audiophile vinyl

Peter Gabriel / Security

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  • One of the most important records in the Peter Gabriel canon, original and influential on so many levels
  • With the benefit of today’s technology, on a copy this good you hear into the soundfield in a way never possible before, picking out all the drummers and counting all the layers of multi-tracked choruses
  • “Security remains a powerful listen, one of the better records in Gabriel’s catalog, proving that he is becoming a master of tone, style, and substance…”

Man, does this album sound better than I remember it from back in the ’80s when I first played it. Stereos have come a long way since then, along with a host of other things that help records sound better, such as cleaning fluids, room treatments and all the rest. Now you can really hear INTO the soundfield in a way that simply was never possible before, picking out all the drummers and counting all the layers of PG’s multi-tracked choruses. On the best pressings, both sides are huge, and the music jumps out of the speakers. The balance is perfection.

This is not an easy album to find good sound for. Most copies are thick, opaque, turgid, veiled — pick your favorite adjective for mud, most copies fit the profile. When you find one like this, that has some real space and clarity, it’s amazing how much more sense the music makes.

The best copies have the kind of qualities that are not difficult to recognize:

  • presence, putting PG front and center;
  • dynamics, both micro and macro;
  • energy, allowing the rhythmic elements to bring out the life in the music;
  • transparency, so that we can hear all the way to the back of the studio; and
  • ambience, the air that surrounds all the players and their instruments

And of course we played the album VERY LOUD, as loud as we could. It’s the only way to get the massive drumming to sound right. (more…)

Strauss / Also Sprach Zarathustra – MoFi Reviewed

More of the music of Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss Recordings We’ve Reviewed

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Is the painting on the cover that of a man whose head is hurting from the ridiculously bright string tone of this MoFi?

Doubtful. Impossible actually. But that’s exactly how my head feels when I play one of these awful MoFi classical releases.

Their rock, pop and jazz remasters were hit and miss in the old days, with some real winners hidden amongst the junk, but every one of their classical releases that I ever played was a dog..

One way you know you dealing with bad records and collector mentality? When you find one of these records in your local used record store, it is almost guaranteed to be pristine. Good records get played. MoFi’s classical releases got collected and sat on a shelf.

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found to be yet another record perfectly suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past.

Can you believe this bright and phony sounding piece of junk was once on the TAS Super Disc List? Sad, isn’t it? At least Harry had the good sense to delete it way back in the ’80s, along with all the rest of the awful MoFi’s that were on it at the time.  

Hey, I sure liked a lot of my MoFi’s in the ’80s too. Thank god I didn’t have my own Super Disc list at the time. It would be every bit as embarrassing as Harry’s list is these days, although it’s really not Harry’s list these days anymore, or at least not exclusively his list. It now has lots of new stuff on there and much of it appears to be of dubious quality, but that’s pure prejudice on my part of course. I have never played most of the records and have no intention of finding out what they sound like. Much of it is music that does not appeal to me, and some of the new additions are on Heavy Vinyl, so why bother?


Fleetwood Mac / Rumours – Listening in Depth

 

This is a rock album — it needs to be played LOUD and it needs to be played on a DYNAMIC system.

Case in point: consider how quietly The Chain starts out and how loud it is by the end. Those kinds of macro-dynamics are very rare on a pop recording. Rumours has the kind of dynamics you just don’t hear anymore, which is why the killer copies are a such a THRILL to play on a big dynamic system fitted with a top-notch turntable! (more…)

Billie Holiday – All Or Nothing At All

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More Titles that Sound Best in Mono

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on all four sides – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • This 2 LP set features most of the tracks from the original release plus another handful of recordings from the same period (1955-1956)
  • It’s one of the better sounding Billie Holiday records we’ve heard, any guaranteed to beat any Heavy Vinyl reissue you’ve wasted your money on
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… features some of Billie Holiday’s top Verve performances from the mid-’50s… she runs the emotional gamut from summery optimism to pathos-rich musings. Befitting her perennial after-hours mood, the majority of songs here feature Holiday in a low-down mood of the highest order.”

Naturally, the highest quality vocal reproduction has to be the main focus on a Hot Stamper pressing for any Billie Holiday record we would offer. Her voice should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and present.

In addition to being tonally correct and natural, the pressings we offer must also be highly resolving. With the right room and the right equipment, properly setup and adjusted of course, you will hear everything that these vintage recordings have to offer, including the three-dimensional space of the studios in which the various sessions were recorded, under the auspices of Norman Granz.

