing what’s really on your records. (On second thought, considering Joe’s approach to record collecting, that may not be such a good idea. Not to worry. Read below; Joe is totally on board with not doing anything.)

I’ve spent many years and good money obtaining the records in my collection. I don’t need to spend lots more replacing them with “hot stampers.”

Joe, you don’t need to replace your Aqualung or any other record you own with another copy. You don’t need to do anything, especially if you think it’s impossible for any pressing to sound better than the one you have. That seems to be the proposition you have put forth — you have the best, and that’s all there is to it. You “think” nothing can be better, therefore nothing can be better.

We, on the other hand, learn new things about records and equipment all the time; it’s what makes the hobby fun. The site is devoted to the idea that what we thought was true yesterday may not be true today.

Doing the Work

I may come across as a Know-It-All, but Know-It-Alls can’t learn anything, and I learn new things about records with every shootout. I can’t say I learn much from other audiophiles; a bit here and there.

Mainly I learn what I learn by doing the work that nobody else seems to want to do: playing scores of records against each other until the winners show their true colors.

Conducting rigorously controlled experiments with thousands of records has taught us everything we know. (Perhaps it would be better to say everything we think we know; we could be wrong. It happens a lot.) 

It’s a lot of work but how else can it be done? By thinking about which pressing should sound the best? Now do you see how silly that sounds?

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Pink Floyd – Meddle

  • An outstanding British copy of this very well recorded album, engineered by the enormously talented Robin Black
  • Here is the Tubey Magic, presence, size and space we guarantee you have never heard on Meddle no matter what pressing you may own
  • An audiophile Demonstration Quality Recording on a par with Dark Side of the Moon, which is really saying something!
  • 4 1/2 stars:”Pink Floyd were nothing if not masters of texture, and Meddle is one of their greatest excursions into little details, pointing the way to the measured brilliance of Dark Side of the Moon and the entire Roger Waters era.”
  • More Recordings brilliantly

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