The Sound of the Original

The original Trumpet Player Verve mono we had on hand to play suffered from an EQ problem we frequently run into during our shootouts for vintage vocal albums. Actually, to be clear, there were two main problems in the case of All or Nothing At All: a boosted midrange and occasional quite serious sibilance issues.

Ella Fitzgerald’s albums can suffer from these same two problems. It’s a trick to find the copies that are tonally correct in the midrange and do not have the kind of cutter head distortions that result in excessive sibilance.

What the Best Sides of All Or Nothing At All Have Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1958
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Old and New Work Well Together

This reissue is spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s. We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 40 years ago, not the dubious modern mastering of today.

The combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on these four superb sides.

We were impressed with the fact that these pressings excel in so many areas of reproduction. What was odd about it — odd to most audiophiles but not necessarily to us — was just how rich and Tubey Magical the reissue can be — on the right pressing.

What We’re Listening For on All Or Nothing At All

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Mono Vs. Fake Stereo

The mono remastering — on the right pressings, obviously — can be superb. We found out to our chagrin that this particular double album had been cut by a number of different mastering houses, with wildly varying results. In a way we were lucky; had we heard the bad ones early on we would never have been motivated to buy more of them and get the shootout going.

The Sessions

  • Tracks A1 to A6: Recorded in Los Angeles, August 23-25, 1955
  • Tracks B1 to C2: Recorded in New York, June 6-7, 1956
  • Tracks C3 to D1: Recorded in Los Angeles, August 14, 1956
  • Tracks D2 to D5: Recorded in Los Angeles, August 18, 1956

The Players

  • Bass – Joe Mondragon
  • Bass – John Simmons
  • Clarinet – Tony Scott
  • Drums – Alvin Stoller
  • Drums – Larry Bunker
  • Drums – Lenny McBrowne
  • Guitar – Barney Kessel
  • Guitar – Kenny Burrell
  • Piano – Jimmy Rowles
  • Piano – Wynton Kelly
  • Saxophone – Ben Webster
  • Saxophone – Benny Carter
  • Saxophone – Paul Quinichette
  • Trumpet – Charlie Shavers
  • Trumpet – Harry Edison

TRACK LISTING

Side One

A Fine Romance
Isn’t This A Lovely Day
Everything I Have Is Yours
What’s New
I Get A Kick Out Of You
I Hadn’t Anyone Till You

Side Two

Trav’lin’ Light
I Must Have That Man
Some Other Spring
Strange Fruit
No Good Man
Lady Sings The Blues

Side Three

God Bless The Child
Good Morning Heartache
Cheek To Cheek (From the original album)
Ill Wind (From the original album)
Speak Low (From the original album)

Side Four

Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me (From the original album)
Sophisticated Lady (From the original album)
All Or Nothing At All (From the original album)
April In Paris (From the original album)
We’ll Be Together Again (From the original album)

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

… features some of Billie Holiday’s top Verve performances from the mid-’50s… she runs the emotional gamut from summery optimism to pathos-rich musings. Befitting her perennial after-hours mood while at the label, the majority of songs here feature Holiday in a low-down mood of the highest order.

The supporting cast isn’t bad either, what with the likes of Harry Eddison, Barney Kessel, Ben Webster, and Jimmy Rowles tagging along. A gem.

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

  • An outstanding early British pressing with big, bold Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on three sides and superb Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on the fourth
  • There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals, in-your-listening-room midrange presence and no shortage of rock and roll energy
  • Overflowing with great songs, way too many to list – Candle In The Wind, Bennie And The Jets, and GYBR all sound killer here
  • A Top 100 Title: “…its individual moments are spectacular and the glitzy, crowd-pleasing showmanship that fuels the album pretty much defines what made Elton John a superstar in the early ’70s.”

GYBR has the best rocker Elton and Bernie ever wrote: Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. Of course, it’s one of the tracks on side four we used to test with — if you’re going to listen to GYBR all day, why not play the songs that are the most fun to play? On the good pressings, the song just KILLS. (more…)

Turntable Tweaking Works Its Magic Once Again “I’m sitting in shock!”

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More Turntable Setup Advice 

Hi Tom,

Just wanted to give you a big thank you for the commentary on turntable tweaking. I constantly learn important advice on the audiophile subject from your website. I check it everyday.

Lately I have been thinking my audio sound was lacking. It didn’t sound as good as I remember it. After reading the turntable tweaking advice I reset up the tonearm. VTF, VTA, and azimuth. I have “magic” in my sound now.

Listened to some Neil Young, [Ten Years After] A Space in Time. Very Tubey.

Listened to my Miles Davis Kind of Blue. It sounded better than I ever heard it. I’m sitting in shock!

The killer was Chicago 2. I love 25-6-to 4 so I was blown away and normally I’m not interested in the rest of that side of the album but I sat through the rest of it and was enthralled by the vocals. Memories of Love is one track I was never interested in but it sounded so good I loved it. When you want to listen to every record in your collection you know you’ve done something right.

Anyway I want you to know we audiophiles appreciate the time you take to put up your advice and commentaries. I just got a huge upgrade and it didn’t cost me a cent. Only some time and I learned a little more.

(more…)

The Young Rascals – Groovin’

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

  • Both sides of this Blue and Green Atlantic stereo pressing are rich and smooth, with vocal presence that will bring the Young Rascals’ pop music to life in your very own listening
  • We stumbled upon the right stampers a few years back purely by chance,
  • Which of course is the only way to do it, as Peter Lynch well knows
  • The right original label is far more likely to have bad sound than good, and the later labels are uniformly awful
  • Good luck finding a quiet copy with good sound – we gave up!

Atlantic pressings are all over the map. When you find a good one, you can be pretty sure it’s the exception, not the rule. That’s been our experience anyway.  (more…)

Harry Belafonte / Belafonte at Carnegie Hall – Wrong About Harry Again?

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Live and Learn, Right?

  • This early Black Label RCA pressing boasts stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on all four sides
  • A very large group of musicians will transport themselves directly into your listening room, Harry included, all backing him live on the stage in real time and in ANALOG
  • The palpable presence and performance energy of the man himself are really something to hear, and a copy this good lets you REALLY hear it
  • Harry Pearson made his reputation bringing this kind of amazing recording to the attention of the audiophile public, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude
  • This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.
  • 5 stars: “The granddaddy of all live albums, this double-LP set captures the excitement of a Harry Belafonte concert at the height of his popularity.”

NEWSFLASH:

We’ve long known that some copies of the album are mastered with the polarity reversed. This is one of those copies.

But the crazy news we have today is that this copy of the records sound just fine without adjusting the system polarity, better than any other copy we played.

It sounds a bit better with your polarity reversed, but it is still our Shootout Winner even with the polarity wrong.

I would never have believed that to be the case in the past, but my theory is that the new studio we built has reduced distortions and problems to such a degree that polarity issues are less of a problem now than they might have been in the past.

As I say, it’s just a theory, and as time goes on we will revisit this idea with other recordings that we know to have polarity issues, and we’ll be sure to let you know what we find. (more…)

Peter Frampton – Wind of Change

The Music of Peter Frampton Available Now

Peter Frampton Albums We’ve Reviewed

  • Frampton’s solo debut returns, now with Double Plus (A+++) sound on both sides and fairly quiet vinyl for an early UK pressing circa 1972
  • This vintage British pressing is the very definition of TUBEY MAGIC, with sound so rich and sweet it will make you want to take all your CDs and dump them in the trash (now that record stores don’t even want them anymore)
  • The best copies like this one keep what’s good about the recording while letting us hear into the soundfield with glorious transparency
  • 4 stars: “The sound is crisp, the melodies catchy, and Frampton’s distinctive, elliptical Gibson Les Paul guitar leads soar throughout…“

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’60s and ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd, Elton John and too many others to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

The best song Peter Frampton ever wrote (and performed) is on this very record, in White Hot Stamper sound no less: All I Wanna Be (Is by Your Side). It has the Tubey Magical sound WE LOVE here at Better Records.

However, the richness that makes British recordings from the era so good can easily go over the edge, turning the sound into a thick, mucky stew in which the individual sonic components become difficult to separate out. Think of the typically dull Who’s Next or early Genesis or Jethro Tull albums and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Only a select group of pressings are able to strike the right balance between Tubey Magic and clarity. This is one of those.

And as far as we can tell it’s the only version of the album that’s pressed from the master tape. The domestic A&M LPs are clearly made from dubbed tapes. They are as flat, small, smeary, veiled and opaque as any Heavy Vinyl pressing being made today, and we long ago gave up on them (i.e., domestic pressings of this album and Heavy Vinyl in general). (more…)

Cat Stevens – The World of Cat Stevens

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More Folk Rock

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  • Cat Stevens 1970 compilation album returns with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish and British Decca vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find it
  • These sides are doing most everything right — the sound is rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, Cat’s vocals are present, and there is plenty of studio space on the recording
  • Everything you want in a Folky Pop Star recording are here
  • Not an easy record to find in audiophile playing condition with top quality sound – it took us years to get this shootout going

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…)